129 Way Out There with J.R. Harris
J.R. Harris grew up in New York City where he lived with his parents in a housing project. As a teenager his parents got him out of the city by signing him up for the Boy Scouts in the Catskill Mountains. Harris learned compass and other outdoor skills, quickly surpassing his family and friends’ hiking skills.
Way Out There: Adventures of a Wilderness Trekker, takes readers along with J.R. on many adventures from Alaska and the reaches of Canada to Peru, Australia and Tasmania.
We talk for quite a long time about his trip on the Canol Heritage Trail in 1997. He found a Backpacker Magazine on a subway at 3AM where he found a story of the trail. J.R. not only hiked the majority of this 255 mile trail, but he also deeply researched the history of the area.
He met a surviving member of an all African American battalion which was stationed in this far north Canadian territory during World War II building what would shortly become a failed pipeline. It was feared that Japan would try to destroy the United States fuel coming from Alaska. These men endured hard times.
We talk about his preparation for these many adventures. Sometimes he is the first Black person people in the area has ever seen. J.R. makes a point to learn the history and culture of these areas in order to hold true conversations with locals.
Over the years, gear has changed. I the book Harris says,“If I want it, I will Carry it.” Though this concept would make you believe he over packs, he has lightened his load over the years. He talks about company’s technological advances since the 60’s and how that alone makes the gear lighter. He always saves room for a flask of aged cognac and a few hand rolled cigars.
When he is home, J.R. might watch a show on tv showing something amazing. He describes how most people accept these programs as enough. “Dude, you need to go there,” is the inner dialogue which drives these trips. How does it smell? How does it feel? Going ‘Way Out There’ is the only way to truly experience some places.
Our conversation turns to the Grateful Dead. Way Out There has numerous references throughout that possibly only true Dead Heads would notice. In true Dead Head form, I bring up my sister’s connection to the band and J.R. tells his story of meeting the whole band in a lucky way while attending their concert at Watkins Glen.
See J.R. in person-
This Wednesday, October 10th at 7:30PM Location- Genesee Valley Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club
He is also giving a talk at the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival later this month. It's called "Trail Talk from an Old Dirt Kicker."
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Check out Whiskey Fever: https://www.reverbnation.com/whiskeyfever The song used in the intro is 'Tall Grass' from their album Gonna Wake Up This Whole Town.