Saturday, August 10, 2002
On the Trek: A Unique Variety of Individuals, Part 3
On the trek: A unique variety of individuals
By Tom Schultes
Editorís Note: This is the third and final article in a series regarding
American Frontiers: A Public Lands Journey. The first two (Aug. 8-9) focused
on a discussion among area residents and trekkers participating in the
event. This looks at four members of the southern route team.
When starting an extended trek, one might prefer being with those he or she
has known for some time. But for the 11 members of American Frontiersí
southern route team, there was a joining of individuals from vastly
different backgrounds and locales. Interviewed following the roundtable
discussion in the Memorial Student Center on the Western New Mexico
University campus were, in no particular order, Julie Nichols Overbaugh of
Anchorage, Alaska; Jan Nesset of Durango, Colo.; Cathy Kiffe of Lafayette,
La., and Richard Tyrrell of Langhorne, Pa., located in Bucks County, Pa.
Others on the south team include: Bob Hammond, team leader; Kay Gandy,
education outreach coordinator/teacher alternate; Jessica Terrell,
pr/media/special events coordinator/first alternate; Jacob MacLeod, general
logistics/second alternate; Ron Monnig, route logistics/supply/equipment
manager; Lori McGraw, food and beverage manager; and Vipul Lakhani, medical
Nichols Overbaugh describes herself as a mom, wife and ìoutdoorswoman.î But
sheís also an emergency room nurse and flight nurse for an air ambulance
service back home in Alaska.
A native of Chicago, she said she didnít know what ìpublic landsî were until
20 years ago. Sheís also a 16-year former New Mexican, and likes this
opportunity to visit again.
Like the others interviewed, she became aware of American Frontiers through
a third party. She said a friend in Washington, D.C., employed by the Bureau
of Land Management, saw an announcement and called her.
ìI love the physical challenge,î she said, adding that it was more than
expected. The roundtable discussion was held on the seventh day of the
teamís 60-day trail experience. She said the activity is similar to that she
and her husband, Bill, and sons Jeffery, 8, and Willie, 10, do regularly in
For her, itís truly an outdoorswomanís dream come true ñ receiving an
adventure, seeing wild places, experiencing the outdoors and renewing her
spirit. She said her biggest concern was the drought and its implications
such as running low on water and threat of forest fires.
ìI love it all,î Nichols Overbaugh said. ìMy heart belongs in the
pinon/ponderosa pine forest.î
On the other side of the outdoors experience spectrum is Kiffe, a
kindergarten through 12th grade teacher for homebound children in Lafayette,
La., with her being one of the National Geographic teachers on the trek
representing the Louisiana Geographic Education Alliance. She will be
working with National Geographic to develop curriculum for next school year,
with an emphasis on public lands. The curriculum for the National
Geographic-Geography Action program will be designed to include math,
literature and the sciences.
The mother of four grown sons, Kiffe is also a book illustrator and has
participated in educational projects at NASAís Stennis Space Center, The
Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic Alliance Advanced
She said the program includes formal classroom study as well as activities
that can be enjoyed by not only the student, but also his or her family.
ìChildren want hands-on activities,î she said, which also enhances their
roles as stewards of the lands.
Her school district has given her a professional leave, and she will be in
contact with school districts en route.
Kiffe said she has visited state parks walking the trails and staying in
cabins, and wants to share that with as many people as possible.
Kiffe said her previous outdoor experience has been ñ up until now ñ was
walking some state park trails and staying in park cabins. But part of the
adventure, she said, is in ìrecreatingî herself.
ìI have been so thrilled,î she said, noting her ability to be on the trail
with much more experienced persons. ìIt shows the public lands are for
everyone in that aspect. But I couldnít have done it without their support.î
A more experienced trekker, Nesset said part of the problem with the terrain
is the group must stay on public lands, which arenít necessarily on the best
or easiest path.
Nesset, who recently moved from Montana to Durango, just found out about the
trek in March when an application was forwarded from his former forest
supervisor. In addition to seasonal work as a Forest Service wilderness
ranger, Nesset has worked on boat crews, lobster fisherman, shipyard worker,
mountain surveyor, documentary producer and editor. He is a former editor of
Canoe & Kayak magazine.
He said that when he read the mission statement and objectives, he
understood what they were going to do.
ìIt was apparent that my skills and interests were bundled into this,î he
said, noting his use of and appreciation for public lands goes back many
He said his wife ìis behind me 100 percent of the way,î realizing this is
something he needed to do ìfor a lot of reasons. I gave up a job to do
this,î Nesset said, adding that itís an opportunity for members to
ìre-invent themselves, become who we want to be.î
Nesset also said he would like to construct ñ or reconstruct ñ the view many
Americans may have of public lands.
ìI hope to know I did the job I was asked here to do, to reach others with
my views and give others that privilege,î Nesset said.
In his online bio, Nesset states: ìBeing chosen as a Journey team member is
nothing short of an opportunity of a lifetime.î
For Tyrrell, participation was never a question.
He received his application from his wife, who is an elementary school
principal in Pennsylvania and couldnít get off work to participate. ìíYouíre
always this sort of thing,íî he said was her message. He filled out and
forgot about it until receiving a call at work the last notification day
ñ May 31. He said that even without consulting his boss ñ or wife ñ he
agreed to go. He is a jeweler and staff gemologist for the British firm of
Asprey, which has its flagship store in the United States on Fifth Avenue in
New York City.
Although he has international expedition experience, including Tibet, China
and the former USSR, Tyrrell said the Southwest had never been on his maps.
ìI had never visited this part of the country,î he said.
ìIt has been very challenging, a very different trip,î he said of the first
seven days. ìIíd never traveled in the desert before.î
Another change is that in his international treks, those expeditions were
smaller and more independent. He said the support and interaction with the
support team has been a ìwelcome change,î knowing that the group is never
more than two or three days away from support services. But, he said, that
also works both ways.
Tyrrell said this trek, with a different mission, requires more interaction
for Internet reports, and so forth.
Tyrrell said he will be sending his impressions of the trip back to
Pennsylvania, where that information will be dispersed among schools. When
returning, he will also be conducting lectures.
He said he was surprised to learn that 1/3 of this part of the country was
held as public lands, and that few others know the extent of public lands in
ìWe just know thereís an awful lot ahead,î Tyrrell said. ìAnd on the last
day (scheduled for Sept. 27 in Salt Lake City), it will be a pleasure to
shake hands with the north team and say, ëJob well done.íî
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