Finally, Tanzania bound!

In the summer of 2020, I was making plans for a trip to Tanzania with a group of people from my church. We were going to encourage the saints that we have come to know, visit a couple of Compassion International centers (and perhaps meet our sponsored children!), and help Christian entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary for self-sustaining business.

An itinerary was set, tickets were purchases, a Visa was secured, funds were raised.

Then COVID happened.

Like so many other endeavors, our plans had to be scrapped. But not without hope.

Like Paul and his desire to visit the Roman church, I felt that I could say of my friends in Tanzania, “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:9b-12).

I like how Paul adds that last thought, that of mutual encouragement. For I was not thinking in a morally superior sense that I had anything to impart, but judging from past interactions with some of these African saints, I knew that we would strengthen each other.

Fast forward two years, and it looks like prayers are being answered. We now have tickets, an itinerary has been made, and all those funds raised two years ago will be put to use this year. We will be heading to Tanzania in July 2022!

Back in 2019, Richard and Verana Okech, a husband and wife from TZ met with me at a Chick-fil-A in Asheville. In Tanzania, they work with local entrepreneurs, hoping to train them to become self-sustaining in business. They wanted to “pick my brain” on some of the business practices that have made Chick-fil-A such a success. (If you aren’t aware, I have worked for my local Chick-fil-A for 9+ years in leadership development and guest experiences.)

We spent three wonderful hours together, showing them some of the systems that we employ, as well as some of the “theory” behind what we do. Richard and Verena took turns furiously writing in their notebook, passing it back and forth. It was a time of mutual encouragement.

Later, Richard emailed David and me (David is a local man in my church who is heading up this trip) saying, “It is our prayer that the Lord will keep us connected in our journey of doing business and creating the movement to many in disciple making who are doing business.” In a subsequent email, as we were planning the 2020 trip, Richard said, “Most who heard the stories we shared with them about the things we learned from you asked, ‘Can he [Mark] come and talk with us?’ My response has been, ‘let’s pray for that opportunity.'”

It has been exciting and eye-opening seeing how God is working through people like Richard. Instead of coordinating the receiving of a never-ending stream of financial support (which he sees often goes to corrupt officials), Richard and others are working toward ways that Tanzanians can grow their own businesses to support themselves and others. What I have seen work at Chick-fil-A, both before and during the pandemic, I believe is transferable in some way to other settings and cultures.

I truly feel that this is one of those Macedonian calls – Come and help us. I am humbled that I might have even a small part in building up the believers toward discipleship and sustainable business growth. But I know that at the end of it all, it will be of mutual benefit as I see our Sovereign God at work on a global mission, to the ends of the earth.

Additionally, I may be able to actually meet one or both of the children we sponsor through Compassion International. What a privilege!

So, I urge you, my friends and contacts to pray. Pray that the global situation with not prevent our travel. Pray that we remain healthy enough to travel. Pray for my companions and their fundraising efforts. As for my funding, I still have the funds I raised two years ago. I may still need a little more, so if you are inclined, you can contact me, and I’ll let you know how to give financial support.

What’s your travelosophy?

What’s your travelosophy? In other words, what’s your philosophy of adventure? How do you structure a trip for maximum enjoyment? There’s no one right answer, and people have been creating different experiences based on their tastes.

I want to delineate two different approaches to a vacation/adventure. See which one appeals to you the most.

The road trip

The road trip

In this kind of adventure, you travel (generally driving) from place to place. The idea is to see as many different places as possible. And this is really the point – to catch as many of the “sights to see” as you can.

This is often a longer excursion, needing as much as a month or more to fully take advantage of the opportunity. However, I have known of some families who try to do this in a 2-week window. There are obvious disadvantages with such a short time-frame; taking up full days just for driving, for example.

The road trip is ideal for those places where there are many destinations in a relatively small amount of space. The Canyons regions of southern Utah and northern Arizona would be an example. An adventure in this region would allow you to see Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks (not to mention numerous other national monuments) in a relatively small region. You’ll get lots of stamps in your National Parks Passport book! Keep in mind that spaces, particularly in the American West, are much farther apart than they seem when you look at a map. So don’t overestimate your ability to travel from point A to point B. I once had someone tell me they wanted to take a road trip and see Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I pointed out that this would be like taking a day trip from her home in South Florida to Louisville, Kentucky!

The key to a road trip is careful planning of routes and lodging. The problem of an adventure like this is that everyone else is occupying the same roads, restaurants, and campsites! There’s a reason these places are popular. This type of trip may help you check off destinations on your bucket list, but if you’re looking for a peaceful excursion like you see in the car commercials, this probably won’t be the one.

Yeah, your road trip won’t look like this. Besides, this is in Chile. That would be a heck of a road trip. (Toyota commercial)
The home base trip

The home base trip

This has become my preferred method of travel. Find a spot that is somewhat central to a desired location and hole up there. We have undertaken adventures like this that have enabled us to see (in different years) Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Shenandoah National Parks, as well as the many outlying areas that aren’t part of the National Park system, but are nevertheless beautiful and engaging.

We are not campers, so our best bet for lodging is to find a good cabin. Vrbo and Airbnb have made this easier and in many cases, provide a more desirable home base. Oftentimes, I want to go and do something that’s not in Carolyn’s wheelhouse. Our cabin for our last trip was a destination unto itself and as such, was a great place for her to hang out while I traipsed about on a hiking or photography excursion.

Give Carolyn a porch, a sunrise, a book, a cup of tea, and a nearby stream and she’s a happy camper!

We have managed to select home bases that are close to, but not within the major national parks. One advantage of this is that we can get to the usual popular sights if we want, but we can also take advantage of the less crowded, but still wonderful places that are on the fringes of the park or outside the park itself. One of my best hikes ever was in a canyon outside of Yosemite on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. There are so many no-name places that elicit the same sense of wonder and awe as the iconic ones in the parks; you just have to get to know the area well.

A no-name lake along the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming. No crowds.

Speaking of getting to know an area, we were faced with a conscious choice a number of years ago: Do we visit new places, or do we return to familiar destinations for a deeper dive? At the time, we had made several trips to western North Carolina (before we moved there) and one trip to Yosemite and one trip to Rocky Mountain. At this point, we were looking at other national parks to take in. But, there was also this sense that we had only begun to scratch the surface at those visited places. After our trip, I would look at a map and notice another trail we could hike, another sight to see. With several vacations in North Carolina, we knew the advantage to going back to the same location. Eventually, this is what we settled on. We’ve returned to Rocky Mountain once, and Yosemite probably half a dozen times. We’ve been rewarded for that increasing familiarity. It was only when my boss paid for a lodge for our leadership team in Jackson, Wyoming that we diverted to a new destination. Then, the Tetons/Yellowstone became our destination for the next 4 years.

The key to a successful home base trip is lodging. What if you are stuck there (weather, sickness, etc.)? A hotel room is not optimal. At the end of our trip last year in Wyoming, we spent the last full day in a hotel in Jackson. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were issues with going out. First, it was extremely hazy due to wild fires in California, rendering outdoor activity fruitless in terms of seeing grand vistas and potentially harmful due to air quality. Mix that with road construction begun in town that made every street and alleyway a parking lot, and we had a situation where we opted to stay in. It was OK – restful – but not the best.

As I said, finding a good cabin/house that’s a home-away-from-home is ideal. That, or a great campsite. You need a sense that the place where you put up your feet is a destination of itself, a place you like going to. That way, if you have to or want to stay put, you still feel like you’re on an adventure. There are always rest days in a good vacation, and having a homey place provides that rest and rejuvenation. And a place to work on a puzzle.

Puzzles. A brainless cabin activity for disconnecting. Probably the most “old man” thing I do.

So, what’s your travelosophy? Have you taken a road trip? Was it enjoyable, or frustrating? How about a home base trip? Was it restful and engaging or boring after awhile? Let me know in the comments. Please like and follow. I don’t always write about travel, but when I do, I like to put up lots of pictures.

Wyoming, Days 6 & 7, Hike & Drive

Day 6 – hike

On Friday, I returned to the mouth of Clarks Fork Canyon, not to off-road with the car, but to hike a bit into the canyon. Carolyn was happy to stay behind at the cabin, reading one of her now 10 books that she’s completed during this trip.

It was a hot day, and I didn’t plan on a long hike, but I did want to get a little bit into this canyon we looked down upon a couple of days earlier from above during our off-road excursion.

As you approach the canyon, it appears that the mountains rise in a sheer wall from the floor of the advancing plain. In fact, the plain actually descends as you draw near the mountains, and then they arise out of the plain floor. I guess that has something to do with the formation of these ridges as the peaks were uplifted and the surrounding floor fell downward. In the Tetons, this same formation has resulted in numerous lakes at the base of the range.

The picture of the red rock formation is interesting. From one angle, it simply looked like a layer of rock within the rock wall. From another angle, it was clear that it was a separate wall of a hollowed out section. One of many surprises we’ve experienced.

Day 7 – road trip

Saturday began with the clearest air we’d seen up to that point of the trip. All week, the views were veiled with the presence of a smoky haze from the fires in California and Idaho. We awoke to clear sunlight with some mixed clouds. This created some deep shadows on the landscape, both from the sun’s angle and the shadows cast by clouds. All day long, sunlight and shadow created some great views and hopefully some striking photos.

We headed back up onto the Beartooth Highway, location of our “walkabout” two days earlier. We decided to drive the loop in reverse from what we’d done before. That meant heading north to Red Lodge, Montana and then driving south on the “212.” One thing we’ve discovered this year is that sometimes, driving in a different direction allows you to see things differently than when you always travel in the same direction. This was now our 4th trip on the Beartooth in three years, but our first time going north-to-south.

Once we finished the Beartooth, we continued on to the southwest through Cooke City (our AirBnB location in the past two years) and on to Yellowstone National Park through Lamar Valley. We hadn’t really seen much in the way of large wildlife, so it was good to get up close with some Buffalo. We opted not to spend much time at all in YNP this year, partly because of the crowding and partly because we’d been through parts of the Park in the three prior years.

In completing the loop, we travelled west-to-east on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Again, the first time we’d moved in that direction. We saw plentiful quaking aspens in golden and orange colors. It seems the colors in Wyoming appeared early this year, possibly because of the dry conditions.

Enjoy the photos!

Wyoming, Days 4 & 5, Rest & Walkabout

Day 4, Rest

As I said a couple of weeks ago, vacation is more than time off from work; it is the purposeful pursuit of rejuvenation. Part of rejuvenation is rest. We learned many years ago that about 3 or so days into our vacations, we needed a “crash day.” A day with not a lot (If anything) on the agenda.

We accomplish that by selecting a place that is conducive for rest. Doing nothing while you have spent hundreds of dollars on your trip seems liked a waste. This is why we select cabins for our lodging instead of hotels. Sitting around in a hotel for an entire day does seem like a waste and honestly, not very restful. But when the cabin is a destination unto itself, it is very helpful to the rejuvenation process.

Another aspect of resting is the selection of our destinations. First of all, we hunker down in one area for the duration of our trip. A tip of the hat to those of you who can visit 10 national parks in a two-week trip, but that’s not for us.

A number of years ago, when we began taking adventure trips, we would travel from our home in Florida to western North Carolina. (We now live there!) We added a destination to Yosemite one year, and then, a couple of years later, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

At this point we had a decision to make. Do we continue this process of adding new destinations, new parks to our itinerary each year, like notches on the barrel of our gun? Or, do we return to previous stops and try to go deeper and see more of those familiar places?

We opted for the latter of these approaches. After all, there were places left unseen and adventures left untaken in Yosemite and Rocky Mountain. Yes, we still have a “bucket list” of destinations, but we don’t just want to be whirlwind tourists, getting only a glimpse of places, regretting that we didn’t experience more.

So, for the longest time, those were our chosen locales. Then, 4 years ago, my boss at Chick-fil-A booked a large lodge for his leaders in Jackson, WY. That’s how we ended up here. In the past 3 years we’ve returned, exploring new portions of this landscape, all while setting up a home base in a friendly cabin.

At the end of our rest day, I did step out for a short drive to take advantage of the afternoon light to shoot some photos at a favorite spot. You see one of those at the top.

Day 5, Walkabout

One of the locations we were looking forward to revisiting this year was a small lake alongside the Beartooth Highway. We found this late in last year’s trip, and did a little bit of exploring around the edges of the lake. There were spectacular views, and we had marked this as a go-to place for this year.

This little alpine lake has no name. Last year, when we discovered it on the side of the road, Carolyn said, “Lock the car.” This meant we weren’t just going to stand on the edge and gaze at it; Carolyn was going walkabout. So, we’ve informally named this mountain gem, “Carolyn’s Walkabout.”

This year, we packed for a longer jaunt. We brought our lunch and scaled up the rocks to a high point where we could catch the views and eat. All the while we kept a sharp eye out for bears, carrying our bear spray with us.

There’s something refreshing about getting off the beaten path and launching out into new territory. We saw no other person there. With each step away from the highway, we could feel our heads clear and our souls come in touch with the Creator of all. As one of my friends recently said, “There are no words…”

Wyoming, Day 3, Off-road!

Owning a barn. Living in the mountains where we used to vacation. Seeing the Cleveland Browns win a playoff game over the Steelers. These are just a few of the unlikely things in my experience. Add to that today…going off-roading.

There’s plenty of space for it out here in western Wyoming. In past years, I’ve looked at a few routes, driven a little bit on some of them, but they always turn “expert-level” pretty quickly. And we don’t have one of those super-duper off-road golf cart type vehicles that would be ideal.

So, in planning this trip, I got to looking at a ridge line with unpaved roads. Namely, Bald Ridge. Seemed pretty straightforward without a lot of steep climbs or descents. We made our way to the trailhead and drove in.

The road (and it technically was a road, since it was numbered along with all the various off-shoots) was generally pretty well-maintained. A bit rough in spots, but our large-size SUV was able to clear them. Toward the top, we had some uncertain moments, but we pulled through.

The destination at the end was worth it. We were overlooking the deep Clark’s Fork River valley. Interestingly enough, earlier in the day, we had driven to the mouth of this valley with the idea of driving along those lower off-road trails. However, they were immediately beyond our capability, so we drove to the ridge line, and within an hour or so, we were looking down into that very valley.

We are now back at the cabin…cleaned, fed, and resting, happy in the adventure of the day. One unlike anything we’ve undertaken before.

How like life this day has been, so analogous to our journey to the Celestial City. Rough roads with hardly a smooth patch at all. Moments of wondering if we were going to make it. Flashes of fear as we felt the car slipping. Telling ourselves that the worst was over, only to come upon a more uneven stretch.

There is a highway that we travel on our way to the cabin with the longest stretch of straight road I’ve ever driven upon…probably 10 miles long. Wyoming Highway 120. It’s wide and smooth, and the speed limit is 70 MPH. It’s not very busy, so even if you come upon a slower vehicle, it’s easy to get around them.

Life is not Highway 120. It’s the Bald Ridge Trail. But there’s an advantage to traveling off-road; the destination is worth it. And as I stand on the top of Bald Ridge, gazing down at the valley far below me, I am reminded again of that for which I live and strive and suffer. Jesus! “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” was the Apostle Paul’s credo.

It is because dying is gain that life is worth the journey. I can withstand a thousand bitter tears if I know that Jesus is at the end of them. And more than that, since “to live is Christ,” I know that he is with me in every rough and uneven patch of road I drive upon.

Wyoming, Day 2, Jackson to Cody

We began the day with a simple goal – make the 4-hour drive from Jackson Hole to Cody. We would be traversing the southeastern portion of Yellowstone National Park, driving out the east entrance.

We had no idea what we were in for. We spent a little time at a waterfall (Lewis Falls), which is one of Carolyn’s happy places. After exiting the national park, we began a descent down the Shoshone River canyon that could only be described as “surreal,” and “other-worldly.” Sharp, jagged rock formations and outcroppings looked like giant castles and worn-away statues. Hoodoos abounded everywhere. This area doesn’t really have a name, but my thought was, “Why isn’t this a national park?” There are place names like Elephant Head Rock and the Holy City, but this section of the Absaroka Range bears no distinguishing identification.

I see formations like this and am reminded that many of these beautiful features are the result of God’s judgment. The global flood of Genesis 6-9 wreaked unbelievable devastation on the planet, much of which is celebrated today in our national parks and forests. It is humbling to note that even in the judgments of God, mercy is shown, as he has given us these natural treasures to enjoy.

Wyoming, Day 1, Travel Day

Ever watch the movie, Catch Me if You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks? In it, DiCaprio plays a con man who, among other things, impersonates an airline pilot. It was set in the 60s, during the glamour age of airline travel, when pilots were sought out for their autographs, and flight attendants were always young women and were called “stewardesses.”

Travel is nothing like that.

Oh, our flight crew was friendly, engaging, and professional, but travel is not this mythically glamorous experience like it used to be (if it ever was).

Our flights were changed from what Carolyn originally booked, leaving us with a very short layover in Charlotte, an arrival in concourse E and departure in concourse A. This was followed by a long 2nd leg to Jackson, Wyoming. I’m afraid the young man in the aisle seat was ready to brain me with my second trip to the restroom.

Then there’s the whole rental car issue. Rentals are at a premium this year, and we paid almost twice what we paid last year. Plus, I had this nagging fear that the rental reservation would fall through and there would be no car.

All this created a little anxiety. When we finally sat down for a late lunch, I prayed a prayer of confession for my worry. After all, what’s the worst that could have happened? Instead, I wasted mental units on worry that should have been used for rejuvenation.

Speaking of lunch, our first destination was Liberty Burger in downtown Jackson. This is our favorite eatery in a town full of good culinary destinations. Their shoestring fries are the bomb.

Tomorrow, we drive about 4 1/2 hours to our AirBnB north of Cody. Hopefully without the unnecessary anxiety.

Vacation

Vacation is not the absence of work. It is the pursuit of rejuvenation.

M. Graham Knox
One of the spots we hope to revisit

I’m going on vacation next week. Here are a few random thoughts.

We’re going to Wyoming again. This makes the 4th consecutive year. A different spot this time, so there will be a sense of familiarity mixed with unfamiliarity. I’m excited about that.

In the picture above, I’m wearing a Blue Ridge Parkway hat…in Wyoming. I have a Yellowstone hat, but I’d look like a tourist. Don’t be that guy. This way I look like a well-traveled adventurer.

At my work at Chick-fil-A, I often engage with guests who are traveling on vacation. This always energizes me, because it turns my thoughts toward my own adventures. Since we live and work where we used to vacation, I really love giving advice on things to do. One of the many services we provide.

My operator at Chick-fil-A is an epic explorer. He recently said, “The thing about adventures is that they make you want to have more.” This is why we’ve been planning this trip for over 6 months, and why I’m already scoping out new spots to travel to.

Carolyn has completely recovered from back surgery last December. She’s been a trouper on our adventures, even with her chronic back pain. I’m eager to see how the lack of pain will increase her enjoyment. I hope I can keep up.

We will be right outside of Yellowstone National Park. However, since we’ve been through the park several times in the last 3 years, and with all the record crowds, I’m not sure we’ll get into YNP very much. There’s plenty to see in the outlying areas. We’ve done that before in Yosemite in California. Some of the best sights are outside the borders of the parks.

Speaking of sights, I got a new lens for my camera. Last year, my lens broke during the trip, so most of my pictures were taken with my phone. Now, a Galaxy S20 takes really nice pictures, but I was missing my Canon.

Every article I’ve read about travel in the national parks this year is that they are bursting at the seams with record crowds. One article talked about the lack of rental cars and prices of upwards of $500 a day (!!!) in Jackson, where we fly in. A couple of months ago I encouraged Carolyn to reserve a car early. Prices were staggering. She finally found something that was only twice the cost of what we paid last year. She later found a better price, but it’s still not cheap. And don’t even mention Turo (the AirBnB for cars); prices aren’t much better and the owners can be sketchy, pulling out of a rental agreement last minute.

I’m not planning on doing a lot of writing during my trip, but I will try to post on this blog some of the best pictures each day. Stay tuned.

Our cabin is pretty isolated, well outside of town. I plan to contemplate the stars and the God who marks them off with the span of his hand.

I’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend” running through my head: “Hitch a ride to the end of the highway
Where the neons turn to wood.”
Yep, we’re leaving the sinking ship behind and goin’ up around the bend.