Jennifer and I have been digital nomads for over 5 years now. When we sold our home in 2018, we envisioned spending a few months outside the United States each year and traveling in our truck camper the rest of the year. Covid put a damper on that reality as traveling abroad became next to impossible. That isn’t to say we haven’t had a grand time exploring the nooks and crannies of the United States. We have!
However, we have been eager to explore different cultures. In 2023, the world reopened and we spent the better part of six months abroad. It was a non-stop whirlwind of adventure with so many memorable moments. Narrowing this year’s list to 10 seems almost ungrateful. Hopefully, we will be able to tell some more 2023 stories in the future. For now, here are our top 10 most memorable moments!
Top 10 Most Memorable Moments
- Death of the Crown
- The Age of Adventure
- Watching the Sky Dance Across the Night
- Velvet Monkey Steals Our Lunch
- Dinner Time for a Black Bear
- A Polar Pee
- An Ostrich Bite
- Night with Mosquitos and a Day of Iceberg and Whales
- A King Fisher in Galilee
- Having a Compatriot Passout at 19,000’
10) Death of the Crown
In 2004, I had the privilege of visiting the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. At 22 years old it was the most amazing experience to explore the massive caldera and see these African creatures in their natural habitat. Since Jennifer and I married, I have always dreamed of being able to take her there so she could see this amazing place. We did just that in 2023.
The experience was full of memorable moments but perhaps the most memorable was seeing a serval with a fresh kill. Servals are one of Africa’s smallest cats but they have a very high success rate when looking for a meal. This serval had just taken down a Crowned Crane and the rest of the flock were noisily sharing their thoughts about the situation. The cat slowly packed away its kill and then dragged the carcass underground before returning to the surface and basking in the sun as the other cranes flew around squawking their indignation.
9) The Age of Adventure
Jennifer and I love hiking and backpacking. We are often asked if we would ever do the Appalachian Trail to which neither of us has any interest. However, I did want to make my way to the iconic mountain found at the end of the AT. Mount Katahdin is not only the end (sometimes the beginning) for all those who take on the 2,200-mile journey, it is also the highest peak in Maine and an amazing mountain to summit in its own right.
Not settling for the easier route (there are no easy routes up Katahdin), we decided to climb up Dudley Trail and hike across the Knife Edge. The Knife Edge ridgeline leading to Katahdin is more than a mile long with 2,000’ drops on either side, it ranges in width from 20’ wide to 4’ and the terrain is extremely rocky and uneven. In the past 90 years, 60 people have died crossing the Knife Edge. At 41 years old, I found this trail to be a challenge. It was a truly memorable moment when we ran into a woman celebrating her 70th birthday by hiking across the notoriously dangerous Knife Edge ridge line for the 1st time.
8) Watching the Sky Dance Across the Night
My dad lived an hour north of Fairbanks, Alaska for 13 years and I visited the alpine wilderness several times but always during the long summer days of the midnight sun. My dad would regale stories of the northern lights dancing across the winter night sky. Ever since I was about 9 years old I wanted to see the aurora borealis. So when contemplating how to get back to Tennessee from Tanzania in March, the most obvious answer was let’s fly from 90ºF Tanzania in the southern hemisphere to 0ºF Iceland (-30ºF windchill) at the top of the Northern hemisphere.
After enduring a week of Iceland’s frigid weather, it all paid off. We found ourselves staring up at the night sky and watching as colorful bands of green, yellow, and red danced across the Icelandic night sky. The show lasted for hours. I, of course, spent much of that time outside in the frigid conditions. I even managed to break through some ice and soak my boot. It all added up to create one of the most memorable moments of 2023.
7) Velvet Monkey Steals Our Lunch
In 2005, I went to Zimbabwe with my dad and was embarrassed when I was outsmarted by a baboon who stole my steak sandwich. This year, I was somewhat redeemed as I realized that primates are well-adapted to thievery.
In February, Jennifer and I rode along with several other intrepid travelers into Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. At lunch, the five of us, along with our guide, stopped for lunch at an overlook inside the park. Our guide expressed the importance of staying vigilant lest we lose food to the local thieves, the hordes of velvet monkeys. The importance of this was made clear as we watched one of the nimble creatures make his way into a safari vehicle that had left the roof up.
As lunch carried on, we found ourselves at a picnic table chatting up a storm. Our guide had left his post to heed to the call of nature. Then I spotted the thief. Like a bolt of lightning, he hopped from the tree limb behind one of our fellow travelers, bounced over her shoulder, landed in her plate, snagged a bushel of bananas off the table, and hopped back into the tree above. This memorable moment was over before I could say, “Watch out.”
6) Dinner Time for a Black Bear
In May, Jennifer and I were backpacking in Smokey Mountain National Park. We had just sat down for dinner after trekking for 13 miles. It was an exhausting day. As I stared into the forest, I noticed a black bear meandering up the trail and commented, rather matter of fact and with no urgency, “There’s a bear.” It came out with such a lack of excitement that I even astonished myself.
The situation quickly escalated as the bear started to turn up one of the campsite trails towards our neighbors. They had a fire going and their backs were turned to the omnivore that now was only about 15 feet behind them. Jennifer starts yelling, “Bear, there’s a bear!” in a much more exacerbated manner. In response, the beautiful creature stood up on its hind legs and looked around as if he was intrigued by the notion of their being a bear. Once he realized we were talking about him he landed back on all four paws and slowly meandered his way out of camp.
We later told the other campers about the encounter and they said, “We thought we heard someone yelling.” I showed them the video above and they were astonished that they had missed the entire experience.
5) A Polar Pee
Jennifer and I have backpacked all over the world and our backcountry journeys often lead to the most memorable moments each year. This year we took on a trail-less route in the remote backcountry of Canada’s Gros Morne National Park. In addition to this remote route having no established and maintained trail, it has several creek crossings and is known for being very rainy. It can also be very cold, even in mid-summer. This 30+ mile adventure on the Long Range Traverse had many memorable moments including gorgeous overlooks, me breaking my trekking pole, and splitting my pant leg from hip to knee (both on the first day). However, the most memorable moment came on the second night.
We had spent the day slogging across the boggy trail-less terrain for about 10 miles. It had rained most of the day so as we arrived at the creek crossing we had a choice. We could set up camp on the creek shore or cross over and make our way to the campsite located somewhere nearby on the other side. The water was deep but crossable. This creek is known for being impassible for days on end after heavy rains. We decided not to risk more rain. We waded through with the water only reaching our hips. Thankfully our backpacks and their contents stayed dry.
Beyond the creek, we located the campsites on the adjacent unprotected ridge. Here we set up camp, shivered through dinner, and quickly climbed into our warm sleeping bags. The most memorable moment came as I was awoken by my bladder screaming at me to get up. I was now presented with a dilemma. Sleet blew sideways against our tent as the thin fabric shook violently from the rage of the unrelenting wind.
My choice: Risk getting my warm “sleeping” attire wet or I could change back into my soaking wet clothes. Keep in mind that my pants were in bad shape after splitting from hip to knee and being patched with duct tape. I went with a different option altogether. I stripped down and climbed out of our tent and into the wilderness (albeit not very far), just as I entered the world 40-some years ago. It was an exhilarating experience as the sleet clung to my body and my bladder found relief. While not the most enjoyable experience, it was extremely memorable. When I crawled back into the tent and dried off, Jennifer asked, “Did you just go out there naked?” Yes… yes, I did! 🙂
4) An Ostrich Bite
Our trip to Africa was filled with many moments we will cherish for a lifetime. Perhaps the most memorable was facing my fear and hand-feeding an Ostrich. I don’t particularly like ostriches. They are violent creatures in how they peck at food with those massive necks. They look like chickens on steroids. So, when we found ourselves at a “zoo” in Zanzibar with the local “zoo” guide encouraging us to feed the ostrich, I was more than a little hesitant to do so. But for some reason, I found myself holding a bushel of grass with an ostrich beak flying repetitively–and violently–towards me, until the moment that large beak mistakenly clamped down on my hand. While the shock was probably worse than the bite, I was done feeding the Jurassic bird.
3) Night with Mosquitos and a Day of Iceberg and Whales
#3 on our list of the most memorable moments in 2023 is a two-parter. In late July, we found ourselves boondocking in the boggy northlands of Canada’s Newfoundland. To put it simply, our truck camper is too porous for mosquito country. Typically, our fan does a pretty good job of keeping the bloodsuckers out. However, on this night, the hordes overcame our defenses. After killing hundreds of them, we threw in the towel and headed for the nearest town in the hopes that they sprayed for them.
We arrived in the town of Saint Anthony with fewer mosquitos but no available campsites and a strict “no car camping” mentality. The time now approaching 1:00 AM, we decided to park in the grocery store lot and sleep on the floor with the roof down. The night was hot and sticky. The wee hours were spent killing off the remaining mosquitos who hid inside the camper during the transit. It was a restless night and we were not the happiest of nomads.
However, the next morning the remote landscape quickly redeemed itself as we scaled an oceanside cliff and stared out at a massive iceberg in the harbor. Just as we thought the scene could not be any more memorable, a blow came from directly below us. We looked down to see a minke whale skimming the surface. She exhaled another giant breath and then dove beneath the waves. Every second of the miserable night was worth that memorable moment.
2) A King Fisher in Galilee
In January of 2023, I had the opportunity to explore Israel as a videographer for two 10-day tours of the Holy Land. Jennifer was able to join me for the second tour. In light of the horror of October 7th and the subsequent war, we feel even more blessed by the fact that we were able to enjoy the nearly month-long journey.
I grew up with the Bible being a part of my life and seeing the historic landscape and the specific sites where the historic events took place was priceless and extremely memorable. We walked the ancient streets of Jerusalem, saw the tomb of Lazarus, swam in the Dead Sea, roamed the wilderness with wild Camels, sat by the Jordan River, and so much more. However, perhaps the most memorable moment was when we stood quietly as the sun set on the Sea of Galilee. We watched as a kingfisher hovered over the water and plunged into the historic lake.
For hundreds of bird species the Sea of Galilee is a vital lifeline on the migratory journey from Africa to Asia and Europe. It is no different for humans. This is the crossroads of the ancient world. The geographical importance of this oasis is why it is the promised land of the Old Testament. From this strip of land, the nations of the world traveled in order to trade with one another. This world of birds hasn’t changed much in the past 2,000 years. In fact, it is believed that the population around the Sea of Galilee is much smaller today than when Jesus walked the landscape. Today, the birds, plants, and other wildlife found in the Sea of Galilee area are the same that were here during the 1st century. Getting to experience that world was a humbling and memorable moment.
1) Having a Compatriot Passout at 19,000’
In September of 2022, we spent the summer scaling 12 of Colorado’s 14,000’ peaks (the highest of which was Mount Massive). After that, Jake had the gumption that we should set our sights a bit higher and attempt to climb to the roof of Africa. Less than five months later, as dawn started to break at 19,000’, we found ourselves on the rim of the ancient caldera known as Mount Kilimanjaro. Two local guides and a Scotsman accompanied us. We had spent the last 6 days in one another’s less-than-hygienic company traversing dense rainforest, high-altitude desert, and hypothermic conditions as we slogged our way to the top.
Our new Scottish compatriot was in his early 30s but an avid smoker for his entire adult life. After an excruciating 6-hour slog we crawled onto the rim as the sun rose over the horizon. I was filled with exhilaration. We were going to make it. Only about 3/4 of a mile and a few hundred feet in elevation stood between us and Uhuru (the very top of Kilimanjaro).
In my excitement, I proceeded to stick my foot in my mouth and exclaimed in an exacerbated voice that I was impressed with our Scottish friend. I didn’t think a smoker was capable of making it to the top. The words had barely left my lips when he began to tilt to his right, passing out in a patch of snow. Jennifer and I were quickly ushered past by one of our guides while the other helped him to his feet and immediately began the arduous journey of dragging him back down to base camp–4,000’ below.
Several hours later, we were all back at base camp and our Scottish friend explained to us that he didn’t recall much of the experience. He vaguely remembered making it to the rim at Stella Point and then the next thing he knew he had a shoulder around our guide Tuma as he was assisted back down the mountain. For those who say that Kilimanjaro is the lazy man’s Everest… our Scottish friend wasn’t the only one who didn’t make it to the top. The emergency helicopters stayed busy throughout our 7-day journey.
Most Memorable Moments of a Nomadic 2023
I hope you enjoyed our Top 10 most memorable moments from 2023 and hope your 2023 had many memorable moments as well. Lord willing, we have some big plans for 2024 and will have more time to share those along the way. Happy New Year every one!