On March 19, 2008, Paul Liberatore, the Marin Independent Journal's Music and Drama Critic, interviewed Jimmy Katz about what it's like to conduct rafting, trekking and adventure trips for 35 years. Danielle Katz, Jimmy's daughter also got to contribute to the interview.
You might guess that adventure travel would be primarily for the young and daring, that older folks would leave whitewater rafting and trekking on Alaskan glaciers in the middle of nowhere to the kids.
But, for Bolinas-based James Henry Wilderness and River Journeys, the opposite is true.
"The average age on our trips is my age or older, and I'm 60," says James "Jimmy" Katz, who founded the company in 1973. "These are all professional people who have traveled around the world and had these terrific experiences, but they know this is one other amazing thing that they haven't done."
There are theories about what Katz calls the lack of "new blood" in adventure travel. Maybe young people are "do-it-yourselfers," arranging their own extreme adventures. Maybe they can't afford expensive guided trips. Maybe their idea of being in the wild is Cabo at spring break.
"It may be that the baby boomers are the last huge group of people who grew up camping," Katz says. "Has the next generation been raised on video games? Are parents exposing them less to these type of experiences? Everybody's trying to figure out where the future is in the adventure travel industry."
Katz is a sturdily built man with glacial white hair and eyes as blue and clear as a creek. He has a Buddhist sensibility and has had poet Gary Snyder along on a couple of trips. He calls his company James Henry, using his first and middle names and eschewing "Katz."
"If I called it Katz's River Trips I'd have to have a delicatessen," he says with a grin. "That's hard to pull off in Idaho and parts of Alaska. The hot steamed pastrami just wouldn't be there."
In the culture of the James Henry company, there is no lack of generational representation. Most of his guides began with him when they were in their 20s and are now in their 40s. One of them has a teenage son who is a guide in training, paddling the supply boats.
Katz's 27-year-old daughter, Danielle, grew up running rivers, and has been in her father's lineup of wilderness guides since she was a teenager.
"She was taken down the river when she was 6 months old," he says. "When she was 15, she broke into the lineup, and hasn't been out of it since.
"But she won't go to Alaska anymore," he adds with a twinkle. "She says it's too hard."
Danielle agrees with her dad that, for many young people of her generation, "camping is not in their vocabulary."
"I have a lot of friends who have never been camping," she says.
Danielle grew up in the family home in Bolinas, and now lives in Southern California, where she does massage therapy and tries to break in as an actress. But she looks forward to getting back on a river trip at least once every summer.
"If I'm not on the river, if I miss a year, I feel empty inside," she says. "It really grounds me."
She now prefers to guide her father's "river mild" trips on the Rogue in Oregon and the Klamath in California, which offer live classical music, gourmet California cuisine, wine tasting and other creature comforts. One trip is called "Mozart and Merlot on the Rogue."
"When you're sitting on the bank of the river in the evening listening to classical music and sipping wine," Danielle says, sounding wistful, "you have to ask yourself, 'Is this for real?'"
What's real for her is the incredible joy that she sees in her father when he's leading others on wilderness trips, something he's done for 35 years.
"He astounds me," she says. "He has this amazing energy, and he's such a people person and such a wonderful storyteller. He loves to turn people on to wilderness experiences that have a basic Zen quality, that free you to be in the moment. Because, when you're on the river, you can't think of anything else. All you can do is focus on the rapid that's right ahead."
Although she describes her father's business as "a one-man show," he has 10 employees in season and a roster of naturalists, anthropologists, winemakers, musicians and other experts that he hires for themed trips on their specialties.
Katz is a wilderness photographer who has worked in the Arctic on assignment for the National Geographic Society. He leads trips that combine photography and literature, hiking and rafting, and he offers informal photo instruction in the field on his Alaska adventures.
He and his daughter aren't the only guides in the household. Since 1980, his artist wife, Carol Duchamp, has led watercolor tours of France and Tuscany with her company, Art Trek.
"That's the rawest and one of the most pristine wilderness systems you could ever travel down," he says. "It's the largest glacial system outside of the poles. In this time period, when we speak so much about global warming and glaciers receding, you can still walk on glaciers and navigate around huge calving icebergs. You have very little contact with other rafting parties. There's no sign of civilization. It's a total immersion. People have the chance to make a huge transformational break."
His daughter doesn't make the Alaska trip anymore because, as she says, "Its long hours are exhausting to guide."
At age 60, is Dad still up for it? Is he even thinking of retiring?
"I can't imagine letting go," he says with a bright smile, "until I do."
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