Imagine being responsible for a group of your peers on a horseback journey through the mountains of Mongolia. That would take a leader with a truly extraordinary set of skills.
Welcome to AMC’s Adventure Travel program, in which AMC members volunteer and get trained to lead 12 to 14 travelers per trip across borders and cultures to experience natural wonders. We spoke with three such leaders—Pam Wilmot, who has led two trips each to Italy and Tanzania; Dick Cable, who has led 29 trips to destinations including India, Patagonia, and Mongolia; and Steve Cohen, who has led 19 expeditions across Europe and the Alps—about the weight of responsibility they carry, managing group dynamics abroad, and their most striking trip memories.
Wilmot: I lead about 15 trips a year for the Boston Chapter Hiking and Backpacking Committee. What makes them different [from leading Adventure Travel] is the amount of planning and the people skills that you need to manage folks on your trip.
Cable: You’d better have a joie de vivre. You’d better love what you’re doing every minute.
Cohen: Self-confidence. Up in the Swiss mountains somewhere, it’s really important that you project that confidence, so the group stays with you in terms of whatever you decide.
Wilmot: These are definitely my bucket-list sites.
Cable: I do pick trips based on where I want to go, but they’re always tempered with: Will I have enough people who want to go to the same place I want to go?
Cohen: I lived in Germany and Switzerland. I feel that I have something extra to offer participants when we go there: I can speak the language, I can interpret the signs, and I can comment on the cultural elements.
Wilmot: As you lead more and more trips, often leaders get a
following of people. But by and large, it is a group of people who don’t really know each other. By the end, they become close friends, and a lot of times they have warm, lasting relationships that continue.
Cable: What I’ve often said in leadership training is that you hope you screen well, but the sign of a good leader is how you manage the person on your trip that you wish were not on the trip.
Cable: We had been riding for four days, over the mountain ranges toward the Darkhad Valley, which is up toward Siberia, in northern Mongolia. Our goal was to meet with the Darkhad Mongols, the nomadic people from that particular area. We came over the pass, rounded a corner, and [there] was the valley, looking west. In front of us were gers, the homes of the nomadic families: one here, another one off in the distance, and so on. There were herds of cattle and sheep and goats. We rode onto that plane, and I think there was not a dry eye.
Cohen: We were hiking in the [Italian] Dolomites. We walked down into a valley, and there were wild horses there. I think I was sweeping [or bringing up the rear of the group], so everyone else had left the valley. All of a sudden, the horses got startled, and I had a herd of wild horses running right at me. I just put my arms down and hoped for the best. The horses passed within a foot or two of me on either side.