Interviews from the Edge of Adventure
ADVENTURER CASSIE DE PECOL
When I look for people to interview for Expeditious, I look for those that define Adventure. The dictionary defines it as, "a bold, usually risky undertaking; sometimes hazardous action of an uncertain outcome." Moreover an Adventurer, is someone that uses these "hazardous actions of uncertain outcomes" to test their limits, to push themselves in, and are thereby defined by them. I know that each journey leaves a lasting effect on you and your form from then, on out.
I was watching Naked and Afraid with my Dad, when I first heard of Cassie De Pecol. I didn't think too much about it at the time. I watched the program, where four people endured three weeks, naked in the wilderness. There were struggles for each of the contestants, mostly being physical. But not for Cassie. Her struggle was mental, and when her limits were pushed, they were caught on camera for the world to see. When I got the opportunity to interview her about her next expedition, I jumped. I wanted to learn more of her growth, and how it affected her. The television showed us her struggle, but didn't show us her growth.
Expedition 196 is an incredible odyssey that spans the entire globe promoting peace and women's empowerment through tourism.
But it is also one Adventurer's story of progress and strength.
Mountain Folk Adventure: I must touch briefly on your time on “Naked and Afraid.” In that show you experienced some things that most Americans may never, such as extreme hunger, and genuine vulnerability to the elements. Can you tell us about how your body reacted with those two extreme measures?
Cassie De Pecol: The hunger deprivation, the sleep deprivation, being exposed to the elements and facing to some extent, dehydration all took their toll on our bodies. Each one of us struggled with one more than others. For me, above all else was the mental struggle. For Manu, for example, it was the elements, the cold. Thankfully we were placed within an environment that was abundant with natural food resources such as snails, coconuts, oysters, and the like. Water wasn’t so much an issue either, as we collected much of it from the rain before we found our recurring water source. Sleeping at night was the worst; we maybe got 2 hours sleep each night for the 21 days due to the exposure of the elements, which was probably the worst part. At night it would fall to fifty degrees and all we could do was just pray it wouldn’t rain again. We all lost a significant amount of weight. I lost 14 lbs. and it took 6 months before my body could digest and hydrate itself properly. I did an Ironman 70.3 that April (6 months later) and it was a struggle, I knew it was due to my body not being fully healed from that experience.
MFA: How did it affect your mind?
CDP: It was this 21 day experience that unearthed the worst of who I am, and up until that point, I never truly knew who I was, what my true strengths and weaknesses were. Your head can get the best of you sometimes, but when you’re focused on primitive survival mode and working within a team setting, you will quickly find your strengths and weaknesses and what your mind is capable of. Naked and Afraid was the best, worst experience of my life up until that point. I realized above all that I work better alone and I’m grateful for that realization in that it prompted me to want to follow my dreams to travel the world, alone.
MFA: Can you discuss more about how if affected you physically? You’re a healthy and active young adult, and exposed your entire person to the elements for three straight weeks, how did your body react?
CDP: I lost 14lbs of muscle and it really messed up my physical stamina. I got back to the states and gained the 14lbs back in two weeks (literally), but exercising was so difficult to get back into after that. I had to completely reprogram my body from scratch in order for it to be up to par with what it was prior to the experience. It took a year for me to be able to work myself back up to my previous physical stamina and then some. I’m finally at a great physical point in my life but it took awhile to get here after that experience.
MFA: What did you learn about the functional limitations of your body that you might not have known previously?
CDP: I’ll never forget this one day where I was trying to leverage an orange out of a tree with a 10ft long stick. My partner was able to gather a few, however I just couldn’t do it. I wanted that orange so badly, but being already limited in strength from hunger, I could not reach it. I was so upset and felt like a child who couldn’t get his candy. It’s amazing what a sleep and food deprivation can do to you. You almost go back to your child-like state.
MFA: What did your body require to feel fully recovered and how long did it take?
CDP: It took a full year before I was physically restored from this experience. It took 7 months before my mind was healed from the backlash enough to take on life again. You’re changed from this sort of experience, it was almost like life slapping you in the face and saying, “wake up!” We would be lying in the dirt at various points throughout the day and especially before bed, and we’d talk about accomplishing our goals in life, eating certain meals, talking to certain people, enhancing ourselves. I talked of buying my dream car at the time (an Audi A4) and moving back out to California. After this experience, I did just that. I went on a mission to find my purpose. It took taking a step back and honoring my mind and body, and following it towards success.
MFA: Would you do it again?
CDP: In a heartbeat.
MFA: I also studied Tourism at University, and firmly believe that travel and tourism (including sustainable tourism) are a cure-all for many of the world’s problems. What were your reasons for getting into that business?
CDP: As a teenager fresh out of high school, I just wanted to find a way to see the world for the long term and I found that sustainable tourism was the way to do so. As I got older, I wanted to find a way to foster purpose through my travels. It’s been years of trying to fine tune how to cultivate my passions into a meaningful career and to me, as long as I can help people, experience unique cultures and environments and create a better understanding of our world in a sustainable way, then I’ve succeeded.
MFA: How has it helped in achieving your goals as an adventurer?
CDP: Since the age of 18 my eyes have been full of wonder and curiosity as to what our world is made of; people, cultures, environments. People ask me what I do, and I’m now confident enough to call myself an Explorer, a title that I’ve worked 8 years to achieve. After all, I can’t travel to 196 countries and not be an Explorer in some sense. I never thought I’d be an adventurer to this extent at the age of 25, but really, everything I’ve done up until this point in my life has lined up perfectly for my values to fall into this category, to hopefully create meaningful change throughout our world as a whole.
MFA: Love that attitude. We live in a country where a large percentage of people are afraid to travel internationally. What would you say to other Americans, especially women, who hesitate to travel internationally?
CDP: The media has the ability to naturally steer us away from international travel. We believe them, so we share with people the ‘dangers’ of traveling internationally, based on a story or two. It’s important to be aware of our world matters, but not to be intimated by them. The world is kind, people are kind, and you are safe. You have one life and what is meant to happen will. Be confident in the direction that you take, be respectful of their customs, be kind, and good things will come your way. I’ve traveled alone to 25 countries at this point as a blonde, American female and all I can say is that people couldn’t be more wrong about other countries. Walk into a country and form your own opinion as opposed to going in with certain expectations, and you’ll have a much more fulfilling experience.
MFA: How would you say it has benefited you personally?
CDP: From a young age I thought for some reason that our world was totally safe. I felt comfort in the unknown and I know that’s not a typical feeling, but it helped me to just dive into countries and areas of the world that were otherwise considered ‘dangerous’ to anyone else. But the benefit was being able to only see the positives in that place. When I travel, I’m not a big talker, I like to verbalize maybe two words in a day and the rest of the time just absorb my surroundings and make a mental blueprint. This has allowed me the space to learn and respect cultures and especially how to travel alone as a woman. When I’m not speaking, all of my senses are heightened and more aware to elements to experience the greatness of travel. Applying this to the real world, I’d say I’m more introverted than anything, and this trait has allowed me the mental capacity to sit alone for days, executing Expedition 196.
MFA: The “Declaration of Peace” that you will carry is a great idea. I hope that all travellers take a moment to read it and understand its value. Inevitably though, you will run into those that struggle with the idea of a “Peace Declaration.” What would you say to someone that challenges your cause?
CDP: I want people to understand that I’m not trying to walk into every country on earth and say ‘I come in Peace’. Peace is something that is not going to happen overnight and it surely is not going to be achieved with one woman handing a Declaration of Peace to a leader, even if it is 86 of them. What is going to make a difference is the youth who are involved and positively influenced by this mission. Their minds are fresh and they have a yearning to want to learn; these are the ones who will inevitably, shape our future. The Skal Presidents, Ministers of Tourism and Mayors of communities of whom I meet with, will be organizing an event with students from a local high school. It is here that I will not only deliver the Declaration of Peace to the leader, but also interact with the students by handing out Peace Bracelets made by Dogeared [a jewelry company of which she is sponsored], and hold an open discussion about fostering peace throughout our world through tourism. I want them to collectively be involved in peacemaking strategies within their own country and I want my visit to get them thinking about the importance of uniting our world citizens through travel and tourism. The documentary I will be producing as a result, will capture this movement and will ideally serve as a learning tool for educational institutions around the world. This is what will keep the momentum going even after I’ve successfully completed my Expedition.
MFA: As always, I love talking to other adventurers about the gear they love. Doing the math, your trip will be taking you to a new country every 6 days or so. What are your travel essentials?
CDP: Love this question! A good backpack is important along with a quick-drying travel towel and a good pair of headphones. But for this trip I’m also investing in a Kindle. I realize that I have 10 books that I must read in the next month, and that’s likely not going to happen. Sadly, I can’t carry them all on my trip either. So I think having a Kindle will save me on my 24 hour flights and bus rides. Although there’s one book that has made it with me to all countries that has really cleared my mind in hectic times; A Light in the Woods by Thoreau.
MFA: Expedition 196 is not a normal style of travel; how is it being modified to fit the rate of travel you’ll be experiencing?
CDP: I’ve had to plan my itinerary to where I have a full nights rest before I begin my mission in each country. I am anticipating my exhaustion well in advance so that I can plan accordingly and won’t be dragging during these important events. Typically with travel, I am able to allocate time for rest over the period of a few days while I’m on the road, but given the extensive, fast paced nature of this journey, I’ve had to develop a schedule that fits the mold of what I can physically and mentally endure.
MFA: I imagine you'll get very good at sleeping on airplanes! Thanks so much for taking the time with us and the Mountain Folk. Best of luck to you on Expedition 196. It will be an incredible journey.
Be sure to follow her journey at www.Expedition196.com.