In our first edition of our "Adventurers on the Move" series, we talk to Don Blais (53 years), an outdoor enthusiast and passionate photographer. He lives with his amazing wife and 15-year old daughter, Katie, in Cumberland, Rhode Island (USA).
Don has a job that is truly fulfilling. As a Special Education Teacher he gets to combine both his teaching and his love for the mountains. Because Don runs a non-profit organization called "Kids in the Canyon". He teaches high school students life skills while accepting the physical challenge to hike through the Grand Canyon. This includes both the training for this trip and really doing it.
"Kids in the Canyon" is so popular with kids and parents alike that last year he took some of his students on a trip to the Alps with Alpenventures UNGUIDED. They hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2018. When we asked him, what impact this tour had on the kids who came along, he answered: "JT (Jose) and Jake are former students who are a little older. I know they had never done anything like this, and they have shared with me that this was a huge trip for them!"
Group picture of "Kids in the Canyon" on Tour du Mont Blanc.
Don has been quite busy lately because it is the end of a school year, and at the same time, he is preparing for his next adventure with Alpenventures UNGUIDED – he is going to hike the Alta Via 1 across the Dolomites in Italy. And again, students, family and friends will join him. What will he do differently compared to his last hut-to-hut hiking trip? "WEIGHT!!!!!"
Read more about Don, his "Kids in the Canyon" program and and their experiences in the Alps. Don will also give some insights about his experience on the Tour du Mont Blanc and why he keeps coming back to hike with Alpenventures UNGUIDED.
Curtains up for Don's story!
First, a few general questions...
A: "Please tell us a bit more about your ‘Kids in the Canyon‘ program. What is it about? What do you teach students? Do you have a motto?" D: "Our motto is Attendance, Academics and Attitude, and ‘Just rub some dirt on it!‘ It's about mentoring and providing opportunity. We believe talent is universal, but opportunity is not! We teach our kids and newbies (staff, etc.) everything they will need to be healthy and safe in the canyon...and we always say, it (all the stuff we tell them) will all make sense after your first 15 minutes of hiking in the canyon!"
The local news agency WPRI reports about the "Kids in the Canyon" program.
A: "How did you come up with the idea?"
D: "A conversation with a student who informed me that due to the fact he was from Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans don't hike and camp, and he could never go to ‘Colorado‘ to see the Grand Canyon, I knew I had to do something to rectify his experiential and geographical educations! I had always wanted to start my own organization (non-profit) and with my love of travel and photography, it was a natural fit!"
A: "Where do you see ‘Kids in the Canyon‘ in the future?"
D: "Hopefully, continuing on with the former students who now help me run the program taking over...after 13 years, I think we are still solid and going strong. We are continuing to make connections with different people, organizations and companies, and let's face it, the Grand Canyon never gets old, especially with new faces who are experiencing it for the first time."
A. "Where can people read more about your project?"
D: "Google Kids In The Canyon and there is a nice video put together by a local news agency. Our online presence is not big, we are working on it. I'm still a little old school when it comes to communications, but I realize the importance of social media."
Mont Blanc winding trek through green fields with mountain flowers.
A: "What’s your relationship like to the outdoors, especially the mountains, and long-distance hiking?"
D: "My mother would always kick me out of the house: 'go play!'. I miss her so much, as she was a huge believer in anything I did. My dad gave me National Geographic and my fate was sealed! I still think that I, someday, will have some photos published in Nat Geo. I was sucked in by the ‘adventure‘ of it all and the photos. I love the mountains and walking through them gives me life.....that and my new titanium hip!"
A: "What does adventure mean to you?"
D: "Anything shared with my daughter, fun and awesome people in the outdoors!"
A: "How did you first hear about Alpenventures UNGUIDED?" D: "Online search for exactly what Brittany does."
A: "Why did you choose them as your adventure planner?"
D: "Leap of faith and I did some homework online."
Let's talk about your first trip last year: the "TMB hike" with Alpenventures UNGUIDED.
It never gets tiring looking at this beautiful scenery.
Tour du Mont Blanc (2018)
A. "Why this hike?"
D: "It's the TMB...I had heard about Mount Blanc and the circuit for years! I (we) loved it and now Italy!!!!"
A. "What route did you take and how were the conditions like? Please tell us about the group that traveled with you."
D: "I don't remember if we went clockwise or counter...it doesn't matter as it was an awesome trip. A few challenges and one missed sign and some very long days, but we survived and got to see Courmayer and Chamonix during the world cup! It was awesome seeing the villages and towns and the huts we stayed in...love it!"
A: "What were the best moments?"
D: "The people we met, the food we ate and the scenery we saw. I got to speak some Japanese with a group of ladies in Italy and we just had a long, fun, exhausting trip that totally made getting up to go to work everyday worthwhile!!!!"
Lunch with a view over the mountain range.
A: "Did you face any challenges?"
D: "Daily, but my biggest concern was my camera batteries! Our group traveled great together and we just did our own thing. It's amazing, when you think about all you have to do each day is walk....just walk and keep your head in the game!"
A: "What impact do you think this had on the kids who came along?"
D: "JT (Jose) and Jake are former students who are a little older. I know they had never done anything like this, and they have shared with me that this was a huge trip for them!"
A: "How was the experience like with Alpenventures Unguided before, during and after your trip?"
D: "I have nothing but praise for Brittany and her efforts. I realize how difficult it must be to put the logistics together for these trips. My daughter will only be 15 once in her life, so I want to spend as much quality time with her, as time is fleeting!!!! It really is!"
Another big tour in Europe is coming up for you this summer. You will do Alta Via 1 hut hiking across the Dolomites in Italy with another group of people. Let's dive into that topic a bit.
The next adventure is just around the corner: The Dolomite High Route Alta VIa 1 in Italy.
Alta Via 1 (July 2019)
A. "Why did you decide to come back to the Alps and hike with Alpenventures UNGUIDED again?"
D: "I think Brittany planned a good trip for us with the availability that was out there...and it's the Alps! We just want a challenging, fun hike that is well planned. So at the end of the day, we can just enjoy and relax!"
A: "What do you expect from this hike?"
D: "I am hopeful that all the logistics ‘work‘ and we don't have to deal with money or accommodation questions at the huts! I have done my homework and have friends who are helping us put all the other pieces together. It should be another fun, epic time with friends!"
A. "What are you looking forward to the most?"
D: "People, food, sun, fun and the scenery!"
A. "Anything you’ll do differently compared to your previous hike?"
A. "Tell me about the group joining you on this hike."
D: "My daughter Katie, my lifelong friend Doug from San Francisco and a former student of mine with his dad and a family friend of their's – all from San Diego, California."
This sounds like a very nice group of family and friends. We'd like to close this interview with three final, fun facts about you. So here we go.
Evenings like these are magical in the Alps.
3 last questions...
A: "One thing you always have with you while being on tour?"
D: "My camera...it's old, but takes great pictures."
A. "What would your trail name (nickname) be and why?"
D: "Blais...I'm just Blais!"
A. "What’s your next big adventure?"
D: "Anything with my daughter. But a group of current and former students asked me to organize a trip to Iceland to hike the Laugavegur Trail. We did this trail 3 years ago, and it was awesome...we'll see! The Grand Canyon in 2020 with 'Kids in the Canyon', Iceland, and I would love to climb Mount Blanc, as well go to New Zealand, Australia and PNG."
We really appreciate Don for sharing his story with us. Thank you very much Don! It was very inspiring and we wish you all the best for Alta Via 1. Stay safe and happy adventuring! If you also want to share your adventure in the European Alps with the Alpenventures UNGUIDED community, please reach out to us. We would love to feature you in one of our "Adventurers on the Move" episode. You are also more than welcome to pitch your own ideas for a guest article to us. Please get in touch!