For many children, the accomplishments of their parents loom large in their lives. For Khobe Clarke, his father — Calgary adventurer Jamie Clarke, who twice summited Everest and crossed Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter — loomed quite literally.
“Behind me was a picture of him on the summit, beside me was his Everest suits that he wore,” Khobe says of his spot at the counter of the Out There Adventure Centre, the now-closed Stephen Avenue outdoor gear retailer his father co-founded.
When he worked there when he was younger, Khobe was asked if he ever wanted to climb Everest himself. A lot.
“Anybody who knew I was his son would ask,” he continues. “It was like a script. Every day, 10 times a day. People would walk in there just to talk to me about it. Maybe one day I’ll get so fed up with people asking me about it, I’ll go do it so I can be like, yep. And then move on.”
He’s not quite ready to tackle Everest — he hasn’t even climbed a mountain yet — but he’s ready to embark on his first adventure with his father. Over a month, the two are crossing Mongolia on motorbikes and climbing several peaks in the Altai mountain range, including Mongolia’s highest mountain Khüiten.
Jamie says the adventure has three purposes: to spend time with Khobe before the recent high school graduate embarks onto the next chapter of his life, to overcome the physical challenge of the roadless and fenceless terrain of Mongolia, and to “digitally detox.”
“I’m 51, I barely remember life without the Internet and smartphones,” Jamie says. “Khobe was born in 2000, some of his first memories are playing Brick Breaker with me on my Blackberry. I was fascinated with the technology when Khobe was first born and smartphones in ’07. Think about the quality of video games today compared to when I was a kid. And then you add streaming services like Netflix — it’s a lot of screen time, which can often lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. We thought, where can we go? What can we do to create some separation between us and technology?”
Jamie says “we,” but Khobe wasn’t as on board with the disconnection when the trip was first proposed. He admits that he’s dependent on his smartphone and that he’s “on it more than he’s off it,” and it took him a while to come around to the concept.
“I’m very much more interested in the production side of it, like the documentary and the adventure, the ride and the climb more than disconnecting,” Khobe says. “I do feel though it’s necessary. I think I need it, but I really, really don’t want to do it.”
They’ll be documenting it, of course; a videographer is coming along with them and there’s a documentary with Netflix about the journey in the works. But they won’t be tweeting, Instagramming or Snapchatting. The irony is that this is a social media influencer’s dream trip, filled with stunning visuals that could generate plenty of instant feedback in retweets and likes.
“We’ve had lots of discussions about that,” says Jamie. “We should share the journey, we want to inspire people. Well, that’s a little bit —”
“Hypocritical,” Khobe finds the word Jamie was searching for.
“Hypocritical,” Jamie agrees. “Take a break from tech but here we are in Mongolia, follow us on Instagram.”
“The choice is primarily about disconnecting from social media, disconnecting from that daily use of a phone,” Jamie continues. “But that doesn’t mean abandoning safety. (It means) embracing technology where it can help you.”
That means they’ll be equipped with an inReach mini location device, a satellite phone and medical evacuation insurance. The purpose, besides safety, is to maintain at least one connection: with the family back home, Khobe’s mom and Jamie’s wife Barbara and Khobe’s younger sister.
“I’ve been doing this for my whole life so Khobe’s mom is familiar with me doing it, but now I’m dragging Khobe along with me,” Jamie says. “She’s worried that two of some of the people that she likes a bit — I know she loves you,” he says with a grin to Khobe, “are disappearing and not going to be in touch. Out of respect for those that we are leaving behind, we want to be able to send a message that we’re OK.”
Despite Khobe’s inexperience in climbing mountains, most of the preparation time has been focused on the motorbiking. The two have attended motocross camps to prepare themselves for the unpredictable terrain of Mongolia.
“The great thing about climbing as a parent and a teammate, we’re on a rope together,” Jamies says. “I feel quite comfortable about managing that risk. The motorcycling for both of us is relatively new.”
Jamie says he’s enjoyed the process of learning with his son.
“To do something where you’re both the novices, to learn together, you’re both the student, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Khobe accelerated. It was great to see him do well while I struggled.”
The struggle included a fall where Jamie broke his arm in March. He pulled a “whiskey throttle,” losing control of his bike, panicking, flipping over and then the bike hit him while he was on the ground.
“I’m not as malleable as I thought,” Jamie says. “Khobe is 18 and there’s some benefit to that. And you’re just a better athlete. I’d rather break my arm in California where we have infrastructure and learn that lesson. Adventures afar can be dangerous, though they look more dangerous than they are. The preparation and the planning is how you manage the risk.”
They’ve been preparing for over a year. What they can’t prepare for after they leave on July 28 is “the longest and most intense stretch of time we’ve really ever spent with each other,” as Jamie puts it.
“Even though we’re going to be in each other’s kitchen the whole trip, luckily we can escape into your helmet and be in your own thoughts for a few hours, driving,” Jamie says.
Jamie turns to Khobe, “What do you think of that?”
“I don’t mind you,” Khobe responds dryly.
“Hey, dude, that’s a compliment.”
“We have more similarities than differences.”
“There’s a bit of trash talk.”
“Khobe’s constantly cutting me down and it’s well deserved. And I’m giving him s— endlessly.”
“I think it’ll be good,” Khobe says. “I don’t think there will be any — though some people might like to see it — serious beef between you and I. I think it’ll be fun.”
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