An Interview with Adventure Tour Guide David Blank — and Why It’s “All About the Dogs”

Pro­fes­sion­al tour guide David Blank has trav­eled all over the world on adven­tures — from guid­ing tourists in Pana­ma (where he met his wife, Clau­dia) to back­pack­ing through­out East and South Africa to trav­el over 20,000 miles through­out North Amer­i­ca with his dog Max.

We talked to Blank about his love of adven­ture and why he decid­ed to open Hap­py Tails Tours, a dog-friend­ly tour com­pa­ny.

THE CLYMB: How did you get into adven­ture and decide to become a guide? Did you grow up spend­ing a lot of time out­doors or was this some­thing you adopt­ed as you got old­er?

DAVID BLANK: I grew up on a farm until I was 9, horse­back rid­ing, ski­ing and liv­ing out­side as much as pos­si­ble. I went to col­lege in Boul­der and hiked, skied, moun­tain biked, climbed and road tripped around the South West con­stant­ly, includ­ing almost every full moon. After grad­u­a­tion, when I was 22 I back­packed and hitch­hiked through East and South Africa. Along the way, I met a Kiwi named Rob who was an over­land guide. That’s when I learned peo­ple would actu­al­ly pay me to do what I love – trav­el! So, in Zim­bab­we, I asked around. The sea­son was over but one com­pa­ny man­ag­er referred me to a sim­i­lar com­pa­ny in the USA, Trek Amer­i­ca, and eight months lat­er I was lead­ing my first tour and I had found my call­ing.

THE CLYMB: Please tell us about your adven­ture with Max around the US – it sounds amaz­ing!

DAVID BLANK: One Fri­day after­noon at 4pm in May of 2000, I got a call from the Aus­tralian Cat­tle Dog Res­cue Asso­ci­a­tion that a beau­ti­ful 1.5‑year-old male was in a pound in Delaware, had been for three months, and would be euth­a­nized Mon­day morn­ing at 6am. Sat­ur­day at 9 a.m. I was sit­ting in a small room 12 x 12 feet. Max (then called Blue) was in the cor­ner star­ing at me. I was sit­ting in a chair in the mid­dle of a wall star­ing at him; ten min­utes of this and then he walked over, peed on my foot and jumped up into my lap and licked my face.

Max changed my life. In fact, when I got him I had just been laid off from a cor­po­rate job and had received anoth­er offer. I came home from an inter­view and Max had destroyed my apart­ment. I was furi­ous but a few min­utes of deep breath­ing and Max entered my brain and I real­ized he was right. I didn’t want to be stuck inside any­more either. Three weeks lat­er, I put Max on the back of my motor­cy­cle in an air­line crate and we spent a year trav­el­ing 20,000 miles through­out North Amer­i­ca. With­in weeks we were total­ly in tune and the trip was amaz­ing.

We car­ried every­thing we need­ed on the bike, and when we weren’t couch surf­ing vis­it­ing friends, we were camp­ing, which was about 70% of the time. We hiked and explored, met amaz­ing peo­ple, saw beau­ti­ful things, rode through 110 degrees in South Dako­ta and snow storms in Col­orado. We just took it one day at a time. We went as far south as Zihu­ate­neo Mex­i­co and spent two months camped on a beach in Baja eat­ing fish and clams.

THE CLYMB: Before mov­ing back to the US to open your own trav­el com­pa­ny here, you ran one in Pana­ma for sev­er­al years. Can you tell us more about that?

DB: Pana­ma is a beau­ti­ful coun­try, with amaz­ing jun­gles, beau­ti­ful beach­es, and sev­en won­der­ful indige­nous tribes and, of course, the Pana­ma Canal! Our com­pa­ny in Pana­ma, Adven­ture Tours Pana­ma (ATP) was real­ly focused on giv­ing peo­ple a per­spec­tive on the his­to­ry and cul­ture of Pana­ma.

We espe­cial­ly loved shar­ing the amaz­ing and wel­com­ing indige­nous cul­tures with vis­i­tors, which for most of them was their first and maybe only oppor­tu­ni­ty to see a cul­ture still essen­tial­ly inde­pen­dent from mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy and pres­sures. Of course, we took our three dogs, Max, Doz­er, and Margie on all of our tours, and peo­ple LOVED it.

THE CLYMB: What makes out­door adven­tures with a dog so great?

DB: When peo­ple get a dog, it’s not only because dogs give uncon­di­tion­al love and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to love uncon­di­tion­al­ly, but also because we dream of hav­ing that con­stant com­pan­ion that we intu­itive­ly know will trans­form our lives. Out­door adven­tures with a dog are great because they solid­i­fy that bond quick­ly. In my life, there have been three things that real­ly have the pow­er to trans­form me: trav­el, nature, and ani­mals. They are pow­er­ful beings and are often here as guides, part­ners, and friends. What Max need­ed, I need­ed. We were in some incred­i­bly remote places and I was nev­er wor­ried. I always had a friend to keep me present, and that’s one of the hard­est things for me. My mind is like a grey­hound! Going all the time. But the dogs are present and they keep me present. Plus, even though I am an adven­ture guide and have been since 1993, I’m shy in some ways. So when I was lone­ly, I would park my bike in front of a restau­rant or bar, or in one case a crash up der­by, and min­utes lat­er I had a dozen friends talk­ing to me and pet­ting Max.

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THE CLYMB: What made you open a dog-friend­ly adven­ture tour com­pa­ny? And can you tell us about some of the dog-friend­ly adven­ture options you offer?

DB: We cre­at­ed Hap­py Tails Canine Adven­ture Tours to give dogs the chance of ful­fill­ing their mis­sion and humans of ful­fill­ing that dream of hav­ing a canine side­kick that they are total­ly bond­ed to by cre­at­ing a world where dog and human can be togeth­er all the time, shar­ing amaz­ing adven­tures.

One of my favorite tours we offer is the Howl at The Moon Full Moon Kayak And Sup Adven­ture! We take folks out dur­ing the full moon with their dog on the Cataw­ba Riv­er, we don’t use lights and just go by the light of the moon. It’s fan­tas­tic.

We have some amaz­ing one and two-week tours of the South­west planned for spring of 2019! We’ll do the Grand, Zion, Bryce, Mon­u­ment Val­ley, Moab, and Lake Pow­ell. But that’s just the tip of the ice­berg. There is a huge num­ber of fan­tas­tic des­ti­na­tions out there that few peo­ple know about and even less vis­it and they are per­fect places to explore with a dog or dog group!

THE CLYMB: Any par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges to tak­ing your dog along on adven­tures?

DB: There are always places you can’t go, but the incon­ve­nience is incon­se­quen­tial for the most part, and I learned long ago that chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties are a mat­ter of per­spec­tive.

So what oth­ers see as chal­lenges, I often see as oppor­tu­ni­ties. While set­ting up these adven­tures for Hap­py Tails, a tour oper­a­tor in Utah said, “It’s a shame because you won’t be able to real­ly spend time in the big Nation­al Parks – they are not very dog-friend­ly.” My response was that he had to change his think­ing! “You mean we won’t have to spend a week with 100,000 of our clos­est friends at the Grand Canyon? Sounds great! We’ll do all the amaz­ing things that the world has to offer that oth­ers don’t do. We’ll go off the beat­en path. That’s where the real mag­ic hap­pens.”

THE CLYMB: If you had to choose one out­door adven­ture you went on that was crazy and you’ll nev­er for­get, what would that be?

DB: Wow! How much time do you have? But of all the adven­tures, I would say that besides the amaz­ing motor­cy­cle trip with Max, South Africa was the most impres­sive expe­ri­ence I have ever had. After two months of trav­el­ing with my friend Celine, I hitched a ride to South Africa. I spent a month hitch­hik­ing all over the entire coun­try by myself and it was incred­i­ble. All I knew was what I had learned on cam­pus in Boul­der from Anti-Apartheid activists liv­ing in the quad in card­board box “shan­ty towns” in protest. To me, it was a sim­ple white vs. black, oppres­sor vs. under­dog. But what I learned is that it was also white vs. white (Eng­lish vs. Afrikans) and black vs. black vs. black (Zulu vs. Cor­sa vs. etc.). Sud­den­ly my eyes were blown wide open.

The peo­ple, black and white, were incred­i­bly nice to me. I was there for a month and nev­er once paid for a place to sleep and maybe paid for five meals. Peo­ple would pick me up hitch­hik­ing and take me home. I still love to hitch­hike. I con­sid­er it the ulti­mate free­dom –you nev­er know where you will go, who you will meet or what you will expe­ri­ence, and for­tu­nate­ly for me, it’s always been good, although fre­quent­ly a bit strange!