VAIL, Colorado - Majka Burhardt wants you to be uncomfortable.
"I strongly believe that our conversations, and thus lives, are better when we are willing to be uncomfortable," said Burhardt in an e-mail. "If I could ask anyone to do anything, it would be that. There is beauty in allowing ourselves that space, and ultimate growth. I'm a climber. I'm uncomfortable all the time. Once you start doing it, you can get addicted."
The writer, climber and guide is constantly pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, constantly pursuing new adventures, whether it is bringing back the lost sport of Rollerblading (as detailed in an entry on her blog "The Liminal Line") or traveling to Mozambique with a group of reptile specialists to climb in search of a rare gecko, an expedition she's in the process of planning right now. Burhardt even coined a term to describe her own unique brand of thrill seeking, "Additive Adventure." She will be in Vail tonight as part of the Vail Symposium's Unlimited Adventure series to regale residents with stories of her adventures in traveling and climbing and, yes, hopefully to challenge her audience to get uncomfortable.
Additive Adventure happens when adventure goes beyond exploration into connection, when adventure is the catalyst for something deeper, something more profound, Burhardt said. Take, for example, her pending expedition to Mozambique.
"I'm launching an expedition there that profiles conservation in action with an interface between human livelihood advancements and biodiversity preservation, all catalyzed by cliff-side access," she said. "To me, this is a great example of Additive Adventure. All of these things are interdependent on each other, and will all be advanced by one and other."
Burhardt grew up in Minneapolis and now calls Boulder home. Her passion for adventure is something that has been with her since childhood. She was on skis at the age of 3 and raced throughout her childhood. She looked up to legendary explorers like Jacques Cousteau and always jumped at the chance to be outside. She spent her summers at camp and always took the opportunity to rock climb on the camp's adventure days, something she admits was more a means to gain access to the sweet treats that were notoriously offered to participants than anything else.
"In reality, I got hooked on climbing because of sugar and a bad haircut that gave me too much to prove at a young age," said Burhardt. "But I grew to love climbing and make it part of my daily life because of how, when I'm doing it right, it takes all of me - the mental, physical, emotional, and intellectual."
Today Burhardt has traveled all around the world for the love of climbing, from Colorado to Ethiopia and is sponsored by Patagonia, Osprey Packs, Petzl, Scarpa, Julbo, Outdoor Research and is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide.
Burhardt's No. 1 destination for adventure, and all the goodness that can come out of it, these days is Africa. About 90 percent of her work is centered on Africa, a continent that, as it turns out, has been on her mind since childhood.
"Truth be told, when I was 8 years old, I wrote a song about Ethiopia," Burhardt said. "I think I was just so impassioned about the famine there."
She has a video of her young self singing that song that she often shows in her presentations.
Burhardt's adult self eventually landed in Ethiopia as a journalist in search of a rare coffee. The climber in her discovered the country's unexplored sandstone towers, and that's what kept her there. Burhardt's initial and subsequent journeys to Ethiopia resulted in two books, "Vertical Ethiopia: Climbing Toward Possibility in the Horn of Africa," which was short-listed for the Banff Book Award, and "Coffee Story: Ethiopia," due out this spring.
Burhardt plans to keep returning to Africa as long as her work, and her heart, calls her there, in order to gain more understanding about a continent many still know little about. "We need portals into those countries to gain understanding," she said. "Adventure gives me those portals."
Tracey Flower works as a communications associate with the Vail Symposium. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.