Joshua Borchardt grew up near Weaver Lake, exploring old farmhouses and abandoned buildings on walks with his dad and dog. When trails were added nearby, he’d grab his bike, a fishing pole and a walkie-talkie to venture to farther, more interesting spots. And, when a car meant he was no longer confined to the few miles around his home, “I was gone!” Borchardt says.
In high school, he became a professional Scuba diver and gave CPR to a coworker before he died in a diving accident. “As a 16-year-old, you don’t know what’s going on in that environment. But an experience like that—it changes you,” says Borchardt. Now, a decade out of high school, he’s become an adventurer through and through, dabbling in extreme sports and traveling to obscure places around the world in search of taller mountains and more interesting views.
He once hiked 50 miles of the Escalante Route wilderness trail through the Grand Canyon and has punched trails through ice and snow on a dogsledding trip with guide Paul Schurke. He even finished a master’s in space studies in 2014, studying life on Mars and working on public policy about space exploration.
He’s done pro bono work profiling early pioneers and advocates of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) for the documentary The Singing Wilderness, and endured a 10-day, winter solo trip in the BWCA to raise money for it. “That was the most rewarding project I’ve worked on—it has a real, tangible impact,” he says.
Borchardt and a crew film in all conditions, once finding themselves between a forest fire coming in from Canada and a blizzard on the Minnesota side. They spent that night in a bivy—short for “bivouac,” a makeshift shelter along a cliff—and “two people died on that lake that night when their canoe flipped over. Here we were filming, with the wilderness creeping in. This stuff is transformative,” he says. “My day-to-day decisions seem so much more trivial. I spend money on access, not things. I ask ‘what will get me new experiences?’”
Borchardt is fascinated by the way adventure trips have changed of late, with hashtags, Google and travel apps impacting when and where people go. Satellite phones and fall-back options have made trips safer, too.
He’s now pursuing a teaching degree so he can share his learning with young people and have summers off to travel. He says, “These experiences with self-reliance and collaboration in group contexts—man, the best and worst of you comes out, and that’s so important to teach kids.” Borchardt is engaged to a big wall climber, and upcoming trips include Wyoming’s Wind River Range to develop their ice climbing skills.
ake Sexton remembers being struck with fascination at the list of obscure places on the departures board on a family trip to Dallas during high school. “I realized just how close I was to all those places. Quatar. India. Places I had never considered going before,” Sexton says. He started playing around with destinations, pricing out trips on travel apps. While they seemed unattainable at the time, he began saving. Then he jumped at a chance to visit the Cayman Islands with his biology class and do a homestay in Colombia for Spanish.
When a friend lost his dad to a heart attack, he realized “there’s no time to put that kind of stuff off,” he says, and was motivated to make some of his dream trips happen. He went with his dad to Maine and then booked his first solo trip to Ireland, 6,000 miles from his support network. On his own, he figured out transportation, budgeting and accommodations. Hostels, he learned, could give him access to interesting people. “‘Sketchy’ is all relative,” says Sexton, laughing. “I’ve never felt unsafe, but some [hostels] were kind of gross.”
Now 20 and a full-time student at St. Thomas, Sexton bartends and socks away tips to fund his adventures. “I have almost a healthy obsession,” he says. “I have 10 or 15 trips in the back of my mind, on deck for when I have the money and the time.” He uses Hostelworld, Airbnb, SkyScanner and Scott’s Cheap Flights apps, but prefers less techy ways of developing itineraries on the ground. “Uber drivers, people I meet … I just ask questions,” Sexton says. “I ask where I should go, what I should eat. People are great, and locals are awesome resources.”
In the last 18 months, Sexton has taken four trips to Europe and one to Cuba. This month he’s in Tanzania, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise on New Year’s Day—for which he’s trained on a StairMaster for months, simulating altitude with an oxygen deprivation mask. Then he’ll head to Ecuador for an internship and plans to travel home in May without using a plane. On his trips, Sexton’s been lost. He’s nearly been scammed. He’s had his bag stolen, which inspired some ongoing jokes and a challenge to do a weekend in Venice on 40 Euro.
“The more you do it, the more confident you get,” Sexton says. “You will talk yourself out of taking the risk or the sacrifices that are necessary to realize your dream. But it’s given me a wider worldview. The good and bad and joyful and miserable—everything is amplified on the road. It’s all given me more confidence in my decisions back at home.”