Dani and Mike (The Mortells)

Today's Explorers

Dani and Mike (The Mortells)

April 26, 2022
min read
Charles Forman

Where are you from?

Dani: Ohio, Mike: Pennsylvania

When did you start your interest in exploration?

Dani: first traveled to France in high school as part of a student exchange program. 

Mike: spent part of his childhood in Kenya and Uganda, where his dad built community hospitals.

What is a brief understanding of your background story up until you started seeking adventure?

Dani: I didn't have much exposure to camping, hiking or traveling when growing up in Ohio. Most of my time was dedicated to sports, and apart from occasional family vacations to Tennessee, we only traveled to wherever my softball tournaments took us. In high school and then in college, I jumped at opportunities to study abroad (France, Senegal, Haiti). Post college, it was when I lived in new cities on my own that I began to seek the peace of the outdoors and began hiking. I was figuring out how to live on my own, going through difficult relationship things, and I really began to take comfort in hiking and being outdoors.

Mike: Growing up we travelled a lot. I spent six years of my childhood in Kenya and Uganda, and my family would often get out to explore the countries we were living in. The idea of travel and exploration was a norm in our family. My parents and aunts and uncles had all spent time living in other countries when they were younger, and some continue to travel extensively. It wasn't until after college though that I began to travel on my own. I got a job which involved traveling to different countries in Asia for several months at a time (Korea, Japan, and Taiwan). It was during this time that I took an interest in photography--I learned while exploring the towns and countries I was working in. Since then, I set a goal for myself to go to at least one new country a year (which I did up until covid hit).

What special skills do you have to help with your explorations?

Mechanical engineer - Mike

Photo/videography - both

Writing - Dani

French - Dani (we hope to put this skill to use sometime)

Spanish - we're both learning

Navigation, first aid - we both want to learn more

Where have you explored so far?

Mike: Uganda, Kenya, Switzerland, Germany, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Argentina

Dani: Senegal, Haiti, Peru

Both: Iceland, Belize, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Philippines, Nepal, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada

What is a brief understanding of your adventures so far?

We both had a serious love for travel before we met. It was only natural that once we were together, travel would be one of our greatest priorities. On a whim, we celebrated our three month anniversary in Europe, hopping from Paris to Brugge to Amsterdam. Around six months, we took a three week trip to Nepal to hike nearly 100 miles to and from the base camp of Mount Everest. Our focus was typically on international travel until the pandemic hit. Prior to covid, we would take weekend trips or the occasional week-long trip around Colorado and neighboring states in our simple truck camping setup (truck bed topper, drawer system and sleeping platform). But when we started working from home in March of 2020, we realized we could spend more of our time outdoors while working remotely. This is when we upgraded to a Scout Olympic camper and began traveling extensively around the western part of the US. And now, we're actually preparing to move out of our house and into our Scout Kenai camper full time (we upgraded again for a bit more living/storage space).

What are the top three destinations you hope to explore next, and why?

(1) Alaska is the next new destination that we have planned for later this year. We are beyond excited to venture way up north and take our time enjoying all the beauty and wildlife that Alaska has to offer.

(2) Baja is a destination that we've wanted to explore for a while now but haven't yet done so. From what we've heard and seen, it's an incredible place to explore, camp and enjoy the beaches and food. We also might try working on our Spanish while we're there.

(3) Mexico mainland would be next on the list. We can't wait to experience the culture that Mexico has to offer, and again, work on our Spanish. Our tentative goal is to travel the full Pan American Highway over the next couple of years.

Where would you recommend others visit?

Anywhere and everywhere!

Dani: Senegal has a special place in my heart, as I spent a lot of time there and really got to know the culture and the people. The people are incredibly friendly, the food is insanely delicious (rice dishes particularly), and there's a lot of history to learn about and witness. It's also not a destination that many folks from the U.S. would consider, which makes it all the better.

Mike: It's a toss up between Argentina and Japan, two of my absolute favorite countries to visit. Both of them have fascinating cultures and excellent food. The mountains and landscapes in Argentina are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, and the culture of respect in Japan is incredible to experience.

Both: We love spending time in the Pacific Northwest and exploring around Oregon and Washington.

How do you primarily travel on your adventures today?

Ram 3500 truck with Scout Kenai camper. Top three modifications would be: AEV prospector upgrades (suspension, 3" lift, front bumper, winch), custom flatbed with additional storage boxes (coming soon), used Tesla battery electrical system (also coming soon). We're currently in the process of completing these upgrades.

What are five pieces of equipment that you always travel with?

Camera gear, MAXTRAX recovery boards, Garmin inReach, extra backpacker (dehydrated) meals in case of emergency, full size spare tire on RIG'd Supply ultra swing

What inspires you to explore more?

We both tend to get a little restless when we're in one place for too long. There's some sort of internal drive that we both have that makes us want to see as much of the world as possible. And when we do get out and explore -- locally or internationally -- the experience always leaves us wanting more and reinforces that drive. It doesn't have to be glamorous or anything, it just has to be new and different. And really, we prefer more rugged and challenging adventures to the easy breezy ones.

How do you engage with others?

We always approach others from a place of respect and deference to the local culture. We try to be careful not to impose ourselves upon others, yet to be open to meeting folks and engaging in conversations, and so on.

Why is it important to embrace global cultures?

To get the most out of travel, it's critical to embrace local cultures. Seeing how people might live differently, hearing and learning new languages, trying new foods, and making connections with folks are some of the most fulfilling aspects of travel. It opens our minds, can make us more creative and empathetic people, and it just makes life more colorful and interesting in general. And on the flip side, when communities feel that travelers embrace their culture and way of life, as opposed to turning their noses up and imposing their own languages and expectations on said communities, they tend to embrace the travelers right back. People who don't travel will often talk about how dangerous it is to travel to unfamiliar places--but these are people who have never experienced the kindness, warmth and generosity that many travelers experience regularly from locals in communities.

What are your goals when you explore?

Simply exploring is usually the goal. Seeing what a new place is like, getting a taste of the local culture, and enjoying the natural beauty it has to offer. We also try to document our experiences with photos and sometimes video.

What are some challenges you have experienced?

Dani: I have been dealing with Long Covid since May of 2020, which has significantly impacted how we travel. Due to my physical limitations, I'm now unable to explore in the ways that we used to be accustomed to - running, walking, hiking, backpacking, etc. Before I got sick, we were getting into mountain biking. In the winters, we usually camp near ski resorts and snowboard as much as we can. But now we've had to adapt how we explore, which is very much dependent on our vehicle. We take scenic drives and spend more time at camp. My illness has been a huge challenge overall, but being able to still get out and explore while I'm dealing with this, albeit in a different way, has been a huge help.

What has been your most meaningful moment so far?

Dani: It's hard to say, but having the ability to get out and explore during the pandemic and my illness has been an extremely meaningful aspect of our travels so far. We've been fortunate to have access to outdoor spaces to escape to and social distance from during this time. And with my illness, being able to travel and explore has spared me from severe depression and restlessness while my physical ability has been seriously altered.

How has exploration changed you?

We firmly believe that exploring and traveling makes us better people. We have a global worldview and can understand and empathize better with others' lived experiences. We have a deep appreciation for our planet and the land we travel on. We strive to learn more about indigenous peoples and their histories. Without exploration, we would be living in a small bubble with no understanding or appreciation of what was beyond it, and our minds and hearts would be much less open to anything that was unfamiliar to us.

What is the number one lesson that you have learnt through your exploration?

Generally, people are kind-hearted and want to help you in any way they can. The outpouring of generosity and welcoming that we've experienced in our explorations is overwhelming. Of course, you need to be conscientious about safety when traveling anywhere, but we've found that there are kind and helpful strangers abound anywhere you go.

How do you explore locally?

There's so much you can do right where you live. We love taking walks in our neighborhood. We've made a point to walk along every street in our little town. We check out local restaurants, breweries and coffee shops. We use AllTrails to find walking paths nearby. We spend weekends in the nearby mountains. Sometimes we'll take a drive somewhere just to watch the sunset. We participate in community events in our neighborhood. Dani first got into hiking by looking up local trails when she lived in Ann Arbor, MI and Atlanta, GA. Over time, she began seeking out longer and more challenging trails around her.

What does the explmore mantra mean to you?

The explmore mantra reflects the way we strive to live our lives. We want to see as much of the world as possible, but we also know that exploring without experiencing new cultures and making connections along the way, or without sharing the experiences with others, our travels would be a lot less fulfilling.

What advice would you give to others who are seeking life changing adventure?

Life changing adventures can start in your own backyard. Exploring where you are is the most accessible way to begin adventuring. Check out local parks and trails, and explore parts of your town that are unfamiliar to you. Volunteer with a local, community organization. The more comfortable you get with these sorts of things, the more you'll feel empowered to start raising the bar and pushing your own limits. For Dani, she started hiking on short, city trails in Michigan, and a few years later, she was in Peru hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Everyone has to start somewhere.

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