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World traveler Sean Wirth shares adventures in Auburn

Sierra Club guest speaker has toured Ecuador, Africa, Alaska and more
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Sean Wirth, an environmental activist and “extreme vacationer,” will share photos and memories of his adventures Tuesday, Jan. 31, when he joins the Sierra Club Placer Group as a guest speaker at the Auburn Library.

Wirth and his wife, Cynthia Garcia, travel two to four months out of each year, and they stay far away from a “typical” vacation of relaxing by the beach or getting pampered at a resort. In 2009, he joined friends for a rafting trip down Alaska’s Alsek River, a wilderness river navigable at some points by only the most experienced whitewater adventurers. When planning for his trip, Wirth realized he hadn’t seen much of the Alaska scenery, so he decided to ride his bike more than 1,500 miles to get there.

“There was about a five-day stretch where it was rainy, windy and wet every day,” Wirth said of his trip, which was interspersed with train and ferry travel where necessary. “It was pretty miserable.”

But difficult experiences are a key part to Wirth’s vacations, and provide the theme of his upcoming discussion.

“If you had taken one of those hardships away,” Wirth said, “It would have felt very luxurious.”

Returning to a normal life after a luxurious vacation makes everyday living seem like a hardship, Wirth said. On the flip side, returning to civilization after roughing it for months puts your seemingly mundane life into perspective, and helps you appreciate how good some people really have it.

“I think that when one considers traveling, or any type of adventure situation, it should be something that enhances their whole life instead of something that is just a comparison to their whole life,” Wirth said.

Wirth, who lives in Sacramento, said he met Terry Davis, chair of the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club, after a presentation he made about his trips, and was invited to speak in Auburn.

His discussions include information about and photos from the Alaska trip and his recent experiences in South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania. Wirth and his wife went to Africa to meet with their daughter, who was studying abroad. Ciara Wirth, who graduated from Duke University in 2010, is a Fulbright scholar who now works with the Waodani tribe in the Amazon to preserve their native language through creating guidebooks of the area’s flora and fauna.

Ciara Wirth spent her childhood life traveling the world with her parents, having experiences not many parents would put their toddlers through.

“We were roundly criticized for a lot of the trips we would do,” Sean Wirth said, including multi-week backpacking excursions. “We were going to, as much as possible, lead the lives we originally planned, and include her as a part of it.”

Wirth’s discussion will place an emphasis on reducing carbon footprint while traveling, and how Third World countries can be memorable vacation destinations. On his trip to Rwanda, he was able to see mountain gorillas in the wild, where one walked right up to him. In juxtaposition to the beauty of the gorillas, Wirth toured a genocide museum there, a memorial to the more than 800,000 people killed in 1994.

When he’s not traveling, Wirth lives and works in Sacramento, where he is a full-time environmental activist and property manager.

“The frantic pace of today’s families often means that activities in nature – hiking, canoeing, photographing, etc. – are bypassed,” said Marilyn Jasper, chair of the Sierra Club Placer Group.

“To combat ‘nature deficit disorder,’ even though the Wirth family is as busy as any with jobs, commitments, etc., they make the effort to enjoy and explore the planet’s spectacular areas, yet create as small a carbon footprint as possible.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com.

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“Alaska to Africa: Thoughts on a Philosophy of Travel”

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31

Where: Auburn Library, 350 Nevada St., Auburn

Cost: Free

Info: (916) 652-7005