Such is the life of this 54-year-old entrepreneur who has wanderlust coursing through his veins.
In Olympia, Shepherd is the owner of Compass Rose, the colorful eco-friendly store on Capital Way that is a magnet for curious shoppers who like to get lost in their mind while browsing.
A fixture downtown since 1999, the store with the bamboo ceiling and cork floor sells brightly colored kitchenware, artisan jewelry, books, calendars, purses, children’s toys and a whole bunch of other eclectic items.
Among the toys for tots are little blow-up plastic ponies made in Italy, each called Rody.
The yellow Rody is missing from an upper shelf these days, but not because the Compass Rose’s friendly staff sold it. No, Shepherd carted it off to Africa with him this month, then carried it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet, it’s the highest point on the African continent and the world’s tallest free-standing volcano. By comparison, Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet.
Chatting over coffee last week, Shepherd showed me a picture of himself, an inflated Rody and an African guide, all bundled up for their few minutes at the mountain’s Uhuru Peak. Knowing that oxygen is in short supply at that altitude, I asked him how he blew up the toy.
“I had a pump with me,” Shepherd said.
There are several routes to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Shepherd hiked up the Marangu route, which includes dormitory-type accommodations along the six-day trip, giving climbers time to acclimate to the altitude and, with any luck, avoid altitude sickness.
Initially, the journey to Africa was going to be a personal trip, a chance to catch up with an old friend in Uganda. But before he left Olympia, he turned it into a fundraising trip, too.
Shepherd persuaded several Olympia businesses to donate $100 to an orphanage in Jinja, Uganda, for every 1,000 feet he climbed above the height of Mount Rainier. The sponsors of the climb included his own store, Thurston First Bank, the Rants Group, Fifth Avenue Fitness, Archibald Sisters and Alpine Experience.
Shepherd hedged his bet for success, knowing nearly 5,000 feet separates the summits of the two iconic mountains, and knowing that only about 40 percent of the 15,000 people who attempt each year to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit make it.
“I don’t like asking for money, but there’s a lot of need there,” Shepherd said of the situation in Uganda. “There’s a lot of families that have been torn up by civil war and many children left parentless by AIDS.”
Shepherd, who has traveled to some 25 countries, said the Mount Kilimanjaro climb is the highlight of his travel experiences.
Once off the mountain, he gave Rody to a young African girl he met on a backcountry dirt road.
“As you can imagine, Rody was a hit on the Kilimanjaro climb,” he said. “Everyone – climbers, guides, park employees – would laugh and want to know what the heck this bright-yellow blow-up toy was doing on Mount Kilimanjaro.”
I’m not sure there’s a real good answer other than Shepherd wanted to do something quirky, which is completely within character for a guy whose business card reads, Paul Shepherd “Always Gone.”
The Olympia Film Society will present three short documentaries with a salmon-recovery and habitat-restoration bent at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia.
The films are a labor of love by Marrowstone Island resident Shelly Solomon, who combines her background as a biologist and landscape architect with a passion for environmental filmmaking.
The short films are:
“River as Spirit – Rebirth of the Elwha River.” The film, shot in slow motion from a helicopter traveling from the river’s source high in the Olympic Mountains to its mouth at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, captures the river just a week before the historic removal of the Elwha River dams began. The film is set to Native American music and poetry and narrated in the native Klallam language with English subtitles.
“Buried in Sawdust for 50 Years,” which tells the story of restoration of the Salmon Creek estuary in Discovery Bay, an estuary used for years by a small milling operation to dump wood waste 60 feet high.
“Illahee – Saving Puget Sound One Watershed at a Time,” which chronicles a small Kitsap County community’s work to restore a forest, a salmon stream and part of Puget Sound.
A short discussion is scheduled after the showing of each film.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444