Backpacking Europe

Running with the bulls, Pamplona, Spain

The Narcisse Snake Pits, Canada


Summit of Kilimanjaro and a safari on the Serengeti, Africa


The Haute Route, Switzerland and Italy

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, Peru

The Vinson Massif, Antarctica

Another manila folder full of memories has been tucked away in Kent Irwin's coat closet.

This one is packed with details from the retired Omahan's trip to Antarctica in December. The 30-below temperatures, eight days snowbound due to bad weather, and a list of new buddies. There's a lot of time to sleep and talk when you're stranded on a glacier in a tent.

The folder joins others — a dozen or more for his various trips.

Since he and his wife, Mary, went on their first backpacking trip to Europe in 1973 they have been on adventures that have spanned all seven continents. Son Joe, an architect in San Francisco, is a frequent traveling partner, too.

"We go to stuff, that's what we do,'' Kent Irwin said. "We're just always looking for interesting things to go to and do.''

One folder might fuel the story of a 110 mile walk across the Alps, another the climb of the Denali Mountain Range in Alaska. Denali, with its avalanches and deep crevasses, was far more dangerous, Irwin said, than trying to scale the Vinson mountain range close to the southernmost tip of the world last month.

There was the running with the bulls in Spain, a safari in Africa's Serengeti, a summer in China teaching English and American culture, and back at home, a bicycle ride from coast to coast. He's even run 10 marathons, including the Boston Marathon that was bombed, in 2013.

As well as his folder system, Irwin keeps track of his trips in a blog, He's also writing a book.

"Traveling is not for everybody. A lot of people don't even travel outside the state of Nebraska,'' Irwin said. "It's always been exciting for us. We've had opportunities to go to a lot of places.''

Irwin, who grew up in Iowa, said he didn't come from a family of adventurers. But he traveled a lot in his job as a nuclear engineer, and he and Mary, an art teacher, made sure they and their three children experienced everything locally they could.

Once, when Irwin worked at a startup nuclear power plant in Midland, Michigan, he and a friend decided to walk across the state of Michigan.

"It was pretty cool,'' he said. Kent and Mary celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2015. He said the only time she's hemmed and hawed about a trip was going to Burning Man in Nevada. She thought the event, in which a small city dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self-reliance, pops up in the desert for a week, was too radical for them.

They loved it so much they went back a second time.

"I can come home and say 'Let's go to Africa,' and she'll say OK,'' Irwin said. "You don't know how good that is.''

Irwin has his own plane, which carries them to many of their U.S. destinations. None of the trips abroad are cheap, especially Antarctica, which he said was by far the most expensive.

Taking a Russian cargo plane from Chile to the Union Glacier in Antarctica and back again adds up. For Kent and Joe, the trip cost about $100,000.

Irwin said careful money management and growth in the stock market has allowed him to finance his travels.

"I'm not one of those rich guys, but I have the means,'' he said. "I don't spend money on cars and houses.''

To go on the trip to Antarctica, Irwin and his son had to take out a $500,000 high-risk travel insurance policy, bring top-of-the line equipment and have extensive mountaineering resumes. They did two more days of crevasse training after they got there.

After hauling equipment nine hours from base camp, followed by another 11-hour day reaching the high camp, Kent Irwin decided not to climb the peak. He didn't want to be a liability for the group while it scaled the 16,050-foot peak, one of the seven renowned summits in the world. Joe, an avid climber, did make the climb.

Afterward, when they were weathered in, another group from China ran out of food. Irwin's group, which included a guide, an anesthesiologist from New Zealand, an emergency room doctor from Miami and a real estate broker from Australia, had plenty. But the Irwins missed the family Christmas in Denver.

Irwin was unfazed by the dangers that abounded in one of the harshest places on Earth.

"It's never been in our mind that something would happen to us anywhere we go,'' he said. "If it happens, it happens. We don't worry about risk or anything like that. We fly a little plane all over, and sometimes there's risk in that.''

Irwin said they'll keep traveling until he runs out of ambition or money or their health goes south. That likely won't happen soon. Just gazing at the world map hanging in their dining room, which he can do for hours, gives the 64-year-old all kinds of ideas.

Irwin aims for two major trips a year. He's planning a 2016 motorcycle trip along the west coast with Mary that will include a visit to the Panama Canal. They are also organizing what they're calling a whirlwind around-the-world tour. That monthlong journey in late fall will include stops at the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Dubai, Japan and Nepal.

Many of their travels are smaller in scope. Irwin said one of their best trips was to watch 25,000 sky lanterns floating upward in the desert at the Rise Festival Mojave in Nevada.

Everything has been fun. "In all of our travels,'' Irwin said, "we've never had a bad experience.''

Contact the writer: 402-444-1034,

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