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Take a Trip on the Wild Side at Library

Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Trip Jennings weaves a tale of high adventure, extreme danger and altruistic aspirations at library Thursday and Friday nights.

Trip Jennings’ idea of slowing down likely differs from yours.

At 28 years old, the Portland, Ore.-based adventurer and filmmaker doesn’t put himself in harm’s way as he once did. As a teenager in Costa Rica, he propelled himself in a kayak off a 40-foot waterfall that shot into another monstrous 80-foot waterfall.

“I don’t like to roll the dice too much anymore,” said Jennings, a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year who is giving two presentations at the Thursday and Friday nights. “I definitely have a different perspective now than I did 10 years ago.”

But before you picture Jennings idly paddling on a placid lake somewhere, know that he’s simply altering the context of his thrill seeking. Instead of “pure whitewater porn - running the sickest drop and getting a shot of it,” Jennings mixes adventure with serious conservation efforts, working with scientists to craft innovative ways to measure our impact on ecosystems in far-flung places.

Later this month, the National Geographic Channel airs a show on Jennings’ expedition at Khone Falls on the Mekong River in Laos, where he plunged his kayak through treacherous whitewater and over Somphamit Falls, a stair-stepping 60-foot drop. The kayak was outfitted with a depth-finder and GPS to map water velocity, depth and gradient in an effort to determine how a proposed dam at the falls, one of the world's most productive fisheries, would impact migratory fish in the area.

“My mission is different now,” Jennings said. “When you’re on these kayaking expeditions paddling through the most spectacular ecosystems and beautiful places in the world, you’ll also travel through some of the most devastated places in the world on the way there. Just in my short career, I’ve seen some of these pristine places diminish.”

While kayaking remains central to Jennings’ life - “just to keep my sanity," he said - other conservation-related adventures abound. Jennings spent March and April in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, collecting DNA samples of elephants from their scat while evading AK-47-wielding poachers as part of the Elephant Ivory Project.

“It was a short step for me to make from being an outdoor enthusiast to an advocate and conservationist,” Jennings said. “I'm so privileged to make that transition that I want to create media that would help other outdoor enthusiasts make that jump as well.”

Jennings is appearing at the library this week as part of the library’s ongoing First Fridays series, hoping to get some locals to take that leap with him. He’s also making a multimedia-driven presentation Thursday evening just for teens.

“I’m really excited to do a youth-oriented presentation,” Jennings said. “I would love to inspire more young people to first of all get outside but also to take that next step and become a conservationist and work to protect these places.”

The 411: Trip Jennings appears at the Mill Valley Library at 7 p.m. Thursday for high school students only and at 7 p.m. Friday as part of the library’s First Friday series. Both events are free, though pre-registration is required for the Friday event by clicking here or calling (415) 389-4292 x203.

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