Beyond Boundaries

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by Hannah Brinks • photos above by Two Eagles Marcus

Name: Sandy Pickett
Age: 74
Dream Vacation: Hawaii, but she admits that “Every trip that I’m on is the dream trip.”
Noteworthy Adventures: River tours in Norway through the fjords, the Rhine River in Germany, visiting Ireland, Italy, Paris, Israel, Palestine, Caribbean, Russia, Panama Canal, Costa Rica and Australia. She even went bungee jumping in New Zealand. “I had never thought about bungee jumping,” she explained. “But I said, ‘that sounds like fun.’ I was 69 and I didn’t owe anybody anything, so I did it.”
Hobbies: crocheting, tatting, knitting, going to the theatre and plucking the harp.
How She Describes Herself: “I’m just me.”



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Defining adventure in someone requires the examination of character. Undertaking adventure cannot be pinned down to any specific event, it requires more than isolated actions. It represents a habit, the formation of a lifestyle that forces you to live through everyday experiences, to face fears founded in the mistakes of the past and the mystery of the future.

Sandy Pickett is a 74-year-old role model of a lifestyle brimming with adventure. She represents everything that twenty-somethings wish for as they peer into what lies ahead. Despite the fact that a globe would be required to compile a list of the places she has travelled to, she’s very humble about her life and experiences.

“I haven’t had to search for any. The opportunities find me,” she explained.

From river tours in Norway to bungee jumping in New Zealand, Sandy’s explorations are the optimal blend of research and spur-of-the-moment inspiration. She can find adventure anywhere; in the newspaper, on television or on a bulletin board at church.

Sandy’s youth was peppered with adventures. She and her family made the most of their two-week vacations. Along with her husband, Jim, and their three children, she toured the United States and camped in the back of their van, cooking their own food and experiencing the country together.

The death of her husband in 2006 cast a shadow over her adventurous spirit. Activities she had enjoyed such as playing with her homemade harp became difficult to manage. “When my husband was dying, he enjoyed hearing me,” she explained. “When he died, it took a while to get back.”

Loss and grief doesn’t disappear over time, but it can be soothed. Although Sandy admitted she hasn’t played her harp recently, she began fresh after her husband’s passing. She also continued to travel solo after the death of her most faithful travel companions: her husband and mother.

“It was hard going the first time by yourself,” Sandy said. “But people, no matter how much money they make, when you’re traveling they all become just people. They don’t care what you’ve got and haven’t got, what you’ve done or haven’t done. You’re just out to enjoy yourself.”

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Just a few months ago Sandy returned from Africa, a trip that combined selflessness and pleasure. After zip lining across Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls (the largest curtain of falling water in the world and also one of the seven natural wonders of the world), she continued to explore and visited an animal preserve where saw elephants, giraffes, tigers, impala herds, hippos, crocodiles and baboons.

Despite the adrenaline of the zip line and the savanna rife with animals, Sandy found her visit to Africa University to be the most enriching experience. After a donation for the university’s new wing, Sandy was invited to come and visit. Though it wasn’t quite finished when they got there, she was still able to see the  plaque dedicated to her husband: James Pickett.

Sandy explained that Africa University is open to everyone, but many of the students are required to room with students from other countries in the hopes that peace between the younger generations will lead to peace between countries in the future.

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For those who are not expert travelers, Sandy offers several simple pieces of advice. The first of which is to pack very little. Much of what we find stuffed into our luggage we will never have any use for. Sandy certainly understands this, and on her trip to Africa, 35 pounds of her 50-pound allowance was books and crayons for the children in an orphanage she would be visiting.

Part of packing light included buying very little in the countries she was visiting. Rather than buying souvenirs, Sandy simply tries to experience each moment and take mental pictures. She tries to remember that “everything is just stuff.” She admitted that her iPhone makes it easier to take pictures, but she still tries to look at the world around her through her own eyes, rather than through a camera lens.

The truth about adventure is that it’s not just about the thrill, it’s about doing something new. It’s about learning that life is made up of the smaller moments that define us.

Sandy’s life emulates excitement in a multitude of ways, not always through travel. Her bravery extends to her everyday life as well. From ordering a build-your-own harp kit, serving as a resident council member at Clark’s Franklin campus where she lives and signing up for a six-week computer course, Sandy is always willing to try new things.

While she loves exploring places beyond West Michigan, she has an adoration for Grand Rapids that is unrivaled. She stays as involved as she possibly can, from seeing new shows to taking her friend to the grocery store.

“There are lots of things going on. Theatre, concerts, Civic Theatre, Broadway Theatre, oldies, the Symphony and the Big Band. My favorite is the theatre.”

A common human reaction to fear is to close our eyes, let the experience wash over us, and resume life when it becomes less frightening. This is not the case with Sandy. She is not without fear, but ensures that the fear never prevents her from living passionately and beyond her usual boundaries.

“Go to enjoy, have fun. Enjoy every moment,” Sandy encouraged. “You can’t expect people to be like you. You can’t expect the places you are to be like home.”

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