“Lion on the Runway”- Inspirational Stories about Susan Eckert

At the end of May, we lost our fearless “Grand Dame” of adventure travel, AdventureWomen’s founder, Susan Eckert. Over the past 35 years, this exceptional woman met and inspired literally thousands of other women, planning and leading over 500 adventure travel trips around the world.

Susan triumphant and at ease… on the back of a camel in Egypt

We thought you might like to hear some of the many, many ways Susan changed the lives of the AdventureWomen she traveled with. This piece is titled “Lion on the Runway” because that is the title of the book Susan was planning to write about all her experiences with AdventureWomen.

In honor of Susan…


I remember when Susan was “Rainbow Adventures” back in Chicago nearly 30 years ago. Her trips were always very different and they matched her personality of “devil-may-care” let’s do this! She said something to me on a trip to the Virgin Islands and I never forgot it. A bunch of us were doing a snorkeling excursion off the boat and having a wing-ding time. We had been out a good while and I suddenly noticed that I was very tired. I said to Susan “I’m exhausted, I don’t know if I can make it back, I’m just so tired”. I will never forget, we were both treading water and she looked me straight in the eye and said, “PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN AND SWIM!” That’s how she was, a straight-shooter. Love her dearly for being who she was and those wonderful instructions. – Bonnie C.

…her spirit lives on. I remember we were celebrating her 50th Birthday in Cape Tribulation, Australia. A gecko fell from the ceiling and into one of our companions’ salad. As we all laughed hysterically, Susan said, “I hope we don’t get billed for extra protein!” She gave me the gift and spirit of exploring, adventure and travel. – Bonnie W.

A truly inspiring woman, Susan was a trailblazer for women in adventure travel with a strong-willed spirit unlike anyone I have ever met. Her enthusiasm was evident in everything she did, from the way she told stories to the amount of exclamation and question marks in her emails. She is off on her final adventure and I will miss her greatly. Erica L.

A Samburu Dancer (jokingly) plunges his dagger into Susan’s heart in Kenya


Traveling with Susan opened me to new activities and sights; made me rich just for knowing her. She helped me grow. – Alice K.

Susan gave a great gift to her many female travelers, allowing them to travel in safety while experiencing journeys of a lifetime. – Lois G.

She personified the adventurous woman. Not only did she open the door to adventure travel for women but also legions of sisters, daughters, nieces and friends. – Kate K.

In a couple of days, I leave for my 40th AdventureWomen trip. So many incredible memories and experiences. I don’t have the words to fully express the impact knowing Susan and traveling with Rainbow Adventures/AdventureWomen has made in my life. – Diane S.

Diane in Nepal experiencing one amazing sight, sound and smell after another


She was truly a woman ahead of her time and an inspiration to many. The world is a sadder place without her, but a better place for having had her in it. – Maureen R.

Her sense of adventure, both in founding AW in the first place, and in her exuberance in living life to its fullest, has inspired me for the many years I knew her. Thanks to Susan, I did things I never would have done, visited places I never would have seen, and met wonderful women I never would have known. She touched so many people in so many ways, and the world is a better place because she was here. – Linda B.

She’s a world-class, one-of-a-kind woman who touched thousands and thousands. Myself included. – Mary P.

Our world has lost a model of courage and wonder. – Carol K.

Carol on Cattle Ranch trip in Montana, on the Grand Canyon Raft trip, and Hiking in Italy


It was 1985 when I first met Susan on a Rainbow Adventures trip, Llama Trekking in the Rockies. Shortly after I began bartering time for travel, working for Susan in her Evanston, IL “office”. A corner of the living room with an electric typewriter, file cabinet, reams of colored paper for trip detail sheets and a copier! Those were the days!! She was an outstanding photographer and lover of good food. Susan was a trail blazer and path finder in the adventure travel industry as well as a good leader and guide for her many friends and acquaintances. She helped many of us through passages, literal and figurative. – Judy C.

I went on the Yellowstone trip the week of July 4th, 2006. That trip was my first time to venture out on a trip alone, as my husband had died in 2005. That trip gave me something to look forward to and gave me the confidence to keep seeking adventures in my life. – Nora Z.

What a wonderful woman who was able to get the best out of us when we needed courage. – Diane D.

Susan hiking through the slot canyons on the Wolverine hike in Utah


After a painful divorce and feeling lost in the world, I took a chance and signed up with Adventure Women, participating in the whale watching trip to Baja about 20+ years ago. It was the first time I ever participated in a women’s travel adventure program, the first time traveling on my own (with a group) and the first time whale watching. To say the very least, it was an eye-opening, thrilling, life-changing experience. Susan even sat next to me on the plane at one point and it was her personal touch, low key conversation encouraging me that really inspired me. Several years later, I took a real leap of faith and traveled abroad solo, living and working in Budapest Hungary, teaching English and traveling around eastern and central Europe; I later traveled solo to a variety of other countries and continue to do so. Risk-taking and solo traveling all stemmed from that one trip with Susan. She was a most remarkable woman whose vivacity was palpable and contagious and I remember that trip with her in great detail to this very day. – Cathy S.

I took three trips with this wonderful woman over 20 years ago. She made everyone on her trips feel special. – Joyce L.


Susan taught us so many things, including caring for each other and our animals.- Pamela S.

I first met Susan in 1982 on a “learn to cross country ski” vacation in Wisconsin. I had just gone thru a very long divorce and did not have a lot of confidence, was trying to figure out how I was going to raise two children alone. The women I met on that trip and the fun I had took me away for awhile and I came away with a whole new outlook on life. I loved those trips in the early days of hiking and camping Susan even wrote a wonderful cookbook with the best Opera Spaghetti Recipe, we never ate poorly. We made cakes and cookies in our oven on the campfire. As Susan branched out worldly she gave me the opportunity to see the world and all it had to offer and she made me more aware of my fellow man. I loved some of the humanitarian trips we took in later years. I have so many memories and friends I’ve met and still today call them friends. – Ellen F.

Bridger Bowl Ski area fun : Susan, Jane H, Nancy C, Vicki C, Instructor Julie, Patty M


Susan meant so much to me, we were friends and colleagues for 25 years. For me she is simply irreplaceable. Back in the 80’s we met on a AW trip to the Italian Lakes. In those days the company was called Rainbow Adventures. She mentored me, encouraged me and supported me to start my own business, it was the beginning of a wonderful 25 year collaboration. I feel so grateful to her on many levels, without her my life would have turned out quite differently. I am going to miss her friendship, her humour and her great enthusiasm for everything she ever did. She showed immense courage … and she remains an inspiration to me. – Gillian A.

Susan at work cooking a four-course meal at the Blue Elephant

I received the news about Susan as we were about to leave Lhasa. We had a view of the Potala Palace from the lobby of the hotel, and so before departure I gathered the tour members and paid tribute to Susan – informing them that none of us would be in this magnificent place, at that moment, if not for Susan Eckert. Everyone was moved to tears. Susan helped me create Toto Tours, and taught me many valuable lessons over the past 27 years. – Dan C.

When my company had no credibility and track record, Susan gave me a chance to work with her clients; the clients that were near and dear to her heart. She took a chance on me. I’ll never forget her support.– Marcus S.


My first trip with Adventure Women was in 2006 to Bhutan and made only months after losing the love of my life. On the top of a beautiful mountain I experienced one of those touch the face of God moments and I knew I was where I needed to be. I have Susan to thank for encouraging me to take a chance and make the hardest but, most incredible journey of my life. I feel blessed to have known Susan and traveled with her many times throughout the years. I’ve lost count of how many trips and where, but every trip has left me with great memories and fun stories. We’ve shared birthdays in strange places, fine wine and bad and so much jet-lag. No statement described Susan better than her own last line “Life isn’t measured in how many breaths you take, but in the moments that take your breath away.” That is how I remember her, whether it was riding wild horses in Mongolia, watching the frozen tundra pass by on a train from Tibet, or encountering a magnificent Silverback that ventures so close he takes your breath away. She loved it all. – Dee H.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
This quote reminds me of Susan. – Rebecca A.

Susan, we traveled together in parallel universes since the early ’80s only to have you decide that Nicole, Erica and I would carry your legacy forward. I am honored to be a part of your courageous universe, but frightened by the fact that you are not there to guide us. We laughed at your house with Scout being silly as he hung his massive body off your couch upside down… you were supportive of the changes we envisioned for AdventureWomen, and we laughed together about how we both got into this business. And I remember the day when we arrived to meet you in Bozeman and the first thing you did was to introduce us to your Icelandic horses. I knew then that our stars were truly aligned. I wish I had more time with you, my comrade…you are/were/and shall ever be – an inspiration to me. Judi W.

Susan planning the transition of AdventureWomen to Judi, Erica and Nicole


I have travelled with Adventure Women on several trips, but only one trip with Susan, to Botswana/Zambia. She was a good person. I was told by a friend of hers that after September 11, 2001, when international tourism collapsed, Susan had many cancellations but went forward with planned trips if there were only a few who still wanted to go. I was the recipient of her professionalism in 2012 with a visit to Myanmar and Laos. I made arrangements to go on my own to Cambodia and Vietnam after the AW trip. It turned out that there were several cancellations and Susan’s trip only had four participants. Susan called me and said that normally she would have rescheduled but she didn’t want to cause me any issues with my plans. The trip went forward. Susan lived a life that most people can only dream of. Good for you, Susan and thank you. – Lana T.


As I told my friends, I was so nourished, inside and out, by my AdventureWomen trips. So many memories: in Zambia Susan and I were in the hotel pool looking over the gully where the animals came. Her bucket list was Papua Guinea and Mongolia. Mine was Mongolia. Both happened. So many stories I would like to tell here. So much joy, so much camaraderie on our trips. Places I would never have experienced without Susan’s AdventureWomen. So much gratitude. – Pamela S.

Thanks to Susan, I was able to gain confidence and independence on each of the many AdventureWomen trips I took. Each one offered new adventures, new challenges, and new people to meet.– Dorothy W.

The impact and influence of the many trips I took with her/Adventure Women can’t be overstated. I was on the first Iceland trip and also another one a couple years later. Subsequent to that I got my Icelandic horse, and he is now a healthy 26 year old. Where ever Susan’s spirit is now, I hope she is working on the book she told us about while on an Africa trip, to be titled “Lion on the Runway”. – Sue S.

The number of messages (here) is tribute to the impact Susan had on so many of our lives – she made a big difference in the world. – Jane H.