Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee dares to do what most others won’t, exploring the world and conquering her fears in between her day jobs.
Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee and her 10-year-old Shar-Pei/Lab, Remi, at her century-old bungalow near downtown Oldsmar.
On first and third Tuesday of every month, Gabby McGee is typically seated immediately to the right of Mayor Doug Bevis atop the dais in the Oldsmar City Council Chambers.
But occasionally, McGee is absent from a meeting, leading her fellow lawmakers and curious residents to wonder, where in the world could Gabby be?
A collage of Gabby McGee’s adventures. Credit: Gabby McGee/Facebook.
The question needs to be asked when it comes to McGee, a 30-year-old East Lake High and University of Tampa graduate who, thanks to her management position with Cisco Systems, a longstanding love of travel and a newfound sense of adventure, has visited several far-flung parts of the globe, including Norway, Paris, Peru and Patagonia, where she has scaled breathtakingly high peaks and summited cavernous valleys, often by herself.
In between her day job with Cisco, where she was recently promoted to a leadership position despite her young age, her council seat, in which she is in her second term, and exploring the world, McGee has been busy conquering her fears and others’, doing things like horseback riding through rushing rivers, skydiving high over Zephyrhills, white water rafting in Costa Rica and cave diving in Ocala, with every adventure immortalized in social media snapshots that allow her friends and followers to live vicariously through her exploits.
Soon, McGee will combine her love of adventure and travel with her desire to help others, as she and a few friends travel to Cuba on January 14 to bring supplies to a children’s orphanage and special needs school in the poverty-ravaged country.
Prior to her latest departure, McGee sat down with her 10-year-old Shar-Pei/Lab, Remi in her renovated, century-old bungalow near downtown Oldsmar, where she spoke at length about the origins of her desire to explore the world, conquering her biggest fear, and the one essential item every hiker needs.
(Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and continuity purposes.)
Gabby McGee hiking Mt. Fitz Roy in Argentina. Credit: Gabby McGee/Facebook.
Where and when did you get the desire to explore the world?
I have always loved to travel. In high school, I took a student trip to Australia. It was my first big trip by myself, and I immediately got the bug. It opens your eyes a lot when you travel to another country, seeing different ways of life. Over the last two years, I’ve done more and more traveling, because I’ve had the freedom to do it and the financial means to, also.
Two years ago, I surprised my mom and took her on a trip to Italy. We planned it quickly. I had never been to Europe before. We went and I had an amazing trip with her. That started it for me, especially how easy it was. It makes you realize you have the world at your fingertips. Since then, I’ve done trips at the last minute, booked a flight the night before, just for a weekend. I like to live that way.
Most people sightsee and shop when they travel-you summit tall peaks and traverse deep valleys. Where did that adventurous streak come from?
Gabby McGee enjoying a summit in Trolltunga, Norway. Credit: Gabby McGee/Facebook.
I was looking to try something different, looking for something deeper in my life. On the council we have a lot of obligations. I always enjoy it, but I wanted to do something for myself, something that makes me happy.
When I was young, I wasn’t a daredevil. In fact, I’m still terrified of roller coasters! But as I traveled, I started to do more and more daring things. I’ll hike 15 miles if I want to see something that interests me. People think I’m nuts! But I like to find out-of-the-way, unique places that will give me an experience no one else gets, so other people can see these places exist. It makes it real, tangible, and allows people to think they can do it themselves, too.
What are some of your favorite or most memorable trips?
My favorite trip was to Norway. It’s a place you don’t think to go to, but the food, the people, the scenery…it was such a turning point for me, as a person. Patagonia was up there as far as my favorite trips, too, and Havasu Falls in Arizona was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. I rented a car and drove seven hours across the state to see this place. For me, it’s a challenge. Every place I go to, I try to see the best, because it took me 30 years to get here, and I know I may never come back. Sometimes I think, is this worth it? But when I get to a destination, I know it’s worth it.
Many of your adventures are solo excursions. Is that by design or coincidence?
Gabby McGee at Glacier National Park in Argentina. Credit: Facebook.
I love to travel with friends, but I have to do some trips alone. When you go by yourself on a trip, you only have to please yourself. If my traveling companion isn’t happy, it weighs on me heavily. And not everyone is willing to do some of things I am willing to do.
How do your family and friends feel about you traveling alone?
They worry about me, because I tend to think the best of everybody. I’m very trusting. But I haven’t had any scary incidents. The key is to know where you’re going. I have an itinerary and avoid last minute changes, and I keep in contact at all times. So I do everything I can to be safe. And I quickly discovered that when you’re hiking, chocolate saves lives!
You’ve got the Cuba trip coming up, but what destinations are next on the list?
Gabby McGee at an Oldsmar City Council meeting in December 2016.
I’m going to Switzerland in May with my mom for Mother’s Day—I think I gave her the travel bug, too! I’m also planning to go to Cappadocia, in Turkey. There’s also a few other places I’d like to get to, too. I have a very long list!
Any plans to settle down?
I do date, but I might be a little bit much for some guys! I’m looking for somebody who has the same passion that I do and enjoys these things as much as I do. It’s so cool to meet someone who appreciates something as simple as the moon.
I want to marry and have kids when the time is right. But I don’t want to settle. I’m doing things for myself right now so I don’t have any regrets. You have to make a concerted effort to be happy, and all I know is I’m so happy. I’m extremely blessed to be able to do these things.
Gabby McGee in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost point in South America, known as The End of the World. Credit: Facebook
How has all this travel and adventure changed you?
I get people who tell me all the time they are inspired by me, and it feels good to hear that as a person. It means I must be doing something right. My mom and dad say they’re not sure who I am anymore, their little girl who hated theme parks and now I’m traveling to Argentina, solo. Sometimes I don’t know who I am or where I’m going. But anything I’m afraid to do, I want to conquer. And anywhere I’ve never been, I want to go. You never know what’s going to happen, that’s why I live my life the way I do.