Looking back on the ultimate '70s road trip


Eric Whitehead and Murray Jupe are the co-authors of "Then There Was One: The Ultimate '70s Road Trip" - a book that not only chronicles a personal journey in 1971, but also provides a snapshot of an era.

"Basically, in 1971 my friend and I graduated high school, and we decided to delay going to university - and go somewhere," says Whitehead.

They bought a $500 car in Toronto, and on January 2, 1971, left on a round trip to Acapulco, Mexico - with an old Kodak "Pony" camera, an instamatic, an endless supply of optimism and whatever money they could save up in six months.

It was a time when many young people took time off to backpack through Europe, but Whitehead and Jupe were concerned about the weather, language and "bottom line. It boiled down to dollars and cents... we knew if we were driving, it would be less expensive than flying somewhere and staying in hotels."

It turned out to be as much an exploration of North American culture, as a vacation. They were in Florida when Apollo 14 was ready to launch and were invited into the press room in Houston to see the lift off.

They were "appalled" and shocked by the blatant racism they found in a newly-desegregated U.S. South, and by the attitude of "Anglos" in Acapulco toward the native Mexicans.

Even so, Whitehead calls the time spent in Mexico the "highlight of the trip. We had never been somewhere like that before." Despite warnings to watch out for bandits in those pre-cartel days, despite being unable to speak the language, the young Canadians found the people friendly, helpful and fascinating.

"We were determined we were going to do something," Whitehead says. "We learned a lot about ourselves. We learned a lot about life."

It couldn't last, of course. Nothing puts stress on a friendship like travelling together, in close quarters - and in Las Vegas at the end of March, on their way home, they went their separate ways. "Arguments, endless discussions... it was worse than being married," says Whitehead.

Jupe travelled to Vancouver. Whitehead spent another six weeks on the road, heading back to Toronto. And, he says, "It took until 1977 until we spoke to each other again."

That's when they met again by chance - and "we've been best friends ever since."

All during the trip, Whitehead kept a journal. Those journal entries, combined with the colour photos restored from 35 mm slides, make up "Then There Was One."

"The text is basically what's in the journal," Whitehead says. "There's a real pop culture feel to it."

It was when he retired from the electrical distribution industry that he began transcribing everything to computer and began working on the slides.

Self-published, "Then There Was One: The Ultimate '70s Road Trip" sells for $22 and is available from the author, at ewhitehead@rogers.com. Whitehead admits that the price doesn't cover publishing costs - the first printing is in full color, on glossy paper - but then, he says, "It was a labour of love."

And now, on the 40th anniversary of the trip, he says, "I can't believe we made it from point A to point B, and made it alive." It's a trip that couldn't be done today. Great swaths of the US and Mexico were sparsely settled, there wasn't the same level of tension or fear of terrorism. Even Disney World didn't exist at the time they drove through Florida; it opened at the end of '71.

Whitehead lives in Gilford, Ont. is an instructor at Delfs' Tae-kwon do and has 2 kids of his own. And yes, he has taken them on road trips.



Links to film clips of interviews with Eric and Murray on Roger's Daytime Television

Barrie #1

Barrie #2




Bradford (Feb/2013)
Bradford (Dec/2013)
(also in .pdf format)
Bradford (Aug 7/2014)
The Innisfil Examiner (Sept 2/2016) (.pdf format)
Innisfil Journal (Mar 23/2019)
CBC Radio Interview with Eric & Murray (2021)


Eric Whitehead


Road Trip!

By Miriam King, QMI Agency Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer is associated with road trips - throwing the bags in the car, and heading off on the open road.

But if you really want to see the countryside, while avoiding the crowds and peak prices, try travelling at off-peak times.

That’s the advice of Eric Whitehead, and it’s based on experience. For 20 years, from 1984 to 2004, he took his family - wife Karen and sons Gavin and Adam - on an annual road trip, usually in October, to destinations across the US

The boys were ages 6 and 3 when the adventures began. “At the time of their graduation from high school, they had been to all 48 States,” Whitehead says, travelling by van for 2 to 3 weeks at a time.

At every location and along the way, they took photos and videos of their travels - material that Whitehead has now transformed into a new book, The Holiday Road. Each chapter is a different year, each year a different road trip.

Whitehead says that only once did they change their travel plans at the last minute, and make a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was a year that the family had planned to head down to Florida - but on the way down from their Gilford home, they learned that a Hurricane watch had been issued. After checking the weather maps, they decided to head for the only sunny area: Colorado.

It turned out to be a great decision, travelling across (to them) new territory. “It was great because we had never been to any of the States in between,” Whitehead said. The only problem? They had packed for Florida. “It was a little cool at times.”

Asked about the best road trip, he says, “Probably the year we went to the Southwest.” Once through the flatlands of Kansas, it was a series of positive experiences, including horseback riding in the desert just after dawn, a trip to the Grand Canyon, visiting an Arizona movie studio where even First Aid providers were in costume, and coming back through Utah where “the canyons were spectacular. Not to belittle the Grand Canyon, but these were more spectacular.”

It also helped that both boys were baseball fans; working in a baseball game or two “was always a common denominator for every trip.”

There were no disasters - although, frequently after arriving at their reserved hotel, they would switch rooms or even hotels. “Usually when we did that, we ended up in a really great place!”

The experience has had an impact on his boys. Gavin, now 34, works for a company that provides travel packages for teens. “He’s been to Australia, he’s been to Europe several times. He’s now in Costa Rica... He’s officially in the travel industry.”

The younger son, Adam, who suffered from car sickness on the road trips, is now married with children and also takes his family travelling - but by air.

The Holiday Road is Whitehead’s 4th book, available on his website, www.thatroadtripbook.com for $25 plus shipping. He will also have a booth at Carrotfest, August 16, where he’ll be selling and autographing copies - and chatting about hitting the open road.

“One thing is for certain, travelling gives children an education that cannot be equalled in any book, movie or classroom,” he says.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead with his latest book - chronicling 20 years of road trips with his wife and two sons, across the US
Whitehead is a resident of Gilford, Innisfil.


Travels to Vietnam, and The Rock

By Miriam King, Bradford Times Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eric Whitehead started his travels in 1971, when he and friend Murray Jupe took a road trip across the US, at a time of cultural change and turmoil. Nixon was president; America was shaken by race divisions, and by demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.

It may not have been the most relaxing “vacation”, but it left Whitehead with a life-long passion for travel. Each year, from 1984 to 2003, he and wife Karen took their sons Gavin and Adam on a road trip to a different destination in North America. Since the boys have grown up, Eric and Karen have travelled the world on their own - and Whitehead, taking photographs and keeping journals of each trip, has transformed the personal journeys into a series of travel books.

The couple's 2013 trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and 2014 travels in Newfoundland, are the basis of his latest books.

“Emerging from the Shadows: Exploring Vietnam and Cambodia” chronicles their first time in Asia. They chose Vietnam and Cambodia primarily because the cost was one-third that of a visit to China.

Whitehead admits he expected to see more signs of the impact of the Vietnam War. “I went thinking that there was going to be a real attitude about Americans... There wasn't that at all. They have no animosity at all about the Americans – they have more animosity to the French,” who started the conflict in 1955.

Working with a US Tour company, the Whiteheads customized their 3 week adventure, adding the Mekong Delta to the proposed trip, as well as a side journey into Cambodia. There were moments when thoughts of the Vietnam War intruded: travelling on an open sampan, through tunnels of vegetation in the Delta, the boat motor sounded eerily like a helicopter – bringing to mind the images in every movie on the war. It was “unnerving,” Whitehead says.

And during a hike in the Sapa Valley, in northern Vietnam, their guide led them to a guest house for lunch, where they sat down with the family. “They didn't speak a word of English, we didn't speak Vietnamese,” and Whitehead couldn't help but wonder if the family had been Viet Cong during the war.

There were moments of culture shock. Hanoi is a city of 6 and a half million people, “and there are that many motorcycles. It was just something I wasn't used to,” he says. And then there was the heat – 38C in Vietnam, 42C in Cambodia.

They visited in March, during the off-season – which meant they weren't jostling other tourists, even on visits to some of Cambodia's 450 temples, dating back 1000 years or more. “The people were fantastic, and we felt very safe everywhere we went... I would go back to Vietnam again, in an instant.”

The following year, the Whiteheads travelled to Newfoundland.

“We needed something that would be a little more cost-effective for us,” Whitehead says. “That was the only province we've never been to” - and the first time the couple were able to use their air mile points.

The Whiteheads spent a month on the Island, again travelling off-peak in May and June, and renting a car to make their way from outport to outport, starting in Gros Morne National Park wilderness area.

They did a lot of hiking, and logged about 6,000 km on the rental vehicle. Even so, Whitehead says, “A month is not enough. We saw only half of Newfoundland.” The result is his book, “Exploring the Rock.”

Among the stops: L'Anse aux Meadows world heritage site, a settlement established by the Vikings; and the capitol city of St. John's – but they didn't make it to Labrador. Due to thick ice and icebergs, calving from the melting Greenland ice sheet, the ferry wasn't running.

“We wanted to see icebergs,” Whitehead says, and they did – including a huge berg in the harbour at St. John's, a sight that impressed even the Newfoundlanders. “They had never seen so many icebergs.”

The Whiteheads stayed mostly in housekeeping cottages, scattered around the coast. “Beautiful, incredibly well-kept – it was just like you were at home,” he says, but found the outports “a little depressing... You could tell there was nothing in the town. Although the town was dying, people were still taking care of their property.

“There were no 'dumpy' areas; that's kind of what strikes me more than anything.”

Most memorable, though, were the friendly people – and the moose.

Newfoundland has thousands of moose, who pose a hazard for motorists, especially at night. Infrared detectors have been installed around the major cities and towns that flash a warning light when moose are detected, and there are cautionary signs everywhere.

The first time the Whiteheads spotted a moose, standing beside the road, they were surprised by its size, and fearlessness. The animal stood for a moment, and then ambled across the road. “It's no wonder they get hit!”

“Emerging from the Shadows” and “Exploring the Rock” are $25 each, available online at www. thatroadtripbook.com Whitehead will also be selling copies of his books at Bradford's CarrotFest street festival, August 15.

The Gilford resident is retired, and plans to continue travelling, and writing. He has stepped foot on 5 continents, with only Antarctica and Australia left to visit – but cost and time will determine the next journey, especially since wife Karen is still working.

Whitehead shares the key to successful travel: Don't expect perfection. “I'm very open-minded when I travel,” he says. “I hear people complaining in hotels, people expecting it to be just like home... If you want that, stay home.”

His books, written in a personal, casual style, give would-be travellers a taste of what they might find on their journeys.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, with his latest books.
He will be at Carrotfest in Bradford, Ont., August 15.
Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network


An Antarctic Road Trip

By Miriam King, Bradford Times Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eric Whitehead and his wife Karen have been working their way around the planet — building on their initial “road trips” with their kids, across North America, to now travel on their own to countries as diverse as Vietnam, and Peru.

And everywhere they’ve gone, Eric has taken photos and kept a journal, transforming the experience into a book — something more personal than the usual travel guide, and much more inspiring.

His latest has just been released — Antarctica: An Expedition Cruise.

Antarctica was their sixth continent, but that wasn’t the primary reason for taking the journey. “It really is truly a wilderness,” says Eric — an opportunity to see one of the last wild places on earth, a place without people, except for the odd scientific outpost, and cruise ships.

The Whiteheads opted for an expedition ship, rather than a cruise, because there would be only 80 passengers onboard.

Unfortunately, the smaller ship lacked the ballast and stability of a larger vessel — as they discovered on the crossing from Argentina to Antarctica. “It’s notorious for being one of the roughest passages on earth, and it didn’t disappoint,” says Eric.

During the two-day crossing, both Eric who is “somewhat susceptible” and Karen, who is “very susceptible” to sea-sickness had a tough time. In fact, “it was wicked.” Both were impressed by the crew, who were unfazed by the ship’s rolling.

“They literally walk down the passageways at a 45 degree angle ... We never handled it,” Eric admits. The return passage was even wilder, with the ship pitching up and down as well as rolling from side to side. On that voyage, one third of the crew succumbed to seasickness.

“You wonder, why am I doing this? But the 12 days in between were fantastic.”

For 12 days, the group explored the iceberg-filled waters surrounding Antarctica, observing penguins, whales and seals, and the rugged coastline in their zodiaks. “We were in Newfoundland two years before and we saw hundreds of icebergs for the first time ... We saw thousands of icebergs a day in Antarctica,” he said. It was also an “eye-opener,” as to the impact of global climate change.

Warming temperatures are causing the ice sheets to “calve,” creating the growing flotilla of icebergs. And scientists blamed changes in water temperature for the death of hundreds of penguins in Neko Harbour.

At the penguin colony, the visitors found that 1 in 10 penguins had died. Biologists aboard the ship explained that the deaths were likely due to starvation: warmer water temperatures killed off the krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures on which penguin feed.

“That was very disheartening,” Whitehead says. That said, “every day was different, each place had something unique about it.” The visitors even had an opportunity to take a “polar bear dip” in the frigid waters of the Antarctic.

The book is filled with Eric’s observations and experiences, and brilliant colour photos, for anyone thinking of making the voyage to the south polar region. It was a big expense, especially since the trip was in US dollars, but he says, “It was a real eye-opener, just to see something that spectacularly beautiful.”

Antarctica: an expedition cruise can be purchased for $25 on Whitehead’s website, thatroadtripbook.com, under “Related Reading” — or catch him at Bradford’s Carrotfest on Aug. 19, for a signed copy.

There’s only one continent remaining for the Whiteheads to explore, and that’s Australia — but that’s a story for another book.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, with his latest book.

Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network


LABRADOR: A Great Canadian Road Trip

By Janis Ramsay, Innisfil Journal July 18, 2018

Innisfil travel author is at it again with tales from Labrador

Gilford author Eric Whitehead has released another self-published travel book, this time about his adventures through Labrador on many gravel roads and isolated hiking trails. - Janis Ramsay/Metroland

Gilford author Eric Whitehead knew he'd be leaving bits of his rusty Ford van behind on his latest adventure.

Whitehead is nicknamed 'that road trip guy' and has written several books about his journeys. The latest is called Labrador: A Great Canadian Road Trip, where he and wife Karen travelled almost 8,000 kilometres to the east coast - 1,100 of it on dirt or gravel road.

"We're not big resort people so when we take a holiday, we like to get away from everything," Whitehead said. "We were away a month."

The old van was full of rust, which is why they took it on the trip. "We were expecting to leave the van somewhere and catch a train or something. I was shocked every day. Bits of it fell off because the rust got sandblasted, so there were holes in the vehicle."

Whitehead's latest self-published book talks about the dirt road potholes, the mossy ground of backwood trails, an unbelievable sunrise and people they met along the way.
His favourite memory was a three-hour hike in Port Hope Simpson. "It was a backwoods trail but it was a spongy, mossy ground. It was rocky and steep and the trail went to an overlook where you could see the lake," he said. They never found the lookout, but being surrounded by nature was a thrill.

Whitehead has already written about trips to South America, Antarctica, Asia and the one that started it all, Then There Was One, about his ultimate road trip in the 70s. Through his journeys, Whitehead has learned how fantastic people are, offering their homes and their food to help strangers.

"The more remote you get, the better the people are. The people who have the least, will give you the most," he said.

But his best-selling book so far is about his mother-in-law Helga, who made it out of Berlin weeks before the Second World War, with the Kindertransport.

The couple has already planned their next trip in August, to Whitehorse and Tuktoyaktuk.

For more information, visit thatroadtripbook.com or email Whitehead at ewhitehead@rogers.com.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, with his latest book.

Janis Ramsay/Innisfil Journal


Destination Dempster

By Janis Ramsay, Innisfil Journal March 23, 2019

Innisfil road trip author rolls through another adventure

'Destination Dempster' on the northern countryside is Whitehead's 11th book about taking the road less travelled. - Janis Ramsay/Metroland

Gilford author Eric Whitehead is back from the dusty trail again and has a new book describing his journey along the Dempster Highway up to the Northwest Territories. Destination Dempster is Whitehead's 11th book exploring while taking the road less travelled.

"The Dempster Highway runs from just outside of Dawson City in the Yukon, to Inuvik," Whitehead said. "It's roughly 750 kilometres of dirt road, and the condition varies from terrible to as good as a paved road in some places."
He and his wife flew to Whitehorse, Yukon, last August for a two-week trip to Inuvik, N.W.T., and Tuktoyaktuk, NWT

"I had never been to the Northwest Territories before, and I enjoy being away from people; I like to get away and see real things, not things created for tourists," he said.

Whitehead purposely plans remote vacations seen by car - even if that means not having cellphone service or radio music.
Their trip didn't start off so well, after the luggage containing their rain and winter gear was misplaced by the airline.
"We had to buy coats, tuques and gloves," he said.

They spent a few days in Whitehorse before travelling to Eagle Plains, Yukon, a small town with an abundance of wildlife such as caribou, deer and bears.

"It was an 1,800-kilometre trip in the wilderness, and we didn't see any wildlife at all. That shocked me. When we got back to Whitehorse, they had a wildlife refuge, and we made a point of going there," Whitehead said.

One fun part of the trip was getting to ride along with a group of Siberian husky dogs exercising while tethered to an all-terrain vehicle.

But the rest of the drive saw the couple overcoming snowstorms, a jackknifed tractor-trailer, a possible cancelled ferry ride and hours of isolation.

"This is an experience very few people will have had. Even people who go to Dawson City won't do this," Whitehead said.
He has written several other books about his road trip experiences to Labrador, Antarctica, Newfoundland, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The books sell for $25 and are available at thatroadtripbook.com or by emailing ewhitehead@rogers.com.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, with his latest book.

Janis Ramsay/Innisfil Journal


British Columbia: Experience Something Sacred

By Shane MacDonald Innisfil Journal July 18, 2019

Gilford author releases new book about trip to Haida Gwaii, B.C.

Eric Whitehead describes visiting Haida Gwaii as a look into the past, with no new shiny coats of paint for tourists.

Totem poles that once stood tall now lay down in varying states of deterioration. The Indigenous people who call the archipelago home prefer to let them return to the earth rather than repair them, Whitehead said.

Whitehead's new book about the trip, British Columbia: Experience Something Sacred, is now available.

“We try to look for places that are a little bit unusual,” he said of the destination.

He has travelled to several countries over the years, but has recently been sticking to destinations in Canada. “It’s a beautiful place to see.”

When deciding where to go, Whitehead is inspired by research, and sometimes entertainment. He notes Haida Gwaii was a destination on The Amazing Race Canada.

The story of the Golden Spruce, a sacred tree that had a rare genetic mutation that made it golden, also interested Whitehead. A man protesting the logging industry felled the tree in 1997.

“I found that an odd way of protesting logging,” Whitehead said.

While on the islands, Whitehead and his wife visited three towns and several sights they wanted to see.

“We got a good exposure to the whole island,” he said, noting they avoid typical tourist traps. “They don’t do things for the tourists, which was really nice to see.”

One of the main things he wanted to do while in Haida Gwaii was to hike to see the Pesuta Shipwreck. The hike had to be timed due to tides, but the finish includes some more history.

The Pesuta, a 264-foot log barge, shipwrecked on Haida Gwaii in 1928.

“If we did nothing else on the island, I wanted to do that hike,” Whitehead said.

Walking up to the ship, which is submerged in sand on a beach, Whitehead thought of 1968's Planet of the Apes.

“When Charlton Heston finds the Statue of Liberty, that’s what it reminded me of,” he said.

To buy Whitehead’s book ($25), contact him by calling 705-456-2215, or by emailing ewhitehead@rogers.com.

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, with his latest book.

Shane MacDonald/Innisfil Journal


Gilford man shares stories of adventure and life lessons in 70s roadtrip to Mexico

By Natasha Philpott Innisfil Today January 2, 2021

50 years ago, Gilford's Eric Whitehead and best friend Murray Jupe embarked on a five-month road trip throughout Mexico and the U.S., an experience they say taught them many things about life, travel and culture.

Jan. 2, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the epic road trip from Toronto to Mexico and Las Vegas taken by best friends Eric Whitehead of Gilford, and Murray Jupe.

Their adventure diary is documented in their self-published book, Then There Was One: The Ultimate 70s Roadtrip., which captures the essence of the era, in the raw, tell-all tale.

"I kept a journal, the book is the journal," explains Whitehead, who wrote most of the entries.

"The language is antiquated and it's raw, but it reflected the time," shares Jupe.

In 1971 Whitehead, 19 and Jupe, 20 were living in Toronto. They went to high school together and had been planning the trip for two years prior, originally with two other friends. But as time went on, and circumstances changed, the four-man trip turned into two.

The friends knew they wanted to travel, but where and how was the question.

Europe seemed like a good idea, but with limited funds and concerns about the weather conditions, the pair decided on a road trip instead.

After much deliberation and budgeting, they purchased a used car for $500, packed up a tent and headed south for Acapulco, Mexico, then northwest through Texas to Las Vegas.

"This was the least expensive way to see the world," said Jupe.

It was the first time the pair had been out of the country without their parents. Throughout their travels, they met many unique individuals and experienced life to the fullest: camping in the desert, seeing Apollo 14 launch in Florida, witnessing a near-fatal accident, celebrating Jupe's 21st birthday Vegas-style - some experiences that have shaped them into the people they are today.

"It was a learning expedition really," said Jupe.

They share their shock and frustrations with some of the racist individuals they come across in the southern states and in Mexico.

'I believe that there is a simple formula in relations with the Mexican people. If you treat them with the respect that they deserve (and they deserve a lot of respect) and treat them with kindness, they will almost give their life for you. I honestly wish Canadians were more like that' reads an excerpt from Whitehead on Feb. 7, 1971.

"It (the racism) was just sickening," described Whitehead who says the trip taught him a lot about tolerance of others.

"We were two young guys who didn't know much about life, to be honest with you, and we learned an incredible amount about life in general," reflected Jupe.

On the road, they pair were constantly stopping to have their brakes on the car fixed.

"That was our biggest problem," said Whitehead.

All in all, the pair spent around $1,000 on car maintenance throughout the entire five-month adventure.

Back then, communication was not as instant as it is today and the only time they were able to connect with family and friends at home was through the odd pay-phone call or mail.

"We'd pick up our mail at the central post offices," explained Jupe.

After months of travelling together, a tiff threw a wrench in Whitehead and Jupe's plans, leaving Whitehead in Vegas all alone with Jupe flying to B.C. halfway through the trip.

"If you put two people together in a tent for months at a time, something's going to go wrong," said Jupe.

Looking back, he says resentments are pointless.

"What mattered when we were in Vegas...didn't really matter in life. Our friendship outweighed the animosity."

It wasn't until seven years after the trip, the pair saw each other by fluke while driving in Toronto. They reconnected and have been best friends ever since.

"And that's one of the biggest lessons in life is that we hang onto anger, resentments," said Jupe, who says it isn't worth it. "We've leaned on each other and helped each other out, and that's what friendship is."

After all these years Jupe and Whitehead remain the best of friends.

Jupe and his wife Karen, who live in Mississauga, feel that they have been 'adopted' by
Whitehead and his family, celebrating every holiday and special event together (except this year--thanks Covid!).

Whitehead has lived in Gilford with his wife (also named Karen) for the past 36 years. Whitehead says it was the road trip with Jupe that ignited his love and passion for travel. This was the first of many books Whitehead has published about his travels.

Before the book was published in 2010, every year on the anniversary of the trip, Whitehead would bring out the old journal and read it. As the years went by, the pages stared to deteriorate, which prompted him to have them officially published into a book.

Would they do the trip again?

In a heartbeat. It was the most memorable experience. But they don't think it would be possible in this day and age, with Covid, heigtened safety restrictions and all.

"I for one would not go back there now," said Whitehead

He and his wife have spent the past few years exploring Canada and encourage others to do the same.

"You'll never run out of places to visit in Canada," he says.

To learn more about the book, and to check out some of Whitehead's other travel works, visit https://www.thatroadtripbook.com/. To purchase a copy of the book, contact Whitehead by email at ewhitehead@rogers.com.

To To purchase a copy of the book ($25), contact him by calling 705-456-2215, or by emailing ewhitehead@rogers.com.

Eric Whitehead

noneReady to Roll – January 2, 1971


Eric Whitehead

noneApollo XIV – January 1971


Eric Whitehead

noneMiami – Superbowl V – January 1971


Eric Whitehead

noneEric in northern Mexico– February 1971


Eric Whitehead

noneMurray, the Grand Canyon– March 1971


Eric Whitehead

Murray and Eric with their wives (both named Karen) – February 2020



Local author releases new book on 1973 African adventure that left him in hospital, sick for a decade

By Natasha Philpott Innisfil Today March 21, 2021

In 1973, when he was 21-years-old, Gilford's Eric Whitehead made the journey to Africa as part of a six-week educational program with York University.

It was his first time flying on a plane, but not his first time travelling. Two years prior he had made the journey to Mexico throughout the U.S. on a road trip with his best friend Murray Jupe, which he documented in his book Then There Was One.

It was the trip to Mexico that whet Whitehead's appetite for travel and adventure. So when the opportunity to take part in the York Kenya Study Tour arose, he didn't hesitate to sign up. The tour would allow him to experience the country of Kenya, visiting Maralal, Thompson Falls, Nairobi, Mombasa, Tsavso National Park and Malindi.

The York-Kenya project was the first of its kind, which trained Kenyan civil servants in administration studies at York University. It gave students the opportunity of a lifetime to study and experience authentic African culture.

It was to be a great adventure, and Whitehead couldn't wait to experience Africa with 31 other classmates, ranging in age from 19-21. For many, it would be their first time away from home.

Little did he know he wouldn't be returning home with the rest of the group as planned due to a serious bout of illness that left him in hospital for 10 days.

Whitehead documented his entire adventure in a journal, which he recently published in a new book, Beneath the African Sky.

Thanks to the local professors who taught the program, the class was able to see parts of the country most tourists wouldn't, like visiting families living in 'Bomas', houses made of cow dung.

Other noteworthy adventures included an excursion through Rift Valley, wildlife sightings (shockingly Whitehead didn't even see one cat!), sailing and snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, visiting Thompson Falls, embarking on a safari in Tsavo, and visiting Turtle Bay.

One special part of the trip was having his own Safari jacket custom-made for just $9, a treasure he still has today.

His favourite part of the entire trip was seeing elephants in Tsavo.

"The Tsavo River is not very deep but the Dom palm trees draping the edges of the river give it that mystic, beautiful tropical look," he wrote. "The elephants in Tsavo West are different in appearance from those in Tsavo East. It is merely a colour difference. The Western elephants are not as red as the Eastern ones."

It was the Africa he had always dreamed of. Until it wasn't.

It was 24 hours before he was set to fly back to Toronto through Paris when Whitehead fell extremely ill with fever, chills, body aches, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, to the point where he couldn't stand up, let alone pack his bags.

His condition became so severe he had to be taken to hospital by ambulance "a super comfortable ride to the cemetery" he thought at the time, where he stayed for 10 days, missing his flight home with the rest of the group.

"I was falling apart, it was a real mess," he said.

It was the first time Whitehead ever had to stay in a hospital and says he didn't have any expectations or standards to compare to. He was just relieved to receive help.

After multiple tests and investigating, doctors are able to give him a proper diagnosis and get him well enough to fly home.

"My plane ticket to get home was a week old, from Paris to Toronto, and it had been an excursion ticket that had been issued to the whole group so they didn't honour any of that," he said, having to ask family to wire him enough money for a new ticket to get home.

For about 10 years after the trip, he would experience bad bouts of illness from the event in Africa.

Looking back, he says he wished he would have been more aware of the dangers and risks associated with travelling in a foreign country. Despite falling ill, he doesn't regret the trip and says he learned a lot about himself in those months of adventure.

In the book, Whitehead looks back and ponders how of his whole class only he had the mysterious illness.

Throughout the trip, Whitehead developed strong bonds with his classmates that he still keeps in touch with. Prior to the pandemic, he would meet up with a few of them once a year for dinner in Toronto.

"In a lot of ways it was like being at summer camp," he described. "I met a wonderful group of young people who educated themselves and went on to careers aimed at making life better for those around them."

Like his many other travel adventure books, Beneath the African Sky is written in a casual tone as if you are on the adventure with him.

"It was an experience we'll never forget," he described.

Years later, one of the professors Mike Rainy had emailed the group letting them know their class trip was the start of a set of field study programs for multiple American universities that lasted over 40 years, until 2014, after he and his wife retired from the profession.

Whitehead lives in Gilford with his wife Karen. He retired in 2008 and has been travelling the world since the 1970s.

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of his new book or other travel publications can contact him by calling 705-456-2215, or by emailing ewhitehead@rogers.com.

Maralal Lodge Samburu festival Eric at the Lodge
elephants ready to charge Tsavo sunset mosque in Malindi

Eric Whitehead


Author Eric Whitehead, Gilford resident, his latest book, Beneath The African Sky.


Eric Whitehead



Home - About the Authors - Photo Gallery - Excerpts - Interviews - Related Reading - Buy the Book - Eric's Blog - Contact

Web Design by interAD Marketing Ltd.,