Todd Carmichael’s Excellent Adventures

He’s worked for a Saudi prince, adopted three girls from Africa, trekked across Antarctica—and this month he’ll attempt a solo journey across Death Valley. So is Todd Carmichael—the man behind Philly coffee juggernaut La Colombe—living life to the fullest? Or just out of his freakin’ mind?

Carmichael met Hart, then co–hosting NBC 10’s 10 Show, in 2004, when she was interviewing him just before his first, exploratory trek in Antarctica. They flirted on-camera. “Someone gave me the tape of it and a still photo of me looking at him,” Hart says. “Maybe it’s my imagination, but we were just locked onto one another. It was primal. My co-host at the time, Bill Henley – and I think everyone else in the room – just disappeared. If you look at the photo, you wouldn’t even have to know us to get that, okay, what’s going on in this picture?”

Carmichael called to ask her for a date from the South Pole. You know, because he was there. They married in Africa, at Victoria Falls, with hippos in the water and other over-the-top movie-scene excess. They’ve been to the forests of Borneo, Dian Fossey’s research center in Rwanda. But Hart hasn’t been tempted to accompany Carmichael on his survival treks.

“I’ve already had my brush with death,” she says. In 2000, Hart was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so she’s beaten back a mortal threat she didn’t need to go out and find.

Her clan has its own history of daring acts. Her parents met as performers on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. Gene Hart (the late Flyers radio and TV announcer) did high dives while telling jokes. Sarah Detwiler sat bareback on horses that dived off the pier. Says Carmichael: “When people ask what my family thinks about what I do, I say it’s not even on their radar.”

For Death Valley, its rocky terrain and deep washes, Carmichael has welded together a new sled with four fat rubber wheels: the Desert Pig. It should give him a shot at clobbering the lowest, driest and hottest place on the continent. He failed before – last year, when he bailed about halfway through and took the “walk of shame” to civilization down a paved road. He’ll haul 300 pounds of water, plus salted peanuts, sugar patties, oatmeal, gear. To prepare to trek in the heat, besides weight-lifting and pulling tires three or four hours a day, he says he’s been wearing long pants to work all summer.

By late September, he’ll have a full moon to work around; he plans to travel mostly at night. The girls will be in school by then, and home with mom. “Ten days as a new parent with three children, yeah, that will be long enough,” Hart says. She figures this probably is the end of Carmichael’s really long treks. “But Todd’s the greatest salesman on Earth, so I never say never with him.”

As I ride with Carmichael to Nancy Glass’s studio – in his two-ball-blue Mustang Shelby – I tell him it’s a shame that after all the crazy adventures, I don’t have a kick-ass ending for this story. We don’t get to see if he beats Death Valley. He thinks for a minute. He says he’s been asked about Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old who failed in her attempt to sail around the world. Will she be crushed for life by the failure? No way, he says.