At a historical moment when the United States seems determined to descend into a dystopian chaos out of Mad Max: Fury Road, one wants to feel that they're doing something worthwhile to help hold together the fraying core of the social fabric. So when a few friends have asked not just why we're starting Boldly Went, but why we're starting a project organized around outdoor storytelling now, it prompted some thought. When there's so much else to do, why focus on this?
While this Boldly Went thing wasn't started with either War Boys or geopolitical crisis in mind, our focus on connecting the outdoors community, and sharing its stories, has helped us to think about what our community brings to the world. In the midst of tumultuous times, this project is helping to remind us why, in fact, the outdoors matters.
Why the outdoors matters to us
For Angel and I, outdoor adventure has always mattered personally, because it has formed us as a couple. When we were twitterpated undergrads, Angel convinced me to take a trip to visit her on exchange in Australia, where we spent a month sleeping on buses, boating with crocodiles in the Daintree forest, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef near the Whitsunday Islands, and gently warding off dingoes around a campfire on Fraser Island with backpackers from around the world.
That trip precipitated a later move to New Zealand, where we spent two years tramping, penguin-watching, and exploring the country's mountains and fjords in a sweet, yellow '85 Ford Laser in our free time. Which led to a move to Seattle, where the local legends at Fleet Feet Sports and the Seattle Running Club introduced us to trail and ultra-running, which led to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, gushing about Seattle in long form in Trail Runner Magazine, scrambling up mountains after work, learning to boulder at the Seattle Bouldering Project, orienteering with the Cascade Orienteering Club, backpacking around Latin America, starting a business, learning to ski, taking up paddling...
So to us it's intuitive: the outdoors matters. Outdoor sports and adventures have shaped our life and formed us as a couple. The majority of our favorite life experiences have been outside, and the outdoors has been therapy to help us get through the majority of our most difficult times.
Building a community that matters is what this project is about
But the impulse behind Boldly Went has less to do with how the outdoors has impacted us (after all, we could just be spending more time outside rather than sitting on computers developing this thing), and more with a recognition that the outdoors community is full of incredible people with stories that need to be told. So we think of our storytelling events as more than just entertainment: we think of them as ways to make concrete connections among outdoor athletes and adventurers, because it's those connections that we believe will matter.
This foundational belief is based, in part, on our experience of probably the coolest outdoor community we know - Seattle's High Heel Running, a women's trail running group created by our friend Megan Kogut. It was started as a random post on Craigslist years ago, but it's developed into a group with over 1000 members that's been profiled in national publications multiple times, and has created a community of scientists, writers, environmentalists, businesswomen, and normal people running everything from 5ks to 100 mile mountain ultras. Their secret, we think, has been support, connection, and inspiration, and we see those as central to what it means to be a part of the outdoor adventure community. Beyond just pushing towards new achievements in running, the High Heelers have spawned romances, adventures, activism, businesses, and friendships in the Northwest and around the world. Angel's first experience in event organizing, in fact, happened with a team of women from this group, at Grit and Grace in 2015, and Boldly Went is very much developed in the desire to spread the High Heel spirit of support, connection, and inspiration more broadly.
We also believe that making connections in the outdoor community matters because outdoor adventurers so frequently form the beating heart of the global environmental movement. While they're also athletes, the outdoor community we know, and want to organize, are also the scientists, the trail maintainers, the ocean and water protectors, the non-profit administrators and the volunteers who love their environment at a visceral level - not just as a theoretical "natural resource". That's why its exciting to us that our events have included (among a ton of others) representatives from the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy and Gerry Stephenson (pictured below), who helped turn an old mining pit in Canmore, BC into Quarry Lake, one of the town's most popular community destinations. (You guys are going to love hearing a couple of Gerry's stories on the podcast in a couple of weeks!) We think connecting these people puts a literal spin on the concept of grass roots organizing.
As a community we can get money to the right places
And we also believe that the outdoors community matters economically. Not just in an "REI creates a lot of jobs in Seattle" kind of way, but also because members of this community are working to get money to the right places.
In North America, sometimes that looks like outdoor athletes using their passion as a way to raise grassroots funds for important causes. We've come across some amazing examples of this already with our friends in the paddling community at Monster and Sea, who are killing it raising money to directly support families dealing with cancer, and Keep Calm and Paddle On - an organization started by Chad Guenter in Canmore, BC, who SUP Magazine accurately described as a "tattooed giant" working to raise awareness of mental health issues. We've known Seth Wolpin for years, but he fits this category too as a badass trail runner (he's running maybe the world's hardest race at the Barkley Marathons as I write!) who partnered with us at Grit and Grace and is using his PhD level smarts and connections in the Himalayas to raise funds directly for poor in Nepal through Wide Open Vistas.
We also know that making connections between adventurers here and locals doing cool things abroad can be a way to help provide a decent living for people from places where economic possibilities are limited. That's why from the beginning we're working to help connect people with friends like the Martinez family at Ruta Verde in Jalcomulco, Mexico - locals doing hardcore outdoor adventures who can provide an amazing local experience for real athletes - paddlers, hikers, mountainbikers - looking for a challenge. And it's also why we're developing a partnership with our friend Javier Navichoc at Trek for Kids on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, who covers all the bases for adventure travel: he runs a small, local Spanish school (Guatemaya) and can teach you the language basics, and Mayan culture, while also taking you on local adventures climbing volcanoes and camping out in hidden spots outside the normal tourist enclaves, all while helping to raise funds to pay for education for kids in the towns around the lake.
So, what we're doing here - bringing people together, connecting the outdoors community, encouraging you to connect with each other - it's something we believe in. Not just because it's fun, or because the outdoors is who we are, but because we believe that connecting you all will make a difference. In tumultuous times, more connections mean more possibilities, and we trust this community to load up the guzzoline, unhitch the pod, and drive straight into the mass of Warboys.
P.S. If you're interested in partnering with us - getting an adventure storytelling event to your town, putting us in contact with cool people who are doing cool things in the outdoor community, helping get the word out about local adventure partners in remote parts of the world, or whatever, please send us a message! This project is about building a dynamic community of outdoor adveturers, and we love new connections!
When we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, Bend, Oregon was one of the most popular trail towns. Dozens of breweries, friendly locals, amazing food, and a cultural embrace of dirtbaggery made the slightly complicated hitch from the trail into town well worth it for most, even if they left having spent way more time and money there than they had planned.
Maybe it's no coincidence then that about a third of the participants at our first event in Bend were PCT veterans. And while we didn't realize it at the time, two of the crowd favorite storytellers were trail famous.
Kolby "Condor" Kirk, who told a moving story that we featured in our 3/20/17 podcast "How to Make an Adventure." His story was about his transition from a young dreamer to a bonafide world-traveler. He was also the creator of the video linked above - a concise but comprehensive record of the scenery he saw, the beard he gained, and the 90 lbs he lost on trail. After he posted, it went viral and is one of the most watched short video records of the PCT journey online.
Condor is also a talented artist, and his artwork was recently used by our personal favorite local brewery and Pacific Crest Trail Association sponsor, the Crux Fermentation Project, on their can design for the PCT Porter. Pacific Northwesterners will understand what I mean when I say that this demonstrates that Condor has achieved peak Bend.
And Modern Hiker recently profiled Condor as one of their "Trailblazers", and we'd definitely encourage you to check out their write up, which has examples of the incredible artwork he created in his trail journals during the PCT, as well as details of upcoming plans for publication.
Not a Chance
Our event winner, "Chance" (short for "Not a Chance") is a peripatetic traveler (originally from Ohio, like us!) who we were lucky to catch when she was swinging through Bend visiting some friends. She was initially unassuming and told us she wouldn't be putting her name in the hat, but bowed to peer pressure and told a hilarious story about her experience hiking with a nude partner on "International Hike Naked Day". When Angel was following up with her about the podcast, she learned some remarkable things - including the fact that she's hiked over 14,000 miles in the last 7 years, and has a huge online following on her blog and Instagram.
Intrigued, we dug a little deeper, and found out that Chance is a bit of a PCT legend, having hiked the trail four times since 2009 (she says she repeated it, among other reasons, because she wasn't as good as she wanted to be at thru-hiking), and filled in the rest of her time completing the type of rugged, epic, only partially developed routes that serious hikers always say they're going to attempt, but usually don't: The Great Divide Trail through the Canadian Rockies, the South Island portion of Te Araroa in New Zealand, the Lowest to Highest route from Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the top of Mt Whitney, the San Diego Trans County route, and a bunch of others.
Grit and Grace, a speaker series highlighting women and family adventurers, happened for the second time on Sunday, March 5th, when a couple of families - the Martin/Wades and the Fagans - shared their accounts of how they've been able to incorporate the outdoors into their lifestyle, countering the common assumption that having kids represents the end of grand adventure. (Watch it here.)
The first Grit and Grace happened a couple of years ago, in March 2015. It was the first event Angel organized in the outdoor community, and in a lot of ways was the genesis of the Boldly Went project. I (Tim) wasn't there, because I was in the hospital with my Dad, who was recovering after emergency brain surgery following a collapse and seizure at work that led to a diagnosis of glioblastoma - brain cancer, a death sentence in the long term, and the end of Dad as we knew him in the short term. (Don't let anyone convince you that removing a thumb sized hunk of your brain won't change you, but that's a side point.)
Dad's diagnosis was a complete surprise, and it came just a month before Angel and I were planning to set out on the biggest adventure of our life - a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada. HIs new illness presented us with an impossible question. We had no commitments, so should we keep our plans for the hike, or do we cancel it to spend the time with my Dad? Doctors reported a successful surgery and hopeful expectations, but glioblastoma prognosis is usually measured in months, not years. We genuinely didn't know if hiking might mean missing the last months of my father's life.
Our decision was clear for my parents before it was for us:
Go because you can.
Among other things, terminal illness is the ultimate reality check that our opportunities are limited, and that you don't know how many you will be presented with. (The first Grit and Grace event featured female pioneers of adventure - all four of the speakers were older than my father at that point.) So my parents' preference was that Angel and I take the opportunity that we had.
So in Mid-April, 2015, Dad and Mom drove us to the Southern Terminus of the PCT, and we hiked.
Go Because you Can
It was a sentiment we felt deeply, but it wasn't a phrase we thought up at the time. Rather, it was coined and promoted as a mantra by one of the sponsors of this year's Grit and Grace event: Monster and Sea.
They're a gear and fundraising organization founded by Troy Nebeker in order to support families armwrestling cancer. A paddler, and someone whose own family had been devastated by the disease, he donates 10% of proceeds directly to families hit by cancer.
One of his other major endeavors is a 24 hour paddle event that started in Seattle, but has spread nationwide, with a simple strategy: teams gather donations, the money is put in envelopes in $1000 increments, and given directly to families struggling through cancer. Hardcore, grassroots, no overhead. The outdoor community making a direct impact on peoples' lives. You can see why we love this guy and Monster and Sea.
(This year's event is on April 15 - click here and see below for more details on how to support or be directly involved.)
Sometimes you can't.
At exactly the midway point of the PCT, as we were approaching a highway near Chester, CA, we re-entered cell service and our phones started lighting up with messages from my mom. The worst case scenario had occurred, and just a few months after his initial surgery, his tumor was back, and was already larger than the original growth.
We immediately decided that our thru-hike was over. We hitched into Chester and worked our way down to my parents in Las Vegas via a series of buses and rental cars. And we made peace with our new role in providing end of life care for my father.
Because his tumor was so aggressive, hospice was the only realistic option. While we initially thought he would have several months of life, two torturous weeks was all he lasted. He died at 62, three months after his first seizure and diagnosis. He lost his planned Southwestern retirement, and his planned years spent watching his grandkids grow into adulthood. My mom lost her partner of 40 years.
Several times during our life, my dad had told a story about a road trip he took with his father during high school, from Ohio to the California coast. It was a cautionary tale, because he told us that he slept the whole trip in the back seat, pouting like the teenager he was because he didn't want to spend his summer on a trip with his dad, and missed out on enjoying the experience of huge, beautiful parts of the country. He always told it as a story of regret, and a warning to us not to miss out on opportunities in life.
During his illness, my grandfather (Papaw - we're from the northern edge of Appalachia) added a detail to the story that I hadn't heard previously, which was that my father perked up and engaged with the trip when he was allowed to drive. It wasn't a total missed opportunity, but a situation in which Dad figured out a way to make the best of the situation.
This story was at the front of my mind as Dad's rapid decline once again presented us with a difficult decision: should we stay and support my mom as she grieved for the loss of her partner, or should we attempt to get back on trail and see if we could finish. It was the end of July, and the back of the hiking pack was approaching Chester, the town where we got off trail. An average of 25 miles a day would get us to Canada before the snows hit in the Washington Cascades.
When we spoke with Mom the next morning, she was adamant: we needed to go because we can. And so, the following weekend, with my aunt and cousin who were there to support, Mom drove us back to the PCT at Chester, and we put our heads down to make up lost ground.
To summarize a grueling two months, it was the hardest, most beautiful experience, and we did it. And while we were hiking, my Mom was hiking. She trained for months in the Mojave heat and coordinated with some experienced friends to plan her first ever overnight backpacking trip (at 62 years old!) so she could meet us at the Northern Terminus to sprinkle Dad's ashes. She went, because she could.
This experience was very much on my mind at this year's Grit and Grace (which you'll be able to watch here once the video's edited and uploaded!), even before presenters Chris, Marty and Keenan Fagan revealed for the first time publicly that they too are struggling with cancer.
The Fagans were there to present because they have lived a remarkable life together as a family: Chris and Marty are long-time ultrarunners, and are in the Guinness Book of world records as the fastest couple to reach the South Pole overland unsupported, unassisted. With Keenan they've cycled around Kilimanjaro and across Tanzania, climbed it, and hiked to Everest Base Camp - all by the time he turned 15.
But when they turned to the topic of what their next adventure would be, they revealed that it involves struggling with cancer. Marty was diagnosed with Squamous Cell cancer that was discovered initially in his neck, and then spread to his lungs in the last year. He said, “The lung tumors are very small and aren't spreading, I have no symptoms, and I remain very active.” But now, rather than planning their next massive outdoor adventure, their focus has shifted to the immunotherapy treatment he recently started.
It would be hard to find a family that has maximized their time on earth more than the Fagans, and a better illustration of the fact that life can turn in unexpected ways. Marty's cancer was discovered at a time when they were training to potentially row across an ocean together. It's not clear if that trip will still happen, but when he found out his father's diagnosis, Keenan's response was to say that, no matter what happens, he's done more in his 15 years than most people do in a lifetime.
There's no one who has embodied the "Go because you can" ethos better than the Fagans, and no better illustration of its importance. (In a couple of days we'll have the video from the event up here, so you can hear their story directly.)
The impetus for Boldly Went came, in large part, from the first Grit and Grace, and the decision to do what Angel wanted came, in large part, from our experience with my Dad's passing and the PCT. It's cliché but true that life's too short not to go when you can.
And two major goals that we have for the business are to provide people with the opportunity to meet cool locals in the outdoor community, and to help get money to the right people - whether that means Mexican adventure partners like Carlos or Seattle locals doing awesome work like Troy Nebeker. So with all this stuff coming together, it's an absolute no brainer that the first non-profit/fundraiser that we're promoting is Monster and the Sea's 24: Go Because You Can.
The date this year is April 15, and there are locations all over North America. In our hometown of Seattle, Troy and crew will be paddling all day and night on Lake Union, and there's also a group doing this in Alberta, near our most recent events in Calgary and Canmore.
While this event started in the SUP community, it has already expanded to other sports, so teams are organizing around 24 hour running events, with hiking, biking, skiing and any other outdoor sports as possibilities for groups of non-paddlers.
If you're interested in joining those groups, or starting your own, or have general questions about the event, send Troy a message at:
If you're interested in giving money, visit the Seattle team's GoFundMe page to donate. Money goes into envelopes that go directly to families dealing with cancer to show them that they're not alone.
We're excited to be able to share the video from Grit and Grace: Adventure Family Edition through YouTube. Watch it now by clicking here.