Two years ago today my dad died from an aggressive brain cancer. He died three months after he was diagnosed, out of the blue, having had no previous major medical issues, and at a relatively young age - 61. He also died with plans. The cancer struck with cruel timing - literally midway through maybe his biggest adventure: a move to Las Vegas from his lifelong home in small-town Ohio, to be closer to his grandchildren, and to prepare for a retirement in a beautiful part of the country.
It also struck a month before Angel and I started a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and he died just days after we hit the midway point. Despite the fact that he was recovering from brain surgery, he and my mom drove us from Las Vegas to the Southern Terminus in Campo, CA, and then met us in Big Bear, several hundred miles in. Having always been strong, independent, and active, at that point my mom commented that a three block walk we made from our hotel to a pizza place was the longest he'd been on since surgery. A cruel irony, having just walked several hundred miles through desert sun to the same spot.
Dad was a country person, but not exactly an adventurous person: I have fond memories of using gasoline to blow up underground bee hives as a family, and he spent hundreds of summer days outside mowing our massive lawn, and winter days shoveling snow from our long driveway, but he wasn't a camper, hunter, or fisherman for the most part.
He also wasn't that much of a social person. His memorial was mostly populated by family, with a few close friends, and it was strange for me to see that even a lot of the old acquaintances that showed up didn't seem to know that much about him. He lived a private life, and spent most of his time and energy on us, his immediate family.
What he was, characteristically, was a good person. He was kind to people. Not particularly educated, but smart. He was faithful and unfailingly supportive to his wife and family. He was generous with money and had his priorities straight.
Maybe because Dad's death happened, for me, in the context of a life lived outdoors on the PCT, a lot of my reflection on it has focused on life's cycles. Dad didn't deserve to die in the way he did, or at the time he did, but death isn't exactly something one earns or doesn't. It's just something that is in life. It's strange, in a way, how much we ignore its inevitability, and how much it takes us by surprise when it comes.
Two years out and looking back, that perspective on death has inspired a weird sort of boldness. When death is inevitable, your time alive matters more, and because you know it is limited, it becomes urgent to try to live well.
The ripples out from Dad's death among those of us who were close to him have moved in that direction, which is a great testament to his life. In the immediate aftermath for Angel and I, it meant getting back on the PCT and pushing ourselves as hard physically as we ever have to finish in the same season following his death. For my mom, it meant months training and preparing for her first backpacking trip, hiking the 8 miles in from Manning Park to the Northern Terminus to meet us at the finish, completing the circuit, and spreading some of Dad's ashes.
Two years out, my Mom's life has - to me at least - looked like a living out the goals that she and Dad had set. She's traveled all around the West Coast from her Las Vegas base, has gone on several more camping and backpacking trips, and has spent the bulk of her time at home with their grandkids.
For Angel and I, the path that Dad's death set us on eventually led us here, to this blog, because it drove us deeper into the pursuit of what we love, life outdoors. It drove us to a trip around Latin America last year, a few months dirtbagging around the West Coast, a decision to give this business a go, a kayak trip down the Hudson, and an intentional reshaping of our lifestyle to try to minimize time spent on things that don't matter and maximize time spent on things that do.
This weekend we spent a few days camping on the Olympic Peninsula with our niece, and with the anniversary of Dad's death looming, it was impossible not to read it in this context. Lilly is 6, and is Angel's brother's daughter. She lives in Ohio and on her first trip to the West Coast it was poignant to see the life at the flip side of death, as she dove headfirst into some of her first outdoor adventures: scaling trees, paddling furiously in circles on a mountain lake, racing down rugged Pacific Coast beaches. The hope and possibility is that her life is full of this kind of thing.
Life can be beautiful, and the ripple of Dad's death is always a reminder that it's worth the risk to try to make it so.
One of our major goals as we've been developing this little project has been to find, partner with, and promote businesses and nonprofits that we like: to flex our massive international economic muscle to get money to the places we think it should go.
The primary outlet for that is through the Navigator's Network that we're building, where a main focus is helping locals with valuable knowledge monetize it in a way that will be helpful for adventure travelers. It's our little attempt to help out locals both here and abroad by providing a platform and a point of connection.
That's why this week, we were particularly stoked that this week's podcast features Neon and Fidget from Her Odyssey, who share that goal, and are walking the entire length of the Americas (with a bike ride thrown in occasionally), connecting with locals, promoting economic development, writing guides, and generally doing mindblowing things. You'll likely hear more about them here in the future, but for now check 'em out!
In a different vein, but no less cool, we're also excited to be featured in this week's blog post from Oru Kayak, who graciously allowed us to put together a write up about our recent trip down the Hudson in their folding boats.
My first "business" as a kid was selling origami balloons with my friend Michael in elementary school, so it's maybe no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Oru's business, selling what are basically full sized, fully functional, origami boats - a product that is, as far as I can tell, a complete innovation and unique in the world. I ultimately blame the collapse of my own origami empire to lack of financial backing and advertising failures (who doesn't want to buy poorly executed origami at inflated prices from a couple of cute midwestern scamps?), but Oru overcame that as a scrappy startup with a Kickstarter a few years back. Now they're in REI and we're seeing their boats everywhere, so it's exciting that we were able to put together this little project with them. We love their products, and we feel their focus on opening up new adventure possibilities is right up our alley, so we're going to keep hassling them for more collaboration in the future as well.
Speaking of Oru, it's a beautiful day in Seattle, and I'm writing this in a bit of a rush because I'm trying to get it out to you before heading out for a paddle with our OG collaborator, Seth Wolpin of Himalayan Adventure Labs. He's an old friend, but he's also been one of our first financial sponsors, so I'd be remiss if I didn't give him a shoutout in this little partnership post. He's a real, grizzled mountain man, and a few days ago Trailrunner Magazine wrote up a post about one of his recent adventures - becoming the first finisher (with Ras Vaughan) of the 18 peak, one push "Harvey Manning Challenge" in Washington. He pays us to say this, but I'd say it even if he didn't - if you're an experienced hiker or runner who wants to visit Nepal, check out his business. He's a great guy who partners with local communities to provide rich cultural experiences alongside real, challenging adventures for people who want to go beyond what typical tours would offer.
A couple of years into our trail running obsession, Angel and I started doing some bouldering on the side for fun and cross training at our local gym, the Seattle Bouldering Project. Trail running had provided us with our first deep foray into the outdoor community, but when we started going to the SBP, it triggered a small revelation about it's depth and breadth. While we'd occasionally run into people we knew from the trails, most of the hundreds of sweaty dirtbags at the gym were total strangers to us, and to trail running. They were a climbing, adventuring world unto themselves.
We'd occasionally comment during that period that we should start a pub next to the SBP and call it the John Muir, because if all of these like-minded wilderpeople weren't meeting each other outside, there should be some place in the city they could gather.
The physical pub was never anything more than a pipe dream for us, but some like minded person saw the opportunity too and opened a pub in the gym! (Rad! Safety note: climb first drink second.) Flash forward a few years, and as we finish up our first "Season", the storytelling events Angel's been organizing have been ephemeral pop-up versions of the John Muir, with people from across the spectrum of outdoor interests coming together and building community in their cities and towns.
At the start, it seemed like as much of a pipe dream as the John Muir: that Angel would quit a good job as a nurse practitioner to find the interesting people in the outdoor world in various places, get them to come together and share their best stories, record them, and use all of it to bring the outdoor community together in a meaningful, genuine way. But the weird thing has been that six months in, it's worked. As I think most people who've come to the events will attest, the experience is awesome, fun, and inspiring. Stories are bringing people together across the spectrum and helping them see their shared values and experiences. Paddlers, runners, climbers, hikers, professional athletes, record holders and novices, environmentalists, birders and paragliders: people are showing up. Heading into a summer break following our event last night in Tacoma (we love you guys!), we've had hundreds of participants across the Pacific Northwest and into Canada at a dozen events, and a lot of enthusiasm. It's been so fun, and kind of crazy to see something we just made up out of thin air happening in real life.
(In case anyone is wondering, the podcast, which has a small but growing and loyal following, will continue through the summer because we have a ton of backlogged material!)
We don't have any storytelling events scheduled until September (Seattle!), but that doesn't exactly signify a Summer break.
Angel has told the Boldly Went origin story at several events, about meeting a mountain-scaling horse guide in Ausangate, Peru, after a painful day-long tour/bus/taxi trip and wondering how we could have found him more easily, and figured out how to customize our trip more personally so we could get up higher in the mountains rather than taking a leisurely two mile stroll through one of the prettiest places we've ever been on the package tour we booked.
It's a circuitous route from that experience to storytelling events, but a much more direct one to the Navigator Network, whose development is the focus for the next few months. The end goal is an extensive network of local experts in various parts of the world that people interested in serious adventure can connect with to build custom and/or off the beaten path experiences - getting locals paid for their knowledge, and giving travelers opportunities that would be inaccessible otherwise.
The short term goal is getting some experience ourselves in what being a Navigator might actually be like. We're trying to create something that doesn't exist, so no better guinea pigs than ourselves (or, well, primarily Angel). Angel's established a partnership with the cool people at City Hostel in Seattle and is developing a side hustle organizing outings with people visiting Seattle from around the world. Last week she helped a couple of Germans get a 25 mile hike together to Spade and Waptus Lakes over the Pass from Seattle, and as I write she's out with a Swiss family paddling Oru Kayaks in Lake Washington. The goal: work out the kinks with the Navigator experience to determine what we're asking people to sign up for, and, of course, spend the summer going cool places outside with good people.
Full disclosure, that last paragraph was a not-so-subtle sales pitch: if you know anyone interested in talking to Angel about putting together a custom adventure outside around Seattle this Summer, or anywhere in the world, hit us up! We also are already partnering with our friend Guila at Say Yes to Life! Swims with hopes of connecting the world's open water swimmers, and watch closely for developing international experiences in Guatemala and Nepal. Check out the Book Now page for more information.
Now, Summer's here, the sun is out. Let's do some field research playing in the mountains. See you out there!