It’s November now and it’s autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The maple tree sitting right outside of my office, aka kitchen window, has changed it's leaves to a mix of orange, red, and yellow, and I'm reminded every day that time is moving on as the leaves make their way to the ground.
It is nearly winter. In Seattle, we saw a light dusting of snow last week. And in some places, winter has come, like in Calgary, where our most recent Navigator to be added to our Network, Melba, shared pictures with me of the snow that has fallen there and is now covering the ground. It's hard to believe that just a couple weeks ago we were running outside in Calgary wearing shorts and short sleeves!
Speaking of Melba, we're super excited to introduce her to you. In 2015 Melba was selected out of 4000 applicants (!) to be the Woods Canada Explorer Campaign Ambassador, which led to 5 months traveling across Canada and promoting outdoor gear and inspired outdoor lifestyle for people from all different walks of life. Cool, hey?
Check out her extremely impressive profile then consider if you can squeeze in a trip to Calgary sometime soon so she can show you the best local waterways and rocks to explore. She's getting ready to add outdoor ice skating and a winter survival tips session too.
Shows and Podcast Updates
As we're changing from summer activities to fall activities here in the North and vice versa for you listening in the Southern Hemisphere, we're also making the change from Season 1 to Season 2 of the podcast.
Season 2 is off to a super strong start. Tim and I have been busy going all over the place to collect your stories in Seattle, Calgary, Portland and Bend. And we've got plans to visit Tacoma, WA, Laramie, WY, Denver, and Moab before the end of this year. If you live near any of those places, we hope we'll get to meet you.
On our recent tour we had so. much. fun. It was great to meet so many of you who have been listening and coming along with us on this fun journey. Thank you so much for being part of our network.
Bringing outdoors enthusiasts and athletes of all types into a room and listening to their stories leaves us feeling inspired and hopefully you too. I love creating the shows, because I think we all get new ideas of how we can explore the natural world. It also gives us the rare opportunity to meet people who are exploring the natural world in ways that you’ve never dreamed. That’s the beauty of what we’re creating here at Boldly Went!
Gotta say I keep thinking at some point I’m gonna feel like the new stories are too similar, and like I’ve already learned a certain lesson and shared it with you in this podcast, but so far, that’s not been happening.
Actually, the opposite has happened. I’m amazed at the breadth and quality of the stories. No two stories are alike and it reminds me of the nuances of human experience. When we make the time and put forth the effort, we can continually grow and deepen our understanding of one another. So, thanks for making the time in your life to do that. This season we’ve got so many new and interesting adventures and themes to share with you and I’m excited to dive in.
This week’s episode, the FIRST episode of Season 2, is called “Catastrophe: You Only Control Your Choice," and features reflections from cannoneers, Jeff Geels and Pam Hardy, and a skier, Sandor Lau, about sleeping outside when adventures, and life, don’t go quite to plan. The unexpected overnights are cases of adventure gone wrong, and a very real experience with homelessness reminding us, that we only control our choices.
If you haven't listened to this episode (#37), what are you waiting for?! Make sure you're signed up for our newsletter for updates with each new episode release, then go here to listen now, see photos of this week's storytellers, and get special offers from our partners and sponsors.
Thank you for sharing the adventure with us.
Ignite. Your. Adventure.
A couple of days ago, Angel and I had beers with our friend Sara. She hiked the PCT the same year as us, and finished on the same day even, but we met for the first time at our last Seattle event a couple months ago. Our conversation - like so much of what happens through Boldly Went - centered on the importance of the outdoor community. This morning as I was thinking about that topic I re-read this post from a previous blog, written last year. The PCT, all you people, possibilities, the things the outdoors community contributes to the world: It's all meshing together into nostalgic goodness, so I wanted to repost this blog here, with special thanks to Anish and the Urbanski's, and of course Sara, for being such inspiring people. I think it's a helpful reminder that it's the people we surround ourselves with that let us live the dirtbag dream.
In the last two years I've thought a lot about the role that friends play in my life. When Dad was sick and then passed away, friends came out of the woodwork to support us, provide encouragement and free therapy, and offer some perspective on how they moved through similar periods in their lives. On the PCT, especially after Northern California, friends kept us sane, dragged us along and helped us get through a grueling push to the border with both emotional and material support. When we were traveling in Latin America, friends from home were the thing that I missed the most. And when we were back in the States, friends let us crash on couches and in their yards for basically two months of free accommodation.
I've realized for a while that, in order to do cool things in life, it helps a lot if you surround yourself with cool people: that is, if you make friends with people who have done the things that you want to do. Since being back in Seattle, I've been reminded that the community here makes an irreplaceable contribution to my life, because the Northwest is filled with smart, interesting people doing amazing things.
But it's true that there are several responses one can have when surrounded by smart, interesting people doing amazing things. Broadly speaking, one can be inspired, but one can also become jealous, and develop a sense of inferiority when one hasn't achieved a similar level of amazingness.
Haters gonna hate pretty much everyone
This came into clear relief yesterday when one of the most amazing people in the Northwest, Heather "Anish" Anderson, posted that she'd made the mistake of reading the comment section of an article that the Seattle Times recently published about her. (If you haven't heard of Heather she's one of the most accomplished outdoor athletes alive - holding speed records on both the PCT and AT thru-hikes, something no person, male or female, has done before. You should click here and read the article. It's better than my blog, and she's way more interesting than me.)
I checked it out, and predictably enough, half the commenters were a basket of deplorables with a list of reasons that Anish's records were either reflective of moral failings or not that impressive. While I don't make a habit of reflecting on the comment section (Never read the comment section, and definitely don't perseverate on it enough to write a blog post about it!!), immediately after reading I went on a hike up the PCT (appropriately enough), so I spun on this particular cesspool of transparent bitterness, ignorance and jealousy for a few hours.
And more than many, this comment section was exactly that: transparent bitterness, ignorance and jealousy. Gut responses from people who don't know Anish, aren't hikers, and clearly didn't comprehend what they read in the article, if they even read it. There were a bunch of comments, but maybe the most elegant piece of trolling was from "lordofflys":
"I call it "an insatiable desire to get your name in a record book". There are a lot of people in the Great NorthWest [sic] who prefer the outdoors to a sedentary lifestlye. [sic] Get in line."
Haters gonna hate, and stupid haters gonna hate stupidly. Those who know Heather know that she is humble to a fault, and is an intense introvert who seems almost embarrassed when she talks about her accomplishments.
Must be nice
But to be honest, I have to admit that I do kind of understand the impulse that arises when confronted by another person's accomplishments, to explain away what they've done. It seems like a natural defense mechanism based in insecurity, designed to help us feel okay about our own situations: I hurt my knee in college so I can't..., My parents didn't have money so I can't..., I wasn't born beautiful so I can't... And anyway I wouldn't even want to because those accomplishments are wrongheaded and meaningless.
We could call it the "must be nice..." impulse, and probably everyone has felt it, even if most of us have a filter that kicks in somewhere in the steps between reading a news article, creating an account, logging in, and gleeking our frothy bitterness all over the unwitting internet public. I've said it myself, and Angel and I have had it directed at us more than once - particularly while we were traveling. "Must be nice to not have to work for a living," "Must be nice not to have any kids to worry about," "Must be nice to have that kind of money."
The thing about "must be nice" is that, along with pissing off the person it's directed at, it is self-defeating for the person who says/thinks/feels it. The rhetorical equivalent of "must be nice" is "you can do that, and I would like to. But I can't, because...".
Even if the "because" in that statement is followed by some truth, it's useless. It is just a statement of the conviction that you are in a different category from people who figure out how to do the things they want in life. They did that, I can't, so they're stupid. It's possible to sit with that attitude, but it doesn't get you anywhere.
Spirit Animals and Role Models
And that brings us full circle back to the value of cool friends, because it isn't just about surrounding yourself with the right people - it is about taking the right attitude towards them. Specifically, it's about figuring out which lessons you can take from their lives and apply to yours, rather than seeing their situation as foreign, and therefore irrelevant, to yours. Philosophically it's about seeing yourself as having influence over your situation, and about seeing relationships as symbiotic - having the potential to improve both your life and the other person's.
(I'm genuinely not sure why this clicked in when it did, but for me that realization hit almost exactly when I turned 30. That was a time when I stopped feeling jealous about Angel's ability to get a job easily and make a decent living, and decided to retrain to healthcare so I could do the same. And it's a time when I decided to stop feeling jealous about healthy, fit people, and to start triathlon training, which across time ended up transitioning into ultramarathons, running across Spain, hiking the PCT, and about a million other things I never thought I could do in my 20s, and I still kind of can't believe I've done - none of which I would have been able to do without the influence of friends, incidentally.)
A way to express that truth is that its better to look for role models in life than rivals. This was actually one of the reasons the particular comment section under discussion got me spinning. Besides the fact that Heather's a friend and an incontrovertibly good person, along with the humble marmot, she's basically my spirit animal. The type of life she's carved out, and the things she's accomplished are inspiring to me, and the article about her got me thinking about life possibilities - more time outside, less time spent earning money I don't need to buy things I don't want. More adventure and accomplishment, less resignation to life. The commenters are the incarnation of the buzzkill part of the brain that tells you "that's not possible".
A Personal Case Study on Finances
A simple, practical way to apply the role model idea is that when confronted by a person who has done something amazing, or better, something that you're jealous about, better than saying "must be nice..." is to ask the question, "How'd you do that?" When you ask it out loud, you almost always learn something valuable, even if the person's context is dramatically different from yours.
For a personal example, we have a couple of friends, Matt and Julie Urbanski, who appear to have their act together as much as anyone I know. And while they're incredibly lovely people, I have to admit that in some ways my gut response when I think about their life is jealousy: particularly in the fact that they have only spent intermittent periods of time working since college, and have traveled for periods of up to three years at a time without traditional jobs. They both have degrees in finance, and because I'm completely ignorant of that field, my gut response to their situation is that they must have been able to save like a million dollars from a few years of work and so now can do what they want. Must be nice, but I can't make that kind of money as a nurse.
But, a few weeks back, they posted a helpful article on their blog about financing their lifestyle, and it prompted me to think more concretely about their situation. I know they live frugally, have a few sources of income that are portable wherever they are in the world, and basically have a huge sense of freedom and possibility in life despite the fact that they have a kid and careers and lots of goals that people tend to see as prohibiting travel. But I didn't know anything about the concrete financials behind that, and I was assuming that they were in a place financially where we weren't.
So, I asked specifically how they did it: how much money did you have in savings when you quit your jobs, and how much do you feel like is "enough"? While I won't go into specifics, I was surprised to learn that when they started traveling their net worth looked very similar to ours now. I also learned pretty quickly that a key difference between us and them is that their sophisticated understanding of the way that investment works is what allows them to feel a sense of financial freedom and control as much as the actual money they have in the bank.
Their situation is significantly different from ours. I personally like having a home base in Seattle, while they seem to be persistent drifters. I'm generally happy with the working life, as long as I'm doing something meaningful, and while I want to be able to travel I see myself doing it for nearly as long of periods of time as them. But I do want their sense of financial freedom and control, and I do want to feel like I'm able to fully decide when and where I want to work, and when and where I want to travel, in the way that they do. And so, as we're making financial planning goals across the next few years, I'm going to be using them as a key resource rather than an object of ignorant bitter envy. They're way better role models than rivals (especially since they kick our butts in most important areas of life)!
And so, to summarize...
Don't read the comments, but more importantly don't write any comments yourself.
I really believe that to do cool things, you have to surround yourself with cool people. But more so, you have to recognize that those cool people can make your life better, and shouldn't be targets for your bitter frothy gleek.
We believe in the outdoor community's ability to produce better people so much that we're dedicating our lives to building it up through our events and podcast. Come out for live interactions with so many cool people you won't be able to stand it, or soak up their wisdom through your headphones.
Or, you know, just sign up for our email list for weekly notifications about more stuff like this.
As we've been building events, the podcast, and the Navigator Network, we've had the overarching vision in mind of making dirtbaggery more accessible: that is, making serious outdoor adventure something that more people feel like they can do. With events and the podcast, we do that through building up a community because we believe that knowing cool people makes you cooler yourself because they give you both beta and concrete examples of what is humanly possible. With the Navigator Network we're aiming to make it simple to tap into local knowledge when you're trying a new activity or going to a new place.
We've been doing this, basically, because 1) it's a ton of fun and 2) we want to address problems that we've run into ourselves - the challenge of learning new activities, and the challenge of figuring out how to get where you want to go when you're travelling and keeping money in the local economy vs. paying some amorphous, overpriced adventure travel agency.
And as we focus on the nuts and bolts of getting people outside, and looking to grow this even more, we've been actively looking for businesses and non-profits who are on the same path, but are solving problems that we can't at the moment. Which is why, when Angel happened across a startup out of Southern California called Toyroom a few weeks ago, she messaged their founder (a dude named Dane Baker) and asked if he wanted to be friends. Like us, they're just getting started but are picking up steam, and like us they're addressing a key problem for dirtbags: finding gear to try out when they're travelling or just want to try out a new sport without investing a ton of money up front.
Dane did want to be friends, and we're excited to point you in their direction because 1) for people interested in the Navigator experience, they provide a great resource and 2) we think some of you might want to make a little cheddar on the side, or save a little cheddar on gear, using their platform. (Full disclosure - while we're not getting paid for this, Dane is telling his people about us too. We promise that's because the excitement is mutual and not because we get a kickback. We'll be transparent if we do that kind of thing!)
What it is, how it helps
It's also a potential source of side income we're interested in, so we put our kayaks up on their site if you want to check out a personal example of what the experience looks like. (Okay, I guess this is the part where the kickback thing comes in, but just if you rent our boats! They're so cool! You won't regret it!)
Sharing is easy in theory, but there are reasons, I think, that it doesn't happen, and they seem to do a nice job of addressing them. People don't want to get their stuff stolen, so Toyroom keeps basic client data on hand to safeguard against that. People don't want to get their stuff broken (or break something expensive that isn't theirs!), so Toyroom has a team that assesses for appropriate followup if an accident does happen. People need to know that they can trust the strangers they're booking with, so they have a rating and review system, an internal messaging system for communication, and a secure payment system to keep things honest and upfront. People want to know they aren't renting junk, so they filter for quality gear.
This is exactly the part of the "outdoor industry" that we want to promote and be a part of - people helping people. We like what Toyroom is doing and we hope their service grows, which is why we're telling you about it. At the moment they, like us, are building up their network, but they don't have a ton of representation in the places where you're likely reading from (the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada). So, we hope you all will check out what they're doing, and if you're interested, sign up! Or, rent something - like we're hoping to when we (fingers crossed) get down to Veracruz, MX again this December!
We're on our way to Calgary after spending last weekend in Squamish, which makes me think: for an American these days, going to Canada is surreal, and a little bit painful.
The two countries have always been similar enough that the border crossing is normally a bit Twilight Zone-ish. It's like you're in the same place, but different. You recognize the McDonald's, but what's with all of the Tim Horton's and A&W's? The landscape looks similar, but how'd all of the public parks get so nice? The accent is familiar, but something's off. And how come everyone seems so polite and healthy?
But since November 9th, 2016, things seem particularly weird. Since about that date, life in America has seemed problematic as Hell. Anger, fear, anxiety, disillusionment, disbelief. They're just part of the standard American emotional landscape these days. Hate, political conflict, overanalyzation and catastrophizing, it's just what's happening below the 49th Parallel, with some new outrage tweeted daily.
But cross the thin line into Canada, and strangely, everything is fine. People's concerns barely involve reality show presidents or fake news. It's like my life was in America, circa 2014. Just people living their lives, mildly politically aware, but not particularly stressed.
When complaining about this to Canadian friends, it's a pretty standard response for them to suggest we just move north. And I'll admit that every time we cross the border, I daydream about finding work and sticking around. We're both nurses, it would be so easy. So much less government assault on our deeply held values. A more just society. So much wilderness there, so many beautiful places to explore: we'd never run out. It could be a beautiful life: the Canadian Dream.
On our way to Calgary, we're also midway into a trip through some of the most beautiful parts of the American West. I'm writing this from a cafe in Missoula, Montana, in fact, killing a rainy stretch in between a spectacular couple of days of hiking and camping in the strange mix of desert, lake and river that is the Grand Coulee area of Northeastern Washington, and another spectacular couple of days we plan to spend in Glacier National Park.
And every time we've ventured into the wilderness - on this trip, and throughout the year - I've dreaded coming back. The trips have taken various forms: paddling, trailrunning, hiking, backpacking. But every time we've experienced a sort of high - a reminder of how much there is to love about America, and a renewed sense of home here.
Then, we'll get in the car and start driving. We'll hit the highway, and the passenger will check their phone. And the high is immediately over, because look at what the Hell happened in America while we were gone. Today's no different. Tomorrow likely won't be either.
Like Canada, dreams of disappearing into the Wilderness - or at least moving away from the city to a place where we could ignore problematic social realities - pop up every time we head out of cell phone range.
But there's also a thing in the US, where the break from the anger comes not just from retreating into the wilderness or taking trips to bizzarro lands where all of our outrages don't matter. It also comes from interacting with other Americans. Not all of them, but most.
In my mundane little life in Seattle, it comes from working with my peers on the psych unit, and patients and families. People taking the nightmare scenarios you see on the news, and doing the messy, impossible work of trying to figure out how to cope with them and move forward. These are the people who live with the consequences of cuts to government funding for mental health services, drug treatment, and the social safety net, and with the personal consequences of violence and abuse. Interacting with people in that world isn't "inspiring". It's heartbreaking and infuriating in it's own right, because it's almost always true that we could be doing better by them. But what it is, is evidence that people can, and will, get through a lot. It's a trigger for resolve, and a reminder that resolve is as American a trait as any.
And traveling around the country, it's experiences like visiting Soap Lake, WA - an out of the way small town in the Eastern part of the state that's been trying to be a tourist destination for years but has mainly just succeeded in being weird. The Pacific Crest Trail connects a string of such places from Mexico to Canada, so we felt at home there immediately. Following a series of historical accidents that couldn't have been predicted, the main cultural representations there are American farmer, Hispanic immigrant, burned out hippy, and Russian/Ukranian medical tourist. The kindest face in town on our visit was the old lady who speaks no English at the "European Food and Deli" next to the gas station next to the downtown that's hibernating for the winter (or more). The best deal was the $5 homemade borscht. The weirdness was beautiful, and distinct evidence that America is, even in unexpected places, the cultural melting pot that it sells itself as to the world.
Those kinds of experiences are reminders that the country we live in isn't just the thing that's an outrage at the moment. It's a place we love.
Thinking about America in that light, the idea of not coming back once we get to Canada again in a couple of days feels analogous to a thought about trading out a spouse you love in the middle of a serious fight. It's appealing to think that you could end a painful conflict with a sweeping decision, but it ultimately doesn't address the problem. The problem isn't that you don't love them, or want to be with someone else. The problem is that you want them to be different: maybe better, or maybe just more like you.
And the idea of moving away, into the wilderness or away from the city, feels analogous to proposing divorce in the same context. It's giving up at a time when you should be getting to work.
Isn't it true, after all, that people change precisely because other people that care about them stay committed when they're acting shitty? Countries too: if you believe in social progress at all, you have to think that it's only come through the commitment of people who recognize problems and figure out how to fix them.
There are of course relationships where she should've left the guy years ago, and so maybe for a lot of people America is more like the abusive family member that you grew up with and don't have a choice but to deal with. But in any case, travel along the border in times like these is more thought provoking than it has been in the past: a reminder of the things we hope for from our country, I guess, but also a forced reflection on the things we already value about it, a reminder of what we're fighting for.
And it's pretty likely that when we get up to Canada again in a couple of days, someone will ask if we want to stay. The answer, in part, will be yes, but the more complete answer will be that no, while we understand the appeal of the Canadian Dream, the US is a place we love, and the place we'll keep working on.
Virginia Wade is not the hero that America deserves, but she is the one that America needs.
She is one of the most remarkable outdoor adventurers you've probably never heard of. Just a sophomore in high school, she's already hiked close to 1600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, competed at an international level as a downhill skier, and is aiming at international competition as a gymnast. She's embraced the outdoors as a part of her identity to the extent that she insists her high school peers refer to her by her trail name, "Tutu", has written a book about her adventures, and is working on a musical that is receiving support from Microsoft.
And she has Down Syndrome.
Her mom, Amy Martin, is a regular favorite at Seattle Boldly Went events, and was featured in one of our first podcast episodes. Angel had coffee with her yesterday, and their conversation (at least as filtered through my own interpretation based on Angel's account) centered on ways that Boldly Went, and the outdoors community more generally, could do better, not just at incorporating a wider variety of people, but at actually humanizing them. Treating people who are frequently categorized as flawed in some way as equals, in defiance of cultural assumptions and ingrained patterns of thought and behavior.
Amy is a force of nature in her own right, and knows something about the topic: she's been instrumental in advocating for Tutu to make sure that she has opportunities to excel in a world where she's underestimated and brushed aside as a matter of course. Amy is a mom who has recognized her daughter's potential - not just as a kid with more challenges than most, but as a fierce, beautiful human being with gifts to offer the world - and has fought successfully to make sure she has the chance to realize it.
While Angel and Amy were having coffee, America was mired in a collective ALL CAPS shouting match sparked by what can only be described as the hate fueled madness of our ostensible leader. The debates were, you could roughly say, on the same issue that Amy was concerned about, approached from an entirely less-sensible angle - the dehumanization of athletes. The President of the United States had referred publicly to black football players protesting injustice against their communities as "sons of bitches". It's a phrase decent people avoid using, and it implies, literally, that these human beings, citizens of the country he leads, are dogs. Again, speaking roughly, the debate was between those who agreed that these people were SOBs, and those who didn't.
At the same time, the extent of the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria was becoming apparent, and questions were (and are) being raised about why the response, both public and official, seems so different there - in a Spanish speaking, predominantly brown, black and poor US territory - than in Texas and Florida following recent disasters of lesser scope.
While the issues involved here - race, socioeconomics, colonialism, and disability - have some dramatic differences, I've personally been processing these conversations alongside the thoughts Angel discussed with Amy, because they raise some of the same fundamental questions. Who do we think of as a human being? Who do we treat like something less? What are the consequences of those attitudes, particularly for the people being dehumanized? And conversely, what is the potential for individuals and for society if we do the opposite, and humanize those that are popularly or officially pushed aside? These issues aren't just about our president, or our leadership, they're about our broken culture and the darker impulses of humanity as a whole. They're questions whose answers are too easily assumed settled. And they're questions that Amy and Tutu's lives speak to powerfully.
I think it's natural, generally speaking, to distance yourself from problematic aspects of your own culture when you recognize them - to instinctively develop rationalizations for how those problems are someone else's, and not your own. And one of the ways people do that is to identify with subcultures, or countercultures, that they view as separate from the dominant problematic one. I personally find that the outdoors community can be used in such a way fairly easily, because although it's still developing, it has a lot of features that can seem like a direct antidote to much of what ails the larger American and Western culture:
It's true, for instance:
Shared struggle, which is what virtually every outdoor endeavor is about, has the power to produce a sense of common humanity among the people who engage in it, regardless of their background.
The dirtbag vagabond lifestyle that is often required of those who are serious about outdoor pursuits, and which the outdoors community idealizes, has the potential to produce cross-cultural relationships as efficiently as any strategy we know of.
And the grand perspective of the natural world puts our human issues in context, and levels the playing field in a way that has the potential to break down artificial human hierarchies, at least philosophically.
But while it's true that countercultures can offer correctives to their larger context, it's simply not reasonable to idealize your own chosen pocket as above reproach. Whatever it's strengths, and even if one could argue that the outdoors community is generally a bastion of sanity compared to the larger political climate, it has also developed its own peculiar problematic elements and tendencies towards dehumanization - or at least towards it's own type of caste system. Dirtbag culture has developed to varying degrees as a white thing, a thin thing, and a male thing, which is to say that it's centered the old regular power brokers, and has at times made others feel unwelcome or uninvited.
And more relevant for our current purposes, it's also developed as an able-bodied thing. In discussing her own experiences with Tutu in this world, Amy has pointed out the tendency to make her a token, or to create a "separate but equal" space for her which has had a similar effect: to gesture towards inclusion while simultaneously creating structures that lead to exclusion from the community. What's really needed is full participation in the community as an equal, or by extension, a recognition of her full humanity.
The strategy that Tutu and Amy have used in this context might not save the world, but it's instructive and applicable for those of us seeking progress in the midst of modern social madness. Simply stated, they've refused to accept Tutu's second class status, or to be defined by prevailing presumptions about what is possible. The Tao of Tutu could be expressed in a Yin and Yang of their approach towards her athletic endeavors, where Amy has said that as a parent, when Tutu has faced challenges, she "just believed in her", and Tutu has said that when she falls down, "I get back up". And together they've pushed forward. Their shared approach combines confidence, assertiveness, and perseverance, and has resulted not just in a series of remarkable achievements for Tutu herself, but a forced worldview shift for the people who doubt her, and by extension other kids with disabilities. In short, their approach works not just to help Tutu succeed, but to make the culture that they live in more humane.
It would be overly simplistic to say that progress on issues as complicated as institutionalized racism just depends on a bit of perseverance and confidence. But it's not too much to say that Amy and Tutu are a damn inspiring example of people fighting back against dehumanization at a time when it seems like culture is pushing in the opposite direction. Because of who she is, 7 months on the Appalachian Trail is more than just that. Representing the United States as a downhill skier is more than just that. And Tutu's potential to compete internationally in gymnastics is more than just that. All of those things are examples of success in a social situation where failure is a solid option, and an undeniable demand for respect in a culture that would normally ignore her.
While we're clearly not there yet, the fundamental truth that's being promoted, by Amy, by those guys taking a knee, and by the people shouting about the inadequacy of our response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, is that all humans have equal value and should be treated with dignity. However long it takes culture to catch up, Tutu is an amazing example of someone, even with differences, even in an imperfect situation, who behaves as if that's true. She's not the hero we deserve, but she is the one we need.
It's like New Years around here as we prepare to kick off Season 2 events next Monday in Seattle, which means we've been feeling all nostalgic about the sights and sounds from the first season. And as our great grandmas taught us, there's no better way to stoke nostalgia than to flip through some old photos.
At Boldly Went events, we ask that participants share their stories without audio/video accompaniment, because the world doesn't need more Powerpoint slides, we like the creative challenge, and it assures that stories will be just as powerful on our podcast as they are in person. But after each event we invite storytellers to send us their photos and back stories because we just can't resist. We didn't want to be greedy, so mid-season we started compiling some of the cool stuff people were sending, and putting it out weekly in our Newsletter and Field Notes page.
As we were flipping back through some of those, it was striking how many amazing storytellers we had, and how many awesome photos they sent us. So, ahead of next week's event, we compiled some of our favorite photo/storyteller combos, along with links to the episodes on which they were featured.
Note: episode links in this blog are to iTunes where we hope you will subscribe to future episodes, and if you like the podcast leave us a review! If you're not an iTunes listener, you can also find episodes in your favorite podcasting app by searching "Boldly Went" or stream directly from the Listen page on our website.
Our favorite photos from live events were taken by Monika Deviat, in Calgary, Canada. She specializes in night sky photography and her website is worth checking out!
Get Involved, and become part of the nostalgia for Season 2!
Facebook reminded me this morning that 2 years ago today, we were at the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, preparing to hike down and through the Eagle Creek alternate to the banks of the Columbia River. The section was one of the most beautiful of the entire trail, and today, like much of the lower Columbia River Gorge it's engulfed in flames.
We were also preparing today to put out a post about The Rendezvous, a music and outdoor festival that our friends at Outdoor Arts and Recreation are planning for September 22 - 24 in the Methow Valley, WA. We're holding off on that post (you'll still see it in some form or another), because multiple fire complexes are raging in that area as well, and while the festival location is currently unaffected, their sister organization, Rainshadow Running, sent out an email yesterday saying that fires might force a postponement.
The situation ranges from terrifying for the people whose houses and livelihoods sit in the path of the fires, to a huge bummer for people who love the region. Like Harvey, Irma and other natural disasters, a big part of the response is waiting and hoping for the best in a situation that we can't control.
But for people who want to do something concrete, in lieu of our post about The Rendezvous, it seems appropriate to draw your attention to some resources about the fires:
Sarah Gentzler from the Outdoor Women's Alliance posted this really helpful article in The Evergrey yesterday providing background on what's happening with the fires. The title is Seattle-centric (The Evergrey is a Seattle-focused blog) but the article has great information on the overall situation.
And Rainshadow Running emailed out this fantastic list of resources yesterday, which offers options for support specific to each fire complex in the region. The following are excerpts from their email:
Eagle Creek Fire- Columbia River Gorge
Friends of the Columbia River Gorge is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conversation of the Gorge. They are responsible for securing the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act in 1986 and now with over 6,000 members, they continue the conservation efforts year round. You can donate at any time, but currently they are accepting donations for the Hood River County Search and Rescue for their efforts in rescuing over 140 hikers when the fire broke out. 100% of the proceeds go directly to these heroes.
For more information and ways to donate/help the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, please click here.
Click here to read a great article about ways to help, but also about things not to do at this point. It also has information about local businesses helping those being evacuated.
Diamond Creek Fire - North Central WA
The Methow Conservancy has been working to help the land and the people of the Methow Valley recover from the devastating fires of 2014 and 2015 as well as prepare for current and future fires. Their mission, to inspire people to care for and conserve the land of the Methow Valley, ensuring it will remain a place where future generations can enjoy the rural character and natural beauty we cherish today, is critical year round fires or not.
Consider becoming a member to help further this important work.
Jolly Mountain Fire/Norse Peak Fire
The Jolly Mountain fire has been burning since August 11th in the Central Cascades of Washington (Cle Elum area) and has grown to over 18,000 acres. A level 3 evacuation is in place for much of the area and a Red Cross shelter has been set up in Cle Elum for nearby residents affected by the evacuation. If you donate to the Red Cross, you can choose to send your donation to where it is needed most or to your local Red Cross chapter. Or if you would like to send the donation to a specific incident, you can mail in your donation. Directions are on their website:
Click here to donate to Red Cross
The Norse Peak Fire, which also started August 11st due to lightning, is burning just north of Mt. Rainier on the east side of the Pacific Crest Trail and as of today has grown to almost 20,000 acres.
Click here to support the Pacific Crest Trail Association
The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is the world's leading conservation non-profit organization and staffs 65 members in the state of Washington alone. They purchased over 47,000 acres of forest in Kittitas County (where the Jolly Mountain fire is spreading) for the purpose of safeguarding clean water, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.
Click here to read about conservation efforts in Washington
Click here to donate to The Nature Conservancy
Volunteer Your Time
Much of the fire relief efforts right now are out of our hands and we can only hope for the safety of the firefighters and those being evacuated. However, many organizations need volunteers year round to help with efforts to rebuild and prevention. Volunteer opportunities include trail work, planting trees, manning a fire lookout, help managing campgrounds, and help with events and projects to educate the community on the conservation of our lands.
Here are a few other organizations to check out:
United States Forest Service
Washington Trails Association
This week, Angel and I have the opportunity to volunteer as hosts at The Mountaineers Hut at Stevens Pass, WA, which is hosting Pacific Crest Trail hikers as they're nearing the end of their journey, just a couple hundred miles shy of the Canadian border.
By the most literal measures, PCT hikers at this stage are genuinely disgusting human beings. This far in, hikers (and the clothes they're wearing) have been walking for months, and it's easy to adopt the attitude that showers can wait for Canada. So, they can smell the hay in the barn, as the saying goes, but everyone else just smells them. (We know, we were them as we wrapped up our PCT thru-hike about this time of year in 2015).
But in more metaphorical ways, this point is when PCT hikers have been distilled to their most beautiful and compelling essence. The hikers arriving at Stevens Pass have already proved their mettle through 700 miles of desert sun in SoCal, 500 miles of treacherous snow through the Sierra, an endless 500 mile grind in NorCal, and 700 miles of encroaching forest fires and beckoning microbreweries in the Pacific Northwest. They're the hobbits at the gates of Mordor. They're fit. They're smart. They've killed a few orcs. All they have to do now is ride out the home stretch - 200-ish miles that seem like a victory march.
As a corollary, hikers setting out from here are also beginning to wax nostalgic, and to think about the significance of their hike: what role it has played in their larger life, whether it's been a positive or negative experience, and whether they'll be able to reintegrate into normal society. They're prone to reflection on the meaning of it all.
I say all of this basically by way of introduction, to explain how I ended up in a conversation in a cabin with a couple of smelly European thru-hikers that sent me into a nostalgia spiral that led me here, to a reflection on the core values of the outdoor community.
On Sunday, after sampling, and then discussing the relative lack of merits of various cheap American lagers, and the hikers' plans for what's next after the trail, a brilliant Swiss kid who goes by Stats and has the facial hair of a young lion asked a question that started me on a monologue that still hasn't fully ended: "What sticks with you after the PCT?"
Immensely grateful to be given the opportunity to share my veteran hiker learning with this skillful cadet on the cusp of graduation, my initial response was that it turns you into a committed minimalist: when you literally have to carry everything you need to live, you realize that you don't actually need much, and that you're better off getting rid of the things you don't. And that it makes it really difficult to give up small freedoms: months spent with no commitments beyond moving a few miles forward makes it hard to make decisions that tie you down - getting a real job, or signing a lease that will keep you in the same spot for a long period of time.
That conversation moved on before I could impart more invaluable wisdom about how the trail changes you forever, but the next day the topic came back up when I went out hiking with a good friend from the PCT - Rob, aka Danger Muffin - who was in town by sheer coincidence and stopped by the cabin to catch up. Since the PCT, both of us have done a lot of drifting both geographically and in our careers, and Danger summarized the impetus behind the wandering well: (and I unapologetically paraphrase...) "I've realized more and more that I want to really own my life, and live rather than just giving up and doing what somebody else tells me to."
Danger has amassed at least as much wisdom as me, and back at the cabin, in another conversation with the hikers that night, we hit them with knowledge about humility - that doing something as big as the PCT puts your life in perspective, and living in an immense wilderness helps you to get a more realistic sense of your own importance. For a lot of people, that translates into something like a good sense of humor, because you learn not to take yourself, or any individual situation, too seriously.
Bear with me now, as this post veers in an unexpected, and probably unwelcome direction, because that idea - the relationship between humility, humor, and the experience of wilderness - was on my mind when we were hiking again yesterday, and Danger Muffin's brother Tom (also randomly in town for a visit), told a story about a guy he met on a climbing trip in Kentucky who bragged about discovering, unexpectedly, "200 ticks on his testes". And who, after unsuccessful removal attempts, suffocated them in carburetor fluid.
I won't pretend that the tick anecdote is much more than a horror story that demands to be told, but the rest of the stuff here adds up to something important, at least to me. (And I hope you're paying attention here Stats): two years on I think the biggest thing that has stuck with us from the PCT is a desire to surround ourselves with the outdoor community, whose collective experiences reinforce those types of values.
The reason being that the PCT was an immersive experience in the outdoors and the community that forms there, and a crash course in the lessons that it teaches. The ongoing experience of gathering people together from across the community is continuing education that helps to define outdoor culture (if there is such a thing), and communicate to each other the lessons that "stick with us". And all together, outdoor values like minimalism, freedom, perspective, humility, and a good sense of humor, are things we want to reinforce - both in ourselves, and in the people around us.
Among other things, this week's podcast features a story from Portland crowd favorite Constance Ohlinger that reflects all of the above values in a remarkable way, and concludes with maybe the best finishing line from any of our events. It's a story with an incredible history that made it into international news, so listen and check out the back story here.
And we're excited to find out who is going to show up at our next event, which is happening in Seattle on Monday, September 18th at Naked City Brewery. It's the kickoff to "Season 2" of events, and it looks like there will be an exciting announcement and potentially fabulous gifts and prizes along with normal mix of gnar, inspiration, and good times. Tickets are $10 through next Monday (Sept. 4), and this event has sold out consistently, so we encourage you to buy early!
Today most of my family is in Ohio at the memorial service for my cousin Kyle, who was one the most important people in my life throughout my childhood, and someone who influenced my love for the outdoors as much as anyone. I'm not there in part due to reasons that are a little ironic and a little poetic, because of prior commitments to cover for a friend at work while he goes to Serbia to meet his girlfriend's family for the first time. (I think somewhere up there, Kyle is okay with this, because that's the kind of guy he was.)
Kyle was my older male cousin, so maybe naturally one of the people I looked up to most as a kid. We were in Boy Scouts together, and he was much more accomplished at it than me - going on to become an Eagle Scout while I dropped out a few merit badges beyond Tenderfoot. But it was really time with him where I learned to hike, to camp, to backpack, to build a fire (I still suck at it - should've put more time into that merit badge!), and to deal with rough weather outside. Those times shaped my life, and sent me on a trajectory that I have no plans on changing. (He also taught me to be a giant nerd, I think in the best sense, instilling a love of fantasy novels, comic books, cheesy 80's rock, and role playing games, but that's a discussion for another time.)
The times with him have been on my mind a lot in the last couple of years, as Angel and I have taken a sort of merit badge approach to our life outdoors - moving from primarily spending our time trail running to learning basic skills in skiing, orienteering, paddling, bouldering, desert scrambling, thru-hiking, and general dirt-bagging. I'm still no Eagle Scout like Kyle was, but we've gotten more well rounded, and it's not a stretch to say that we've just been continuing along the path he started me on.
Kyle's death was, unequivocally, a tragedy. At age 42, he had a massive stroke and gastric bleeding for reasons that still aren't certain, and spent a week in the ICU fighting before he passed.
I've written about death a fair amount on this blog, and while that's never been planned consciously, it's the hand that life keeps dealing.
When my Dad passed a few years ago, a lot of thoughts were triggered around the need to "go because you can", to use Monster and Sea's tagline. But this week, reflecting on my cousin's passing, I've been thinking a lot about the outdoors as a vehicle for life relationships that change you, because my relationship with him changed me.
Personally, it's the community building aspect of Angel's big vision for Boldly Went that is most compelling for me, and we spent the day after Kyle's death outside with people we've connected with through this project. We've known Seth Wolpin for a few years, but he's been one of our earliest supporters, and his business, Himalayan Adventure Labs, was our first sponsor. He's also basically a real life Indiana Jones, so he was a perfect guide to take us out on a partially off-trail peak-bagging loop in the central Cascades. We ended up there because of Ellen Bayer, who we met at our first storytelling event in Tacoma. She's from Ohio like us, and has only been trailrunning for a year, so this off-trail experience was a first for her in the area, but she's hardcore and is scouting for bigger things so brought us all together.
The following day we hiked to Lake Annette with a couple of kayaks and our new friend Sam from Taiwan, who connected with Angel through City Hostel Seattle and signed up for a trip through our Navigator Network. It was my first time going along on one of these outings, and it was such a great experience showing a like-minded guy from the other side of the world one of our favorite local places and doing something really unique, paddling a kayak around a crystal clear alpine lake on a perfect summer day.
In both cases, relationships translated into outdoor experiences that will be, in some small degree, life-changing. For Seth, guiding us on a route he'd done before was an exercise in sharing excitement and skill that we likely benefited from more than he did. For Angel and I it opened a sense of possibility in our own back yard, and gave us some experience in GPS navigation that we'll be able to use to expand our adventures in the future. For Ellen, it was a first merit badge in off trail travel in the Cascades. Our trip with Sam was similar in that, for us, it was a pretty normal summer day, but for him it was a unique experience of a place that he may never go again, doing an activity that isn't possible where he lives because the environment is so different.
Viewing these experiences through the lens of my cousin's passing, I'll remember them as small experiences that both make life meaningful in themselves and ultimately add up to bigger things - a better, more fulfilling life, and assistance earning merit badges that help us get better at doing the things we love. Death is a harsh reminder that opportunities to do so aren't unlimited, so it's a privilege to be able to use the time we have doing this work, fostering the types of relationships that drive people outside to have experiences that will be life changing.
If you want to help kids form the types of relationships that will shape their love for the outdoors, Kyle's family has suggested making a donation to the National Eagle Scout Association, and we're on board with that.
As business we also have a web of relationships that shape what we do:
Ellen Bayer is coached by the Wy'east Wolfpack, who helped us organize our Portland event and connect with Patricia Crespi, who tells a story on the 27th episode of our podcast.
Wy'east also helped us connect with Territory Run Co, a trail running gear company from Portland that shares our belief that running outside is about living more than it's about competition. They're sponsors helping us make the podcast happen, and get some merchandise for sale. They also are giving out free bandanas to listeners and are generally hugely supportive, so we encourage you to check out their stuff!
And Seth Wolpin is the owner of Himalayan Adventure Labs, and is looking for people to join him on a fastpacking trip in the Everest region this December. I can vouch that he knows his stuff, and that this trip will be life-changing.
My friend Kristin sent me a link to this video the other day, and while I'm not sure who Eustace Conway is (besides a Southern guy who looks like Daniel Stern with ponytails), I love the spirit he describes here.
I hope you'll forgive my brief foray towards the edge of sappiness when I talk about it, but "Most of the things people tell you are impossible really aren't" is exactly the idea that got us hooked into the outdoors community in the first place.
About 7 years ago, at a time when I was leaving behind a career that I'd spent my 20's pursuing, and feeling like I was potentially making a giant mess of my life, we got into running as a way to get healthy and manage stress. When our local running shop guys (Brian Morrison and Phil Kochik) pointed us towards the trail runs organized by the Seattle Running Club, we found a group of people who embodied that spirit perfectly. Seemingly normal folks, who'd at some point realized that running ultra-marathons through the mountains wasn't just possible, but was fun.
At the time, that idea seemed unbelievable to (previously sedentary) me, but also important, and the pursuit of completing a mountain ultra, and ultimately a 100 mile race, stood in as a cypher for everything else in my life that initially seemed impossible (which was a lot of things at the time). Success in running goals, like Eustace's success in, say, gathering hundreds of turtles, made me feel like, actually, a lot of those things that seem unattainable actually just take a bit of planning and a willingness to suffer.
When Angel and I finished the Cascade Crest 100, in 2013, just a few minutes apart, it felt like accomplishing something impossible and, surprisingly, having fun doing it. We finished, probably not coincidentally, just a few months after I finished nursing school and started a new career - the completion of a transition that had started at almost the exact time we started running, and initially felt as impossible as a 100 mile mountain ultra did to a noob runner, but now just feels like a thing I did.
So much of the spirit of the outdoor community is wrapped up in that idea, and it's so much at the heart of what got us going as a bootstrapping, unfunded startup within that community. It's a place where "Climbing Mt. Everest" isn't a metaphor for some unattainable goal: it's actually something people do. It's maybe something one of your friends has done, even, and they're not that much different from you. Maybe they can give you some beta, and maybe you'll do it some day.
And so, while "the outdoors" is about recreation for so many of us, we also believe that Conway is right on in pointing out that it also teaches that base value for a fulfilling life, that most things people tell you are impossible really aren't.
It's funny that Kristin posted this video to me when she did, because this week's podcast highlights something like the opposite reality: that sometimes even simple things can elude our grasp. But actually, the storytellers, Karly Wade and Angie Sowell, both embody the spirit of resilience and possibility that Southern hippie talks about above, as they've both managed to place outdoor pursuits at the center of their lives despite early and/or repeated missteps. When you have a minute, check out more about these local adventurer's on a new section of this site that Angel's developing called Field Notes.
It's also worth putting in a plug here for our sponsor and friend Seth Wolpin, who we met trail running and who has literally climbed Everest. Through Himalayan Adventure Labs, and working with Nepali locals, he is gathering 5 - 10 people for a fastpacking trip this December on and around Everest, and it sounds like a genuine life-goal epic. There are still spots available and I'm not just trying to sell you by pointing out that it's a surprisingly affordable 18 day trip. Our audience, we think, are just the type of hearty adventurers he's trying to find, so we hope you'll check it out here.