Presented by Boldly Went and 1iOpen Productions
Welcome friends to the inaugural Micro Adventure Film Festival! Other events might be bigger and more prestigious, but there are none more convenient. Put on some popcorn, because by the time it's done popping the festival will be over and you might want to veg out to some Netflix or Youtube videos or something.
Launched in early 2018 as a collaboration with Viv Smith and Erik Nachtrieb, award winning Adventure Film makers at 1iOpen Productions, this year's submissions were all based in the Pacific Northwest, with a strong emphasis on the human side of the outdoor experience.
The rules for submissions were simple:
1) Use film to tell a story about outdoor adventure.
2) Do it in exactly a minute.
3) Upload it to Youtube and send us the link.
The winner, as chosen by our esteemed panel of judges, will receive hundreds of dollars worth of fabulous gifts and prizes, including:
And without further ado, on with the show!
High Five and Roadkill Hike to Gravity Falls, by adventure kids Cedric and Duncan Martin-Wade
"HIgh-5" and "Roadkill" are 2/5ths of "Crowd Control", the trail name for the remarkable Martin-Wade family whose mom Amy braved 1600 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2013 with her four children, including Virginia who has Down Syndrome and was featured in a previous post here. They give us a rapid-fire recount of a 14 mile day on the AT that ended at Gravity Falls - not a real place, but a favorite cartoon. A pretty darn memorable experience when you're 6 years old, as Cedric and Duncan were when they hiked.
Roadless Coast Reflections, by Ken Campbell
Ken Campbell is a Tacoma, WA based water protector and the founder of the Ikkatsu Project, a multifaceted film, research, and education non-profit that focuses on raising awareness of issues facing the global marine environment. An accomplished kayaker, here he captures spectacular footage of the Washington coast, and reflects on those wild places where still only a kayak can reach.
Untitled, by Brandon Williams
Brandon Williams is an outdoor photographer and film maker at Rock n Trail Photography, and a new father. Here he offers a moving reflection on the experience of leading his daughter through her first adventures in the outdoors.
Choose to Live, by Joel Ballezza
Joel Ballezza of the WIld Ones was one of our judges, so his submission wasn't in consideration for the prize. But we had to share it here as a touching picture of how adventure is more than just recreation. In his Dad's case, it's a choice to live in defiance of death.
And the winner of the inaugural Micro Adventure Film Fest:
Fording Rivers Together, by Brad Hefta-Gaub
Brad Hefta-Gaub continues the strong focus on family in this year's festival with a moment in time with his daughter on her first overnight backpacking trip. For those familiar with the Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge, which Brad shouts out briefly, you'll know that this trip was no joke. It's a short video, but fording the Ozette in Spring on the Olympic Coast of Washington is no small adventure, especially for a first overnight backpacking trip.
Congrats to Brad, who we'll be sending a prize pack full of swag, and to everyone who submitted for this inaugural event! We think this little Micro Adventure Film Fest turned out to be both fun and moving, and we're super impressed with your abilities to capture both the beauty of the outdoors and the human side of adventure in just a minute of space.
Stay tuned for more of these types of collaborations, and be sure to check out our friends Erik and Viv at 1iOpen on their website and join their more than 3k subscribers to follow their hilarious Youtube series The Crew about the real life experiences of adventure film makers. And check out the stories they told on our podcast here and here!
And check out Joel Ballezza's work at The Wild Ones. You can also hear the story he told on our very first podcast here.
And if you like what we're up to, and want to see more stuff like this, consider joining our growing legion of supporters on Patreon.
In 2005, shortly after moving to Seattle, Angel and I attended a training for an AIDS organization called Multifaith Works, which recruited volunteers from communities of faith to partner with (primarily) people who needed support due to issues related to HIV/AIDS.
At the training, we participated in the activity described on this page as "Crossing the Line". In short, everyone got together in a circle, and was cued to take a step towards the center, identifying themselves publicly if they'd had a range of experiences, or identified with a range of statements. This was a training on diversity, so many of the cues were related to race, class, sexuality, and other identifiers that tend to divide us. "I have made a racist joke", "I have been pulled over because of my race", "I have used a homophobic slur", etc. The activity cuts both ways - so participants are asked to identify both when they've experienced some form of discrimination, and when they have been the perpetrators themselves.
The activity is relatively standard at anti-racism and diversity trainings, but for me, it was the first time I'd identified many of those parts of myself publicly. Having been raised in a small, conservative, white rural community, it had only been a few years prior that I'd decided (stated roughly) that it was okay to be gay, and I was just at the beginning of the process of wrestling consciously with issues of bias, discrimination, race, class and sexuality. So, stepping into the circle was painful every time, because of what it forced me to admit to myself, and to the people in the room. To this day, it's one of the most viscerally uncomfortable experiences of my life.
I thought about that activity yesterday when I read the recent National Geographic article that's been circulating, where they own up to the fact that for the bulk of their history, much of their work ranged from covertly to overtly racist. While that idea isn't news to anyone whose parents kept around old issues, publishing the article felt a lot like National Geographic publicly stepping into the circle. It wasn't coerced by scandal, it wasn't self-hating or guilty - it was just a statement: "We've been racist, and we're trying to do better".
While there are clearly a huge number of people who are declining to participate, and actively trying to get others to stop, the article felt significant because, in many ways, it seems like much of American society is beginning to engage in an extended game of "Crossing the Line". Major social movements like the It Gets Better Project, Black Lives Matter, and MeToo have felt like people stepping into the circle to say that they've experienced various forms of injustice. And the National Geographic article was one signifier, among others, that some number of people are stepping into the circle to take responsibility for the fact that they've been a part of the problem.
Both types of public statement require some degree of bravery. But both types are also transformative individually and collectively. One of the most notable dynamics in "Crossing the Line" was that, when one person stepped forward, it made it more comfortable for others to as well. And after you had stepped into the circle once, it was much easier to do so again. By the end of the activity, it felt both safe and important to be honest, and pretending that you don't have problems seemed less appealing than admitting, with everyone else, that you do.
Personally, while it had taken some level of development even to put myself in the position of going to that type of training, and the activity itself felt like an important step forward in dealing with my issues, in retrospect it was only the very beginning of a process that I'm still working on - which is, acting like an adult, and taking responsibility for the way my own issues impact the world around me. In a similar way, I think the best way to think about the National Geographic article, and other statements like it, is as a fulfillment of what should be a baseline expectation for businesses and world citizens in 2018, and the first step in a long process of transformation rather than a goal in itself.
I don't want to take a dig at National Geographic in any way. On the contrary, I’m stoked that they stepped forward, because it’s going to lead other people to do so as well, and I'm stoked that the article was published by one of the most influential magazines in the adventure community. (I, for one, wouldn't be writing on this if they hadn't published the article.) The reality is that most organizations (let alone individuals) haven’t taken that first, baseline, step. But I also think it's important to be clear that they aren't heroes for doing so. They're like the first person to speak up at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They're brave, and a crucial icebreaker, but they're someone who’s also there because they have a problem.
But it's true, the more people step into the circle, the easier it becomes for others to follow suit. And eventually, it will seem more awkward to pretend that you don't have issues than to admit, with everyone else, that you do.
Our little business is new, and as such, we're lucky that we don't have much of a sordid past to own up to. However, it is our baseline goal not to have to look back in 20 years and say, "Crap, we were terrible".
To that end, we don’t want to be another tepid endorser of diversity for the sake of sales, or another white-owned organization using black voices (or any other voices that aren’t our own) for our own benefit. So our primary goal is to figure out how to make ourselves useful for the variety of voices in the outdoor community. We believe that maximizing representation at our events and on our podcast is crucial, but we also believe that the more important focus for us is to figure out how to make ourselves useful to groups like Outdoor Afro and Unlikely Hikers, who are doing the core of the work of getting a broader population involved in the outdoors. We believe this is the right thing to do, as well as a good business practice because we think that ultimately, organizations that people find useful are organizations that people support. And we think that if we keep the focus on being useful to those types of groups, the other stuff will fall in line.
Whatever the case though, we're happy to see that National Geographic stepped into the circle, and we're happy to step into the circle ourselves and own that we are part of the problem that's trying not to be. The hope is that as more companies and individuals follow suit, in 20 years it will seem unbelievable that owning your race issues ever seemed like an act of bravery or leadership.
Whoever you are, we hope you'll step into the figurative circle as well, and own up to the systemic and individual issues related to race that have historically existed in the outdoors community. Your influence will make it easier for the people in your circle to do the same.
And if you're looking for next steps beyond admitting we have a problem, in addition to Outdoor Afro and Unlikely Hikers, we're big fans of the work being done by Queer Adventure Storytelling, Black Girls Run, Outdoor Women's Alliance, the Alpenglow Collective, and Brown Gal Trekker. Check them out, support what they're doing, and throw some money their way!
If you like what we're up to, and want to get more involved, consider becoming a part of our community of supporters on Patreon.
America needs to come together around this anti-BS movement. It's good to see the outdoor industry becoming a part of it.
A lot has been happening in our lives in recent weeks - we've been on the road for events, and for my mom's wedding in Las Vegas, and this week's podcast on Mental Health and the Outdoors focuses on two themes that are among the most important in my life, as a psychiatric nurse and of course partner with Angel on this outdoor adventure business.
But like so much of the country, a lot of my energy in the last few weeks has been going towards a topic that's only peripherally connected to all of that - the proper societal response to America's gun problem following the Parkland shooting
If you haven't watched student Emma Gonzalez's speech after the shooting, just do it. I'm embedding it here to make it easy.
As far as political speeches go, I can't think of many in my lifetime that were as powerful or timely as hers. And in the aftermath, I really think those Parkland kids are going to drive change, because I think they're prescribing exactly the right intervention in our situation.
In mental health therapy, we call a direct and uncompromising statement of truth in the face of delusion, lies or enabling behavior a reality check. It's an intervention you don't use all of the time, but which can be effective when the central therapeutic need is to set a boundary and insist that lies or self-deception aren't an option in a situation.
A reality check is what Emma's talking about when she talks about "calling BS." And whatever term you use, there's nothing America needs more right now than a real life Stranger Things crew mobilized and speaking truth to power at politicians who pretend to be stumped about what possibly could be done while mass murderers go on purchasing semi-automatics online without background checks. I wish America, 2018, didn't require children screaming at the rest of us to deal with our reality like adults, but here we are.
The idea that gun proliferation has anything to do with hunting and sporting interests is BS.
In the aftermath of the shooting, it's been heartening to see large businesses like Dick's and REI taking stands, removing assault weapons from their shelves, and dropping products made by companies that support the NRA and the gun lobby. From my perspective as a member of the outdoor community and someone who grew up shooting recreationally, a major point of BS that needs to be called is on the idea that the proliferation of America's main problem weapons (assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns) have anything at all to do with hunting or sporting interests.
The NRA claims to be the nation’s largest advocate for hunters and sports shooters, but the places they devote their energy and money have very little to do with benefiting those groups. In fact, much of the NRA's lobbying has been directed towards goals that are directly opposed to these groups' interests, including the opening of public lands to oil and gas drilling and the privatization of areas that are currently reserved for hunting and recreation.
Rather, NRA and gun lobby leadership have embraced and driven a shift in the last few decades towards a culture of gun ownership that is motivated by fear and a desire for protection from other humans, rather than recreation purposes or utility.
In a kind of dry but super interesting academic article, David Yamane notes that in 1999, gun owners were polled about their reasons for gun ownership, and 62% reported that their primary motives were sporting or pragmatic: for hunting, collecting or recreational shooting. At the time, about 26% cited “protection” as a primary reason to own a gun. In 2015, when the same questions were asked, those numbers had essentially flipped, and 63% of gun owners said that “protection against people” was a primary reason they owned a gun.
Yamane refers to this shift as the development of “Gun Culture 2.0,” and he notes that it has accompanied a corresponding increase in national anxieties about crime and police inefficacy, as well as the rise of the concept of the “citizen soldier” - an individual prepared to protect themselves and their family using weapons as necessary. And it's true - other studies note that American levels of trust in their neighbors, and in institutions in general, have been tanking for decades. In 2017, Americans reported trust in government hit an all time low, with only 2/10 people expressing confidence that government could be trusted to make the right decision, or act in good faith even “most of the time.”
The NRA and gun lobby didn't create this situation. And there’s likely no single reason that fear and mistrust have become fundamental elements of the American consciousness across the last few decades. Blame 9/11, the influence of the Vietnam generation, the internet, Black Lives Matter's successful campaign to spotlight police brutality, rapid social changes, an increasingly diverse society, Citizens United and the intentional stoking of fear as a political tool, an increasingly significant urban/rural divide where rural areas are losing social and economic influence to growing urban cultures.
But the NRA and gun lobby's influence strategy is best understood as a leaning into this fear and animosity actively. Perhaps most illustrative for our purposes is the messaging on the NRAs hunting page, whose first sentence at the time I'm writing is:
"To save hunting, you must understand the terms of the battle. Because the animal rights extremists fighting to destroy hunting have an even more destructive goal: the systematic diminishment of humanity itself."
But it's not just the overwhelming evil of PETA supporters like Moby and Alicia Silverstone that the NRA wants us to see as an existential threat. This type of messaging is consistent in their voice to the public. Most recently in a speech at the 2018 CPAC conference, NRA head Wayne LaPierre characterized people calling for stricter gun laws after Parkland as part of a “socialist wave” out to “eliminate all individual freedoms", and they've been producing media that amounts to anti-gun control, emotion fueled propaganda for decades.
I don't know if they buy their own messaging, or if this is a cynical money making strategy, but whatever the case, it's worked to great success as a sales approach. Despite the fact that the number of hunters has been decreasing across the last several decades, as has the overall number of gun owners, the number of guns sold and available has hit an all time high in the last few years.
There's a lot more that can and should be said about all of this (and Outside Magazine put out a somewhat helpful, somewhat problematic article about the NRA from the perspective of a hunter and gun enthusiast that's a functional place to start), but the point here is that it's BS to claim that the NRA, as an organization, and the gun lobby that supports it, is particularly supportive or representative of hunters or the sporting community. It's representative of people who want to sell more weapons, and of the type of gun culture that believes all Americans should be armed in order to protect against the government, their neighbors, and the overwhelming all powerful terror that is the animal rights movement.
It's just BS. The NRA is at some level symbolic, but it’s also absolutely appropriate that they are being called out and people and businesses of good faith are boycotting.
The idea that you're likely to need to kill your neighbor at some point: also BS.
The other point of BS is probably more important in the long run, and definitely more hopeful, because the fear that is driving gun proliferation in the United States is largely irrational. That is, it isn't based in reality.
The number, frequency, and deadliness of mass shootings is on the rise in the US, and this fact requires some kind of serious intervention, and is almost definitely part of the reason everyone is feeling anxious these days.
But whatever the reasons behind the fear driving record gun purchases among our citizen soldiers, it isn't happening because things are less safe than they used to be over all. On the whole, across the same time period that gun sales have exploded, crime in general and homicide in particular has been on the decline. (And I know that sentence is going to tempt you to thank the guns. But don't, because the same trend has been occurring around the world. Check out that link - it's great.) So, despite the fact that some percentage of Americans are more convinced than ever that they they need to own guns to protect themselves against other humans, their likelihood of needing to use them is actually at a historic low.
As with gun proliferation (and the increase in the number of mass shootings for that matter), there are likely a variety of reasons behind this overall decline in violent crime. But we’re willing to wager that part of it is because there has been, to some degree, an opposing force to the fear that's been driving gun proliferation - a developing sense of interconnectedness in the world.
And for us, it’s one of the reasons we think what we’re doing is meaningful. The spirit of our business has been shaped heavily by the humanizing experiences of travel, where meeting and hearing stories from people from a variety of backgrounds develops trust and good feels between people who would instinctively view each other as strangers to be feared. It’s a small and amorphous contribution we’re making, but we think the most important process in the long term is breaking down the type of fear that opens people to the corrosive idea that they have to be on the ready at all times to kill another human being.
We're in this together, whether we like it or not.
That brings us to the third point of BS, which is that we don’t need each other. The main problem with the NRA is not that they hold a different political position or see a different solution to social problems. It’s that they’re pushing the idea that the world is made up of warring factions, and that the people on the opposite side of issues are enemies. They’re by no means the only group pushing this type of ideology, but in all of its expressions, it’s BS.
I’m not taking a Polyanna stance here, that everyone’s opinion is great, that "all people are good", or that everyone should be given equal influence in democracy. I'm a cynic who believes the opposite actually - I think all people are, at some level, dangerous animals, that some ideas are BS, and the people who hold those BS ideas shouldn’t get to make decisions for the rest of us. But the point is that - whether we like it or not - we’re all in this together, and the only routes forward that will ultimately be productive in breaking the cycle of violence will be reflective of that.
And (hear me out), in this regard I’m actually a little bit hopeful. While the revival of white supremacy and Alt Right extremism and internet trolls and the idea that Americans are all so freaked out about each other they feel like they need guns to protect themselves are hard to reconcile with the idea that people are starting to develop a broader sense of connectedness, I think there are reasons to believe that those are reactionary responses to a strengthening social trend that’s ultimately going to win - the human animal's tendency towards cooperation. The major social movements of the last several years - the Gay Marriage movement, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo - are all, in their ways, a rejection of the idea that one group of people should be allowed to dominate others with impunity, and a push towards a more equal sharing of power. They’re all anti-corruption, anti-authoritarian movements pushing against abuse of power and towards egalitarianism. (Again, hear me out.) Even some degree of the support behind the Trump movement was driven by a desire to clean up a government that is, in fact, corrupt and abusing power - however misguided the solution.
And now, Never Again is taking shape, I think, as a movement focused on the assertion that the financially motivated gun lobby and a small, ideological percentage of the population should not be able to determine the shape of gun regulation in America at the expense of children who are literally being shot in schools and the majority of the population (including gun owners) that favors, and would benefit from, stricter controls and background check processes.
I'm glad that the Parkland kids are calling BS on the idea that America can't do better and that school shootings are inevitable. The problem is complicated, but people deal with complicated problems all the time. If the politicians in power can't or won't figure it out, those kids are right. Vote them out.
I'm also glad that the outdoor industry is starting to call BS on the idea that the gun lobby has anything to do with outdoor community. It's one thing to be interested in protecting the rights of responsible hunters and gun owners. It's another to push fear and division in order to sell weapons that are a public safety hazard. The NRA and gun lobby have veered into the latter, and they don't represent the actual gun owning population any more than pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies represent doctors, nurses or patients.
And I'm hopeful that the project we're working on here together is some humble part of the solution - tying together people who otherwise wouldn't meet, developing a sense of connection between people who would otherwise feel disconnected, and that this is part of a bigger trend towards connectivity evidenced in the major social movements of the last decades. While segments of society are rebelling against the idea that we can figure out how to live together safely and productively, the rest of us will ultimately continue pushing the world forward.
Gun law reform, like every political push that involves big money is going to be long, frustrating, and complicated, but for those looking for action steps, The Cut has a good list of places to start.
And if you want to be part of the Boldly Went community and work with us to figure our how to live together safely and productively join us on Patreon.
This week we're on the road, headed from Bend to Las Vegas where my (Tim's) mom is getting married at Red Rock. Perfect timing for a guest post from Sara Aranda, about a life-altering experience climbing just near where my mom is having her ceremony. Sara told a version of this story at our Boulder event, but due to some technical difficulties on the recording we couldn't use if for the podcast, so we're excited to share it here! It was originally published on her blog at bivytales.com. She's an amazing writer who's published with Alpinist, among others, and we encourage you to check it out!
Vegas. Everyone has their own agenda. But we don’t climb because of wet rock and it continues to drizzle lightly throughout the day. Clouds saunter across the buttresses and ridgelines—desaturation, more or less, like ships penciled by a thick fog, mooring cautiously. I feel like I’m the verge of a head cold. Why does that sound British to me? Drizzle turns to heavy rain. Friends are still out jogging along the hills. I breathe in the cool air and honestly wish I was running, too.
People eventually leave for The Strip and the rest of us bundle up. The rain stops. It’s a quiet fire at first. Then Dakota, a friend from Yosemite, rolls in with a gang of random strangers he collected from other campsites. We’re suddenly the epicenter for bringing in the New Year in the Red Rock Campground. Drunk people slur and strip down, take body shots off of others’ backs, weirdly slurping and laughing at themselves for sucking up beer and liquor in such a hedonistic way. The fire reflects off their skin and shirts always go back on without wiping the mess first, and all I can think about is how sticky they’ll likely be for the rest of the night.
I drank earlier, so by the time the thick of the countdown arrived, I felt pretty darn sober. But I didn’t care, I was hardcore people-watching and laughing myself silly over the things the drunkards were doing and saying. You can say anything, really. People were either yelling where they were from or yelling for no pants. Some people laugh after everything they say, but you could argue that they were happy there, in every breath. My friend Alison thought it would be funny to tell a young stranger that her friend Jack wanted to take a body shot off of him, and the guy actually started to take his shirt off before he realized Alison was making it all up.
And it was suddenly very awkward. Yeah, maybe body shots are weird.
Suddenly it was time. The countdown to zero drowned the music and champagne bottles were popped and sprayed. Fireworks could be heard beyond the mesa, where Vegas lights washed out the stars. We cheered and jumped and I scanned all the gawking, high-on-life faces. One chap actually did pull his pants down, cupping his sex with one hand and fist pumping the air with the other.
So one year ends and another one begins, but we all feel the same, don’t we? Within five minutes, people are spread out and gone, stumbling back to their own damp fires and sticky skins. Beer cans and bottles litter the space around ours. Those of us remaining clean up. It’s all a placebo, in the sense of new time, isn’t it? Instilling a newfound dose of confidence and motivation. But it works, and it’s hard to deny when a new number changes everything.
Wandering dichotomy. Physical ability and progress was immensely stumped for the majority of last year. I had to take a break from running, limit climbing, and minimize hiking. And in the end, it still wasn’t enough. My foot is still injured. But, yes, I married Patrick. I don’t have anything new and profound to say—but why do we feel the need to come up with something profound?
I hit a mental block the other day, on a route. I was a few inches too short to clip a draw from the comfortable foot rail. So I stood there, switching out handholds and shaking out for fifteen lengthy minutes. My belayer was chatting and long gone from paying attention to me anymore. Maybe I was hoping everyone would forget that I was even there, that I would forget, and somehow teleport back to the ground. Or better yet, that an unrelenting wave of confidence would rush my lungs and I’d just make the stupid move.
I hate it about myself. I’m a coward and that is why I am not a stronger climber, right? Patrick led the route directly to the left of me, and upon lowering, I gave in and asked him to clip the next draw for me. I positioned my body and reached below, grabbed the rope, drew it above me and handed it off to him. Click. The world suddenly changed. I was no longer beside myself. Nostalgic residue. I laughed as a rabid woman released from a feverish cabin locked in winter. I made the move flawlessly, finished the route as if nothing happened, as if time had been a slow-filling balloon, now rushing to catch up to the firing of its own gun.
During the long drive out from the scenic loop, Patrick offered some of his otherworldly wisdom: When approaching the unknown, you have to approach it as if approaching a door, he stated. You obviously can’t see what’s behind it, and you have all this noise and all these distractions that make the door seem impossible to open. That is the fear. You have to accept the noise as noise, as in, accept that yes, you are afraid, then face the door and open it anyway. Once you pass the barrier your mind shuts up. No more noise and no more door.
This is a desert place that, on the surface, seems less wild being so close to Vegas. But the crimson morning alights the Joshua Trees just as sweetly as the vast National Park in California. The sun, just as orange and eerie as any place. Cold clouds change the horizon altogether, and the silhouettes of distant hills and mesas, just as painted.
Patrick almost decked on a boulder, his tailbone only a few inches away when his projection was finally stopped by his belayer. No one really knows what happened, as he was halfway up a route, but in a flash his life was left purely to chance, like a coin toss, gambling for either a free pass or potential paralysis. Somehow, he swung with great luck, standing on the boulder when he pendulumed back, everyone aghast and left with their nervous laughter. Like the King’s cup no one ever wants to chug.
“See you in the next life,” a young man named Matt joked to Patrick as we left the crag the other day. They both thought they were familiar, but upon discussion, there was no way for them to have actually met. That is what the desert always seems to say when it’s time to leave. A new time, a new mindset, under new circumstances—life as the nature of things. Nature as the life of things. Where we yield to the impulse of belonging.
Yesterday the hike back from the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon was ghostly. We tried to race the sun. Challenged ourselves to not taking out headlamps. Why? Fun, I suppose. My eyesight reduced to gray shapes that penciled the path between shrubs and cacti. I followed Patrick, his footprints, or the sounds of his pants swishing in the periphery. How the brain weighs more than the mouth. Brain followed the maze, set legs to autopilot, bad foot aching. My own pants slid and swished against the flora, occasionally abrading prickly limbs. Amazing it was. To navigate in twilight, a half moonlight and city-drowned starlight, across subtle desert slope, approaching blackness but never being afraid.
This morning, “I wish we never had to go,” Patrick stated solemnly as we pack up. The clouds dissipate and the distant buttresses emerge, alpine-esque but red breasted, reflecting dawn. Nature is such a beacon home; we only get to spend relatively short windows of time immersed in it. As is to be expected right? The child only grows to leave the home.
Our first night here in Red Rock, our friend Paul had made an off-hand comment: “I like the sounds a campground makes.” I asked Patrick what his favorite camping sound was. For him, it’s all about the morning coffee. It starts with the meditative act of hand-grinding the coffee beans. Which sounds like someone drawing circles with ceramic rocks. Then comes the delight of his Italian espresso hissing as it boils into the upper chamber.
I tune in to this campground. The wind, the pans and stoves, heavy outhouse doors, car doors, scuttling shoes across gravel, tent zippers, jacket zippers, cackling fires, dogs barking and their scolding owners, small shrubs tingling the breeze, nylon sleeping bags, all distant and near, water bubbles and pan simmers, coffee lips in the morning, beer chugging at night, shrinking aluminum cans, and farts, late night pissing into the soil.
Which brings me to Dean Potter. Paul told a story about someone asking Dean how he did all the amazing things he did (like speed ascents, free-solos, expeditions), and Dean responded by saying something akin to, “You know how you have to piss in the middle of the night? Well I get up and piss.”
So if there is anything profound to offer for New Year’s, maybe it’s the critical reevaluation of having to just get up and do. Or even starting with the notion that we know better. And 2017 can only be a better morning for it.
Sara Aranda is a freelance writer and gear tester currently based in Colorado. She obtained her B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside and her work has been published by entities such as The Climbing Zine, The American Poetry Review, Misadventures Magazine, and Alpinist Magazine. She has a piece titled "Into the Darkness We Go" coming out in the April 2018 issue of Alpinist, so check it out! Along with her blog at www.bivytales.com, she's on Instagram @heysarawrr and @bivytales.
And as always, if you like what we're up to here, consider becoming part of the team and helping us keep it going for as little as a buck a month on Patreon.
The theme of this week's podcast (episode 50!) is creating new stories, so it's as good a time as any to finally put together a post I've wanted to create since we started the business in 2017 - on how to turn your adventure story into something you'll be excited to share publicly.
No. Wrong. You ARE impressive.
At Boldly Went events, hundreds of you have taken the mic to tell your favorite adventure stories, and we know that's required some guts. Public speaking is way freakier than facing down a grizzly or hiking through a lightning storm above treeline - especially when you know you're being recorded.
To provide inspiration, and a few time-tested principles for those of you who are the planning type, in this post I'm going to expound upon and illustrate a strategy you can use to put your story together. From the start we've established a few guiding principles for storytellers, and at our events, we always encourage you to
A big part of our philosophy is that you don't have to be a world record holder (not that there's anything wrong with that) in order to tell a great adventure story, so I've intentionally chosen an experience that was personally formative, but not particularly impressive. We believe that with a little bit of structure, anyone can take a memorable experience and turn it into something compelling, and with a bit of planning, even the most humble adventurer can captivate an audience.
First though, I feel I must pay respect where respect is due, and extend a special thanks to my friends Mike and Tim, who helped me have the type of ridiculous teenage experiences that make memorable stories as an adult.
1. Go out hard
Our first rule of thumb is to “Go out hard,” because it’s classically good storytelling advice to capture a listener’s attention as quickly as possible. That can mean opening with a “hook” by asking a question, saying something quick and shocking, or starting out with a bit of humor. But it’s not just about your first line. It also means setting the scene concisely and evocatively right at the start. You want people to feel like they’re there, and have a rough sense of where they’re going, quickly.
We were 17, three friends eating spaghetti in the bathroom at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, and it was the first day of our first backpacking trip. While it was spring at home in Ohio, in the mountains in Tennessee winter would hold out for at least another month.
It's not necessary to have your entire story memorized line by line, but it is a very good idea to have your first and last lines constructed and memorized. It's also worthwhile to practice saying them out loud.
2. Stay on course
When you’re telling a story, you’re sharing the details of an experience, and you’re doing it for a reason. That might be as simple as making the audience laugh, or it could be as complex as evoking a set of emotions that will motivate them to action.
Staying on course means keeping what you say focused on that overall goal.
“Building and releasing tension”
I’ve heard it said that good stories create tension that they eventually release. Setting a course means determining how you can accomplish that task most effectively.
If, like me, that previous sentence means almost nothing to you because you’re not an academic who studies storytelling theory (not that there’s anything wrong with that, Ellen), it’ll probably be helpful to get a bit more concrete.
Human beings tend to be intrigued by questions and answers, problems and solutions, and mysteries. So good storytelling strategies are to start by posing a question, introducing a problem, or describing a situation that makes the listener wonder “How the hell did that happen?” That’s the “tension” we’re talking about: that edge-of-the-seat feeling that comes with wondering what will happen next.
Then, the story’s “course” is simply the means by which you answer the question, fix the problem, or solve the mystery. Once you’ve done so, the “tension” will be released.
From my introduction, I’m hoping you’re wondering how I ended up in a bathroom eating spaghetti, why I decided never to go outside after that trip, and why I got hooked on outdoor adventure after such an experience. All three are “tensions” that I hope will keep you interested, and will be resolved by the end. Most good stories have one central tension (problem/question/mystery), and multiple smaller ones that keep you moving along. So, I’ll start by letting you know how we ended up eating in a bathroom in the Smokies.
We didn’t know what we were getting into, but I guess we should have guessed that it wasn’t going to go well from the start when we arrived in my friend Tim's van at the base of a Forest Service road we’d hoped to drive to reach the beginning of our hike, and found it was still closed for the season. But it was a sunny day, and the closed gate only meant an extra seven mile uphill road walk, so we were optimistic. I tucked a block of yellow grocery store cheese into my pocket, we tossed on our packs, and we set out.
Details can be great, but If it doesn’t matter to the story, or isn’t interesting, don’t include it.
A quick but important side note here: it’s an art to determine which details to include to pique interest, and which to leave out as irrelevant. I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast rule, but in general the idea is to keep your details interesting, funny, and/or oriented towards the goal of keeping the narrative moving forward. It’s irrelevant that I had on rain pants - so I don’t tell you that. It’s also a cliche truth that our packs were too heavy, so I didn’t include that. That cheese block is also generally irrelevant, but it allows me to slip in a funny anecdote at the end, so I included it here.
Your story’s flow should be logical, but that doesn’t always mean chronological (though when in doubt that’s always functional…).
Good stories frequently tie in flashbacks and foreshadowing, and weave in details when they become relevant rather than when they happened in time. So while moving through the details of an experience in chronological order can be a functional approach, it isn't necessary. Sometimes jumping around in time can be more compelling or appropriate.
Related side note: a common storyteller hiccup is to to use the phrase: “Oh I forgot to mention...” to point back towards an important detail they had intended to share earlier. A good tip from this fount of internet knowledge is that this is never optimal, because it interrupts the thought process for your listeners. If you forget a detail, don’t stress, just try to weave it in naturally when it becomes crucial to the narrative. It can have more impact in the moment than in its chronological order anyway, as with the detail here that my friend was sick from the start.
We were already exhausted here in the bathroom, even if we didn’t want to admit it to each other. My friend, Tim, had neglected to mention that he was feeling feverish on the drive from Ohio to Gatlinburg, and my other buddy Mike wasn’t talking about the tears in his skin that had already formed on the back of his heels. We were 7 miles in, only now at our intended start, and had 3 miles more to go until our first potential camping spot - an Appalachian Trail shelter.
3. Make your listeners laugh, cry, or hurl
Good stories engage the intellect, but the advantage they have over didactic lectures is that they also capture the emotions of listeners who can step into the experience and feel it for themselves. In this regard, tying in emotions to a story can be as simple as saying what you were feeling in the moment, but it’s almost always better to “show, rather than tell,” as the saying goes.
For example, next up, it would be functional to say:
It was still raining, and night was quickly approaching. We were scared, but stupid, so we set out from the safety of the shelter into the woods.
But I want you to decide that we were scared and stupid for yourselves, so a better way to show that would be something like:
We’d eaten our pasta, it was safe in the bathroom, and Tim had started to complain of a sore throat. The weather was still raging outside and night was approaching, and we were all internally contemplating rolling out our sleeping bags between toilets and walking back down the hill in the morning. But rather than admit defeat, we silently packed our bags and headed into the woods.
4. Gnar factor
There are lots of stories worth listening to, but a distinctive aspect of adventure stories are that they are, by definition, about overcoming adversity, and we think that’s what makes them consistently inspiring. That’s also why we encourage presenters to think about, and communicate, the “gnar factor” of their experiences: the seriousness of the adversity to be overcome in their particular adventure.
A key point about adversity is that it can be due to extreme external challenges or difficult internal issues to overcome, or some combination of both, and all types of stories work as long as you can communicate. The challenge might be a literal Mt Everest, or a figurative one, because listeners will find inspiration in both.
In my case, my story was really just about an 11 mile hike, 7 of which was on a road. It objectively wasn’t that hard. But for us it turned into a memorably brutal slog, so that’s the picture I want to paint.
Three naive flatlanders hiking towards nightfall in an unfamiliar mountain environment, we had visions of being attacked by the bears we’d seen the day before on a drive through Smoky Mountain National Park. But it wasn't until we arrived at our planned shelter at dusk that we encountered the only wild animal on our trip - a hairy thru-hiker, all alone.
5. Finish strong
As with the start of the story, finishing strong is one of the most crucial elements of constructing a memorable and engaging adventure story. And, as with the start, it isn’t just about a strong closing line - important as that is. It’s about resolving those tensions we talked about earlier: answering the question, addressing the problem, or solving the mystery. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
The climax is the moment when the central tension in the story resolves for the listener. It’s how you survived the fall, got out of the woods, made it through the jungle, or learned that crucial lesson.
Sometimes a climax happens dramatically in a line or two, but most often it develops over a few minutes where situations come to a head, resolutions are achieved, and questions are answered. During this moment, the time progression in your story often expands and your narrative becomes more detailed. As in the beginning, this is where a stage is set, a picture is painted, and the central emotional experience of the adventure is highlighted. The climax doesn’t have to be a major, explosive event, or even the most dramatic thing that happened. The fall that sets up a narrative, for instance, is often more dramatic than the rescue. But it does encapsulate the central experience you wanted to share.
We’d planned a 7 day trip, but when we woke up the next morning, both Tim and Mike agreed that we wouldn’t be going any further. We blamed the sick thru-hiker, but more likely Tim’s existing illness had just progressed, and over night he’d broken out in cold sweats and bouts of nausea. Mike too had fallen ill (or more likely exhausted and too proud to admit it), and the decision was made to get some extra sleep in the hut.
The climax of a story typically isn’t the same thing as the conclusion. While the climax is the story’s focal point, afterwards there will usually still be loose ends to tie up and interpretations to expound upon, and that’s what your conclusion is for.
Some general principles, particularly for short form stories like the ones we create:
Because the climax should have wrapped up the key points of tension in the story, listeners will relax, and begin to disengage from the experience. In order to prevent this from slipping into boredom, keep the conclusion short.
Stories will often be more satisfying if you can weave in a little bit of “why this was important” into your conclusion. This can look like a short “what happened later” section, or a bit about “what I learned.” But try not to get didactic: don’t tell the listener what to think. Share your own conclusions from the experience while also giving them space to come to their own.
In a conclusion, there’s frequently a shift in mood: sometimes that looks like a “tense” change from past to present, a shift from a detailed description of events to a broader sketch, or from narrative to reflective interpretation.
The conclusion of the story should tie up important loose ends, but you might also leave the listener wondering about a few things intentionally, because open questions can make for memorable narratives. (An extreme example of this was the last episode of The Sopranos, if you’re familiar. Spoiler alert.)
Tie the end back to the beginning. You can answer a question you posed, or reference back to something you said at the start. I’m not sure why - it’s just satisfying to end, in some way, where you began.
And when you conclude, make sure listeners know you’re finished. A pithy punchline isn’t essential, but it also usually works in lieu of other ideas.
We made it out of the woods. The following morning, the rain had turned to sleet, and Tim was still ill, but we made it back to the bathroom at Clingman’s Dome after a long, hard trudge (which in retrospect was only about 4 miles). We were once again contemplating using it as a shelter for the night when we saw a young couple drive up. In the two days since we’d started, the Forest Service had reopened the road, and we were able to convince the drivers to let us hitch down the hill in the back of their truck - cold, sleety, and miserable, but we were ecstatic to avoid the long hike back down.
Finally, just practice!
In another year or so, maybe I'll get around to creating a post about actually telling your story.
But for now, I really do think that 90% of good presentation just comes down to practice, and that you don't have to be a theater major to tell a good story in public. If you can just come off as your normal self, your story is going to work.
And your best bet for coming off as your normal self is to eliminate the stress of remembering what you want to say by practicing enough times that your story flows out naturally. For me, that usually means saying it out loud 8 - 10 times. My personal strategy is to write down what I want to say, read what I wrote out loud 3 - 4 times, and then start to fly independently - telling the story in a natural voice several times rather than repeating rote what I've written. Then, ideally, I practice in front of another person 2 - 3 times before braving a crowd.
Some people don't write everything down in detail, but it is helpful at least to write out the key events you want to cover, and practice moving between them out loud. Anyone, no matter how experienced, will benefit from telling the story out loud multiple times before presenting, and there's really no substitute for practice. In the practicing process, your story will change and shift, will take on more of your personality, and will become something you can rattle off comfortably in your sleep.
The best of the best practice dozens of times, and we love when people come with real art in their storytelling. But honestly we're not that great at storytelling ourselves, and we're not only about that anyway. We want to collect your stories even if you're not a pro, because we want to help people experience the heart of the outdoor community. So, we want to provide a platform for you adventurers who can paint evocative pictures like professionals, but we also want to help those of you who aren't there yet feel comfortable sharing your best experiences in front of a crowd.
Because our core belief is that you all are impressive, and the world needs to hear about it.
We also encourage prospective storytellers to watch the video on our Prepare to Share page from our friend Dean Burke, a TedX coach and a way better storyteller than us.
Check out our upcoming shows and get your tickets.
If there's not a show in your town, and you want there to be, email us.
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And if you like what we're doing here, and want to become a part of it, consider supporting us at Boldly Went on Patreon.
It's Valentine's Day, and I'm a blogger. Writing about relationships is unavoidable.
But it's also 2018, so it's difficult. Presidential staffers are resigning amidst allegations of domestic abuse, Presidents are defending the abusers, and #metoo continues to have plenty of fuel for the fire. In the outdoor community, one of the most widely circulated articles in the last week was on the impact of toxic bro culture on women on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a few weeks back Outside released an extended and heartbreaking piece on sexual abuse and harassment in the Outdoor industry.
My mantra this year is "Make yourself useful", and in this kind of social context, one has to question how useful the cheesy guy you see in the upper right hand corner of this blog can possibly be. Serious social movements are happening. Another straight white dude giving relationship advice is neither what the world wants, nor what it needs.
My initial impulse was to cop out as a response: to make a few frivolous "relationship lesson" jokes about stinking up the tent and sharing your Compeed, link back to the week's podcast, and call it a day. But that just seems beneath what we're trying to do here.
And it's also true that there has to be something useful to draw out of my relationship with Angel across the last 20 years for the present context. In a furious cultural conversation about how to fix what's problematic in male/female relationships, there has to be some value in considering the ones that work. That subject is particularly timely for us anyway, because this week's podcast was all about that - relationships that work - and it includes several of the more moving stories we’ve recorded.
A few points from the experience of mutual respect.
In a context where relationships are so visibly problematic for so many people, and for so many reasons, the overall story of my marriage to Angel has been that it's worked for us both. Things in our marriage aren't perfect, of course (as Andre 3000 said, lean a little bit closer, and roses always smell like boo-boo-oo, or whatever), but I think Angel and I both agree that our partnership has been the most important factor that has allowed us to develop the life we want. As a whole, our relationship has been predominantly generative for both of us, rather than destructive.
In an effort to come up with something useful, for the last few days I've been racking my brain and reading a bunch of articles to try to drill down to the essential reason why our relationship has been different than so many. Why we've lasted 20 years through various life stages and transitions, and still plug along happily and productively. I was genuinely not sure where I'd end up, but I've been operating under the assumption that, through that process, I'd come up with something that is helpful to someone.
And while I've come across a million bits of relationship advice you should probably read up on, the principle that has resonated the most with my experience is that our relationship works because we have established a mutual sense of respect. Respect is a broadly definable word, and I'm not talking about admiration exactly (though that's a part of it), or fear or awe. Rather, having mutual respect in our case means something akin to being with someone that we want to be like. Or more precisely, it means confidence that we'll each become more of the person we want to be by virtue of the other being around all of the time.
When I think about our situation, and why our relationship is so personally valuable to me (beyond the usual companionship and yada yada), my mind goes quickly to the qualities that Angel has in spades, which I wish I had more of. Her innate confidence in her ability to figure things out, her instinctive adventurousness, her ability to be relentlessly productive while keeping a good sense of humor. Her ability to get good at seemingly everything she does through practice and work. None of those things come naturally to me, but they've always been core to her personality, and I'd like to think that across our 20 years together some of that has rubbed off. That sense is a central part of what our relationship means to me.
Basing our relationship on this type of mutual respect has made for a durable bond because money, status, looks and health may fade (although we still got it), and life situations may change dramatically (as they have multiple times in our relationship), but a person’s essential character generally doesn’t.
And it also has created a cycle for us that we talk about in the book we're working on, which I call the “cool begets cool” principle. Sometimes it takes work. Sometimes it happens without even noticing. But across time, when two people get together with an interest in learning from the best qualities of the other, they both end up being cooler in the long run than they would've been otherwise individually. It's the "iron sharpens iron" principle, or "two heads are better than one," or "the whole is more than the sum of its parts," or probably lots of other cliche analogies. The basic point is that I'm not the first to notice this: two well paired people who trust each other working and learning together are going to go far.
While there’s nothing essential about outdoor adventure to this relationship dynamic, our lives in that regard make for concrete and measurable illustrations of the cool begets cool cycle in action for us. It has manifested physically across the last 8 years from deciding to run our first sprint triathlon when we were 30, to our first marathon, to 30+ ultras, to running the Camino de Santiago, to a 100 mile race, to hiking the PCT, to paddling the lower Hudson, and now to this business. It wasn't just that it was nice to have company through all of those - we directly helped each other through the decision making, planning and execution process in every case, and our relationship played a central role in successfully making all of those adventures happen.
Mining out that principle - that relationships based on mutual respect generate good things for everyone involved - has at the very least been something I've found interesting and useful. For one, it explains the power couple dynamic, which came through in this week's podcast featuring Erden Eruc and his wife Nancy Board. Erden alludes frequently to the role Nancy played in getting him through a 5 year, solo circumnavigation of the globe, and Nancy speaks about Erden’s role in helping her shift from an adventure adverse flatlander into an accomplished mountaineer who’s climbed Denali and mastered rock climbing later in life than most.
And it points towards the way that, while unhealthy relationships ruin peoples lives, healthy relationships can drive amazing adventures. Chris and Marty Fagan, the first married American couple to ski unguided and unsupported to the South Pole come to mind, as do the subjects of our recent AdventShorts podcast, Karla Martinez and Antonio Rodriguez, Mexican polymaths with law and biology training who run a guiding business and have built an off-grid living setup in Jalcomulco, Mexico, among other things. Mutual respect in a relationship leads to positive things for everyone involved.
Why are you telling me this?
So we've established here that:
1) Destructive bro culture, old boys clubs, and sexual abuse are all real things in the outdoor community, people are talking about them, and they’re things that are conjured for a lot of people in our community by the term “romantic relationship”.
2) I'm maybe not the best voice to speak to solutions to those issues.
3) My own relationship has been going pretty well, for reasons that also apply to a couple of other people we've come across lately through the business.
So why am I telling you all of this? Honestly, it's complicated, but here's the story.
These days I spend a lot of time drifting with a vague sense of dread about the world as a baseline emotional experience, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. Usually that's exacerbated by the news cycle, but the work I do as a pediatric psych nurse frequently also lends itself to complicated negative emotions due to dealing with issues like neglect, abuse, our broken systems, and the general unfairness of the genetic lottery. So, the other day, I was walking home in just such a stew, and I decided to listen to this week's set of podcast stories. And when I did, the stories about the generative aspects of love felt particularly poignant and hopeful - not despite the harsh problematic reality of the present, as because of it. And I switched over from pessimism to just a bit of hope, and appreciation for my own situation.
So, here we are.
I don't want to set my own relationship up as a model, because that rarely goes well, but I do want to point out that there are concrete reasons to believe that mutually respectful relationships are good for everyone involved. I've lived it myself, and observed it in other people's lives. So, maybe that provides some motivation for change for people who aren't approaching their relationships that way? Or maybe it provides permission to leave for people who are in relationships where their partner doesn't respect them?
And I don't want to distract from the extent or seriousness of the problems that need to be addressed, and I don't want this to come off as a "not all men" type of redirection. But I do want to tag the places where I've personally found a bit of hope in the midst of the malaise.
So, as with so many other things, being a human being in 2018 on Valentine’s Day is complicated. It means existing in a larger context, full of challenges and emotional complexity. It’s problematic and exhausting. But the point then, after all of that, is that it’s not hopeless. Or at least, that's my experience.
The point is also that you should really check out both this week's podcast and the AdventShorts episode with Karla and Antonio (also available en espanol!). Both are hopeful, emotional, and real.
And if you like what we're doing here, and want to become a part of it, consider supporting us at Boldly Went on Patreon.
This week's podcast is all about "Firsts", and as I was thinking about what to write to accompany it, I thought it would be both fun and appropriate to repost the first thing I ever wrote online about the outdoors. It's a post from my old running blog about another first - Eddie Garner, Seattle's first real star ultrarunner. There's always some degree of embarrassment that comes with reading things you've written, and I hope my writing has improved since this post from 2012, but it's still an interesting story that's worth telling. It's also Black History month, and it's worth recognizing an incredible, and mostly unknown, black athlete, and it's right on topic with discussions around diversity coming out of Outdoor Retailer last week.
Reading the book Born to Run helped me to realize that Western Washington has an amazing running history, but it isn't what inspired me to start compiling some of the stories - that was this article that I came across, probably on Facebook, about Eddie Gardner - a Seattle runner who had his best year in 1928. (The article features a quote from Fleet Feet's Phil Kochik - another super nice guy and amazing runner in the Seattle community.)
Before getting into his story, I should note that this is a personal blog, so it's probably inevitable that these posts will skew primarily towards people and events that I find personally interesting (read - a lot of trail and ultrarunning). I'm no historian, so I probably also won't be very objective. The bulk of my training in fact, at least from a writing perspective, was in theology - a field in which I have a masters degree. Studying theology in an academic setting basically just means studying some aspect of religion, but I think that in practice it could justifiably be defined as "the study of stories that people find meaningful". In that vein, what you'll probably find that I compile here is a series of stories from the history of Seattle's running community that I think are meaningful, and communicate something important about what the community is all about. Gardner's story is the oldest one I've found, as well as one of the most chock-full-o-meaning.
First things first, I'll get a few of the cursory, but not unimportant, points about Gardner out of the way quickly:
- He was African-American - the grandson of slaves.
- He grew up mostly in Seattle, but ran in college at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he learned to be a steam engineer.
- He came back to Seattle after college and won the Washington state 10 mile championship multiple times between '21 and '27, which gained him a bit of a public following.
- He was nicknamed 'The Sheik' because he ran with a white towel wrapped around his head. Seems like there must be multiple racist elements in that nickname.
- He set a national record at the 50 mile distance in 1928 at a still ridiculous pace of 6:25:28 (That's basically two Boston Marathon qualifications back to back), and also set the record for the fastest walk around Lake Washington.
- He spent his life working as a repairman, steelworker, and janitor, and passed away in 1966.
- Nobody's ever heard of him.
Now that we have that out of the way, the most interesting thing about Gardner, in my opinion, was his participation in the kind of crazy event that only seemed to happen in the '20s - a race from Los Angeles to New York in 1928, which was called The Bunion Derby (great name for a race), and in which he finished 8/55 in a close finish. The Seattle PI article linked above (and redundantly in this sentence) gives some good details on that experience, but I'll summarize by stating hyperbolically that he spent 84 straight days running 50 - 85 miles per day while being chased and threatened by rednecks with shotguns, eating beans, absorbing racial slurs, and wearing whatever shoes he could find. As a reward he won $2500 that he had to split with a couple of promoters, and ended up keeping $1000 for his troubles. The winner (a 19 year old (!) Cherokee (!) named Andy Payne) said Gardner would have won easily if he hadn't have had to deal with all of the crap along the way (There was actually a stage in Oklahoma where a farmer rode behind him on a mule and threatened to shoot him if he passed a white runner).
There are a lot of amazing things about this story - not least of which is that 55 people ran across the country in 1928. People do that still (Dean Karnazes did it last year), but I can't imagine that a larger group has ever done it at once. And a 19 year old Cherokee won?! I'm seriously surprised there's not a Disney movie about this.
But I think Gardner himself makes for such an iconic figure. Among ultrarunners, who pride themselves on testicular/ovarian fortitude, you're not going to find someone with more huevos than this guy. And he did this way before it was normal or reasonable to train for ultra distances, with almost no money (he left Seattle for the start in LA with $175 to his name), and no high tech diet or support. He was a genuine amateur and way more of a badass then even Gordy Ainsleigh. Jurek was an amazing runner, but it would be hard to argue that anything he's done is more impressive then Gardner's 84 day life-or-death, no money, dodge the racists obstacle ultra-ultramarathon. And the guy died a janitor? That's a real tragedy, but in some ways makes him more appealing as a historical figure and representative of the ultra-running community, which has generally seen itself as a group of amateurs and a fringe community separated from the establishment by niche interests and an unreasonable amount of dedication to their sport. As an African-American in not-that-far-post-slavery America, he was a consummate underdog, and overcame an amazing amount of adversity in the Bunion Derby to establish himself as one of the best athletes alive in his era. Western Washington has been one of the key international centers in the development of ultrarunning, and it's amazing to have Gardner as a great-grandfather of the sport in our area who could've outdone all of us in his day. Here's to hoping that his legend will grow, and that he'll gain more notoriety not just as a great Seattle runner, but as one of the most amazing individuals that Seattle has produced in any field.
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Not everyone in the Boldly Went community is an economically comfortable white person. But let’s be honest, while we're aiming for a broad audience, at this stage we’re not that much different than the outdoors community as a whole in the US - disproportionately Caucasian and affluent - and we can pretty safely file this post primarily under white people talking to white people - but hopefully in a productive way.
This week in "well actually"...
Outdoor Retailer 2018 - the most economically important event in the outdoor community in North America - was last week in Denver, and Twitter was predictably abuzz with excitement. And while it's usually not our favorite platform, even we were sucked in.
One of the more lively topics was around diversity in the outdoors community, and Katie Boue, who I don't know but seems like a cool white lady, tweeted a quote from Jaylyn, a member of Native Women's Wilderness asking for others to stop it with the recent trend in the outdoor industry of using the word “tribe” to refer to their group of friends or Instagram followers, because it has a complex history and emotional importance for Indigenous peoples. Katie's point was “Yeah, that seems reasonable. We should probably listen to Jaylyn out of basic human decency. It's not that hard to pick a different word”.
But predictably enough for anyone who's been on Twitter for even two minutes, that kicked off a huffy debate among white people about how “well actually” here are all these reasons Indigenous people shouldn't be offended and (fill in emotional smokescreen intended to convince ourselves why it’s justifiable that we’ll choose, again, not to consider Native concerns.) Katie’s point was “let’s listen and be respectful”, and while it seemed like most people agreed with her, some misguided tweeters felt compelled to tie themselves in embarrassing knots in order to explain why, no, they wouldn’t listen and be respectful.
From a grand perspective, this dynamic is not surprising. If those kinds of attitudes didn’t exist we wouldn’t still be having these conversations, and they are a predictable outcome of any situation where one group holds undue power over another. Some in the group in power will want to justify why they shouldn’t question their position or acknowledge the ways that they harm others in order to maintain what they have, and will decide it's the (tweet) hill they want to die on. Men do it in #metoo conversations, white people do it in pretty much every conversation about black people, people of Spanish descent do it in conversations about people of indigenous descent in Latin America... Pick a power imbalance, you'll find the same dynamic. It’s so common that I’d bet you a sandwich that there are 100 grad students working on sociology theses about it as we speak.
These types of conversations have to be emotionally exhausting for members of marginalized groups, and are embarrassing as a white dude, but they are also maybe, hopefully, part of the process of establishing that at least some of the majority will listen when the minority speaks up. The more that happens, the more we’ll feed a cycle where traditionally marginalized people’s voices will be trusted, and more people will speak up, and society will have more of the conversations it needs to about race/sex/class/money and the dynamics of the tyranny of the masses in general.
And while it's hard to be optimistic about social forces these days, the fact that some of the most fervent discussions coming out of OR have been about diversity is maybe one indicator that at least some tides are turning. Maybe the most important point of analysis from the Tweet thread: it had a ton more likes and re-shares than comments from huffy white people.
Q. In this context, what's a white boy to do? A. Make yourself useful.
It's really that larger context that has me furiously tapping away at my keyboard on a rare decent Seattle winter day when I would rather be outside. It seems that social tides are turning in ways, and in places, and it seems like there's potential to contribute to that change in positive directions. So rather than just blowing more hot air into a Tweet-storm, I've been reflecting on the question of what white people in the outdoors community can do, at the very least, to stay out of the way of progress, and ideally to contribute to it at a moment when times, they are a changin'..
This issue was on my mind before Angel pointed me towards Katie's Tweet, because earlier in the week I read an excellent analysis of the Outdoor Retailer experience by Marinel de Jesus at Brown Gal Trekker. She's a lawyer turned dirtbag who's worked for years on issues of inclusion and exclusion in both politics and now the outdoor community, and her sense coming out of the convention was that the primary barrier to people of color who want to have a voice at a place like OR is financial, because the fundamental question among power brokers (who are predominantly white, and predominantly male) is "what's in it for the bottom line?"
We should be clear that OR is primarily a business convention aimed at making money, so the focus on finances is predictable, even if the idea that money should be the prime motivator for human decision making is obscene. ("The love of money is the root of all evil..." and all that.) But let's also note that there's something importantly concrete being pointed out here - that human beings, at their base, are motivated immensely by the question "What's in it for me?" While most of us also have compelling and competing motivations towards altruism and others' interests (and OR isn't a person), self-interest is a normal and healthy part of being human. We all have to survive somehow.
In a similar vein, and inspired by Marinel's suggestion, what I would like to propose is that white people who want to work on diversity issues treat people of color and other traditionally underrepresented groups in our community like human beings, by assuming that they, too, have the same instincts as those CEOs and care what's in it for them.
A diverse crowd would be hanging out with us if it weren't a better option not to.
Maybe I'm projecting here, but it strikes me that, because white people are defining the conversation, a large part of the discussion around diversity in the outdoor community (as in the white community as a whole) is motivated by the desire to achieve goals that actually aren't that helpful for people of color. Cynically but honestly a lot of people in the outdoors community talk about diversity because we don't want to feel like we're racists, or we don't want other people to think that we are. A bit more charitably, but not much more helpfully, a lot of people have accepted diversity as a theoretical "good" to be pursued for its own sake, and see the glaring whiteness of the outdoor community as a problem to be solved by sprinkling in as many different types of people as possible. While I do think, for a variety of reasons, that diversity in communities is a fundamental good, at some point you have to ask yourself what's in it for them.
The reality check here is that whatever benefits people from marginalized communities might gain from being involved in outdoor recreation, and from being a part of a diverse outdoor community, in its current configuration those benefits aren't generally outweighing the costs. Concisely, a diverse community would be hanging out with us if it weren't a better option to not hang out with us.
And the corresponding truth: if we want diversity, the outdoor community has to make it our goal to provide actual value for people's lives who are underrepresented in it. You have to give people a compelling reason if you want them to hang out with a bunch of people who aren't like them, take up new activities they aren't normally involved in, and spend a bunch of money in the process. Even more so if they're also going to have to put up with the same kind of "well actually" BS we've already talked about.
So what’s this look like concretely? Don’t ask me!
No really, don't ask me. I'm a psychiatric nurse, so I might be reliable enough as an interpreter of basic human motivations, but I am clearly not the one to provide insight into the nuanced cultural barriers and benefits of the outdoors for people who aren't hetero white dudes, so I'm not the best one to tell you what white people should do to make what we're doing more appealing/marketable/accessible to any other group of people.
Part of this is for the benefit of my kind. White dudes have been publicly embarrassing ourselves for generations by offering terrible advice on what's good for (fill in the blank people group). One of our friends, Sonya Pevzner, reporting from OR on Facebook, noted that just the other day a white guy explained the lack of diversity in the outdoor community, in all sincerity, as a result of the fact that black people don't like to be cold. I'm trying to avoid doing any more damage to our collective reputation.
But more importantly, the best place to get insight into a person's values and motivations is from the person themselves. That's true for individuals and collective communities. And luckily, 36% of the US population has perspective on what it's like not to be white, 51% has perspective on what it's like not to be male, ~10% has perspective on what it's like not to be cis, and 20% have perspective on what it's like to have some kind of disability. There are a lot of people to consult before that list narrows down to healthy white hetero male me.
Even more luckily, there are already a lot of people writing about the barriers to participation - and the redeeming values - in the outdoors community from a variety of perspectives. The aforementioned Brown Gal Trekker is a great place to start, as is this article on diversity from Climbing Magazine. Joe Gray has spoken in interesting ways about what it's like to be a black mountain runner, Jenny Bruso is writing brilliantly about being a "fat, femme, queer" hiker, Temporary Provisions does an amazing job curating posts from a diverse group of travelers and vagabonds, and Sonya Pevzner is doing great work writing about dealing with mental health issues in the outdoors community.
And of course, if you're not a jerk about it, you could also just ask your friends what they love about the outdoors, or what keeps them away. No one owes you an education by virtue of being different from you, so remember this isn't about you. But people tend to feel good when people take a genuine interest in their experience, and like sharing their expertise with their friends and adding value to the lives of people around them. Again though, I'm definitely not the person to tell you how to talk to people about these things. Luckily, lots of more qualified writers have made insider information readily available.
What I can tell you, from having read a few things and talked to a few friends, is that the mainstream white outdoor community does have a lot of avenues to provide benefits to people outside of it. As Marinel de Jesus illustrated in her article on OR, on the industry side, we're the gatekeepers of money, influence and power, so we're the only ones who can carve out space for diverse voices to be heard. While there's a lot of talk about changing attitudes, those types of concrete resources are where the rubber hits the road, and by and large, we control them.
And I can tell you from conversations with friends in Latin America that shifting even a small percentage of the resources available in the North American outdoor community south would dramatically change the lives and prospects in the outdoor/environmentalist communities there. Connectivity and travel are easier than ever, and there's huge potential to positively impact international communities by traveling to places like Mexico, Nicaragua, and Bolivia to do the things you were going to do anyway.
But I'm getting side tracked here and starting with the advice. I really don't want to be prescriptive, other than to say that if we want to focus on diversity in the outdoor community, let's start by figuring out how to make ourselves useful. Let's figure out what resources we have to contribute in real, concrete ways to the people's lives that we want to be a part of our community. And to do that, let's start by letting a broader range of people define the problems and solutions than the old regular power brokers.
The world is problematic and chaotic and we’re never going to “win”, but there are also signs that cultures are changing in a way that provides room for potential progress in a lot of interesting areas. If we're not pushing towards what's right and good in this context, what are we doing with our lives? Mean-tweeting?
Angel and I have always had some degree of Social Justice Warrior instinct, but these have been particularly heady times to start a business. We solidified the idea for Boldly Went a month after the 2016 elections drew into sharp relief the racial, sexual, social and economic divisions in our culture, and our entire premise as a business is that diverse voices and connections are valuable for the outdoor community. I'm guessing that if you're here, you agree. We usually try to end blog posts with some kind of call to action. For this one, I really just hope readers (whatever your color or background or other identifiers) will 1) think about the resources you have that could make the outdoor community a more appealing place for a broader range of people, and 2) start by reading some of the linked writers to get perspective on the nature and scope of the challenges in our community for people who might not be like you.
Tonight we’re having a party because, a year ago today, we launched Boldly Went with our first event in Seattle.
We had our first show here, yes, because that’s where we live and the commute was easy, but also because the community here played a huge role in setting the inspiration for what we're doing. Our Seattle outdoors friends are what taught us that there are countless people with interesting stories about why outdoor adventure is important, and that most of those stories aren’t being told. Basically, our friends here are amazing, and that inspired us to introduce them to the world. In so many ways, our Seattle friends have been the lifeblood of this thing - you're the first ones we think about when we create things, and your support is the actual, concrete reason that we keep going.
While that connection is nothing but positive, and my whole goal here is to thank you all for the role that you've played, I have to admit that starting a business among friends has triggered a secret anxiety for me, and that I'm constantly preoccupied about making things weird. I can’t speak for Angel, but I personally worry that I'm going to turn into that guy that everyone avoids because they’re think he’s going to try to sell them Amway or something. That people will start wondering if every social interaction is a pitch to support us on Patreon, or that every text exchange will end with an appeal to buy nutrition shakes or sunglasses or something. (But guys, seriously, it really worked for me, you seem really nice, I want to talk to you about an opportunity I discovered, and this offer is only valid until the end of this week!)
The fact that our event in Seattle tonight sold out a week ago is a heartwarming reminder that we owe a huge amount to our community's buy-in - figuratively and literally. But behind those warm feels is the reality that we’ve asked for a lot from our friends - whether that’s been coming to events, sharing around the podcast, giving feedback on things we’re writing, or letting us borrow sound equipment. We tend to be kind of awkward asking for things, people are sometimes uncomfortable saying no, and it’s always a worry that relationships we value personally will start to feel transactional, or that we'll take more than we give.
Maybe it makes sense because we’ve been intentional about trying to start this thing with a dirtbag ethos - on a $0 budget and among the rabble - but at times starting a business has felt like the month we spent couchsurfing after we finished the PCT. You can only hang out in someone’s guest room, eating their food, and watching their Netflix while they go to work for so long before you start to question your value in the relationship. That month ended with our friend’s dog eating her couch because we triggered its social anxiety, and I just don’t want things to go that way again.
Airing my insecurities might seem like a weird way to celebrate our first birthday among the people who’ve supported us, but...crap, you’re right. I am making it weird again.
In actuality, at the start of our second year, the thing I’ve been thinking about most is the intangible value of being based in a place like Seattle, which I really believe is huge. So I’ll stop with the insecurities, and get to the point, which is the positive side of where this desire not to be weirdos takes us, to one of the big reasons that Seattle is such an amazing place to have as a spiritual and actual base for this project.
The desire not to let owning a business turn us into weirdos really does create constant pressure to make what we’re doing genuinely valuable - not to some amorphous test market, but to our actual current friends, and the future friends we'll make in the process. If we’re going to create things for our friends, we genuinely want them to be good things, that they'd like and want to support, even if they didn't know us. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves, but more importantly, we want to contribute something valuable to the lives of the people around us, who are contributing so much to our lives.
And because the people who've been around us in Seattle from the beginning are genuinely amazing in a dizzying variety of ways - ultra runners and thru-hikers and world record setters and media professionals and scientists and techies and writers and genuinely nice people - the pressure is on to not just figure out how to do something good. We need to figure out something amazing. It has to be up to the standards of the community that we're a part of, and those standards are dauntingly high
In order to do that, we have basically used a strategy of tapping into our network. Our idea with events has always been to get all of you cool people into a room and let you speak for yourselves. But beyond that, our Seattle crew has, from the beginning, been our core test market and sounding board. They’ve been the people giving feedback, helping us make connections, teaching us how to start, build and market a business, and generally keeping us on the right track. Because that core community is made up of so many amazing people, what we’re able to produce is much better than if we didn’t have those connections. To create the best things we can, our best strategy is to attempt to be a conduit for your cool.
A year in, our network has expanded dramatically - to Bend, Portland, Calgary, Boulder, Moab, New York, and more - and that’s put us in contact with so many more cool people that we believe are huge assets for us, both as friends, and as inspiration for ways that we can make Boldly Went more valuable. And because today we’re celebrating the influence Seattle’s had in helping us launch this project, it’s worth noting that in almost every case the initial connection to other communities has come through a friend in Seattle. In a real way, Seattle’s been the hub of our wheel.
So while starting a business among friends may trigger some anxieties, and draw out previously existing social inadequacies, the fact that our friends are amazing has basically been the entire reason we've been able to feel like we can create something valuable. You're the resource that we're mining to share with the world, as well as the community we hope to develop. You're what makes this thing exciting now and the best hope to see this thing develop in the future.
Like so much that’s good in our life, Boldly Went all started in Seattle. And yeah, while there’s probably a pretty significant chance that I’m going to make it weird, we’re still stoked to be able to celebrate with all of the amazing weirdos who’ve supported us. So in all sincerity, thank you Seattle for getting us on our feet, and making the best parts of the project happen!
PS - I really hope your dog doesn’t eat your couch!
It really worked for me, you seem really nice, I want to talk to you about an opportunity I discovered, and this offer is only valid until the end of this week, so if you have a minute, consider supporting us on Patreon.
But seriously, ready to go on adventures? We're working to be of use to you and help you connected with the more than 1000 people who know the best local places to go that are already connected with us. Go here and tell us what you're trying to plan and we'll see how we can help.
The 1 year anniversary of our first event is coming up next week, and we’ll be throwing our first birthday party in Seattle at Naked City Brewery on January 31st! If you're in town, we hope to see you there! In the lead up to that, I wanted to take a minute to deliver our Boldly Went (dare I say it) State of the Union Address.
While I don’t want to be associated with anything happening in that other Washington at the moment, here at our base in the more pleasant, productive, adult Washington, good vibes are happening, and the State of our particular union is strong.
A year ago, we started off with a vision and a dream and a $0 budget, and this year we’re coming to you with a bunch of great stories, some traction, a rad community and a few bucks saved to reinvest in the business, so we’ve made some real progress.
This thing feels like such a community project, with so many of you engaged, and we wanted to take some time to get into a bit of the nitty gritty of what we're up to behind the scenes. We won't make you read any boring reports - just the juicy bits!
The beating heart of Boldly Went hasn’t changed at all. We’re still driven by the fundamental belief that everywhere you go, the outdoor/adventure community is full of amazing, interesting people who should meet each other, and who should have more opportunities to share their stories with the world.
Our experiences this year have done nothing but reinforce those beliefs, and in truth we underestimated how amazing you all were going to be. This year through Boldly Went we’ve come into contact with winners of both the Seattle and Portland Marathons, a teenage thru-hiker with Down Syndrome, the first person to circumnavigate the globe on his own using only human power, multiple Guinness record holders, multiple Hardrock and Barkley Marathon runners, two women who are trekking from Patagonia to Alaska using non-motorized means, professional artists and musicians, people who’ve persevered through brain injuries, helicopter rescues, and 200 mile ultramarathons, ice climbers, base jumpers, English Channel swimmers, speed record holders on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and Mount Rainier, one of the first people to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a paddleboard, and about a billion of you who just know how to tell a good story - even if your experience didn’t make it into the record books. Some of you have shared at events and our podcast, and some have just come along to meet and be inspired by others. All in all, traveling with this business, meeting you all, has been an entirely remarkable experience.
Unlike some institutions we know in the other Washington, we have no intentions of shutting down. Our priorities this year reflect the fact that our values and focus haven't changed, but that we've established a base of community and momentum that we want to build on.
2) Boldly Went is about building community that supports adventure, and supporting adventure that builds community. Along with continuing what we've been doing, we have a couple of projects building on our base in the same spirit that we think will work.
There’s a falsely attributed saying put together jointly by Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein, that people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a year. This year’s felt like that constantly. A lot of days it's seemed like we’re not getting as much done as we need or want to, but looking back on the year the reality is that we’ve fit in way more than we thought we could.
Thank you for sharing the adventure with us this first year! Here's what you can do right now to help us make progress in our second, by creating a network that is inspiring, entertaining, and useful for getting out on your next adventure.
Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.