This week we're in Lake Tahoe, having just hiked 120 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail, and we're preparing to host an adventure storytelling event tonight before working the Tahoe 200 at the end of the week. After that we'll head back up to Seattle before going to Portland, Bend, Moab, and then New Zealand in October. Earlier in the year we went to Calgary and the Sunshine Coast, and if things pan out, we might make it to Mexico by the end of 2018 as well.
A question that we were asked recently is how we afford to do all of this kind of stuff, and I've been thinking about how people afford to live their dreams a lot recently. Budgeting may seem a bit unrelated to all this travel and adventure and stuff, but it's nuts and bolts, and it's come up in more than one conversations recently.
I've got a couple of hours this afternoon, and I wanted to organize a few thoughts around finances specifically because I think it's helpful to provide real life examples of how people do the kind of thing we're doing - leaving a traditional full time work path in order to travel, play outside, and start creating your own thing from the ground up - without venture capital, a trust fund, or a wealthy benefactor.
We've pursued this kind of lifestyle for about 3 years now, and in that time it's been really helpful to have some role models ourselves (thanks Urbanski's!). I don't have any magical secrets here, but I do want to take a minute to outline the basic strategy we've been using to make this work. It's easy to make assumptions that this type of lifestyle is inaccessible to most people, and it's helpful to make things concrete and point out that there are real-world ways to figure it out.
I'm calling this a Dirtbag's guide to the financial hustle.
1) Absence of debt and marketable skills create a massive amount of freedom, even if your income and savings aren't huge.
For a bit of essential background, the life situation that Angel and I find ourselves in is a pretty good one, from the perspective of an entrepreneur.
We aren't independently wealthy, and we can't afford not to make enough income to meet our expenses for more than a couple of months. We aren't willing to take loans out to finance our lifestyle because we don't want debt, so we have to figure out a hustle from month to month so our income reliably meets our expenditures.
But, after 15 years working and saving diligently in our careers, we don't have much current debt, and we have a fantastic safety net because we have highly marketable skills. I'm a nurse. Angel's a nurse practitioner. If our given hustle isn't working, it's really easy to pick up shifts in order to quickly make enough money to survive.
For me, that's a big part of the reason that I feel comfortable enough to take the chance on figuring out how to make money in other ways. If it doesn't work out, we both have solid fallback options.
2) There are only 2 difficult steps: a) believe you can figure it out, and b) commit to hustle until you do.
From a position like ours, my personal experience has been that the most difficult steps in making a transition from a stable, long-term career path into something creative, entrepreneurial, and travel/adventure-based have been the psychological steps required.
I'm personally a creature of routine who likes stability, and it hasn't come naturally to me to give up a traditional contracted job in order to drift around and figure out how to survive. So the first difficult step, for me, has been to believe that I can figure it out. That somehow or another, I'll figure out how to make enough money to survive. Somehow, Angel has that instinct, so she's been the rock.
And related to that, it's difficult not to just retreat back to the familiarity of a comfortable job. I'm a nurse, I can work whenever and where-ever I want. There's a bit of hyperbole there, but not much. But in order to do what we're doing - traveling, creating a business, maximizing our flexibility - we have to be committed to the hustle of making it work across the long haul. That requires a continued commitment to the idea that we're going to figure this out - how to make a passion project pay in a way that's sustainable. That confidence might not always come naturally, but is reinforced the longer we do it, and the more years we manage to make ends meet living a non-traditional lifestyle.
3) The goal: lower expenses to an amount you can meet with income.
Because of our lack of debt, our basic equation is that, in order to keep Boldly Went-ing, we just have to figure out how to keep our expenses lower than our income. The way we've been achieving that, I think, is probably what you'll find most helpful here.
In order to achieve a balanced financial equation, there are really only two things you can do: drop your expenses, and increase your revenue. This is where the rubber hits the road: the practical answer to the question of "how we afford to do what we're doing." How do we make more than we spend while also traveling around, making up a business, hiking a bunch, doing what we want?
The two categories of actions we take include dropping expenses we can live without, and maximizing the number of revenue streams that we can cobble together.
a) Dropping expenses
For us, in 2018, dropping expenses has meant the following things:
b) Maximizing revenue streams.
I mentioned above that we haven't had traditional contract-based full-time jobs for 3 years. But that doesn't mean at all that we don't work. In fact, we work more now than when we would if we did have normal jobs. I'm almost sure of it. It's just that the jobs take the form of a series of side-hustles. And they're organized so that we can do them in a way that's compatible with a peripatetic lifestyle.
While for most of our lives, our sole income streams were traditional jobs, in 2018, there have been at least 10 ways that we've earned money. In roughly descending order, from most to least lucrative, here are our the ways we've made money this year (not including investments because we’re not planning to touch those pre - retirement, so the money’s not “real” yet for us):
None of those revenue streams is big, but pieced together, they're enough to allow us to travel around, work on establishing the business, and work on creating more revenue streams - writing a book, trying to build bigger events, finding more sponsors, and maybe picking up more fun side jobs that don't feel like a burden.
What’s life feel like in that context? Pretty damn flexible. There's no one job obligation that feels like it truly "owns" us. We have to figure out how to make money to keep doing what we want - but it's the "keep doing what we want" idea that feels like it's the focal point of our life, rather than the "making money" part. Life feels creative, and a bit unstable, but not in a threatening way because we always have nursing as a fallback. Our taxable income at the end of the year will be really low, but I definitely don't feel poor, because we have figured out so many options. And I think a variety of options in life is the true opposite of poverty.
Mainly, life these last few years feels like investing in something we believe in with this project - something really personal, creative, and cool.
Will our income streams be different next year? Almost definitely. Maybe we'll find some online income? Or take different side jobs? Or just work more at the hospital? Or less? Who knows? It's weird - it almost doesn't matter, because it's not the point. The point is finding out a way to afford to do what we're doing - traveling, building a business, working on passion projects, creating something cool in the world that we believe in.
A revenue stream that I'm having fun working on is a book - The Dirtbag's Guide to Life - and it will have a lot more information along the lines. If you want to stay updated as that book develops sign up for updates here.
Another stream, which we also can’t continue to do this without is Patreon - where lots of individuals chip in a few bucks to help keep our podcast, events, and other content happening. If you listen to other podcasts, a lot of them have entire, large production teams. Our team is us and our patrons. We hope you'll check out our page - it's a great place to both help out concretely with a couple bucks a month, and to provide feedback and advice about how we can make what we're doing more valuable!
This week, we're proud to share this post by Ellen Maude, who writes at Mauderunner and shared her story of running Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon on this week's podcast.
Ellen is by no means an impostor: she's the ultra running, mountain crushing real deal. She's also a mom in her 50s, and her post speaks to the challenges that come along with being all of those things. "Impostor syndrome", or the sense that you don't belong or are inadequate to be doing what you're doing, is often something that's thought of as an individual deficiency to be overcome. But as Ellen points out eloquently here, it's also something that culture manufactures by repeated subtle digs - in this case against moms who are active in the outdoor endurance world.
"E.T.", aka Elizabeth Traver, was featured in Episode 48 of the podcast telling her story about formative experiences fishing in Wyoming. This week's podcast features more storytellers from the Laramie event, so we feel like it's a great opportunity to share this great little adventure story by E.T. - one of the craziest job interviews we've heard of. A scientist, ultra runner, world traveler, mountain biker, ski instructor and more, she is just the type of remarkable (but unassuming) character that we love discovering, and introducing to the world.
While white water rafting tends to get lumped in as a low key family vacation type adventure, E.T.'s story isn't about any laid back float trip. Straightforward and almost Melville-esque, I love it as 1) an illustration of ET's amazing spirit and 2) a brief window into the harrowing life of a rafting guide, lived when the rest of us aren't in the boat. It's also an evocative picture of adventure life in Wyoming - with the Tetons, Yellowstone, the Wind River Range, the Snake and Kern Rivers, it's one of the world's great mountain adventure locations that I personally haven't explored enough.
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!
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.
What's Alex Honnold got to do with Anthony Bourdain? Why are outdoor athletes so frequently also globetrotting world travelers?
I gotta admit, the last year or so I've been feeling a bit like a gordo, because our previous regimen of endurance running and thru-hiking has largely been supplanted by travel - both internationally in Latin America and at our home in the US, for Boldly Went events. While we still get out for a healthy number of runs, hikes, and paddles, most of our energy has been going to learning Spanish and planning road trips.
I know we're not the only ones who share both passions - for outdoor adventure and for international travel - and the question of whether stories from abroad are welcome at our outdoor adventure events comes up in pretty much every city. All of this has me reflecting a bit on why there is so much overlap in the communities: between dirtbag athletes and vagabonds.
What itch is being scratched?
The topic came up for me initially because, sitting on a plane, flying home from Mexico a few days ago, I was thinking about how this year I really want to get back into ultra shape (probably a 50k route we make up ourselves rather than a race) and complete another (shorter) thru-hike on the Colorado Trail after a couple years away from major athletic challenges. When I ask myself why, beyond wanting to stop feeling like an impostor when people ask me about my Cascade Crest 100 hat, I can think of at least 6 things that these kinds of outdoor adventures bring to one's life.
1) A regular, heady, emotional mix of fear, insecurity and excitement.
2) Fun logistical challenges that involve incorporating both mental and physical aspects.
3) A sense of accomplishment for having done things that are on the edge between possible and impossible.
4) A sense of identity that comes from being a part of a tight-knit community, and from doing something that not many people do. Feeling strange, and special.
5) A better sense of one's place in the cosmos - as a small, weak creature in the middle of a big, beautiful world.
6) A sense of being physically healthy, and strong. Feeling like, if you want to do just about anything, you will be capable of doing it (with a bit of training).
While we used to spend almost all of our leisure time on outdoor pursuits, we've gone through several phases, including during the last few years, when travel has taken over a significant amount of that energy and time. Sitting on a plane, thinking about why that's felt like a relatively even trade, it struck me that our drifting around has actually scratched a lot of the same psychological itches that the trails used to. For instance:
1) Stepping off of a plane into the middle of Guatemala City for the first time was a similar feeling to taking the first steps on our PCT thru-hike. It was the fear, insecurity, and excitement that comes along with setting out into an unknown environment to take on a challenge with some actual dangers that you're not sure you're up to confronting. Terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
2) The logistics of international travel are probably even more complicated than the logistics of running 100 miles through the wilderness. While the physical challenge is primarily to avoid putting anything in your mouth that will give you dysentery, when you're traveling every day is a puzzle to be solved - navigating foreign cultures, languages, and bus stations.
3) While social media makes it appear as if travel is just drifting around looking at pretty things (which, in some ways, it can be), in actuality it comes with a strong sense of accomplishment as you see yourself learning new languages and navigating formerly difficult situations more easily. On our recent trip to Mexico, it was still shocking to step off the plane into a foreign culture, but after 5 previous months of Latin American travel, it wasn't scary in the same way. It was a familiar kind of fear that we knew we were capable of navigating. Estuvimos listos.
4) There's also a strong sense of community and identity that comes along with meeting other international travelers. Beyond finding people who love the same places you do, there's a bond that comes with sharing the same types of experiences I've been talking about here, and of feeling like you're all the same kind of weird.
5) And there's no reality check that better helps you to understand your place in the world than being dropped into the middle of a foreign country, where you don't speak the language, and where you no longer understand how things work. You're small. The world's big.
Maybe those sets of psychological needs help explain why some of us are more drawn to adventure than others. But definitely, somewhere in that overlap is the reason that when we travel, we repeatedly run into people who are into the outdoors: as with our recent random connection through AirBnB with Edy, in Coatepec, Mexico, who has traveled widely and also happens to be a mountain guide. And when we meet people in the outdoors community, they are very frequently travelers as well - as when we met Chad Guenter in Canmore, Canada through a SUP boarding connection, and it turns out he'd previously lived in Jalcomulco - a town not too far from Edy's in Mexico.
So, I think that there genuinely is a shared psychology - a dirtbag DNA if you will - that defines people who are driven to explore, whether that's through outdoors pursuits or international travel. We're all after the same sorts of things in life - curiosity to see what's around the next literal or proverbial bend, sure, but also a shared desire for the types of growth that come along with both types of experiences. Maybe as a group we all get bored easily and need a challenge, or maybe we need to set ourselves apart as different in some way or another. Or, conversely, need to feel that even though we are a bit different, there are a lot of other people who are different in the same way.
And so, yeah, of course we let it slide at events when a storyteller wants to talk about a travel adventure that only peripherally involves the outdoors.
One itch travel doesn't scratch, unfortunately, is the need for physical fitness. So while the trip to Mexico that we just returned from was great, sitting around drinking cerveza and eating sweet, delicious mole poblano doesn't get you in ultra shape on its own. So I'm going to head out for a run. But we're going to keep it kind of short: we have a road trip to pack for tomorrow.
If you want updates when more blogs like this come out, or updates on the weekly podcast featuring stories of outdoor adventure (with the occasional travel experience mixed in), our upcoming book, or all of the other cool stuff we're up to, we hope you'll sign up for our weekly newsletter here!
And if you find what we're creating useful and entertaining, consider being more involved with our network and join us on Patreon.
A couple of weeks ago, Angel had the chance to hang out with Carly Wynn - a semi-pro outdoor athlete who is living the dirtbag dream as a competitive ski racer and world-travelling digital nomad. She's building a business offering coaching and lifestyle design for athletes and free spirits, and she inspired us so much that we asked her to write a guest post. She gave us this great "how to" article that outlines her approach to life. We think it's super helpful, and hope you do too!
On her blog, Carly writes about issues ranging from her own experience of Athletic Identity Crisis and thoughts for other athletes experiencing something similar, as well as many of her dirtbag adventures and how she built a lifestyle of outdoors adventures! Check it out at www.enduranceefficacy.com.
If you love the outdoors, there’s a good chance you also love some form of outdoors media, whether it’s a great adventure blog, a crunchy Instagram, or yes, a podcast. We adventurers love to hear what our fellows are up to, perhaps enjoying some inspiration and daydreaming about embarking on similar missions. Nothing kills the adventure buzz worse than that daydream coming to a sudden halt as you wonder, how do these people make this stuff happen?
When we hear inspiring stories, it’s natural to wonder how we could make our lives more like them. It’s easy to convince ourselves others are in on a secret that allows them to go on all these epic adventures while we struggle to break out of daily patterns.
We might worry about not having the time or money to take off to the Alps for a week, or fret about our limited experience, or lack of gear. We might want to go camp alone in the mountains for the night, but hesitate for fear of being eaten by a bear. (Or a mountain lion. That’s what keeps me awake alone in the mountains!) All of these fears have one thing in common: They are mental limitations, and overcoming them is all about mindset.
If there was a secret to achieving a life full of adventures, I think it would be much less about technical skills or money and much more about the way we think about adventure. Today I want to walk you through my approach to tackling the mental hurdles that hold us back from living out our adventure dreams, take a look at three action steps you can take today to launch your next adventure, and examine a few of my favorite digital planning tools.
In my years with others who have made outdoor exploration their lifestyle, I have identified three common attitudes of the adventurer:
#1 Adventure has a variety of definitions.
What sets one person’s heart on fire may be of little interest to another, and what calls to us in one moment may not have the same pull in the next. There are as many definitions of adventure as there are people who seek it. The happiest adventurers know that just because someone else finds their fulfillment paddling whitewater doesn’t mean a winter summit of a nearby peak is less of an adventure. While it’s great to be inspired by the stories of others, we should exercise care not to judge ourselves by comparison.
Adventure is also not just about physical feats. When people talk about adventures they have had, common themes include doing something for the first time, experiencing solitude, facing a challenge, and, probably most common, having unexpected and fulfilling interactions with strangers along the way. If we have in mind a fun way to achieve one or more of these experiences, we probably have the makings of a good adventure.
So if you want to discover what your definition of adventure is, pay attention to what excites you. That moment when you see a picture or hear a story and your heart just says, yes! When you daydream, what makes you feel happiest, most alive, or most excited? What experiences have you had in the past that brought your soul to life? In the vast world of possible adventures, simply finding a good reason to choose one path over another can be overwhelming enough to keep us inside. Start paying attention to the subtle emotional responses you have to the outdoors world and you will be well on your way to discovering what adventure means to you.
#2) The goal of adventure often extends beyond the physical experience.
Whether we are embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition, or making our daily snowshoe lap around the nearby farm, there is often a higher purpose than that of reaching the summit, the end of the adventure. What motivates us may be a simple desire to have fun or challenge ourselves, or we may be using adventure to help us deal with pain, or make a big change. Getting clear with ourselves on what our larger goals are will help us choose the most fulfilling adventure, as well as motivate us to follow through.
Practitioners of yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based exercises may be familiar with the idea of setting an intention for a practice. Adventure works in much the same way. Embarking with our intention in mind helps us see more clearly which adventure is the one for us here and now, and motivates us to see the dream through to the end.
Remember, there is no “right” reason to adventure.
#3) We can work through barriers in small steps.
If a shortage of time, money, experience, or gear is cramping our adventure style, or if we are limited by fear of being eaten by a mountain lion (or a fear of anything else!), we can always work through these limitations in small steps. Trying something new, working through fear, and getting outside of our comfort zones are common reasons why we adventure in the first place, so overcoming these challenges one step at a time can be enormously satisfying.
This is your chance to pick your favorite reason for not embarking on the next great trip. We’ve already identified a lack of time, money, gear and experience as common things that hold us back. Any one of these limitations can be overcome with baby steps. Strapped for time? Start by blocking off whatever amount of time seems manageable, even if it’s only ten minutes, and commit to enjoying it. A ten minute walk in the park might not quench our entire thirst for adventure, but it helps us practice the mindset of devoting time to ourselves. As we get used to the idea that it is acceptable, even essential, to take the time we need for ourselves, we will get better at finding space for more significant undertakings.
The same holds true for knowledge, gear, or money. Start small. Bringing more adventure into life does not have to involve radical changes, although radical change can also be achieved through small steps. Dreaming big is fantastic, except for when we dream so big that we don’t know where to start. So pick a small step that will inspire confidence, and go for it.
We may never feel “ready.” Sometimes we just have to do it. Don’t wait.
With the mindset of a happy adventurer in place, we’re read to take the next step in getting out there!
#1) Talk to someone! Talk to crunchy friends, or cold-call a local adventure artist you admire. Ask them about a recent adventure or about their daily life. Tell them about your adventure dreams. Inevitably, someone else has a way of doing things that you’ve never even thought of. Furthermore, many great adventure stories involve a fortuitous meeting with a stranger. A totally routine outing can turn into an adventure, or inspiration for an adventure, when we put ourselves out there and connect with the people we meet along the way.
#2) Repeat an adventure you’ve already done. Sometimes we just need a confidence boost, and in this way we can remind ourselves that we have the time/know-how/money to do this!
#3) Plan something with a friend. It’s fun to have someone to bounce your ideas off of, and can be particularly beneficial if limited time tends to hold you back from adventuring. Committing to an adventure with a buddy helps us stick to it. It’s harder to bail on friends than it is to bail on ourselves.
If you are looking to really get out of your familiar world for your next adventure, here are some digital tools I like to use when planning my far-away fun:
#1) Freecampsites.net. Ideal for roadtrips, this website will show you places where you can camp for free, complete with descriptions and reviews by other folks who have been there recently. You will find a mix of dispersed forest camping, RV parking behind gear stores, and established car-camping sites complete with fire pits and sometimes even an outhouse. The highest concentration of campsites is in the U.S., but parts of Canada and Europe are well-covered too.
In the U.S., free dispersed camping is allowed in most national forests and on some BLM land. Find your local forest on www.fs.fed.us to find out more. As ever when in wilderness, practice Leave No Trace in your public lands.
#2) Kayak.com’s “Explore” feature. This tool lets you search for flights by setting your departure airport and your budget, and it shows you where in the world you can go and when. You would be amazed how inexpensive flights can be if your dates and location are flexible. For example, a search this morning revealed that I could fly roundtrip from my current home airport (Portland, OR) to Barcelona, Spain for $400 this February! Or I could head to Denver next week for $40 roundtrip. If flexibility is part of your adventure style, this is the tool for you.
#3) Couchsurfing.com. This site unites a community of adventurers around the world and connects travelers with hosts who provide free accommodations for a night or two. Hostelworld.com is another favorite for cheap accommodations. Keep in mind that many hostels offer work exchanges. If you will be in one area for an extended period of time, you might be able to find a hostel that will let you stay for free in exchange for labor of some sort. If you are only passing through, you might be able to exchange a couple hours of work for a free meal. This can be a great way to keep expenses down!
With so many ways to get out, so many places to go, and all the great tools available for explorers, there is definitely something to fit every adventurer’s lifestyle! Believing that we can do it is often the most difficult part. My sincerest hope is that you can use one or more of the ideas in this post to help make your next adventure a reality, and build more adventure into your lifestyle. If you do, or if you are trying but still struggling to achieve your adventure dreams, I want to hear from you! Please drop me a line at Carly3ski@gmail.com, or contact me via my website below. I’m always looking to connect with fellow adventurers!
Carly Wynn is a semi-pro Nordic skier with a semi-nomadic lifestyle. She offers coaching and lifestyle design for athletes and free spirits through her website, www.enduranceefficacy.com. There you will also find her blog, where she writes about everything from digital nomadism, to adventure travel, to training and racing at a national level.
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A couple of days ago, Angel and I had beers with our friend Sara. She hiked the PCT the same year as us, and finished on the same day even, but we met for the first time at our last Seattle event a couple months ago. Our conversation - like so much of what happens through Boldly Went - centered on the importance of the outdoor community. This morning as I was thinking about that topic I re-read this post from a previous blog, written last year. The PCT, all you people, possibilities, the things the outdoors community contributes to the world: It's all meshing together into nostalgic goodness, so I wanted to repost this blog here, with special thanks to Anish and the Urbanski's, and of course Sara, for being such inspiring people. I think it's a helpful reminder that it's the people we surround ourselves with that let us live the dirtbag dream.
In the last two years I've thought a lot about the role that friends play in my life. When Dad was sick and then passed away, friends came out of the woodwork to support us, provide encouragement and free therapy, and offer some perspective on how they moved through similar periods in their lives. On the PCT, especially after Northern California, friends kept us sane, dragged us along and helped us get through a grueling push to the border with both emotional and material support. When we were traveling in Latin America, friends from home were the thing that I missed the most. And when we were back in the States, friends let us crash on couches and in their yards for basically two months of free accommodation.
I've realized for a while that, in order to do cool things in life, it helps a lot if you surround yourself with cool people: that is, if you make friends with people who have done the things that you want to do. Since being back in Seattle, I've been reminded that the community here makes an irreplaceable contribution to my life, because the Northwest is filled with smart, interesting people doing amazing things.
But it's true that there are several responses one can have when surrounded by smart, interesting people doing amazing things. Broadly speaking, one can be inspired, but one can also become jealous, and develop a sense of inferiority when one hasn't achieved a similar level of amazingness.
Haters gonna hate pretty much everyone
This came into clear relief yesterday when one of the most amazing people in the Northwest, Heather "Anish" Anderson, posted that she'd made the mistake of reading the comment section of an article that the Seattle Times recently published about her. (If you haven't heard of Heather she's one of the most accomplished outdoor athletes alive - holding speed records on both the PCT and AT thru-hikes, something no person, male or female, has done before. You should click here and read the article. It's better than my blog, and she's way more interesting than me.)
I checked it out, and predictably enough, half the commenters were a basket of deplorables with a list of reasons that Anish's records were either reflective of moral failings or not that impressive. While I don't make a habit of reflecting on the comment section (Never read the comment section, and definitely don't perseverate on it enough to write a blog post about it!!), immediately after reading I went on a hike up the PCT (appropriately enough), so I spun on this particular cesspool of transparent bitterness, ignorance and jealousy for a few hours.
And more than many, this comment section was exactly that: transparent bitterness, ignorance and jealousy. Gut responses from people who don't know Anish, aren't hikers, and clearly didn't comprehend what they read in the article, if they even read it. There were a bunch of comments, but maybe the most elegant piece of trolling was from "lordofflys":
"I call it "an insatiable desire to get your name in a record book". There are a lot of people in the Great NorthWest [sic] who prefer the outdoors to a sedentary lifestlye. [sic] Get in line."
Haters gonna hate, and stupid haters gonna hate stupidly. Those who know Heather know that she is humble to a fault, and is an intense introvert who seems almost embarrassed when she talks about her accomplishments.
Must be nice
But to be honest, I have to admit that I do kind of understand the impulse that arises when confronted by another person's accomplishments, to explain away what they've done. It seems like a natural defense mechanism based in insecurity, designed to help us feel okay about our own situations: I hurt my knee in college so I can't..., My parents didn't have money so I can't..., I wasn't born beautiful so I can't... And anyway I wouldn't even want to because those accomplishments are wrongheaded and meaningless.
We could call it the "must be nice..." impulse, and probably everyone has felt it, even if most of us have a filter that kicks in somewhere in the steps between reading a news article, creating an account, logging in, and gleeking our frothy bitterness all over the unwitting internet public. I've said it myself, and Angel and I have had it directed at us more than once - particularly while we were traveling. "Must be nice to not have to work for a living," "Must be nice not to have any kids to worry about," "Must be nice to have that kind of money."
The thing about "must be nice" is that, along with pissing off the person it's directed at, it is self-defeating for the person who says/thinks/feels it. The rhetorical equivalent of "must be nice" is "you can do that, and I would like to. But I can't, because...".
Even if the "because" in that statement is followed by some truth, it's useless. It is just a statement of the conviction that you are in a different category from people who figure out how to do the things they want in life. They did that, I can't, so they're stupid. It's possible to sit with that attitude, but it doesn't get you anywhere.
Spirit Animals and Role Models
And that brings us full circle back to the value of cool friends, because it isn't just about surrounding yourself with the right people - it is about taking the right attitude towards them. Specifically, it's about figuring out which lessons you can take from their lives and apply to yours, rather than seeing their situation as foreign, and therefore irrelevant, to yours. Philosophically it's about seeing yourself as having influence over your situation, and about seeing relationships as symbiotic - having the potential to improve both your life and the other person's.
(I'm genuinely not sure why this clicked in when it did, but for me that realization hit almost exactly when I turned 30. That was a time when I stopped feeling jealous about Angel's ability to get a job easily and make a decent living, and decided to retrain to healthcare so I could do the same. And it's a time when I decided to stop feeling jealous about healthy, fit people, and to start triathlon training, which across time ended up transitioning into ultramarathons, running across Spain, hiking the PCT, and about a million other things I never thought I could do in my 20s, and I still kind of can't believe I've done - none of which I would have been able to do without the influence of friends, incidentally.)
A way to express that truth is that its better to look for role models in life than rivals. This was actually one of the reasons the particular comment section under discussion got me spinning. Besides the fact that Heather's a friend and an incontrovertibly good person, along with the humble marmot, she's basically my spirit animal. The type of life she's carved out, and the things she's accomplished are inspiring to me, and the article about her got me thinking about life possibilities - more time outside, less time spent earning money I don't need to buy things I don't want. More adventure and accomplishment, less resignation to life. The commenters are the incarnation of the buzzkill part of the brain that tells you "that's not possible".
A Personal Case Study on Finances
A simple, practical way to apply the role model idea is that when confronted by a person who has done something amazing, or better, something that you're jealous about, better than saying "must be nice..." is to ask the question, "How'd you do that?" When you ask it out loud, you almost always learn something valuable, even if the person's context is dramatically different from yours.
For a personal example, we have a couple of friends, Matt and Julie Urbanski, who appear to have their act together as much as anyone I know. And while they're incredibly lovely people, I have to admit that in some ways my gut response when I think about their life is jealousy: particularly in the fact that they have only spent intermittent periods of time working since college, and have traveled for periods of up to three years at a time without traditional jobs. They both have degrees in finance, and because I'm completely ignorant of that field, my gut response to their situation is that they must have been able to save like a million dollars from a few years of work and so now can do what they want. Must be nice, but I can't make that kind of money as a nurse.
But, a few weeks back, they posted a helpful article on their blog about financing their lifestyle, and it prompted me to think more concretely about their situation. I know they live frugally, have a few sources of income that are portable wherever they are in the world, and basically have a huge sense of freedom and possibility in life despite the fact that they have a kid and careers and lots of goals that people tend to see as prohibiting travel. But I didn't know anything about the concrete financials behind that, and I was assuming that they were in a place financially where we weren't.
So, I asked specifically how they did it: how much money did you have in savings when you quit your jobs, and how much do you feel like is "enough"? While I won't go into specifics, I was surprised to learn that when they started traveling their net worth looked very similar to ours now. I also learned pretty quickly that a key difference between us and them is that their sophisticated understanding of the way that investment works is what allows them to feel a sense of financial freedom and control as much as the actual money they have in the bank.
Their situation is significantly different from ours. I personally like having a home base in Seattle, while they seem to be persistent drifters. I'm generally happy with the working life, as long as I'm doing something meaningful, and while I want to be able to travel I see myself doing it for nearly as long of periods of time as them. But I do want their sense of financial freedom and control, and I do want to feel like I'm able to fully decide when and where I want to work, and when and where I want to travel, in the way that they do. And so, as we're making financial planning goals across the next few years, I'm going to be using them as a key resource rather than an object of ignorant bitter envy. They're way better role models than rivals (especially since they kick our butts in most important areas of life)!
And so, to summarize...
Don't read the comments, but more importantly don't write any comments yourself.
I really believe that to do cool things, you have to surround yourself with cool people. But more so, you have to recognize that those cool people can make your life better, and shouldn't be targets for your bitter frothy gleek.
We believe in the outdoor community's ability to produce better people so much that we're dedicating our lives to building it up through our events and podcast. Come out for live interactions with so many cool people you won't be able to stand it, or soak up their wisdom through your headphones.
Or, you know, just sign up for our email list for weekly notifications about more stuff like this.
Two years ago today my dad died from an aggressive brain cancer. He died three months after he was diagnosed, out of the blue, having had no previous major medical issues, and at a relatively young age - 61. He also died with plans. The cancer struck with cruel timing - literally midway through maybe his biggest adventure: a move to Las Vegas from his lifelong home in small-town Ohio, to be closer to his grandchildren, and to prepare for a retirement in a beautiful part of the country.
It also struck a month before Angel and I started a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and he died just days after we hit the midway point. Despite the fact that he was recovering from brain surgery, he and my mom drove us from Las Vegas to the Southern Terminus in Campo, CA, and then met us in Big Bear, several hundred miles in. Having always been strong, independent, and active, at that point my mom commented that a three block walk we made from our hotel to a pizza place was the longest he'd been on since surgery. A cruel irony, having just walked several hundred miles through desert sun to the same spot.
Dad was a country person, but not exactly an adventurous person: I have fond memories of using gasoline to blow up underground bee hives as a family, and he spent hundreds of summer days outside mowing our massive lawn, and winter days shoveling snow from our long driveway, but he wasn't a camper, hunter, or fisherman for the most part.
He also wasn't that much of a social person. His memorial was mostly populated by family, with a few close friends, and it was strange for me to see that even a lot of the old acquaintances that showed up didn't seem to know that much about him. He lived a private life, and spent most of his time and energy on us, his immediate family.
What he was, characteristically, was a good person. He was kind to people. Not particularly educated, but smart. He was faithful and unfailingly supportive to his wife and family. He was generous with money and had his priorities straight.
Maybe because Dad's death happened, for me, in the context of a life lived outdoors on the PCT, a lot of my reflection on it has focused on life's cycles. Dad didn't deserve to die in the way he did, or at the time he did, but death isn't exactly something one earns or doesn't. It's just something that is in life. It's strange, in a way, how much we ignore its inevitability, and how much it takes us by surprise when it comes.
Two years out and looking back, that perspective on death has inspired a weird sort of boldness. When death is inevitable, your time alive matters more, and because you know it is limited, it becomes urgent to try to live well.
The ripples out from Dad's death among those of us who were close to him have moved in that direction, which is a great testament to his life. In the immediate aftermath for Angel and I, it meant getting back on the PCT and pushing ourselves as hard physically as we ever have to finish in the same season following his death. For my mom, it meant months training and preparing for her first backpacking trip, hiking the 8 miles in from Manning Park to the Northern Terminus to meet us at the finish, completing the circuit, and spreading some of Dad's ashes.
Two years out, my Mom's life has - to me at least - looked like a living out the goals that she and Dad had set. She's traveled all around the West Coast from her Las Vegas base, has gone on several more camping and backpacking trips, and has spent the bulk of her time at home with their grandkids.
For Angel and I, the path that Dad's death set us on eventually led us here, to this blog, because it drove us deeper into the pursuit of what we love, life outdoors. It drove us to a trip around Latin America last year, a few months dirtbagging around the West Coast, a decision to give this business a go, a kayak trip down the Hudson, and an intentional reshaping of our lifestyle to try to minimize time spent on things that don't matter and maximize time spent on things that do.
This weekend we spent a few days camping on the Olympic Peninsula with our niece, and with the anniversary of Dad's death looming, it was impossible not to read it in this context. Lilly is 6, and is Angel's brother's daughter. She lives in Ohio and on her first trip to the West Coast it was poignant to see the life at the flip side of death, as she dove headfirst into some of her first outdoor adventures: scaling trees, paddling furiously in circles on a mountain lake, racing down rugged Pacific Coast beaches. The hope and possibility is that her life is full of this kind of thing.
Life can be beautiful, and the ripple of Dad's death is always a reminder that it's worth the risk to try to make it so.
Excepting a brief boat ride on the Sault St. Marie and a Disney cruise to Nassau, the first time I left American soil, it was 1998, and I was an 18 year old clown evangelist. It was a church mission trip to Lima, Peru, and we were going to spend a week sharing the gospel with the Latin world through the universal language of whatever is happening here:
We'd spent months preparing, but our careers were short lived, because the first time we put on our makeup the street kids we were supposed to be entertaining cried and ran away. Some tried to hit us, some froze in terror. None were drawn up into spiritual rapture.
The choice to travel the world as a clown evangelist, it seemed, was a grave mistake.
I'm not proud of any of this, but I can say that we learned from our mistakes. We cut our losses, put away the costumes, and spent the rest of our week in inner city Lima painting a deaf school and listening to stories from families living in a leper colony. We all vowed to never speak of it again, and I'm breaking a blood oath by posting this here. (That last sentence is the only part of this story that isn't true.)
Adventure travel that's learned from its mistakes
I tell you this because 1) when you have a story about Peruvian clown evangelism, you can't let it go to waste, but more importantly 2) it's a prime example of adventure travel gone wrong.
Personally, I have to admit that the term "adventure travel" itself makes me cringe a bit because it triggers so many problematic mental images. If I'm in a historical state of mind, I see a British guy in a safari helmet forcing locals to carry his crap through the jungle while he searches for ruins to plunder and pretends to "discover" places where people have been living for thousands of years. If I'm picturing modern adventure travel, it's backpackers harassing wildlife in New Zealand or getting drunk after their kayak trip in Cabo. Whatever the merits of the happy hour at Senor Frogs, it's just not our jam.
Admittedly enough, in our years of travel, we've gone on our share of tours that were marketed as "adventures", and they haven't been all bad: we met some really hardcore people "volcano boarding" in Nicaragua, and "100% Aventura" will always be one of my favorite inside jokes because of a zipline tour we took with friends in Costa Rica, which I'm going to keep to myself in the spirit of inside jokes. But really, in those contexts, "adventure" just translated as "cheap thrill".
Like clown evangelism, compared with the adventure experiences that we know are possible, that kind of definition just seems wrong, wrong, wrong. So as we've decided to delve into the "adventure travel" business, we've had to define the concept for ourselves in a way that seems more accurate to our experience.
Boldly Went defines "Adventure"
For us, adventure has been 100 mile mountain runs, multi-day river excursions, local bus rides through places where we don't speak the language, 15,000 foot peaks, unexpectedly wandering into llama sacrifices, calving glaciers, and erupting volcanoes. It's been human connections that have changed our career paths and physical challenges that have redefined our sense of what is personally possible.
And so, as we define it, adventure is:
1: Something you work for. You really need to have trained, researched, learned a new language or skill, suffered or sacrificed, gotten deeply uncomfortable in the process, or worked hard to get there. Doesn't mean it's not fun. Just that it's not easy.
2: Transformative. It's an experience that changes you, teaches you something about the world, impacts your relationships and outlook, and that you won't forget. Bonus points if it also impacts the world in a positive way.
3: Beautiful. It happens somewhere spectacular, or connects you with other human beings in a deep way. It's an experience of overcoming a challenge or living out a dream, or it moves you. It makes you laugh, cry or hurl.
4: Responsible. It doesn't count as an adventure if it's exploitation. If other people, or the ecosystem, are harmed in the GoPro'ing of your outing, you're an ass, not an adventurer. If the locals don't benefit in some way from your having been there, it's problematic.
Putting all of those things together is a challenge, which means that a real adventure is also rare.
Our big idea: giving you an in with the locals.
At our events and on our podcast people tell adventure stories to share inspiration, but as a business and community we want to go beyond inspiration to also help people make adventures actually happen.
While there's no true shortcut to real adventure as we think of it, and you can't sell it in a canned tour, as we've traveled we've realized that there are ways to make it more accessible. And that's what our newly launched and constantly developing Navigator Network is aimed at.
All over the world, we've realized that there's nothing more valuable - and often more difficult to come by if you don't speak the language - than local connections, and local beta. So, we're working with locals to connect travelers looking for real adventure with the cool people in cool places doing cool things. They're the people in their communities that know where you should go, know who you should go with, and can help you plan your adventures or go along with you. And by connecting with them, paying a price that they set for their services, you can be sure that you're putting money directly into the economies of the places you're adventuring in and leaving communities better than when you left.
We already have navigators signed up in our hometown of Seattle, Nepal, and Guatemala, where we're particularly excited about our partnership in San Pedro la Laguna on Lake Atitlan. Javier (pictured above) is our hookup, and we initially met him when he was our Spanish teacher in early 2016. We learned that he also runs a small non-profit called Trek for Kids that provides livable wage guiding jobs to locals and donates money to send local kids to high school and college. Only 20% of kids in their area graduate high school, but they're currently making education possible for 7 students from small communities around Lake Atitlan. Javier is just the kind of guy we think you'll want to meet, and we hope you'll get in contact with him through our Navigator page to start planning a trekking trip on the hills and volcanoes around Atitlan. (Pro tip: he's also super well connected, so can likely help if you're interested in trail running, kayaking or other types of adventure near Lake Atitlan as well. He can also teach you Spanish, Mayan culture, and grills a mean chicken. And you can donate directly to Trek for Kids through their page, hyperlinked above.)
We're relying largely on referrals and personal connections to build this network, so if you're interested in being a navigator in your area - or if you know someone in any part of the world that you'd trust to make real adventure possible - contact us!
Also, I'm a little rusty, but if anyone needs a clown I'm still secretly keeping the dream alive.
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.