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.
If you like this post, you'll also like my book The Dirtbag's Guide to Life. It's a fun guide like this, but for your entire existence.
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!
For the last million or so weeks I've been tapping away on my computer working on our upcoming book, The Dirtbag's Guide to Life. Here's a first (still rough draft) excerpt from the introduction for you, addressed to the question of what a dirtbag is, and who the hell cares. With special thanks to Heather Anderson for being our spirit animal.
I'd love to hear what you think. Does anyone care about the humble dirtbag? People respond strongly to the term, and it's over-applied, but in my opinion there's not a better word to describe a character that, in my opinion, is a particular type of underappreciated countercultural icon.
If you're interested in getting updates as the book continues to develop, sign up here.
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.
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.
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.
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Today most of my family is in Ohio at the memorial service for my cousin Kyle, who was one the most important people in my life throughout my childhood, and someone who influenced my love for the outdoors as much as anyone. I'm not there in part due to reasons that are a little ironic and a little poetic, because of prior commitments to cover for a friend at work while he goes to Serbia to meet his girlfriend's family for the first time. (I think somewhere up there, Kyle is okay with this, because that's the kind of guy he was.)
Kyle was my older male cousin, so maybe naturally one of the people I looked up to most as a kid. We were in Boy Scouts together, and he was much more accomplished at it than me - going on to become an Eagle Scout while I dropped out a few merit badges beyond Tenderfoot. But it was really time with him where I learned to hike, to camp, to backpack, to build a fire (I still suck at it - should've put more time into that merit badge!), and to deal with rough weather outside. Those times shaped my life, and sent me on a trajectory that I have no plans on changing. (He also taught me to be a giant nerd, I think in the best sense, instilling a love of fantasy novels, comic books, cheesy 80's rock, and role playing games, but that's a discussion for another time.)
The times with him have been on my mind a lot in the last couple of years, as Angel and I have taken a sort of merit badge approach to our life outdoors - moving from primarily spending our time trail running to learning basic skills in skiing, orienteering, paddling, bouldering, desert scrambling, thru-hiking, and general dirt-bagging. I'm still no Eagle Scout like Kyle was, but we've gotten more well rounded, and it's not a stretch to say that we've just been continuing along the path he started me on.
Kyle's death was, unequivocally, a tragedy. At age 42, he had a massive stroke and gastric bleeding for reasons that still aren't certain, and spent a week in the ICU fighting before he passed.
I've written about death a fair amount on this blog, and while that's never been planned consciously, it's the hand that life keeps dealing.
When my Dad passed a few years ago, a lot of thoughts were triggered around the need to "go because you can", to use Monster and Sea's tagline. But this week, reflecting on my cousin's passing, I've been thinking a lot about the outdoors as a vehicle for life relationships that change you, because my relationship with him changed me.
Personally, it's the community building aspect of Angel's big vision for Boldly Went that is most compelling for me, and we spent the day after Kyle's death outside with people we've connected with through this project. We've known Seth Wolpin for a few years, but he's been one of our earliest supporters, and his business, Himalayan Adventure Labs, was our first sponsor. He's also basically a real life Indiana Jones, so he was a perfect guide to take us out on a partially off-trail peak-bagging loop in the central Cascades. We ended up there because of Ellen Bayer, who we met at our first storytelling event in Tacoma. She's from Ohio like us, and has only been trailrunning for a year, so this off-trail experience was a first for her in the area, but she's hardcore and is scouting for bigger things so brought us all together.
The following day we hiked to Lake Annette with a couple of kayaks and our new friend Sam from Taiwan, who connected with Angel through City Hostel Seattle and signed up for a trip through our Navigator Network. It was my first time going along on one of these outings, and it was such a great experience showing a like-minded guy from the other side of the world one of our favorite local places and doing something really unique, paddling a kayak around a crystal clear alpine lake on a perfect summer day.
In both cases, relationships translated into outdoor experiences that will be, in some small degree, life-changing. For Seth, guiding us on a route he'd done before was an exercise in sharing excitement and skill that we likely benefited from more than he did. For Angel and I it opened a sense of possibility in our own back yard, and gave us some experience in GPS navigation that we'll be able to use to expand our adventures in the future. For Ellen, it was a first merit badge in off trail travel in the Cascades. Our trip with Sam was similar in that, for us, it was a pretty normal summer day, but for him it was a unique experience of a place that he may never go again, doing an activity that isn't possible where he lives because the environment is so different.
Viewing these experiences through the lens of my cousin's passing, I'll remember them as small experiences that both make life meaningful in themselves and ultimately add up to bigger things - a better, more fulfilling life, and assistance earning merit badges that help us get better at doing the things we love. Death is a harsh reminder that opportunities to do so aren't unlimited, so it's a privilege to be able to use the time we have doing this work, fostering the types of relationships that drive people outside to have experiences that will be life changing.
If you want to help kids form the types of relationships that will shape their love for the outdoors, Kyle's family has suggested making a donation to the National Eagle Scout Association, and we're on board with that.
As business we also have a web of relationships that shape what we do:
Ellen Bayer is coached by the Wy'east Wolfpack, who helped us organize our Portland event and connect with Patricia Crespi, who tells a story on the 27th episode of our podcast.
Wy'east also helped us connect with Territory Run Co, a trail running gear company from Portland that shares our belief that running outside is about living more than it's about competition. They're sponsors helping us make the podcast happen, and get some merchandise for sale. They also are giving out free bandanas to listeners and are generally hugely supportive, so we encourage you to check out their stuff!
And Seth Wolpin is the owner of Himalayan Adventure Labs, and is looking for people to join him on a fastpacking trip in the Everest region this December. I can vouch that he knows his stuff, and that this trip will be life-changing.
My friend Kristin sent me a link to this video the other day, and while I'm not sure who Eustace Conway is (besides a Southern guy who looks like Daniel Stern with ponytails), I love the spirit he describes here.
I hope you'll forgive my brief foray towards the edge of sappiness when I talk about it, but "Most of the things people tell you are impossible really aren't" is exactly the idea that got us hooked into the outdoors community in the first place.
About 7 years ago, at a time when I was leaving behind a career that I'd spent my 20's pursuing, and feeling like I was potentially making a giant mess of my life, we got into running as a way to get healthy and manage stress. When our local running shop guys (Brian Morrison and Phil Kochik) pointed us towards the trail runs organized by the Seattle Running Club, we found a group of people who embodied that spirit perfectly. Seemingly normal folks, who'd at some point realized that running ultra-marathons through the mountains wasn't just possible, but was fun.
At the time, that idea seemed unbelievable to (previously sedentary) me, but also important, and the pursuit of completing a mountain ultra, and ultimately a 100 mile race, stood in as a cypher for everything else in my life that initially seemed impossible (which was a lot of things at the time). Success in running goals, like Eustace's success in, say, gathering hundreds of turtles, made me feel like, actually, a lot of those things that seem unattainable actually just take a bit of planning and a willingness to suffer.
When Angel and I finished the Cascade Crest 100, in 2013, just a few minutes apart, it felt like accomplishing something impossible and, surprisingly, having fun doing it. We finished, probably not coincidentally, just a few months after I finished nursing school and started a new career - the completion of a transition that had started at almost the exact time we started running, and initially felt as impossible as a 100 mile mountain ultra did to a noob runner, but now just feels like a thing I did.
So much of the spirit of the outdoor community is wrapped up in that idea, and it's so much at the heart of what got us going as a bootstrapping, unfunded startup within that community. It's a place where "Climbing Mt. Everest" isn't a metaphor for some unattainable goal: it's actually something people do. It's maybe something one of your friends has done, even, and they're not that much different from you. Maybe they can give you some beta, and maybe you'll do it some day.
And so, while "the outdoors" is about recreation for so many of us, we also believe that Conway is right on in pointing out that it also teaches that base value for a fulfilling life, that most things people tell you are impossible really aren't.
It's funny that Kristin posted this video to me when she did, because this week's podcast highlights something like the opposite reality: that sometimes even simple things can elude our grasp. But actually, the storytellers, Karly Wade and Angie Sowell, both embody the spirit of resilience and possibility that Southern hippie talks about above, as they've both managed to place outdoor pursuits at the center of their lives despite early and/or repeated missteps. When you have a minute, check out more about these local adventurer's on a new section of this site that Angel's developing called Field Notes.
It's also worth putting in a plug here for our sponsor and friend Seth Wolpin, who we met trail running and who has literally climbed Everest. Through Himalayan Adventure Labs, and working with Nepali locals, he is gathering 5 - 10 people for a fastpacking trip this December on and around Everest, and it sounds like a genuine life-goal epic. There are still spots available and I'm not just trying to sell you by pointing out that it's a surprisingly affordable 18 day trip. Our audience, we think, are just the type of hearty adventurers he's trying to find, so we hope you'll check it out here.
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.