I'll spare you the photos, but I want you to know that I have a gross bacterial rash on my chest that I'm treating with antibiotics. And while I don't want to point any fingers, we just got back from a week and a half on the Hudson, and there's a fair chance that "the river that flows both ways" is also "the river that gave me a staph infection". While there have been major cleanup efforts on the river in recent years, outdated sewage systems in the communities along the way mean that there is still a fair amount of bacterial contamination in many places, and I wouldn't be the first person to exit the Hudson with a little bit more than I entered with.
The rash got me researching the history of human pollution on the river, and it's not surprising (as an Eastern American waterway) that it has a fairly extensive one. The most notable cleanup efforts in recent years have been focused on the removal of PCBs - industrial plastic neurotoxins and likely carcinogens that were pumped into the river en masse for 30 years, most notably by General Electric, until the late 1970s, when their production was banned by the Federal Government. PCBs made Hudson silt toxic, fish inedible, and swimming dangerous, so the EPA designated 200 miles of the river as a superfund site requiring cleanup. GE resisted participating in the cleanup initially, and made arguments that we'd all be better off if we just left the PCBs in the river where they now belong. The EPA pushed back and GE agreed to help fund what became the largest ever environmental cleanup of a river, which is still ongoing. (Or so Wikipedia says. Wikipedia also points out that the musician Pete Seeger was a major leader in pushing for cleanup efforts.)
Staring at my rash on the same week that the President announced that he's pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it's easy enough to draw some analogies between the situation on the Hudson and the narrow corporate interests that are driving the push to ignore the testimony of the vast majority of the world's scientific community, and the political consensus of every other country in the world (excepting Nicaragua and Syria). They're both, ultimately, about abdication of responsibility: weak arguments are made against the validity of the best science because a responsible party doesn't want to deal with the cost of their actions. The financial concerns of the few, and the culpable, are asserted against the economic and health concerns of the many.
The difference between the situations being, of course, that in the case of the Hudson, the US government was actually a driving force towards a cleanup process that has been largely successful: the ecosystem is healing, and people can generally now interact with the river much more safely than in the 1970s (my own rash notwithstanding).
While economic, pragmatic, and ethical arguments about why we should protect the world we live in are probably the most important ones, personally my own sense of the importance of the environment would probably best be labelled as spiritual.
I've inherently loved being outside since I was a kid, but when I was 23 Angel and I moved to New Zealand and I did a Masters degree in Theology focused (in very broad terms) on the idea that God is present in nature. While I worked this out academically at University, I felt it personally in New Zealand's beautiful landscape - and maybe most powerfully on the Pacific along the spectacular Otago coast where we lived.
While the way that I'd conceptualize my theology has changed significantly in the time since I finished my degree, and I wouldn't necessarily describe my feelings about the outdoors in religious terms, my sense of connection to the natural world has only grown. Trailrunning has put nature at the center of my most important means of maintaining health and happiness. Thru-hiking put it at the center of my emotional processing of my father's death. And paddling has made the outdoors a means of connecting with my own mortality and place in the world. The outdoors is something to feel, as much as anything to conceptualize or commodify as a political or economic unit.
And so, as I experience it, the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, like other human decisions not to live in ways that are ecologically sustainable, is a spiritual failing, which does spiritual damage, as well as a political and economic problem.
Every Boldly Went story is essentially a variation on this theme, "The outdoors is meaningful to me because...", and I think it is probably a natural human tendency to develop a sense of connection to the environment. In the span of history, it's a strange situation we're in, for many of us to spend more of our time in a built environment than a natural one, and for this sense to require intentional cultivation. But I think it's why outdoor athletes, along with farmers, foresters, fishermen, hunters and others who interact with the outdoor environment on a regular basis keep some element of essential humanity alive that might otherwise be lost. Environmental interests are human interests, because humans are one element of the environment. People who interact with the non-built environment regularly get that intuitively.
New Zealand is one of the world's most beautiful countries, and also one of it's more sparsely populated - particularly on the South Island where we lived. When we moved there we noticed a sort of "If you don't build it, they will come" dynamic, where protected land was abundant, and life in the outdoors - both recreationally and vocationally - was an assumed and ordinary part of life. It's no surprise then that the preservation and protection of their natural environment was a key part of Kiwi identity. Because it's such a beautiful place, there's a chicken and egg question: do they protect it because it's so beautiful, or is it so beautiful because they've protected it? Whatever the case, the presence of clean, beautiful natural spaces drew people outdoors, and the fact that people were outdoors led them to value clean, beautiful natural spaces. They were locked in a positive cultural cycle that was good for people, and good for their environment.
Spiritually sound environmental leadership, I think, which recognizes the essential human connection to the world around us, looks something like trying to kickstart that cycle. Costa Rica is a country that has done it with some degree of success in a culture that is very different from New Zealand's, and with far fewer resources, and in the US Western states including our home in Washington and some of the New England states have done so as well. At our local levels, in our outdoor communities, grassroots cultural change is exactly this - reinforcing for those who feel less connected that the outdoors is essential to who we are as human beings, helping more people get outside, and building the community connections that make durable political change inevitable.
That gross rash I've got? It's a nice, concrete reminder that our leaders' spiritual failures have real world consequences. But our connections in the outdoor community? They're the foundation being built to subvert short sighted interests that do damage to our planet, and to our essential humanity.
The next few weeks' podcasts feature environmental leaders Mike Webb, a surfer still going strong at 68 years old who also leads eco-tours, Ellen Bayer, a Barkley Fall Classic finisher and University of Washington professor of literature with an academic interest in Environmental literature, Ken Campbell, founder of the Ikkatsu Project who, among other things, constructed a kayak out of discarded plastic bottles and paddled it between Seattle and Bellingham to raise awareness of the fragility of Puget Sound, and Dean Burke, hardcore SUP boarder and TedX and University of Washington presenter on the relationship between the city and Puget Sound in Tacoma.
At a historical moment when the United States seems determined to descend into a dystopian chaos out of Mad Max: Fury Road, one wants to feel that they're doing something worthwhile to help hold together the fraying core of the social fabric. So when a few friends have asked not just why we're starting Boldly Went, but why we're starting a project organized around outdoor storytelling now, it prompted some thought. When there's so much else to do, why focus on this?
While this Boldly Went thing wasn't started with either War Boys or geopolitical crisis in mind, our focus on connecting the outdoors community, and sharing its stories, has helped us to think about what our community brings to the world. In the midst of tumultuous times, this project is helping to remind us why, in fact, the outdoors matters.
Why the outdoors matters to us
For Angel and I, outdoor adventure has always mattered personally, because it has formed us as a couple. When we were twitterpated undergrads, Angel convinced me to take a trip to visit her on exchange in Australia, where we spent a month sleeping on buses, boating with crocodiles in the Daintree forest, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef near the Whitsunday Islands, and gently warding off dingoes around a campfire on Fraser Island with backpackers from around the world.
That trip precipitated a later move to New Zealand, where we spent two years tramping, penguin-watching, and exploring the country's mountains and fjords in a sweet, yellow '85 Ford Laser in our free time. Which led to a move to Seattle, where the local legends at Fleet Feet Sports and the Seattle Running Club introduced us to trail and ultra-running, which led to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, gushing about Seattle in long form in Trail Runner Magazine, scrambling up mountains after work, learning to boulder at the Seattle Bouldering Project, orienteering with the Cascade Orienteering Club, backpacking around Latin America, starting a business, learning to ski, taking up paddling...
So to us it's intuitive: the outdoors matters. Outdoor sports and adventures have shaped our life and formed us as a couple. The majority of our favorite life experiences have been outside, and the outdoors has been therapy to help us get through the majority of our most difficult times.
Building a community that matters is what this project is about
But the impulse behind Boldly Went has less to do with how the outdoors has impacted us (after all, we could just be spending more time outside rather than sitting on computers developing this thing), and more with a recognition that the outdoors community is full of incredible people with stories that need to be told. So we think of our storytelling events as more than just entertainment: we think of them as ways to make concrete connections among outdoor athletes and adventurers, because it's those connections that we believe will matter.
This foundational belief is based, in part, on our experience of probably the coolest outdoor community we know - Seattle's High Heel Running, a women's trail running group created by our friend Megan Kogut. It was started as a random post on Craigslist years ago, but it's developed into a group with over 1000 members that's been profiled in national publications multiple times, and has created a community of scientists, writers, environmentalists, businesswomen, and normal people running everything from 5ks to 100 mile mountain ultras. Their secret, we think, has been support, connection, and inspiration, and we see those as central to what it means to be a part of the outdoor adventure community. Beyond just pushing towards new achievements in running, the High Heelers have spawned romances, adventures, activism, businesses, and friendships in the Northwest and around the world. Angel's first experience in event organizing, in fact, happened with a team of women from this group, at Grit and Grace in 2015, and Boldly Went is very much developed in the desire to spread the High Heel spirit of support, connection, and inspiration more broadly.
We also believe that making connections in the outdoor community matters because outdoor adventurers so frequently form the beating heart of the global environmental movement. While they're also athletes, the outdoor community we know, and want to organize, are also the scientists, the trail maintainers, the ocean and water protectors, the non-profit administrators and the volunteers who love their environment at a visceral level - not just as a theoretical "natural resource". That's why its exciting to us that our events have included (among a ton of others) representatives from the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy and Gerry Stephenson (pictured below), who helped turn an old mining pit in Canmore, BC into Quarry Lake, one of the town's most popular community destinations. (You guys are going to love hearing a couple of Gerry's stories on the podcast in a couple of weeks!) We think connecting these people puts a literal spin on the concept of grass roots organizing.
As a community we can get money to the right places
And we also believe that the outdoors community matters economically. Not just in an "REI creates a lot of jobs in Seattle" kind of way, but also because members of this community are working to get money to the right places.
In North America, sometimes that looks like outdoor athletes using their passion as a way to raise grassroots funds for important causes. We've come across some amazing examples of this already with our friends in the paddling community at Monster and Sea, who are killing it raising money to directly support families dealing with cancer, and Keep Calm and Paddle On - an organization started by Chad Guenter in Canmore, BC, who SUP Magazine accurately described as a "tattooed giant" working to raise awareness of mental health issues. We've known Seth Wolpin for years, but he fits this category too as a badass trail runner (he's running maybe the world's hardest race at the Barkley Marathons as I write!) who partnered with us at Grit and Grace and is using his PhD level smarts and connections in the Himalayas to raise funds directly for poor in Nepal through Wide Open Vistas.
We also know that making connections between adventurers here and locals doing cool things abroad can be a way to help provide a decent living for people from places where economic possibilities are limited. That's why from the beginning we're working to help connect people with friends like the Martinez family at Ruta Verde in Jalcomulco, Mexico - locals doing hardcore outdoor adventures who can provide an amazing local experience for real athletes - paddlers, hikers, mountainbikers - looking for a challenge. And it's also why we're developing a partnership with our friend Javier Navichoc at Trek for Kids on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, who covers all the bases for adventure travel: he runs a small, local Spanish school (Guatemaya) and can teach you the language basics, and Mayan culture, while also taking you on local adventures climbing volcanoes and camping out in hidden spots outside the normal tourist enclaves, all while helping to raise funds to pay for education for kids in the towns around the lake.
So, what we're doing here - bringing people together, connecting the outdoors community, encouraging you to connect with each other - it's something we believe in. Not just because it's fun, or because the outdoors is who we are, but because we believe that connecting you all will make a difference. In tumultuous times, more connections mean more possibilities, and we trust this community to load up the guzzoline, unhitch the pod, and drive straight into the mass of Warboys.
P.S. If you're interested in partnering with us - getting an adventure storytelling event to your town, putting us in contact with cool people who are doing cool things in the outdoor community, helping get the word out about local adventure partners in remote parts of the world, or whatever, please send us a message! This project is about building a dynamic community of outdoor adveturers, and we love new connections!
Grit and Grace, a speaker series highlighting women and family adventurers, happened for the second time on Sunday, March 5th, when a couple of families - the Martin/Wades and the Fagans - shared their accounts of how they've been able to incorporate the outdoors into their lifestyle, countering the common assumption that having kids represents the end of grand adventure. (Watch it here.)
The first Grit and Grace happened a couple of years ago, in March 2015. It was the first event Angel organized in the outdoor community, and in a lot of ways was the genesis of the Boldly Went project. I (Tim) wasn't there, because I was in the hospital with my Dad, who was recovering after emergency brain surgery following a collapse and seizure at work that led to a diagnosis of glioblastoma - brain cancer, a death sentence in the long term, and the end of Dad as we knew him in the short term. (Don't let anyone convince you that removing a thumb sized hunk of your brain won't change you, but that's a side point.)
Dad's diagnosis was a complete surprise, and it came just a month before Angel and I were planning to set out on the biggest adventure of our life - a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada. HIs new illness presented us with an impossible question. We had no commitments, so should we keep our plans for the hike, or do we cancel it to spend the time with my Dad? Doctors reported a successful surgery and hopeful expectations, but glioblastoma prognosis is usually measured in months, not years. We genuinely didn't know if hiking might mean missing the last months of my father's life.
Our decision was clear for my parents before it was for us:
Go because you can.
Among other things, terminal illness is the ultimate reality check that our opportunities are limited, and that you don't know how many you will be presented with. (The first Grit and Grace event featured female pioneers of adventure - all four of the speakers were older than my father at that point.) So my parents' preference was that Angel and I take the opportunity that we had.
So in Mid-April, 2015, Dad and Mom drove us to the Southern Terminus of the PCT, and we hiked.
Go Because you Can
It was a sentiment we felt deeply, but it wasn't a phrase we thought up at the time. Rather, it was coined and promoted as a mantra by one of the sponsors of this year's Grit and Grace event: Monster and Sea.
They're a gear and fundraising organization founded by Troy Nebeker in order to support families armwrestling cancer. A paddler, and someone whose own family had been devastated by the disease, he donates 10% of proceeds directly to families hit by cancer.
One of his other major endeavors is a 24 hour paddle event that started in Seattle, but has spread nationwide, with a simple strategy: teams gather donations, the money is put in envelopes in $1000 increments, and given directly to families struggling through cancer. Hardcore, grassroots, no overhead. The outdoor community making a direct impact on peoples' lives. You can see why we love this guy and Monster and Sea.
(This year's event is on April 15 - click here and see below for more details on how to support or be directly involved.)
Sometimes you can't.
At exactly the midway point of the PCT, as we were approaching a highway near Chester, CA, we re-entered cell service and our phones started lighting up with messages from my mom. The worst case scenario had occurred, and just a few months after his initial surgery, his tumor was back, and was already larger than the original growth.
We immediately decided that our thru-hike was over. We hitched into Chester and worked our way down to my parents in Las Vegas via a series of buses and rental cars. And we made peace with our new role in providing end of life care for my father.
Because his tumor was so aggressive, hospice was the only realistic option. While we initially thought he would have several months of life, two torturous weeks was all he lasted. He died at 62, three months after his first seizure and diagnosis. He lost his planned Southwestern retirement, and his planned years spent watching his grandkids grow into adulthood. My mom lost her partner of 40 years.
Several times during our life, my dad had told a story about a road trip he took with his father during high school, from Ohio to the California coast. It was a cautionary tale, because he told us that he slept the whole trip in the back seat, pouting like the teenager he was because he didn't want to spend his summer on a trip with his dad, and missed out on enjoying the experience of huge, beautiful parts of the country. He always told it as a story of regret, and a warning to us not to miss out on opportunities in life.
During his illness, my grandfather (Papaw - we're from the northern edge of Appalachia) added a detail to the story that I hadn't heard previously, which was that my father perked up and engaged with the trip when he was allowed to drive. It wasn't a total missed opportunity, but a situation in which Dad figured out a way to make the best of the situation.
This story was at the front of my mind as Dad's rapid decline once again presented us with a difficult decision: should we stay and support my mom as she grieved for the loss of her partner, or should we attempt to get back on trail and see if we could finish. It was the end of July, and the back of the hiking pack was approaching Chester, the town where we got off trail. An average of 25 miles a day would get us to Canada before the snows hit in the Washington Cascades.
When we spoke with Mom the next morning, she was adamant: we needed to go because we can. And so, the following weekend, with my aunt and cousin who were there to support, Mom drove us back to the PCT at Chester, and we put our heads down to make up lost ground.
To summarize a grueling two months, it was the hardest, most beautiful experience, and we did it. And while we were hiking, my Mom was hiking. She trained for months in the Mojave heat and coordinated with some experienced friends to plan her first ever overnight backpacking trip (at 62 years old!) so she could meet us at the Northern Terminus to sprinkle Dad's ashes. She went, because she could.
This experience was very much on my mind at this year's Grit and Grace (which you'll be able to watch here once the video's edited and uploaded!), even before presenters Chris, Marty and Keenan Fagan revealed for the first time publicly that they too are struggling with cancer.
The Fagans were there to present because they have lived a remarkable life together as a family: Chris and Marty are long-time ultrarunners, and are in the Guinness Book of world records as the fastest couple to reach the South Pole overland unsupported, unassisted. With Keenan they've cycled around Kilimanjaro and across Tanzania, climbed it, and hiked to Everest Base Camp - all by the time he turned 15.
But when they turned to the topic of what their next adventure would be, they revealed that it involves struggling with cancer. Marty was diagnosed with Squamous Cell cancer that was discovered initially in his neck, and then spread to his lungs in the last year. He said, “The lung tumors are very small and aren't spreading, I have no symptoms, and I remain very active.” But now, rather than planning their next massive outdoor adventure, their focus has shifted to the immunotherapy treatment he recently started.
It would be hard to find a family that has maximized their time on earth more than the Fagans, and a better illustration of the fact that life can turn in unexpected ways. Marty's cancer was discovered at a time when they were training to potentially row across an ocean together. It's not clear if that trip will still happen, but when he found out his father's diagnosis, Keenan's response was to say that, no matter what happens, he's done more in his 15 years than most people do in a lifetime.
There's no one who has embodied the "Go because you can" ethos better than the Fagans, and no better illustration of its importance. (In a couple of days we'll have the video from the event up here, so you can hear their story directly.)
The impetus for Boldly Went came, in large part, from the first Grit and Grace, and the decision to do what Angel wanted came, in large part, from our experience with my Dad's passing and the PCT. It's cliché but true that life's too short not to go when you can.
And two major goals that we have for the business are to provide people with the opportunity to meet cool locals in the outdoor community, and to help get money to the right people - whether that means Mexican adventure partners like Carlos or Seattle locals doing awesome work like Troy Nebeker. So with all this stuff coming together, it's an absolute no brainer that the first non-profit/fundraiser that we're promoting is Monster and the Sea's 24: Go Because You Can.
The date this year is April 15, and there are locations all over North America. In our hometown of Seattle, Troy and crew will be paddling all day and night on Lake Union, and there's also a group doing this in Alberta, near our most recent events in Calgary and Canmore.
While this event started in the SUP community, it has already expanded to other sports, so teams are organizing around 24 hour running events, with hiking, biking, skiing and any other outdoor sports as possibilities for groups of non-paddlers.
If you're interested in joining those groups, or starting your own, or have general questions about the event, send Troy a message at:
If you're interested in giving money, visit the Seattle team's GoFundMe page to donate. Money goes into envelopes that go directly to families dealing with cancer to show them that they're not alone.
We're excited to be able to share the video from Grit and Grace: Adventure Family Edition through YouTube. Watch it now by clicking here.
It isn't too much of a stretch to say that we're starting this project, Boldly Went, because we want other people to meet Carlos, the guy in this photo. Not figuratively, but literally. We want you to get on a plane, fly to Veracruz, Mexico, hop on a bus to his house, and hang out with him.
Carlos is a former lawyer, and hosts an AirB&B in Coatepec, Mexico - a small, picturesque town in the verdant hills of Veracruz state, a few minutes from Jalapa. We met him because we needed a place to stay on our trip between Mexico City and Veracruz, and we read in a Lonely Planet guide that Coatepec has awesome coffee. (It's true - they've been growing and roasting there for centuries.) We'd planned to stay for just a day, but in large part because we met Carlos, we got sucked in for a week before a plane ticket home pried us away.
Carlos is 72, but not slowing down. When we got to his place, rather than handing over the keys the way a lot of hosts do, he insisted on making us dinner (eggs, beans, bread, un poco cafecito, pasteles for dessert). We bonded over a shared love of El Camino de Santiago in Spain, and once he figured out that we were active, and into the outdoors, he insisted we see his favorite places in Veracruz state.
The morning after we arrived at his place, he drove us to the spot in the photo above - a massive spring at the start of the Actopan river, called El Descabezadero - roughly translated, "The Head Cutter Off-er". It's a spectacular natural wonder that isn't in the guidebooks, and the picture of a tropical paradise, and I have no idea what it has to do with cutting off heads. After the photo was taken, we turned around just for a second, and Carlos had stripped to his skivvies and was swimming in one of the pools at the base of the falls.
One thing led to another, and by the time we left town, we'd met Carlos' wife Angela and son Charlie, spent a day scrambling up a canyon with his daughter Karla and her rafting guide husband Antonio in the nearby adventure town of Jalcomulco (a place with the spirit of an Ed Abbey-era Moab), gotten the full run of a local resort, had our butts kicked mountain biking with one of their friends, and (long story) appeared in a political ad for a guy running for mayor of Coatepec. When Karla dropped us at the bus station to leave, we were exhausted and seriously contemplating buying real estate.
Meeting Carlos allowed us to tackle experiences and fall in love with places we wouldn't have otherwise. And, in a nutshell, that describes the genesis of all good adventures:
Inspiration - to try something new, to go somewhere different, to do something harder - develops from direct, personal connections with good people who know something you don't.
Our goal is to facilitate the type of connection we made with Carlos - not in a figurative "hey read our blog about this guy" sense (although it is an awesome blog), but in real life, and face to face.
Getting people together to share their stories is the best way we can think of to accomplish that quickly and effectively at a local level. As outdoor athletes ourselves, we know we tend to exist in our own silos and communities. We're trailrunners, and we always get inspired by the trail community, but we rarely meet like-minded people doing different things - paddlers, paragliders, skiers, hikers, climbers, sailors, orienteers - because everyone serious is off doing their own thing. Boldly Went events bring together adventurers and outdoor athletes from across the spectrum, and help establish connections that can open up new opportunities and inspire new ideas. And after just a couple of events, we think it's working: participants have been hanging out for an hour after the events to talk, and hikers have been meeting bikers have been meeting sailors have been meeting paragliders.
Podcasting the stories from those events is the next best thing to being there, we think, and our goal is to build an audio database of adventures from around the world for people looking for inspiration or entertainment. Again, we're off to a great start, with stories ranging from hiking naked to sailing to a prison island.
And in a literal way, as founders we want to actually be like Carlos by helping people who are visiting Seattle to adventure like locals. We're busy setting up ways that people who are looking for great things to do outside in Western Washington - on the trails, in the mountains, on the water - can get in contact with us for beta or partnership. Click here for current details!
And finally, along the same lines, we're working on creating ways that people like you can connect with people like Karla and Antonio - locals doing hardcore things in non-touristy, cool places that genuinely need and deserve the money. We want to make new adventures possible. We want to give local outdoor communities a gathering place that's connected to a larger network. And we want to ultimately get money and opportunity to places like Coatepec and Jalcomulco - freaking awesome spots that might otherwise get overlooked.
So for a start, I literally want you to meet Carlos and his family. Coatepec and Jalcomulco aren't hard to get to. You should go, and if you do, we recommend looking up Carlos, Angela and Charlie on AirB&B, and Karla and Antonio at Ruta Verde. They're the real deal.
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.