A basic experience of life is that it's easier to figure out what you believe than it is to figure out how to behave as a response. That is, it's easier to define your values than it is to decide what actions you need to take in order to live them out.
Talk is cheap, and all that, but it's also true that even the most committed among us can't do everything. In fact, we can't do most things. Time and resources are limited, and all of us hold important values that we won't be able to take meaningful action on. That's something most people sort out individually as teenagers when pesky guidance counselors badger us to pick something to do after high school, and lament in our old age as we look back on the paths we might have taken, but didn't.
But building a business that's still in its formative stages, it's a reality that we're constantly butting up against. We feel motivated to do way more than we realistically can, and this is a constant process of prioritization and sticking with a focus even when there are plenty of worthy, or even pressing, distractions. The vast majority of our energy goes into the one thing that's really at the heart of this project: building connections between people in the outdoor community through story. We're doing that because of our values around inclusivity, equality, local economies and environmental ethics (which are stated explicitly, if not comprehensively, here), but every day presents new options of other things we could, and maybe should, be doing.
Individual and organizational actions can accumulate.
Even if you aren't also creating a DIY, niche market side hustle, I'm guessing you can relate to the sentiment, which is why I've come to think that maybe the most important thing we can do in the outdoor community is to play matchmaker between cool people doing cool things. Because, to crib a quote from Angel, we believe that individual and organizational actions can accumulate. None of us may be able to do everything, but if we use what we're good at to support other organizations and people who are doing the stuff that we value, then they might be able to do those things more effectively. And if we can be a venue through which good people and good organizations get to know each other, it seems like everyone wins.
Oregon Wild: Doing stuff we wish we could.
Since we opened shop in 2017, our instincts have been towards trying to partner and support other like-minded, local organizations with similar values, and while we've encountered those everywhere we've been, for some reason there seem to be a disproportionate number in Oregon. My theory is that a bunch of weirdo dirtbags move there without jobs because it's amazing, and have to figure out something to do with their lives so they start businesses and nonprofits. Whatever the reason though, we're excited to be heading down again for events in Portland and Bend in a few weeks, on July 10th and 12th, respectively. (Shameless plug: Buy tix here!)
At our Portland event in particular, we're excited to try something for the first time by teaming up in an explicit partnership with Oregon Wild, who are doing exactly the kind of work that we think is valuable and want to support. We've been planning the event with our friend Jamie Dawson from the organization, and will be accepting donations for them both at the event and during the ticket sales process on the website. While raising a bit of money might be the most concretely helpful thing we'll do for them, the fun part is that we'll be encouraging storytellers to focus on experiences that happened on Oregon public lands, as a way to distill the personal, emotional importance of the place. We think it'll be a great chance to experience some Oregon love, and to share that love with a wide audience through the podcast later. And, we hope, it'll create content that Oregon Wild can use to help other people understand the importance of the land that they're advocating to protect.
(SIde note, if you're a reader planning to come to the Bend event, your Oregon stories are more than welcome as well to share the heart of what makes your state such a great place to live!)
If you aren't acquainted with Oregon Wild, they're a nonprofit based in Portland focused on "Protecting Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters for future generations".
Specifically, they're the people going to bat politically to make sure that protected lands stay protected, and that lands that should be preserved, are. Among a variety of other things, Oregon Wild are helping train and organize grassroots advocates through their Wild Ones program, organizing groups in Portland, Bend and Eugene that teach democracy skills training, and going to bat legally on behalf of supporters on the wonky issues that come up when government regulations are changed or challenged. Under a Federal government that seems actively hostile towards wilderness protection, Oregon is home to one of the most threatened regions in the country, in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is under the same government "monument review" process that recently opened Bears Ears and Grand Staircase in Utah to mining interests. There are strong pushes to open lowland old growth forest to logging in the monument and along Federal Wilderness areas on the Rogue River, and large areas that are currently protected are under serious threat of losing that status.
Our events are always in good fun and everything, but we're also happy to team up with Oregon Wild on this one to say screw that.
And if you're interested in learning more or supporting them, come hang out with us in Portland at the Skyline Tavern on July 10th, or check out their website! Or, subscribe to our podcast and stay tuned because the stories will be coming down the pipe!
If you like what we're up to and want to be a part of making sure it continues to happen, think about supporting us on Patreon.
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 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.
In 2005, shortly after moving to Seattle, Angel and I attended a training for an AIDS organization called Multifaith Works, which recruited volunteers from communities of faith to partner with (primarily) people who needed support due to issues related to HIV/AIDS.
At the training, we participated in the activity described on this page as "Crossing the Line". In short, everyone got together in a circle, and was cued to take a step towards the center, identifying themselves publicly if they'd had a range of experiences, or identified with a range of statements. This was a training on diversity, so many of the cues were related to race, class, sexuality, and other identifiers that tend to divide us. "I have made a racist joke", "I have been pulled over because of my race", "I have used a homophobic slur", etc. The activity cuts both ways - so participants are asked to identify both when they've experienced some form of discrimination, and when they have been the perpetrators themselves.
The activity is relatively standard at anti-racism and diversity trainings, but for me, it was the first time I'd identified many of those parts of myself publicly. Having been raised in a small, conservative, white rural community, it had only been a few years prior that I'd decided (stated roughly) that it was okay to be gay, and I was just at the beginning of the process of wrestling consciously with issues of bias, discrimination, race, class and sexuality. So, stepping into the circle was painful every time, because of what it forced me to admit to myself, and to the people in the room. To this day, it's one of the most viscerally uncomfortable experiences of my life.
(If you're interested in more information on the resource, check out the Diversity Toolkit: A Guide to Discussing Identity, Power and Privilege, created by the University of Southern California's online MSW program.)
I thought about that activity yesterday when I read the recent National Geographic article that's been circulating, where they own up to the fact that for the bulk of their history, much of their work ranged from covertly to overtly racist. While that idea isn't news to anyone whose parents kept around old issues, publishing the article felt a lot like National Geographic publicly stepping into the circle. It wasn't coerced by scandal, it wasn't self-hating or guilty - it was just a statement: "We've been racist, and we're trying to do better".
America needs to come together around this anti-BS movement. It's good to see the outdoor industry becoming a part of it.
A lot has been happening in our lives in recent weeks - we've been on the road for events, and for my mom's wedding in Las Vegas, and this week's podcast on Mental Health and the Outdoors focuses on two themes that are among the most important in my life, as a psychiatric nurse and of course partner with Angel on this outdoor adventure business.
But like so much of the country, a lot of my energy in the last few weeks has been going towards a topic that's only peripherally connected to all of that - the proper societal response to America's gun problem following the Parkland shooting
If you haven't watched student Emma Gonzalez's speech after the shooting, just do it. I'm embedding it here to make it easy.
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.
Tonight we’re having a party because, a year ago today, we launched Boldly Went with our first event in Seattle.
We had our first show here, yes, because that’s where we live and the commute was easy, but also because the community here played a huge role in setting the inspiration for what we're doing. Our Seattle outdoors friends are what taught us that there are countless people with interesting stories about why outdoor adventure is important, and that most of those stories aren’t being told. Basically, our friends here are amazing, and that inspired us to introduce them to the world. In so many ways, our Seattle friends have been the lifeblood of this thing - you're the first ones we think about when we create things, and your support is the actual, concrete reason that we keep going.
While that connection is nothing but positive, and my whole goal here is to thank you all for the role that you've played, I have to admit that starting a business among friends has triggered a secret anxiety for me, and that I'm constantly preoccupied about making things weird. I can’t speak for Angel, but I personally worry that I'm going to turn into that guy that everyone avoids because they’re think he’s going to try to sell them Amway or something. That people will start wondering if every social interaction is a pitch to support us on Patreon, or that every text exchange will end with an appeal to buy nutrition shakes or sunglasses or something. (But guys, seriously, it really worked for me, you seem really nice, I want to talk to you about an opportunity I discovered, and this offer is only valid until the end of this week!)
The fact that our event in Seattle tonight sold out a week ago is a heartwarming reminder that we owe a huge amount to our community's buy-in - figuratively and literally. But behind those warm feels is the reality that we’ve asked for a lot from our friends - whether that’s been coming to events, sharing around the podcast, giving feedback on things we’re writing, or letting us borrow sound equipment. We tend to be kind of awkward asking for things, people are sometimes uncomfortable saying no, and it’s always a worry that relationships we value personally will start to feel transactional, or that we'll take more than we give.
Maybe it makes sense because we’ve been intentional about trying to start this thing with a dirtbag ethos - on a $0 budget and among the rabble - but at times starting a business has felt like the month we spent couchsurfing after we finished the PCT. You can only hang out in someone’s guest room, eating their food, and watching their Netflix while they go to work for so long before you start to question your value in the relationship. That month ended with our friend’s dog eating her couch because we triggered its social anxiety, and I just don’t want things to go that way again.
This is the fourth in our series on Mexican travel, which started with an article on why we love Mexico and aren't afraid of her, and was followed by an attempt to cut through some fear by being real about the challenges and offering some practical advice for travel here. The third entry focused on our favorite part of the country, the sorely underrated Veracruz State. With this post I want to close by speaking from the heart, about what makes Mexico feel like more than just a travel destination to us.
Creating community that creates adventure
For the second year in a row, Angel and I find ourselves vortexed in Coatepec, Mexico. After popping in four days ago with plans to move on quickly, we're posting from the same family's AirBnB that we were sitting in this time last year when our day trip turned into a week. Once again, we're stuck here, with no plans to leave until our plane tickets force us to.
We didn't intend to be here, and I didn't intend to finish this series on Mexico out with this particular post, but there's something about Coatepec that consistently changes our direction.
A year ago, the first entry we ever made on this blog was about Carlos, our AirBnB host who opened up a world of fantastic connections and experiences in Coatepec. I've thought a lot this year about how our experience with him, and with his family, captures the spirit of what we hope to do with Boldly Went. As I've tried to summarize that spirit in a phrase, what I've come up with has been "creating the community that creates adventure."
It's no coincidence that being back in the house, reconnecting with Carlos and his family, has us thinking again about that dynamic, and in truth we've made a series of connections on this year's trip that have felt like creating community that then evolved into adventure.
On our first stop, in Orizaba, we were warmly received by the local trail running group - the Alameda Runners - and they took us out on our best outdoor experience there, a 10 mile run through the local national park.
In Catemaco, we wanted to go on a hike, so we booked something that was ominously and (we learned) appropriately called the "extremo" route in a local eco reserve with Tour en el Pariaso, where we spent 6 hours alone with our guide Arnulfo, off trail through the jungle, on a route that concluded with a river crossing dicey enough that Angel prefaced it by making her peace with death, in pure sincerity.
In Coatepec, our first AirBNB host was a guy named Eduardo. I don't know how we always manage to do this here, but he is also a mountaineer and climber who is partners with Jorge Salazar Gavia, one of Mexico's best alpinists, who is currently preparing to lead a group up Everest. Eduardo took us out to a spectacular but rarely visited local waterfall - La Granada - that he'd been visiting since he was a child, and now routinely visits with his son. And, he took us to a spot that he said he believes no gringos have visited before, a climbing crag hidden behind a long bushwhack and scramble on an acquaintance's property.
And today, as I'm writing, we're just back from the small town of Jalcomulco with Antonio and Carla, who run Ruta Verde, and who are Carlos's daughter and son-in-law. We met them last year, and today we went to check out the property that they have set up for independent, off-grid living. (My favorite thing about it is their security system for when they're away, which is a series of honey bee hives placed in the entryways to their small cabana.)
Creating adventure that creates community
All of those experiences fit the category of "community creating adventure", because they involved people we've met taking us to places we wouldn't have been otherwise.
But being back in Coatepec at Carlos' house has felt more than just another chance to have new adventures. It's been more like a family reunion after our great experience here last year. And to bring things full circle, in this way, actually, while it's been an important lesson we've learned in the past that community is the means through which we can have better adventures, the most valuable thing this year's trip has highlighted is that the reverse is also true - that adventure is a means through which people with real differences can build real community.
All of the experiences I've mentioned were great because we saw beautiful things and had some intense experiences, but they will stick with us because we developed a sense of connection to the people we went with.
The Orizaba running group left us with the sense that the city was a place we could live, because there are clearly a large number of like minded people - trail and ultra runners, and a larger active outdoor community.
And after our shared struggle with Arnulfo through the jungle in Catemaco, we sat in his house - a primitive affair with a packed dirt floor and only partial walls - shared a meal, and talked about the particular struggles Mexican environmentalists face due to pressure from oil and gas developers and government with other priorities. At one poignant moment on the outing, clearly pleased that we seemed to be enjoying the experience, he told us, "This place is my life. They say if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." By the end of our time together, we were laughing, hugging, and exchanging contact information.
Similarly, when we went out with Eduardo, he took us to see places that he clearly valued, not just because they were beautiful, but because they were hidden treasures near his home, and places he'd been visiting since he was a child. He's traveled widely in Mexico and abroad, but we got a sense of the roots he's developed in Coatepec, and the locals love about the place. It's the kind of experience that makes you feel connected by proxy - to the place, but also to the people here.
And Antonio and Karla: we met them last year at Carlos' recommendation, and hired them initially as guides. This year, coming back, we've hung out with them because they're our friends - like-minded Mexican dirtbags figuring out how to live an adventure-filled, environmentally-connected, unconventional life - not entirely dissimilar to our own.
So, a thing that has to be said is that we love Mexico more because we've made these connections than because it's full of pretty, interesting places. But our quest to access those beautiful places by finding locals to take us there has been the means to the end of feeling at home here, in a place and a culture that's very different from our own.
And being back in Mexico generally, and Coatepec specifically, has been a great reminder that it's that magic, in the interplay between community and adventure, that we really want to tap into with the things we do at Boldly Went - in our storytelling events, and through our podcast and writing. We think that's the transformative part of adventure: the human connections that both help you to redefine yourself, and that help you recognize a shared humanity with people who otherwise might seem foreign.
And, of course, the best value comes in actual face to face interactions, and from the beginning it's been our goal to help make those real, human connections happen. So, if you're interested in experiencing the outdoors, and the outdoors community in Mexico, and you have anything you want help figuring out, please shoot us a message. Better, if you want us to hook you up with some local connections, or make some recommendations, get in contact with us. We know people and feel connected to the place, and we've seen some really amazing places here - we want to help you do the same!
The goal of our Navigator Network is to facilitate both these types of adventures and these types of relationships with people who are experts in their local communities. If you're traveling and are interested in figuring out how to connect with locals, get out on more hardcore adventures than the average tour experience, or get to places that are off the normal tourist radar, along with Mexico we have connections in Guatemala, the Canadian Rockies, Chile, Nepal, and the Pacific Northwest. You can check out the Navigator Page here, but if you don't find what you're looking for, please send us a message directly, because we're developing that part of the project and want to see how we can use the connections we've gathered all over the world to help people like you!
If you want updates when more blogs like this come out, or updates on the weekly podcast, the Navigator Network, 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 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.
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Virginia Wade is not the hero that America deserves, but she is the one that America needs.
She is one of the most remarkable outdoor adventurers you've probably never heard of. Just a sophomore in high school, she's already hiked close to 1600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, competed at an international level as a downhill skier, and is aiming at international competition as a gymnast. She's embraced the outdoors as a part of her identity to the extent that she insists her high school peers refer to her by her trail name, "Tutu", has written a book about her adventures, and is working on a musical that is receiving support from Microsoft.
And she has Down Syndrome.
Her mom, Amy Martin, is a regular favorite at Seattle Boldly Went events, and was featured in one of our first podcast episodes. Angel had coffee with her yesterday, and their conversation (at least as filtered through my own interpretation based on Angel's account) centered on ways that Boldly Went, and the outdoors community more generally, could do better, not just at incorporating a wider variety of people, but at actually humanizing them. Treating people who are frequently categorized as flawed in some way as equals, in defiance of cultural assumptions and ingrained patterns of thought and behavior.
Amy is a force of nature in her own right, and knows something about the topic: she's been instrumental in advocating for Tutu to make sure that she has opportunities to excel in a world where she's underestimated and brushed aside as a matter of course. Amy is a mom who has recognized her daughter's potential - not just as a kid with more challenges than most, but as a fierce, beautiful human being with gifts to offer the world - and has fought successfully to make sure she has the chance to realize it.
While Angel and Amy were having coffee, America was mired in a collective ALL CAPS shouting match sparked by what can only be described as the hate fueled madness of our ostensible leader. The debates were, you could roughly say, on the same issue that Amy was concerned about, approached from an entirely less-sensible angle - the dehumanization of athletes. The President of the United States had referred publicly to black football players protesting injustice against their communities as "sons of bitches". It's a phrase decent people avoid using, and it implies, literally, that these human beings, citizens of the country he leads, are dogs. Again, speaking roughly, the debate was between those who agreed that these people were SOBs, and those who didn't.
At the same time, the extent of the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria was becoming apparent, and questions were (and are) being raised about why the response, both public and official, seems so different there - in a Spanish speaking, predominantly brown, black and poor US territory - than in Texas and Florida following recent disasters of lesser scope.
While the issues involved here - race, socioeconomics, colonialism, and disability - have some dramatic differences, I've personally been processing these conversations alongside the thoughts Angel discussed with Amy, because they raise some of the same fundamental questions. Who do we think of as a human being? Who do we treat like something less? What are the consequences of those attitudes, particularly for the people being dehumanized? And conversely, what is the potential for individuals and for society if we do the opposite, and humanize those that are popularly or officially pushed aside? These issues aren't just about our president, or our leadership, they're about our broken culture and the darker impulses of humanity as a whole. They're questions whose answers are too easily assumed settled. And they're questions that Amy and Tutu's lives speak to powerfully.
I think it's natural, generally speaking, to distance yourself from problematic aspects of your own culture when you recognize them - to instinctively develop rationalizations for how those problems are someone else's, and not your own. And one of the ways people do that is to identify with subcultures, or countercultures, that they view as separate from the dominant problematic one. I personally find that the outdoors community can be used in such a way fairly easily, because although it's still developing, it has a lot of features that can seem like a direct antidote to much of what ails the larger American and Western culture:
It's true, for instance:
Shared struggle, which is what virtually every outdoor endeavor is about, has the power to produce a sense of common humanity among the people who engage in it, regardless of their background.
The dirtbag vagabond lifestyle that is often required of those who are serious about outdoor pursuits, and which the outdoors community idealizes, has the potential to produce cross-cultural relationships as efficiently as any strategy we know of.
And the grand perspective of the natural world puts our human issues in context, and levels the playing field in a way that has the potential to break down artificial human hierarchies, at least philosophically.
But while it's true that countercultures can offer correctives to their larger context, it's simply not reasonable to idealize your own chosen pocket as above reproach. Whatever it's strengths, and even if one could argue that the outdoors community is generally a bastion of sanity compared to the larger political climate, it has also developed its own peculiar problematic elements and tendencies towards dehumanization - or at least towards it's own type of caste system. Dirtbag culture has developed to varying degrees as a white thing, a thin thing, and a male thing, which is to say that it's centered the old regular power brokers, and has at times made others feel unwelcome or uninvited.
And more relevant for our current purposes, it's also developed as an able-bodied thing. In discussing her own experiences with Tutu in this world, Amy has pointed out the tendency to make her a token, or to create a "separate but equal" space for her which has had a similar effect: to gesture towards inclusion while simultaneously creating structures that lead to exclusion from the community. What's really needed is full participation in the community as an equal, or by extension, a recognition of her full humanity.
The strategy that Tutu and Amy have used in this context might not save the world, but it's instructive and applicable for those of us seeking progress in the midst of modern social madness. Simply stated, they've refused to accept Tutu's second class status, or to be defined by prevailing presumptions about what is possible. The Tao of Tutu could be expressed in a Yin and Yang of their approach towards her athletic endeavors, where Amy has said that as a parent, when Tutu has faced challenges, she "just believed in her", and Tutu has said that when she falls down, "I get back up". And together they've pushed forward. Their shared approach combines confidence, assertiveness, and perseverance, and has resulted not just in a series of remarkable achievements for Tutu herself, but a forced worldview shift for the people who doubt her, and by extension other kids with disabilities. In short, their approach works not just to help Tutu succeed, but to make the culture that they live in more humane.
It would be overly simplistic to say that progress on issues as complicated as institutionalized racism just depends on a bit of perseverance and confidence. But it's not too much to say that Amy and Tutu are a damn inspiring example of people fighting back against dehumanization at a time when it seems like culture is pushing in the opposite direction. Because of who she is, 7 months on the Appalachian Trail is more than just that. Representing the United States as a downhill skier is more than just that. And Tutu's potential to compete internationally in gymnastics is more than just that. All of those things are examples of success in a social situation where failure is a solid option, and an undeniable demand for respect in a culture that would normally ignore her.
While we're clearly not there yet, the fundamental truth that's being promoted, by Amy, by those guys taking a knee, and by the people shouting about the inadequacy of our response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, is that all humans have equal value and should be treated with dignity. However long it takes culture to catch up, Tutu is an amazing example of someone, even with differences, even in an imperfect situation, who behaves as if that's true. She's not the hero we deserve, but she is the one we need.
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.