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.