Conquistadors of the Useless, or Pursuers of Passion?

 

“Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change.”

––Growing Up, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Millennials get a lot of flack.

We’re dubbed lazy, entitled, useless.

Our work ethic is questioned, our desire to live in vans reviled, and our love for the outdoors?

Useless.

But is it?

I’ve wrestled with this question late at night with wine in hand, mile 7 of a trail run, and over countless cups of coffee. It’s clear that our society, so centrically created around capitalism, values what we produce. In fact, so often, our value is determined solely on what we create.

In terms of money, it’s easy to define. As a society, we value wealth, and those of us who choose to claw our way up the corporate ladder will, usually, be rewarded for our time and dedication to the man. Whoever he is.

This idea is something I understand well. Working my way through secondary and higher education, I knew following a specific path would ensure my success. I knew how to do exactly what I was told to do.

I soon realized, though, like many of us do, that continuing to pursue that life would be empty. While the security of money is nice, and up to a certain threshold ($75,000 to be exact), can actually make you happier, sacrificing happiness to get to that point isn’t necessarily worth it.

So, when I chose to study creative writing in college, I knew I was setting myself up for societal failure.

 

When I decided I wanted to focus my efforts on writing in the outdoor industry, I laughed at my silly masochistic self.

Because if writing isn’t enough to sustain yourself, or prove your worth in society, playing outdoors is even worse.

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Desert trail and sandstone towers in Moab, UT

My feelings of uselessness increased the more time I spent outside. Days passed without a single thing to show. I hadn’t written anything. I hadn’t changed anyone’s life. I certainly hadn’t made any money.

But I felt so much happier.

What came next was an energy for preserving our wild and beautiful places. This energy evolved into passion, which included writing to government officials and advocating for public land.

It still made me wonder if spending all this time outside––climbing, skiing, running, and whatever else––was actually worthwhile.

As it appears, rock climbing is useless. And despite various attempts to justify the sport, many people continue to agree that nothing good comes from climbing rocks.

It might be true for some people. Maybe there is an entire branch of the climbing community that doesn’t see the value of public lands, refuses to attend crag clean-ups, and will go on their merry way never giving back to the community.

Beneath their inability and lack of desire to give back, however, lay the seeds of passion.

Although I don’t know many (if any) people in the climbing community who do not care about anything and anyone besides themselves, there is something within them that draws them to the sport. This passion, I believe, is exactly what the world needs.

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Anger, resentment, jealousy––these emotions often stem from an experience in our lives that told us we couldn’t. Whether it was society, our parents, our significant other, or a complete stranger. At some (or many) points, we decided to let someone see the fragile, brilliant dream inside of us, and they laughed, or doubted, or overran us with their sarcasm.

Along the way, so much of our passion died because of doubt.

What I love about the climbing community is that “no” isn’t a reasonable answer, and we continually rise to a challenge. We spend our summers waking before the sun, and our autumns climbing in headlamps, because we just want the thing to go. We spend days, weeks, months, sometimes years, climbing the same damn route because we’re too stubborn to admit defeat. We suffer flesh wounds, centipede bites, rock fall, numb toes, tendonitis, rolled ankles, broken ankles, whippers, and thirty-foot run-outs.

In climbing, we shape our character, we define what is and isn’t possible, and we refuse to back down.

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Red Rocks, NV

The same is true of any sport. It’s in the face of adversity that character and resiliency grow. So maybe, on the surface, climbing seems useless.

After all, we’re spending years of our lives hanging off the side of cliffs.

But when you look into the benefits the sport creates, and how the fissures splay throughout our society––the activists it creates, the stories of endurance and the human spirit it tells, the passion it inspires––it’s hard to say the sport is futile.

 

Outdoor Retailer: Condensed Overview

Outdoor Retailer came, and then it was gone, nearly as fast as that.

My first OR experience was a collision of ideas, free beer, and networking. The week started on Tuesday where I attended Camber Outdoors “Pitchfest.” Pitchfest exists for female entrepreneurs to get their product/business in front of a board of influential members in the outdoor community. Each finalist had five minutes to give their pitch, and then the panel questioned them for seven minutes.

Following Pitchfest, I went to join my fellow Outdoor Women’s Alliance team at The Front Climbing Gym for a Wine, Dine, and Climb event.  The keynote speaker, Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy, made a group of us wonder how much more effective it would be if she were speaking in front of mixed company. Her speech essentially reinforced ideas we’ve been thinking and talking about for months. (It also lead me to dive deeper into the role female-only organizations are playing in the outdoor world…more on that later.)

Two out of town friends, Sara and Emma, stayed on my couch for the week. We woke up early on Wednesday to attend the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) breakfast, with former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel speaking, as well as Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

Some clips from the breakfast:

Sally Jewel: “There’s a lot of problems with [President Trump’s] review…President Trump is putting himself on the wrong side of history. If he acts to revoke National Monuments, he will go down as one of the most anti-conservation presidents in the history of this nation. Our National Parks, our National Monuments, our public lands are what helps make this nation great.”

Gov. Steve Bullock: “Transferring those lands out of public hands would be damn foolish, not only for today but for future generations as well.”

The breakfast left me in a sober mood. Starting in 2018, Outdoor Retailer will no longer make it’s home in Utah due to our government continually refuting the value of public lands, which lead to outrage in the outdoor industry. At the OIA breakfast, despite the recent tension between Utah and the outdoor industry, terms like positivity, graciousness, and opportunity, created a theme that was easy to track throughout the week.

I spent a good amount of time wandering around the floor, checking out new products, and making connections. I quickly realized, though, that Outdoor Retailer exists for companies to meet with other companies, for contracts to be formed, and for new relationships to be forged. Though I fell into the latter category, I often felt out of place.

After speaking with Sarah Smith, founder of The Dyrt, I realized this feeling is normal, and almost essential when first attending OR. In many ways, it helps fuel you forward. For me, it projected some future goals, like coming to OR as someone in the outdoor industry. I can’t, however, expect that to happen overnight.

OR has an exhaustive, infectious energy. I volunteered at the Gregory Packs booth, and was constantly ferrying people to and from meetings. We had a steady stream of vendors, exhibitors, buyers, guests, and non-buyers, coming by the booth asking to speak with so-and-so, wishing to drop off business cards, or asking if we had anything for free. OR was capitalism at work.

This is a compressed version of Outdoor Retailer. It doesn’t include the panels, the This Land is Our Land march, nor can it honestly capture the post OR exhaustion. These topics will all come later, as they each deserve their own space.

Overall, I am so thankful for my first OR experience. The generosity shown to me from professionals in the industry, the connections with media I formed, and insightful conversations for a path moving forward were worth every hour of sleep I lost.

Cheers to OR January 2018 at it’s new Denver home.

 

Is the Future Female?

There’s a lot of hype right now in the outdoor world about women in the outdoors.

And for good reason.

The tides are finally changing, and woman are stepping into bold new roles. We’re seeing more women in the outdoors, more women (and men!) advocating for women in the outdoors, and more non-profits, organizations, and companies dedicated to woman than I can keep track of.

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Photo by Utomo Hendra Saputra on Unsplash

It. Gets. Me. So. Stoked.

Because when you look back over the course of history, the sh*t women had to put up with is pretty abysmal.

Like when Arlene Blum wanted to trek Denali and was told women weren’t allowed past the kitchen at base camp.

Or when Margaret Smith Craighead, Margaret Bedell, Ann Sharples, and Mary Whittemore made the first female ascent of Owen-Spalding on the Grand Teton, and the Salt Lake Tribune wrote, “Another successful invasion in the field of sport by the weaker sex.”

WHAT.

Yeah, it was a common thing.

Even earlier this year, when Austin, TX mayor, Steve Adler, decided to host an all-female showing of Wonder Woman, a livid man sent in a letter saying, “the notion of a woman hero is a fine example of women’s eagerness to accept the appearance of achievement without actual achievement,” and “achievements by the second rate gender pale in comparison to virtually everything great in human history which was accomplished by men, not women.”

I literally cannot even. Literally. Cannot. Even.

Even looking at our political landscape: our current Vice President OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA thinks women shouldn’t be paid the same rate as men for the same amount of work.

Sigh.

I promise you, though, we have come a long way.

Because despite the amount of backlash women’s programs have received in the past year (and the past entire history of mankind), women have defended their rights, and gained momentum. The Women’s March garnered at least 3.3 million protesters across the nation.

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Photo by Roya Ann Miller on Unsplash

H O W E V E R

We may be doing ourselves a disservice by saying the future is female.

For too long, women were undervalued. Their opinions weren’t respected, they couldn’t run/swim/bike fast enough, and they didn’t ‘deserve’ the rights of men. I want to be very, very clear here, I am 100,000% for women’s rights, for equality across the board, and for every woman who believes she can. I am not, however, about promoting women in a way that demotes men.

Men are pretty awesome. I think they’ve gotten a lot of flack for their past transgressions (and by “their past” I mean all the men who made a bad name for the lot thousands of years ago). Take my husband for example. He’s a feminist. He supports my career. He washes the dishes and does the laundry. He’s kind, generous, strong, empathetic, and courageous.

The future, I hope, is symbiotic. I hope this movement empowers women to come alongside men so that both genders are recognized for their strength, courage, and all the talents they bring to the table. We’re not one better than the other, but we are better together.

So yeah, the future has a lot more female influence (THANK GOD), but I hope we can play to the strengths of both genders to create a more peaceful future.

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Photo by Matt Heaton on Unsplash


Photos courtesy of Unsplash

Basics and Importance of LNT

Who’s favorite thing about hiking is finding trash on the trails?

It’s such a far cry from the truth, and yet a common issue throughout our trail networks. With the uptick of users in the front and backcountry, there needs to be an uptick in education. In Utah, the proximity to the foothills and the Wasatch front make access easy for virtually everybody in the valley. Oftentimes I see groups of people enjoying our trails who are either unaware or uneducated about the ethics of backcountry and front country use.

So, let’s start here: what is LNT?

LNT stands for Leave No Trace, a non-profit created in 1994 to educate users about their impact on the environment. At the time, their main focus was on backcountry users, to educate them on the best practices they’d discovered through scientific research. Since then, LNT has created a front country program to address the issues facing day-use facilities.

Before I dive into the main principles of Leave No Trace, I want to highlight why it’s important.

Our wilderness areas are precious, beautiful ecosystems. For as long as mankind has inhabited the earth, we’ve enjoyed the simple pleasure of venturing out to a stand of pine trees and feeling utterly at peace. As our population continues to grow, our wild areas continue to shrink as we break ground for apartment complexes, housing developments, and strip malls. Thankfully, private and public organizations, along with federal employees, are continually fighting land access and purchase battles to preserve these places.

With all the time and money that goes into protecting these primitive areas, it’s our duty, as users, to maintain and respect the land. Realistically, the more people who are venturing into alpine environments, the more people we need to proactively make minimal impacts on the environment. That’s where Leave No Trace comes in.

These seven principles aren’t rocket science, or even that hard to follow. The more closely we follow them now, the longer we’ll have to enjoy our mountain environments.

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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

This is as simple as checking the weather, obtaining a map of the area, and letting someone know where you’re going. It follows the line of thinking, “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.” Most of the time you won’t need your rain jacket, but the time you do, you don’t want to have forgotten it.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

I know that pitching a tent in the middle of a field of wildflowers sounds picturesque, but if everyone did that, we’d have no wildflower fields left to enjoy. If you’re going backpacking, chances are someone has been on that trail before you and has set up camp in a similar location you’re looking for. The emphasis is on finding already established campsites instead of creating your own. Think flat, dirt or rock surfaces at least 200ft away from any body of water.

3. Proper Waster Disposal

If your bladder is bursting, ensure you are at least 200ft away from any body of water so as not to contaminate it. If it’s your bowels, dig a 6″-8″ hole, hunker down, and fill it in with dirt when you’re done. If using toilet paper make sure to pack it out instead of burning it. Bring an extra ziplock bag for this purpose!

4. Leave What You Find

This is the hardest principle for me because I love wildflowers. I wish I could come home with a bundle after every hike. But the more I take the fewer there are for others to enjoy. The same goes for rocks, branches, and animal remnants (antlers, bones, etc.).

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

If possible, use already existing fire rings. If there aren’t any near your campsite, keep your ring small, and try to use dead and down twigs to stoke your fire. Make sure the coals are out before you go to bed, and when leaving the site, it’s recommended you scatter the cooled ashes. The motto with campfires is, “if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s their habitat, we’re the visitors. Bears, Moose, Deer, Mountain Goats, Bobcats, Squirrels, all of them, we are visitors in their territory. Respect their distance. Here’s a funny video that I think is neat and relevant:

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

A lot of people head to the mountains if they’re seeking solace. Solace, however, can be quite hard to find when someone is blaring their boombox a half-mile down trail, or if someone’s over-friendly border collie won’t stop sniffing your junk while the owner thinks it’s hilarious. Think about disconnecting and not disturbing other users, it’s pretty simple. Take your boombox to the lake, and we’ll all probably be a little happier for it.

 



 

If we think of the wilderness like a co-op, where we’re all part owners and members of this incredible collective, it’s a little easier to enact these principles. You wouldn’t visit someone’s house and trash it, and the same goes for wilderness. Let’s all become more sustainable users.

Any tips and tricks for LNT practices? Leave them in the comments below!

 

The Chasm Between Social Media and Real Life

A few years ago, NPR aired a story about the rise of our discontentment as it relates to the rise of social media. My generation isn’t numb to these effects, in fact, we are arguably the most affected by it.

The rise of social media outlets and our obsession with, and dedication to them, has shown us just how much is possible for our lives. We’re well past the days where word of first ascents came a month later in the American Alpine Journal.

If you’re a woman who wants to be a CEO or a man who wants to be a homemaker, you can find at least one other person who’s done what you’re setting out to do, and find comfort in knowing you aren’t alone.

Literally, anything is possible.

For this, I am so thankful for Facebook, Instagram, Google, and other sites like them. I can figure out who came before me and what they did to get there. I can hop on Instagram, search a hashtag, and find a burst of inspiration to get my butt in the gym.

Along with the good, however, comes the bad.

Like how many times I feel shitty about myself because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I have a job and other things I love to do and I’m not out climbing or skiing or running everyday. And the problem with Instagram is it makes it seem like everybody else is.

So many accounts, my own included, display an ongoing stream of outdoor photos, and it’s time to confess: that’s not my whole life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish it was, and I hope someday it will be. I hope someday I can make enough to set out with my husband and our future dog in tow. But until then, I think it’s important to be honest.

So I decided that going forward I’m going to be real.

For example:

I binge watch The Great British Baking Show.

I scroll through Facebook until my eyeballs hurt.

I rarely read a novel through the first time.

Sometimes I literally groan as I enter the gym.

I get scared when I’m lead climbing.

I get even more scared on multi-pitches.

I love to cook.

Sometimes I take four hour naps on sunny days.

I’m still overcoming my irrational fear of bears.

Some days I feel sad and overwhelmed by my dreams.

I often feel lost.

I consistently question my ability to write or climb or ski.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops.

I am the definition of a work in progress.

What I’m trying to say is this, before you put yourself up against everyone else on Instagram and Facebook, give yourself some credit for being human, and then some more for all that you’re doing already.

It’s weird and beautiful to be human, and it’s important to recognize that in ourselves and everyone around us.

 

Priorities vs. Excuses

I am no stranger to excuses. In high school I fell into a particular school of thought that encouraged the pursuit of easy things. Mostly this manifested in my schoolwork; I excelled in English because it came naturally, I struggled in Physics because it didn’t. Logically it’s sound. Besides long-term-reward type thinking, why choose the hard thing?

If all you’re working towards is getting through the day with relatively little effort, the easy thing makes the most sense. It keeps your stress levels to a minimum, boosts your confidence levels, and is sustainable. You might not see consistent promotion, those rock hard abs you’ve always dreamed of, or the finish line of an Iron Man, but you will experience happiness in the most contented form. Depending on who you are, you may not find anything wrong with that. For about 24 years of my life, I didn’t either.

It wasn’t until I actually put effort into something that I realized the rewards were worth the sacrifice. The tricky part, though, is finding the thing that’s worth the sacrifice. Oftentimes, before you can commit, doubt sets in, and the urge to make excuses is too strong to stand against. Chores like laundry, grocery shopping, and fixing household gadgets are some easy go-to excuses that trick you into thinking you no longer have enough hours in the day to possibly pursue whatever challenge is nudging you. It’s an excuse I’ve made and an excuse I’ve heard over and over again. But here’s the truth: there’s time if you make time.

Take ultrarunner Sally McRae for example. The 34-year-old member of the Nike Elite Trail Team is also a mother of two and manages to balance a grueling training schedule, motherhood, and her personal coaching business. In an interview with Outside Magazine Sally said, “Stop using parenthood as your excuse not to run or workout…being a good parent doesn’t mean you throw your health out the window; it also doesn’t mean you teach your children that when they, too, become parents, that their goals and dreams are no longer important.” (You can read the full article here). McRae plans out her entire day to the hour the night before to ensure there’s enough time to fit in all she has to accomplish.

Another example is Michaela Kiersch, a 22-year-old professional climber and senior at DePaul University who manages to fit in a full course load, rigorous training schedule, and coaching five days a week at the local climbing gym. Kiersch made the first female ascent of “The Golden Ticket,” a 5.14c in the Red River Gorge. In the short film about the ascent, Kiersch talks about her hectic schedule, “I only have a couple time slots throughout the week and if I don’t climb on Monday’s at 2:30 exactly, then I can’t climb again until Wednesday at 10am. And then the drive to the Red is seven hours, and every weekend we just make this trek, this mindless drive to Kentucky, and we do every weekend without fail.”

I can hear the excuses already, “Yeah, but they’re professional athletes, it’s different.”

But where do you think they started?

I’m not saying we all need to take up some crazy-intense Double Iron Man training plan. I’m also not saying it has to be an athletic endeavor. It could be a creative pursuit. Learning the guitar, writing a book, and baking are also activities I’ve personally put off because I “didn’t have enough time.” Truth is, I’ve always had enough time, just not enough drive.

I say we all start with something small. Everybody has at least ten minutes to spare in any given day. Use that ten minutes for something you’ve always wanted to make time for. Do it for yourself. Someday that ten minutes might turn into thirty might turn into an hour, and before you know it, you’ve found the key to unlocking time by pursuing the things you love.

When You Realize Your Life Will Be Different Than You Imagined

When I was a little girl I often dreamt about the future. I pictured myself as an astronaut, a worldwide traveler, a writer. As I grew up I pictured different scenarios for myself, as a wife, a professor, maybe an editor at some big-time New York magazine. And when I got into college I pictured myself in libraries, researching, studying, spending long hours in front of my computer.

I thought of the future in common terms. As much as I didn’t want to be consumed in the 9-5 fold, I started drifting in that direction, accepting the fact that maybe doing the job I loved would mean structure and repetitive rigidity.

I never imagined myself as an adventurer. I never imagined a strong pull towards the mountains, a draw to push my physical boundaries, the desire to bag peaks and traverse ridgelines. I always played it safe.

What happens when your life begins to turn in a direction you always wanted, but never expected?

Fear has dictated the majority of my choices. I defined limits for myself to prevent dicey situations. I wanted to be “outdoorsy,” and explore more, but it didn’t seem feasible. I continually shut myself down and made excuses when opportunities to climb or tour or run came up.

In this last year all of that changed. I started controlling my fear. I began building confidence and competence in the outdoors. I asked questions, lead my first trad pitch, climbed a 5.12. I took an AIARE 1 course, toured by myself, and began planning trips that I wanted to take. And all of that is exciting and consuming and exhilarating and completely opposite of what I thought my life would be.

I assumed my life would line up pretty similarly to the way I was raised. It’s a classic issue between what we know and what we don’t know. I know that I would be comfortable and happy pursuing a stable career and a traditional life, because I know so many people who have. My parents, my friends, my friend’s parents, and parent’s friends. I assumed my life would play out a similar course.

But when I started getting out into the mountains, and exploring the Wasatch, and discovering I’m physically capable of far more than I’d imagined, I realized my goals were heading in a different direction.

It scares me in the way the unknown always does. In the way that I have no idea what this life will look like because pursuing anything physical long-term was never on the agenda for me. I’m book smart, and a repeat offender of apathy towards physical work.

It feels a lot like closure. All these ideas and expectations I didn’t realize I was holding onto are now showing themselves in the smallest ways. And, as almost all of us know, releasing expectations is a hard, tricky experience.

I’m choosing the path of most resistance, my friends, and I’ll be honest, as exciting as it is to re-imagine your life, it’s also kind-of a pain in the ass.

Cheers to semi-new beginnings and embracing what gives you joy!

Have you ever re-evaluated your life and realized it’s direction was different than you’d assumed it would be? Give me your tips!

*image courtesy of unsplash