When we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, Bend, Oregon was one of the most popular trail towns. Dozens of breweries, friendly locals, amazing food, and a cultural embrace of dirtbaggery made the slightly complicated hitch from the trail into town well worth it for most, even if they left having spent way more time and money there than they had planned.
Maybe it's no coincidence then that about a third of the participants at our first event in Bend were PCT veterans. And while we didn't realize it at the time, two of the crowd favorite storytellers were trail famous.
Kolby "Condor" Kirk, who told a moving story that we featured in our 3/20/17 podcast "How to Make an Adventure." His story was about his transition from a young dreamer to a bonafide world-traveler. He was also the creator of the video linked above - a concise but comprehensive record of the scenery he saw, the beard he gained, and the 90 lbs he lost on trail. After he posted, it went viral and is one of the most watched short video records of the PCT journey online.
Condor is also a talented artist, and his artwork was recently used by our personal favorite local brewery and Pacific Crest Trail Association sponsor, the Crux Fermentation Project, on their can design for the PCT Porter. Pacific Northwesterners will understand what I mean when I say that this demonstrates that Condor has achieved peak Bend.
And Modern Hiker recently profiled Condor as one of their "Trailblazers", and we'd definitely encourage you to check out their write up, which has examples of the incredible artwork he created in his trail journals during the PCT, as well as details of upcoming plans for publication.
Not a Chance
Our event winner, "Chance" (short for "Not a Chance") is a peripatetic traveler (originally from Ohio, like us!) who we were lucky to catch when she was swinging through Bend visiting some friends. She was initially unassuming and told us she wouldn't be putting her name in the hat, but bowed to peer pressure and told a hilarious story about her experience hiking with a nude partner on "International Hike Naked Day". When Angel was following up with her about the podcast, she learned some remarkable things - including the fact that she's hiked over 14,000 miles in the last 7 years, and has a huge online following on her blog and Instagram.
Intrigued, we dug a little deeper, and found out that Chance is a bit of a PCT legend, having hiked the trail four times since 2009 (she says she repeated it, among other reasons, because she wasn't as good as she wanted to be at thru-hiking), and filled in the rest of her time completing the type of rugged, epic, only partially developed routes that serious hikers always say they're going to attempt, but usually don't: The Great Divide Trail through the Canadian Rockies, the South Island portion of Te Araroa in New Zealand, the Lowest to Highest route from Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the top of Mt Whitney, the San Diego Trans County route, and a bunch of others.
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.
I am so excited to see a second Grit and Grace coming up next Sunday on 3/5/17 in North Bend, WA. If you came to the first G&G you'll remember that it featured 4 female pioneers of outdoor adventure. Liz, 65 y.o., shared her story of running through motherhood and how she still regularly finishes 100 milers. Cheri, 62 y.o., shared her stories of running at least a marathon every month, and taking up open water swimming, and scuba diving. Carmelita, 72 y.o., shared about her experiences sea kayaking, running, and cycling. Then Helen Thayer, National Geo explorer, shared her breath-holding story of when she encountered polar bears while being the first person EVER to ski to the North Pole.
I heard from attendees for months about how that event inspired new adventures. This was true for me too! I left to walk the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail within a month of the first G&G, and I thought of and told other people who I met along the trail of these inspiring women and their stories. This event and the adventures of these women occupied my thoughts during the monotonous steps on so many occasions.
A major criticism of the first event, if you can call it that, was that it seemed to the listener like these women had to sacrifice their families in order to follow their grand adventure dreams. Knowing them, I do not think this is the case, it simply was not the story that we focused on during the event. Actually, I think this idea of 'I can't do that because I have responsibilities,' is the story that our powerful minds craft so that we can convince ourselves that we cannot possibly seek out a giant, beautiful, powerful adventure.
After 2 years, I am excited to share Grit and Grace 2: Adventure Family Edition. It is meant to appeal to the person who has family responsibilities, yes, but MORE IMPORTANTLY it is meant to appeal to all of us who want to take-up a grand adventure. I have hand-picked 2 families who got extremely creative in order to achieve their family adventures in spite of the daily responsibilities and obligations that we all face.
The first is the Martin/Wade family who hiked on the Appalachian Trail for 7 months with 4 children-including 6-year-old twins and a daughter with Down Syndrome. The second is The Fagan family who biked across Tanzania all together and skied unsupported to the South Pole while pulling 220 pound sleds behind them, well Chris and Marty did, but they had to get creative with how they would loop their son, Keenan, in on that adventure. Check out the separate website to learn more and get creative yourself to find a way to come to this event. Go ahead: BUY TICKETS 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.