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.