Money for something

Most readers will be familiar with the Andrew Badenoch/77Zero/Fatbikerafting the Arctic/Kickstarter debacle. For those who are not, the short version is as follows. In January Badenoch, with no endurance or wilderness palmares that I’ve been able to dig up, went live with a funding proposal for a scandalously ambitious loop trip from Seattle to the Arctic coast and back again. His proposed time frame was March through late autumn, and the advertised product (and thus according to Kickstarter rules raison d’etre, as Kickstarter prohibits “fund my life” projects) was a documentary film. Badenoch got a late start due to poor planning, suffered from mis-managed logistics in British Columbia, and pulled the plug on the trip in mid-summer, having not made it beyond pavement. In spite of regular Facebook and Twitter activity over the summer, he made no plain statement of failure until recently. He has intimated, but not said outright, that be plans to have another go next year. Googling and perusing Badenoch’s websites and social media feeds will reveal the details, and answer whether my characterization here is fair.

In the past few weeks Badenoch has had a rough time of it.  Considerable internet speculation and abuse culminated in a brief article at Outside and a prominent excoriation at BikeSnobNYC.  The future of his project is very much in doubt.

There were many questions concerning Badenoch’s plan from the beginning, though none of them were asked very loudly.  I was on the verge of asking them here several times over, but always rejected the subject as bad style.  I don’t intend to do that again.

The first major question concerns Badenoch’s experience and route choice.  Kickstarter notes in their guidelines “If a creator has no demonstrable experience in doing something like their project or doesn’t share key information, backers should take that into consideration.”  Badenoch listed nothing about his own cycling, packrafting, or wilderness accomplishments.  There are few people alive today with the experience to evaluate his proposed route as a whole, and most of them communicated skepticism privately.  That being said, it doesn’t take much research to question the practicality of lugging any sort of bike across ANWR, along the Iditarod from the Yukon to the Happy in high summer, or across Prince of Wales Island from north to south.  I’d argue that his trip was more ambitious than Skurka’s 2010 Alaska-Yukon loop, and it is worth noting the Skurka, whose solo experience is almost unrivaled, almost got broken a few times in the process of completing one of the most impressive mental and logistical feats in recent memory.

I do not think that Badenoch’s ignorance of what he was getting into, and subsequent bailing, was what earned him so much grief.  I don’t even think it has much to do with his tendency to be overly intellectual and obfuscatorially verbose, but I’m a sympathetic audience there guilty of many of the same things.  I think the reason Badenoch got so much shit was that he pushed the bounds of what crowd-sourced funding should be.  In the age of GoPro, Youtube, and the first worlds inundation with leisure time, you need a very good reason to ask other to pay for your vacation, however eccentric and ambitious.

Photo by USGS. Go here for a truly huge version.

I find it easiest to think through with myself as an example.  I would like a new camera.  I would like other things more, so I haven’t bought a new camera this year.  I live near Glacier, hike there more than most, and know more about it than many.  So what could I offer others, in exchange for some of their money, which I would use to buy a camera, that would provide for a justifiable, equitable, and moral exchange?  Prints of nifty pictures?  A photo book, electronic or paper?  A photo project based around a project, such as one I’ve been thinking about anyway, like visiting and documenting all of the park’s shrinking glaciers next year?  Is there a way in which my position as neither a scientist nor a pro photag might make this valuable to others, or would I be merely selfish and sneaky in even contemplating such a thing.

I’m a huge fan of authentic media shot in the moment [though the Banff edit was scrubbed a fair bit], but Badenoch’s project just didn’t measure up when it came to salient details.  A comparable project, with more credibility and conceptual beef, would be appropriate for crowd-sourced funding.  Giver beware.

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13 thoughts on “Money for something

  1. I read a lot of Badenoch’s material when he first went public with his trip, and pretty quickly lost interest because I believed that he was never going to get very far with his level of experience and that ambitious of an expedition. I don’t think this guy is a scam artist either; it seems he genuinely believes this is going to work out as planned, even though he barely has a plan. But it is a tricky proposition when you have people who are ambitious but likely delusional, asking an inexperienced public to fund expeditions that have the potential to turn out very badly if they turn out at all.

    I recently read a article about Kickstarter that claimed 70 percent of funded projects fail to deliver on most if not all of what they promised. And, as BikeSnob regularly points out, a lot of projects are cropping up that really do look like repackaged “vacation funds.” It seems to me that crowdsourcing is going to fall out of favor soon enough, but who knows. Maybe not. Still, as you mentioned, it’s certainly a case of “giver beware.”

    At the same time, crowdsourcing is a great resource for artists and adventurers. People want art to be made and adventures to happen, and in a capitalist society it’s great that we have easy opportunities to support each other. I’ve contributed to several projects I wanted to see become a reality. And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seriously considered starting my own Kickstarter page for this or that. But my view on it now is that there are *just so many of us* out there. So many content creators. So many artists. So many adventurers. I’d rather not stand in line with my hand out; I’d rather create whatever I’m going to create first, and if it’s worth it to people, they’ll buy it from me. If not, I’ll move on.

    But I completely understand your idea for a camera fund and I’d personally support it.

  2. Dave, I’m glad you finally weighed in. I see that Jill has already written my view of Andrew Badenoch’s trip much better than I would have. But, Jill, I don’t have the view point that there are “so many content creators….”. Not from where I sit! Most of the proposals I’ve browsed on Kickstarter don’t interest me. Most blogs don’t either, for that matter.

    Yeah, Badenoch is a super long shot, but who knows what art could happen to him? One pollution photo that goes viral? Sure I’d rather fund Erin and Hig, but to my knowledge, they haven’t asked (I did buy her book). Maybe I’m just sentimental, because Skurka’s Great Western Loop podcast series literally inspired me to change my life. And I too would support your camera fund, if you promised to publish the photos.

  3. Also @Ali, best wishes for your job. But when you get it, try to leak some photos to the press or something. Or do your own kickstarter to publish and promote your already-taken-but-mouldering gov’t funded pics. 😉

  4. Hard hitting post. Not sure I could write it.

    I spoke with Andrew via Skype for about an hour about his route a few months before he was supposed to start, at his request. He seemed to have done his homework and knew the pros and cons of the options, though we did not talk about the entire route and I suspect route beta was much more difficult to get for other sections.

    Andrew’s story reminds me of Sam Gardner’s (“The Initiative”). In both cases inexperienced adventurers were attempting “no fall” trips, i.e. trips where logistical screw ups, poor route planning, and lack of physical/mental conditioning are simply not allowed, like due to tight timelines. Generally it takes a few “small” trips to weed out those possible problems.

  5. But Ali, I’ve already got a graduate degree. Seriously, I don’t think I could hack the mathematical side of geomorphology, but that doesn’t prevent me from thinking about it.

    To be clear, I think delusional is too strong a word, and I absolutely to not impute any malice on Badenoch. Understanding how hard something like that trip would be is not something easily won, and I wish him well.

  6. Erin and Hig’s video is great – and they didn’t ask me for money until after it was finished. It takes cahones to walk from the PNW up to Alaska but in this day and age it seems to take even more cahones to figure out how to fund it in advance on your own.

  7. Hey, If your looking for a step up from your S90, keep an eye on the Sony NEX 5n. They just came out with a new model and (after smashing my S95 into a bike path pilon) I picked up one for $550 w a kit lens and a 2 year accident protection plan. From Best Buy of all places. And, B&H has it at about the same price you’d paid for a S110.

    So far I’m liking it. Especially the video.

  8. Nice post. Living in a Missoula, in a neighborhood with college kids, everyday I see people asking others to fund their vacations. I suppose they get used to that and then look for ways to continue it after mommy and daddy wise up. Since Tom Sawyer, there’s always been people who get others to do their work for them so they can play. When I was young I was envious of these types. But most I know who were good at that, it all fell apart in the end. Everything regresses to the mean. Thanks for the BikeSnob blog, I thought his post was hilarious.

  9. I should clarify that my comments were drawn from my initial assumptions about this trip. I honestly never followed up and only saw snippets of updates in passing. However, your post admittedly drew me into some of the drama, so I’m a bit more up to date now. I will say that it seems Badenoch is being disingenuous at best. If I were the Outside journalist I probably would have drawn the same conclusions.

    BTW, I have a Sony Nex-7 from 2010, and it is a great camera. I’d also highly recommend that as a less-expensive but very capable alternative to a DSLR. Personally I’m not into big cameras and likely never will be.

  10. Andrew’s real name is Andrew MacPherson. He invented the last name Badenoch to facilitate his well thought out scam and insulate him from repercussions.

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