Liebster’d

Courtesy of Woodtrekker. The Leibster Award has fuzzy origins, and amounts to a series of questions to answer, and a series of questions you in turn ask of the bloggers to whom you pass on the award. Amusingly, the german word has a platonic, male connotation.

The answers:

1: Who are some of the people in the outdoor community, either past or present who you either consider mentors, or from whom you have gained knowledge about the outdoors, or inspiration to get out there?

I started hiking backpacking from a very early age, so my first mentors were my parents, who remain a major source of inspiration. Just about all of my favorite memories from childhood involved hiking and camping, usually on summer road trips to various destinations. My father died of cancer when I was eleven, and to this day I feelest closest to his memory when I’m out in the woods.

I also started rock climbing fairly young, and was fortunate that the cast of college folks who worked at the Miami University climbing wall in the mid-90s were an exceptionally talented group of climbers, most of whom put up with me being a pain in ass asking lots of questions, hanging around all the time, and setting really bad routes. I learned a lot of skills from them, and a lot about myself and how to grow into an adult, things which have remained valuable long after I stopped climbing regularly.

After I moved on from climbing I pursued first canyoneering and then endurance mountain biking fairly seriously, before my current interests in hunting and backpacking.  People I met along the way like Steve Ramras, Dave Harris, Lynda Wallenfells, and Kevin Sawchuk among many others have all helped me learn a lot, almost excusively by going on trips.  Things like doing the South Fork of Choprock at high water with Ram in 2006, the Smokey Mountain/Escalante tour with Dave in 2007, and Le Parcour de Wild with Kevin in 2009 were all watershed moments which fundamentally changed how I did things outdoors.  Nothing beats experience and being able to watch something do what they do very well.

2: What is the typical duration of one of your trips, and how much distance do you tend to cover on such trips?

Due to my commitment to my job, which for several reasons precludes lots of big chunks of vacation, most of my trips are 2-3 days.  Hiking/skiing/packrafting trips tend to be in the 20-30 miles a day range, as this hits the sweet spot for a full days immersion without involving too much suffering.  This year I’ve done significantly fewer such trips than in years past, mainly because in light of things like my Grand Canyon trip this spring shorter trips is less satisfying.  Hypothetically I’d like to be able to take more full weeks off over the course of the year, but my job is about building and maintaining human relationships, and at some point the two would come into conflict.  I pretty sure I wouldn’t find being able to do as many trips as I liked whenever I wanted to be ultimately satisfying.

3: What is your favorite instructional book about the outdoors?

I’m not sure that I have one.  I try to self-teach in most outdoor pursuits, as I find that the most satisfying, if not the most efficient, method.  As important as explicitly instructional books are for this, the genre tends to be uninspired and neglects the big picture.  I own vintage copies of Royal Robbins’ Basic and Advanced Rockcraft, which does a good job covering the basics without getting bogging down and has great cartoon illustrations by Sheridan Anderson.  I also have a copy of Steve Barnett’s Cross-country Downhill, which is both readable and instructive.

4: What is your vision of the woodsman, or the outdoorsman, at least as related to you and what you hope to achieve?

I’m a life-long atheist, which is intimately tied up in my conviction that we’re a very small and unexceptional part of the world (aka nature).  Structured notions of theism and the blind faith in the scientific method (and by proxy human knowledge as such) which is such a feature of modern life have always struck me as very arrogant.  My hope for being an outdoorsman is to continue to better understand how the world affects me, how I affect it, how it changes over time, and by extension know more about myself and why I do what I do in all aspects of my life.

5: Do you hunt, and if so, how do you incorporate that into your trips? If not, is there a specific reason?

I did in a very vague way growing up, and occasionally in the years since, but  two years ago I made a commitment to pursue it fully for at least one full year, and found the process immensely satisfying.  As I alluded to above, my habit for the last two decades has been to get interested in an outdoor pursuit, dive into the learning process up to a certain point, and then more onto something else.  There’s a very distinct point along the learning curve when the effort and time required to still be challenged to learn becomes much greater for a certain amount of reward, and that’s when I tend to loose interest.  It happened with climbing when I was able to climb at a certain standard of difficulty beyond which I had little interest, and it’s starting to happen with backpacking now.  Hunting takes skills I already have and requires me to apply them in different ways to categorically different ends. 

Incorporating hunting into wilderness trips has actually been quite difficult, because my usual style of moving quickly through an area via the path of least resistance does not get good results when trying to find and kill big game.  I’ve had to learn to look at the same maps in different ways, which continues to stretch my immagination.  There’s a lot of failure and a fairly small amount of success in hunting, especially in the backcountry, which makes it a good pursuit for an older, more mature and patient me.  I wasn’t ready for it a decade ago.

6: How much was your pack base weight on your last overnight trip?

As of this writing my last trip was the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open, where I had snowshoes, packrafting gear, and clothing for temps a bit below freezing.  I didn’t weigh my pack, but base weight was up around 20 pounds.  Without 3.5 pounds of snowshoe, and 9 pounds of raft gear it would have been in the 6-7 pound range.

7: Have you been offered the opportunity to film any TV shows related to your outdoor pursuits? If yes, have you thought of accepting them? If no, would you be interested in such an offer?

Nope, never even considered it as a possibility.  I imagine I’d be highly unlikely to do so, unless the right production team came along.  ZeroPointZero, the folks who make Meat Eater, seem to do a great job balancing the task of making good television with maintaining integrity and authenticity, and they’d probably be fun to work with.

8: What is your preferred shelter system for winter trips?

The Seek Outside Lil Bug Out.

9: Are you a member of any outdoor organizations whether they be hunting, backpacking, etc?

I’m on the executive council on the American Packrafting Association.

10: Have you ever found yourself in a survival or emergency situation while in the woods, and if so, how did you cope?

I’d say no, but I’ve been somewhat close on a number of occasions.  I say somewhat because while I’ve been physically one small step away from hypothermia or injury, on every occasion I’ve felt like I had an adequately large mental buffer, and was able to take action which easily preempted things before they passed the point of no return.

During the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic in 2011 I got very cold when we retreated in a snowstorm back to the Little Delta River, still the coldest I’ve ever been (which I like to think is saying a lot).  It was fairly simple to get a fire going, even with uncontrollable shivers, and in a an hour I was quite comfortable.  Had we continued into the snow with bad visibility, modest clothing, and no shelter things would have gone badly.  I’ve been lost in the desert trying to find my way down through unfamiliar cliffs in the dark on several occasions, and it always required a little discipline to stay focused and not make hasty route choices.  Really, there are probably 20 or 30 similar anecdotes I could tell where a little restraint and gritted teeth kept a situation firmly in the unpleasant column, rather than over in the danger one.

11: Why do you blog?

The first reason I started this blog almost 8 years ago is still the best one; it’s a great catalyst for writing more often about more things.  As a tool blogging has been enormously effective in making me a better writer, and gone a long ways towards helping me use my time more constructively.  It’s also been the prime mover in me meeting a lot of really interesting folks who I am still glad to call friends, and who I likely would never have known otherwise.  It’s a nice way to communicate with those people, as well as family members, with whom I might go years between meetings.  There have also been some cool opportunities with writing and product development gigs for whom the blog was at least secondarily responsible.

And now, I tag Casey, Brendan, Hendrik, and Meghan with the following:

1: What is the meaning of life?

2: Favorite three topping combination for thin-crust pizza?

3: If you had to pick one, giving up the other two for the rest of your life, would you choose coffee, beer, or ice cream?

4: Your most beloved outdoor trip: when, where, and why does it stick in your memory so?

5: Your favorite non-fiction book of all time?

6: What is next on your list of skills to acquire?

7: What brought you into the outdoors as a pursuit/passion?

8: What species of bear would you be, and why?

9: What is the most esoteric, unfamiliar trip which is at the top of your bucket list?

10: If you were given 1000 dollars to buy physical objects for others, what you buy and for whom?

11: Why do you blog?

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5 thoughts on “Liebster’d

  1. I’m a fairly recent subscriber and have enjoyed your posts immensely partially because I consider you a “local” since I grew up in the Kootenai and now am lucky to still call it home. I obviously have a lot to learn about this ultralight backpacking thing because I almost spit out my scotch ale when I read 6-7 lbs pack weight. Do you eat? A couple friends and I are planning a repeat of a traverse across the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and I was hoping to get my pack DOWN to 25 lbs without any rafts or snowshoes. 6-7 lbs???? What do you define as your base pack weight?

    • Base pack weight as conventionally defined these days is your pack without the weight of food and fuel. So that 6-7 pounds was sleeping bag, tarp, pad, spare clothes, repair/FA kit/headlamp/etc, plus the weight of the pack itself. Add my 6-7 pound food bag plus rafting gear and snowshoes and you’re right around 30 all told.

  2. I happened to randomly stumble upon this post. Had no idea you are a Miami grad. I am as well. I’ve commented only a few times here and there on your blog but enjoy your material. I saw somewhere either on here or a social media site that it looks like you’re planning a trip through the Arctic Refuge for next summer. I live in Wiseman. It’d be great to meet you if you’re planning on driving up and the timing is right. Let me know if I can be of any assistance. Cheers. -Jack

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