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We spoke with expedition whitewater kayaker, Ben Stookesbury, about his experience of maintaining a vegan diet on long kayaking expeditions. As a guy that needs to hike to remote rivers, nutrition, to maintain endurance is key. As Ben’s puts it “I began going after rivers that had not yet been explored, and quickly realized the endurance component of carrying a heavy kayak – sometimes days into a wild river or around unrunnable stretches of river – was the key to the mission”.

Read Next: Adventuring On A Plant-Based Diet With Ben Stookesbury

We took Ben’s advice and put together some tips for dealing with your dietary restrictions in the backcountry.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Preparation is Key

It’s easy to head to REI and buy the pre-made freeze-dried backpacker meals. They are easy to prepare, lightweight, and a quick cleanup. The cons? They are expensive, kinda gross, and most likely don’t comply with your food intolerances or restrictions! So, instead of doing that, just prepare your own meals!

Plan your meals ahead of time, so you know exactly what ingredients to shop for before you go on your trip. Crack a bunch of eggs into a nalgene for scrambled egg dinners. Portion out oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate chips into a ziplock for breakfasts. Make your own granola bars, jerkey, and bread for sandwiches. Know exactly what food you will eat for each meal while you are in the backcountry, and prep it accordingly.

For Stookesbury, planning and preparing his meals before a long trip “takes some focus and forethought… but it feels quite empowering to be so much more cognizant of what I am putting in my body, and obviously there is simply no longer the need to eat much of anything that has all those nasty preservatives.”

Go With Good People

Unfortunately, some people are not as accommodating of food restrictions of others. I can’t say why, but some people think of food restrictions as “picky eating” and “high maintenance”, rather than a serious medical need or a spiritual belief. The fact that you may get seriously sick from eating gluten, or go into anaphylactic shock from your food being near peanut butter might not quite register on their radar. It doesn’t mean they are a bad people, but it might mean you avoid going on long backcountry trips with them in the future.

Alternatively, there are many people out there who are WONDERFUL to plan trips with. They will go out of their way to make sure you have the food you need, and will often sacrifice their own meal plan in order to include you in the group cooking. These people are the best, and you should keep them in your contacts for future backcountry trips. Sharing food and coordinating meals with the group will save both time and weight while carrying food into the backcountry, so going with good people who don’t mind accommodating your dietary needs is key!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Make Time For Three Full Meals A Day

No NOLS-style meal plans here. Stookesbury says one of the most important parts of expeditioning is “planning the time to eat three tasty meals a day.”

Give yourself enough time in the morning to cook up a hot breakfast. Plan a one hour stop mid-day to prepare a sandwich or wrap for lunch. Give yourself enough time in the evening at camp to cook a meal of veggies, protein, and carbs. Without the ease of the freeze-dried backpacker meals, you will have to put more time into your meal prep. But don’t worry, you’ll be happy you did when you are eating a freshly-prepared meal of roasted veggies and quinoa!

SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS!

Find a bar that works for you. And if you can’t – make your own!

I have spent the past year searching for the best gluten free and dairy free bars. I want the maximum amount of calories and protein, in the smallest possible package. As soon as I found one I liked, I ordered it in bulk on Amazon. I now have a stash of 50+ energy bars in my truck ready to be packed into a drybag, backpack, or ski jacket as soon as the need arises.

If you can’t find one that works with your diet, or can’t find one that you like – make your own! Any combination of dried fruits, nuts, oats, honey, and dark chocolate can make a damn good energy bar. You can find recipes online for homemade bars, then substitute various ingredients to make it work with your diet.

Stookesbury prefers the trail mix method to energy bars. “Nuts, dried fruit, and vegan chocolate is my personal substitute for an energy bar, and I call it a homemade energy bag! Keeping that ‘Power Bag’ of nuts, dried fruit, and some quality chocolate is a good way to keep your energy up and make snacking easy.”

Other popular snacking favorites include jerky, chocolate-covered almonds, cheese sticks (if you can eat dairy), and nut butters.

Photo: Brooke Hess

Be Prepared To Carry More Weight If Needed

I recently met a woman who has developed a severe allergy to all red meat, due to a bite from a Lone Star Tick. If she eats beef, pork, lamb, or any other red meat, she goes into anaphylactic shock. Even if her food is cooked in the same cast iron pan that has recently been in contact with red meat, she could go into anaphylactic shock. For these reasons, whenever she embarks on a backcountry expedition, she brings all her own cookware (and an EpiPen, just in case). She has learned to be adamant about her dietary needs on trips, and often prepares her food separate from the group. She is well aware that her food restrictions might force her to carry more weight than other members in her group, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her pursuit of overnight expeditions!

Photo: Brooke Hess

Examples of Day-Long Meal Plans for Various Diets:

Stookesbury’s Favorite Backcountry Vegan Meal Plan

Breakfast -150g oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemphearts, raisins and walnuts (add a little salt).

Snack – Powerbag (nuts, dried fruit, vegan chocolate)

Lunch – Hummus, veg (arugula, beet, carrot, avo) sandwich

Dinner – 150g Rice, lentils, broccoli, onion, garlic, with or without nuts, salt, and olive oil.

TOJ’s Favorite Backcountry Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Meal Plan

Breakfast – Pre-cut kale scrambled with eggs, avocado, and vegan “cheese”

Snack – Bobo’s gluten free oat bars, apple, and dairy-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Lunch – Gluten free tortillas with peanut butter and jelly

Dinner – Roasted root veggies (sweet potato, beets, carrots, potato), kale, and quinoa, topped with avocado and vegan “cheese” if preferred.

Photo: Brooke Hess Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

The post Dealing With Dietary Restrictions In The Backcountry. appeared first on The Outdoor Journal.

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In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

Tony Riddle Barefoot Running Challenge - Land’s End to John o' Groats 1st sept - 30th sept. - YouTube

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

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Most of us spend too much time in our day worrying about things in our life that are happening on land. Then there are those of us whose imagination trails off to what lies beneath the vast blue extents we humans refer to as ‘water bodies’. When nearly seventy percent of the earth is covered with water, it’s hard to ignore the world beneath that could be explored. When peering out over a large body of water, whether it be the ocean, a sea, a lake or a river, one can not really comprehend what might lie beneath the waves. All faiths that have ever come upon the earth have considered water as holy and account for its healing characteristics. Many have taken inspiration from its fluidity. For those of us passionate about underwater photography, we venture below to capture a glimpse of a moment within this alien world. With experience, we learn the techniques to return to land with the snapshot of a lifetime.

“Remaining steady might seem a laughable.”

The way life thrives underwater, with the slow dances of kelp, the tickling in your ears by fish crunching on coral, the distant call of a whale, all in the sublime silence borne by the pressure of the water, is quite the contrast to the world we live on land. The land is engulfed with loud motors, machines and human chatter. On the contrary, the water is home to peaceful silence which brings us divers a calming sensation of awe and wonder.

Of course, it is sad to note that most of our trash is directed to large water bodies, polluting what’s left of Earth’s beauty. Turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils and whales swallowing hundreds of plastic cups, nets, bottles and much more are not new to us, yet we let this atrocity continue as we can’t hear the cries of the beings underwater.

“You never know when a stone you’ve been staring at was actually a local resident in camouflage!”

With advanced technology so readily available, almost every vacationer brings along their trusty action cam. Although available in many models, the most popular by far is the GoPro. After all, there’s no better way to relive a memory than via a video or picture. Whether you are working with a GoPro or another brand, the following tips can help you make the most out of your undersea memories.

1. Be Steady

With a current against your elbow, and breathing with your mouth closed, remaining “steady” might seem a laughable suggestion! However, it is possible, this skill just takes time and practice to hone. No matter how well an action cam is designed to stabilize, it always helps to consciously be graceful and steady with your movements.

When shooting video, make a game out of it, try to feel the flow and movement of the water. Feel your pulse synch with the current.

When shooting photography focus on slowly exhaling, whilst keeping an eye on the viewfinder and subject of your shot.

You might consider it to be a smart idea to invest in a camera mount for action cams. Something that you attach to your head or chest, but the latter don’t provide much control over what one captures. Instead, especially for beginners, consider the wrist mount. If you’re comfortable holding it with your fingers, then that’s an option too, but be sure to attach it to a water-float. We don’t want memories forever lost down in the depths of the ocean.

2. Roll… Continuously. 

Keep that camera on. This is a good tip for a beginner cinematographer. Try to perfect your movements, but keep capturing marine life as you do it. You never know when a stone you’ve been staring at was actually a local resident in camouflage! Of course, when using this strategy, be prepared with an extra battery.

If you’re on a holiday and need extra batteries, worry not, almost every dive shop and local diving community has camera outlets. Even our phones can double as underwater cameras if dressed in the appropriate housing. Just make sure that you test your gear in a controlled environment before taking it into large areas of water.

3. Fly and Float

If you’ve ever gone SCUBA diving before, I’m sure you understand the weightlessness one feels whilst underwater. Use this to your advantage and drift around. Whilst diving, alternate distances between yourself and your subject, switch up the perspectives. Shoot through plants, corals and rock structures, just make sure you don’t drift too far away from your dive buddy.

If in a pool, practice by trying to shoot midway through the surface of the water with the help of a dome. Alternatively, shoot from the floor, use water toys, or even your buddy’s legs. The number of perspectives you can capture is endless! Move around and try to frame around your subject in a way that seems aesthetically appealing to you.

4. Lighting

Lighting is hard enough to perfect on land, let alone underwater, but practice can improve your results over time. Good visibility and the sun are your best friends while shooting underwater. According to the Tyndall effect, with its gorgeous shimmers, water bends light to create different shapes and patterns, teasing the lens. If you run out of daylight, or go on a night dive, the next option is to carry a waterproof light during your shoot.

5. What to shoot?

The ocean is so vast, that it’s not unusual to be caught by the beauty of a shot that has nothing but just blue within it. Often such a shot is quite breathtaking, with the sunlight streaking into the abyss, the underbelly of the water shimmering down onto the sea bed. The lack of a subject is substituted by the subject instead being the beauty within the frame. Usually, whilst in the ocean, the major subjects are divers, boats and aquatic flora-fauna. Observe the behavior of beings and try to capture their presence by framing their movements.

In a pool, the best way to avoid empty shots is to be prepared with props, a friend or both. Try creating a story with your shots. Focus on the different elements and use any light to your advantage.

Everything underwater is slow, but if you stay in control of your own movements, this slow motion can be translated into graceful content.

Ready to take the extra step? Edit your pictures and videos.

First of all, understand that upon descending into the water, a loss of colour is inevitable. Reds turn to browns for example. Fortunately, there are solutions, such as shooting with a red filter. If not, one may also choose to add the same effect in post-production when you’re back in front of your computer.

Sound mixing can really enhance the cinematics of your footage. The sounds captured from beneath the ocean by divers is usually the sound of their breathing, motors of boats, a distant call of a sea creature and maybe the crunching of corals by fish. Consider adding these sounds in small doses, with careful volumes to the edit for full effect.

Every score has the goal of enhancing the experience of your audience. Dulled out tones, muffled sounds and slow music usually achieves the purpose. You might also add informative voice overs if you’d like to share the thoughts you had during a dive.

There are many methods to optimize your underwater memories, and those above are just a few for beginners to get their feet wet. Something new is learnt on every dive, so get out there, practice and experience those magical undersea moments.

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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Introducing REWILD is the first of a four part Tony Riddle series. We’ll post a new article every few days, so make sure to check back regularly. 

Whilst traveling in the Philippines a few years back, I stopped by a beachside fruit hut which was strewn together with a few skinny tree branches. I asked for a fresh coconut, and as I watched the hut owner climb barefoot more than five storeys up into a coconut tree to select a ripe one, something inside me ached.

My yearning for that ability to climb so effortlessly is a microcosm of our modern culture’s generational amnesia. The lifestyles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors were far more in tune with nature and human physiology than the Western cultural norms of today. The padded sneakers we wear are sensory deprivation devices, compromising the adaptability of our feet. We spend the majority of our day in an artificial office environment, sitting in chairs and rubbernecking at screens. When we do decide to move, we line up on treadmills and yoga mats all in a row, going through linear, predictable and repetitive motions. It is a privilege that Western culture has modernized to the point where we have opportunities to work in air-conditioned offices and not out in the fields, enduring back-breaking labor, however, that luxury comes with a downside. We’ve become domesticated primates, trapped inside zoos of our own design.

As humans, we are the ultimate adapters of the animal kingdom, and unfortunately, we have adapted to a desk-bound sitting culture that has atrophied our postures, our immersion with nature, and our connection to our primal selves.

“Sitting in chairs isn’t natural. Period. We are not designed to sit in chairs.”

Tony Riddle is leading a “rewilding” paradigm to connect us with our natural human biology and the lifestyle of our ancestors in rebellion against modern social norms. Breaking away from a culture that continually seeks out comfort, Tony challenges his clients, and all of us, to adopt practices that may seem extreme compared to our cushy daily routines, such as cold water immersion, wild swimming, barefoot running and removing all chairs from the home. Tony’s ideas are at once avant-garde and ancient.

“I’m a descendant of some pretty awesome beings, and that makes me awesome too!”

As a natural lifestyle coach, Tony encourages people to abandon today’s sedentary sitting culture for the ground-living lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Rewilding our movement starts with natural resting positions and progresses to more advanced movements that hunter-gatherers used every day to survive – from kneeling to squatting, to brachiating, or swinging through trees, to running in bare feet.

“Inside all of us is this tree climbing, cliff jumping beast.” Humans have the same brachiating abilities as other primates, we’ve just been cultured away from hanging.

Tony will be testing the beast within on his 874-mile barefoot run traversing the whole length of the island of Great Britain. During the entire month of September, Tony will run 30 miles per day from Land’s End, at the southern cliffs of England, to John o‘Groats, the northernmost village on the Scottish mainland. Tony will interview a different sustainability expert each day along the run to raise awareness for environmental sustainability. The route consists of a growing network of long-distance footpaths, bridleways, river banks, and trails that pass through villages. As an incredible example of human physicality, Tony hopes to influence his growing tribe on the benefits of barefoot running, ancestral movement, and the importance of re-aligning ourselves with nature for emotional, social, spiritual, and physical health. The Outdoor Journal will continue to cover Tony’s preparation leading up to the run as well as the run itself.

Tony Riddle Barefoot Running Challenge - Land’s End to John o' Groats 1st sept - 30th sept. - YouTube

As Tony will tell you, our movement is a better indicator of age than the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated. Old age is characterized by a gradually weakening body, with a spine that hunches over and an ever-shortening gait. But do we lose mobility as we grow older simply due to the number of years we rack up or do we lose mobility because we are cultured to move less and less? As we encounter injuries, aches, and pains through our advancing years, our bodies get locked in a vicious cycle of limited, faulty movement that avoids pain and inhibits our mobility. Through rewilding, we can increase our vocabulary of movement to more closely align with our ancestors. A key facilitator of expanding our range of motion, and something that Tony encourages in his coaching, is play. Play removes the barriers of fear that we’ve internalized to avoid pain in the first place. It makes us forget our limitations and, before we realize it, we can unlock a deeper range of motion. Through rewilding practices, we can reverse-engineer our motor-skill milestones to turn back the clock on aging.

“You will die of old age, but I’ll die of climate change.”

The human foot is maybe the most underappreciated work of functional art in the natural world. Its intricate skeletal structure, composed of 26 separate bones, can sustain incredible forces that are many times a person’s body weight and can also endure repetitive stress over a lifetime. Its nerve endings receive feedback from the ground to aid our proprioception in an unconscious skeletomuscular symphony. So then, covering our feet with shoes when we walk or run makes about as much sense as covering our tongues when we eat. Although Tony was born with a foot condition that forced him to wear painful plaster casts connected by a bar as an infant, through rewilding practices, he has transformed his feet back to the way nature intended.

The Outdoor Journal connected with Tony to discuss his motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, the foundations for rewilding our bodies, how we internalize behavior from our “tribe of influence,” daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” how he moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power, and how we can all lead a more natural lifestyle that is aligned with our DNA.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

The post Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD appeared first on The Outdoor Journal.

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The Outdoor Journal by Margaret Reynolds - 1w ago

The adventure began before we even arrived at our destination. Racing through the twisting narrow back allies of Delhi, we were late. Our train to Ganganagar was leaving in ten minutes and we hadn’t made it through the swarm of Delhi traffic to the train station. We rounded a corner and came to a screeching halt as the road ahead was completely closed off at the intersection with no hope of a resolution any time soon. Honking horns, a constant accompaniment to Delhi traffic, now rose to a crescendo of cacophonic sounds as frustrated drivers expressed their annoyance. “Out! Out!” our guide shouted, and we leaped from the van and ran through the street. We were weaving around traffic which bolted forward erratically to gain inches, trying to maneuver their way free of the jam, while we stayed alert to avoid being bumped or hit. Some drivers called out to us in Hindi words we only understood by their tone. Blindly following our guide, using our adrenaline to power us through the crowd, we made it to the train and our sleeper cars minutes before departure and hoped that the bags coming behind us on porters made it too!

Author Margaret Reynolds is an experienced horseback rider who prepared for this trip with previous rides in both Europe and Africa. Some of our group in the sleeper car of train.

Awaiting us in Hanumangarh, a short distance from Ganganagar, was the Bhatner Horse Fair, a once-a-year festival to celebrate, compete, and market the famed Marwari breed indigenous to India and unlike any other breed worldwide. Missing our train would have meant missing the Fair and it was an event that we planned our entire Rajasthan riding safari around.

“We discovered that we were the main attraction.”

The next morning, we arrived at the fair. It was the last day and while most of the events were completed, we discovered that we were the main attraction as they rarely had foreigners, and there were no other women there. We were given the red-carpet treatment since we were accompanied by Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, affectionately known as Bonnie, a nobleman of the Shekhawati clan and reputed to be the savior of the Marwari’s. He has dedicated his life to the promotion and protection of the breed which he considers the true ambassador of Rajput culture and heritage. We were followed by a beehive of fair attendees, drawn to us like honey, and even interviewed by the local media. It became clear that our presence held so much more value than just our own education and enjoyment; we could offer support to Bonnie’s cause through our words and interest, as well as in undertaking the week-long safari to showcase these beautiful steeds to his countrymen.

Bonnie educating us on the horses while being observed by other fairgoers.
In breeder tent at the Bhatner fair with Bonnie, our guide and emissary (Margaret wearing bright scarf).

The next day we greeted our horses and mounted into traditional military saddles. The horses were proudly adorned with cloth martingales baring the rich red and saffron colors of Dundlod Fort, and the ride began past sheep herds along the Indira Gandhi Canal. These majestic horses, with warrior spirits, known for their stamina and power were the perfect partners for our eight-day safari across 160 miles of desert. We rode through the heart of Rajasthan, across the Thar desert, far from the bustling cities of the Golden Triangle, now populated by robust crops of millet and mustard enabled by the newly built canal system.

Our group freshly mounted ready to ride out. Margaret and Noel on far right.

“These majestic horses, with warrior spirits, were the perfect partners for our eight-day safari.”

The route was a new one as each year the progress of India’s roads, establishment of new agricultural fields and corresponding fences creates the need for a different trail. We passed through villages that had never been visited by foreigners. Women and children came rushing from all directions to shout “Hi” and “Hello” and shyly wave at us. We were followed for miles by young men on motorcycles whose English focused on the word “selfie” as they came armed with their cell phones to take pictures of this unusual parade of noble horses and white-skinned foreigners. We were welcomed guests wherever we traveled.

Passing through a village in Rajasthan. Being greeted by villagers along the route.

Our first night by the village of Raika Ki Dhani, we were greeted by dozens of villagers who came to watch us—they observed us sharing chai and popadum, a crispy tortilla-like bread spiced with pepper whose flavor snaps in your mouth just like the texture, as we sat around the fire and chatted about our day. Bonnie regaled us with entertaining tales from his many adventures such as the time they were almost attacked by misinformed villagers who thought his group was hunting their sacred antelope. The locals stood quietly, respectfully, yards away and crept ever closer like sandhill cranes, en masse one step at a time, until the camp staff intervened.

Evening view of tents. Inside view of the tents.

“We were all wearing smiles that transformed our souls and changed us forever.”

In the morning, the son of the landowner on which we camped, fluent in English, came to us requesting our presence at their home in the village so we could meet their women. Delightedly, we accepted and drove to their brick and adobe home in the village. Many generations live together, and women join the family home of their husbands. When we..

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Like the storms that forced climbers to rush the summit in a brief weather window, controversy surrounded Mt. Everest this season, catalyzed by media reports of dangerous “traffic jams” on the peak. Amid declamations of overcrowding, inexperience, and incompetence, four women from Arab countries—the “Dream of Everest” team—quietly notched historical summits.

We’ve been following The Dream of Everest summit attempt for the past few weeks. You can read and watch all the dispatches here.

The Dream of Everest team, L-R: Shahab, Azzam, Attar, and Alharthy. Photos by Elias Saikaly.

Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar of Lebanon, Nadhirah Alharthy of Oman, and Mona Shahab of Saudi Arabia climbed to the top of the world’s tallest mountain on the morning of May 23rd. Azzam became the first Lebanese woman to complete the Seven summits, with Attar following her as the second Lebanese woman to summit Mt. Everest. Alharthy became the first Omani woman to conquer Everest, and Shahab became the second Saudi woman to do so. Their accomplishment is evidence that despite the growing controversy of Everest expeditions, summiting the world’s tallest mountain can be much more than a bucket-list objective for wealthy hobbyists. By reaching the top of the world, Azzam, Attar, Alharthy, and Shahab sent a message of determination and ambition to Arab women.

The now-infamous summit queue. Photo by Nirmal Purja via Project Possible.

Overcrowding on Everest is due in part to the increasing number of summit-seekers; this year the Nepalese government issued a record 381 permits. Because all climbers must be accompanied by a sherpa, over 800 people pressed towards the summit this season. In addition to indiscriminate permitting, poor weather and inexperience may have contributed to traffic jams and fatalities. Elia Saikaly, the Dream of Everest team coordinator, cited bargain expedition companies as another face of the problem. “Where we really need to be looking is at the experience level (and lack thereof) of some climbers and the choices made by those individuals in terms of their logistic providers,” he said in an Instagram post. “We climbers all know which local company carries the burden of the highest loss of life. They happen to offer very cheap pricing which is enticing for some.” Arguably, some climbers have skimped on safety to check off a high-profile precipice. Economizing on Everest, according to Saikaly, allows hopefuls to “cut corners” at the imperilment of others on the mountain.

But those who bemoan the corrosion of the Everest experience can look to the Dream of Everest team as exemplars of the immutable symbolism of reaching the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. To accomplish their goal, the Dream of Everest women overcame gendered prejudices. They sent shock-waves through the Arab world, as evidenced by a statement by Omani Ahmed Al Musalmi, CEO of Sahar International Bank, that “Nadhirah’s win has gone a long way in demonstrating that women can achieve any goal that they are passionately determined to achieve”. Oman, along with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, rank among the bottom 20 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. The dreamers from these countries, at the roof of the world, have the invaluable potential to empower Arab women by example. Everest is still a mountain where dreams come true.

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The post Dreams Come True on Everest for Arab Women appeared first on The Outdoor Journal.

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Becoming a scuba diver can completely transform your life. Underwater, your everyday troubles can feel immeasurably small and you feel part of something profoundly great.

Learning to scuba dive not only changed my life, but it also became my life. After earning my scuba certification at 16, I knew I needed to become a scuba instructor. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, being a girl, being in Mexico. I had to learn English and earn enough money to buy my diving gear. The only easy part was working hard for something I loved.

Scuba diving will change the way you see things, topside and underwater. The simplest things become extraordinary, even light reflections. Diving makes you feel like a nature expert, an explorer whose every action could be narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

Divers off of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Courtesy of PADI.

Becoming a diver can change your life out of the water as well. It can be something small like constantly checking your gas when you’re driving or big, important things like rejecting single-use plastics and carrying a reusable water bottle.

When you start finding bottle caps and plastic rubbish at the beach instead of seashells, and when you can differentiate a healthy reef from a crushed or bleaching reef you will reconsider what seafood you eat, what sunscreen you use, and choose eco-friendly tourism destinations for your vacation instead of casinos or big cities.

How to Become a Scuba Diver in 3 Easy Steps

The Author: Rocio Gajon Bunker

There are 3 steps to becoming a certified scuba diver. You need scuba certification to book a scuba diving excursion, rent scuba equipment and, perhaps most importantly, dive with confidence. It’s a bit like a driver’s license, but for scuba diving. The open water scuba certification offered by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the most-recognized scuba certification in the world, and the scuba program I teach.

STEP ONE: Absorb knowledge
First, you’ll learn about dive theory by studying at home or at a PADI Dive Center or Resort. You can use a book and DVD, or watch videos and complete quizzes online. You’ll learn the fundamentals of scuba diving and preview the scuba diving skills you’ll practice during your in-water training sessions.

Stingrays in Bimini. Courtesy of PADI.

STEP TWO: Get your feet wet

Next, you’ll spend time with a PADI Instructor in a pool practicing and mastering scuba skills that will help you be safe and comfortable underwater. When you feel confident, you’ll move on to step three.

STEP THREE: Take the plunge
The third step is diving in open water. Here in San Diego, we do our four checkout dives at La Jolla Shores, a flat and sandy beach. This is where I get to show students what California diving is all about. We start early to get the best of the tides, wind and swells. We do two dives each day and have lots of fun in between. We bring snacks, take pictures, talk about the marine creatures we saw and log our dives.

A Whale shark. Courtesy of PADI

Depending on where in the world you do your scuba course, you might dive from a boat, into a lake or even slide into some hot springs. No matter where you do your training, learning to dive is a transformative experience you will remember for the rest of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

The things my students ask about most frequently are really their concerns: fear of the unknown, or uncertainty about their physical ability. I remind them diving is a safe and fun sport provided you follow all the rules, even the simple ones. Listen carefully to the dive briefings so you know what to expect underwater and what to do in case of an emergency. Lastly, always plan your dive and dive your plan.

A Diver with a school of wrasse in Malaysia. Courtesy of PADI

Here are a few of the most common questions I get asked about scuba diving:

Do I need a dive buddy to sign up for a scuba class?

One of the most important scuba safety guidelines is always dive with a buddy, but you don’t need to sign up for a scuba class with a partner. Depending on the size of the class, the instructor might pair you up with another student or a dive professional such as a PADI Divemaster. Once certified, you can join dive clubs to meet people with a ton of experience who will welcome you to the sport and share their knowledge. After all, we were all new divers once.

Do I need to be a good swimmer?
If you are an avid snorkeler, chances are that you will be a great diver. Also, diving is a very accessible sport. It’s not uncommon for people with paraplegia, amputations and other physical challenges to become certified divers.

Every freediving and scuba diving student must demonstrate they can continuously swim 200 metres/yards, or swim 300 metres/yards wearing a mask, fins and breathing from a snorkel. It makes sense, right? After being in the water for an extended period, we need the ability to get back to the boat or shore safely. During your PADI Open Water Diver course, you’ll also complete a 10-minute surface float in water too deep to stand up in. This is possibly the most relaxing test you will ever take.

Divers in the kelp forests off of Anacapa Island in California’s Channel Islands. Courtesy of PADI.

What if I have medical issues?
Completing a medical questionnaire is part of signing up for a PADI scuba diving class. People with certain medical conditions must get a doctor’s approval to learn to dive. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have concerns, ask a PADI Dive Center for a copy of the questionnaire so you can review it with your doctor. If your physician isn’t familiar with scuba diving and its effect on the body, they can consult with a medically-trained diving professional at Divers Alert Network.

How often do I need to dive to keep my certification current?

Your scuba certification never expires; however, it’s important to keep your diving skills sharp. Let’s say you haven’t been diving in six months or more; it’s better to do a quick scuba refresher in the pool rather than discover you forgot how to clear water from your mask when you’re in the middle of a dive.

What if I see a shark?
As every diver knows, if you see a shark you must immediately reach for your camera and prepare to take an awesome shot because you are the luckiest diver ever! Sharks are strong and elegant swimmers, but also very shy. In fact, most are terrified of humans and their noisy bubbles. Sharks are the keepers of the reef and seeing sharks during a dive is a sign of a healthy reef and an eco-friendly diving community.

Divers observing black tip reef sharks in the Bahamas. Courtesy of PADI.

Nearly every dive spot in the ocean has a local shark population. Here in San Diego, our dive sites are home to seven gill sharks, leopard sharks, horn sharks, angel sharks, swell sharks and guitarfish (a type of shark). Most don’t grow larger than 1.2 metres/4 feet long.

How is freediving different from snorkelling and skin diving?
Snorkelling is all about observing the reef from above. You wear a snorkelling mask and smaller fins and it’s a very relaxing experience.

Click this image to start your open water diving journey, with PADI.

Freediving requires skill and proper training. The PADI Freediver course can help you develop the knowledge and techniques to maximize your time underwater on a single breath. It’s a graceful sport that lets you get much closer to nature than scuba or snorkelling, but it can’t be done for long periods because your body needs rest from the stress of breath holds.

Oh, the places you’ll go…
Becoming a scuba diver has paid off beyond anything I could have imagined when I was young. They say when you have a job you love, you’ll never work again. Thanks to the dedication, commitment, sacrifice and passion, the tides brought me to San Diego, California where I work as a PADI dive instructor and instructor trainer. It is also where I met and married the love of my life and dive buddy, Jeff Bunker.

The underwater world is a beautiful realm hidden from the masses who are content to float on the opaque roof. When you need to forget all the stress of a long week, when you are feeling overwhelmed, remember there is a place where our problems don’t matter. For those who crave an escape from mundane, terrestrial life, scuba diving is the ultimate getaway.

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The physical aftermath of tragedy is procedural. On April 21st, a Parks Canada rescue team located and recovered the bodies of climbers Jess Roskelley, Hansjörg Auer, and David Lama four days after they were reported overdue from an attempt at Banff’s Howse Peak via the technical M16 route. According to the official avalanche report, none of the men were wearing transceivers; use of these devices can greatly expedite recovery operations. In the absence of transceivers, a trained avalanche dog scoured the frozen debris. Roskelley’s phone was salvaged and in the camera roll, a selfie of the climbers, wide grins frozen on fatigued faces, suggests that the trio reached Howse’s summit. Social media the world over shook with an outpouring of sympathy and support.

Read next: Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer: How the World Reacted. Avalanche debris on Howse Peak. Image via Parks Canada.

The emotional aftermath of tragedy is less straightforward. Inevitably, many critiqued the sport of mountaineering and its legacy of tragic accidents. Is it ethical to risk death in pursuit of a snow-capped summit? Why do climbers seek out high-consequence routes? Are elite mountaineers doing wrong by the spouses, children, parents, and friends who await their safe return?

Is it ethical to risk death in pursuit of a snow-capped summit?

Last year, the hit documentary Free Solo thrust these questions, normally the domain of the climbing subculture, into the mainstream as Alex Honnold’s unroped climbs astonished millions of viewers. In the wake of the deaths of Roskelley, Lama, and Auer (aged 36, 28, and 35 respectively), the climbing community once again confronts the unforgiving nature and fatal consequences of their craft.

David Lama in basecamp of Lunag Ri on October 19, 2018. Photo via Red Bull Content Pool.

As generations of mountaineers will attest, the riskiness of a route is part of its allure. Climber Steve House, part of a trio who notched the first ascent of Howse’s M16 route in 1999, wrote the below on Instagram;

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This mountain, Howse Peak is among the most powerful mountains I’ve ever known. She changed many lives this week; in tragic ways. I lost three friends, three brothers. That is the least of it, I’m sure. I knew all three, but I knew @hansjoergauer best of all. He was a both a friend and a God to me. The greatest confusion for me personally in this moment is the role of the route M16. A route I climbed over five days, now so vividly remembered, over 20 years ago. That climb took myself and Scott Backes and Barry Blanchard to the limits of skill, power, judgement, and yes—luck. It challenged our very life-force and we nearly lost. I climbed one of the most difficult and dangerous pitches of my life. Barry was very nearly killed by collapsing snow. Scott held us together as a team far more powerful than it’s parts, then, and forever after. And now that power we knew, has killed. I wish I had words to help the mournful understand who this mountain is. What climbing Howse Peak’s precipitous East Face means. It is simply this: The truest testing place of the most powerful men on their very best days. An arena for those rare and mighty, honed, long-practiced men that are challenged by nothing less than to be locked in struggle to the death with one of the mightiest powers on earth. These men were warriors, Knights, dragon killers seeking fleeting, hot-forged perfection through the dangerous path of alpinism, the creative physical expression of power over the most high, inhospitable, inhuman terrain on earth. To be honest I’m a little afraid to put this out there like that now, in 2019. Seems somewhat out of step with where we are as a society. But damn it, it’s the truth. These were great men. The true 01%. This is something each of them proved with actions over and over again. These men were immeasurable. They were not men, but Gods living among us. And now they’re back with their God. And we are less. Our loss immeasurable. It is with the deepest respect and the biggest and wet streams of tears that I, that we, begin to adjust to life among mere mortals, a poorer life, and we begin to say goodbye.

A post shared by Steve House (@stevehouse10) on Apr 19, 2019 at 6:41pm PDT

House cites a feeling afforded by high-consequence climbing that supersedes normal parameters of reality. It transports the climber to the extremities of human experience.

In an article published in The New York Times following the tragedy, Rock and Ice Magazine editor Francis Sanzaro offered a different perspective:

“I can tell you that standing on a dime-size foothold with no rope, with your fingertips on a sloping edge, in a remote part of the mountains where one mistake means instant death, in no way translates to a heightened experience…If you need to go to the ends of the earth and the edge of your mortality to find some mystical je ne sais quoi, then you need to rethink your strategy. I climb because I love it. So did David, Jess and Hansjörg.”

David Lama scouting Lunag Ri in 2018. Photo via Red Bull Content Pool.

Sanzaro rebukes the “mystical je ne sais quoi” House describes. The rhetoric of the two seasoned mountaineers is at odds; House glorifies the dance with danger, while Sanzaro suggests that risk is overrated. 

Banff-based author Bernadette McDonald is an expert on the psyche of cutting-edge climbers, and she notes the role of luck in even the most seasoned alpinist’s climbs. “If you talk to an alpine climber with a long history in the mountains, it’s extremely rare to find someone who hasn’t had close calls,” she says. “Almost all alpine climbers, if they’re honest, have to give credit to luck at some point.” McDonald believes the climbing community is aware of the risks but was unprepared to lose three luminaries on a peak in the Canadian Rockies. “I think that many people assumed that climbers this skilled and talented could climb their way out of any situation—they climb so quickly, make such informed decisions, etc.—but the objective hazard is simply that. And the East Face of Howse Peak has a reputation that has to be respected,” she says.

Photo (from left to right) of Rosskelley, Auer, and Lama on the summit of Howse Peak, recovered from Roskelley’s cell phone.

Lama, Hansjörg, and Roskelley presumably understood the risks. Perhaps they welcomed them with fervour, as House describes, or with acceptance, as Sanzaro contends. Does that make them selfish? According to McDonald, it does. “Of course climbers are selfish,” she opines. “The most honest among them freely admit it. Top-level climbing performances can inspire us, motivate us and capture our imaginations, but fundamentally, they are not done for the benefit of others.”

“Of course climbers are selfish. The most honest among them freely admit it.”

It’s difficult to measure the overall riskiness of mountaineering, but researchers at the University of Washington studied the fatality rate of climbers on Mt. Everest, a classic mountaineering objective. Based on data from 2,211 Everest climbers from 1990 through 2005, they found that climbers have a 1.5% probability of dying on the mountain. While this figure does not differentiate by ability or experience (i.e. elite vs. amateur) or route difficulty, it offers a crude baseline of the peril of mountaineering. By comparison, in 2017 Americans had a .97% chance of dying from an automobile accident and 0.88% chance of dying from an accidental fall. It would not be far-fetched to claim that professional mountaineers have a similar chance of perishing in a car crash en route to a trailhead as climbing a difficult objective. And it would be ludicrous to denounce every commuter for having the nerve to set foot in an automobile.

The Himalayas are mountaineering’s grandest venue. Photo by Yulia Grigoryants via Creative Commons.

Part of our collective anguish over the triple tragedy has to do with our perceptions of risk. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert is an expert in risk bias and he contends that we overreact to immediate threats and downplay perils that are perceived as “routine”, like car crashes. Additionally, we overreact to dangers that implicate our morals. These factors may account for our perception of mountaineering as an extremely dangerous and potentially foolhardy enterprise. News of three competent athletes brought down by an uncontrollable avalanche is unnerving in a way that car crash statistics will never be. The charismatic nature of a summit push is spectacular, and by extension, the effort gone awry is spectacularly tragic. In mountaineering, we see an expression of a popular moral archetype—the human protagonist doing battle with fierce nature—and thus we may accuse the sport and its participants of ethical impoverishment when those human protagonists perish. But in the end, we cannot fully comprehend, must less control, the decisions made by individuals. As McDonald suggests, “Some [climbers] have a higher risk tolerance than others, but all climbers need to take those risks—manage them, live with them.” Tragedies will always accompany mountaineering, and we must manage and live with them.

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Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

The post Healing after Howse: How does the climbing world cope with the triple tragedy? appeared first on The Outdoor Journal.

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For the past several years, I have been a full-time nomad. No steady home, no rent checks, no cozy bed to come back to after a long day on the river. My “home address” is legally listed as my parents’ house in Missoula, Montana, but out of the past three years combined, I don’t think I have spent more than 60 days there. My real home is a 2003 Toyota Tacoma. I travel from river to river, parking where I please, and sleeping where I please. An old, beat-up topper covers the bed of the truck. One of the biggest learning experiences I have had from my life as a nomad – do not buy items off Craigslist at night, when you cannot fully inspect them.

Truck life. Photo: Seth Ashworth

“Nah, this topper is solid. No cracks!” is what I was told by the man selling it to me. Turns out,  I will believe anything I am told if it comes at a cheap price. Multiple days spent working with fiberglass and caulking glue have ensured that I have a dry place to sleep every night. Well… dry enough, at least. The topper, combined with a savvy carpentry project by myself, my dad, and my uncle, has provided me with a home for the past three years, which, not including the price of the truck itself, cost a whopping $150.

A recent illness acquired while traveling abroad has left me with some fairly intense food intolerances, which, as it turns out, are much easier to manage with access to a real kitchen. Reluctantly, I moved my minimal belongings into a real house and settled into a life as a weekend warrior. Hesitant to leave my nomadic lifestyle behind, I have vowed to work as much as possible during this strange and uncomfortable “house phase”, thus saving enough money to ensure many more nomadic days in my future, once I am healthy enough to get back on the road. Working as a part-time writer, a part-time substitute teacher, and a part-time server at an Italian restaurant, my “weekend warrior” routine evolved more into a “monthly warrior” routine. An unfortunate side-effect of working three jobs at once, I am finding myself paddling less than I would like. But the motivation of getting back to my full-time adventure lifestyle in the future is what is keeping me going.

A couple weeks ago, I unexpectedly found myself with a full THREE days off of each of my jobs in a row! Not wanting to waste a second of it, I hastily threw a random assortment of warm clothes, kayaking gear, sleeping bags, and food necessities into my truck and took off on a mission.

Bouncing up and down, back and forth, all I can think about is keeping all four tires on the ground and not bottoming out. I am in a high clearance Toyota Tacoma, but the road is so bad, I am still occasionally hearing the nails-on-chalkboard sound of rocks against the truck’s undercarriage.

I am heading to Peace Wave, on the Salmon River in Riggins, Idaho. Situated on a sandy beach, deep in the canyon without cell service or contact with the outside world, the wave is a freestyle kayaker’s dream getaway.

I eventually reach my destination, pull into a sandy lot next to the river, and start setting up camp. Pulling my kayak out of the back of my truck, I am careful not to whack it against any of the other numerous items I have stashed away back there. I am only planning on being away from home for three days, but for some reason I have brought nearly every item I own.

Anxiously peering out at the river, I spot the wave that I came to surf. A beautiful, glassy, green wave, with the perfect amount of foam. This wave isn’t nearly as big and scary as the usual river waves I surf. In fact, in comparison, it is actually quite small. But I didn’t come here for a thrill. I came here alone. For the experience. I came here for some solo soul surfing in one of the most beautiful canyons in the western United States.


As I am sorting through my gear, getting ready for my first paddling session, I check my camera only to find the batteries are all dead. Typical Brooke… I bring everything I own, but don’t manage to check if the things I brought will actually work out there! I had promised myself that I would film my sessions, so I could at least pretend to be training and taking it seriously. 

I decide to put off paddling for one more hour while my camera battery charges. I dig my Jackery Portable Power Station out of the back of my truck, hoping it still has some charge leftover from the last trip I took with it. I plug in my camera, and right away the USB connection light starts blinking and I know it is getting some juice. 

Everyone needs to charge their phone, even while camping! Photo: Brooke Hess.

I spend the next hour pacing around camp, eating snacks, and anxiously checking my camera’s battery. A short 40 minutes after plugging it in, the battery reads 80%. Enough to go kayaking for two hours, and then some!


I quickly throw my gear on, set the camera on a rock, press record, and hop in my boat. I spend the next two hours throwing trick after trick, trying not to let the cold, October water dampen my spirits. Eventually, exhausted and hungry, I crawl out of my boat and walk up the rocks to check the camera. Still recording… perfect!

It’s just past 6:00pm, which in October in Idaho, means it is starting to get dark. I quickly get out of my kayaking gear, into some warm fleece, and start cooking tonight’s meal of turkey noodle soup. While cooking, I decide to plug my laptop into the Jackery Power Station to charge that up as well. If it is going to be getting dark this early, I might as well get some writing done in the evenings!

Screenshot from Brooke’s camera during her training session on Peace Wave.


Sitting on the tailgate of my truck, I eat my soup in silence as the stars begin to shine. I haven’t seen another person since I arrived at the river four hours ago, and probably won’t for the next three days.

After dinner, I decide to settle into work.  I am working on an article about River Access Fees. It is fitting that I am writing this article while camped next to a river with an access fee for multi-day rafting trips.

Several hours of transcribing interviews, picking out good quotes, and writing later, my eyes are so heavy I can feel my head slowly nodding towards my laptop screen. I stash my laptop and the Jackery Power Station, crawl into bed, and dream of surfing Peace Wave until morning, when I wake up and do it all over again.

Brooke working in her truck on a cold day in December. Photo: Sierra McMurry

Cover Photo by Sierra McMurry

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

The post The Wonders of a Weekend Warrior appeared first on The Outdoor Journal.

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The Outdoor Journal by Christian Hawley - 3w ago

My theologian of choice, Wendell Berry, once wrote, “As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign marking the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” Those last two words make for a great mantra, and on Saturday, September 22, 2018 in the cathedral of the hills that is Davis Mountains State Park, 71 of us got plenty of chances to practice resurrection.

A race volunteer yells up to the Primitive Loop aid station, “Somebody, tell Travis I got a woman down here whose IT band has locked up pretty bad and we might have to stretcher her out.”

The Primitive Loop aid station marks mile 26 of Spectrum Trail Racing’s Sky Island 50 kilometer course. The six foot tall, surfer-haired Travis wears his Texas Parks and Wildlife uniform like an REI Instagram model, but his smile fades as he realizes he already dispatched his backcountry response team for another downed runner. Travis’s conundrum reminds us all that death and pain are part and parcel of the resurrection practice.

Click on the image to access an interactive Strava route map.
*This route was created using Strava Route Builder. The actual course distance is closer to 30.2 miles with approximately 4,300 feet of elevation gain.

“It’s me, Charles. You buried my dad a couple of years ago at St Matthew’s.”

The pain began earlier that morning as the race started long before sunrise at the historic Indian Lodge. We, runners, climbed out of the camping area via the Skyline Drive trail. A slow mass of determined humanity churned up switchback after switchback illuminated by headlamps in the mist. The sound of trekking poles tinking against the volcanic rock recalled the sound of pickaxes in the hands of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who carved out the trail eighty years prior. The act of memory recalls its own kind of resurrection, and as I toiled up the mountain with my comrades in labor, I could not help but bring back to life the stories of the boys of CCC companies 879, 881, and 1856.

In the Indian Lodge parking lot, runners take their marks for the start of the Sky Island Trail Race.

Through the inky cold and rain, we stumbled and strove across the balds of the Davis Mountains. Down we dove to Fort Davis, the nineteenth-century military post, and just before we bottomed out into the parade field, I noticed a plaque entitled “Fiddlers Green.” The immortalized poem began, “Halfway down the trail to hell in a shady meadow green,” and it continued with a hardscrabble description about the final resting place of cavalrymen and horses. Ft. Davis, being host to the 9th and 10th Cavalry (the famous Buffalo Soldiers), erected the plaque in their honor, but for all of us on that morning trail, it felt like a portent of the miles to come. I ran with death through the shady meadow green, but life surprised me yet again as I made my way Hospital Ridge to the Skyline aid station.

The author cracks a smile on the other side of the tomb that is the 50k finish line.

“Way to go, Padre. Keep it up!” came the voice from behind the snack table. “It’s me, Charles. You buried my dad a couple of years ago at St Matthew’s.”

Downshifting hard from trail runner to parish priest, I stammered out, “I hardly recognized you, Charles, with the beard and all. What in the world are you doing out here, and how’s your mom?”

“My wife is running the 25k, so I thought I’d help out. Mom’s been living the gypsy life since dad died, but I think she’s ready to settle down again in Austin. Here, have a shot of pickle juice, and we’ll swing by St. Matt’s as soon as we get mom settled in her new routine.” From funerals to aid stations, life continues to emerge from the valley of the shadow of death. Practice resurrection.

As an Episcopal priest, the process of resurrection takes on a particular shape for me. Modeled after Mark’s gospel, it begins with a challenging and meaningful journey with friends and strangers before giving way to a solitary and painful death. Then comes the long descent into hell, and an interminable time in the tomb. Eventually, by the grace of God, one climbs back out of the land of the dead to emerge into a new life, celebrated by breaking bread with friends and strangers once again. For me, desert trail races participate in that resurrection process.

As I finished the Skyline Loop, I turned my face toward the Primitive Loop knowing that death and the tomb laid ahead. Solitary pain thrummed in the background, but in the fore bloomed a watered desert. An ocotillo, which days before presented as a dried brown stalk of thorny torment, now erupted with fresh leaves from every square inch.   Practice resurrection.

“Never mind, the IT band lady is going to press on!”

A long, steep climb through a notch in a plateau brought me to a lush, rolling loop of Mexican Feather Grass and Little Blue Stem. For the next six miles, I enjoyed views of the MacDonald Observatory, the deeper Davis Mountains, and eventually, an opposing glimpse of Indian Lodge, glimmering in the morning dew like some far off city on the hill. My legs died on that loop as well. What began as running and power hiking gave way to power shuffling and walking. As I finished the loop, I joined Ranger Travis at the Primitive Loop aid station.

A second shout emanates from a pony-tailed aid worker, “Never mind, the IT band lady is going to press on!”

I look at Travis, raise my eyebrows, and comment, “I had an IT band lock up on me a decade ago in the hills of east TN, and they had to cart me off the course. That woman is a badass.” Travis’s affable smile returns as he shakes his head in the affirmative, also clearly relieved he did not have to radio for a second response team. Having taken my fill of Pringles, pickle juice, and water, I start back down the trail toward Indian Lodge and the finish, but it feels more like a descent into hell.

Backcountry first responders tend to a runner who was stretchered off the course.

I literally hear wailing and gnashing of teeth. The young woman with the IT band, somewhere up ahead, fights through her pain and frustration in an uncomfortably vocal manner. I half expect Virgil to appear at my side to illuminate her sins because this descent feels like a missing chapter in Dante’s Inferno. I catch the IT band lady a mile later, and I give her my utmost respect and heartfelt encouragement. She manages a stoic nod, and adds the usual getting-passed-phrase of “Good job.”

Anything after mile twenty feels like time in the tomb to me, and time in the tomb moves according to its own rules. The sandy-bottomed creek bed at the base of the hill stymies my every step, and I think I’m shuffling along at fifteen-minute miles. Yet a quick glance at my watch reveals me scooting along the trail at ten-minute miles. Similarly, I feel like I’ve just eaten, but it’s already been thirty minutes since my last snack. After six hours of pickle juice and Snickers, my gastrointestinal tract waves the white flag. I force a few Gatorade Blocks past the nausea, but a reckoning awaits at the ranger station bathroom a mile ahead. I hit bottom in the bowels of the concrete lavatory. I have no idea how long I’m in that dark, silent place, but when I emerge, at least two people have passed me, including the IT band lady.   Practice resurrection.

The stoic determination of the IT band lady as she finishes the 50k course.

Practice has never made me perfect, but it has always made me better. Practicing hill repeats every Wed morning gives me the strength and confidence to take on the final two thousand feet of elevation change on this course. Practicing the little resurrections in an ultramarathon gives me the strength and courage to take on the rest of life. Loved ones die, communities wither, and carefully crafted plans go down the drain. The best way I know to bounce back from those moments is to practice resurrection, to talk to aid station workers, to notice ocotillos, and to eat a snickers before the home stretch of the Indian Lodge Loop.

I pass the IT band lady again on the final descent, once more acknowledging her iron will. A rudimentary arch in the service lot of Indian Lodge marks the finish line. Someone rings a cowbell as I come down the final stretch, while kids and dogs look up from their play to cheer me across the line. There are no medals or corporate sponsor gift bags, just a hard-earned trucker hat for my efforts. I kiss my wife and high five some of my running club friends. Looking around, I smile at the scene. It’s not exactly broiled fish on the shores of the sea of Galilee, but this post-resurrection experience isn’t far off. I gather with friends and strangers for some wood-fired pizza and swap miraculous stories. The IT band lady, Oksana, finishes ten minutes later. Practice resurrection.

Trail runners breaking bread post resurrection.

Cover Photo: 50k racers make their way up the Skyline Drive Trail at Davis Mountains State Park.

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