Eight key attributes to being a leader in the outdoors

Being a leader or a mentor in the outdoors is more than just telling people what to do or where to go. Much more.

I’m lucky to be blessed with the company of folks who could show me the ropes in the outdoors. As the years have gone by, I’ve been able to share things that I’ve learned. In between all that is a bunch of give-and-take when it comes to being the leader or the learner.

The more time you spend out there, the better the chances are that you’ll end up being a teacher, leader or even a mentor. How you perform this task can have a huge impact on how well people grow in their own outdoor pursuits. Here are eight things you ought to know:

  1. Be an open book. Be honest about your experiences, whether it’s the activity at hand or the place you’re in. When people ask you questions, give the best answers you can. And do it in a way that’s accessible and clear. Clarity, honesty and approachability are key when people look to you for guidance. And never lie about or exaggerate your experience and qualifications. If you do and get found out, all your credibility is immediately lost.
  2. Let people learn some things for themselves. Part of growing into a role is trying things, making mistakes, and learning from the experience. You don’t want to be the person who micromanages someone’s adventure. It’s annoying, and eventually people will tune you out. That said…
  3. Be assertive when the stakes are high. There are some situations that call for a firm hand. High-risk activities like mountaineering and rock climbing are no places to stay quiet when you can see something about to go terribly wrong. If you wander up to a bear or a buffalo and your buddy wants to get closer for a wildlife selfie, that’s a good time to speak up. Same might be said if you’re about to ski into an avalanche-prone area, or if a big thunderhead begins to form over the mountain you’re ascending.
  4. Don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do or haven’t done yourself. This is an integrity thing. You should be willing to do the hard, or tedious, or unglamorous tasks. Lead by example and do those things. Demonstrating this will go a long way with a group.
  5. Be the leader, but create a team. History is filled with top-down taskmasters in famous expeditions. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But you can be guaranteed that if your partners believe they have a say in things and that their input is not only valued but expected, that creates buy-in. It can also be helpful to get different perspectives on problems you might not have seen.
  6. Listen to the team, but if you’re the leader, make decisions. After you’ve gained input from your group, you don’t want to dawdle in overanalysis. That often leads to inaction. Consider the facts and ideas, then make a decision. This is especially true in emergency situations, where decision-making is critical. This is one area where you don’t want paralysis by analysis.
  7. Admit when you’re wrong. If you’ve chosen a course of action and it was wrong, fess up. Everyone will probably know anyway. Denying it will only erode your position as a leader or mentor. People can forgive a mistake. It’s harder to forgive stubborn arrogance or denial.
  8. Strive for future adventures. By this, I mean that you should be the type of person someone would partner with again. Keep things enjoyable, safe and fruitful for your partner or group. In the back of your mind, let your personal conduct and your competence make those around you think, “When I’m going to do X, I want this guy/gal with me.”

So there you go. The great thing about these ideas is that they apply not only in the outdoors, but in everyday life. Got some thoughts of your own? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Bob Doucette

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The newest, most essentially 10 Essentials list for outdoor adventure ever

If you’re going to be one of the cool kids, you better get crackin’ on this newest list of the 10 Essentials. 😉

One of the things that appeals to the outdoorsy set is the authenticity of the lifestyle. There is something that is pared down and pure about setting off into the wild, slowing down and testing yourself against the landscape and the elements.

What gets left behind: the cliques of school and the hierarchy of work. Just you, at peace with the world, with none of the BS of “normal” life.

But there are expectations to be met if you’re going to be a real outdoorist. I’ve done a tour of magazine and website articles, Instagram feeds and everything else that really matters in the outdoors and have compiled this list of 10 essentials (a new 10 essentials!) for the aspiring outdoor adventurer. Read and heed:

  1. The adventure rig: You’ve got to have wheels to get to those prime locales, and only certain types will do. They are the Toyota Tacoma pickup, the Toyota 4runner, the Jeep Rubicon and whatever all-wheel drive Subaru you come up with. What’s that you say? Your whip ain’t on that list? Sorry. You’re on the outside looking in.
  2. #vanlife: If you’re a real human of the outdoors, you can’t be a weekend warrior. Oh no. You need to be #committed. And that means living out of your vehicle, driving from camp to camp as you climb stuff, hike stuff, freelance stuff and take pics of sunrises through the open back doors/hatch of the van or truck you’re living in. Any vehicle can work, but if you’re going to be the real deal, it probably needs to be a built-out ride and should definitely be a van. Bonus points if it’s a Sprinter. If this ain’t you, then you should stay home and stop crowding the beautiful places where the vanlifers gather. Your Ford F-150 totally kills the vibe.
  3. An adventure dog: Just about everyone loves dogs. They’re happy, energetic and affirming buddies all too willing to go anywhere you go. Plus, they’re awesome conversation starters. Just watch someone roll up on a trailhead with their pooch, and instantly everyone wants to meet your furry friend. This, and they can carry stuff in dog packs and keep you warm in your tent, er, van. A discerning dog owner will make sure their prized pet is looking the part, preferably with a bandana tied around its neck like a scarf. That way we know it’s an outdoors dog.
  4. An adventure blog: Your adventures are awesome. So are your photos and videos. And some really profound stuff happens out there that people need to know about. So fire up your site, write some words and slap in some pics. Trip reports, listicles, cooking/fashion tips and think-pieces are waiting to be written. Some of that stuff might go viral, and you’ll get noticed. And that’s when the big bucks happen. Once that occurs, you’ll be able to pay off Nos. 1 and 2 on this list. 😉
  5. A social media arsenal. No one’s gonna read that blog if you don’t promote it on social. And you need Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and, well, I guess a bunch of other things to promote your blog, satisfy your sponsors (you’re a brand ambassador, right? RIGHT?) and generally build your personal brand so folks can relate to the real, authentic, outdoorsy you. You might be tempted to ask yourself if constantly updating all these accounts and building your list of followers is crimping your outdoorsy lifestyle, but don’t. FEED THE BEAST. Cuz, pics or it didn’t happen.
  6. Trucker hats: If you don’t already have a set of these, get crackin’. Not a baseball cap, not a brimmed hat, not anything of the sort. It needs to be a trucker hat, preferably decorated with your favorite outdoors brand (NOT A SPORTSBALL TEAM EVER DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT THAT’S NOT REAL LIFE). These mesh-backed caps became all the rage for trail runners, and it’s only spread from there. Buy ten and be part of the in-crowd.
  7. Adventure drinks: Yeah, you need your water, and I guess some forms of sports drinks are OK. But generally speaking, there are only three outdoorsy drinks. First is coffee, preferably out of your own campsite French press. Second is the IPA (hoppier the better, and it MUST be brewed in Colorado, California or Oregon). Third is whisky. If you’re drinking tea, lagers or tequila/vodka/rum, you’re doing it wrong and should stay away from the trail and off my crag.
  8. The right soundtrack: This is a bit harder to define. It’s going to be kinda hipstery. Maybe with a touch of pop and folk. There should be some acoustic guitar, maybe notes of bluegrass but something you can dance to. But definitely not metal. You can’t be singing Mastodon or Black Sabbath around the campfire. Maybe more Lumineers or Grouplove. I dunno. This is out of my wheelhouse.
  9. The right wardrobe: On the trail, get your clothes at REI (no cotton!). In town, hit the thrift stores. And NO DANG SPORTSBALL TEAM APPAREL (see No. 6).
  10. The right camp games: Of these, there are two. The first is slacklining. This is how you prove your physical prowess while in camp (because proving your physical prowess is important, and doing it in camp is, well, I guess that’s important too). This is the preferred activity of climbers. The second is bocce. You can use plain ole rocks. Or be really cool and pack a set of actual bocce balls. Nothing says camp thrills like bocce and slacklining. Ask anyone.

So there you have it. If you don’t have/do these things or aren’t getting them lined up, get a move on, will ya? Otherwise, please stick to the night clubs and golf courses you’re used to.

DISCLAIMER: My dream car is a four-wheel-drive Tacoma and I love dogs. I’m a whisky guy and have partnered with a shoe company. I’d slackline if my balance was better and have played bocce at camp. If you’re reading this, then it’s obvious I’ve got a blog and you’ll find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and my playlist includes all four bands mentioned above. If you’re offended by any of this, recognize that truth and farce can coexist as long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously. And you’ll only pry my Broncos trucker hat out of my cold, dead hands.

Bob Doucette

Omens abound: A cold snap, an earthquake, and the worst 5K finish ever

I’m not sure earthquakes, snow flurries and running mix all that well.

Call it the convergence of the weird. Maybe an omen. I don’t know. But it ended painfully.

I’ve been on this 5K kick lately, and it continued last weekend in the Tulsa suburb of Jenks. Jenks is home to, of all things, a sizable aquarium, and the venue uses an annual half marathon, 10K and 5K event to raise money and awareness.

That’s all good, you know, but I was attracted to the flat-as-a-board course it offers. Surely a good day here would get another PR.

I woke up and did my usual pre-race ritual: Eat a small breakfast, hydrate a little, foam roll, dress for the race and head out.

But this would be no ordinary day.

For starters, it was cold. As in record-setting cold. April in Oklahoma will more often see high temperatures in the 90s before it sees lows in the mid-20s. But that’s what greeted us, along with a dusting a snow and strong north winds that pushed the wind chill down to 16 degrees. April is supposed to be known more for tornado warnings rather than freeze warnings. But here we were, feeling like it was mid-January.

I can shake that off OK. You can dress for cold, race hard and never overheat. I’m good with that.

But as I munched on breakfast, Weirdo Thing No. 2 occurred: an earthquake.

Sitting on my couch, I heard the window rattle and felt the wave-like shakes that are now familiar to me. Years of wastewater injection drilling associated with oil and natural gas production has made Oklahoma one of the most seismically active states in the country. It wasn’t too long ago we had a quake hit a magnitude of 5.8. Saturday’s quake was a mere 4.5 – big news and a novel experience pre-2011, but in 2018, it registered little more than a shrug. I’ll be more interested when we hit a 6.0 or bigger.

I mentioned the term “omen” earlier. I don’t put much stock in such things, especially when it comes to how weird things can get in the Sooner State. We coined the phrase “quakenado” (that happened on a day when we had tornadoes and a quake), and even the “tigerquakenado” (when we had a tiger escape from an exotic animal shelter the same day there was an earthquake and a tornado). We’ve got a two-week-long teacher strike still going on because, blast them, they don’t like having to work side gigs and take welfare just to get by, and they prefer to have functioning classrooms open more than four days a week with textbooks that don’t predate the second Bush administration. I’m sure I could go on with more oddities of my home state, but you get the drift – unusual things here don’t faze us. We’re used to weird, sad or ominous things. So off I went to my race.

It went well for the first 2K, but I think I went out too fast. I dialed it back a little, hoping for a kick toward the end.

When I passed the last water stop, a gal was holding signs pointing which way for the 5K and 10K runners to go. She told us “just go under the bridge and you’re done!” Sounded good to me, and as soon as I passed that bridge, I sped up. A PR was in sight.

And then about 200 yards from the finish, stinging pain seized my right foot. Not a sprain, not an Achilles tear. Just sharp pain from my heel through my arch. I slowed again, hoping to let it chill out so I could speed back up, but no dice. I was run-hopping the rest of the way, bad wheel and all, just hoping I wouldn’t have to stop dead in my tracks.

The end result was a time 25 seconds off my PR. I ran-limped for 200 yards, and had this blowout happened any earlier in the race – say halfway – I probably wouldn’t have finished at all.

And now I’m hobbling around, wishing I had a set of crutches. As it turns out, this is a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, and it’s not going anywhere. I’ve had a few running nicks and dings through the years, but nothing like this. I doubt I’ll run at all this week. Maybe longer.

And maybe now I’ll give pause to the next pre-race convergence of the strange. Maybe omens are real. Maybe the next time unseasonal weather coincides with the trembling of the earth I’ll just skip the race and sleep in.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why you should be running 5Ks

Long races are great, but you can really test yourself — and enjoy doing it — by racing 5Ks.

A lot of serious runners – those who take it up as a lifelong activity, or even reach competitive levels – start out as recreational runners. And those recreational runners often start at the bottom, where running a mile without stopping is a major feat.

But from there you grow. Maybe you’re tagging along with friends, or doing a Couch to 5K program. That first step toward achievement usually ends at the finish line of your first 5K.

From there, anything goes. A lot of people use the 5K as a gateway to 10Ks, 15Ks, half marathons and marathons. If you get a bad case of the running bug, you do ultras. When it comes to mileage, the more, the better, right? Those 5K races of yore seem rather quaint as you look for another long-distance race to sign up for.

But before you eschew the 5K into your athletic past, let me give you some reasons why you should still be running these things.

They’re cheaper. Your local 5Ks are going to go anywhere from $20 to $40. If you’re insistent that any race you run comes with a free shirt and a medal, you’ll likely get both. Compare that to half marathons and marathons, and you’re looking at plunking down anywhere from $80 to $200 or more, depending on the race and how close you sign up to race day. If you positively have to race, do your wallet a favor and sprinkle in a few of these rather than depleting your bank account with longer-race signup fees.

The training is simpler. Any experienced runner can run a 5K. But running it well is another matter. Even then, training to run a fast 5K isn’t nearly as complicated as it is for long-distance events. No hydration packs, no mid-run fueling, no multi-hour run workouts or any of that other mess. Instead, you’ll get short- to mid-distance daily runs and speed work. You’ll work hard, but logistically speaking, it’s a whole lot easier than gearing up for those ultras or marathons.

You’ll have a life. Those of you who have run marathons and ultras know that no matter how hard you try, parts of your life are going to suffer while training for these races. There’s only so much time in the day, and run workouts of 8 to 20 miles are going to put a hole in your schedule. For a 5K? Much more manageable.

They’re fun. Hey, we all love races. The big races are a blast. But so are the shorter ones. Just because the mileage isn’t high doesn’t mean the good times are lessened. Run a race with your buds, enjoy some suds at the end and go eat tacos. Also a bonus: You won’t be hobbling nearly as much when it’s over.

If you race right, you’ll be challenged. Hey, I get it. If you’re an experienced runner, pounding out 3.1 miles is basically a warmup. But that’s not what I’m talking about. When you’re toeing the line for a 5K, your goal at this point in your running career isn’t finishing. It’s racing. That means going out there for 3.1 miles and punishing yourself at speeds you’d never contemplate at longer distances. Run like that and you’ll test your conditioning and mental toughness. Some runners call this a “suicide pace,” and if you’ve ever seen what collegiate or Olympic 5,000-meter runners look like after they compete, you’ll get it. Race a 5K like that and you will be tested. Pass that test, and you’ll know what you can do when you’re trying to get a final kick for that longer race you’re eyeing.

So there it is. The longer races are great. But don’t sell the 5K short, even if the distance is.

Bob Doucette

What happens when you’re not feeling the long runs?

A scene from one of my long run routes. Frankly, I haven’t been feeling the long runs lately.

I was out hiking the other day when I noticed, in the distance, a familiar landmark along the river. It reminded me of my turnaround point while training for a half marathon last fall. I stood there, high on a wooded ridge, contemplating what went into training for that race.

One of the strongest thoughts that crossed my mind: I don’t miss those long runs.

That surprised me. I typically need a few weeks to let my mind settle and my body heal after a big race. But now it feels different. The thought of lacing ‘em up and heading out for a 12-mile, or 20-mile, training run makes me reflexively draw back, even though three months have passed.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. For the past seven years, I’ve run a number of 15Ks, half marathons, 25Ks, a marathon, and other odd-distance races going anywhere from five to 25 miles, road and trail. But this year, I’m skipping one of my favorite trail races and bailed on another for the fourth straight year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still running. The weekly Friday run group is a major blessing to me (we had three new runners Friday!), and I do plenty of training runs throughout the week. I’m also getting a kick out of 5Ks again.

And yes, the thought of knocking down another 26.2, or snagging a PR in the half, or even bagging my first ultra has some appeal. But the work it takes to get there, to perform how I want to perform, elicits a big “eh,” and I move on.

One side of me thinks this is wrong, reinforced by the popular notion that you must run more, run farther, run faster, run wilder trails and get more extreme.

When you first started running and met more experienced runners, they probably encouraged you to try something harder. Ran a 5K, you say? Train for the 15K. Got that done? You’re a step away from a half marathon, so sign up! Got a half under your belt? May as well go for the full. You’re a marathoner? Try an ultra. That first 5K must lead you to a hundred-miler and a buckle or you’ve failed as a runner.

So you dive into all things running. Buy the gear. Be the dirtbag. Grow the beard. Do all the things, and be sure to photograph your black toenails, bulging blisters and trail scrapes. And then, of course, share those images on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page or on your Instagram, because you have to show everyone how extreme you are, how much you’ve bought in, how much you really belong. Shoot, maybe you can even become a brand ambassador and get free stickers, a trucker’s hat or a T-shirt.

I haven’t done the ultra thing yet (and I won’t rule it out), but I’ve felt the pull of collecting the merit badges that seem to come with identifying as a runner. And believe me, I think the running community is awesome. I’ve met some incredible people through running. And yeah, I’ve worked with a brand or two.

But after a time, chasing all these gold stars seems like just another thing to do. I shouldn’t feel compelled to run every time I’m on a trail. Hiking is sometimes more fun. I should feel OK if I jump on a bike or blow myself out in the weight room instead of tallying the expected weekly mileage count. If I want to hoist barbells instead of piling up more junk miles, that shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I’m not “living the life” according to whomever.

And maybe that’s why those long run memories aren’t pulling me toward another race. You’ve got to want to do this stuff. Otherwise, it’s just work. You can do a million different things to stay in shape, after all.

There’s satisfaction in a race well-run. Or even challenging yourself on the trail when no one is around. But in the end, it needs to be profitable. Not just in terms or fitness or accomplishment, but for what it does for you outside the merit badges of running culture.

I’m gonna race a 5K this weekend. I’m also going to do a lot of other things many of my runner friends won’t do. And they’re going to do a lot of things I’m not going to do (or, frankly, can’t do because they’re awesome at this running thing). And that’s fine by me.

Maybe by this summer, I’ll feel the pull or the PR, create another training program, and have another go at a longer race. Shoot, maybe I’ll go all in on the ultra. But if I don’t, I’m not going to sweat it.

Bob Doucette

Black-and-white photo challenge: Slices of life, photographically told

Last fall, we saw a lot of people on Facebook and Instagram doing the “black-and-white photo challenge,” where you take one black-and-white photo each day for a week. The rules: No selfies, no people, no caption or explanation. I got challenged, did some pics, and had a little fun.

I’m not sure why, but I liked this. The “challenge” was cool, and I enjoyed seeing what other people posted.

Yes, it’s dorky. Yes, it’s another social media deal where everyone plays along like a bunch of sheep. But who cares? It was harmless fun, and for those who like taking photographs it was a great way to break up the usual stream of angry or selfie-ridden posts that dominate these platforms.

Anyway, I figured it would be fun to look back at those pics. And this time, I’ll be including captions. (I’m a rule-breaker) As you’ll see, my life isn’t just a constant stream of landscape photos and outdoorsy bliss.

Pretty much this, six days a week.

Every runner and hiker has a pile of shoes, right? So many miles sitting there.

What I look at during work hours.

This is where I park.

The neighborhood.

These things go with me everywhere.

I go here a lot. You didn’t think I’d do this without some woodsy scenery, did ya?

So there you have it. Little slices of life, photographically represented in black-and white. Did you do something like this? If you’re a blogger, it would be cool to see if you did this and stick it in a link. Paste it in the comments. Let’s see your life in black-and-white.

Bob Doucette

Mountain reads: ‘Colorado 14er Disasters’ by Mark Scott-Nash

NOTE: This is an installment of an occasional series on books, old and new, about outdoor adventures.

We’ve seen an uptick in the allure of alpine adventure, and nowhere is this more true than in Colorado.

Specifically, the state has seen a spike in interest and visitors to its 14ers, the peaks that rise to heights of 14,000 feet. It’s a rite of passage for many in Colorado to climb one, and as I can attest, the attraction goes well outside of Colorado’s borders.

But as is true of any wild place, the mountains can be risky places to be, particularly for the unprepared and inexperienced. Even seasoned hikers and mountaineers can get caught in a bad place in the high country.

And that’s the point of Mark Scott-Nash’s “Colorado 14er Disasters,” a compact book detailing incidents that have led to major rescue efforts, serious injuries, and even deaths on the high peaks.

I came into this book hoping for something akin to “Death in the Grand Canyon,” a sizable tome that recorded every recorded death there. This is not that book – there are far too many incidents, too many deaths, and too many unknown and unrecorded stories to cover. Instead, the author picks a number of accidents and incidents that are representative of what happens in the mountains when things go sideways.

In putting this together, Scott-Nash goes through incident reports, news reports and interviews with people involved in the accidents or those who took part in rescues. The reasons for these mishaps vary – weather, getting lost, accidental falls, rockfall/avalanche, etc. Most times, the fault lies with something the victim did or did not do.

Scott-Nash doesn’t pull punches. Where he finds fault in the individual, he says so. Some people may find some of these observations harsh. But at the same time, the stark description of mistakes and assumed risk also serve as important warnings for those new mountain adventures.

The book contains helpful appendices and a glossary of terms and is peppered with informational blurbs concerning relevant information in each chapter.

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that I’m familiar with some of the stories he tells and have been to some of the mountains where the accidents he profiles took place. Viewing Humboldt Peak, for instance, I can see exactly where the dangerous portions of this otherwise tame mountain could be. I can see where people could get lost on Mount of the Holy Cross (though trail improvements, including huge cairns on the mountain’s northwest ridge have helped), and can easily spot the problem areas on Longs Peak, a burly mountain that is routinely underestimated by far too many climbers.

It’s a matter-of-fact book that doesn’t go into narrative storytelling. Rather, “Colorado 14er Disasters” is more like an expanded compilation of mountain incident reports, organized and written in a way to help readers understand just how tenuous life can be in the high country. Most importantly, it dissects each incident and provides relevant information readers can take with them the next time they plan a mountain adventure.

Bob Doucette