Choosing not to suck, part 3: The Route 66 Marathon half

The start of the 2015 Route 66 Marathon on Sunday. More than 15,800 runners were a part of the 5K, half marathon and full marathon races this year, a record for the event. (Route 66 Marathon photo)

The start of the 2015 Route 66 Marathon on Sunday. More than 15,800 runners were a part of the 5K, half marathon and full marathon races this year, a record for the event. (Route 66 Marathon photo)

Sometime during the summer, I came to a realization. Maybe it was the snug fit of the jeans, or the jowly look of my face. Or perhaps it was my inability to handle hills of any kind when I was out running. My thinking was, “How did I get here?”

Last year about this time, I ran a half marathon with an OK time. Then I ran hard the rest of the week, which is always a swell idea after doing a race. Once that week passed, I let off the gas. For months.

What this means: I kept eating the same amounts I did when I was training hard and put on about 10 pounds, maybe more, and very little of that was good weight.

The result: Not only did I lose what running base I had (running 10 miles a week is not going to keep you in shape for things like half marathons), but I also got pudgy and out of shape.

Late in the summer, I resolved to do something about it, gradually adding miles, hill work and speed work to drag myself out of this morass of sloth, and I signed myself up for three races in the fall: The Fleet Feet Quarter Marathon in September, the Tulsa Run 15K in October, and the Route 66 Marathon half in November. Signing up for races (and the money involved in entry fees) has a way of holding you accountable.

Back in September, I called this “my decision not to suck.” Bear in mind, you do not suck if you don’t do these things. But for me, I had made a quiet decision to suck by wasting the hard-earned fitness I’d achieved going back to 2013.

Running back then became fluid, fast (-ish) and natural. Two years later, it had become laborious and frustrating, and it was my own fault. This crept into other areas of my life, most notably anything I tried to do in the mountains, or missing out on the opportunity to run with friends who had definitely decided not to suck and kept themselves in shape.

My fall race season concluded this past weekend, with some plusses and minuses. On the positive side: I did drop about 5 pounds, and successfully got to a point where I could run and finish another half marathon. On the negative: I sure wish I’d been faster. A 2:20 is not the slowest I’ve run (there are two 2:22 finishes out there), but far from my fastest (2:11) and behind last year’s 2:17. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I came, I saw and I conquered. Let’s just say I got what I trained for and got the job done.

But in this case, not sucking is going to be a choice to keep the gains — meager as they may be — from fading again. I’m not where I was in 2013, or even 2014. But I’m not where I was four months ago. Going forward, it would seem that my nine-month period of sloth can be reversed, and a new foundation laid that can be built upon. I’ve got some goals in mind, though we’ll see about all that.

Two things about this pic. First, the medal and the jacket were pretty sweet swag. Second, I take terrible selfies and really don't like doing it.

Two things about this pic. First, the medal and the jacket were pretty sweet swag. Second, I take terrible selfies and really don’t like doing it.


As for the race itself, it was about what I expected, but with a few twists.

First, the race is top-notch. I know one of the main organizers, Kim Hann, and she and her team always do a great job. This year was no different. Well-stocked and manned aid stations, a great (and challenging) course, and some of the coolest finisher medals around. That’s what you get with the Route 66 Marathon.

The weather was great: About 30 degrees at the start, but sunny with calm winds. Perfect for a long-distance event, and it was in the upper 40s by the time I finished.

But there were some differences between this year and races past. For starters, the size of the race was much larger. Nearly 16,000 people signed up, so the course itself was quite a bit more dense in terms of other runners.

And for me, since I didn’t sign up until September, that meant being pinned in the D corral.

Here’s the thing about the D: There are two types of runners here — those whose predicted finish times were on the slower end, or those who, like me, who signed up late. The D corral was the biggest of the four, and being packed toward the back of that one meant that the normal dodging and passing of runners at the start was turned up to 11. Lots of love to my fellow D-corral runners (y’all rock!), but the sheer mass of people made for slow going those first couple of miles. I’ve been spoiled by starting in the B corral the previous two years.

Having to stop for a restroom break at Mile 4 didn’t help, either. That’s another minute or more down the drain.

But I kept a fairly even pace throughout, predictably cratered on Mile 11 (the big hill going back into downtown), but gutted out the last mile with a little juice left over.

Lots of friends hit PRs for both the full and the half marathon races. Even more snagged their first-ever 13.1. It’s fun watching social media feeds as race day unfolds, and seeing the pics of tired but happy runners on what has become the biggest day of running in northeastern Oklahoma.

Being a part of that is cool. I guess that’s why I keep signing up. Partly it’s to stay motivated (and trying not to suck), but also reveling in what all of us can do when we push our limits on a bright Sunday morning.

On to the next big day.

Bob Doucette

Six things I learned about being a bike commuter

Me and my new ride.

Me and my new ride.

So I got myself a bike. This is interesting, because I haven’t been a bike person since I was, oh, 14 years old.

Beyond that, there have been various cycling experiments. I remember two ill-fated attempts at mountain biking — chugging my way up a monster hill, cursing my short-of-breath self the whole way on one occasion. On another, trying to follow two seasoned mountain bikers on some up-and-down horse trails at Roman Nose State Park in western Oklahoma. They were riding Canondales, I was suffering on some Wal-Mart contraption with a seat that wouldn’t stay in place.

There also was the day I locked myself out of my house and car and had to ride my cheap-o bike a few miles to church. And three years ago, I hopped on a bike that was really nice but not fitted for me and cruised some bike trails for about 14 miles.

That last adventure was decent, though there is something to be said for having full range of motion when you’re choosing your ride. Anyway, I bring this up because this is the next chapter in my urban living thing.

You might remember a few weeks ago where I wrote about being priced out of a walkable neighborhood in downtown Tulsa. It really spoiled me to be able to walk just about anywhere I needed to go, but the rising cost of rent, parking and everything else shoved me out the door.

Now I’m in a bigger, cheaper place. That’s the good news. The bad: It costs money to park your car anywhere near my gym and my job. I could rent a space in a parking garage for $100 a month, or feed meters for about $2 a day (parking is free downtown after business hours — for now).

That’s $400 to $1,200 a year, just to park. None of this will do. I moved out of my old place to save money, and one way to do that is to not pay for parking. Fortunately, I am within biking distance.

I’d like to tell you that I bike to work because I want to save the planet. No greenhouse gases coming out of that bike, you know. Or that I do it for the exercise. Or perhaps that I’m so super-committed to human-powered transport that I’m taking a one-man stand on my ride. All of these are worthy goals. But no. I am not so noble.

I’m doing it for the money, or rather, my desire to spend less of it.

The act of cycling is free, even if equipping myself for it is not. Once those up-front costs are out of the way, it costs nothing to pedal or park. In a couple of months, I will have saved as much money on not paying for parking as I have in buying the bike and the assorted gear that comes with it.

I’ve learned some things in this process. So I give you this list of what I’ve gleaned since I turned into a bike commuter…

You don’t have to spend wads of money on a bike. I went on Facebook and asked, “Anyone got a bike they want to sell?” I ended up getting two offers I couldn’t refuse, spending $225 on both. One I’ll use on the commute, the other for exercise on the bike paths. Sure beats laying down several hundred — or thousand — bucks on a new ride.

You will need to buy some stuff, if you don’t have it already. A helmet, bike lock, reflector vest (if you ride home at night), lights, and, if your bike is old, a tune-up. So there are up-front costs to doing the bike thing if you’re not a cyclist. I was not, so in lieu of parking fees, I bought bike stuff.

You will need to plan more of your day ahead of time. It was easy when I walked to work. Even in a car, it’s simple. Grab your stuff and go, right? Not so on a bike. Anything you want to take with you (food, work attire, etc.) needs to be carried, by you, on your bike. So for me, that means stuffing a backpack with work clothes, a shaving kit, my lunch and anything else I need to take with me (having a place to shower before going into work is a big plus). I travel to the gym first, work out, shower, then go the last block to my office. Sounds simple, but these logistics take time that walking and driving commuters don’t have to fret. And oh, the weather. The elements might make your ride unpleasant, especially if you’re not ready.

You will need to be more careful. It’s a good idea to pick a route that doesn’t just get you to the job, but one that is the safest. There are some streets I avoid altogether, mostly because I don’t trust drivers. Most people behind the wheel of a car are not paying attention to pedestrians, cyclists, or even other drivers. Even with all the information out there about the dangers of texting and driving, PEOPLE STILL TEXT AND DRIVE. So keep that in mind when you hop on the saddle.

You will get an exercise benefit, even if the commute is short. I ran 24 miles last week, biked 8. That’s a total of 32 human-powered miles. In one week, that might not make a difference. But over a year? It will, and that’s a good thing.

Eventually, you’ll save money. Lots of it. I mentioned the parking fees I won’t have to pay. Let’s not forget about all the gasoline you won’t be burning, the oil changes that won’t be needed, the wear-and-tear on the car that won’t happen, and everything else that comes with exclusively relying on a car for your commute. I still have a car, but I only drive a couple times a week, and for short distances. I know what it’s like to have long commutes — I used to spend $250 a month just on gasoline. The extra effort will be worth the cash not spent on driving.

I know this won’t be possible for a lot of people. Some folks don’t live close enough to work to get there by bike, and moving closer to work isn’t an option. But if it is an option, maybe it’s time to take a look at parking the car — at home — and relying more on your own two legs rather than an internal combustion engine to get you from Point A to Point B.

Got any bike commuter tips? Or stories? Share ’em in the comments.

Bob Doucette

From the mayor’s office, a tone-deaf remark concerning development on Turkey Mountain

Worth protecting.

Worth protecting.

Just when you think things are on the right track, something happens to remind you just how tenuous that can be.

Tulsa city councilors and the mayor, Dewey Bartlett, met recently to discuss what sort of projects they’d like to see in an upcoming sales tax proposition to improve the city. One idea that has been floated was setting aside funds to purchase land and expand the boundaries of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area.

And then the mayor chimed in with these, shall we say, interesting words:

“My suggestion … would be that certain portions of the land in the area be set aside for purposes that would generate sales tax for the city of Tulsa. In other words, right on top of Turkey Mountain have an area set aside for a restaurant, beautiful views of the city, a place for people when they go walking, they could go see it. …

“The community, the taxpayers, not all are interested in walking through the woods at Turkey Mountain, but they will be very interested in going up to a restaurant or going up to a facility where they could sit and watch, look, experience nature, whatever that might be.”

My friend Kevin Canfield, a former coworker who now reports for The Frontier website, recorded this account in his Hyperlocal blog. Being a decent reporter, he followed up with the mayor’s office. Bartlett’s chief of staff sought to clarify this, saying Bartlett isn’t offering a plan that specific, but did say that some sort of commercial development there needs to be considered, something akin to the Blue Rose restaurant on the other side of the river close to downtown.

When I read this, I was stunned. A few angry, coarse words floated through my mind. Given everything that went down after Simon Properties wanted to plop an outlet mall there, how in the world would any elected official in this city even dream of such a thing?

I took a deep breath. Sat on it overnight. And then came to a few conclusions.

A little background: About 14 months ago, Simon Properties announced plans to put an outlet mall at the intersection of U.S. 75 and 61st Street, right on the western edge of Turkey Mountain and overlooking a YMCA kids camp just to the north. While some voiced support, most people opposed the plan. Trail users of all kinds – hikers, runners, cyclists and more – signed a petition by the thousands, wrote council members and showed up en masse at public forums to discuss it. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the proposal forced Simon to seek another location, and put locals on a path to try to secure the land in question from future development.

Now some context: While most of the city council disagreed, Bartlett was a huge proponent of Simon’s initial plan, even in the face of serious opposition.

Please tell me you don't want a McDonald's on top of this.

Please tell me you don’t want a McDonald’s on top of this.

So, some conclusions…

First, the mayor does not seem to realize how strongly people feel about keeping Turkey Mountain free from development and in a natural state. I’m not sure how this is possible, given the one-sided opposition to the original Simon plan, or the figures cited that Turkey Mountain will see more visitors on a good weather weekend than the city’s top tourist draw, the Tulsa Zoo. His comments about putting commercial development “right on top of” Turkey Mountain sounds tone deaf, defiant, or maybe both.

Second, he doesn’t seem to understand that the economic value of the land is not tied to how many cash registers are ringing there. True, Turkey Mountain delivers no direct revenue to the city. But indirectly, it generates millions of dollars. Cyclists spend thousands of dollars apiece on their bikes and associated gear. Runners and hikers might not spend as much, but they do spend – apparel, shoes, backpacks, hiking poles, and more. Turkey Mountain hosts a number of running and cycling races which draw loads of money in the form of entry fees, and attract many out-of-town competitors who spend locally on food, gas, lodging and, of course, gear and apparel. Those are real dollars going into real cash registers in real businesses, and attached to it all are sales tax dollars which flow into the city’s coffers. Cash registers don’t ring on Turkey Mountain. But many of them around town ring because of Turkey Mountain.

Third, he doesn’t seem to appreciate Turkey Mountain’s value as a community asset. Tulsa has lots of places to eat and shop. I enjoy many of them. But few cities like Tulsa have a place where you can walk into the woods and see miles of it in a completely natural state. People hunger for this kind of thing. City parks are not the same, and not everyone can pack up and drive a couple of hours to a national forest or state park to be in nature. We have it here, within our city limits. This has amazing community health benefits, and when you’re looking to attract people and businesses to town, having an asset like Turkey Mountain – left in its natural state – is a big drawing card, especially to those young professionals looking for a place for their new start-up.

Fourth, he and his chief of staff don’t seem to understand that Turkey Mountain is not the same as 18th Street and Riverside Drive, where the Blue Rose restaurant is located. Hey, I love me some Blue Rose. But the restaurant sits in a developed, urbanized area and is right off a busy four-lane thoroughfare. It is true that it dovetails nicely with the paved trails of the northern River Parks system. But you can’t compare that part of River Parks – a manicured park area – to Turkey Mountain, which is intentionally left wild. It’s a bad analogy, and the mayor’s office should know better.

Lastly, such an idea has the same infrastructural and environmental problems that the Simon mall proposal had. More traffic on the steep hills and sharp curves of 61st Street and Elwood Avenue is a bad idea all around. Light pollution and litter would be an issue, denigrating the experience just so some diners could have a view. And the stormwater drainage from hard-surface parking lots would be problematic in keeping Turkey Mountain’s watershed clean.

Whether or not land acquisition for Turkey Mountain’s expansion becomes part of the Vision 2025 sales tax renewal plan is one thing. I’d love to see it, just as long as the land in question remains wild. But even if it is not on the ballot, it seems the mayor’s office is in need of a deeper education on this issue. Given how thoroughly that message was conveyed over the past 14 months, that seems like a mountain-sized task.

Want to let the mayor know how you feel? Send him a letter here.

Bob Doucette

Choosing not to suck, Part 2: Running the 2015 Tulsa Run

Tulsa Run bling. Evidence that I am still choosing not to suck.

Tulsa Run bling. Evidence that I am still choosing not to suck.

This won’t be your typical race report.

I’m not going to blather on about how well my training went, or how badly. There won’t be those moments of triumph or points where I wanted to give up. No PR, no awards, no DNFs.

My fourth year in the Tulsa Run was never going to be any of those things, mostly because I’m not the noob I was four years ago, nor am I in the peak condition that I hit two years ago. Life cut into my training time over the past two fall race seasons, but after more than nine months of not doing much of anything, I decided (and wrote about) my decision not to suck this fall. Just lace ’em up and run as best as I could.

That is what this is about.

The course for the 15K race changed last year. The Tulsa Run was, for a long time, a mostly flat out-and-back guaranteed to give you a fast time if you’re up for it. My PR in this distance came on the old course. But it’s now a very hilly loop, and if last year’s times were any indication, people weren’t going to be as fast battling the inclines as they were chewing up the road on a course that, with the exception of the downhill at the beginning and the climb at the end, was as flat as a board.

I came into this one overweight and undertrained. But I also had no expectations. I did the right thing by tapering. I did the wrong thing by staying up until 3 a.m. at a friend’s birthday party the night before. Many tasty things, both of the solid and liquid variety, were consumed.


I woke up with my head feeling a little swimmy. Might this be a good day to DNS? The thought crossed my mind. And I dismissed it. Nope, you said you were going to do this. You said you were not going to suck. Toe the line and go. Even if it takes you two hours, you run that thing and finish.

And then a strange thing happened. I found a pace, held it, and discovered a rhythm I could sustain over the hills and across the flats for almost the entire race. And that’s exactly what I did.

This is a minor miracle, as I’m not just a crappy runner, but a terribly undisciplined one as well. I always start too fast, then crash and burn at the end. That’s particularly easy to do in these Tulsa races, most of which start downtown (on top of a hill), go down, then finish going back up that hill to somewhere close to the start.

But on that first mile, one blessedly of the downhill variety, I held back. I let everyone else fly by, and kept an even gait before chewing up that first big hill, a half-mile climb to a trendy part of town called Cherry Street, which gave way to yet more hills, though most not as long or as steep. But this is the part of the course that usually separates the wheat from the chaff, if you get my drift.

For me, it was steady as she goes. I ran into a buddy named Ken Childress — normally a trail runner who has a few 100-milers under his belt — chugging along on that first big stretch. I’d recognize that Trail Zombie pace from a mile away. I told him I’d see him later on as I attempted a fist bump passing by. Typical white guys, we didn’t connect. Whiff!

From there on out, it was pretty much me and the road. Me and the hills. Me wondering just when my cardio was going to leave me. But it didn’t, at least not for awhile.

Somewhere on a flat portion of the course, maybe around Mile 7, I ran up on a guy who looked like the second coming of Eddie George, the Ohio State and Tennessee Titans star running back from a few years back. The dude was stacked, but keeping a good clip, running alongside a gazelle-like woman who was making this whole thing look a little too easy.

This was a great time to create an awkward conversation.

“Dude,” I said as I came up to his side, “you really should lift some weights.” Hilarious, because he was hulk-like compared to me. He laughed and went along with the joke.

“I mean, do you even lift, bro?”

Yes, I do this to strangers who look as if they could lift twice as much as me. I don’t know why. Just seems like the right thing to do.

The three of us chatted a bit before I pulled away, or maybe they pulled away. I honestly don’t remember. But the distraction helped kill a mile or two, and before I knew it, there was only a mile to go.

But that last one is, without a doubt, the hardest. Crossing the river, you go uphill to the crest of downtown before turning north on Boston Avenue and the Tulsa Run’s infamous, final uphill climb to the finish. Everyone dreads Boston Avenue, but that first hill climb before you get there is worse. Much worse.

About then, my cardio left me. I tanked. Yes, I moved forward, but at a crawl, giving in to the hill and tossing aside any fantasy of besting my previous year’s time. But just when it was looking a little bleak, one last bit of friendly encouragement.

The running and cycling community is pretty strong in Tulsa, with mountain bikers, road cyclists and trail runners often converging either on the trails or at a downtown bar called The Soundpony. The Soundpony crew is a raucous and fun crowd, single-handedly giving the city the wildest scene of the Tulsa Tough cycling races (Google Cry Baby Hill and you’ll see what I mean) while also coming out in force to support, in a fun way, endurance athletes doing their thing. Many times that means costumes, loud music and bandit beer aid stations.

True to form, there they were, costumed, loudly cheering and passing out cups of PBR to passing runners who cared for it. Someone was waving a huge Soundpony flag, one I’ve seen before not just at Tulsa Tough, but smaller races as well. Seeing that a PR was nowhere in sight, I pulled off to greet my buds. A fist bump here, a chest bump there. And then a cheap brew down the hatch before running those last six blocks to the finish.

I poured it on here, having enough gas in the tank to pick up the pace to some sort of neo-sprint-like-thing that was threatening to eject the beer I just downed.

Would I finish in a decent time? Would I barf at the finish? Both? Neither?

Fortunately, I kept it all down and managed to cross the finish looking like I was somewhat athletic (or maybe not, but let me believe, dangit!). I collected my medal, then headed down to meet The Soundpony crowd, and saw my friend Ken motor on by. Ken is one of those “big oak” figures in the local running scene, and so are a lot of the people at that bandit beer station. Among them I counted many ultra runners (and a few big-race winners). In real life, as in those outside of running and cycling, most of these folks lead pretty involved professional lives. But here, everyone is unified by these little sufferfests.

I live pretty close to the finish, so walking home was no big deal. Upon arrival, there was a protein smoothie and a nap, followed by a double cheeseburger and another nap. One of the best things about the longer races is the license to eat, and the excuse to sleep when it’s over.

Curiosity got the best of me later on. Just how did this race go for me? I knew the time — a pedestrian 1:37:25. Not my slowest, but not even close to my fastest. But when I broke it down into splits, something happened that hadn’t occurred before. Even after gassing out on that last mile, each 5K split was roughly the same, from start to finish.

I had to grin at that one. Too heavy? Yes. Too much pre-race partying? Uh-huh. Too slow? Yup. But I was consistent, and for the second time this fall race season, I made a conscious decision not to suck. Seeing that I had a good time doing it and managed to cross a finish, I’d say “mission accomplished.”

On to this month’s half marathon…

Bob Doucette

Five thoughts on REI’s #OptOutside Black Friday campaign

If you want to shop here on Black Friday, you're outta luck. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

If you want to shop here on Black Friday, you’re outta luck. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Outdoor retailer REI made big news Monday when its corporate leadership announced that it would not open its stores on Black Friday.

This is a serious commitment for any retail company, as Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is usually the biggest in-store shopping day of the year, and kicks off the industry’s most crucial period. Christmas is our excuse to buy a lot of stuff, after all, and there are a lot of consumers who know outdoorsy types who’d love a jacket, a tent, a pair of skis or some sort of gadget to go play outside.

The move is much more than a spontaneous measure of goodwill. It has plenty of layers. So here’s some snapshot thoughts of what REI’s Black Friday announcement means:

This was a seriously thought-out plan. The decision was packaged well, complete with its own social media hashtag, #OptOutside, and a web page that asks visitors to participate in their own version of Black Friday. It’s interactive, slick, and very visual. And its framework fits nicely with a younger generation’s aptitude for making statements of belief and values through social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are being peppered with beautiful images, provided by REI, that express people’s desire to forego the shopping mania of Nov. 27 for some good times outside. REI’s CEO didn’t just dream this up over the weekend. This is a carefully crafted media campaign designed to make REI stand out from other retailers.

REI is taking a risk. Undoubtedly, REI will lose sales it ordinarily would have earned from shoppers flooding its brick-and-mortar stores. Other outdoor retailers that are more online-based, but still have physical stores, could get away with this more easily, but not REI. Online shopping is plenty big with REI, but this is a company committed to in-store sales. Closing on Black Friday won’t put REI out of business, but it will feel this. The bottom line will be affected.

REI is the type of company that can get away with this. The first question a lot of people unfamiliar with REI’s business model would ask is, “What are the shareholders going to say?” But REI is not a publicly traded company. Despite its huge presence and impact on the outdoor retail industry, REI is still a co-op of members, just like it was when it was founded. This gives REI more latitude on decisions like this than, say, Macy’s, Target or Wal-Mart.

#OptOutside is a major statement of corporate values. The company’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke, had this to say in an open letter to customers: “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” This move goes beyond counterintuitive, as other retailers are opening not only earlier on Black Friday, but also on Thanksgiving Day. So while employees of those companies will have to work long hours and may have to squeeze in a Thanksgiving meal around their Thursday shift, REI employees will be getting paid not to work on Black Friday. So not only is the company going to lose money on sales, but will also spend money on workers who won’t be generating income for REI. In the corporate world, you don’t make this sort of financial commitment unless you really believe in it.

The Friday after Thanksgiving looks like this. And increasingly, so does Thanksgiving Day. ( photo)

The Friday after Thanksgiving looks like this. And increasingly, so does Thanksgiving Day. ( photo)

#OptOutside is also a strong statement to change overall cultural values. You’ve seen the footage of frenzied Black Friday shoppers gobbling up TVs, gadgets, clothes and toys, surging through glass doors and whipping out credit cards like it was the last day shopping would ever be allowed. People camping outside stores. Stories of hapless consumers being trampled by hordes of single-minded buyers. Even fights breaking out, sometimes with weapons. These are the extremes of Black Friday, to be sure, and the stories make the online rounds as endless Thanksgiving holiday clickbait. But they exist. REI is pumping an alternative narrative hard, that instead of spending so much energy buying stuff, that maybe we should spend the day burning energy on a bike, hiking a trail, climbing a crag or camping with friends. The storyline is that time outdoors is far more memorable and fulfilling than cashing in on doorbuster sales. Consumerism drives the economy and keeps millions of people employed, but too much of a profitable thing can be toxic. That’s my thinking, anyway, and at first glance, that appears to be the idea REI is trying to convey as well.

Here's the view I hope to get on Black Friday as I #OptOutside. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Here’s the view I hope to get on Black Friday as I #OptOutside. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

My plans for Black Friday have been developing over the past several weeks, long before #OptOutside was made public. I’m going to be in Tennessee that week, and if the weather and logistics cooperate, I’ll be in the Smokies hiking a mountain. But in spirit, I’m all in for #OptOutside. Who knows how long REI will keep this up, but I hope it becomes a lasting — and growing — trend.

So what do you all think? Will you shop till you drop, or are you going to get outdoors instead? And what do you think of what REI is doing? Give me a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette

The peak bagger’s muse: Wrangling the almighty list

This peak represents two things. First, a beautiful sight. Second, it's a name on a list to check off.

This peak represents two things. First, a beautiful sight. Second, it’s a name on a list to check off.

If you were to believe all the articles written, blog posts shared, Instagram photos produced and just about anything else that conveys why we do stuff, you’d come to the conclusion that people climb mountains because of the intrinsic inspiration of high places.

More specifically, people would spin some sort of narrative about “being out in nature” or “living life to the fullest” or “taking on a challenge.” All those sayings found on motivational wall-hangings in every other office building  in the country, well, sometimes outdoorsy folks sound a lot like those. We are the lords of flowery memes.

Before I go on, let’s be clear that I’m not saying these things are untrue. People hike and climb peaks to get away from the rat race, be in the wild and live in the moment, on the edge and whatnot. But once you get into it a little, I’ve found something else pushes people back out there, flinging them headlong from the comfortable into the decidedly uncomfortable.

What is this great motivator? The list, of course.

A bunch of you will look at that sentence with all the confusion of a puppy hearing a high-pitched whine, head cocked, eyes wide open, ears tuned in. But those of you who are slaves to the list, well, you know. The urge is strong, a tractor beam pulling you from your bed at 2 a.m. to drive for four hours, hike for eight more, ascending the equivalent of a few big skyscrapers and enduring loose scree, steep trails, sketchy rock and rotten weather, all so you can go home, get online, and put a checkmark by the name of the peak you just survived. You may as well be driving the Millennium Falcon to the trailhead, ready to climb Mount Death Star. The pull is that strong, Young Skywalker.

So what lists are we talking about? There are so many. In Colorado, it’s the 58 14ers, the peaks that rise to 14,000 feet or more. Mountain hounds with the time, energy and chutzpah make a big push to complete this list. The bragging rights are huge. If that challenge isn’t big enough, you can always go for the Centennials, the highest 100 in the state. And there are 600-plus 13,000-foot peaks that comprise their own ridiculous list to fill.

Outside Colorado, there are more. So many more. You can tackle to Adirondack 46ers, a list of 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York that are 4,000 feet or higher. If you want to see the country, try hitting all the high points of each state — 50 peaks and high spots on that one. More of a world traveler, with some time, money and mountaineering chops? Fill out the Seven Summits list — the highest point on each continent. And for the elite mountaineers, there is a list of 14 8,000-meter peaks in Nepal and Tibet just waiting for you. You might not live through that list, but the bragging rights are pretty impressive if you do.

Closer to home, you can hit the high points of every county in your state. That might not be a lot of fun in a state like Kansas, but one blogger in Colorado is having a ball with it.

We love the lists so much that there is a mountaineering list of lists. It’s call the Lists of John, and it’s exhaustive (188,546 peaks!). Lists of John even has its own Facebook page.

Looking for an obscure list of peaks? How about Malaysia's highest? ( photo)

Looking for an obscure list of peaks? How about Malaysia’s 30 highest? ( photo)

I went on social media (Facebook and Twitter in this case) to ask people about the allure of the list. The responses I got had a nice mix, with most saying the lists quantified their goals.

From Noel: “I have gone through stages with my hiking of the 14ers. First it was…Wow! I hiked a 14er! Then…Cool! I hiked a few more! Then…Hmm, I wonder if I could do some of the tougher ones. Then…Whoa! Maybe I could actually work toward finishing these peaks! Then…These are getting tough, but ‘the list’ is nearing completion!”

From Bill: “Certainly helped me organize and plan. Helps one another measure up; discuss plans. I couldn’t imagine having as much inspiration to just climb a random number of random peaks.”

From Mike: “Important. They give me structure and keep me focused.”

And from Sean: “They are very important because the take you to places you wouldn’t consider going before.”

For others, it was more nuanced.

From Annalise: “I have very mixed feelings about lists. They really frustrate me in the sense of allowing the dangerous possibility of overly inflated ego and self-limitation. The concept of ‘conquering’ mountains deeply bothers me, because I don’t believe in that and I feel like peak bagging lists are commonly associated with that idea. Though it’s wonderful to see other mountain lovers empowered by ‘bagging peaks,’ it’s deeply worrisome to see some that get cocky and overconfident and attribute their achievements entirely to their own greatness, belittling these sacred places. Personally, I’m a big fan of being silly and joking around on summits, but when I am moving, I do my best to give reverence to the peaks. Geology is so much bigger than we are.

“That said… it is a very helpful organization tool. It is really nice to be able to think ‘I want to go explore another inspiring place outside of everyday human infrastructure’ and be able to look up names on a list (and progress to planning from there) much as once upon a time we looked up names and numbers of people in a phone book. It’s soothing.

“Anyway, I can’t really resolve my two conflicting ideas about lists. They both exist in my head, and so far they’ve pretty much stayed in balance. The former makes me hate the latter, but the latter makes me attempt to be a little more open-minded (to little avail). And around it goes.”

From Zach: “It’s really just a list, but for me it gives me objectives to plan. Half of the excitement is studying the route and quantifying it in my head. I put all of the logistics together and then it’s game day. My awareness of the day is higher because I’m driven to make it unfold successfully. As I get close to finishing the 14ers, I wonder if I’ll find that drive without a menu of objectives to choose from. Welcome to my neurosis!”

But the list didn’t hold attraction for everyone.

From David: “At first I was interested in the lists, then I was trying to figure out who I was doing the list for. Me? Or what I wanted people to think of me? I lost the fun. Now, I go out to have fun. Fun with people, different experience on the same mountain. The list doesn’t matter. I understand why people chase them and I am glad they do. I just don’t feel the need to chase a list.”

And from Kay: “I could care less about lists when it comes to mountains. Which is ironic because I like checking things off lists in every other aspect of my life. Mountains are the one place I feel total freedom and that includes freedom from the constraints of lists. Lists remind me of going to the grocery store or the amount of school work I have to do. Climbing mountains is my freedom and I love them all equally.”

As for me? I’m somewhere in between. Living where I live, and working full-time, the free time to chase summits and knock off big lists doesn’t exist. I don’t have the money for things like the Seven Summits, and certainly not the cash, experience and skills for the 8,000-ers.

And yet I still keep track. The website has features where you can check off 14ers you’ve climbed, and 13ers as well. I like Dave’s take – that I head to the mountains to have fun and enjoy the moment. But by the time I get back to civilization and anywhere close to a computer, I log on. I find the list. And I check ‘em off, one peak at a time. I guess the list owns me, too, even if I never complete it.

Bob Doucette

Are you into social media? Let’s connect!


Regular readers may already know this, but if you’re new to this site or whatnot, you can find me on numerous social media outlets.

I stay pretty active on a number of Twitter chats (#ATQA, #trailtime and #hikerchat are my go-to favorites) if you’re a Twitterati kind of person. Look me up @RMHigh7088 (yes, an old school Twitter handle that isn’t very cool. But there it is).

On Instagram, find me @Proactiveoutside. I post a lot of pics about some of the amazing places I see from far away or close to home. And check out some of my shots at #seenontherun, #seenonthetrail or #urbantrail. If you’ve got some cool shots of your own, tag ’em with these. I’d love to see them!

On Facebook, check me out at Proactiveoutside. I post links from this blog there, but also a lot of other interesting links and photos related to the outdoors, fitness, running, conservation and adventure.

Click on the “Like” or “Follow” buttons seen on the right side of this page, or just find me on the web.

See you all on the Interwebz!

Bob Doucette