Gear review: Kahtoola Microspikes

Extra traction for the snow.

Extra traction for the snow.

It’s not often I get to test snow gear out where I live, which is a real hindrance when I want to use such things in the high country. But every now and then, I get that chance.

A couple of decent days of snow in my part of the world gave me the opportunity to whip out a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes I own, which to this day have only been used for hiking purposes. But how would they do on a trail run? That’s what I wanted to find out. But let’s tackle the basics first.

SPECS

Microspikes are one of a variety of products out there designed to give you extra traction to what you already have on your boots or shoes. There are other products, ranging from screw-in spikes that go into the bottoms of your shoes to crampons, which are used in glacier walking and steep hiking and mountaineering ventures where snow and ice is involved. Crampons can be overkill in a lot of circumstances, and deeper snow can render screw-in spikes less effective. So that’s where Microspikes and products like them come in.

The basic design is a rubber upper that slips over your boot or shoe, with steel chains on the sole. The soles also have 10 to 12 1-centimeter spikes, depending on the size you require (10 spikes for extra small, 12 for small to extra large). Each pair weighs 12 to 15-1/2 ounces, again depending on your size. I wear a 10-1/2 shoe, so I wear the large size that comes in at 14.4 ounces per pair.

Microspikes are easy to put on your shoe — the flexibility of the rubber makes it to where no straps or tightening devices are needed, provided you get the right size. Each pair comes with a two-year warranty.

So how’d they do?

An easy fit over my shoes.

An easy fit over my shoes.

HIKING

My first test came during a late spring trip into the mountains where a lot of snow was present. The snow itself was soft in spots and deep enough for kickstepping. In terms of weight, I didn’t notice much in the way be being slowed , and because of the smaller size of the spikes, it was pretty easy to transition between snow and bare rock without losing too much traction. This would not have been the case with crampons.

On that note, getting that extra traction proved helpful, particularly as the snow softened throughout the day. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any slips (there were, mostly because of the softness of the snow), but compared to a plain boot, I’d say I stuck to those slick surfaces pretty well.

Overall, the Microspikes make a decent compromise when a bare boot is not going to cut it, but crampons prove to be more steel on your foot than you really need. Experience will dictate that.

TRAIL RUNNING

Let me start off by saying that the trail shoes I use for running have proved to be more than adequate traction for running in snow, even when inclines are involved. I tested my Salomon Sense Mantras in snowy conditions last winter and noticed minimal slipping. And considering how light they are, that’s a good thing.

But I realize that some people’s shoes just aren’t ready to tackle snow. So that’s where external traction comes into play.

I put mine on and headed out for a hilly, technical 4.4-mile trail run with about 3-4 inches of fresh snow. The conditions included anything from dense powder on less-traveled trails to packed powder on places that had seen some traffic.

The run started out with a climb of about 50 feet. It was moderately steep, so this was going to be a place where slipping was bound to occur. But that did not happen. The teeth of the spikes dug in and my feet gained excellent traction throughout that little uphill.

The same could be said of the downhills. I was somewhat conservative at first, but later tried to pick up the pace on any downward slopes and had no troubles with my footing. A great sign.

But there are a couple of things I noticed. First, I did have to readjust the Microspikes on my right foot near the toe, as they’d started to shift off-center. That only happened once, but you may experience times where you have to adjust the spikes so they give you optimal traction and the chains/spikes don’t get too loose underfoot.

Second, the weight on my feet was noticeable. I didn’t get any snow balling under my shoes, but that added 7.2 ounces on each foot makes a difference. So be prepared for that.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

OVERALL

The Kahtoola Micropikes are a durable, rugged solution for the lighter-duty traction needs of hikers and trail runners who want to tackle the snow. You may get slowed a bit if you’re a runner, and be sure to weigh your traction needs when facing steep slopes that are snowy or icy — they’re good for overall traction, but are not a substitute for crampons when crampons are what you need. But less than that, they are great to have for any number of late fall, winter and early spring adventures in the snow.

Price: $64.95 per pair suggested retail.

Note: I purchased my pair with my own funds.

Bob Doucette

Snow day: Hitting the trails in the quiet of winter

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

It’s not exactly common for us here in the Southern Plains to get much snow, at least not anything worth mentioning. It’s infrequent enough that when it happens, schools close, grocery stores are raided and TV meteorologists go into full-on freak-out mode, something less than what we see during tornado season, but not by much.

Snow also sends some people outside, building snowmen, sledding or otherwise playing around in conditions that elicit a collective shrug to the people up north or in the high country. Most people, however, just stay in.

And that means my local playground empties out quite nicely. I run a lot at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, and when the weather is nice, I’m there with boatloads of other people. During a good snowfall, those numbers drop precipitously.

I try to make a point of going out there after a good snow, partly for the solitude, but mostly because of the beauty. Have a look at these shots and you’ll see what I mean…

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it's soft underfoot.

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it’s soft underfoot.

On the north end of the Ridge Trail, you get to see these boulders. They look a little different graced with some snow.

Framed just right. That's quite a scene.

Framed just right. That’s quite a scene.

Turning back south, you get a great view of the Arkansas River.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

And then something you rarely see: Me in a selfie. I don’t do these very much, for obvious reasons. But at least you know I was there.

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive "not looking at the camera because I'm so rad" thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive “not looking at the camera because I’m so rad” thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

This is what I get to do in a place where I can’t ski. In any case, what I got out of the deal was a 4.4-mile run in the snow, a chance to see the woods in a whole new way and a little bit of solitude at a time when that’s been in short supply. It wasn’t the strongest run I’ve ever had (I’m not exactly in shape right now), but it was definitely worth the time and effort.

I’ve lived by the idea of embracing the elements, and what you see in those photos is a good reason why. It might be cold and wet, but it’s awesome in every way. Good things happen when you head outside.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Simon Group meets with Tulsans about mall plan, and the reception gets chilly

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There has been a lot of action on the plan to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain, with representatives of the Simon Group meeting with members of the community and city officials as the approval process grinds on.

Simon reps has been putting on a charm offensive just before going over their plans with the Tulsa Area Planning Commission, and they even met with members of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition to discuss that group’s concerns about the mall proposal a few days before the Planning Commission meeting took place last  week.

I got a summary of how that meeting with coalition members went, and I attended the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve learned from last week’s meetings:

Simon claims to have plans for a five- to six- lane bridge and that the state Department of Transportation will allow them to replace the 61st Street bridge at their own expense. Simon intends to get a tax increment finance district designation from the city to reimburse them for this expense, which is essentially a tax break on things like property taxes to be repaid over time if/when property values rise and other revenues from the project come in (not a sure bet). That still does not address the traffic impact on the Interstate 44/U.S. 75 interchange. Coalition members showed them the problematic access issues with the dysfunctional service roads on both sides of I-44 as well as the short merge areas on U.S. 75 over I- 44.

Simon offered no answer for the public safety issue of the Elwood Avenue and 61st Street corridor to the east of the property entrance for their strip mall. John Dionis, with Simon, blames park users for making the road dangerous by parking on the sides of the road. It was pointed out that is the pent-up demand for recreation and green space.

Simon has no plan in place to deal with trash blowing from their property onto adjacent properties. This is something the actual permanent site management will apparently address once it is hired and placed on site. Adjacent properties include the Westside YMCA (which hosts summer camps for kids, among other programs) and wild land used by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and other people seeing time outdoors.

Simon appears reluctant to share any of its 2,000 parking spaces with trail users. Instead, the company plans to go to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (one of the property owners adjacent to the proposed mall site) and see if the foundation would mind tearing up its property to put an additional 50 or so parking spaces and trailhead access. It’s been communicated to Simon that trail users do not want to sacrifice even more wild land for parking.

Simon claims its retaining walls will be constructed of wood. At some point, the fill area to be contained by these retaining walls will be 70 feet high. Though terraced in 10- to 15-foot sections, this bears more scrutiny.

Simon is projecting 750 cars per hour transiting the mall site at peak times. A traffic study was mentioned at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, but it was not presented at that time. There is no way right now to examine how Simon got to that number. Regardless, this is pretty heavy traffic for a single entry-exit plan on a road that will taper to two lanes just east of the proposed mall site’s access point.

Coalition members explained they are concerned about contaminants in the stormwater runoff. Simon claims it has ways to address this, but other than describing use of a greenbelt and different kinds of plants and soils to absorb such runoff, those plans are still a little vague. During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, a Simon official basically said they’ve done scores of similar projects before and to just “trust us.” I hope that condescending brush-off did not go unnoticed by the Planning Commission. It certainly did not escape me.

Coalition members pointed out the sightline issue from the ridge to the east and how this ruins the experience for trail users. Simon claims it will have its architect meet with coalition members, walk the valley and western leg of Snake Trail and devise a way to make the view more palatable. This shows they likely have never walked this area, just the property they intend to develop. One might describe that as a case of disconnect.

Simon said there was no possibility of developing on another site or partnering with one of the other developments. A site between 61st & 71st, Union and U.S. 75 apparently had bigger site challenges than this site.

Simon fully believes it can have a widened bridge over U.S. 75 done, site work complete, and open for business in fall 2016. More than a few people find this hard to believe.

A CHILLY RECEPTION

The Planning Commission meeting went as you’d expect, but with a few interesting twists. After trying to butter up the locals with how much they enjoyed Tulsa barbecue, Simon reps presented their plans, answered questions, and then declined to talk to local media covering the meeting.

What was interesting to me was how many questions Planning Commission members asked, and how they specifically mirrored the concerns that me and many others have been driving home over the past few months. What that tells me is that they have been hearing the message from people in the community.

They’re not alone. Apparently, so have many Tulsa City Council members. In a story in Sunday’s Tulsa World, a good number of city councilors voiced displeasure at the proposed mall plan. One councilor, Jeanie Cue (whose district is includes Turkey Mountain and the proposed mall site) is going to hold a public forum to discuss it. At this point, only Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his staff seem to be for it. The rest of the council – which has final say in whether or not this happens – seems far less enthusiastic.

That tells me the message is getting through. As the public educates itself on the problems of the site, and what’s at stake, more and more people are souring on Simon’s plan. It’s not that people don’t want an outlet mall, they just don’t want one that eats into the city’s best urban green space – an asset prized and promoted by the city – and they don’t want one that looms over a great facility like the Westside Y.

It also tells me that councilors are hearing from voters, and they’re listening. Letters and emails keep coming. The online petition keeps growing.

I have no problem with Simon or anyone opening an outlet mall in Tulsa, just not there. More and more of you seem to agree.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Clearly, this is not a done deal for Simon. Anything but. But stopping it from happening is also not a done deal. So here are some suggestions:

If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here, and contact the mayor here.

If you live in District 2, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.

If you can, be at the next Planning Commission meeting. Public input will be allowed at this meeting, and the commission needs to hear your concerns. And you can bet that those accountable to voters – the mayor and the council – will be paying attention to what happens there. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. March 18 at 175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers.

If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s well over 7,300 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.

Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.

Bob Doucette

Caught in a lie: Storytelling, personal branding, and the temptation that befell Brian Williams

Stories of adventure are often some of the best, but they're only worth as much as the truth within them.

Stories of adventure are often some of the best, but they’re only worth as much as the truth within them.

Going back a few years, I can remember a conversation I had with a gal named Katrina during our freshman year in college. Being a dippy 18-year-old trying to impress a cute girl, I was trying my best to give off a positive vibe that I hoped would be returned. So I started telling all these goofy tales of what my friends and I did back in high school.

Her response: She said I was good at telling stories. “I guess I am a storyteller,” is what I said in return.

Nothing ever happened between me and Katrina, but that conversation stuck. At the time, I had no clue what I was going to become later in life, but here I am, many years later, and being a storyteller is a major part of who I am.

The process of becoming this thing, this “storyteller,” has been a gradual one of learning to observe and to write, to work for peanuts while honing my craft, and of course, reading the works of good writers who have taken their trade further than me. Storytelling has taken me to desperate neighborhoods, lonely rural towns, sporting events and crime scenes. The horror of the Oklahoma City bombing, the destruction from some of the most powerful tornadoes ever recorded, and interviewing a death row inmate two days before his execution (then watching him die in the death chamber) stick out as some of the most colorful and unforgettable moments in this still evolving career in writing.

Lately, I’ve shied away from all that stuff and turned my efforts toward the outdoors. The stories I find there – the people, the places, and how they interact – have become far more interesting to me than what had turned into an endless parade of shootings, stabbings, criminal trials and storm stories.

The one constant in all of these experiences, however, is that a good story carries itself. If it’s really worth telling, it won’t need any add-ons, embellishments or unnecessary injections of self to make it worth reading.

The temptation, however, is for storytellers to make something more of the story – and maybe of themselves – than what’s really there. Infamous fabricators like Greg Mortenson,  Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass come to mind, creating stories from composites of different people they know, or even just making things up as they went along for the sake of beefing up their careers.

Sneakier still – storytellers relating a real event, one in which they had some proximity, and then making their own experiences something bigger than they actually were.

Brian Williams has made a lot of headlines of late for growing a story over the years about how a military helicopter in which he rode during the early days of the Iraq war came under fire from Iraqi troops.

Brian Williams, who is now sitting out the next six months as NBC Nightly News anchor because of falsehoods exposed in his stories about his experiences in the Iraq war.

Brian Williams, who is now sitting out the next six months as NBC Nightly News anchor because of falsehoods exposed in his stories about his experiences in the Iraq war.

The real story is that it was a different helicopter that absorbed a round from an RPG, not the one Williams was in. That chopper landed in the same place Williams’ ride came to rest minutes later, which is how he learned about what had happened.

The two things I get from this: First, it sounds far more dramatic to say that it was your helicopter that took fire, and certainly it gives you more “cred” as a war correspondent to be able to tell a tale in which you were in mortal danger while doing your job. But second, is there still a good story to be told by sticking to the facts?

The answer, obviously, is yes. Talking about others whose experiences are as dramatic as wartime combat is fodder for excellent storytelling. But given the choice between the more exciting version of events in which he falsely inserted himself into the action or a more pedestrian approach of putting others’ stories above himself, Williams chose the former.

That, my friends, is the danger facing any storyteller today, maybe more so now than in times past. There is so much emphasis placed on building personal brands, even in professional journalism, that the temptation becomes that much more intense. The problem is if a fabrication is unearthed, the damage to personal credibility is crippling and a brand is ruined.

I see this as a huge pitfall among those of us writing about outdoor experiences. Unlike mass media journalism, outdoor writing as a niche is much more cramped with far fewer opportunities to make hay than what you see in other realms. Building personal brands becomes that much more crucial, and when it comes to establishing credibility, a lot of it depends not just on how well you can tell that story, but on the things you actually do while outside. So people spend a lot of time carefully crafting an image, documenting trips and feats, dragging along their friends to film/photograph them or, in increasingly common fashion, employing the use of GoPro cameras or selfie sticks. The more rad, the better, because Lord knows no one wants to follow a lame Instagram feed.

Fortunately, the fakers are usually easy to catch. Routes can be checked, and photos can be compared to similar images other people have taken. The Adventure Journal recently wrote up a really good piece on Cesare Maestri’s decades-old claims on an ascent on Cerro Torre in 1959, and how they’ve come under new scrutiny. There is a lot to be gained for someone successfully gaining a summit like that, even before “personal branding” became the thing that it is today. There is also much to lose if that feat is exposed as false.

Cerro Torre. Any attempt to summit that peak, successful or not, would make for dramatic storytelling. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Cerro Torre. Any attempt to summit that peak, successful or not, would make for dramatic storytelling. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

I could easily see how getting turned back on a peak like Cerro Torre would be extremely dramatic. There just aren’t many towers like that in the world, especially those in harsh places like Patagonia. It might not be as compelling as overcoming the elements and gaining the summit, but it is far better than a falsehood unraveling for everyone to see.

So that brings me back to the essence of good storytelling. The tale has to be compelling and well-told, but it also has to be true, even if you have to diminish yourself during the course of its telling. Readers are interested in a good story, but Katrina and people just like her know the difference between a storyteller and a bullshitter. That’s something Mr. Williams knows all too well right now.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: A bad mall plan’s details are revealed, and it still looks pretty bad

A more detailed plan of Simon Group's plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you'll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

A more detailed plan of Simon Group’s plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two-lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you’ll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

The latest news on what’s happening with the outlet mall on Turkey Mountain is twofold: it’s not unexpected, but it’s also very revealing.

The Simon Group recently submitted more detailed plans for its proposed Premium Outlets project that it wants to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. The site is on a privately held parcel next to the Westside YMCA and undeveloped wild land that is part of the greater Turkey Mountain area.

Simon is promising jobs and shopping. What it wants is permission to build right on top of one of the last urban green spaces left in the city, and they’ll be asking for help from the city in the form of a tax increment finance district designation, which is basically a temporary subsidy funded by you and me so they can make the needed infrastructure improvements.

If you’ve read past posts on this topic before, you know I’m not in favor of building an outlet mall there. To recap my reasoning:

The site is a bad place for a mall. The roads leading to the site are just two lanes wide, they’re very hilly, and feature a couple of sharp turns as 61st Street turns into Elwood. Traffic in that area is already bad and will grow worse by several magnitudes if a shopping center goes up there. Widening those roads will be a nightmare to people already living nearby, and it will only get worse if and when that mall opens.

A multi-billion dollar company like Simon shouldn’t be asking for taxpayer money to build an outlet mall on such a bad site. TIF districts can be good, particularly if they end up paying off in the long run. But given how bad this site is, and how much money Simon has, approving this plan AND handing over taxpayer money is just wrong.

No matter how it’s built, an outlet mall cannot be a good neighbor. Representatives from the Westside YMCA have already gone on record with KJRH-TV that they have concerns about what a mall right on top of them would mean in terms of YMCA camper experience and erosion (I’ll get into that point in a minute). And I’ve already mentioned what’s in store for the residents living nearby if Simon moves in.

A collection of 80 stores, lots of cars and a huge parking lot presents serious drainage and pollution concerns. The proposed mall site is on a flat space with a steep dropoff into a ravine that drains into Mooser Creek, a diverse and fragile ecosystem of which all of Turkey Mountain is connected. The mall site would present rainwater runoff concerns in the form of erosion and upstream pollution from all those cars and trash dumpsters. And given how much trash already blows around, the outlet mall would only add to that problem. Simon contends it can angle parking lot lighting away from the rest of Turkey Mountain, but no matter what they do, light pollution will be present.

Wild land and a commercial shopping development are not compatible. It’s already been established that the River Parks Authority and the Kaiser Family Foundation – the two main stakeholders on Turkey Mountain – have no plans to do anything but keep the urban wilderness area wild. Wildlife in the area already deal with a fairly compressed environment, and taking a big chunk of that away would only stress those populations more.

The outlet mall at Turkey Mountain would degrade quality of life for Tulsa. Notice I didn’t say an outlet mall on its own is a bad thing. But rather an outlet mall in that location would degrade a real asset for the city, an area with more than 40 miles of wooded trails for hikers, cyclists, runners, geocachers and equestrians. Individuals and families go there to experience nature on its terms without having to drive out of the city. As it exists, the greater Turkey Mountain area is a prime site for people to get outside, exercise and get in tune with nature like no other place in the city. Plopping a mall on a chunk of that land would degrade the experience.

ON TO THE NEWS…

Simon’s more detailed proposal as submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reveals a few interesting notes. For starters, it still includes just one entry and exit, a problem given the amount of traffic one might expect at a large retail center, and magnified when you’re talking about a two-lane road feeding it.

The edge of the development will butt right up against a steep dropoff into a drainage area to the east, so those erosion and drainage issues are very real. I’d hoped that they’d at least put some distance between the mall and the ravine, but their drawings show that is not the case.

Simon suggested that they might be willing to include some sort of trail, if feasible, into their plans. So they’re throwing us a bone. Sort of.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If this mall proposal bothers you, there are some things you can do. So here are my suggestions:

Email the mayor’s office and each of the members of the Tulsa City Council. Respectfully and concisely let them know how you feel, and why you don’t want an outlet mall at that location. You might be reminded that it’s private property, but you still have a say in how and if projects like this are approved or denied. Contact the mayor here, and find contacts for the city council here.

If you haven’t already done so, sign the electronic petition. There are more than 6,900 signatures on it now. Add to that number here.

Attend future meetings of the Planning Commission and, if it gets that far, the Tulsa City Council, when this development is being discussed. The more faces these people see and voices they hear, the more city officials will listen. On Thursday, Feb. 19, the Planning Review Committee, immediately following the 1:30 p.m. TAC meeting, will meet at 2 West 2nd Street, 8th Floor, in the Large Conference Room of the Williams Tower II Building in downtown Tulsa. No comment is taken at this meeting, but a large, silent crowd will make an impression. And then  during  a follow-up meeting, zoning changes and corridor plans will be reviewed March 18 at 1:30 p.m.,  175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers. They will take public comment at that meeting. Be at those meetings if you can.

Find ways to volunteer. There are periodic cleanup and trail maintenance days out at Turkey Mountain, so be looking for opportunities to join such efforts. Also, consider joining the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which is actively advocating for preserving and promoting Turkey Mountain as well as organizing activities like those cleanup days, among other things.

Keep using the trails, and spread the word to people you know how great it is. Many people still don’t know much about Turkey Mountain, and they won’t care about a place they don’t know or ever see. This tide is swinging the other way now, and for the better. But the more people who care about Turkey Mountain, the more city leaders will take their points of view into consideration.

Stay tuned, get active, and I’ll see you out on the trails.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why you need to climb a mountain

The mountains are calling. Don't you want to go?

The mountains are calling. Don’t you want to go?

OK, you. It’s not like you’ve got enough things on your to-do list. It’s probably filled with things that are high in the mundane, uninteresting and nagging. Such is the life most of us lead.

Mow your yard.

Pay that bill.

Go to the dentist.

Yawn.

Repeat.

Or something like that. You get the idea.

My advice, should this pattern seem endless and intractable, is to shake things up a little bit, to do something different, something that will stretch you, push you and provide an exclamation point to a series of life events that consistently end in periods.

So here it is: Five reasons you should go climb a mountain…

You need a goal that goes past your previous goals. If you’re shooting for that coveted rec league softball championship, a yard of the month award or getting more than a hundred likes on your next Instagram selfie, you need new goals. The challenge of climbing a mountain will do that. You have to rise up physically and mentally to do it, a process that includes getting yourself in top condition and studying the task of reaching that summit. Goal-setting is not just about the reward after a job well done, it’s about the process of getting there, and the growth that happens along the way. And it’s way better than being the next fantasy league champ.

You need the lessons that hardship brings. Climbing a mountain is hard. Even if it’s a walk-up, when you’re hiking uphill in the cold at 12,000+ feet it will feel like the hardest thing you ever do. Tougher peaks, where climbing is involved, add critical thinking stress to the fatigue that comes with altitude. When you’re on the flanks of a mountain, you’ll feel sore, tired, winded, cold and uncomfortable. If you can deal with those things and still reach the top, you’ll have learned not only what it takes to persevere, but also a bit more about yourself. Embrace the sufferfest!

You need to do something that scares you a little. Is there anything quite like scaling some steep rock with a whole lot of air below you? No? There is a bit of a rush to stuff like that, not to mention the confidence that facing down your fears instills. At times, it may make you want to brown your shorts. But it also might make everyday challenges look a lot less daunting.

You need to unplug. One of the great things about mountains is that they’re often in wild places that (gasp!) don’t have cellphone service. Whether it’s a few hours or several days where you’re unconnected from the world, not having your head craned downward toward your phone, tablet or laptop might just be the best thing you do for yourself during that time. Don’t just tune out the noise. Turn it off. Get busy on those peaks. Those texts/emails/notifications can wait.

You need to see things from a new point of view. This comes from several angles. Obviously, there is no view quite like a summit view. Seeing the world from a mountaintop is one of the great, simple pleasures of life. But seeing wilderness from the inside, viewing wildlife in its element, absorbing the greatness of the outdoors – we rarely get these privileges in our home environments. You can’t appreciate what is out of sight/out of mind. Getting out there on that mountain might just change the way you think… in a good way.

So there you have it. Tempted to spend your precious time ramping up for a season of meh? Wouldn’t you rather go high and go big?

Bob Doucette

Chris McCandless and Cheryl Strayed: Tales of when Generation X wandered outside

books

I’m going to show my age a bit and talk about a particular time of transition.

If you grew up in the 1980s, chances are the stereotypes are pretty familiar: huge hair, lots of synthesizers, “greed is good,” and a general optimism that ended up giving us really bright colors in the stuff we wore and the things we had in our homes.

Most of the music sucked. At least I thought so. Even the hard rock and metal I listened to became overly formulaic — a few faster songs, the required power ballad, and vocalists trying to too hard to sound like Robert Plant in his Led Zeppelin II days. Every hair band was from the same cookie-cutter stamp, sort of like how country music artists are now.

At least we had hip-hop. That was original enough.

Then some things happened. We had riots in L.A., we went to war with Iraq and then had a recession. Crack cocaine went from being a Los Angeles/New York thing to a national dilemma, and crime soared. Suddenly all the factory-line optimism of the ’80s wore off, people started wearing flannel and music took a darker, more introspective and heavier tone.

We questioned everything, but not in the hippie, free-spirited way of the 1960s. Those guys/gals were our parents, and became fodder for our angst, by “our,” I’m talking about Generation X. We looked back at the glee of the 1980s and scoffed. No more Duran Duran or Poison. We were all about Nirvana and gangsta rap.

Some of us plowed through anyway. But some of us didn’t. Those few went a different direction. They went into the woods.

Hiking, backpacking, rock climbing — all those “adventure sports” that millions of people do now have always been there, but they just weren’t much of a thing for the masses until my generation came of age. I think it was partly a rejection of traditional sports (“ball sports” is how one doofus on MTV put it) and this funny fixation on “extreme” activities. “Extreme” being pretty much anything that involved jumping from a plane, hanging off a crag, riding your bike on dirt or doing something that could get you scuffed, hurt or killed without a ball being involved. That’s how it was billed, anyway. Never mind that people had been climbing, skydiving and getting “extreme” before that term became a marketing buzzword that got driven into the ground.

In any case, a good-sized chunk of Generation X got downright crunchy in the early 1990s, so much so that Nike started making hiking boots. Yeah, I bought a pair of those. They didn’t last long. But they did get me through a couple of alpine hikes in Montana as I hummed verses of “Under the Bridge” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s not like heroin addiction in L.A. had much of anything to do with Montana hiking (though heroin was definitely a thing in the 1990s), but it was a big song in a big time in my life when I reconnected with my outdoorsy self.

Others were a little more profoundly immersed in it. Two of them became the subjects of books — one a biography/adventure tale, and the other in an autobiography. One lived to tell that tale. The other died and became almost legendary to a lot of young, aspiring adventure seekers.

It’s probably not hard to figure out that I’m talking about Chris McCandless and Cheryl Strayed. And to be sure, their stories have been compared frequently enough.

But aside from the compelling tales of their lives, I want to be clear on this fact: Theirs are generational stories. They are very Generation X. And I guess that’s why they resonate so clearly with me. These were my contemporaries, in their early 20s, when their defining moments unfolded in ways that only now, years later, I can fully appreciate.

Chances are, you know their tales. McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” rejected the life that was expected of him — college, then a job, then setting down with a family/house in the ‘burbs/career — and decided to wander the American West. He later took on an adventure in Alaska that, despite his pluck, took his life after a series of events, both of his own making and bad luck, proved too much.

Strayed, on the other hand, went into the woods on a whim to reset a life that had spiraled out of control. Unlike McCandless, she survived her foray into the Cascades, and came back a changed woman.

In McCandless’s case, the attraction to his story is hard to define. Certainly, the adept storytelling in Krakauer’s book – as well as some excellent reporting – has a lot to do with it. But there is more to it than that. A lot of the people who read the book felt drawn to wild places, to escape the endless sea of suburban rooftops and chain restaurants, unplug and test themselves in the wilderness. A few of those people make it a point to go to the bus where McCandless died, deep in the Alaskan bush. I get that, and so did a number of my contemporaries well before McCandless’s story became widely known. Hordes of us started disappearing into the backcountry before we knew who he was, mostly because we, as a generation, were seeking something, an experience of authenticity that was very anti-80s. Keep your “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Mr. Leach. Just give me a flat spot to pitch a tent and a crag to crawl on.

That’s what McCandless sought, to extremes. A quest for authentic self, straight from my generation to the pages of a book and eventually in the minds of millions who have carried that torch decades later.

Strayed’s story brought about something else, and I believe something wonderful. The book came out only a few years ago, though the events occurred about 20 years before. She was part of a new kind of woman that wanted to break the mold of what women could do.

Now to be sure, there have been some seriously legit outdoor women going back a long way. But there was a turn of mindset back then where a lot of women decided that they, too, could test themselves in the wild. Male-dominated activities like backpacking, rock climbing and mountaineering saw an influx of female powerhouses as well as legions of everyday adventurers suddenly come forward. That has its roots well before Generation X took a breath, but the idea of women doing big things outdoors seemed to take flight somewhere around the time Strayed was lugging Monster around on her back, trekking north through the Sierras and learning a lot about the do’s and don’ts of how to make it on an 1,100-mile through-hike.

Now her book (a fantastic read, by the way) is a movie, and people are expecting a big influx of would-be “Wild” hikers to test themselves on the Pacific Crest Trail. In between the movie’s release and Strayed’s hike, growing numbers of women have been getting after it outside, to the point now where gear manufacturers  live and die not just by how good their products are, but how well they can reach and please a growing demographic of female outdoor adventurers. Strayed’s tale may not be unique, but it is emblematic.

So what does all this mean, and how does it relate to Generation X? In McCandless’s case, I’d say it reflected a general dissatisfaction with what proved to be an illusion of what American life offered. Naturally, the preferred escape route was the opposite of where we came from. We fled the cities and small towns and the expectations their denizens had of us, and we went into beautiful, indifferent and difficult places outside. That sentiment has always been there, but I’d say it’s never been more prevalent than it is now, going back to those times when we were all spinning Pearl Jam CDs for the first time.

And in Strayed’s case, it marked the beginning of the ubiquity of the outdoor woman. The guys may still outnumber the ladies when it comes to getting dirty in the woods, but the playing field out there is quite level now and fewer people question why a woman would get all scraped up climbing a big wall or spend days out on the trail by themselves. The oddity of old is now more routine. I’ve seen it, and seen it for years. Strayed’s adventure embodied empowerment of women in the outdoors.

For me personally, the common strains of their stories resonate deeply. When surrounded by the trappings (handcuffs?) of “normal” life, I feel that urge to jump in the car, load a pack and head west until I see towering peaks and a singletrack trail leading into who knows what. I feel the need to hear birds, streams, and, at times, nothing at all. A quiet retreat where I can unload my burdens into an eternal place that’s been around well before I was born and will be around long after I’m gone. I feel the need to empty myself through exertion, to solve atypical problems with only my wits and whatever I’ve hauled in on my back.

Peace comes out of that. A little meaning. And empowerment. Maybe the same tunes were running through Chris’s and Cheryl’s ears as they ventured out that first time, when we fled the plastic excess of the 1980s and headed outside – who knew that our stories might change the way people interacted with the wild.

Bob Doucette