Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter Riding in Wisconsin

Feeling great after a downtown ride!

Riding a bike is pretty rad. It's good for you, cheap/saves money, saves the planet, and I'm sure other cycle-nuts will give you more reasons. But I hear a lot of people say it's a 3 season sport...

I think that's crap.

Biking is a year-round sport... you just have to have a balance of the right gear and ambition to make the ride enjoyable. I wholly expect some people to say "no no no, not for me." which is fine. It's not for everybody. But for that person with that special sort of crazy... it's the cat's pajama's.

As I live in an urban environment I am constantly challenged by the need to find new places to ride. I do use my bicycle as my main mode of transportation, I'd like the streets often, but my favorite kind of riding is trail. I'm lucky that I live about two or three blocks from the Milwaukee River and along the river is a wonderful trail which Milwaukee has been working to regrow into the states largest urban natural forest. If you don't like the mud we do also have a few paved trails which run through the park systems of Milwaukee such as the Oakleaf and the beer line. Both are great especially year-round because you get to see the scenery change and still have a guaranteed solid surface to ride on.
Beerline before hopping on to the Oak Leaf Trail

Riding the trails in the winter is my absolute favorite, it definitely beats out the summertime any day. I rarely see anyone out on the trail biking in the middle of winter like I do, I suppose that's a little sad, but at least I have a nice open-space of very few people to bother me :-) And since I'm kind of an ice nut (I study glacial geology) I love seeing the icebergs that pileup along the river when the ice shifts from the freeze and thaw. It's a serene moment where color film turns to black and white life, you get to simplify as you move forward and lose the worries and heavy thoughts of everyday life. For me biking serves a dual purpose, I use it as transportation as well as an escape from the things that weigh me down. 

My hardtail off-road bike, my main lady, she does the trick!

However… I do have to say that there is a learning curve when attempting your first winter bike rides. I remember hitting a patch of ice and spilling or feeling frozen because I wore the wrong clothes or was blocking traffic because I had no idea what was going on ... So let me cover a few things you might want to know about winter biking before we go on.

First and foremost is your protection. As bikers we take a relatively big risk when we ride especially if we are riding in an urban area. Make sure you have appropriate protective gear such as a helmet and other things like knee guards elbow pads or shinguards depending on what you need. You never know when you're going to take a digger. Once you have your protective gear you have to outfit your bike a little differently. Everyone should have a bike light both front and back when they ride, that's a given, but in winter you might want to change your light to a brighter setting a multicolor setting or a strobe. Snow reflects light very easily and in the winter especially at night there's a lot of light coming off of the stars and moon or peoples headlights or streetlights and other sources; this will cause your light to drown out and loose it's brightness. Next are your tires. There's a wide variety of tires you can put on your bike to adapted for winter writing. Many people I know strongly support spike tires, which have little metal spikes that screw into them for better ice traction. It's the same idea as chains on your car tires. I don't use them but they definitely do work. I prefer a little more slip in rear wheel so I have a regular gummy super knobby back tire which gives me excellent traction as well as sliding power. The tire itself is only slightly wider and the knob sickout only slightly more at the edges which gives me a little more side crib if I lean into it. For my trail riding, this works best.

Icicles formed on bushes, sharp as nails.
If your road biking your thinner tire is naturally going to have less traction. My suggestion then would be to use spike tires. The small amount of lien that you will get out of your tires if you don't use the spikes will decrease your speed as well as you're enjoying your ride. Now if you ever owned a car you've probably dealt with what we Wisconsin call snow boogers, it's the pileup of snow slush ice and other crap in the wheelwells of your car. The same thing will apply to your bike. Snow ice and slush will come up in the tires brake system chain gears and anything else that has a moving part on it. Being a towel to wipe your bike off after or during your ride. Sticky parts can be a big hazard and cause mechanical failure. Remember to grease your chain regularly as well. A lighter grease such as motor oil (5W-30 works great) or a silicone mix will offer the least stick for the snow to gum up on. You can use a thicker grease if you'd like, but I find it gets more snow and grit stuck in it causing faster breakdown .
Milwaukee River & Trail
Check your brakes often, not only will snow gum up he works but it will also melt due to friction and work as well as if it were pouring cats and dogs out. This is main reason I like having a little skid on my read wheel, I can lock up my brakes (or if the lock up on their own) I'm able to safely skid the bike to a gradual stop. I don't recommend this for everybody, so please be safe and smart when making your choice.

Now beyond your bike you should always dress appropriately for the weather. I see a lot of bikers out there riding in the most skintight thing they can find to cut resistance. Great, if you're biking the Tour de' France, but I'm not so I'll stick to warmth over drag.

Riding in an urban setting is a bit different then riding trail. You need to be aware of the cars and people around you as well as the rules of the road. In Wisconsin, bikes follow the same rules as cars do on the road, this is true in many other areas of the US (and world). Make sure to be respective to the people around you, but also be aggressive, take the lane and let them know you are just as important as anyone else and deserve the same respect. When you put your biking prowess out there people seem to recognize it and give you that room you need. Be careful, always look, and when in doubt give way to avoid getting nailed! Remember too that your bike is a good piece of property and a lot of people are going to look at it enviously. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about people's bike's being stolen due to no locks or inadequate locks. You can see in some of my pictures the GIANT chain I have, get one or a badass U-lock, you will thank yourself (and so will your bike!).

Layer system, I can't say it enough. Layer it up!

So you say you ride... then lets!
1.) Base Layer: Skintight, covers most of the body, wicks away moisture from skin keeping you dry.

2.) Warming/Insulation Layer: Lays on top of wicking layer, can take many forms such as wool, down, primaloft, etc. This is meant to keep heat in your body, if possible choose a layer that will help wick away moisture from your body while insulating (such as wool).

3.) Shell: Outer layer, blocks wind and precipitation. This needs to be tough while still providing the comfort and breathability that you need. A hooded jacket is what I prefer (gore-tex and nylon/pvc).

4.) Feet/Hands/Face: Socks should be insulating and warm, smartwool variety, NO COTTON. Depending on your biking style you'll either have clip in shoes designed for biking or you should invest in a pair of waterproof boots/shoes. Hat/gloves/buff/etc should all at least be in your pack. I have a thin wicking layer set of gloves I wear my leather-palmed bike gloves over and a set of shell gloves in case all hell breaks loose. I always have an extra hat in my bag as well as scarf or buff. Remember when suiting up that spaces where air can get in will cause problems, make sure your layers are long enough to fit compatibly together.

While you're at it, lets not forget the awesome amount of fun you can have. Stop to take a picture of yourself looking epic as hell or set up a ridiculous shot for your friends to take! If you catch a whiff of something delicious, stop and ask for a sampler (cause you're a hungry biker who explores to find places like that!). When you see an alley, street, path you haven't taken, make a turn! Stop and have a beer when you find a brewhaus that looks interesting. You have a perfect excuse to since beer is a good recovery drink after a workout (go figure!). Maybe be a kid again and pull your brake into a turn and skid through or splash through a puddle and get dirty! Anyway you do it go out and have fun! I'll leave you with one of my favorite recent pics from Instagram, hope it's inspiring! Remember, just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to stop riding! Cheers, beers, and the great outdoors!

Ride. Because you can. Ride. Because it will take you places and show you things. Ride. Because even if you go slow or not too far you are lapping the people on the couch. Ride. Because adventure doesn't wait for you, it makes you chase it. Ride. And I'll ride with you. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to tell if you're an outsider .

How To Tell If You Have An Outdoor Lifestyle

Tamir Klein - Photographer - at Peninsula State Park, WI
All my friends know my lifestyle, I like to be outdoors. As such, I guess I happen to make it easy for someone who may not know me to guess that I do indeed love the outdoors. I've started taking a poll of what makes a life an outdoorsy lifestyle, from my own observations to the ones my friends joke with me over beers about. Enjoy!

1.) Your closet is devoted to your gear.
2.) Your clothes are synthetic or smartwool
3.) You have more than one bike... in your apartment (not counting the ones in storage)...
4.) Your sink(s), toilet(s), and bathtub(s) are constantly clogging due to the sticks/leaves, mud/sand, sweat/tears you pour down them when cleaning your gear or yourself.
5.) Your friends assume you'll walk instead of take the cab.
6.) You have an article of clothing you keep "campfire smell" on so you can remember the good times.
7.) Your dog has a backpack.
8.) When it's -20 F, sideways precipitation, wind like a hurricane, and the news channel is advising no travel what-so-ever, it's just "the weather", and you're still going out to have fun.
9.) A multi-tool, magnesium stick and flint, and a water bottle are all you need to survive... and you happen to carry them with you everywhere...
10.) You're an EcoHiker Adventures fan.
11.) You constantly spout lingo that nobody understands unless your backpacking, climbing, cycling, etc...
12.) Clif Bars and other high energy products are constantly in stock at your place.
13.) There's something satisfying about getting dirty...
14.) You live for a sunrise... or sunset... or both... and mountains... yes, and desert... and forests...
15.) Your lighter is wrapped with duck tape, just in case.
16.) Your surfboard is getting another round of wax for the 5 am breakers on Lake Michigan in January.
17.) You've always got a good story about "that one time you went (insert activity here)".
18.) For you, life expectancy depends on what your next adventure is.
19.) You LNT, DIY, ABC and are proud.
20.) You have this thing called "stoke".
21.) You have a beard, love a good beard, or secretly wish you had a beard.
22.) Your best piece of cookware in the whole house is your titanium 2 step you backpack with.
23.) You own a hammock, or a slackline.
24.) Toilet paper means more to you than most, and your idea of what a bathroom consists of is different than most others.
25.) Your best friend is a tree or a rock.
26.) "Lighter, faster, stronger, better" is your credo.
27.) Gear stickers cover a lot of your stuff.
28.) You've been there or want to go there.
29.) You own a headlamp.
30.) You read all the way through this list and are now thinking about how similar your lifestyle is.

Hope you found a couple that are up your alley, I want to hear about your outdoor lifestyles either here or at the EcoHiker Adventures Facebook page. The list continues, and so do the adventures. Cheers, beers, and the great outdoors!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

When I grow up...

When I was a kid I remember being asked "what do you want to be when you grow up" and of course my answer was always something fantastic like astronaut, firefighter, tornado chaser, test pilot, owner of Alaska, etc... I never thought I'd ever want to run my own outdoor company, be the project leader of an NFP (and a consultant for others), help run the smallest stage at the world's largest music festival (Refugee Stage, Summerfest, check it out people... otherwise howler monkeys will have to be sent to your location!), or become and advocate for the environment and those who enjoy it. All in all, my vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up has turned out to be nothing like what I had anticipated it would be.

It's not a bad thing, just a moment of realization. It's fine, even better than fine in some cases... and sometimes, not so fine. I had thought I would be the guy that would change the world, be something big and become recognized for it. You know. Like first man on Mars, guy who cures cancer, giver of much to those who have little, maybe even the elected representative to greet an alien race (yeah it's nerdy, but you know you'd want that honor too). Maybe that's a bit of grandeur, but who can blame me for dreaming? SITREP: 26 year old male, living in studio apartment, super duper senior college student working on a degree I never had thought I'd be working on, driving a 97 Honda Accord, making next to nothing (sorry ladies, it's true...), not the ambassador to the moon, no Nobel Prize... Nothing that sticks out as big or bold...

But then there's the other moments... when it's really really good. Climbing/backpacking 4 peaks in 2 days, sending clean lines, studying rocks and the Earth, playing with my awesome dog, having a car that is an old friend that will work itself to death for you, having the opportunities to guide trips and share some of the most wonderful natural spaces in this world with others, the smiles and laughter shared with my friends (some of the most interesting and best people one could know), having the relationships I have with outdoor companies and organizations, meeting icons and role models like Pete Athens (Mr. Everest) and Juan Martinez (Director of Leadership Development and Natural Leaders Network for the Children & Nature Network and North Face Ambassador), giving back to the community and giving kids the chance to see some cool outdoor stuff they might never have seen or had the opportunity to experience, and (my favorite) sharing the tales of adventures I have...

I've been thinking about all this because I've been making some seriously big changes and choices in my life lately. I'm hoping they are for the best, but what is driving these decisions are the things I love and the interests I have. That phrase "Live the Life you Love" has been playing over and over in my head, and I've been trying to listen to it. But while I can listen all I want sometimes the answers don't always come when we want them too; sometimes we have to wait, go, stop, fall, get back up, or smell the roses for a bit before that mystery is revealed. I can be a patient person, but as my dad pointed out this weekend (and I quote) sometimes I "get the cart ahead of the horse".

As such I think being content with who you are as you grow is important. While we may not always become what we thought we would or maybe the circumstances aren't what we imagined they'd be like now... things are really ok. Life is amazing, you can see it in everyday things if you take the time to look. So while I'm just another 26 year old dude, I feel as if I'm, to quote Brendan Leonard, "Happily Semi-rad."

Having another year of school, guiding, and life in general under my belt is good... I can avoid the candles, songs, and embarrassing photo's for another year... And as many do when they age, I get to look back on the past year(s) and reflect on what has happened and especially what I'm thankful for. While things can come and go, experiences stick with you, and memories are priceless. And this cake... this cake is pretty epic tasting right now... ok, so maybe there's more than embarrassment to the whole song and dance ;)

If there's one thing I've learned in all this is that life is just like a trail, you don't always get clear blazes to mark your path, sometimes you just have to cinch up your pack and go forth into the unknown. Take a chance and explore something, even if you don't find what you're looking for you will at the very least have a good story! It's easy to forget why life can be so amazing and how exciting taking a chance can be. We are constantly bombarded by messages that tell us we should be afraid and not take chances in life. While the consequences may be hard and possibly set you back you can always count on getting a good story out of it and a lesson learned to pass on to others.

So take your time, jam-hike-climb on, but stop to smell the roses. Take the path less traveled, turn right instead of left, but don't circle back. Open your mind to new possibilities, surround yourself with good people, and give back as often as you can. Live well, be well. I'll be there when we grow up... assuming we do grow up! And, as always, cheers, beers, and the great outdoors!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Outdoor Nation

 So yet again I had an awesome opportunity to be sponsored by Merrell to attend Outdoor Nation's Minneapolis, MN annual summit, which (if you don't know) is pretty freaking sweet! And talk about a follow-up for Merrell and the folks at ON, I get my annual amount of stoke last year at my first summit and get a chance to explode that experience as an alumni of ON. Not to mention the great hospitality and care that both parties took to ensure my awesome time. So for those of you who are all like, "what is this ON thing and who is Merrell?" ... here's a quick bio on both.

Outdoor Nation
~Created by The Outdoor Foundation and a diverse coalition of partners, Outdoor Nation helps inspire millennial leaders to reconnect their generation to the outdoors.
To empower the millennial generation -- artists, athletes, advocates and ambassadors -- to champion the outdoors and build a strong Outdoor Nation.
Company Overview
A growing community of outdoor activists -- artists, athletes, advocates and ambassadors -- who join together to champion the outdoors. This millennial-led movement will reclaim, redefine and rediscover the outdoors – building an Outdoor Nation for future generations.
If you want to know more about Outdoor Nation please visit their website linked above!
*Via Outdoor Nation's Facebook Page*

Merrell began in 1981 when Randy Merrell began making boots to custom fit his feet. When he started making them for others his customers raved that they were the best boots in the world. Since then, publications and people like Backpacker Magazine has named Merrell's products some of (and THE in some cases) best products in the world. Merrell has also since partnered with several outdoor organizations and sponsored races as well as individuals in outdoor endeavors to share the love of the outdoors. They run a blog and have just introduced "The Pack" which is an Alpha group of outsiders giving info and tips to others who strive to champion outdoor challenges and seek the essence of what it is to be outdoors. Here's a bit of a company timeline...
1981 — Randy Merrell's Boots
1989 — Merrell Goes Global
1995 — Vibram® Brings New Sole to Merrell Footwear
2004 — Team Merrell Founded by Robyn Benincasa
2006 — Merrell Apparel Launched
2011 — Turning 30, launching Origins
~Merrell says the future isn't going to keep them standing still and that there are more great products on the way.
*via Merrell's Webpage*

So let's get started with the experience. I got my notice that I'd be flying up as a Merrell Delegate for Outdoor Nation about a week before the summit, which was pretty radical since I had been planning on just going on my own in the first place. As before my flight, hotel accommodations, and gear would be taken care of by the good folks at Merrell (also awesome). I packed up Friday morning and finished my lab-work (gotta do well in school!), and since my sister and my niece had offered to drop me off at the airport I offered to buy them lunch... However, I'm not always the greatest at knowing when I need to be someplace, I'm almost always late... so I missed my flight.

Panicking a bit I immediately ran to an airport employee and asked them to help me get on another flight. That took about two minutes, I spent more time worrying about it than it was worth worrying about! Flight changed, I said tootles to my sister and niece and headed out. Now I'm not a big fan of flying big commercial airlines, I like flying, I just don't like being along for the ride with some pilot I've never meet. But I sucked it up, sucked down a beer (cheers Wisconsin), and climbed aboard. We landed, myself intact, in Minneapolis, MN. I grabbed a shuttle to my hotel, checked in, and went to my room to clean up. Luckily through my travels I've gotten to know many a good people throughout this fair land we call the US, so I called up a couple of friends in the area to grab some dinner, hike, and get some drinks. Wound up doing all that in excess, had a blast, and had a nice two mile walk back to my hotel passing some of the old sites I used to know when I lived up near Minneapolis.

I awoke the next morning with fiery breath, wretched aches, and a foul stomach... reminders of the fun I had the night before. I had found out the previous night my fellow Merrell Delegate Logan Roberts was staying at the same hotel as I was, so we had made plans to meet for breakfast before the summit. Bags packed we drove over to the University of Minnesota just across the bank of the Mississippi River only getting a little lost (apparently my knowledge of the city wasn't as good as I remember it being).

As we came into the university we saw several of our ON members walking in and we got to talking and introductions as we rode the elevator. As everyone arrived we all came together to get to know each other and welcome everyone to the summit. We started with a game where you took pieces of Toilet Paper for the weekend's campout (as much as you needed to survive for the weekend), then where surprised when they told us that we had to introduce ourselves and give one fact for every piece of paper we had as a ice breaker! Many people took several pieces and much to explain... But me... well, I came prepared and had a roll in my backpack (because a good hiker never forgets the TP!) so I only took two pieces... It felt like cheating so I gave a good fact and introduced myself as thoroughly as I could.

Since this summit was bit shorter than the last one we had to get right down to business. ON had members of the Mobilize people introduced themselves and gave us a rundown of how they would help us achieve our work and goals for the weekend. We started talking about why we where there and what we could do. Groups split up and started brainstorming how we could get people outside and how we could use funding from ON to work this dream out.

I was with a group of high school students (from the SEAK program) along with my Merrell delegate partner, we both thought this would be a great opportunity for these youth to experience a leadership role and told them to take the reins and steer the project. They were all from a group called SEAK which was an outdoor education program which took an after school and weekend approach to learning outdoors and seeking natural spaces. They had a lot of good ideas and we eventually carved away at the big idea to make a specific goal to reach with our possible funding. But by this time we were all getting hungry... and some of us... due to the shenanigans the night before... where nursing other aches of our own. So, lunch was served! Thanks to the great people at the University of Minnesota we had great boxed lunches, they also kept the coffee flowing all day (which I was particularly grateful for).

After lunch we took a moment to step outside to stretch, meet new people (and some old friends), as well as discuss our approach to the event. I was mighty surprised at how many people at the summit either I remembered, or they remembered me, from the previous year or had known me prior (to O.N.) and hadn't seen me in years. Of course it was fantastic and incredibly inspiring to see and speak with the ON coordinating team and friends who all came together to do something great for future generations and the outdoors. I hope that my participation with this group continues for years to come and that I can have a positive impact on future generations of outsiders.

Since we had a planned adventure ahead of us in the afternoon and evening we got back with our groups after our stretch and continued working on our projects with new info and outlooks to consider. Eventually though we all got a little ansty, and were already pretty excited about getting out of the indoors to camp out at Fort Snelling State Park! So we wrapped up our thoughts, packed up our gear, and headed out to the park! Upon arrival we were surprised with by Pete Athens (known as Mr. Everest) who talked to us about travel trek and how to use orienteering skills. We took a hike around the park to test our skills and finally get some play time in! While it was mostly guided and we had a Geo-cache to find, several of the other members decided it was a good time to just take a hike and let their spirits loose a bit. The chill of fall in the northern Midwest wasn't even close to dampening our spirits as we finished our walk and gathered at the pavilion for dinner, which was catered and mighty mighty delicious. I brought my slackline with me to share with others since it's a great lifestyle sport and most everyone can at least try it and have some fun. Although, at the airport, I did have to go through the "secondary inspection" area both on the way out and back... apparently a slackline (and tent, sleeping bag, etc.) in a carry-on bag isn't what most TSA authorities are used to seeing...

When we had finished dinner we all gathered 'round the fireplace in the pavilion to listen to some inspirational words from our guide Pete Athens and, outdoor education success story, Juan Martinez! Now I had the chance to hear Juan's story last year when he spoke at the ON (Minneapolis, MN) summit, and he is one of those guys who sticks with you after you meet him. I have shared his story with so many people and used his life as motivation to move myself forward and share my love of the outdoors with others. And you know he's a solid dude because as he and I were walking and talking he totally remembered who I was and what I was all about! I mean, I meet the guy once (and I must have made an impression) and a year later with no contact during the year and we talk as if we had just seen each other yesterday! I encourage all of you to go check out his story and cause, if not for your own benefit then to share it with others and inspire them. Pete Athens gave a top notch story time regaling us with tales of mountains, historical caves, long lost civilizations, and his current project to help bring literacy and library materials to villages in Nepal (“Magic Yeti Library” project).

What really gets me about Pete is the way he speaks and flows through life. He speaks with such a calm and warm tone in his voice, he walks as if he floats over the ground he's on, and (from what I could tell) the way he views the world around him is so open and serene... there's a very good spiritual feeling you get when you are around him. I also encourage everyone to check out his work and story as well as, if you can, donate your time or dollar to help others in the world become more. I can't say enough about both of these guys and it has been a real honor and pleasure to be able to meet and get to know them.

By this time it was dark and getting pretty chilly. While many of the group had brought what was needed to survive the weather, not everyone was expecting this weather or had enough to stay warm for the night. Luckily this wasn't the first rodeo for ON and Ivan made the decision that we would spend the night in a hotel. And I have to say, what a place, even at the last minute they found more than reasonable accommodations for everyone. I stopped by the bar and had a drink after finding my room, and I wasn't the only one who had that idea. Sitting down with various ON members we discussed the day, our sponsors, adventures, ideals, and what we hoped would come of this whole venture. And yet again I found people I will remember forever and hopefully will get a chance to snag an adventure with, sooner rather than later hopefully. Next stop was the hot tub (mojito in hand, go brain power) to think about my groups project which would be wrapped up the next day, I hoped my group would be able to really take it and be movers and shakers. A couple more drinks, a pizza, and lots of good conversation with my ON members I hit the hay confident and excited about the wrap-up that would take place tomorrow.
I'm not great in the morning, kind of a bear I am... So when I woke up seeing I had 20 minutes to get packed, dressed, and ready I was sort of moody. I did have time to grab a coffee, suck it down, and still fall asleep on the bus to the University of Minnesota. ON and the U served breakfast and once again kept the coffee and tea flowing all day. We ran with our projects and continued to hammer out details and revise ideas. My group's final project was skit describing our project and the need for it. My role, possibly one of the most important, was to be a 6 year old kid who was excited about the outdoors. I'm still waiting for my nomination for my Oscar but who knows when that will get to me. Every group that presented their project was amazing. Whether it was a skit or informational presentation (and some where hilarious!) every group had a fantastic idea on how to use funds from Outdoor Nation to get more people outside.

When concluded we rated the projects and showed our support for those we thought would be most likely to succeed. I have to say it was indeed tough to separate my opinions on which idea or program was better than the others... so I didn't, I just supported them all! Yeah it's a bit of a fluff vote but honestly any way we can help others get outside to enjoy the natural wonders of this planet is a good idea to me! In the end several projects where chosen to receive primary funding, well deserved I say, but ON surprised us all by awarding everyone some amount of funding to get their projects rolling! How cool!

Before we left ON had a great panel of outsiders from the workforce (such as the National Parks Service, Conservation Corps, North Face Ambassadors, and local outsiders making an impact in our communities. This was great for some of the older participants who were working to the end of their educations and trying to find work in the outdoors. Even I had to take full advantage of being able to personally meet with these representatives and ask questions as well as find opportunities I never knew where out there. While I am thrilled with guiding and doing what I do now I know I won't forever be able to continue risking myself. Hopefully when I reach the time when I need to make a change the relationships I've made and the friends I now have will still be there. Either way I'm excited about the different opportunities that await in the outdoor community.

As we all packed up and began to part ways, many of us hung back for a bit because we had such good mojo we just didn't want to leave... it's an infectious thing when you meet like-minded people at events like this. You can cultivate ideas, friendships, mindsets, and adventures in a weekend which will last you a lifetime in memory. I know with those whom I shared time and my soul with will be there when I come a callin' for a hike up a peak or tag them in a photo, and I hope they know I will be there when they want to go. It's an odd thing leaving something you love so much, but I think knowing you will be back one day makes it easier as well as the great memories that keep you jived until the next time you get to make more.

This is exactly why I love working with Outdoor Nation. They are the outdoor minded and eco-concious people who just want to share the importance of nature with everyone. They give funding, lectures, workshops, adventure days, inspiration, and more. They care about the planet, it's inhabitants, and realize the need to have natural spaces to get out and play in. In short, these are my people. I haven't continued my support or work with them for nothing, it's because we share a fantastic ideal and passion for nature and all it has to offer. The outdoor community is wonderful, it takes care of ti's own more than any other industry I have ever seen. And I know I will be just the same, my love for the outdoors is my life passion, and any opportunity I get to share that will be one I will follow through with. I strongly encourage those who share my love of the outdoors to seek out these opportunities, attend a Outdoor Nation Summit, shake the hand of an idol, seek adventure, and share those experiences with others so that they can be inspired as you and I are.

I look forward to next year's summit, working with ON and Merrell, as well as seeing fresh new faces to welcome into the outdoors. Thanks to both organizations for their support and sponsorship, I am proud to be an outsider, Merrell Delegate, and part of the Outdoor Nation. Cheers, beers, and the great outdoors!

~Michael 'EcoHiker' Defenbaugh

Monday, October 15, 2012

What does it take?

It's a good question, one I think a lot of people ask either about themselves or others. I ask it when I find myself feeling slow, low, smooshed, apathetic, or generally poopy. I mean it as a bit of a pep-talk or lecture to myself. As in: "What does it take to get your butt off the couch and [insert activity here]?" My answer doesn't really matter, half the time it's presented before the question is asked; it's asking the question that counts. It's like a rock rolling down a hill, or for you scientific types, an object in motion stays in motion. Once I've got my mind shaken and gearing down for speed I get to it... I find the groove and ride that wave. In no time I'm geared-up and grinding to get going! You can find inspiration in anything, many times without even trying. So, here's a small look into the kind of stuff that inspires me. Hopefully it can inspire you too!

Some of my favorite inspirational lyrics:
"Awake my soul." - 'Awake My Soul' by Mumford and Sons
"I was having rotten luck and nothing went my way til I stumbled on a clearing in the woods..." - 'I'd Do Anything For You' by Ludo
"This could all be yours someday." - 'This Could All Be Yours Someday' by Guster
"Gonna rise up Find my direction magnetically. Gonna rise up. Throw down my ace in the hole." - 'Rise' by Eddie Vedder
"That it's the ocean flowing in our veins. Oh..That it's the salt that's in our tears. Oh..'Cause we could have come so very far. Oh..In at least as many years! Take the highway through the Great Divide." - 'Wedge' by Phish

"All my life I've been searching for something..." - 'All My Life' by Foo Fighters
"Right about now. The funk-soul-brother." - 'Rockafeller Skank' by Fatboy Slim (you know you still love it)
"Lights out guerrilla radio. Turn that shit up." - 'Guerilla Radio' - Rage Against the Machine
"Now I'll be bold, as well as strong, and use my head alongside my heart." - 'I Will Wait' by Mumford and Sons
"Into the car baby bleed the gas. Fast is fast never turning back. Oh yeah not scared of that." - 'Great Escape' - Guster

"Can't stop, and I can't stop. Got to keep on movin' or I'll lose my mind. Oh, rockin' down the highway" - 'Rockin' Down the Highway' - Doobie Bros.
"We'll all be planning that route. We're gonna take real soon. We're waxing down our surfboards. We can't wait for June. We'll all be gone for the summer. We're on sufari to stay. Tell the teacher we're surfin', Surfin' U. S. A." - 'Surfin' USA' - Beach Boys
"If no one is beside you when your soul embarks, then I will follow you into the dark." - 'I Will Follow You Into the Dark' - Death Cab for Cutie
"Do what you want, just say so, open up your mind..." - 'Do What You Want' - Guster
"Stop, turn, take a look around at all the lights and sounds, let em bring you in." - 'Lights and Sounds' - Yellowcard

'Requiem for a Tower' - Escala (version)
'Mirando' - Ratatat
'1976' - RJD2
'Fastball' - Yonder Mountain String Band
'Tank!' - Yoko Kano (Cowboy BeBop Soundtrack)
'Drum Trip' - Rusted Root
'Explosive' - RJD2
'Three Flights Up' - Yellowcard

Movies do it for me too. Of course all the outdoors documentaries are a top pick, but other metaphorical, inspiring, or manly-as-shit movies do well too. I like relating to a character who has courage, undertakes a journey, or has the "profound moment of wisdom" which changes their life. But a great story is the basis, it gets you thinking about your own story and how great you can make it.
Into the Wild - Paramount Vantage
180 Degrees South - Magnolia Pictures
Planet Earth - BBC
Star Wars (IV-V-VI) - 20th Century Fox
The Hunger Games - Lionsgate
Reel Rock Tour - Petzl

Can't overlook written publication like books, magazines, blogs, etc. I will say the electronic age has captured me through blogs by outsiders which exemplify the lifestyle and attitude that comes with being an advocate for the open spaces. I peruse several blogs such as The Cleanest Line , Semi-Rad , Gear Junkie , Merrell's , and many more. It's an awesome outlet or idea generator for your adventures or just your adventurous attitude. Of course books such as my Peterson Field Guides and Into the Wild are always on my shelf. I tell sooo many people to just go out and buy a field guide in a subject you're interested just to take with you on hikes (my favorite being edible plants guide). It's a great way to learn, see, and experience the outdoors in a way you may not have before. Try sitting down with it at home, then start thinking about the recipes you could make with your foraged edibles... now tell me that's not even remotely inspiring. Bam!

My Facebook page EcoHiker Adventures has become a source of inspiration too. As I try to keep posts up to inspire and inform others I find myself getting "the fizz" over the photos, quotes, blogs, and news I post. I'm always drooling over a multitude of posts and scheming on how I can get there, see that, or experience it first-hand. It's my hope that others who visit the page feel the same way. I'm trying to get more user interaction on it and encourage people to post on the wall what they think or like about the outdoors. The community is so strong and technology has advanced so much that we now are almost in each others back yard(s)! So lets share an adventure, let the world know; you may very well inspire someone else to adventure forth!

The easiest and best thing it would take for me... friends. It's quite literally the best when someone comes to you with that silly grin on their face, a topo-map, and crazy excitement about an adventure. It doesn't have to be a close friend, knowledgeable outdoor nut, family member, colleague, or someone else you know; you can have a great time with people you may not even know! Some of my best adventures have been with total strangers I meet up with on the trail, through the Internets, airport, cab-share, gear-run, competition(s), locals, and high-rollers of the outdoor industry. Having someone there to share the adventure with (which is #3 on my mission list) can make your trip 10 times better. When you're down they can be up, when you're lagging they can motivate you, when you're bogged down with weather you have someone to pass the time with, and when you reach the peak, crux, end of your trek you can both revel in the teamwork and wonder that is the journey you've made.
While I understand and like adventuring solo (sometimes) to get your balance, chi, or groove back, if someone wants to go, I grab whoever's game and have at it. We are communal creatures, we gather in groups and seek a social network. When you're out there so many lines of society disappear and a new basic/primal trust is gained amongst your crew. It's akin to family ties, a sort of tribal bond that inhibits nothing, shows the good in us all, and affects your soul (and life attitude). One of my rules on a campout is "find the outcast, make them feel welcome", because even though they may not be the best or most adventurous they are still an important part of the group machine. Everyone should feel 110% and be able to go home and share their experiences with the same enthusiasm. So give it a shot, ask someone you don't know to go play outdoors for a while and share the experience! The more the merrier I say, and if all else fails, at least you'll have someone to sit next to in the back of the cop car ;)

Ok, I'll do it, lets throw nature out there. Nature is inspiring,  der... But let's give Mother Nature her moment; it's beautiful, healing, central, primal, historic, mind-expanding, peace inducing, confidence boosting, challenge producing, adventure loaded, great grand exploration compelling, journey improving, bit of space we can get away to in order to get back to what matters. It's a full body awe-gasm of experience we all end up loving something about. What else do you really need but a reminder of how awesome it is out there to get you going? My apartment is littered with pictures of epic scenes and groovy features of Earth hung on walls, appliances, sometimes dog, and any flat table-like space I have. It's a reminder of why I feel exploration is what I love to do and the places I want to see or love to be. I only have to look at a picture and run the home movie through my head of my time there or my possible adventure and I get the fizz... I get an adrenaline rush followed by a burst of energy and confidence that I can get anywhere and do anything. If you can't plaster your walls or it isn't your style, no worries, I can do you one better; go outside for 10 minutes and play! Life is amazing, the world we live in is proof of that. When in doubt, quiet your mind and listen to the whispers of the wind and seek inspiration in adventure, and adventure in inspiration. Cheers, beers, and the great outdoors.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Way of the Guide: Chapter 1

The Way of The Guide
A interpretation of all things in the outdoor lifestyle.

Chapter 1: The Werd

Play: 3.exercise or activity for amusement or recreation.

"Backpacking: several days of opening and closing your backpack."

"Anywhere is within walking distance, if you have time."

"That's a first ascent."

"Happiness is the journey, man."

"If you're having trouble finding the path, that's good."

"Oh man... I need to do some yoga..."

"Got a Cliff Bar?"

"It's super lightweight, lightest version yet."

"Gotta keep up those electrolytes!"

"I'm a gear junkie."

"I speak 1 language, wild."

"That line's cleaner than my mind."

"Summit pack? Um... Beer... and... a Cliff Bar?

"God I hate tourists. They don't make attempt to really get to know the places they visit."

"Naked slackline!"

"I love getting back to nature." (while playing Angry Birds on iPhone)

"All I want is nice jugs all day." (Jugs: big perfect handholds... on the rock face... no really!)

"Leave No Trace, pack in pack out."

"East Coast Hang!" (speaking about the bear bag)

"Check out my new FiveFingers dude."

"Got chalk?"

"I like to toss up my hammock and hang out."

"Hardwood bro, can't have a good fire without hardwood."

"Shake my junk to see if it's fitting right." (in speaking about the backpack being purchased)

"What's the difference between the homeless and a hiker? Gore-Tex!"

"I have a leatherman, I can help."

"Got an extra Cliff Bar?"

"900 fill, -20 F, 1.5 lbs"

"Smells like fresh gnar!"

"Just one more mile." (repeatedly said every mile)

"I like to bag a couple 14'rs on the weekends."

"If you try to speak the local language the people love you."

"Pass the Nalgene."

"Epic beard bro."

"It's 440 carbon surgical steel. Like, we could totally do surgery on you right now."

"I love all of nature's creations." *slaps mosquito*

"It's Eco-friendly!"

"It's titanium"


"Don't forget the TP!"

"It's a two-person, but it feels more like a 3-person."

"Altitude sickness is nature's way of telling you to stop being a wuss and climb more often."

"Cliff-diving is totally an extreme sport!"

"I'm an environmentalist." *burns plastic food bag*

"Coffee isn't a luxery, it's neccessity."

"Worst time to have to go #2... ever."

"Anyone need a Cliff Bar?"

"I took some epic photos, and then I dropped my camera down the falls."

"Recovery: The first shower and beer after your journey."

"Found out it was poison ivy, in the worst place possible."

"Toolkit? Leatherman and Duck Tape."

"Hike faster... I hear banjo."

"My dog has his own backpack, cause I ain't carrying his shit!"

"I'm packing in like 3K calories a day. Don't judge me."

"Sky-diving takes a lot of airplane fuel to do. I'm reducing my carbon footprint by basejumping."

"Trail mix is the lazy hikers kitchen."

"Do you speak english?"

"I'm never drinking again..." *beer in hand an hour later*

"It just spoke to me and I knew I had to go."


"Lost another lighter, that's like the 5th one this week!"

"Got any water?"


"Breath dude!"


"Where did I put my teeeeeennnt?"

"Where's the zipper?"



"5/10 is so overated."

"This line's too tight."

"Dude I was THAT close!"


"Dude, was that class 5?"

"Can you get me a pro-deal on that?"

"So can you send me those pics for my blog?

"So we cool to split gas?"

"Their rubber's shit."

"Did you see me nail that move?"

"Can we put some dubstep on dude?!"

"Should we synchronize watches? 3...2...1... oh shit, lets do it again."

"Engage your core bro."

"Good session guys, good session."

"Got any extra wax?"

"Are you sponsored?!"

"Dropping in!"

"I'm just not feeling it today dude, I don't know what's wrong."


"Cliff Bar?"

"Where's my paracord?!"

"So gnarley."

"Can I get a RedBull?"

Shart – When you attempt to fart but follow through.

The Bible – A guide book.
Tree Huggers – Environmentalist.

Virgin – Just entered a new country.

I.N.D.I.A. – I will, Never, Do, It Again.

Brah – Slang for saying bro or brother.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bike Milwaukee and the Underwear Bike Ride

I've had a great opportunity to take part in a fantastic outdoor activity in this, Milwaukee, my urban environment. I'm talking of course about the underwear bike ride that is held on Thursday's each month in Milwaukee where, at the most recent ride, EcoHiker Adventures “Team Bacon” had their first team event. This ride is all about good self image while providing a healthy, fun, and safe riding environment for new bikers and old schoolers alike. I had the opportunity to sit down with it's creator, Steve Roche and talk about the ride, the bike community of Milwaukee, and all things cycling. Here's what he had to say:

-Steve Roche
-Bike Milwaukee and Underwear Bike Ride Coordinator
-Resource advocate and creator of

Eco: So tell me about yourself
Steve: Well I'm a 24 yr old male who lives on Brady Street in Milwaukee, Riverwest is my home though. Milwaukee I absolutely love. I've crossed the USA and have a hard time thinking about living anywhere else right now. I guess I got engaged with the bike culture here and started forming events and rides.

E: What is it you advocate so much about two wheeled travel?
S: There are so many perks... fun, healthy and good for you, saves money, engages city environment in a completely different way than you normally would... The list goes on. You're able to get to a destination in a simpler manner, its natural and organic and sustainable, that’s attractive. It's a sense of community in the city, and you don’t find that a lot. It breaks you out of the driver norm of we're all drivers; it's like 'you have a car?! Me too!', you know?

E:Why is it you advocate bike travel so much? Why is it your passion?
S: Its keeping people in the city and if you want to experience it (Milwaukee) in a genuine way then get on a bike and commute and ride in that manner. Idk, its just common sense almost. I don't want people to go to the major bike cities (not that I have anything against them) like Minneapolis, Portland, etc. I wanna make something happen in this city. I’m in it to contribute to the general well being [of the bike community] in Milwaukee in a good manner. I feel like it's almost a cop out to go to a city like that. But if something is out there calling you then so be it, but I don't think people contribute as much to the community and environment as they should, I want to see the city to be as I want it to be.

E: Tell me about Bike Milwaukee
S: Milwaukee bicycle community website – I wanted that strong presence in Milwaukee, it was already here, and this community just is a central hub attempt. A kind of a forum or communication center where people could go to loan a bike or if people where biking into a city and needed a place to stay... I had a lot of friends leave town for the big bike cities, so I wanted to show people we have pride in the Milwaukee bike community. The Underwear Bike Ride started before the movement. It was a start of a ride with friends.... but the website... one day I was in Riverwest on the net and I just did it, bought the domain and went from there.

E: What inspired the Underwear Bike Ride?
S: Idk *laugh* its a fun liberating event. I was at a friends house in 2010 on my birthday (I had a few in me) playing around with underwear, and I love riding my bike, so I wanted to get five friends together for an underwear bike ride! Like a mobile party almost, though I'm on people about etiquette and safe riding all the time. Then we went with a crappy poster and a Google image, and one of me drinking a 40oz. or something. Now it's what it is. It's kinda cool engaging environment. With the monthly rides we go ride unconventional spaces and places people haven't been while being supportive of arts and other groups that are culturally defining of the city. It could be any bike ride to a bar, but we could make it more than that by engaging people and making it ours.

E: Why is the UBR so popular?
S: Idk... If you've been on it, it speaks for itself. When people ride it they think “how have I skipped out on this?!”. It's a fun, liberating, and empowering event. It engages the city in creative way, people are meeting new friends and have a strong sense of community while (simply) riding in your underwear. Everyone has their own story and they're happy to share it and have others experience it. It's a good definition of what a summer in Milwaukee is like.

E: It (The UBR) happens when?
S: Mid Thursday of month usually. The last one is Sept. 13th, we will meet at the Artery (see map above) at 8:00 pm. Since this is the last ride of the year I want it to be a good one!

E: How has it affected or changed people's lives?
S: I hear from countless people of the friendships they've made, I know people who have emerged into relationships like a dating service almost. Its a good social event that impacts peoples lives well with people that don't normally do it; they are breaking out of their shell, all ages and demographics. Hopefully people let loose and that transfers s to their everyday life, see things at a different perspective and start taking chances. Hopefully more people are biking and turn up for this. Hopefully people start riding and taking their own routes as well as help out and be good to everyone around them while we ride. Get a bike and be practical, it is so much more than it seems.

E: What's in the future of the UBR?
S: Keep doing it in the city. Idk what it can grow to, this summer has been tremendous, more people are turning out (such as yourself) who have participated and can see (and participate and help) for themselves. Like I said, it's organic and natural. I want to spin it with other groups and organizations, such as body painting, making sure we have music at after party or live art, taking the crowd and giving the people and arts a chance to see new things. I wanna spin it in and outside of the city and take a portion of these people and give them a fun liberating event. Maybe it'll be to help restore this or that house (through charity) or co-ops or work trade up... anything positive to help build the city for a beautiful as it is. Hopefully it can transcend to that or more.

E: What has been the biggest challenge with what you do?
S: Spreading myself too thin, sometimes taking on too much. I do have friends which help out, they ask me to call them to help, and that helps. And just some people on the rides don’t handle themselves well... They (and this is important) need to take personal responsibility for their actions and etiquette when riding. Personally, I need to ask for help when I need it too, and people have a good role in it when I do. It would be a good thing.
E: Sounds like an invite if you're down with the bike community and want to help out!

E: So where is this going? What's Bike Milwaukee's plans for the future?
S: Hopefully getting bigger and being a resource, Milwaukee's Bike culture is growing. The artery is this trail that is on this old unused railroad property, its happening (being developed) in stages. It's like a side project in the works, I bring it up cause we will meet there for the next ride at Richard and Keefe hike and bike Capitol over pass. Once they (people) know more by a bike hike or the artery, they can become a huge part of it. It passes capitol up to port road and hits private land which is a quick private street and heads to Home Depot and goes to Hampton and Tuetonia... it's a great project and I can't wait for it's completion.

E: How can people stay safe on while biking?
S: Wearing helmet and protection, in the road on the right side of the road with the flow of traffic in the bike lane, we talk about lane placement (1,2,3) and positioning yourself for turns. Signaling, scanning, lights, bright clothes. Just common sense stuff that people should always do, there's not a lot of room in bending the rule on this stuff and it's important to get it in at an early age. Etiquette is impotent. I teach bike safety classes, I work for the bike fed. A friend Jake who is in Sweden right now he is the peer of mine and is all about safe rides and helps kids in schools work on bikes and learn about bike mechanical and real life placement. Its a real life skill and application, those bikes come full circle when we bring them to clubs and organizations to for kids to ride, it's a cool curriculum thing that people can take part in. People get excited about places they haven't been and many have been better than many other rides lol! Like your an adult instructor, it's sad when it's done and you get to know the kids well. You wanna keep doing these rides with them and you’re doing free rides at some point. You begin to say "Its weird, I'm at the beach with kids and having a blast teaching them about biking!"

E: A lot of people ride year round. How do you suggest people beef up their ride for the winter months and stay safe?
S: Just wear layers, use synthetic materials or good natural fibers like wool, just making sure you're dressing appropriately. Feeling your body is a good thing! There’s really cool Milwaukee bike collective things like seminars that have a good turn out too (google them). Studded tires are debatable on conditions, better tires for conditions are suggested. Being cautions of the conditions and realizing that cars are driving in the same conditions you are... so give them and yourself enough room to slip out is important to remember. Take the lane if you need too, sometimes you need to assert yourself so you can ride safe. Planning for conditions is the biggest thing though.

E: Any closing remarks?
S: Keep riding, it's something to get out and ride. Just make sure you’re having fun and being safe and responsible at the same time. It's OK to steal other peoples words. We're pro-bike not anti-car. Lead by example if you want to see change in how you ride and how you’re doing and how you talk to cyclists. We're a powerful presence and we need to give respect if we are to get respect. Just get out and ride, that’s really it! The biggest thing you can do is be a good bicycle citizen and do what its all about.

You can join Steve Roche as well as Team Bacon on the UBR ride coming up September 13th @ 8:00 pm. We will meet at The Artery (see map above) and ride closer to 9 pm. I hope to see many of you at the last ride of the year! Cheers, beers, and the great outdoors!