I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.Susan Sontag
Last fall I got to talking with the owner and Editor-in-Chief of The Trek, hoping to score a writing gig. Zach “Badger” Davis was named Top Hiking and Outdoor Blogger by USA TODAY and has written books on the psychology of thru-hiking. I really wanted to be a part of his team, and after winnowing out over 100 applicants, I was getting close as one of only four in the “finals.”
We had an easy rapport sharing our love of all things backpacking, as well as what topics are hot now and how I might fit into the culture. It soon became obvious that what interested Zach the most about me – and what I do best – is audio production and interviewing.
Shortly after our video call, I left for a nine-day backpack trip on Isle Royale in Lake Superior right and found myself mulling over our conversation and what I really wanted. Through soggy thunderstorms, an attack by hundreds of leeches and a painful slog on quickly disintegrating hips, I realized I didn’t necessarily want this job, but I would be keen to work on a podcast if it was on offer.
He must have read my mind, because that was almost precisely how things played out, as if I manifested the perfect gig. And it’s not as if The Trek doesn’t already have podcast chops, their Backpacker Radio is one of the most popular for us “hiker trash.” But what Zach was looking for was punlic radio polish, sort of Terri Gross meets Andrew Skurka.
It took some time to get things moving. I had to have both hips replaced and that took more out of me than I’d anticipated. But once I was back at my desk, it was full steam ahead starting with an interview with one of my favorite writers, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist and hard-core section hiker, Nicholas Kristof.
I’ve followed Nick for years beginning with the build up to the Iraq war and was delighted to learn he backpacks every chance he gets and finished the Pacific Crest Trail with his daughter over six seasons. He’s smart and engaging and easily shared stories of how the two of them bonded but also where they differed, especially when it came to ultralight hiking for long days with only cold food at camp.
Just like my work at American Public Media, I love to talk to people and ask questions that really open them up to sharing about their passion. Dr. Alan Carpenter is in his 70’s and has hiked over 11,000 miles though he started only a decade ago! He and Heather Balogh Rochfort, the author of Backpacking 101, share the first episode about getting started in backpacking. From them I learned you don’t have to be perfect and have everything dialed in. It’s more important to just get out there and give backpacking a try.
One of ultralights earliest adopters, “Adventure Alan” Dixon and The Trek’s lead writer Kelly Floro, (the one who got the job ultimately that I’d applied for ) talk candidly about what they carry. They are both cognizant of weight but still make room for a bit of “luxury.” They helped me think about my backpacking kit as something that I need to love and be able to rely on, and that ultimately it’s up to me what I bring, and to try to be true to myself.
I’m creating more shows including backpacking legend Andrew Skurka, gear-maker Dan Durston, Professor of Outdoor Fundamentals, Elizabeth Andre, VP of Advancement for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and first Triple Crowner of South Asian descent, Shalin Desai, Backcountry Foodie founder, Aaron Owens Mayhew, and many, many other amazing people.
Of course, I’ll be on the hunt for show ideas, so stay in touch if there is something in particular you would like to explore more deeply or a person that you’ve just got to hear from.
And in the meantime, happy listening!