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Walking Distance podcast

Walking Distance is a show for hikers, trekkers, trampers, and wanderers that proves any place worth seeing can be reached by walking there.

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!

In episode three, I meet Irene and encounter real "trail angel" Kiwi hospitality, something ingrained in the culture.
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why on earth would you want to create a podcast?

Be fearless in trying new things, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional, since being afraid can challenge you to go to the next level.

Rita Wilson
Long distance backpacker and essayist Alison Young reveals the truth behind the unglamorous – but fulfilling –life of a full-time-pedestrian.
In creating a weekly podcast. I bring all my skills to the fore – writing, voicing, editing, producing and backpacking.

So you might have perhaps noticed that I have started a weekly podcast. It seemed like a natural thing to do after exploring audio narratives and visual audio essays during my last two major hikes.

But, to give credit where credit is due, it took my accountability group of three professional actors to give me the permission I sought to follow this crazy idea. I say it that way, because my personality is one that is self-motivated and always follows through. What I need is to be reassured my idea is one worth pursuing and that tends to build my confidence enough to begin moving forward.

I can still see the faces of my brand new friends, Kurt, Elizabeth and Billie Jo smiling with encouragement – and likely a bit of bewilderment since this was the first they’d ever heard of my kooky backpacking fetish. But they appeared to enjoy the few stories I shared and convinced me to follow through in creating a podcast, which at that time, about two months ago, seemed daunting indeed.

To achieve anything, we need to acquire a thru-hiker’s mindset. There’s no way we can bite off all 2600+ miles of the PCT at once. No one would even set foot on the trail. Instead, it’s a matter of steps, one after the other that gets you where you’re going.

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work-from-home capable

If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.

Sheryl Sandberg
Blissful Hiker Alison Young before the home voice recording studio build.

…and just like that, at exactly the moment when working at home became a necessary “thing,” construction of the voice recording booth – the blisstudio – reaches completion and is ready to launch already in flight!

what it took…

  • 45 2×4’s
  • 18 yards of fabric
  • 15 4×8 foot MDF boards
  • 10 saws
  • 8 pounds of screws
  • 6 3×3 foot 3/4 inch neoprene squares
  • 5 1/2 bundles of rockwool insulation
  • 2 mini computer fans
  • 1 big bucket of carpet glue and a door knob
  • and a bunch of other things I can’t remember just now

Most every weekend over the winter, Richard and I measured, cut, sawed, glued, and pieced together my beautiful working space, figuring it all out as we went. And boy, oh, boy, did we create a magical spot for me to play – building my voice over business, making audio narratives and audio program notes and dreaming up new ventures like creating a podcast.

Once we find ourselves on the other side of social distancing/safely-at-home/quarantine/ lockdown, I’ll invite ALL of you over to check it out, sign the wall and even record your voice! In the meantime, come inside and learn how she came to be.