Seven weeks of being a rock star, kind of

As a professional long-distance adventurer with zero musical talent, the speaking and book tour I’ve been on for the last six weeks—and this week too, in the Pacific Northwest—is about the closest I’ll come to being a rock star. Performing by night, traveling by day, sleeping and eating and partaking in sex and drugs running when it’s possible and/or convenient.

If the tour finishes as well as its gone thus far, it’ll have been a worthwhile investment of time and resources. However, like every backpacking trip I’ve done, I’m looking forward to its end and to my next project. There are certainly perks to living on the road, but it’s not all glitz and glamour:

Pro: Six nights per week, an audience shows up to hear me

Drawing a sizeable audience is a primary objective of every traveling musician, comedian, dancer, speaker and/or author. And there’s a resulting sense of pride and achievement when I’m looking out into a crowded sea of eyes that are all looking right back, or fixated on the images or videos illuminated on the screen. Equally rewarding are the post-presentation handshakes, photo requests, and follow-up emails—reactions that suggest I at least achieved my goal of being entertaining or informative, and perhaps thought-provoking and inspiring too.

Great turnout at Sunrise Mountain Sports in Livermore, CA for a gear & skills clinic

Pro: Hard work pays dividends

Throughout this tour I have acted as chief scheduler, marketer, accountant, travel agent and driver. It also took thousands of hours to write my book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide (the sales of which have been very strong), and to develop and master my two presentations. My bank account may still not bulge like those of my friends and family members who took more conventional routes (e.g. lawyers, engineers, financial advisors, and accountants) but it’s encouraging to see that my hard-won adventurous lifestyle is becoming more of a legitimate occupation.

Signing books at Pack & Paddle

Pro: “It’s so great to see you! How long has it been?”

The tour has unintentionally served as a tax-deductible reunion with family members, childhood friends, former teachers, former teammates, and past clients on guided trips. I’m generally not great about keeping in touch, so it’s convenient that my job gives me the opportunity to catch up over a mid-day coffee, a post-event drink, a night on their couch or in their guest room, or even Easter weekend.

Easter with the LePage's of St. Louis. Tom (back row, center) is my dad's cousin.

Pro: New places and new faces

Whenever I’m on the road, I’m inspired by newfound opportunities to further explore and experience—trails to run or hike, restaurants and bars to check out, events to attend, geological events to research, and histories to read. The road is also an opportunity to make new friends and connections, and to match real faces to virtual names and handles.

Exploring Lake Martin near Lafayetee, LA, with Pack & Paddle owners John and Becky

Con: I miss her dearly, and Boulder too

The last time I was on the road for an extended time—for five months in Spring 2006, on behalf of GoLite—I never became homesick, probably because at the time I didn’t have a “home” to long. My situation is different now. First, I am deeply in love with a woman in Colorado. We’ve been able to rendezvous twice, for weekends in Fort Lauderdale (with my parents) and in Kalamaoo (with her parents), but otherwise we’ve had to depend on phone calls, Skype, emails and texts—all sub-optimal forms of communication—to keep the fire burning. Second, in the last six years Boulder has become my true “home”—it is usually where l live, and it certainly is where I belong. Its network of recreation trails, its who’s-who outdoor community, and its eccentric personality suit me very well.

With girlfriend Amanda on a 3-day getaway in Fort Lauderdale.

Con: Mind and body struggle with constant travel

Flying is mentally disorienting. Interstate driving is monotonous and homogenous. Waking up, traveling, working out, and eating at different times every day has caused my GI to become utterly confused. Eating out usually twice a day, seven days a week, has taken a (small) toll on my waistline. And shortly after I ever feel “settled” somewhere—in a motel room, at a coffee shop, or in a rental car—it’s usually time to pick up and move again. I get restless if my life is too routine, but I struggle to handle the variability of life on the road.

How many nights can I eat like this before having to go for another multi-month hike just to burn it off? With Tim (left) and Ryan (right) of Quest Outdoors in Louisville, KY.

Con: There’s little else to do but work

Early in the tour a friend joked with me that being an entrepreneur keeps you about as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Probably not PC, but totally true, and especially so while on the road. It’s hard to ever “get away” from work out here. On average I give presentations six nights a week, and my “day off” is usually spent traveling to a new region of the country. I rarely have friends or family around to help balance my activities. And my (hopefully) daily trail runs—which are sacred to me—are often shorter than I’d like, due to miles that still must be traveled or work-related tasks that must be completed.

Writing this blog post from a Safeway in Seattle. As soon as I hit "Publish," I'm going for as long of a run as I can before tonight's event at The Mountaineers.

10 Responses to Seven weeks of being a rock star, kind of

  1. Samwise April 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Since my AT thru-hike this past summer, I have been working on the road for a temporary job, so this post hits home with me. My upcoming PCT thru, regular exercise and hotel rooms with small kitchens (for cooking healthy meals) are the big things that kept me going. The light at the end of my tunnel is very near. Hopefully yours is as well.

    Cheers
    Samwise

  2. Tim Nielsen April 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Andrew:

    Thank goodness your tour is almost over. You are way too young to be stressed out by reality and the monotonous work-a-day world.

    In a funny sort of way, reading your blog reminded me of that famous rant by Oklahoma State’s football coach, Mike Gundy. “I’m a man! I’m 40! Come after me! Don’t go after these kids, who have done everything we’ve asked them to do…etc.”

    Live the life you’ve imagined and everything else will take care of itself.

    Enjoy the day,

    Tim Nielsen
    Windsor, CO

  3. James Kennedy April 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Andrew,

    I enjoy reading your blog. The kind of work and life that you have is what I really want to go into. Even though I haven’t gotten to attend any of your tour dates (yet) you are still something of an inspiration to me.

  4. Paul Bates April 17, 2012 at 3:50 am #

    Hey Andrew,

    Great job with the tour. I’ve read your book during lunch breaks and am at the last few pages and have gotten tons of great info from it. I’m mostly centered on backpacking photography, and you’ve definitely lightened my load enough to be able to bring the gear I want.

    Anyways, it’s great to see you updating the blog more often and look forward to the trips, pictures, and videos to come.

    Paul

  5. Andrew Szalay April 17, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    Hang in there! The Alaska-Yukon trip that you talked about at National Geographic Live last year — while the book was being written — still ranks among the expeditions I am genuinely envious of. I wish I had climbed Rainier and Denali years ago, but your journey got at the essence of exploration, deprivation and wilderness that a lot of us are seeking in a unique way today! Maybe that would have been better. Keep sharing your secrets and telling your stories!

  6. terry tiedeman April 17, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Hi Andrew, I think the greatest thing about your efforts to inform and inspire people regarding outdoor adventure, sensible and light weight gear choices, and how to plan a trip is that so many people will be encouraged and empowered to live a healthier lifestyle and develop a closer relationship with nature. Also, by teaching people how to lighten their pack weight many accidents and injuries will be prevented. I’ve witnessed and heard about so many injuries which were directly due to a person carrying too much unnecessary weight on their back. There’s no way to know how many injuries you are preventing through your presentations, book, blog and guided trips but surely it is a lot. Thank you for that. Also, as a side note, in your google presentation you mentioned that the steripen doesn’t fit in the platy bottle. That was incorrect. I use my steripen journey with platy bottles all the time. Good luck and thanks again.

  7. Chris Zeller April 18, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Great to hear your kind words about Boulder. I feel the same way. It really is a unique place. Looking forward to see you at Neptune’s on the 26th! You’ll be home soon.

  8. Lorana Jinkerson April 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Just read your blog and really excited to read about Amanda! Also just got a report from Larry Pio at Chief Noonday on your presentations there in Kzoo. Hope it was good for you. Check is in the mail if not already in Boulder. Will keep track of you via your blog and send good wishes your way.

    Lorana

  9. Howard E. Friedman April 19, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Business travel is disorienting on a trip like yours but on average it sounds like your tour skews more toward type 1 fun than type 2. Perhaps you could develop webinars in the future either to speak about a recent trip or share some skills. With a few sponsors e-lectures could be a viable way to reach an international audience while remaining in the comfort of your home. In any event, congratulations on your remarkable accomplishments to date, and helping to define adventure-eco-entrepreneurship and setting a standard of excellence in the process.

  10. Patrice April 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    So this is what we have to look forward to for the next 5 months!!! This was NOT in the contract we signed … haha. Seriously, though, thanks for directing us to this post. Really enjoyed it. My plan was to read through your blog anyway, so this is a good start!

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