Fifteen months ago, my bitterness reached its peak. The cause was obvious: for four consecutive years, starting with 2011, I had worked too much and adventured too little. Essentially, I had stopped being me.
During the first two years, I wasn’t bothered. My work — mostly guiding, speaking, and writing — was novel and challenging, and I enjoyed the newfound success. My adventure quota still felt fulfilled by my Alaska-Yukon Expedition in 2010. And I was also preoccupied by a woman (who would become my wife) and a new house.
I began to long for a re-balance, however. It remained decidedly illusive in 2013, which was the busiest, most lucrative, and least enjoyable year of my adulthood. Last year was marginally better, but my only two personal backpacking trips — a Wind River High Route attempt and an elk hunt — both failed partly or primarily because I couldn’t give them enough time, to either properly prepare or to succeed even if everything didn’t go my way.
In early-December I had one more opportunity to salvage 2014, with The North Face 50-Mile Championships. Because nearly all of my work was already done for the year, during the 2.5-month training cycle I was free to revert to my pre-2011 ways: I was selfish and myopic. I ran more miles and vertical than I ever had before, prepared for every aspect of the race, and did not entertain any distractions. My 38th-place finish in 7:26 felt like a victory, and gave me hope that my best days weren’t already behind me.
This year I intentionally front-loaded my calendar so that about three-fourths of my work was completed in the first half of the year. Not surprisingly, I came up short in both efforts that I attempted before the end of June — Steve Allen’s Overland Route and the Dirty 30 Trail Run.
Thereafter, however, I went on a tear:
1. Kings Canyon High Basin Route
In 2013 and 2014 I spent two months in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, and slowly stitched together this route. I released a guidebook for it in April, and thru-hiked it in its entirety in July, plus an additional 75 miles of alternate routes and section-hike segments. The 125-mile route is world-class, and competes with the Sierra High Route for being the finest backpacking trip in the High Sierra.
- About the Kings Canyon High Basin Route
- Kings Canyon High Basin Route Guide
- Trip Report
- Tag: Kings Canyon High Basin Route
2. Wind River Range High Route
In 2014 Buzz Burrell, Peter Bakwin and I failed in our attempt to complete the 95-mile Wind River High Route, after being turned back by hard ice on Bonney Pass. In late-August I returned solo, and thru-hiked it in 4.25 days, then yo-yo’d 100 miles back to my car on an entirely different route in order to research some lower-elevation alternates.
I believe this to be “the” Wind River High Route; so do others. It’s the only version that penetrates the most magnificent part of the range: the northeast corner, which is home to Gannett Peak (the highest point in Wyoming) and the largest concentration of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. I will release a guidebook for it this winter.
3. Run Rabbit Run
In mid-September I ended a 7-year hiatus from 100-mile ultra marathons with Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, finishing third in 20:12. By starting slow and better maintaining my pace in the later miles, I managed to beat about a dozen more talented and more experienced runners. The $3,500 purse was an unexpected treat, but I can think of easier ways to make a living.
4. Elk hunting in the Colorado Rockies
On the first day of Second Rifle season, I shot a cow elk at 11,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, my first-ever kill. After field dressing and deboning her, my hunting partner Noel and I made two 4-mile round-trips back to the trailhead, with 77 pounds of gear and 171 pounds of organic, grass-fed, free-range, and humanely treated meat. As a beginner hunter I’m not yet emotionally indifferent to pulling the trigger (and I doubt I ever will be), but I feel good about taking more control of my food chain and facing directly the reality of meat-eating.
5. Vulcano Ultra Trail
Merrell presented me with a last-minute opportunity to fly to Chile and race the Vulcano Ultra Trail 100k in early-December. The adventurous course was well suited for me: it favored strength over speed, since half the course was covered in deep sand; it had ample technical terrain and extensive off-trail segments; and it climbed 15,000 feet, which equates to about 450 feet of vertical change per mile. I finished my ultra season, and my year, with another podium finish, third-place in 13:26.
Because I decreased my overall workload and traded some business travel for local work, I was around much more in 2015. Amanda has enjoyed the company, at least most of the time. We celebrated our 2-year anniversary in August by hiking the Aspen Four Pass Loop, and are still content with a single child that is furry and four-legged.
Amanda was a huge help as my sole crew member at Run Rabbit Run, and has been encouraging of my efforts to work less and play more.
This has been fun work with a fun team. If you haven’t already, find a comfortable chair and get a bowl of popcorn, then check out our informative SD LIVE series. Also, this spring/summer watch for the release of a co-developed backpack and shelter, with more products to follow. These best-in-class products will be worth the wait.
This year I felt like I worked half as hard, yet I still earned three-fourths of my peak income. How? First, I took on only on the most fruitful opportunities, and traded less productive ones for more free time. And, second, I’m beginning to benefit from my shift towards more passive income and away from active income, e.g. speaking. Expect more print and digital content from me next year, and an updated Gear Guide in 2017.
What’s in store for next year?
All signs are that 2016 will be even better. Stay tuned.