Fitz Cahall, True Story

Fitz and Becca Cahall
Fitz and Becca Cahall, aka Duct Tape Then Beer Productions

I’ve been looking forward to writing about Fitz Cahall, because I have been reading and watching and listening to his adventure stories for months. They’re fantastic. In fact, in the world of adventure journalism, Fitz stands pretty tall.

If you don’t already know them, Fitz Cahall and his wife Becca Cahall run a Seattle based production company called Duct Tape Then Beer. Among their impressive output is a weekly podcast called, The Dirtbag Diaries. (Dirtbag being a term of affection here, as in: avid, passionate climbers, unswayed by such niceties as warm beds, hot showers, steady salaries, or any other distractions that might spoil the purity of a life devoted to rock and the great outdoors).

Fitz Cahall, photo by Voodooclimbing.com
Fitz Cahall, photo by Voodooclimbing.com

The podcast roams far beyond rock climbing stories, daring to plumb the meaning of obsession, serendipity, even life itself on more than one occasion.

I am not a rock climber, but I am a journalist. I’m also a professional filmmaker and storyteller, so it’s refreshing when I find someone else who is so committed to their work that it fills my tank too.

What I love about Fitz Cahall can be summed up in one word: authenticity. His stories don’t try to be anything they’re not. He doesn’t strain to be anyone he’s not. It’s more like he’s given over the microphone to his friends and climbing buddies, each to fumble about and share some pretty hard won insights. And a lot of laughs. Listening in, we feel we could as easily be at the campfire with them. Perhaps it’s the magic of radio, transposed to the web, but these tales feel so intimate. It’s really quite something to pull off on any regular basis. But I get the sense that Fitz brings out the ‘real’ in people. That he won’t stand for much puff.

To his credit, a great majority of these podcasts are stories he teases out of fellow adventurers. In the tradition of the great Studs Terkel – he seems to find other people endlessly fascinating and make it his job to bring their stories out. I’m happy to report, it seems to be working, because the Dirtbag Community is robust and growing.

Fitz Cahall records The Dirtbag Diaries
Fitz Cahall records The Dirtbag Diaries

“Any man who can build an audience of thousands from a recording booth in his closet is my kind of storyteller.”

The other major component of “Duct Tape Then Beer” are the short films and web series they produce. “The Season” is a soulful, multipart web series created with partner Bryan Smith, and follows several athletes through a season of their sport, each on something of a personal odyssey. The series wrapped after two runs, but you can find it here.

Then there are the short films that Fitz and company occasionally produce, which pop up from time to time at festivals and on the web. “35” is a recent favorite that found some much deserved acclaim. From what I know, it pretty much sums up what Fitz and his posse are about. They’re about “the moments that define each of us” and not letting them slip by unnoticed. Or unappreciated.

I once spent a weekend with a Bhutanese monk with much the same objective. For him, it seemed hardly a single moment slid by without appreciation. For the rest of us, who are still learning, there are storytellers like Fitz, who bring us back to what’s real. What matters. And what the only real jewels are in life – each other.

Please take a minute to check out some of what Duct Tape Then Beer is up to. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find yourself recharged enough to go DO something. Which I bet is what Fitz would tell you if he were here: “Now let’s do this thing!”

The Dirtbag Diaries
Dirtbag Nation on Facebook
Duct Tape Then Beer on Vimeo

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Alastair Humphreys

alastair_humphreys_portrait
There’s nothing like a Brit for adventure, when he really gets going. I first noticed Alastair Humphreys when National Geographic nominated him as one of their Adventurers of the Year in 2012. Back then, he was fresh off rowing across the Atlantic with 3 other guys and I thought, well, that’s pretty damn ambitious. I didn’t grasp the half of it. This was a man who had already bicycled 46,000 miles around the world.

Island camp #microadventure, Feb 2013, photo by Alastair Humphreys
Island camp #microadventure, Feb 2013, photo by Alastair Humphreys

As we do more and more to build Xpedition.TV online, I would notice Alastair’s name popping up in more and more places. Walking across India. Cycling Hadrian’s wall in Britain. Canoeing the Yukon, swimming the Thames, instigating #microadventures on twitter (don’t laugh, he’s got something there). In fact, if you’re in the UK and happen to see a troupe of paste-white Brits plunging into an ice cold lake, mid February, and or hear the shrieks of 10 C water on bare skin – you can be pretty sure who is behind it.

One part Marco Polo, one part merry prankster, it’s pretty hard to get your arms around ALL of the adventurers Alastair Humphreys gets up to. Let alone the ones he inspires in others. Part of his charm is that he seems to be everywhere. Like fellow Brit Dave Cornthwaite – he seems to say yes more. Seems to eat life with a big spoon. Which for me, is the hallmark of a true adventurer. He’s able to do it anywhere. With an appetite that seems to grow with each bite.

#Microadventures

But let’s talk about this idea of microadventurers. Throw a hashtag in front of it, and #microadventure is your password to a expansive online community of people who don’t have time to walk across India. But who – nevertheless – head out for all kinds of short, highly creative battery-charges in the outdoors. Weekend adventures, mid week adventures, overnight odysseys – what’s new about that? Nothing much, you could argue. But you’d be missing the point. And you’d be missing the challenge and the community.

What I love about twitter (a platform I used to shun) is that seemingly overnight, a term can be coined for a thing we love but had no way of finding out about who was doing it with us.  And yet… one little # symbol and here we all are, pushing our passion forward like the oarsmen of a great boat. The HMS Microadventure, if you will. With rowers on every continent.

starlight camping #microadventure photo by steven carmichael
starlight camping #microadventure photo by steven carmichael

… you get the idea. Real people busting out of their boxes, doing some pretty awesome stuff in short bursts of time. And you shouldn’t be surprised to find this trending its way into your corner of the world. Because this simple hashtag becomes your invitation and your challenge.

What have you done lately to break your routine? To surprise yourself? To bring yourself alive? To “push the refresh button” as Alastair likes to call it.

Don’t get me wrong, here at Xpedition.TV, we are all about the big adventures. But we also get pretty damned excited when people find creative ways to span the distance and pull the tribe together for a little support and inspiration.

Bravo, Alastair Humphreys. Thank you for being such a brazen big soul on the planet. And such an outstanding catalyst for the rest of us.

Be sure to check out Alastair’s blog. It’s spectacular.

Dave Cornthwaite’s 1000 Mile Expeditions

dave_cornthwaite_miguel_endara_9s

I love the Dave Cornthwaite story. It starts in 2005, when a 23 year old graphic designer walks off his job in London, grabs a skateboard and skates the length of Britain. A new life begins.

Expedition 1000

Expedition 1000 is Dave Cornthwaite’s ambitious plan to undertake 25 expeditions of at least 1000 miles, each using a different kind of non-motorized transport. Skateboards. Paddleboard. Bicycle. Swimming. Sailing. He’s got six under his belt so far and the stories just keep getting better.

Swim 1000

A few days ago, I came across this excellent short film about Dave’s “Swim 1000” expedition of 2012. This was a 1000 mile swim of the Missouri river undertaken for Coppafeel, the breast cancer charity. The journey began August 10th in Chamberlain, South Dakota and ended 58 days later in St. Louis, Missouri. But that’s not the real story.

The story he’s bringing you is the one captured by Miguel Endara, an advertising exec who befriended Dave and volunteered to capture his expedition. Did he ever! Here’s the film.

I think this is an exquisite little piece of filmmaking. Maybe because of his training, maybe because he was there with this extraordinary troupe, Miguel Endara skips past all the logistics and machinations that distract many adventure filmmakers and just gets to the heart of this journey. The people on it.

Swim 1000 Team photo by Miguel Endara
Swim 1000 Team photo by Miguel Endara

“It’s about the people,” Dave Cornthwaite avows. And so it is. Heartfelt, hypnotic, rich in character, this is seriously great filmmaking in a small package.

I defy anyone to watch this film and not wish they have been there to experience the journey. “I want to get to be an old man and look back and have a lifetime of memories and smile about them. And if I’m living in a tent, then I’m living in a tent.” Wise words. Can’t wait to see what Dave Cornthwaite does next.
Here’s his website.

Dave Cornthwaite & team at finish photo Miguel Endara
Dave Cornthwaite & team at finish of Swim 1000 photo Miguel Endara

On the road with Alan Watts

backroads of arizona, photo by ric gibbs
backroads of arizona, photo by ric gibbs
I found Alan Watts in the glove compartment of a ’69 Firebird. It was years ago, and I was on a long, rambling trek home from Gallina, New Mexico to Los Angeles. You can drive that distance in about 14 hours, but it took me nearly three weeks of wandering the back roads of the Navajo reservation, through Tierra Amarillo and Chaco Canyon and Window Rock.

Anyone who tells you, you can’t have a spiritual experience on a car trip, hasn’t been to the American Southwest. There’s a vastness to these landscapes. And a certain kind of meditation that settles over you when all the radio stations fade to static and the road stretches out like a baked black ribbon across the desert floor as far as the eye can see. Next gas 75 miles. And they friggin’ mean it.

Out there, you can see storms forming an hour in advance. Great rolling thunderheads colliding with one another and the dark wall of rain heading your direction. Time to take shelter.

Alan Watts
Alan Watts

It was on one of those afternoons, holed up on a ridge near Mexican Hat, that I discovered a homemade cassette tape in the glove compartment of my car. I hadn’t had the car long. Bought it for $500 off some kid in Pasadena because his parents were sick of it leaking oil in the driveway. It needed a rebuilt tranny and a coat of paint but that car was indestructible. Even with hail stones raining down on it. Hail in the desert. Just one of the surreal moments of that trip.

“Alan Watts” was all the tape said. I popped it in. And a thin, reedy, bemused voice came on, to tell me the meaning of life. Literally.

If you’ve never heard of Alan Watts – he died before most of our times – he was a thinker of extraordinary caliber. An explorer of the mind, you could say. And he got pretty far out there. An Episcopal priest who ditched the church and moved to Berkeley, Watts went WAY beyond introducing California to Buddhism. In the late 1950s, Watts was the counter culture. Without him and Timothy Leary and Fritz Perls dropping LSD and questioning the very makeup of a society, the ‘60s might never have happened. Theirs was the philosophical underpinning. Theirs was the first ascent on the mountain that would BE the 1960s.

As you listen to Alan Watts, you really are transported to moments of impossible clarity. An understanding of yourself and your place in the universe that is refreshingly different from everything we’ve been programmed to believe. I will not paraphrase. His books are in print. His lectures available, freely online (if you do a little looking) which is what he’d want, I’m sure. There’s even an Alan Watts podcast app, you can listen to in your car. As I did. Many summers ago as hail swept across the desert floor. And it seemed the perfect time… for a bit of enlightenment.

author Ric Gibbs at Bright Angel Pt. on the north rim of the canyon.
author Ric Gibbs at Bright Angel Pt. on the north rim of the canyon.

Thanks to “TragedyandHope” for editing this video. Thanks to Kraig Becker of the Adventure Blog for being the first to share it!

Ric Gibbs’ Talk at BIL Conference

BIL_XTV
Explorers!

A million thanks! Ric Gibbs’ talk “Risky Business: why jumping off a cliff is safer than your couch” has been voted onto the main stage at the BIL Conference! Yay!!

With a scant 5 day window to organize, we were one of the TOP vote-getters in a field of 60 speakers. So I cannot thank you enough making that happen. Votes poured in from all over the states, Europe, even a few from Asia and New Zealand. You guys friggin’ rock!

We’ll be discussing the crucial role that risk and meaningful challenge play in our psyche. And introducing a lot more people to Xpedition.TV’s mission and plans to achieve it!

Anyone interested in attending this eclectic, visionary conference can use the discount code “gibbsBILfriends” for 20% off at registration.

DATES: March 2-3 (Saturday-Sunday)
LOCATION: 230 Pine Street, Long Beach, CA

We’ll send out a blast just as soon as we know our slot on the schedule.

Ric Gibbs

The BIL Conference

The BIL Conference is the red-headed step child to the TED Talks.
The BIL Conference is the red-headed step child to the TED Talks.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

One of my favorite online sources for Amazing Stuff is the TED Talks. I’ve seen so many brilliant thinkers, innovators, and explorers on TED, that when I heard about the BIL Conference (a kind of dubious step-child to TED) I immediately said, “I HAVE A TALK!”

And I do! It’s called:

“Risky Business: Why jumping off a cliff is safer than staying on your couch!”

Ric Gibbs is founder and chief adventurer at Xpedition.TV
Ric Gibbs is founder and chief adventurer at Xpedition.TV

It’s all about courage, exploration, and why most of us have the idea of risk, 180 degrees upside down.

Want to see it? Well, I want to give it! But speakers are only invited on stage by POPULAR VOTE.

So, I’m asking, I’m begging. Please go to BIL’s Speakers Page, find my talk and vote me onto the stage.

You don’t have to be in California to vote. Talks will be archived and shared. In the meantime… go do something amazing!

The Epic Journeys of David Burns & Maghnus Collins

David Burns and Magnus Collins set off on their Silk Roads to Shanghai expedition
David Burns and Maghnus Collins set off on their 14,000 km expedition across Asia for “Self Help Africa”.

Boy, once the adventure bug bites, it really bites some people. Enter two Irishmen, David Burns and Maghnus Collins, mates from college who at age 23 decided to undertake a great adventure before settling into the workaday world.

The idea, hatched on a whim, was to bicycle home to Ireland from Cape Town, South Africa. It was a journey of eleven months and 17,500 km. That was in 2009 and – if you can believe it – wasn’t even their most ambitious project.

Map of the 14,000 km route taken by David Burns and Maghnus Collins
Map of the 14,000 km route taken by David Burns and Maghnus Collins.

Just weeks ago, on January 17th David and Maghnus completed their epic “Silk Roads to Shanghai” journey, from Istanbul to Shanghai, biking, running, and kayaking some 14,000 km across the heart (and Himalayas) of Asia.

I WISH I had had my cameras along for this one, guys. But I doubt I’d have been able to keep up. After bicycling 8,500 km across 3 deserts and most of India to Nepal (stage 1) our boys ran another 1,000 km (40 per day) across the Tibetan plateau into China (stage 2) before embarking on a 3rd and final stage, kayaking some 6,500 km down the Yangtze River to Shanghai. Woof!

Magnus Collins on the Yangtze River, China 2012.
Magnus Collins on the Yangtze River, China 2012.

Apparently, the Yangtze in northern China is so remote, they went 17 days without seeing another human. Bears awaited them on the river banks, birds of prey took the occasional swoop at them and some of the rapids were so wild they weren’t sure they had ever been run by man before. At one point Maghnus lost his kayak with all his provisions and pursued it for 3 days before losing it over a falls after a desperate, last ditch swim to catch it.

The fact that these two men scraped by on the equivalent of £2.50 per day, while delivering more than £33,500 in donations to Self Help Africa makes them even more heroic in my book. (As its name implies, the charity’s mission is to empower rural Africa to achieve economic independence). Between all their adventures, David and Maghnus have delivered £80,000 to the charity so far, a remarkable gift from two simple guys with bikes and kayaks.

Yet beyond the feat itself, I find myself particularly moved by this blog post by Maghnus. He wrote it just shy of finishing their journey, on a day when – as anyone who has traveled can tell you – you begin to grasp for meaning and perspective before re-entering the world as you know it.

Maghnus writes:

David Burns climbs into the Himalayas.
David Burns climbs into the Himalayas during their 8,000 km bike leg from Turkey.

silk roads to shanghai
Just one of the thousands of gracious hosts on their silk road to Shanghai.

The question of “why” remains, quietly persistent. And so, three years after first asking myself the question at a similar stage of an expedition I find myself again asking why? Then, as now, I cannot see past six simple words I heard somewhere on the roads, lanes and tracks of Africa, the Middle East and Europe; Not things, but men and women. The value and worth of this journey if any exist, exist only because of people. They exist in the help of friends and family who saw some themselves or valued us enough to back our judgement.  They are substantiated by the truly worthwhile and priceless works of a charity who’s creed belies the term. They reside in mothers who encouraged us to continue when every shred of their being wanted us to stop. They can be seen in fathers who made a mockery of the term ‘unsupported’ expedition. Hopefully some can be seen in the eyes of children who saw us passing and maybe saw a few new possibilities themselves. More still lies in the deeds of countless strangers who paused to share a wave or a roof. Why do I do this? Because of the people.

* * *

It’s a great blog and I highly recommend diving into it. Most of us will never undertake a journey of this magnitude and there are pearls of wisdom there to be gleaned.

There is also a charity ball honoring their return this month in Dublin. As usual, proceeds will go to Self Help Africa. I’m sure it will be an amazing bash and one hell of an occasion for story telling, so if you are anywhere close – get there!

sand2snow ball
The Sand 2 Snow Ball will be held February 15, 2013 in Dublin.

Here’s your invite!


Tickets available through their facebook page.

For those wanting to dig still deeper into this one, a 7 part video series documenting the journey is viewable on Vimeo, on their Sand2Snow Adventures Channel.

Adventurer of the Year: Lizzy Hawker

Lizzy Hawker, ultra long distance runner.
Lizzy Hawker runs the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, 103 miles. photo: The North Face.

Just in time to beat the voting deadline… ultra long distance runner Lizzy Hawker makes up our 10th and final look at National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, 2013. Don’t forget to vote by January 16!

* * *

You know that scene in the movie Forrest Gump where, after the girl leaves him, Forrest heads off for a run that takes him across the country about six times? Seemingly no limit to his endurance? That’s what I think of when I read about Lizzy Hawker. A petite British woman who didn’t run a professional race until she was 29 and entered NorthFace’s Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc on a whim – and won it!

Some fish are born to swim, right?

In his excellent post for Nat Geo, Fitz Cahall paints the picture in all its grueling colors. 103 miles (168 km) with a cumulative 31,168 feet of uphill climb. As anyone who has run a regular marathon can tell you – this is quite an achievement. Lizzy has won the women’s title 5 out of the 6 times she’s run it.

lizzy hawker wins UTMB
Lizzy Hawker wins first place for her 5th time, at Northface’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. photo: Franck Oddoux.

Since finishing her PhD in oceanography, and her work with the British Antarctic Survey, Lizzy has concentrated on endurance running. She credits her success to a natural level of endurance and a deep love of the mountains. In fact, it seems like just being in the mountains is her primary motivation.

Perhaps even more impressive than the large, well organized UTMB, was Lizzy’s try at the Great Himalayan Trail, across Nepal, solo.

You have to realize that a trail like that – criss-crossed for thousands of years – doesn’t exactly come with trail markers. “There are lots of old hunting trails. The animals have worn parts [of it] as well. It’s very easy to get off the main trail. I was in really steep old-growth forest. I managed to lose a small bag that had the satellite phone and permits for the entire journey.”

Losing that bag meant the end to Lizzy’s trek. Without being able to make her daily sat-phone check in, she knew her friends would be calling out a rescue party.

Of course she’s planning on trying again. When you’re Lizzy Hawker, you don’t need a prize at the end of the road. You just need the trail, your shoes and the mountains. How pure is that?

“For me, moving fast in the mountains just comes natural.”

Lizzy Hawker
Lizzy Hawker loves to run in the mountains. Whether there’s a race or not!

Adventurer of the Year: Ramon Navarro

Ramon Navarro, surfer
Big wave surfer Ramon Navarro lives in Patagonia. photo by Red Bull Media

Ramon Navarro is National Geographic’s 9th candidate for Adventurer of the Year, 2013.

When you grow up in a fishing village with a break like this one, it’s easy to see why you’d grow up passionate about the ocean. What we love about Ramon Navarro isn’t just that he’s an amazing big wave surfer. It’s that the ocean is his life.

pichilemu, chile
Near perfect surf where Ramon Navarro grew up, at Punta de Lobos in Chile. photo courtesy Surf Locker

The first thing I knew in life was the ocean and how to live with the ocean.

So it’s not surprising that when Ramon Navarro isn’t out wowing the surf world with massive barrel rides, he finds himself involved in local politics to protect the pristine coastline of Punta de Lobos against developers.

Ramon hopes to see this gem of coast added to Chile’s National Parks. But as many in Patagonia have learned, setting up a national park in Chile is not easy. [Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has used private funds to protect public land, read his story]. Of course, one visit to this corner of the planet would have you enrolled in these conservation projects too. Patagonia remains one of the last pristine wildernesses in the world.

But wait… we were talking surf. So here’s the “perfect barrel” that catapulted Ramon Navarro even higher into the ranks of surfing lore.

Don’t forget to vote by January 16th! At National Geographic.