Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Serendipity and the life-long impact of the outdoors.

There are many organizations of which I support their intentions in my mind but very few in which I choose to donate my time and energy. I'm sure you all know, there just ain't enough time in the day.

It was a last minute decision to speak at the event. I had only briefly mentioned to Ivan the possibility of speaking about the Appalachian Trail as I had in past events at REI. Tell stories about the trail, show photos, geek out and use Google Earth - that kind of thing. But somehow in one of his conversations with Big City Mountaineers he mentioned my name and surprisingly, they knew who I was. Apparently they were intrigued by me, having seen the spread in BACKPACKER magazine, because I am somewhat of a rare breed in the industry. An asian-american who is a somewhat serious outdoorsman.

A testament to how much a minority I am can be seen in any gear catalog as well as on the AT. In 2006, I met a good portion of the thru-hikers (one of the benefits of being slow) and met only one other asian. ONE other. This is among hundreds of long distance hikers. Ironically, we had both chosen trail names that played upon this, hers being Feng Shui and mine representing Balance and Peace. There were two black people and one hispanic on the trail that year. And that's it. Everyone else was caucasion.

In light of this, BCM was interested in me speaking to this fact. The tricky part is that I didn't know what to say about it. I am asian, yes. But do I usually refence myself as asian? No, not really. With that I spent the entire two weeks leading up to the event reflecting on my life and polling friends and particularly minority outdoorsmen/women on their experiences in the outdoors. It all led up to me completing my speech at 4 in the morning the day of the event.

It was a beautiful venue and a great opportunity for me to reflect on how fortunate I am to have the outdoors as a core part of my life. We had attendance of over 40 people from the Denver-metro area, some of who donated items ranging from water bottles to custom skis. Good food, live music, and open bar gave it that extra touch.

So why is getting kids into the outdoors important to me? And why is it also very important for you and our future? Read excerpts of the speech below:

I AM a writer and a photographer and a digital cartographer. I am a teacher and a student. I am a builder and a connector. A scientist and an artist. I am even a day trader and consultant. But of all the things I do the most unlikely thing is that I am a hiker. A professional hiker at that.

For the past two years nearly every story I tell has revolved around the Appalachian Trail. But tonight instead of stories of the trail I will tell you the story I haven't told. Because I was never the most likely person to get into the outdoors. I was never the most likely person to run an outdoor club. To work for Backpacker magazine, nor the most likely to hike 2175 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
I am where I am today because of sheer, absolutely, nutty, crazy luck. Sheer serendipity.
As minorities become the majority here in America. As we all become to consider ourselves global citizens in addition to our country affiliations. We need our future generations of all creed and color to recognize the importance of the natural world. Our physical, mental and spiritual health depends on it. MacKaye had the great wisdom to see the possibilities for health and recuperation. He says, "The oxygen in the mountain air along the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates to the heavens its enormous health-giving powers with only a fraction of a percent utilized for human rehabilitation. Here is a resource that could save thousands of lives. The sufferers of tuberculosis, anemia and insanity go through the whole strata of human society."
Complete transcript can be read here: In Their Footsteps & Big City Mountaineers Fundraiser Keynote

Monday, March 30, 2009

We raised $3200 to get kids into the woods!

A couple weeks ago I spoke at a fundraiser event organized by my friend Ivan Junge to benefit Big City Mountaineers. BCM is an amazing organization who's practical goal is to get inner-city kids here in Denver into the woods while providing one-on-one mentorship. That's great. But their larger goal of making a difference in these kids lives - building self-confidence, opening their minds and their lives to worlds beyond the 10 mile radius in which they grow up is really what makes it shine.

Through a silent auction of donated items, we were able to raise $3200. Enough to fund an additional group of 5-adult to 5-participants on a week long trip in the Rocky Mountains.

Leading up to the event, I was excited (and nervous) to speak as keynote about my experiences and have the opportunity to make a difference in these kids lives. Here is what BCM had to say in their press note:

The event was held in space donated by the Rebel Salon/Gallery on Blake St in Denver. The well attended first year event showcased Jeff Chow, a contributing correspondent from Backpacker Magazine, as the Keynote Speaker. Jeff, spoke about his experience through hiking the Appalachian Trail and need to encourage and create opportunities for unrepresented populations to use outdoor recreation opportunities. - Big City Mountaineers
I encourage you to support this great organization. See how here!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Top 10 Myths about Sustainability: Scientific American

Top 10 Myths about Sustainability: Scientific American

I ran across this article in Scientific American recently and it rekindled a pet-peeve of mine.

The word sustainability has taken on a rather limited definition over the past 5 years. Which has been interesting since it was in 2006 I wrote my senior thesis on developing sustainable student organizations. Back then I faced the challenge of redefining sustainability more broadly than its environmental connotations. And in light of the failing US auto companies and corrupt banking/hedge fund industry, I continue to think of how these organizations seem to be choosing short term gains at the expense of long term, sustainable growth. For some of these companies it is so bad that todays banner year is taken at the expense of their company being viable the next and corrupting the whole industry. Talk about short-sightedness!

The concept of sustainable living goes as far back as living beings. From the most basic level it is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. Single cell organisms need to live sustainably within their micro-environment to ensure the survival of their species. And I'm sure they didn't do it just to be hip. Humans are no different. It is in our own benefit (both as individuals and as a society/species) to want to live sustainably.

Sustainable living is a concept that the American Indians have at the core of their society. They knew by living off the land that each action had a reaction and that there was no way to avoid their impact on the world. Reduce, reuse, recycle was not simply a catch phrase, it was a necessary life mantra simply because they couldn't just truck their garbage to another site. It is only now in a society where we, the human, are at the center of the universe, able to control the climate within our homes and cars, control strife and illness with a pill, and ship our waste out of sight and out of mind that we have lost our connection to the earth and can fool ourselves into thinking that our actions on this earth do not affect the earth. In many ways, it's the loss of the connection to natural consequences.

It reminds me of the wilderness programs that take troubled teens out into the woods as a means of rehabilitation. These teens often are in jail and are given this option as a final means of parole, the final chance to live a productive life in society. They could be in jail for all kinds of reasons, from burglary to drugs to violence but I would assert that most of these kids did what they did simply because they never learned, or never believed their actions had consequences. Perhaps this is analogous to our society as a whole (it certainly applies to AIG). So they take these kids out, strap packs on their backs and march them to a wilderness campsite. If a participant doesn't want to walk, they get left alone (within bounds of safety). They don't want to carry their pack, they won't have food the rest of their time. They don't set up their shelter or learn how to rig it properly, they may find themselves curled up in a wet, slimy sleeping bag, shivering throughout the night after a sudden downpour comes tearing through soaking everything they have. It is in these wilderness programs where the kids immediately, and ultimately see that their actions have direct consequences, otherwise known as natural consequences. And for some, this permeates every aspect of their lives causing them to lead a healthy, productive, and sustainable life.

And perhaps we all need a little more of that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blog on BACKPACKER.com - Yellowstone in a Nutshell

Backpacker's interactive maps make planning your Yellowstone expedition easy

With its bounty of epic summits, gnarled canyons, pristine lakes and festering hot springs, Yellowstone National Park serves up thousands of possibilities along with one semi-annoying but semi-important question: Where do I start?

With this conundrum in mind, we sent our fearless correspondent Jeff Chow, armed with only his god-given wits and a trusty GPS device, on a month-long excursion into Yellowstone's immense wilderness. After a month of summiting sky-scraping peaks, fording raging rivers, and sleeping with 600-pound grizzlies, Jeff has not only lived to tell the tale, but has returned with a mother-lode of wisdom (and GPS data) on America's first national park.

So although Yellowstone can be overwhelming, consider that Lewis and Clark charted most of the American West without any of the handy (and free) features — interactive maps, detailed trail descriptions, elevation profiles, Google Earth flyovers, geo-tagged photos and videos, meticulous waypoints and USGS Topo Map quads — that (thanks to contributors like Jeff) Backpacker.com offers on its Destinations channel...

See more, read more! Continued at Backpacker.com!