Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sweet Inspiration...A Fab Five(ish)

It's easy to be inspired out on the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains. Since I can't always pick up and go, I also look to the examples of a number of inspirational folks to remind me to follow my own passion.

What's a dream worth? What about a dream in action, or rather a dream acted upon? That's where the value comes, in my book. Having a vision or a passion and working to bring it to life.

How many of us live lives we consciously create? Do we spend our time the way we would choose if money, mortgages, etc. were not a part of the picture? More likely we make compromises--we give up some of our time towards work, to be able to spend other parts the way we want.

For me, time spent exploring a trail on the run is a connection to something that has been a part of me as long as I can remember. A sense of adventure and in being outside and being active. Writing gives me that same sense, as now does seeing our girls light up playing with them or seeing my wife laugh a belly laugh--the kind where other cares fall away. Those are moments in a day, where I am living fully.

I try to make those moments occur as frequently as I can. That's part of the reason I get up to run or to write--to be connected to my life being lived fully. It's a part of who I am. We live in a time and place though, where what or who we are is largely thought of in terms of what we do for a job. What we do to make money, or how we spend our days to earn a living. In many cases, this is where a compromise comes. We justify doing something with our time that is not exactly what we would choose, say, if we won the lottery. But by working a particular job, we are able to spend what free time we have pursuing our passions.

Marginalizing our passions can be a slippery slope. By the end of the day, we are beat, or busy, or distracted. Before you know it, you don't even realize where the time went and you hit a mid-life crisis and buy a Harley and ride across the country...;) Okay, so maybe you don't but that kind of crap-what-happened-to-my-life crisis can manifest itself in many ways.

I prefer the idea of preventative medicine/action when it comes to the mid-life crisis. The kind of action that says keep your dreams/passions close and actually make strides toward them, even if baby steps at first. Sometimes that's tough. And it's during those times, I dig looking toward/at people who are out there doing it. People who are walking the walk every day. In some cases their example provides a model. More often, and equally important, they provide inspiration. Here are a handful of folks and companies that are sweet inspiration for me--not that I want to be doing what they are doing (though in some cases, sure!), but that their example and their passion inspires me to follow mine.

Atayne - Jeremy Litchfield and Mike Hall are making clothes out of trash. Not just any clothes - performance running gear. They didn't like the way they saw things being done, or the wasteful and inferior running apparel they had to buy. So they set out to change the game. Their story is inspirational--check out their website and go to "learn" to get an inside look. The environmental example alone is stellar. But what good is the story unless their product performs? I've been wearing one of their shirts, and it does perform and more. I've worn shirts from a number of different companies, and in terms of comfort, staying dry, staying odor free, Atayne has it dialed in. If you're looking to outfit yourself for training or an upcoming race, give them a shot. You'll be glad you did, and sleep better knowing you also made a good choice for the environment. Double bonus!

Rise Up Coffee - Tim and Abby Cureton have a similar environmental ethic. They've taken something that inspires them, coffee, and approached it giving thought to ecology, economy, community, and of course quality. In the mornings, the Rise Up Coffee drive-thru stand in St. Michaels serves everyone from the superintendent of Talbot County Schools to watermen, carpenters, CEOs, and parents taking the kids to school. Tim, Matt Sevon and I share an admiration for Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's stellar corporate history and philosophy, "Let My People Go Surfing." A read through that book will help you redefine what it ought to be like to go to work. A stop through Rise Up is an inspiration and a treat. The company name is an homage to a Bob Marley song and a connection to our Rise Up Runners group.

Andrew Skurka on a cross country route through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula during his 550-mile traverse of Iceland this summer. Skurka has turned long distance backpacking into a vocation, as well as an avocation. Photo courtesy of www.andrewskurka.com.

Andrew Skurka - Imagine graduating from college and rather than finding a job in a nice cubicle somewhere, you decide to hike from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific--some 7,778 miles. Then imagine that you find sponsors, figure out a way to let the world know about your trip, and figure out a way to turn your wanderlust and perseverance into a full-time job. If this is you, your name may well be Andrew Skurka. Skurka has gone from his original pioneering journey as the first person to hike the entire Sea-to-Sea Trail across North America, to become the first to hike the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles); he's walked across Iceland; circumnavigated Yellowstone National Park; and this summer completed his first 100-mile trail run, finishing second in the tough Leadville 100-mile trail race. I interviewed Skurka for the article I did on fastpacking for Trail Runner magazine and you can't help but get inspired listening to, or reading about his adventures, knowing he has found a way to shun a conventional "career" by turning his passion and talent into a way of life.

Rob Brownlee-Tomasso - RBT is an artist, a graphic designer, a cyclist, a British car restorer, and a vegetarian, among other things. He is one of the most hilarious and unhypocritical people I've met. As frequently as he can, he rides his bike 29 miles to work (to St. Michaels from Denton) and then 29 more back home, often hammering more than 30 mph when he gets cranking. Rob's example is frequently a call to action for me. It is common to hear him say, "I rode my bike home yesterday and finished a painting last night." To which I think, damn, I should have done more with my evening or day! It was actually working with Rob and watching him do his thing cycling that pushed me to return to running more than four years ago now. He never said a word, but being around someone pushing himself the way he does, motivated me to do the same, and changed my life as much as any adult decision I've made.

I can't come up with just one person who combines writing, adventuring, and the environment the way I hope to, so I offer a medley here. People telling stories by the examples of their lives and their own adventures. One who comes quickly to mind is Amby Burfoot, long-time editor-in-chief of Runners World magazine, former Boston Marathon champion, and still senior editor and writer at RW. His book "The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life" is one of the most rewarding and inspiring quick reads out there. Ultra runner Dean Karnazes figured out how to leave his day job and turn running, adventuring, and writing about it into a full-time gig. His feats of endurance are limited more by imagination than physical boundaries--he comes up with uncanny ideas and does them. He has become the most visible and controversial ambassador to his sport, motivating hundreds of runners and would-be runners to follow his example.

Tim Cahill, is a wonderfully hilarious and thought-provoking writer, who is a founder of Outside Magazine. He was the only writer at Rolling Stone magazine who loved writing about the outdoors, and ended up taking that passion into founding one of the most recognizable outdoor magazine in the country. Bill McKibben is a conservationist, environmentalist, cultural historian, economist, and great writer. He is someone who, when you read, can change your worldview and cause you to act and approach the world differently. I've often said I'd like to have Mitch Albom's job, just based out of Baltimore instead of Detroit. Albom writes for the Detroit Free Press, does commentary on ESPN's great show, "The Sports Reporters," and then expanded his world exponentially when he wrote the runaway non-fiction bestseller, "Tuesdays With Morrie." The world is Albom's oyster.

Basecamp Communications - I've worked in PR, marketing, and communications for the past 10 years. I read and enjoy pondering branding, brand strategy, various media, and stellar PR. But the folks at Basecamp Communications figured out how to turn PR into a dream job. I first encountered them because they handle PR for Backcountry.com and have been running the whereskarl.com website for Karl Meltzer's Appalachian Trail thru-hike. These guys and girls have come from various backgrounds to focus their talents and time on promoting outdoor adventures and companies. They use PR and communications to highlight the stuff they dig and inspire people and/or call them to action. That's the way I'd like to do PR!

That's my very incomplete short list of various folks and companies that inspire me personally. When I feel like some of the things that get me the most charged are relegated to fringe status, and I think about following a passion, and if it can be done, I check back in on what some of these folks are up to and/or I think about their example. OR, maybe I go for a long trail run :)

There are plenty of other inspirational folks out there. Who are some more? Who inspires you? What are they doing? Let's add to the list.


Jeremy said...

Mike, thanks again for continually being a great friend of Atayne. Here are some of the people who have inspired me to start Atayne and continue to stay with it through the trials and tribulations.

-Gary Hirshberg (Founder Stonyfield Farms)

-Tom Chappell (Founder Tom's of Maine)

-David de Rothschild (Founder Adventure Ecology)

And my most recent inspiration, Tommy Neeson. Tommy is almost 30 days into a run from Bangor, ME to Miami, FL. He is running for 75 days (30 plus miles a day) all to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Tommy lost his two year old daughter to brain cancer about 10 years ago and the Ronald McDonald House in NYC was a great pillar of support for his family. Now he wants to give back. Check him out at http://www.runnerssociety.com/4millionsteps.html.

stephen bardsley said...

MV, I love it when you write, as apposed to just recaping an adverture outing, although i love those as well! This one was great! I have a short list, but one of my tops is Lance Armstrong. sounds cliche i know, but to watch my father get back in marathon shape after beating the same cancer as lance makes my apreciation for what they both have done huge. i admire the acomplishments of Dean K, what he does is sick, but feel as though he does most of it for self glory, where Lance does most of it to benefit cancer research and survivors. they both inspire me! you may remember my pop crewed for me at JFK50 last November. By the way do you think its coincidence that Lance came out of retirement just 12 hours after i finished the TOUR DE SHORE, i think not! :-) later, Bards

Runners on Trails said...

Tucks, you certainly stirred things in my mind with my reading of your latest. Appreciation and motivation by example, come to mind.

Before I read your blog today the following occurred: By coincidence I passed on my autographed copy of Ultramarathon Man to a new friend. Eric is a young (mid 20's) athletic type who started working at a local boatyard. I couldn't help asking him if he "ran" because he looked naturally gifted. He said he was actually ranked nationally for cross country when he was in junior high, but he hasn't run since, though he does mountain bike. I got thinking about the people in my life who have inspired me, and the appreciation I have for opportunities to satisfy those desires/challenges. So, I naturally, took a leap and decided to loan Karnasas' book to Eric. The impetutus to give such a book to someone like Eric seemed to come from a natural flow; not much thought behind the action, it just came. We'll see where it goes.

I know how appreciative I have felt to those who have provided me inspiration to reach outside myself and take on a challenge. Keep it coming, Mike, and thanks for another lesson.

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