Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Freedom Mobile's Last Stand

This piece was written for this week's Durango Telegraph. 

I’ve waited until the last minute to compose these words. Not because I’m slacking off, but because I caught the flu during a trip up in Salt Lake City, Utah for the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show. For the past couple days I’ve been laid up on the couch, unable to write. This morning, as my deadline is staring me right in the face I feel much better, grateful that this nasty bug seems like it’s going to pass.

Even though I do feel better starting to write something feels like I’ve never written before. It feels like this bug has attacked some brain cells, in addition to the other havoc it has wreaked on my body.

So as I was working through this post-sickness writer’s block, I decided to look though last week’s issue of the Telegraph online. Since I was out of town last week, I hadn’t seen the paper yet. The title for Missy Votel’s La Vida Local “Germ Warfare” caught my eye. As I read through her comical take on the flu season I felt grateful that my bug seems like it wasn’t going to stay around for as long as it does for some folks.

Anywho, after that dismal introduction, what I wanted to write about this week was cars, specifically The Freedom Mobile, my graffiti-ed, red, white and blue 1988 Mazda that I recently replaced with my dream ride, a Subaru Outback.

Before it was Freedom, it was just a car I bought for a thousand bucks. I drove that thing all over, from Mexico to California, even before we spray painted it. It was reliable and got great gas mileage. I lived out of it for months at a time, camping, climbing and devising systems to get around that pesky 14 Day Limit rule. One of the most hilarious antidotes happened when my Dad was taking a look at my car, and opened up the flap under the trunk. To our surprise, there was a plant growing out of some dirt that had found its way down there. Further investigation revealed a bag of beans I’d bought in Mexico slipped down there, and so had a patch of dirt. Yes, this car was fertile.

The patriotic, spray-painting was inspired by the 1969 American road movie, Easy Rider, with Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, where they travelled the country in a red, white and blue motorcycle, donning the clothes of the same color. I’d already put some 40,000 miles on this car, and figured it would last maybe another year or so, why not graffiti it up?

photo by Braden Gunem
When I painted the car I was living in Gunnison, gainfully employed, and I could have easily afforded a new ride. Instead I decided to spend my money on things that seemed more important at the time: gear for the outdoors. I had two bikes that were both more valuable than the car itself, not unusual for a mountain town resident.

When the economy tanked my job got cut to half-time, and I was ready to move on from Gunnison. I packed up everything I owned into The Freedom Mobile and hit the road. I knew I was moving to Durango, but wanted to take a big road trip first. I’d planned the trip with my buddy Dave from Telluride, and at the last minute his truck blew up. We’d have to take The Freedom Mobile.

We drove into Utah, to Red Rocks in Las Vegas, over to Joshua Tree, California and over to Yosemite. Now well over 200,000 miles the Freedom Mobile just kept rolling. Never mind that every single warning light was lit up, and it made weird clicking noises and smelled like leaking antifreeze. All over the American Road we got positive responses, my favorite, a woman sitting passenger in a truck who passed us in Utah, hooked up to breathing oxygen, she looked at us, and gave us the biggest grin I’d ever seen and two big thumbs up.

At the end of that trip I just prayed it would take us back to Colorado. I scored a house sitting gig in Durango that would start soon, and had to meet the owners of the place. They lived in a plush home in Durango West 2, and upon seeing the car remarked, “it looks like it’s been through a war.”

Every time I thought the Freedom Mobile was going to die, it just kept going. Nothing lasts forever though, and as winter was approaching I considered getting a new ride, something with four-wheel drive to be a little safer in the snow. I started looking around, and really started getting serious when my friend and mechanic, Andrew Kubik took a look under my car and said, “You need to get a new car.”

Andrew helped me find a 2000 Subaru Outback, with a mere 150,000 miles. To me it feels like a new car, and drives like a dream. The first question my parents asked me was, “you’re not going to spray paint it are you?”

I ensured them that I wasn’t going to, much to their relief. I do still love the concept of art cars though, and there’s nothing like someone rolling up next to you at a stoplight and giving a big smile. There are some cool art cars in Durango, more than I’ve seen in any town in Colorado. I even met a lady in Telluride one time who organizes an art car parade in Houston, Texas, apparently the biggest in the world; who would have thunk it?

In the end I quit while I was ahead with Freedom. It could have easily broken down somewhere out in the Utah desert (that became the furthest I would take it after the big trip), but it didn’t. When I got the new Subaru my friend Katie Brown asked me if I was going to miss the Freedom Mobile. I replied, “definitely not.” I’d taken Freedom so far I was just glad it didn’t leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere.

I’m more excited about where the Subaru will take me; it’s a good feeling to have spring around the corner, and to have a new ride. But, for now, I’m headed back to the couch to nurse the rest of this sickness. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Typewriter/Modern Writer

"The more space I get the better I write," Jay-Z

I often wonder what it would have been like to be a writer in the time before computers. Maybe I was in a past life, but I don’t recall, so I’m left to wonder. Surely a typewriter would have replaced the computer, or before that a fountain pen.

I have to imagine the distractions were less. As a writer in this modern world I simply try to minimize my distractions, I know I’m going to end up checking various web sites over the course of my morning writing. What does that do for the flow of the mindstate? I would never check my email in the middle of a yoga class, that would be wrong. Good writing sessions are like meditation, surely the flow of thought was just different when one wrote without a portal to the endless world of the interweb.

Maybe some day I’ll have the discipline to take on that experiment. Buy a typewriter and write with it every morning. I imagine it would be different. I don’t know how, just different.

I feel blessed to be a writer in the modern age, especially as I’m entering the world of publishing books. I was able to publish my first book as soon as it was done, as an e-book, but still published nonetheless. I can’t imagine having written a book, and not being able to get it out there to the people. Computers and technology make getting your own work out there easier than ever. This is a gift for sure. The power of the word is in the hands of the people!

Recently in an email conversation with a woman I met through The Climbing Zine, she proposed that the meditation gained through the act writing is the greatest gift of the art. This suggestion implies the timeless benefit of being a writer, that we can bask in a similar that writers have been for thousands of years. Further contemplation made me realize that lately my favorite part of the writing craft is sharing my writing in a public setting; interacting with people by reading my work out loud.

While I love the solitary meditation of being a writer, I am not the type of artist who wishes to only write; I crave interaction.

Winter is here, the most solitary season for me. I’m submitting to the flow of winter, but planning for spring and summer. My first book, Climbing Out of Bed, is about to be printed, and I want to do a book tour to celebrate this; get out on the road, go places I’ve never been and read my work; meet new people, and get out of my comfort zone. I’m thinking of first doing presentations in my home state of Colorado, and possibly branching off into Utah and beyond. In the fall I want to visit the Southeast, to sample their climbing and culture, to expand what I know about my country. And maybe when I’ve done all this I’ll get myself a typewriter, just to see what it is like.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Review of The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

I wrote this review of The Responsible Company, What We've Learned from Patagonia's First 40 Years by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley for this week's Durango Telegraph.

“Most people under forty don’t watch the ads placed on TV…they fast forward through the boring bits when they watch the show after airtime on a laptop. They get their news from Jon Stewart and then twitter it to their friends. And they have been raised to be concerned about the fate of the planet and want to support companies that are responsible.”

From The Responsible Company

There’s an incredible, simple truth that Patagonia has tapped into: customers will pay more and support a company that makes a good product and aims to do their business in an environmentally friendly way. In Responsible Company the wildly popular clothing company, is delivering a new, honest message that starts with this premise: businesses need to be honest and start using the word responsible instead of sustainable with regards to their environmental practices.

Written by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and longtime VP of their wholesale division, Vincent Stanley, this book chronicles the environmental actions taken by the company over the last 40 years, and sets a platform for other businesses to take similar actions.

Patagonia is a true dirtbag success story. Chouinard was one of the original rock climbing pioneers of Yosemite in the sixties, when dirtbags lived wild and free in Camp 4, and only a few people had ever climbed El Capitan. They were a generation inspired by the beatniks, and created their own counter culture, that has only grown in numbers to this day. He went on to found Chouinard Equipment, and they forged their own pitons for climbing. Later when the company realized the intense scarring that pitons caused they discontinued their use and introduced protection like hexes and nuts that didn’t damage the rock; the type of gamble that would set the tone for Patagonia in the future. Chouinard Equipment would later be sold and became Black Diamond, and Yvon founded Patagonia.

There’s a lot of brutal honesty is this book, and one thing that the authors do well is articulating the absurdity of our consumer economy, and its dependence on endless growth. “Poke your nose into any store in the mall and look around. Much of what we produce to sell to each other…is crap…We’re wasting our brains and our only world on the design, production, and consumption of things we don’t need and that aren’t good for us.”

Chouinard and Stanley argue that the economy as we know it now is going to evolve into a more post-consumerist one, one where people shop more for their needs, and less out of entertainment.

The other way they use honesty is admitting their own mistakes, and how they grew as a company by learning from them. One perfect example is their move to only use organic cotton. Much like Chouinard Equipment’s leap to move beyond pitons, they made the move with little data on how that would affect their sales. They simply realized the conventional cotton was too toxic and polluting, and could not ethically continue to use it. Again, this environmentally friendly move did nothing but enhance their popularity with costumers.

Another impressive effort by Patagonia that is covered in The Responsible Company is their Common Threads initiative to repair or recycle everything they produce. This began in 2011, fully implementing the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, while also adding repair, and finally reimagine (a sustainable world). Encouraging consumers to only purchase what they needed over the holidays, later that year, they famously placed an ad in the New York Times on Black Friday, with a picture of one of their garments and a headline reading, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”.

Checking in at 123 pages The Responsible Company is a quick read, and could be consumed in a couple sittings. It will likely be enjoyed most by those who run businesses themselves, and are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the planet, while also saving money and resources at the same time. To cater to those readers the book has an extensive appendix of checklists that businesses can use to become more environmentally responsible.

All in all this is a solid effort to understand Patagonia’s success, and to see what the world could look like as we move towards post-consumer economy.

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