Gear for Good

“My skis are more than just pieces of steel, wood and fibreglass. They are tools of escape. A medium for personal expression. A way to conquer my fears and share incredible experiences with my friends.” -Candide Thovex

Every summer I’ve been in school I’ve ended up moving from one crappy house to the next slightly less crappy house. And every year it’s the same. I have to purge a bunch of weird college acquisitions: strange clothes, random bike parts, couches, ex-girlfriend belongings, you know, the usual. I like being able to travel with all of my belongings and be minimalist within reason. The annual hoard-purge cycle has left me very reluctant to spend money on possessions, shying away from materialistic behavior.

However, I also avidly pursue activities that require a substantial amount of gear. For reference, there were 8 bikes in our 3-person apartment at one point earlier this year. If it’s outside, I want to do it. Because of this, I even get paid to write about it, as seen here: Best Backcountry Skis of 2017-2018. Everyone loves new gear; it gives you another reason to go do something, and can maybe make up for some of your inexperience. Looking like you know what you’re doing is half of it.

More importantly, gear can provide experiential and social wealth. This is how I justify purchasing skis, bikes, etc. Thanks to these investments, I am privileged to spend time having breathtaking experiences with some of the greatest humans on the face of the earth. If not for the CU Freeskiing Team, I may have never met these incredible individuals whom I trust with my life in the backcountry.

Next time you’re thinking about buying something, consider its potential positive impact on your life. Will it allow you to experience things you couldn’t before? Could it lead to new explorations with new people? Like any other human, a carpenter needs tools.

 

Is This Land Even My Land?

Unless you’ve been living under rock, you’ve probably heard more than enough about this issue, but given today’s announcement I felt compelled to address it. Bear with me (pun not intended).

Earlier today, it was announced that the plans to cut public lands will be moving forward, with an anticipated 85% reduction to Bears Ears National Monument, including sacred Pueblo lands, and a consequent ~50% cut to Grand Stair-Case Escalante. According to the Washington Post, this motion will be “the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history.”

So, why does this matter? There’s plenty more out there right? Who cares about a few hundred thousand acres of nothing?

I care. And you should too.

I fondly remember the first time I visited Southern Utah. I was in high school and my parents and I ventured to a few areas around Moab. This was when Moab was still a mountain bike town; a conversation for another day. Needless to say, I came back. Since my first visit, I can’t recall how many times I’ve had the pleasure of wandering around Southern Utah. If you haven’t, please go while you still can. While you still can? Never thought I’d have to say that, but I do.

Everyone has their place. Or maybe a few. The places they go when they need to escape, when they need to heal, when they need to feel human. Think about it, you’ve got one and you can picture it right now, and even feel what it’s like to be there. Don’t tell me we don’t need this.

For the past few years, through the beautiful disaster-ridden learning experience we call college, my place has been Southern Utah. It is starkly gorgeous, peaceful, special, and until now, free of the conflicts of society. With a grain of salt, Brigham Young should’ve kept going a few hundred miles to this place we now call Zion National Park. I think he would’ve liked what he found.

Politics aside, we cannot move backwards. That is insane. Repealing public lands is intentionally reducing our right to roam free in the beauty of this country, not giving the power back to the people. Sure, logging and commercial fishing will generate some revenue, but is that what we really need? I think not.

A Moment Apart

Disclosure: This is by no means an album review blog, and this is no album review.

So there is this band called ODESZA. Two guys who met up at Western Washington University. I first heard them in high school, in an edit by the Faction Collective, immediately pulled out Shazam, I had to know who this music was by. That song was I Want You. Until that point, electronic music was what I would consider an acquired taste. But this, man this was real. Great sampling, distinctive sound, a complete idea. I consequently listened to their entire first album, Summer’s Gone, which captures the foundation of their music and creativity: sampling tracks and truly making it their own.

Following the release of the second ODESZA album, In Return, I had the pleasure of seeing these songs performed live on 3 separate occasions. In my hometown of Spokane Washington, I remember paying $12 to see these two fellas live sample with a laptop and a folding table and hoping I wouldn’t get stabbed at the Knitting Factory. This past summer I saw them for significantly more than $12 at Red Rocks, with a full band, light show, and a freaking drum line. It’s always nice to see your favorites grow and succeed.

When talk of the latest album came about, I have to admit, I was scared. ODESZA had made electronic music accessible and enjoyable for more people than ever before, leading to the success of groups like The Chainsmokers. I was scared that they had been influenced, that it would just be another compilation of sell-out tracks catered to rich white college students.

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

A Moment Apart is exactly as it sounds. It is a chance for people to listen, to spend time away from it all, to hear a story, and most importantly, to feel something. As someone who puts their life into creative work: music, photography, even writing, the concept of making people feel something is at the center of my motivation and my purpose. It is the privilege and responsibility of those capable. It is what makes us human. Go make someone feel something, and you’ll feel it too.

The False Notion of Talent

The word talent, often associated with great artists, athletes and musicians, really means very little. Complementing an individual as being “talented” is in fact not a compliment at all, as it attributes ones skill and achievement to this innate ability. We are not all born with it. Don’t believe me?

Take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flkjMuaKYQU

In this interview, Ed Sheeran plays an old recording of himself for the host, other guests, and audience to hear. It’s not great. And that’s the point. He counteracts the notion that he is “so talented” by addressing his vocal inadequacy in years past. For perspective, watch his live recording of You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. I don’t know of many musicians who would publicly play an old recording of themselves and say “Gee look how badly I sucked a few years ago!” If I may, let this be an example of humility that us musicians should strive for.

Ultimately, Sheeran’s point is that his success is subsequent to countless hours of work. And this is not an anomaly; my collegiate colleagues and I are no different. Sure, we are all born with particular strengths and weaknesses, but a gift for artistry is nothing without practice. When I came to CU to study music, I had no idea what I was getting into. The amount of work and time necessary to improve was beyond what I could’ve anticipated. Yet, as I cringingly watch videos of myself play from 4 years ago, it is all worth it.

Despite our obvious differences in musicianship, I continue to be inspired by people like Ed. No shortcuts, no egotism, and an infinite impetus to create poignant music for others. Find someone, or a few someones, who keep the dream alive for you, even if that dream is totally ridiculous and seemingly out of reach. It’s really not, I promise.

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.- Einstein

Music for the Sake of Music

Without a doubt, one of my favorite online articles to this day is Peter Green’s Stop ‘Defending’ Music Education. Regardless of the misleading title, I strongly encourage you to read it and ponder Green’s argument.

In essence, this article is a call to action, pushing for music for the sake of music, not for the apparent increases in test scores and improved mental development. These arguments for music programs in elementary, middle, and high schools are well-intentioned but short-sighted. Green goes on to talk about the omnipresence and the humanness of music, along with it being an enormous and taken-for-granted industry.

We, as a society, need music for the sake of music. Alongside my colleagues at CU’s College of Music, I struggle with this concept on a daily basis. The practice rooms are littered with sticky notes, scrawled with encouraging thoughts from one exhausted student to another. I could compare studying music at the collegiate level with fly-fishing: one can go many hours on the river without much success, but that few minutes of fighting a fish brings you back the next day. Behind every student recital is a years worth of painstaking work, supported by daily practice since childhood and the undying support of parents and educators.

The irony here is fantastic; musicians, the ones with supposedly the greatest passion and appreciation for music, struggle with the purpose behind their work. This is not always true however. There are good days and great days as a music major. “That’s so cool!” is the typical response I get when people learn of my major. Then the classic follow up question, “What are you going to do with that?” And you know, people know that other people hate being asked that question, and yet they continue to ask it. Why is this? I would argue that it’s because no one actually knows what they’re doing. And that’s totally fine, except for the constant putting into question of one’s work and its purpose.

In order for the next generation of musicians to continue this work of humanity, we need to stop questioning each other’s work, be open-minded, and encourage an environment in which music is created and appreciated for its profound effects and qualities beyond our understanding.

Mountain Biking- Sounds like Fun

Mountain biking is a stupid sport. It’s expensive, difficult to get into, and sometimes, it hurts. A lot. So why do 40 million Americans ride?

In high school I got two of my closest friends into skiing, another expensive high-risk activity. They returned the favor and got me into mountain biking. Over several summers I lost quite a bit of skin on the trails of Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Whistler. Gradually, I found flow. I stopped over-steering and over-braking corners, I carried speed through technical sections, and found balance with gravity. I was hooked.

Much like anything else with a steep learning curve, many get discouraged after the first few painful falls and always being the last one down in the group. Those who make it through however, will be rewarded with chronic smile syndrome. You should know what I’m taking about. If you don’t, perhaps you should buy a bike. You’re missing out.

fullsizeoutput_605.jpeg

I’m lucky to have a fantastic, not to mention very sexy, mountain bike here in Colorado. I ride whenever I get the chance, skidding around on the dusty rock-ridden trails of the Front Range. This morning was no exception: an abundance of smiles, mule deer, and inherent rowdiness. I cannot mountain bike with headphones as some people do. The sound of the bike is music to my ears, and to the ears of many. The increasing amount of “raw” mountain bike videos bereft of music is a testament to this. One particular example I came across last night filled me with nostalgia, filmed in my home state of Washington: One Lap with Luke Strobel

It is truly remarkable to me how powerful the sounds of home can be: tires tearing through loam, the hub whirring through the air, and the distinctive noise of off-camber roots. These auditory sensations translate to tactile; I can remember what it feels like to ride a trail like that without even being on a bike. Despite the high emphasis of entertainment, I would argue that this is quality journalism, simply because it causes one to feel something as a human being.

Learning from Avalanches

Alongside the rest of the outdoor recreation community, I mourn for the loss of two incredible souls and mountaineers, Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins. The couple was caught in an avalanche on October 7th, resulting in the death of Perkins and the subsequent suicide of Kennedy.

Ugh. This makes my heart hurt. It’s also why every single online article concerning this incident focuses on the suicide. We can’t look away. Despite the tragic nature of this event, I feel obligated to attempt objectivity in regards to the given media response. Without the suicidal component, this would just be another avalanche death. Did I really just say that? JUST ANOTHER AVALANCHE DEATH? Yes I did. The frequency of these incidents in recent years has made fatal avalanches a normal occurrence, clearly an indication that we are doing something wrong. On the journalistic side, the emphasis of a person taking their life due to the loss of their partner is just the wrong approach, as seen in the following articles:

Renowned climber reflected on “painful reality” before killing himself– CBS News

An avalanche killed his girlfriend. Then this world-class climber took his own life.– The Washington Post

Renowned Climber Hayden Kennedy Commits Suicide After Girlfriend, Fellow Pro Inge Perkins, Dies In Avalanche– Deadspin

Climbers Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins Die– Outside Magazine

These articles, among countless others found online regarding this incident, focus primarily on Kennedy’s suicide. A few articles contain basic details about the avalanche and what factored into the death of Perkins. Many also speak to the admirable achievements of the two victims, which I find most appropriate. Interestingly enough, not all the information is uniform, with some sources indicating that Perkins avalanche transceiver was turned off, and others claiming that this may or may not be true.

What’s missing? A call to action.

I have yet to see content about this incident in which a call to action is made. No encouragement for readers to obtain avalanche safety education, no reaffirmation about the caution one should use in the backcountry, nothing.

It’s not rocket science. The death of two professional mountaineers in the wake of an avalanche, although incredibly sad, should be an opportunity to further avalanche awareness and education so that more of us may explore the backcountry and return to our loved ones. Avalanches do not care who you are. It is in our best interest, as a community of adventurers, to learn from our collective mistakes as we transition into this coming winter season.

Stay safe out there my friends.

 

Stop Dividing Outdoor Recreation

This is by all means, a touchy subject. Especially when written by a white male, the outdoor enthusiast version of PBandJs. Bear with me.

The best fly fisherman I know, is in fact, a fly fisherwoman. Does it matter? Hell, it definitely doesn’t matter to the fish. Likewise, the Alaska spine that Angel Collingson absolutely DESTROYS cares not about the gender of the skier. But to many, the apparent gender imbalance in outdoor recreation matters. A lot. We see this in organizations such as She Jumps and AndShesDopeToo, who have initiatives to build an outdoor community of women and increase female participation in outdoor activities.

THIS IS AWESOME.

Despite the good intentions of these movements, however, there are some side effects that are not so awesome. Under current leadership, we live in a polarized and divided nation. I fear this division is spreading into the outdoors. Activities like skiing, fly fishing, mountain biking, camping, and trail running take me and countless others away to places free of this polarization and division, often with the company of some wonderful human beings.

While I can’t speak for everyone, we should not care about the gender of our outdoor companions. The beauty of the outdoors is its freedom: no one is saying you can’t do something because of who you are. Building upon the “Saturday is for the boys” mentality, I fully support women exclusively getting together and getting rad. That being said, segregating genders in the outdoors is downright pointless. Saying that “we have fun because we are women” defeats the purpose of these organizations. If equality in the outdoors is what we want (I hope this is what we want), we need a different approach.

REI’s Force of Nature campaign focuses on bringing gender equality into the outdoors. Their aggressive approach, as outlined in Force of Nature: Let’s Level the Playing Field, has some undeniably great ideas including community-based activities and classes, a push for improved women-specific gear, and community investment. In addition, REI quotes a number of statistics relevant to this issue. “73% of women want to spend more time outdoors” is not one of them. It’s freaking cool that so many women want to get out more. Therefore, I propose the following:

NO ONE IS STOPPING YOU. GET YOUR ASS OUTSIDE GIRLFRIEND.

While it is impossible for me to share and fully understand the perspective of female outdoor enthusiasts, I encourage us all to enjoy the gift of nature, the gift of fun, and the gift of equality in the place many of us call home. Regardless of gender.

Jazz for Dummies (myself included)

Disclaimer: I talk about the viola a lot in this. If you don’t know what a viola is, that’s okay, you can change that by checking out this.

The amount of time I spend with my viola is absurd. Enough time, in fact, that it has been named “The Other Woman.” This ridiculously expensive piece of firewood goes everywhere with me, in case a few minutes of precious practice time present themselves.

In addition to my classical training, I recently began studying jazz on the viola, perhaps the least jazz-oriented instrument in the history of ever. Or is it? I don’t know yet I still suck at it, but it certainly has potential. Anyways

I must admit, I love this film. As a collegiate musician, I have a great appreciation for many of the ideas presented, including the not-so-exagerrated concept of living in a practice room and the de-romanticized depiction of intensive music studies. However, as argued by Richard Brody in Getting Jazz Right in the Moviesthe potential for Whiplash to misinform the public about jazz education is not to be underestimated.

I met with a true insider and good friend Bob Curnow and couldn’t help but to ask what he thought about the film, having not thought considered its negative impact in the slightest. I was taken aback as he informed me that he had not seen the film, would never see the film, and that his good friend Hank Levy who had composed the title song Whiplash was turning in his grave. Bob expressed grave concern that the extreme and antagonistic methods shown in this dramatic film would make outsider audiences make generalizations about jazz education.

Whiplash is an excellent candidate in examining the challenge of journalistic truth. Sure, maybe a thrilling large-scale movie is not consider to be true journalism, but it certainly has an impact on an outsider audience, and therefore, a potentially adverse effect on the world on jazz education. As consumers, it is our responsibility to not fall victim to generalizations, particularly within cultures that we are not a part of.

Instatruth

40 Billion

According to The Omnicore Agency, this is how many Instagram posts existed this January, with an additional 95 million everyday since. That is 40 billion photos of humans, food, places, events, and whatever else as long as it’s not phallic or heaven forbid, a female nipple. With 400 million daily users, this social media hub has remarkable outreach with new content every second. The combined viewers of print and digital newspapers is less than 1/10th of this staggeringly large and easily-influenced population (Pew Research Center).

So, we’ve established the strong presence of Instagram in the world of media. We could ask the classic question, “Is it journalism?”, but frankly, it doesn’t matter.

People believe what they see. So much, in fact, that individuals make billions of dollars just for being what the industry calls “influencers”. The typical influencer creates posts with high visual appeal: dreamlike scenery, pleasurable activities, unrealistic depictions of the human form, all through a utopian filter.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 8.53.36 PM

As an avid freelance portrait photographer, I appreciate quality photography as much as the next guy (hence why I am one of the 400 million). There is nothing wrong with a well-composed image captured by a talented individual.

The problem stems from the concept of journalistic truth; such highly-romanticized and rapidly circulated content creates a virtual reality that simply is untruthful.

Instagram users only see the best photos, the best moments, the best people, and think to themselves, “These people have amazing lives, certainly better than mine.” Not true. Although free of malicious intent, the presences of Instagram and these highly-paid alternate-reality hottie-with-a-body influencers is the epitome of journalistic untruthfulness.

Thankfully there are some power players in the realm of Instagram that are using their influence in a positive light. The Influencers Fighting Instagram’s Perfection outlines accounts like the Sad Girls Club, who post in the interest of de-stigmatizing mental health. Their media is a helpful, realistic, and refreshing dark horse amidst millions of “what you should want” content. While neither would be considered to be classic examples of journalism, it is imperative that the concept of journalistic truth is applied to a medium with such a large audience. I applaud those who inspire others via Instagram without creating an inadvertent quality-of-life hierarchy. Stop counting likes, put down your phone, and enjoy the beautiful and dangerous world around you.

In the words of J. Cole, “There’s no such thing as a life that’s better than yours.”