Guide to Public Lands Advocacy at Outdoor Retailer

Twice a year, I turn into a weird beast version of myself. My calendar is a color-coded event apocalypse where every afternoon and evening is quadruple booked. My inbox? Insanity. I do ridiculous things like think about my outfits in advance. It’s Outdoor Retailer week, and for some strange reason, I love it. This is the last of the tradeshows in Salt Lake City–I’ve already cried once, whatever. There’s a heavy layer of ‘the public lands issue’ settled over the Salt Palace. I’m way into that, because it means the entire industry is gathered under one roof to marinate on the topic for a week.

This OR Show is all about public lands advocacy. And that’s kinda my jam.

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You, too, are stoked on public lands advocacy and want to get involved. How do I know this? Y’all have asked me a bazillion times in the last few weeks. Way jazzed on that, too. I’ve got a lot going on, my rad colleagues have a lot going on, and I figured I ought to just bring it all together in a quick guide to help you get activated around public lands and outdoor advocacy at Utah’s final Outdoor Retailer. Check it:

– Come to the RANGE Magazine issue launch at 4:30 on Wednesday (7/26) at the Ranger Station. The theme is “activate + organize” and I wrote a guide to outdoor advocacy that’ll be in the latest issue and heaps of rad industry folks have work in there too.

– Watch to my panel on outdoor advocacy and social media at 10:00 AM on Thursday (7/27). I’m moderating. Kenji Haroutunian, Caroline Gleich, Len Necefer from NativesOutdoors, Brody Leven (heeeey), and Land Tawney of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are my panelists. Potential highlights include: conversations between my lifelong vegetarian boyfriend and the king of the hunting and fishing industry, asking Len about calling the industry out when we do things like appropriate, and me inevitably falling off my stool because I’m awkward in public. I’ll try to livestream this for anyone who isn’t attending OR! 

– Because you can never have enough panels, come to the When Women Lead discussion at 2:30, at The Camp, hosted by Wild Women’s Project and Coalition Snow.

– Join me, Hilary, The Wilderness Society and the storytellers community for a pre-march sign making rally at the Public Lands Action Center at 3:30 on 7/27. We’ll have supplies to put your march calls-to-action on cardboard–what’s a march without witty signs making a statement about our cause?–and The Wilderness Society will be on deck to chat about getting involved with advocacy. RANGE magazine is hosting one in the Venture Out pavilions too! There’s a Facebook event page here.  Also, if you have cardboard, I want it for our recycled sign making supplies, holla at me. 

MARCH WITH US. If you haven’t heard about the march for public lands yet, sheesh. At 4:30, we’re marching from the Public Lands Action Center rally–because obviously you’ll be there with me–through the Salt Palace, past downtown, all the way to Utah Capitol. We’ll hoist our signs, make a loud statement, gather on the lawn of the Capitol, and listen to powerful speakers during a rally about, well, our public lands. If you’re on social media, holla at #MarchForPublicLands.

– Attend the annual social media lunch on 7/28 at noon. I’m co-hosting with OIA, and we’re launching the Outdoor Advocate Network. It’s a powerful collective of the industry’s most impactful voices that want to do something about our industry’s biggest issues, and we’re going to empower you, and you def want to be involved. And free lunch, obvi–for the first 50 people. We’ll be networking after the event until 2:00, so come say hi even if you miss the actual lunch part. RSVP here (or if you want to get an update after the event if you can’t make it).

–I am mega stoked on this workshop: “(re)defining women in the outdoors.” It’s a little late on Friday, 3:30-4:30, at The Camp, but I think it’s going to be a good one. Read: “This interactive session is geared toward female and non-cis gender industry professionals who are excited to examine our (diverse) values and a develop a new vision for women in the outdoor industry.” Yaaaas. 

– Bonus points for early birds: If you’re into getting up before 8:00 AM, you should attend the breakfasts. At this year’s OIA Industry Breakfast, which basically kicks off the entire tradeshow, speakers include Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright, and the queen herself, Sally Jewell. I mean seriously, hello. I always cry during these breakfasts because I’m so moved by the energy (and also it’s so early in the morning and I’m extra vulnerable). Conservation Alliance is hosting one the next day, which you can learn about here.

– If you’re in town early: Go to Outsiders Ball! Totally qualifies as outdoor advocacy-related in my book because it’s a giant, wonderful fundraiser that supports Outdoor Foundation, which works to get youth out into nature. Party on, outdoorists. Then, go enjoy free drinks and at the official after party/climbing fundraiser for the American Alpine Club at Bodega.

See you all in SLC next week, my friends!

Bahia Honda: Camping in the Florida Keys

The journey from Miami to the Keys will forever be one of my favorite road trips. My little car, windows down, skipping across tiny islands like a river rock hopping across flat water. Salty air rustling my hair into a knotted mess, sunshine warming my skin, and the temptation of Cuban espresso from roadside cafes dotting the highway. The drive feels like an old friend now, but I’ve always cruised straight through to Key West with minimal stops along the way. Until now.

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

Bahia Honda is a state park perched along mile marker 37. A mellow entry gate hides the stretches of coastal camping sitting on over 500 acres of island–and that doesn’t count the offshore island where you can snorkel and hunt for seashells. Despite living only a few hours from Bahia Honda for nearly two decades, I had never taken the left turn into the park–I didn’t even know it existed. Cue the squeals and smiling-so-hard-my-face-hurt as we drove under a bridge, past beachgoers, and all the way to the very last campsite at the park.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in Florida.

Did I mention this campsite was sitting directly on the water, tucked away in a perfect mess of mangroves, limestone, and washed up sea grass? Because, it was. It still is, if you want to go see it yourself. Campsite 80, trust me.

I camp, a lot. There was that one time I spent a year living on public lands, and last summer I spent four months traveling solo while camping nearly every night on public lands–but I’ve never spent an evening snoozing with the shoreline nearly within arm’s reach. It was one of those life scenes that made me seriously reconsider how I ever moved away from the ocean.

Setting up my tent was difficult to focus on–snapping poles together suddenly felt laborious when a sun-kissed jetty was begging to be explored a few yards away. With a rocky limestone landing, tent stakes were useless. Tip: Keep your tent weighed down by tucking your heavy packs, water bottles, or even rocks into the corners. Florida gets breezy, and no one wants to watch their tent get blown out to sea.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

Once we got camp settled, my old friend Alex and I cruised back to the front of the park to dig our toes into the sand for a little underwater exploration. For outdoorists who spend most adventures climbing up toward the sky, taking a dive beneath the sea’s surface is a refreshing perspective. I spend so much time going up, it felt healing to sink downward for a change. Tiny fish darted back and forth, tufts of sea plants tickled my legs, and my skin eagerly drank in all the salty satisfaction.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

As I crawled into my sleeping bag, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to snooze soundly with another warm body only inches away, but within moments, I zonked out. That night, I slept more deeply than I have in months. It was my first night in my new tent, and the first night I had slept in a tent with someone else next to me in over a year. The wind stirring leaves, water lapping against the shore, and buzzing bugs just on the other side of my tent wall were the perfect lullaby.

In the morning, I rose with the sun, but stayed curled up in my bag for a few hours to soak in my surroundings before it was time to take down camp. The easy location and accessible site made it simple to pack up the car, cook a quick breakfast, and then cruise back up the Keys toward home–with a pit stop for cafecitos and empanadas on the way, of course.

I could keep telling you about the bliss of seaside camping and going snorkeling before sleeping under the stars–but it’s better to show than tell, right? Check out the video produced by VISIT FLORIDA from the trip, and see for yourself:

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

Trail Running Florida: The Overseas Highway Heritage Trail

“North, or south?” Alex asked as we neared the end of the dirt road stretch. I took a deep gulp of humid air, trying to keep my breath while surveying the options ahead. We had just pulled over after finding a dirt road on Long Point Key. Our detour yielded stretches of dirt trails in multiple directions, but most abruptly ended in heaps of limestone or thickets of vine. We refocused on our true objective: running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail.

“Left!”

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

We ran in that direction for only a few hundred yards before being once again lured toward a new route – this time a mile-long detour off the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and into Curry Hammock State Park. We waved to the rangers as we jogged past the entrance station, stopping only once we reached the lapping waterfront.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is a multi-use path that runs the length of the Keys across islands and bridges until reaching its terminus at Key West. It officially begins at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo, and ends at MM 0. The trail itself has been a work in progress for more than a decade as Florida slowly stitched together portions of existing bike paths to create a continuous, safe route for those who prefer to experience travel though the Keys at a human-powered pace.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

I didn’t find trail running until many years after I moved away from the Sunshine State. I used to live by a strict motto: “I ain’t running unless something is chasing me.” Somewhere between my native state and my new home in Utah, my anti-running resolve weakened and I kept finding myself lacing up shoes to hit the trails. Returning to my home state to bring together my native environment (read: humidity, sunshine, sea-level elevation, and salty air) with my newfound love for running was a treat.

I like running because it’s pure. You don’t need fancy gear or technical skills – it’s simply one foot in front of the other, until your legs feel like Jell-O. Left foot, right foot, repeat.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

With more than 100 miles of trail to choose from, you can make your experience on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail all your own. Here are some tips from my experience:

  • My favorite parts of the trail are the stretches between numerous smaller islands. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction you feel after running an island tip-to-tip, even if it’s less than a mile long.
  • Ultra runners can camp out at Bahia Honda State Park, then go big and run the trail’s final 32 miles from the park to Key West. Celebratory rumrunners, anyone?
  • Note: It is not advised to tackle the Seven Mile Bridge by foot. Heavy vehicle traffic and small shoulders make this portion of the trail less than appealing for the average runner. I would personally run it only if specifically attempting to complete the trail in its entirety. Plan your run around it or hitchhike your way across.

So, what gear do you need to run on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail?

  • Running shoes: The path is mostly paved and very well maintained throughout, so technical trail running shoes are not required.
  • Water (hydration pack or belt): Locals with a higher tolerance for South Florida’s hot, wet climate may be able to skip carrying water on shorter distances, but I found myself eager to hydrate often.
  • Sun protection: After just a single bridge crossing, I knew sunscreen would be at the top of my list for recommended gear. Many stretches of the trail provide little to no shade, so it’s key to come prepared with a liberal layer of sunscreen and I’d suggest a hat, too. If you’re bringing a hydration pack, toss in a tube of sunblock to reapply throughout the day.
  • Bathing suit: Okay, so this one you can leave in the car – I wore my bikini top as a sports bra – but the point is: be prepared to go for a dip after your run. Trust me, the après-run swim is almost as good as the actual running.
  • Bonus Points: If you’re running across a popular key, bring some cash for pit stops at Cuban sandwich shops and seafood joints.

All photos of me in this post taken by Alex Uribe. Thanks, Alex!

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

That time we went to Moab on a Monday.

From my leather journal. (With new thoughts sprinkled in while I transcribe.) 

3/20

Note: Please excuse any bumps and inky bruises on this page; I’m driving. Well, Brody is driving. We just turned off the highway at Crescent Junction, on our way to Moab for the week. I don’t think either of us really know why we’re in my car heading south right now, but I’d like to think that part of it is just the magic. Like the purple and the orange glow of the sunset streaming through the haze of this passing dust storm.

View of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.

3/21

Good morning, Moab.

Right now, I’m sitting on a rock somewhere up Long’s Canyon off Potash Road. My face and ears are covered in tiny little flies. It’s early, and I’m not in a rush. Brody made french toast with berries and maple syrup for Dakota and I when we woke up. My piece is kind of burnt, but I don’t like sweet breakfast anyways so it’s okay. I hardly slept last night. My sleeping pad deflated. I can’t wait to climb.

Brody makes french toast on the first morning of our trip to Moab.

Later.

I didn’t believe we were actually going to Moab until I pulled up to Brody’s downtown apartment with my rig full of gear. A never-gonna-happen whim had turned into an oh-I-should-pack overnight, so we left Salt Lake City on a Monday afternoon and pointed south to the desert–my happiest of places.

We met up with our soon-to-be new friend Dakota (Jones, you might know him if you’re a runner–he’s real fast and a rad human being), at a dimly-lit park just after sundown. On the first and second nights, we slept down Long’s Canyon. We started the trip climbing classics at Wallstreet on Potash Road, then returned to our camp spot for a lazy lunch. Once my belly was full of veggies and tortilla and weird beet dressing, we sailed the Pilot up a bumpy dirt road to Maverick’s Buttress. I had never climbed there before, but I think I’d certainly like to go back.

Climbing at Wallstreet on Potash Road outside of Moab, UT.Gear, everywhere. Okay, Brody pretty much always makes the food. I just eat it.Climbing at Maverick Buttress down Long's Canyon in Moab, UT.

On the last full day, we climbed the classic Kor-Ingall’s route up Castleton Tower. I stood on top of the proper summit first, and took my moment of solitude to soak in the overwhelming feeling of smallness. I’ve never felt so tiny. Unsurprisingly, I cried a little bit at the top before the boys scrambled up. It was one of those moments that just remind you how audacious it is to be alive on this earth.

What a gift that I get to exist on this planet and do things like climb up a sandstone tower on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brody and I somewhere on pitch three of the Kor-Ingalls route up Castleton Tower. Enjoying a peaceful moment at the top of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.On the summit of Castleton Tower with Dakota Jones and Brody Leven.

[Insert things about love and stealing kisses between pitches and two sleeping bags in the rain. I can’t share every detail from my journal, you know.]

Thursday morning, I awoke during twilight to the sound of rain pattering on the roof of my rig. We slept with the hatch open to catch the breeze, and I jolted up sure that our feet would be soaked from the storm. I patted our sleeping bags, and while a little wet, it wasn’t enough to wake up and shut the door.

Later, I woke back up to sunrise pouring over the La Sals with mist rolling over the mountains and drips of sunshine filling the space between the peaks and my sleepy bones.

(The last three photos, from Castleton Tower, were all taken by Brody. Thanks Brody. I left my phone and camera behind for the climb, and I’m so glad I did.)

Oh, hello there. It’s me, Katie.

Well. Hey, hi, hello. How are ya? It’s been…a while. 

The Mojave National Preserve on the way to Joshua Tree National Park in California.

I used to write to you more. This blog was full of love letters to the outdoors and to a wild life, and to you, my readers. Home to my favorite stories, a digital book in which to take notes of moments that moved me and adventures worth sharing. But sometimes, life moves at a pace so fast it’s all you can do to keep up.

So, the love letters stopped. I hit the road again, solo. I quit my job. I moved to Salt Lake City. I fell in love, hard. I slowed down, I sped up, I kept pushing forward. I traveled the west all summer, went to the Philippines in winter. In the past four weeks, I’ve been to Moab, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, the Florida Keys, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and tomorrow, Cuba.

It feels like the right time to start writing those love letters again.

I hope maybe you’ll still read them. I haven’t been writing here, but I have taken to keeping a leather journal–back to writing love letters to my life by hand. I’ll share excerpts here, and photos from those moments, and thoughts as I reflect on it all.

Love, Katie.

PS: I know, the blog needs love. I need to hire a web designer to seriously help me out with bringing The Morning Fresh back to life. If you know anyone in SLC, holla! Until I stop traveling enough to sit down and spruce ‘er up, I hope you’ll read and overlook how god awful this site looks right now.

We elected a climate denier, so now what? Roll up your sleeves for the outdoors

I’m still trying to digest the election. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I wasn’t prepared for this–not at all. I see now that I had been living in a bubble of privilege and community that led me to the ignorant sureness that Trump could never become the leader of my country. It has been (and still is) a major adjustment to chew on.

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Photo: Jo Savage (@SavageDangerWolf)

I spent Election Day on the California coast, with my phone in airplane mode. I had emerged from camping in the redwoods that morning and thought to myself, “no sense in driving myself nuts with election coverage all day, I’ll just tune back in later tonight when Hillary takes it.” I was not prepared for what I saw when I finally turned on the television. I ended my day at a seaside hotel, cradled in a fancy bathrobe while crying over the unexpected future that had just been thrust upon me.

What happens now?

This new political climate we live in stretches so much further than the outdoor advocacy I’ve been focused on for the past few years. This brings back the other issues I used to fight for: gay rights and equality, women’s reproductive rights, immigration and refuges.

It’s overwhelming to think too hard about everything that is at stake now. I’ve witnessed a lot of turmoil, anguish, mourning, and heartbreak. Many of us needed to step back for a few moments of self-care, to pause for a moment and focus on self before diving in to care for others. The accompanying messages reminding friends to look out for themselves and remember that they are loved were some of the first glimpses of hope I saw emerge from the rubble.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen the start of an uprising. We had our moment to be sad and upset, and now it’s time to move into action. My inbox has been flooded with messages asking me how to get involved, what organizations to support, what the outdoor industry is going to do. And not just a single moment of doing something–this is about adapting our lifestyle to accommodate the grit and tenacity needed to protect what matters.

To protect our public lands and the planet;
To protect our fellow Americans;
To protect women’s bodies;
To protect all the progress our country has made in the past decade.

We have questions. Where do we go from here? What is the first step? And the second, and the third? How can we protect the places we play? What do we say to our children? We can’t pretend this isn’t happening, so what do we do now?

There is much work to be done. And we have so much to give. But where to start? I think the first place is figuring out what issues matter the most to you. What do you want to pour your effort and energy into? Is it climate change, reproductive rights, youth homelessness, sustainability? How about leave no trace ethics, the immigration and refuge crisis, saving the bees, saving the glaciers? Maybe tackling racism, homophobia, and that whole white supremacy thing that just casually became acceptable again? Pick your battles, and then suit up. Dedicate yourself to them. 

And of course, the backbone of it all: building community. Where would we be without our brothers and sisters? Our fellow outdoorists, our neighbors, our family, the people we love and work with. Through all of this, remember the value of your community. Protect each other, support each other, care for each other, love each other fiercely.

Here are a few of the many ways to roll up your sleeves:

  • Give to the organizations you support. I’m guilty of not doing this–I’m a big advocate for organizations like Outdoor Alliance, Protect Our Winters, Sierra Club, and American Alpine Club, but I never give. I had a membership to AAC and the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, but they both lapsed. Now is the time to renew, to start giving what you can. This is the time to skip the daily latte and make contributions to the organizations representing your causes out on the front lines. You might think you can’t afford a $25 annual membership fee–but what you really can’t afford is losing access to public lands. Priorities, kids.
  • Start using your social channels for advocacy. Get vocal about the issues you care about. Amplify your allies, and support your community. Express your disappointment in elected officials who aren’t serving you.
  • Pick up the phone. I know, it’s intimidating–but it’s effective. Social media makes it easy to participate; I’ve seen multiple folks posting with specific instructions guiding you through the calling/survey process and how to leave messages for your representatives.

    Your voice is so important now, use it.

  • Keep an eye on OIA. Yes, I work with Outdoor Industry Association, so I’m biased–but the policy work OIA does affects every member of the outdoor community. And we’re going all in this year. There’s an incredible outdoor advocacy action center launching in 2017 that will be a vital resource in the fight for public lands and protecting the future of our industry. Listen to the post-election podcast.
  • Attend protests. March alongside your community. Make signs, sing chants, hold hands with strangers in the streets. Be present for the issues that matter to you. (I’ll see you at the SLC Women’s March on January 23rd–similar events are happening all over the country. Go to one.)
  • Go ask Erin Outdoors about working in a community kitchen to serve locally. Contributing locally is going to be a huge part of facilitating unity and remembering the light during periods of darkness. Volunteer at your local humane society, help weed your community garden, go to a trail day. These may not seem like political activism, but they’re an important part of the equation too.

It’s going to be a long, hard four years for environmentalists and outdoor advocates. We seriously just put a climate denier in the White House, and now we have to face the consequences. I never expected to be considering the possibility of putting myself on a Muslim registry to help protect my fellow Americans. I never expected to get calls from girlfriends urging me to get an IUD because I might soon lose rights over my own body. I never expected to see hateful racists having a moment of empowerment, crawling out of the pathetic caves from which they usually reside.

I never expected this outcome, but here it is. Here we are, in this new reality–and our only option is to fight. So let’s fight hard, together.

Hitting the road, on my way to slowing down.

Tomorrow, I’m moving to Salt Lake City.

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The first time I crossed state lines into Utah was on my first big climbing trip in 2010. It was me and three dirtbag Florida boys, living out of a sputtering Jeep for a month in pursuit of western crags. Check out some of my old film photos from that trip here

The 30-day journey was a total mess, and we only climbed for like 8 days total and we all got sick after foolishly deciding that an all-you-can-eat buffet pit stop at Golden Coral was a good idea—but I still remember the dusty, dark gas station we pulled into when we crossed into Utah in the middle of the night. The stars were so bright, and there were coyotes howling in the distance, and deer kept leaping in front the Jeep as we swept through towering red rocks, and I had never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life.

I don’t think we even stopped in Utah at all on that trip. It was just the connector between Colorado and the Grand Tetons– but since that moment, Utah has been my most sacred place. I find peace in the desert, challenge in the mountains, and a sense of belonging that I haven’t felt so strongly anywhere else on earth. This is my place, and it’s time to make it more than just the space I escape to.

Utah, you’re home, and this little bird flying back to roost for a while.

Summertime hiatus, solo adventures begin.

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My dearest readers, it’s time to take an official break from The Morning Fresh. I am heading out on the road for a four-month solo road trip, an Outdoor Industry Association campaign we’re calling the #OIARoadshow. While I’m out traversing the west coast and living my dream job, I want to fully focus on the trip and pour my heart & soul into my work with OIA.

I’ll keep everyone updated with my antics on social media, and promise to make a full return this fall when I’m done with this next chapter of van life. Wish me luck! 

Q&A with So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor: Redefining the look of climbing

I’ve been geeking out over So iLL since I started climbing back in 2009. Back in those days, the love affair centered around their killer holds. The first route I ever put up that I was actually proud of was a V4 set with So iLL’s Appendage holds on the lead wall at Tally Rock Gym. Since then, they’ve impressed me with their bold colors, clean aesthetic, commitment to their brand’s style + community–and of course, these kickass leggings.

A few weeks ago, they once again caught my attention by launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a new journey: retro-inspired climbing shoes. Say whaaaaaaat? The goal was to offer the climbing community a shoe that combines functionality with a focus on fashion. The urban outdoorist and the rise of outdoor millennial consumers is a hot topic at my day-job running social for OIA, so I instantly knew it was going to be a success–and it was. So iLL reached 100% funding in only 5 hours.

This weekend I sat down with founder Daniel Chancellor to chat about this ambitious project, his vision for the climbing community, and what So iLL is going to dream up next:

So iLL climbing shoes (photo: So iLL)

*All photos in this post courtesy of So iLL

It’s hard to put a finger on So iLL. You’ve got climbing holds (some of my favorites from my route-setting days), crash pads, bold leggings, chalk, training tools, and now, shoes. What inspired the dream to add climbing footwear to the diverse line-up?

Climbing footwear, along with our clothing, is a direction we have been working on for years.  We aren’t trying to create the next lightest carabiner technical piece of gear.  Instead, we delivery highly designed clothing, footwear and training products.  Things that our crew can use, wear, and be proud of.

Our goal to create products that help our climbing community succeed.  Keeping climbers fashionable, and encouraging them on their journey through media, and well designed products, will be our focus as we look towards the future.

Climbing with So iLL and their new line of retro inspired performance climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

Within the first 10 seconds of your promo video, we hear this: “there needs to be a fashionable alternative for the climbing community.” In the outdoor industry, there’s a growing trend of urban climbers getting outdoors for the first time, but there is also a large pre-existing climber group who simply never had fashion-forward options before–who are you making this shoe for? 

The success of this campaign has put a lot of attention toward the brand. This is great for the project, but this entire creation is not for us.  We created these products for others.  The success is motivating and reinforces us that we made quality decisions during the journey, but in the end, these shoes are for you!

We opened our first flagship retail location and climbing gym in Saint Louis, MO a few years ago.  At Climb So iLL , we are deeply connected with our community there.  We have been able to learn the needs of urban rock climbers, and deliver them both an experience, and products, that make sense.  These climbers eventually move outside (like we did), and the product was designed to transition with them.

Our lifestyle products can be used by all outdoor enthusiasts, but it stars within our niche. Our hearts are with the urban climbers around the country, and the communities in which they exist.  The sport is growing exponentially, but the fire seems to start here.   

So iLL's line of climbing shoes is the first to dye high performance rubber this way. (Photo: So iLL)

Aside from their stellar looks, what makes these shoes a unique addition to an already booming climbing shoe market?

The rubber on our climbing shoes has a special story.  It was developed for the U.S military.  The Navy Seals needed an outsole rubber that was both sticky, and would retain color.  They were building an approach shoe, and were in need of this technology.  When we heard about this new “Dark Matter” rubber, we immediately were drawn towards it’s properties.  Putting color on the outsole of a climbing shoe (with real sticky rubber) has not been done before.  There is a first time for everything, and this is what we are most proud of.

So iLL’s Kickstarter campaign has been a phenomenal success–the original goal was $10k, but you’re currently sitting at well over $100,000 in pledges. What drove the decision to use crowdfunding for this project?

We wanted to accomplish two things with the Kickstarter Platform.  1) We really do believe in these shoes, and wanted to give climbers the opportunity to try them at a discount as early supports.  2) The kickstarter has helped us with production minimums.  Being such a small company, it has been difficult to build 6 models, in so many sizes, with so much inventory to start.  We needed help, and our community delivered.

So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor and his new line of climbing shoes. (Photo: So iLL)

While So iLL has a big digital presence and strong community, it’s still a fairly small operation. How big is the team, and how do you manage to build so much hype and energy while still remaining true to your grassroots values? 

Great question.  I know that we appear massive online!  People think that the company is huge, but we are TINY in the outdoor space.  We have 5 employees in the office, and interns, that’s it.  There is a blog on our site that talks about us just now moving out of my basement (a few months ago).  We finally rented a loft apartment.

We do all of our own sales, we do all of our own marketing, and we do all of our own branding.  Our entire team pulled together on this one and made it happen.  Evan packs boxes in our warehouse and also does all of our product photography.  Ryan answers the phone and does service, but shoots all of our lifestyle photography.  Paul works in house as our marketing guy.  Lisa answers all of our kickstarter questions online and has been working behind the scenes.  It’s really been a team effort.  My friends Daniel Wilson and Tennyson Tanner both helped us with the videos.  They are both local guys.

The team is small, but we are all very proud of what we are doing.  We really actually do the work of 10-15 people, and I”m very proud of what we have accomplished as such a small operation.

The shoes aren’t even in full production yet, and they’re already a success. What’s next on the horizon for So iLL? 

We are going to continue designing and producing high quality, innovative and fashionable products for rock climbers.  We are going to continue encouraging others to stay positive and to take hold.

Big thank you to So iLL founder Daniel Chancellor for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview in between a hectic travel schedule, snapchatting the brand’s adventures (follow ’em: soillinc), and trying to change the industry with climbing shoes that look just as great as they perform. You’ve got until Tuesday evening to support the Kickstarter and get your hands on a pair of these shoes at the insane backer rate before the price goes up when they hit the broader market this summer!

Stay tuned for a full review of the shoes when I get my pair of So iLL beauties
and put them to the test in California this summer. 

Weeks 8-9: Snowstorms + Outdoor Love in Asheville, NC

Oh, Asheville. With only 20 days to immerse myself into the weird and wonderful world of Western North Carolina, I found myself literally feeling stressed out about making sure I soaked it all up. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. There was no way to properly experience all of the magic of Asheville in such a short time–but I sure did try.

Here’s a quick highlight reel from my favorite Asheville moments, sights, and sounds:

Katie Boué hiking DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.

Hiking in DuPont State Forest

Holy waterfalls! You like waterfalls? You got waterfalls, if you make the short drive out to DuPont State Forest near Brevard, NC. The area has six main waterfalls, and five of ’em are easily accessible on a single trail. Obviously I had to hike it. It’s a wide trail, packed with people on a weekend, and not exactly a full “wild outdoors” feel, but still worth it for an afternoon adventure. Mcgoo and I hiked to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. I spotted a covered bridge higher up in the hills, but we got lost trying to find the trail out there and eventually gave up.

The fellas from Bro’d Trip have a vlog that shows a bit of the hike–I totally went back the next day and re-hiked it with them, actually finding the covered bridge this time. Check out the video here, and skip to about the 1:07 mark to get to my cameo + the DuPont hiking.

Bonus spot: Make the short drive up to Buzzard Rock right before sunrise–and you’ll get epic views of the city below like this one: 

The sunrise view from Buzzard Rock in Asheville, NC.

Caught in Asheville’s 2015 Snowpocalypse

Somehow, I always end up in the southeast when there’s an epic snowstorm. And by epic, I mean usually just a few inches of snow that shuts down the entire city. This time, however, a whopping 13 inches dumped downtown–and totally shut everything down. The resulting adventures were probably my favorite part of my time in Asheville. Cars were rendered useless, and the people took back the streets on foot. Bar hopping across town while riding in a sled? Yes please. Whiskey just tastes better when you’ve trudged 3 miles in the snow to get to it.

Sledding during the big 2016 Asheville snowstorm.

Food and Beer and More Food

You guys. Asheville has a jammin’ food culture. The best trout (hell, the best fish. period.) I ever had in my life from The Market Place. Jamaican food so good we went two days in a row at Nine Mile–and yes, I ordered the same thing both times, it was that good. I had a religious experience eating the cheese plates at Wicked Weed. Pro tip: Get a beer flight the first time you go to Wicked Weed, because you will be back multiple times for those cheese plates, so you might as well figure out what kind of beer is your favorite to accompany all that cheesy goodness.

The amazing cheese plate at Wicked Weed Brewery in Asheville, NC.

For a full dive into my time exploring the Asheville outdoor industry scene–and peeks into my visits with outdoor brands like ENO, Farm to Feet, and more–check out my OIA Roadshow: Asheville Edition story on the Outdoor Industry Association website. Here’s an excerpt:

“If you’ve ever been to Asheville, North Carolina, you’re already in on the not-so-subtle secret that it’s one of the greatest outdoor destinations in America–but for those of you who haven’t received the memo: This Southeastern city was voted one of the country’s best outdoor towns by Outside magazine in 2006, and made it to the voter’s choice list in 2014, too. It’s a recreation mecca in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. You can hike, bike, paddle, climb–and sometimes even ski–all within a short drive of the downtown area.”

I know, I know, there’s so much more to be said to fully encapsulate how incredible Asheville is. I wish I could have stayed longer to spend more time soaking up this vibrant city and its culture–but alas, there’s so much more America to explore!