On the podcast today is author, REI podcast host, and longtime adventurer Shelby Stanger. With her latest book ‘Will to Wild’ she takes us on a journey through her personal experiences and those of other inspiring outdoor enthusiasts as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of pursuing a life of adventure. In this conversation Shelby shares valuable insight and wisdom that can help readers overcome their obstacles and live life to the fullest. If you are an adventure junkie or desk jockey looking for a change, then Will to Wild can apply to you. Enjoy.
– Cultivating a Transformational Relationship with the Wild
– Overcoming Your Fears Through Intentional Challenge Exposure
– Recognizing Signs to Follow Your True Path
– The Scientific Benefits of Connecting with Nature
– Reframe FOMO by Embracing JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)
Listen to the episode here:
- Writing a Book of Adventure [00:04:39]
- Going on an Adventure [00:12:20]
- Meditation and Silence [00:22:37]
- Shelby’s Vitiligo [00:28:05]
- Organizing a Messy Experience [00:30:26]
- Defining Success [00:39:01]
- Take Notes [00:44:57]
- Giving People Access to Adventure [00:51:55]
- FOMO and JOMO [00:55:29]
- Creating or Joining a Community [01:07:16]
- Face Your Fears [01:11:03]
- Being a Surf Instructor [01:24:19]
- Work and Life Balance [01:26:44]
- Embracing Your Imperfections [01:28:28]
- The Inspiration of Shelby’s Book [01:33:32]
#204 Unleash Your Wild Side | REI Co-Op’s Podcast Host Shelby Stanger on Redefining Success & Pursuing Joy in the Wild, Embracing JOMO, Overcoming Fear Through Intentional Exposure, & Finding Your Ultimate Adventure
Welcome to the Gabby Reece Show where we break down the complex worlds of health, fitness, family, business, and relationships with the world’s leading experts. I’m here to simplify these topics and give you practical takeaways that you can start using today. We all know that living a healthy balanced life isn’t always easy. Let’s try working on managing life a little better and have some fun along the way. After all, life is one big experiment and we’re all doing our best.
“There’s a lot of things you can do right now to change your life. People are experimenting with all sorts of things, gurus, you name it. What adventure does that other things don’t give you is this courage, resiliency, and perspective that you carry with you to the rest of your life.”
“At 11, I took with it the knowledge that life is short. My dad tucked me in and said, “Goodnight. I love you.” He was a dentist and was pretty healthy. He rode his bike miles on the weekend. He didn’t eat well. He had some underlying heart condition and he died having a heart attack in his car. At that moment, I was like, “He was here today and now he’s not.” You have to live life to the fullest.
My guest is Shelby Stanger and she is an award-winning podcast host, author, journalist, and public speaker. The common thread is all things adventure and that adventure is life’s antidote. She shares this in her latest book, Will to Wild, which was partially inspired by her ongoing REI podcast, Wild Ideas Worth Living. She’s always wanted to write a book. She also has another podcast called Vitamin Joy. You’re seeing a theme here.
What she shares is she had a good job and realized she wasn’t that happy and decided, “What does it take? What does it look like to make a change?” What are the signs out there to help us give us the confidence to move on? What are some of the things we can expect along the way when we’re doing things either new or deciding to take on a big actual adventure or a metaphoric adventure and change our lives altogether?
What you’ll hear from Shelby is such an authentic and genuine love for people doing what makes them happy and for being outside in nature. Shelby is a person who had her own battles with things and this was her way of sharing how she copes with them and that it’s an ongoing process. We can finish one adventure but it is important to have the next adventure. That’s true of life. How are we always stretching ourselves, trying new things, getting out of our comfort zone, and getting into nature whenever we can?
She shares a lot of stories about other people and their experiences and anecdotes, personally. It’s not just about ultra runners, hikers, surfers, or rock climbers, but it can be desk jockeys who’ve figured out how to get off the clock or a mom or teaching women to scale frozen waterfalls. Don’t take it as, “I have to be a crazy outdoorsman to enjoy this conversation.” This is about how we learn how to follow our hearts, put that together, and have a strategy.
One of the things I love is the idea of a trail angel and that they’re all around us, we just have to be able to recognize it. Whether you’re already an adventure junkie or someone who’s never set up a tent, there’s something for everyone in this conversation. The book is Will to Wild: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Shelby Stanger.
Shelby Stanger, welcome back to my house, you’ve been here before. You have taken on a new adventure, which is completing a book. I have to say, even keeping a journal, never mind having this idea and then being able to finish a book. Why did you write this book?
I’ve always wanted to write a book. I don’t think I was aware of how hard it would be. I thought it would be easy. I’ve been a journalist my whole life. I’ve done podcasting for over seven years. There was no book out there that helped me pursue adventure. There are all sorts of adventure books but there was none about the mindset of having an idea for a big adventure and seeing it through and what to do when you’re scared or stuck or you have self-doubt or imposter syndrome, which is going to happen, and what to do when everything goes wrong, which happens on every adventure.
I wanted to have a book with a range of adventures from small adventures to big adventures like someone who was a bird watcher to someone who paddled on paddleboards with their hands from Alaska all the way to Patagonia and how they thought about adventure and how they handled it. One thing I wanted to include because I’ve interviewed so many adventures now through my own podcast is the finish line and what to do when you end an adventure. Sometimes there’s a transition that is rocky and how to bring a sense of adventure to your everyday life because that’s what it’s all about. You guys live and breathe adventure so you’re the perfect person to talk about this.
It’s so funny. At times, I get thrown in the mix because I live with Laird and I live like Laird. Maybe I didn’t take a conventional path for my job or there are things I do pursue. You talk about following your gut and listening to your instincts in your book, I do that. For example, I have a friend who’s doing Everest, Cesalina Gracie. I’m like, “Zero desire.”
Me too, I have no desire.
I see that and I’m like, “I don’t want to poop in a bucket and sleep in a tent. I like beds.” When I see people that have this willingness to take that time out and do something big, I’m like, “That’s amazing,” but I personally don’t feel like it. For me to read a book like this is interesting because it also gets me to ask questions about, “Am I stuck in a version of my own groove and do that?” When you talk about the come down after an adventure, I understand that. It’s PTSD, the thing you’ve been striving for and going for. After people win championships or they get an Oscar and they think, “That will have made me feel something long-term,” when in fact, I don’t think it does.
Everybody has their own Everest to climb. There are a lot of things you can do right now to change your life. People are experimenting with all sorts of things, Gurus, you name it. What adventure does that other things don’t give you is this courage, resiliency, and perspective that you carry with you for the rest of your life.
When I was a teenager, I started teaching surf lessons down the street at Surf Diva at La Jolla Shores. Women would come, they would learn to ride a few waves over a weekend or a week-long clinic, and I was 16 to 22. I’d always get a call from one of them in the group, a week, a month, or two months afterward, and be like, “Shelby, I quit my job. I ended this deadbeat relationship finally for good,” or, “I’m moving across the country to a place with a better beach by you or somewhere else.”
[bctt tweet=”Map your trail. Get prepared. There’s no excuse.”]
Their life would be positive for the better and it would keep going. Doing adventure gives you courage that you then can take with you to other parts of your life. Catching a wave that used to scare me in Laguna Beach, not even a big wave, just a wave that was scary cuz there were rocks and it was intimidating. Eventually, after finally catching a wave at this one spot, I finally got the courage to quit a job that was perfect on paper and didn’t make sense. There’s something about an adventure that gives us a giant dose of courage that you can’t get necessarily by going to a therapist.
I agree with you that it’s a catalyst. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen, and you’ve interviewed even more people in this realm, it isn’t the final landing spot, like, “I did that.” It also can either ignite something in somebody where then they need new challenges and adventures. It’s a fine line because of this idea of coming out of our comfort zone and living. How about just that idea?
They raise us to work as living versus live and living and then work to support ourselves. We got it backward. I’ve learned that from Laird. Laird is, like, “Why are we all killing ourselves? Why are we not enjoying also life?” People who adventure tune into that a little better. I also see that there’s this other funny side. I don’t want to say frustration but it’s kind of. I’m saying this as a partner to somebody like that. It’s fascinating.
You can get addicted to adventure and you have to be careful. With this book, what I wanted to do is encourage people who don’t have a relationship with nature, and to have a relationship with nature somehow. If you go to Gabby’s house, the wildflowers are bananas. I stood outside your front yard for about ten minutes and I was blown away by these birds flying and the amount of yellow flowers all up the mountain of Latigo Canyon in Malibu, it was crazy.
Nature provides a chance for us to slow down and heal because when we slow down, we can take time to heal. There’s all sorts of metaphors in nature. You live in Hawaii. You don’t get the rainbow without putting up with the rain and that’s something you can apply to life. Also, there’s all this time to experience awe, which is the X factor that nature provides. You can get awe through art. You can get awe having a baby. You can get awe through a relationship. I was thinking about this, much of our life is predictable. We can see where we’re going, we can look at our cell phones, and we get an idea of what we’re going to get.
In nature, there’s all this room for the unexpected like seeing a whale breach or a certain dolphin jump or a beautiful wave. You could have been having a shitty day or you could have had a fight or you could have been traffic getting up to LA all day. When you see something beautiful in nature, it’s a pattern interrupt and that is important in life. After COVID, we all need a big pattern interruption in our life. The goal is not to become an adrenaline junkie because it is dangerous when you’re an adrenaline junkie, I’ve interviewed all sorts of them. My goal is to get people to have a relationship with nature and try adventure if they’ve never had one and show them the tools to have one.
When you read the book, it doesn’t feel like you have to forego and leave your family and do that. There are tips and strong clear exit signs on how to do it. When did you leave your job?
2009, the height of the recession. It was dumb to leave. I had a great job at Vans. I was running women’s marketing and then international marketing. I was a kid and I was in charge of this big business. I was at a cool shoe company. Everybody at Vans was cool. I was the journalist for the Vans Warped Tour before that. It’s a series of punk rock concerts.
For 60 days straight, I slept on a tour bus. Steve Van Doren, the guy whose dad started Vans, was my bunkmate. I was on the top bunk and he makes jokes about that, which was pretty funny. He’s a harmless guy and he’s super nice. He doesn’t drink and he eats dessert before dinner. He was a fun guy to tour around with.
I had to send my stories through the internet dial-up connection, which meant I had to find a dial-up connection in a parking lot every day. It was wild summer. Every 22-year-old should get to have a summer like that in their life on a punk rock concert tour. By the way, if I smell tour bus fumes today, I get this convulsive PTSD feeling. I never want to ever go on a punk rock concert tour again but it was awesome as a 22-year-old.
I had this great job and it made zero sense on paper to quit. I come from a high-achieving family. My mom is from Pittsburgh and my dad was from New York. My mom was a college professor. Quitting made zero sense on paper. Everyone’s like, “You’re crazy.” It was the height of the recession. There was no working from home and I hated my commute, that was the part of my job I hated the most. I hated driving in traffic.
Back up a little. I never know how much it plays a part for people. When you were 11, there was an incredibly unexpected accident, and your dad passed away. Did that kick you off into a different head space? I wasn’t living with my parents and my father died. I was much younger, I was 5. It wasn’t so monumental, it was different. Your dad kisses you goodnight and then you get woken up that he passed away.
I’ll get sentimental because it’s been over 31 years. He died on 4/20. We always joke, I was like, “Did Dad smoke weed? How did he die? How did he pick 4/20?” She’s like, “He did.” That’s a long story that I didn’t know.
Do you think something about that rooted or created something inside of you that you then had to go back and contend with later as an adult?
I was pretty mature as an 11-year-old. I was a good writer. My writing at 11 was probably better than what it is now, it was raw. I included 29-year-old Shelby’s writing and voice in the book, which makes me cringe, she was angsty and neurotic. I left it because I wanted people to feel how I felt then. At 11, I took with it the knowledge that life is short. My dad tucked me in and said, “Goodnight. I love you.” He was a dentist. He was pretty healthy. He rode his bike miles on the weekend. He didn’t eat well, something that I started doing immediately afterward. He had some underlying heart condition and he died having a heart attack in his car.
My sister woke me up and she’s like, “Shelby, dad’s been in a car accident. Get up.” I kept saying, “Is he dead in the car?” I didn’t think he was dead. I thought we were going to go to the hospital and his leg was going to be up in one of those gurneys and he was going to be wearing his Coggi sweater and charming the nurses.
We got there and I remember it was 11:00 PM at night. We lived in Cardiff-by-the-sea, California, this sleepy little beach town that’s now super hipster and expensive, ironically. There was a nurse there and my mom was ghost white and we’re like, “Is he dead?” She nodded her head vertically up and down and grabbed us. At that moment, I was like, “He was here today and now he’s not.” You have to live life to the fullest. I could have learned to take a chill pill for many years and it’s something I’m working on now.
What does that mean?
I tried to fit as much as I could into one day for so much of my life because I was like, “You never know. You’re going to die. You could die.” I encouraged all my friends in elementary school, junior high school, and high school to ask the guy that they wanted to ask out, “Don’t be afraid. Go surfing.” I played on five sports teams and was in leadership clubs. I was a little total overachieving nerd growing up. I found surfing young but I didn’t get into it until I quit my job because I was always working. I could only surf before work or after work, it was either dark or crowded.
I wanted to surf in the middle of the day, which you can do now because we have working from home but you couldn’t then. Surfing taught me to slow down, take a beat, find joy, and not have to do so much. If you try to force surfing and you try to force catching waves, you can’t. One thing I wanted people to understand through this book is nature is the ultimate surrender teacher. You will not beat nature, nature wins every time.
I’ve met you before but when I read the book, there’s a vibration with athletes like yourself.
Or ADHD People like myself.
People love to label stuff. Laird always says, “You mean a natural trait or tendency that people have.” Everybody’s different. You find that people who have that level of being distracted or bored love nature because you have to pay attention or you’re going to get in trouble.
You’ll fall off the cliff if you’re not paying attention.
They love it because they’re like, “I might die. This is amazing. It can hone in.” I find it almost like how much of our lives fear. Going through this thing with your dad and maybe being already naturally a certain way, sensitive, aware, and all of these things, then pushes you into pushing everybody to go for it. Fear is making you say, “Let’s go for it.”
There’s this thing that wasn’t in the book and I had it originally in the book, the editor cut it out. They were like, “This is a lot.” I grew up in a lot of fear and I couldn’t understand it until now. I’m the 4th kid of 3 girls. My mom had two daughters, a son, and then me. The son died at eight months. I was born after a kid who died of sudden infant death syndrome, which meant I was washed over like a hawk. They were so afraid I was going to die. There was someone hired to watch me sleep for a little bit. I had a waterbed mattress. We were not even rich. They invested.
When my dad died, by the way, he was a dentist, but there was no life insurance and no health insurance. He had health insurance but he had nothing. There was no will, there was nothing. My mom was a teacher. We went from being pretty okay to not. I realized, almost after writing the book, that I grew up in all this fear. I asked my mom about it and I’m like, “Mom, I don’t understand. I am fearless about so many things but I’m so scared of a little change. I get nervous before big interviews with people that I look up to like Gabby.” I don’t understand but yet I keep doing these things that scare me.
I have a friend like that too, she grew up in a family with a lot of roles, they’re from a different culture, and they immigrated here when there were assassins out for their family. She grew up wealthy and they came here with nothing. She’s not a good surfer but she tries to surf and she does. She’s taking gymnastics classes.
I constantly try to put myself in positions where I have to face fear in another way outside so that I can face it internally as well and that helps me. It’s weird but it’s something that I’ve just learned over time. Every time I face fear, I feel so good. After I quit my job, it was weird. The day I caught this crazy wave at a place in Laguna Beach that was not scary to many people but was scary to me, I’m like, “That’s it. I’m going to quit my job and give notice.”
Before I gave notice, I made that decision, I had told a PR person in Hawaii that I was thinking about quitting my job. She called me that day and she’s like, “Shelby, I remember you said to think of you if there are any story ideas because you were thinking about quitting your job. I’ve got one. Dave Parmeter, who you probably know, is a big wave surfer and backed out of going on this surf trip to Indonesia with a bunch of guys. They need a journalist to cover it. It’s only dudes so I think they want a dude. You did the Warped Tour. You can hang. Do you want to go?” I was like, “Yes.”
It’s weird how you set an intention. I try not to get all woo-woo. I’m the least woo-woo person but I’ve become woo-woo over time. When you put it out on the universe, sometimes the universe aligns and helps you out. The day I decided to quit my job, I got offered to go cover a group of guys surfing these remote waves in Indonesia where I had no choice but to surf these terrifying waves or I would have to stay on the boat where I’d get seasick and the guys would make fun of me so I did.
What happens when you get quiet or still?
Everything good happens. I started a meditation practice pretty rigorously and it’s easy, it’s 8 minutes in the morning and 8 at night. I’ve spent some time at this Buddhist monastery in San Diego, it was started by Thich Nhat Hanh, and it’s called Deer Park Monastery. People in San Diego don’t realize how amazing this is. This is an old boy scout camp 45 minutes from my house in San Diego. I remember going in 2008 before I quit my job with my then-boyfriend. It was out there. Most of the monks were Vietnamese and a lot of the services, talkings, and teachings were in Vietnamese translated. It was a little strict.
What does that mean, strict?
You sat there and you meditated. It’s zen meditation so you sit on a cushion and you stare, you don’t close your eyes. You look outside the window, it’s pretty, for 30 or 40 minutes, which was a lot for a 28-year-old with a lot of energy. I liked how it felt but all my friends thought I was a hippie. It wasn’t widely accepted in 2008 amongst my peers. During the pandemic, I was running down PCH and I saw these monks in brown robes and they were by the Swamy Temple in Encinitas, and I was like, “That’s cool. Maybe they’re monks doing an exchange at the Swamy Temple.” I remembered those are the monks from Deer Park Monastery so I stopped and I talked to them.
Did they talk to you?
They talked to me.
I was like, “Are you guys from Deer Park Monastery?” I ran back and talked to them. They’re like, “Yeah.” I was like, “What are you doing here? Did you do an exchange with the Swamy Temple?” They’re like, “No, we went surfing.”
Are monks allowed to surf?
Yeah. I had no idea. These Millennial monks are cool as F and they surf and they were like, “We’re opening up Deer Park Monastery to two-day retreats. You can camp and you can stay in a dorm. Come.” I was like, “That’s great because I need to go camping, I haven’t been camping in years. I run a podcast for REI. I probably should learn how to use my tent and go sleep out in the woods. This felt safe, I’m sleeping in a monastery.” I went for a weekend and it is way less strict. It’s fun. They cook for you and feed you. It’s $20 a night or something, it’s ridiculously inexpensive. It was fun. Some of the meditations were guided.
Sometimes I feel like when we take off a little bit of the protocol, it makes it more inviting for people. I feel that whatever it is that we’re supposedly meditating for, we are more willing to try. It’s like, “Have a good attitude,” or, “Be nice to people,” or, “Stop drinking alcohol.” Whatever the things we’re trying to deal with feels sometimes easier when it’s like, “Let’s all be together and have fun and do that.” That’s Millennial monks.
They were fun.
You should make T-shirts.
I honestly was like, “I want to write a book about these Millennial monks.” The guy was a white dude from Laguna Beach that I was talking to. There are Vietnamese Millennial monks, there are white monks, and there’s everything. It was funny.
Do they have social media? This is what I need to know.
They did not have social media. I asked the guy from Laguna Beach, I’m like, “Why did you become a monk?” He was like, “I grew up in an affluent area and I wanted a more simple life.” I was like, “I respect that.” What I do is breathe in, I calm my body, breathe out, I calm my mind, or breathe in, I calm my body, and breathe out, and I smile.
I’ve focused on having things get quiet. Whatever’s hard in my life, I’ve focused on sending it love. This is the most hippie thing I do in my life but it’s been a game changer. If someone is bugging me, I send them love. If there’s something I’m working on that’s hard, I send it love. It’s the ultimate cliche but it works quickly, quicker than anything I’ve ever done.
When I was younger, I moved from the Caribbean to St. Petersburg in my junior year of high school and I got put into a conservative Christian school. I was not raised that way. I had a badass Bible teacher, which means a great and fair human being who was a great teacher. The Bible has interesting stories that are parables that you can go, “That makes sense.” The notion of meditating for someone, sending them love, and praying for someone is amazing how it diffuses things. It’s weird.
We think there are rules around it. When you direct love at someone you probably want to ring their neck, it softens your heart in a way that you can’t do through your brain. You think, “Be a good person and try to see it from their side. Everybody has a hard journey.” If you go, “I love them. Give me the strength to have a better understanding or compassion in meditation or prayer.” People don’t use that tool enough. It’s a lot of work to be annoyed by someone.
It’s so much work. It’s exhausting. I have an autoimmune condition called vitiligo. If I’m angry or bitter, it gets worse.
It flares up.
What does that mean? Do you mean you get it and then ten days later, the reaction from ten days earlier, than you’re paying?
Yeah. It’s 2 or 3 weeks later. Often, it’s triggered by fear, anger, deep sadness, and stress. We are human beings, we all have stress, and we all have fear. I’ve had to learn to get good about not having a lot of stress in my life and it’s hard because as an athlete, I also have a lot of good stress in my life. I used to be a big-time runner and I’ve backed off. Even too much running when I have a lot of working, too much athleticism on top of if my brain is working hard, I don’t make my body work that hard. It’s weird.
It’s not weird. I’ll give you a good example of this. Paul Chek, do you know him? He’s down there. He was doing some training thing for Laird and this is a guy who talks about your chakras and training and people roll their eyes but there’s something to it. He goes, “Laird is emotionally based. His lower chakras are taxed all the time. Why would I then, at that moment, throw him into a radical leg workout? I’m pounding and taxing the lower body.” Sometimes I don’t think we give enough credit to, “Where do I hold my stress? How do I carry it?” Whether it’s the actual activity or being who we are, it’s an interesting thing to consider in your physical practice also.
Let’s go back to the book. You say, “I’m going to write this book and share my experience.” What’s the process? You start with getting unstuck, that launching. You use your own metaphor of surfing and then quitting your job and it launches you into this next adventure. What was the process of, “What are the things I want to say? How am I going to organize this in a way that regardless if somebody is going to do a big trail run or walk or climbing will benefit from this?”
It was a messy process. I thought it was going to be easy.
I’ve done a lot of talks on how to take a wild idea and make it a reality. I was like, “I can organize this book like my speeches or my podcast. I’ve done millions of these.” Books are weird. You have publishers who have their own opinions of things. I wrote a couple of outlines that were not accepted and then I rewrote them and then my agent was like, “Write what you want to write and send the whole book to your publisher.”
Do you mean write the book and then send it?
Send it because they need to see the whole thing. I took a lot of their advice and then I married it with my own advice. I thought about my own experience. I don’t think you have to be stuck to pursue an adventure. A lot of times, when I look at the women who used to come to take surf lessons in Costa Rica with me, they were in a life transition. There was a reason why they’d booked a trip to Costa Rica, which was a big wild adventure for them at the time. Often, they’d come and they were overworked or exhausted.
[bctt tweet=”Sometimes missing out is the best thing that could happen to you.”]
After a few days in warm water, eating fresh food, telling a lot of funny jokes with a lot of women, drinking some wine, dancing, skinny dipping, or whatever, they completely relaxed. They would come home tanned and refreshed with muscles, and a glow. I started with being stuck and letting people know that if you’re stuck, you’re not alone. That’s one of the biggest things in the human experience, especially adventures that are solo individualistic people oftentimes.
We’re not alone. Other people feel this way too. I wanted this book to relate as much to people who had never done adventure as much as the people who listen to my podcast and read Outside Magazine and have done a lot of adventures. Maybe this book is a hall pass to their loved ones to say, “This is why I need adventure in my life.”
Do you think that people have to explain that to their loved ones? Do you hear that?
I do, all the time.
It’s weird. Why?
There was an interesting woman who came on the podcast and she’s an open-water swimmer. She leaves work early to go open water swim. She’s broken records across the English channel. She’s a bigger girl.
They all are, by the way. You’re not going to be lean and ripped. You have to have that body.
She’s also into the body positivity movement. She wears a bikini and she swims in the Puget Sound and she’s funny. She was like, “Shelby, what’s hard is my work gets pissed at me when I leave early. If I said I was going to pick up my kids, it would be no issue. There’s this double standard.” I was like, “That’s interesting.” We’re already hard on moms. We should always give moms a hall pass. What if you’re an athlete and you’ve decided to take off work early and you’ll still get your work done but you want to go do your thing? We should let people do that.
In the end, it makes you more productive, happier, and you bring all that good stuff. Let’s say it’s a guy and a girl in a partnership or something. If the guy’s doing it, usually it’s thought of as the woman doesn’t understand because she doesn’t have her own thing. Conversely, and I talk to other women about this, sometimes there’s something weird about the other way when a girl is like, “I’m going to go do this.” Even if he’s an adventurer himself, it’s like, “Where are you going? What are you doing?” It’s an interesting dance between the two constantly. I always think it’s strange that anyone isn’t like, “That makes you stoked and happy? It’s ultimately positive. Have a good time.”
You want people to be present if you’re sharing a life and if you’re a boss, you’re like, “You still have to do your work.” If all that is getting done, it’s funny that we have to say, “I’d like to go swim.” It’s weird. You talk about, and this is an important thing, in the beginning, looking for signs. You mentioned it to the woman, you quit, and then all of a sudden, she’s like, “By the way…” How else do you think that this shows up for people? Once you point something out, people can go, “I had that.”
When you’re stuck, it helps to admit that you’re stuck, that’s the first thing. It helps to do what all hikers do when they’re lost, which is to look for a trail sign. A sign is going to come to you only in the language that you speak. For example, there was a time before I worked at Vans when I had to make the decision to work for Vans. I got a job offer, I was young, and I wanted to be a journalist, it was a marketing job. I was like, “I don’t know but Vans is awesome.”
I was at a restaurant and I looked down and there was the famous Vans side stripe everywhere. That’s a simple sign and I kept seeing them everywhere. I was like, “I should probably work for Vans. It’s a few years of my life. Who knows what’ll happen?” I never regret it. It was a better business education than I could have ever paid USC to give me or any other business school that I got at Vans. Signs can come in all sorts of ways.
There’s a girl in my book, Steph Jagger, who wrote a book about skiing the most vertical feet in a year. She was a PR executive, had this amazing job, and bought a condo in Vancouver. She was on the path, go to college, get an amazing job, buy a house, and get married. She was totally unhappy. She grew up skiing. She was on the chairlift with friends and she saw a sign and it said, “Lift the restraining device.” That sign refers to the metal bar that you need to lift to get off the chairlift and ski back down the mountain. That keeps you protected so you don’t fall when you’re going up the mountain.
She took that sign home with her, followed her to work, and for the next few weeks, she’s like, “I have all these restraining devices in my life, mostly my own head.” Over the next couple of months, she shuttered her life as she knew it, got sponsors, worked extra jobs, and skied the most vertical feet that a woman or a man had ever done that year. Along the way, all these amazing things happened. She met her husband who randomly runs the outdoor outreach organization where I’ve been a volunteer and board member for twenty years.
I remember him telling me about her and being like, “You have to meet her.” I was like, “Do you have a book?” She’s like, “I don’t know if I want to write a book.” Anyways, years later, she ends up writing a book, and it leads to this incredible career that she’s had and another book. Signs are helpful when we’re lost. There are also signs that point you to what you shouldn’t do. There have been all sorts of jobs I’ve taken because I’m like, “I need to make money.” I’ll take on a PR job. Once I took a vitamin multi multilevel marketing job and it was hard to get sales and everything was hard about it. I remember I didn’t have the heart to recruit friends underneath me and sell for me.
Nobody likes that.
Nobody wanted to do that. I was peeing yellow and I was like, “This is a sign to stop.” I was stuck with all these vitamins and it was funny. When things are hard, that’s also a sign. When I started my podcast, that was the easiest thing I’ve ever done and everything flowed. I like the interviewing part of podcasting and storytelling more than writing. Writing the book was a little bit challenging so we’ll see how this goes but there were a lot of signs to finish it. There were also a lot of obstacles, which, ironically, you have in any adventure.
It’s defining what is the success. The success has already happened. You’re here, the book is here, I read the book, and other people have read the book. Sometimes we gauge only things by the metric of, “How well did it do?” All these things. Was it Steph that Guinness book didn’t then at the end recognize the record?
They didn’t recognize it.
She still did it. In a way, how do we define success? That’s the reason to do it and not, “I was recognized for it. I’m the number one.” Whatever those things are. Another part of adventuring is, “I know.”
If you’re going to write a book, it helps to write down what you define as success. The chances of you becoming a New York Times bestseller or getting on the Today Show or whatever is hard and a lot of it is luck and a lot of are factors completely out of your control. You have to decide whatever your adventure is, whether it’s writing a book or starting a podcast, what does that mean? When I started a podcast, I remember my metric was there was a girl that was struggling, she was a friend of mine, and she wanted to quit her job, move to Costa Rica, surf, and become a travel guide. She was miserable and she was sinking into this deep depression. I thought of her as my listener when I made every show.
Sure enough, a couple of months later, she ended up quitting her job. Her parents were doctors. It seemed irresponsible to quit her job at UCSD and become a travel guide in Costa Rica but she ended up doing it. She’s bought a plot of land in Costa Rica. Her money goes ten times as far there. She’s happy. She surfs this perfect bright point barrel in front of her house every day. She has a simple life and she is thriving. My podcast had little to do with it but I thought of her. She was my biggest fan and it’s cool to have seen her career grow.
I also want to translate this. Sometimes people are stuck when you talk about get getting unstuck. We live in a world where there are a lot of perceived constraints. A lot of times, someone would see, like this friend of yours, and be like, “What is she running away from?” Never mind irresponsible or whatever, it’s like, “What are you running from?” Within that part of the conversation, for people who don’t understand that itch or that urge, maybe we could drill down a little bit more about understanding what is it that maybe they’re getting.
Probably the most interesting guest I’ve ever had on the podcast is the oldest, which is probably why I loved your podcast.
Was I the oldest?
The oldest podcast was 91 years old. It wasn’t you. You’re definitely one of my favorite. Her name is Edith Eger and she’s a Holocaust survivor. I randomly dated her grandson growing up. She spoke in my class when I was in eighth grade. She’s blown up now,she’s on Oprah, and she’s crushing it. She said, “Self-love is self-care. It’s narcissistic.” Because you want to go do something because it brings you joy, that is good enough. Everybody thinks you’re running from something or you need to escape something or you have to have this grand reason that’s going to help other people.
Yes, altruism is awesome and if you have that, you’re going to achieve your goal probably faster. If you’re doing it because it brings you joy, that should be good enough. We need to give people permission slips to go pursue joy. She wanted to go to Costa Rica because it brought her joy. Driving in traffic in San Diego and paying astronomical bills for utilities did not bring her joy.She doesn’t have to deal with that in Costa Rica. She is crushing it and she helps angsty teens who want to go travel. She helps them on their summer trips and I’m sure she’s changed tons of lives. By following her joy, she’s helped the world. When we pursue things that make us miserable, we’re not helping the world.
More of us are doing that than the others. That’s why I want to bring it up because it’s important to have that reminder. What’s that expression? Because it’s normal, it doesn’t mean it’s right. The way it’s set up for most of us is maybe we’re missing some parts of the communication about also the enjoyment. What was the book Edith wrote?
How old was she when she wrote these books?
- She’s amazing. Everybody should follow Dr. Edith Eger, she’s great. She does a high kick at the end of her talks. She was a gymnast on her way to competing in the Olympics when her family was shipped off to Auschwitz. She has a remarkable story. She’s an unlikely adventurer, probably the most unlikely in my book. I have her in the chapter about having a strong why. If you have a strong why, you can fill your how. Her why was, “I want to live. I want to see my boyfriend. I want to see my sisters.”
What you’re saying is it’s not about that it’s easier, it’s that if you’re doing or solving the problems, you want to be solving that why so to speak. People have to remember that because we’re always going to be solving problems and dealing with stress. I appreciated that. Another thing that you talked about as far as the trail signs, you used Pete as an example.
You’re cool that you read the whole book and took notes, Gabby. I’m impressed. Good researcher.
Don’t be impressed. That’s part of the job. If you showed up and I go, “You’re here to do the interview and you have clothes on. It’s amazing.”
I’ve interviewed a couple of people and have not read their books because there wasn’t time and it was challenging.
There’s always time.
I fell flat.
I have kids and businesses.
You crushed it.
I always have time.
I got the book the night before and I couldn’t do it.
That’s different. That’s why I don’t see anyone. When you wrote me a note, what was the first thing I asked you? The other thing in life is to do the best job that you can. I don’t give a shit what it is.
Map your trail. Get prepared.
There’s no excuse. If for some reason the only time somebody could come, I would still figure out a way to do my best. You used Pete as an example of getting also signs in dreams.
Is it not Pete?
Pete read a book called Running On Empty about a guy who ran across the country like Forrest Gump. He got the idea from this book. You can get an idea or a sign from a podcast. Your podcast with your last guest gave me many ideas, it was so good.
Are you going to write stuff down before you go to bed now? Is that what’s happening?
I wrote stuff before I went to bed.
She’s talking about Laura Day, the intuitive.
There was a guy on my podcast, who happens to be Mormon, and he founded Cotopaxi. He’s also an unlikely person for this book but I thought his perspective was interesting. Like Patagonia, they make jackets and backpacks and they give back to communities all over. The whole sign to start this outdoor brand, it downloaded one night in a full dream. He stayed up all night and rode out everything. Even the marketing slogan, “Gear for Good,” came to him in that dream. The idea to use llamas as mascots came to him in a dream. Signs can come in dreams. Often, they’re things we see, hear, or read, it can come in the form of a podcast interview so listen to podcasts.
What’s tricky that I’m always trying to navigate is because we all do speak a specific language, the way our eyes move, the way we pick up information, and I’m trying to figure out how I get unlocked out of my language and my perspective to be more open to things that I wouldn’t normally see. For me, especially as I get older, is constant paying attention.
It’s hard. You live in these beautiful places. The more you’re out in nature, the more unexpected signs happen because it is the one place where there’s so much unexpected amazingness that happens. Especially when you go to Hawaii, there are dolphins, sharks, and these crazy beautiful flowers.
What do you think I’m doing in Hawaii? Do you think it’s like Monday and there’s school but I’m like, “I’ll be back. I’m going to jump on the boat and swim with the dolphins.”
Every now and then, you got to go on the back of your husband’s jet ski.
I’m on Zooms like everybody else.
Look out your window, you’ve got these crazy wildflowers.
I love the fantasy.
You should get off of Zoom, Zoom sucks. I hate Zoom.
I get that you live a real life but driving in Hawaii, there are a lot of places. I’m sure an iguana will cross the road every now and then or there’s a gecko in your bedroom.
I have a war affair. It’s all fun and games until you live in a house that has gecko poop everywhere. Everyone’s like, “That’s cute.” I’m like, “Sure.”
I like romanticizing.
It’s amazing. Look at her eyes, it’s like a shiny 12-year-old, “Geckos. Hawaii.” It’s like, “What’s for dinner?”
I lived in Costa Rica with cockroaches the size of this book.
How about the army ants that you have to leave your house? Do you know about that?
The Amazon jungle, I thought it was going to be beautiful and glorious.
You were scared for your life.
I got eaten alive by bugs that didn’t give an F about toxic bug spray that I would never put on my body today.
Deed it up when you’re in those places.
They didn’t care. I was with this Hawaiian girl and she’s like, “I got cankles, Shelby.” She had some aloe, she’s like, “I have some aloe.”
I love why the Hawaiians call it aloe.
[bctt tweet=”Everybody has their own Everest to climb.”]
You don’t hear it. It did nothing. We were miserable and laughing. This was early standup paddle board days so we were invited to go standup paddle a portion of the Amazon River in Peru. There was no paddleboard gear. We were wearing these Lululemon leggings that were capris and they didn’t cover part of your body that gets annihilated by water and bugs. We were swollen and gross and disgusting. This was a couple of day trips we did to the Amazon in 2011, I was a last-minute addition to the team, and we used inflatable paddle boards to paddle down this portion of the Amazon River eaten alive by Cankles, hot, sweaty, and miserable.
They told us it wasn’t the rainy season, which of course it rained torrential downpours. I was over it. They wanted us to paddle for two more days and I was like, “Really?” We rounded this corner into a cove and when we got into this cove, the sound of our paddle sent millions of birds flying. They weren’t just any birds, these were wild Macaws, parrots. They were red belly, blue-headed, scarlet beaked, a mix of each. At that moment, all the suffering went away because it was such a beautiful experience. The rest of the trip flew by. We convinced our guides that we should paddle all the way home that night, sleep in beds, drink Pisco sour, and paddle from there, and they said yes.
That shows sense.
You don’t have to be miserable during an adventure. I have a friend who wrote a good book called How to Suffer Outside and it’s funny. She talks about what you need to backpack and whatever. If you want to hire a guide and you want to sleep in a bed or you want to go glamping into camping, go for it. You don’t have to wear brown trekking pants to go on a hike. You can look cute and wear Nikes, Converse, or Vans, it’s okay. If you can get up the mountain, do it your way. The other thing I say is you don’t need the most expensive gear, you need gear that works. I do recommend waterproof tents because having a tent that is not waterproof sucks. Other than that, you don’t need fancy gear. We’re going on tangents.
This is important because, believe me, people have to realize it’s not a zero-sum offer. It’s like, “What could you do? What’s in your wheelhouse? Where do you live? What are you attracted to?” It’s not, “If you’re not out there starving with no sleep and freezing and eaten alive by bugs and exhausted, it does not quantify as an adventure.” This is a different conversation. I live in a city, let’s say, and I’m hearing this, and I think to myself, “Easy for you to say. I ride the subway.” How do we help them? How do we help those people? It’s different access.
This guy would maybe be interesting for your podcast, his name is Cecil Konijnendijk, and he’s a tree ecologist. He’s a professor at the University of Vancouver, a fascinating dude. He coined this thing called The 3-30-300 that’s taking off and it means you should be able to look out your window and see three trees, have 30% tree canopy covering your area, you have that here, and be within 300 meters to the nearest park. If you can have that in a city, there’s reduced crime and increased mental health, it’s an incredible increased physical health.
If you live in a city, it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. Get to a park and have plants. There’s a guy who was on my podcast named Garden Marcus, Marcus Bridgewater, and he collects house plants. He fills his little city house with house plants and he nurtures them. He says, “Learning to care for my plants has taught me to care better for myself.” I have another friend who’s in Michigan, Stacy Bare, and he’s working to try to make Cecil Konijnendijk’s theory real. He’s trying to make city streets parks. He’s like, “I have a little girl named Wilder.”
He’s adorable. He’s an amazing guy. He’s a military veteran. He used to bring soldiers back to Iraq or Afghanistan to go skiing so that they could reassociate places of war with places of adventure and play. He’s a fascinating guy. He’s a Nat Geo Explorer. He’s working in Michigan to make Michigan greener and urban cities more green. If you’re in a city, it’s hard. You can get to green spaces. You can also have adventures in cities but it is harder, I’m not going to lie. There are a lot of socio-economic factors that make adventuring in nature harder for certain groups.
Now, it’s pushback time. When we talk about these types of things, sometimes we have to decide what’s important and structure our life that way. A part of what your book is talking about is sometimes you have to take that chance. A lot of times, people go, “I can’t do that,” even when it comes to their health. At a certain point, we can only make so many excuses. At what point, it’s like, “What is the priority?”
I want to be sensitive to that and then simultaneously, it’s like, “Is it important or not?” That is part of it as well. We live in a time of social media and everybody knows what everybody’s doing all the time and it always seems crazy. You think, “How many are these many billions of people doing this many interesting things?” Instead of FOMO, you talk about JOMO. I appreciated this idea. Talk to me about JOMO.
I have FOMO all the time. I’m a surfer.
I try not to. I’ve worked hard on it.
I’m not like that. I’m like, “Thank God, they didn’t invite me.”
You’re in the party.
No, I’m not in the party.
You enjoy being not invited.
With my friends, when they have gatherings, I’m like, “Thank God, they didn’t invite me.”
I can see that.
What is it?
I don’t have FOMO about parties. I would rather be in bed at 9:00 PM cuddling and having some tea.
A bunch of waves.
You know this because you live with someone who probably has FOMO a little bit. If there are better waves there, it’s hard if you missed a big swell and you live in San Diego and it’s only good so many times a year.
For people who don’t know, surfers are the worst, “You missed a dude. It was amazing. Right when you left, it got good.”
“Yesterday, it was better.”
“Right before you came out, it was awesome.” I don’t know why they do that to each other but they do.
They’re brutal. I go, “Why do you guys do that to each other?” Is it because it’s a rare act of nature happening?
Yes. You can’t control nature, it’s not a wave pool. You can’t put a quarter in the machine. If you missed it, you missed it, you’re bummed, and you’ve lost out. Instead, I say have JOMO. Adventures of all are the worst. You can climb a rock and it’s going to be a pretty similar rock the next day. Activities that are dependent on nature can induce FOMO. What I say is have JOMO. You don’t know what you’re going to miss out. Maybe you’re meant to be exactly where you are. Have the joy of missing out. Have your own experiences, build your own adventure, and carve your own path. Sometimes the best experiences happen when what we wanted to have happen doesn’t happen.
A lot of people who try to climb big mountains, they don’t get to the top. It’s hard to summit. I’ve never mountain climbed but I’ve talked to a lot of mountain climbers. Like weather, there are so many factors. I have a friend who was supposed to summit Kilimanjaro and right before the top, they had to turn around, they didn’t get that pretty summit picture. Instead, they had to turn around at twilight and she’s like, “It was the most beautiful walk I’ve ever had in my life because we were in this purple twilight all through the night. Everything looked amazing. We never would’ve done that if we didn’t have to turn around.” Sometimes missing out is the best thing that could happen to you.
I’ll try to keep remembering that.
Remember, joy of missing out. If you have FOMO about something, like, “I wish I was at that party,” or, “I wish I was at that wave.” Have JOMO, try to reframe. JOMO, not FOMO.
One thing I get, and you talk about it very specifically in the book, is this idea of community. I’ve talked to people who played sports, organized sports, they miss that. If you take an N L player, a retired guy. Everyone likes competition or there’s a fine-tuning when you’re doing sports at a certain level that is an interesting place to live. You don’t get it exactly that way in life. Most of them say what they missed was the locker room, the brotherhood, the sisterhood, the community, or the tribe. I know some adventures are personal and solo but it feels like also this is woven into the importance of a community. Ultimately if you’re doing something that’s difficult, taking on an adventure that’s hard, we need each other. It’s cooperation. You talk about building that community.
Community is a game changer. I wish I had a writing group during this book writing process.
You don’t think it would confuse things even more?
It might have. My agent was like, “Don’t read this book to anybody else.” I was a goalie on a soccer team so I’m okay being the weirdo that’s the individual in the back that takes all the blame for getting scored on or completely claims the victory.
Hero to zero, that’s what that position is.
You have to be neurotic to play that position and also pretty thick-skinned and I was not, which is probably why I didn’t go that far. I played Olympic development and I’m also 5’4” so I’d get chipped a lot. I like having a team in front of me. I’m okay being the weirdo but I like having a team and I missed that with writing a book. With adventure, there are a lot of ways to build community. One of the cool things during the pandemic is all these running groups popped up. There are many running groups now. Running is miserable. If you can run with someone else, it’s awesome. There’s this hipster-run club in Cardiff where everybody is beautiful.
What does that mean?
They all have mustaches and wear these cool glasses. I see them running and they’re young and I’m like, “If I was young and I was single, I would show up there.” There are rock climbing communities. In the surf community, Laird got his community.
He needs guys to tow him and pick him up though.
You rely on each other. One of the things about adventure is the more dangerous it is, you have to have community. You need people to keep you safe and keep you in check. Also, there’s a group of boogie-boarding grandmas by my house in Solana Beach, they’re 56 to 96. The woman came up with the idea years ago, she was in charge of the Newcomers Club. She invited some women to come boogie-boarding with her. They live in Solana Beach, which is by me in San Diego. They went boogie boarding and it stuck and this club has grown and grown.
The youngest member is 56 and the oldest is 96. They charge waves at the shore break in Solana Beach in Encinitas three times a week. Many of these women, it’s the one thing they look forward to their whole week. A lot of them are retired and they have grandkids that sometimes join them. It’s helped them with their health, which is so cool, and they can talk about things. On their emails, they share “So-and-so has cancer. Let’s send her love,” or, “So-and-so’s daughter is in town. Let’s show her daughter a good time.”
“Let’s put her in the wave. She’s not visited the mom as much as she should.” I’m kidding. Do you have to have a grandkid to be a part of the club?
No. I call them grandmas. All of them are grandmas. I’m going to join the club and I don’t have kids. I want to be a grandma without being a mom.
You don’t get that bypass, let me tell you.
I have a friend who married and I’m like, “You are winning.” She is winning. She always wanted kids.
They think you’re amazing. You’re like, “She’s amazing.” Parents are annoying.
You always get the chance that your kids aren’t going to have kids.
There’s always that. You got to survive being a parent also.
Being a parent is probably the biggest and most wild adventure. I was like, “Maybe at the end I’ll accidentally get pregnant and then I’ll have to talk about this new adventure.” I did not accidentally get pregnant, which is okay because I wasn’t trying to be.
It’s a different kind of adventure. By the way, do you know how you talk about, “When you’re finishing one adventure, be creating the next adventure in your mind.” When you have kids, that story is long that you’re like, “No.”
What I meant by that is not necessarily that you have to have one in mind. When this book tour is over, I don’t have the next thing planned totally but I did plan a mini joyful trip to Europe. I’ve never spent any time in Europe. I’ve spent tons of time in Latin America because that was my territory at Vans. we’re going to take a couple of weeks in Europe. It’s helpful to plan your own trail candy or trail joy along your path, especially after you finish.
There are all these people doing the PCT right now. The PCT is the Pacific Crest Trail and San Diego is the starting point or the border of San Diego and Mexico. People start and finish up at Canada. It’s snowy this year and it rained a lot. I met some PCT hikers randomly. I was coming home from Joshua Tree. I’ve never spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree but we went through Idyllwild. I don’t know where I’m going with this but they were excited about the PCT. They were on day seventeen. I met them in Idyllwild. It’s the ultimate metaphor these three hikers have when they do a big trail on an adventure.
It’s the idea also of having your mind knowing that the story continues. It isn’t like, “This is over.” I do think that is a harsh ending. Even if something was challenging either emotionally, physically, or all, it’s somehow realizing, “This was an interesting story but I have other stories that I’ll be being able to be involved with.”
PCT hikers are a good example because they have this big expedition that often takes months. They go on this trail, every day they walk fifteen miles, and set up their tent. They can look back and see how far they’ve come. I’ve heard PCT hikers say, “That rewires my brain in a way that I can’t help but feel more badass to see every day over and over. I’ve walked fifteen miles. I’ve come here.” Every day they’re trekking and physically going forward in life. At the end, some PCT hikers have a rough adjustment and they have to do something. I interviewed this guy who walked across the world, he spent seven years walking across the world. I interviewed him two months afterward and I was like, “How are you doing?”
Was he drinking a lot of alcohol?
He was fine. He’s like, “I’m fine.” I was like, “It’s early.” Your comedown is related to the amount of time that you were proportionally on your adventure. He posted on Instagram that it was hard, he was struggling. I reached out to him and I was like, “You’re not alone. This is normal.” Huberman talks about this. It’s a dopamine thing. I tried to get Huberman to help me with his book. He’s a busy man. I should have gone through you.
You need to be a scientist. I got nothing for Huberman if we’re not doctors.
There’s something about dopamine addiction and people like Huberman are studying this more and more.
It’s also receptors. You have receptors in your brain. Some people have big dopamine receptors and also, the way they produce dopamine. If they don’t have big receptors, they not only don’t catch a lot of it, but they don’t keep it so they’re on the constant. They talk about it with kids doing homework where they’re not looking for a reward system and the parents battling the kid, like, “Do your homework.”
There’s a guy, Kashif Khan, and he has something called The DNA Company. You can do a test, it’s a swab, and they’ll tell you certain things about you. It’s also good as a parent, and the Starretts talk about it too, to know some things about your kids because you’re like, “I’m banging my head against the wall.” You go, “Their physiology is such.” Community, if someone’s reading this, it is scary and hard. You know how to do it. We’ve done it here. We know how to create community. Do you have ideas if someone’s like, “I do want to create a community or be a part of something, I just don’t know how to do it.”
Joining a community is pretty powerful. There are all sorts of communities and outdoor communities are usually some of the most welcoming. I know they seem intimidating but today, in 2023, there are many welcoming communities. There is a community of men and women who bike called All Bodies on Bike and they welcome bigger people who bike and it’s cool. They’ve made a lot of people who don’t necessarily feel comfortable riding bikes feel comfortable riding bikes.
[bctt tweet=”We’re already hard on moms. We should always give moms a hall pass.”]
There is this thing called the November Project which is a free fitness workout at 6:30 in the morning. All sorts of people show up to these workouts and they’re fun. Kindness is first. A lot of these communities in the outdoor space have been good at trying to put kindness first. There’s going to be some intimidating. I’m sure the big wave community is pretty intimidating, you can’t just jump in.
You don’t have a big wave club.
There’s no big wave club.
You have to throw down some ears first.
You got to show yourself there. The boogie board club, you can show up and join them. I also think volunteering at an outdoor organization is a great way to fast-track your way into the outdoor space and you give back at the same time and learn some skills. Maybe you’re an accountant or maybe you don’t know anything about rock climbing, but you can offer accounting for the chance to participate with an organization like Outdoor Outreach, which takes kids surfing and rock climbing.
Honestly, I’d never been rock climbing until I went with Outdoor Outreach and I had to learn to belay a bunch of kids. I didn’t even rock climb that day, I belayed a bunch of kids. Eventually, they’re like, “This kid wants to belay you.”
I’m like, “I’m not going to let this 13-year-old belay me,” but I did. It was the ultimate act.
“Are you sure?”
It was terrifying. Be a volunteer.
That makes a lot of sense because sometimes seeing the rhythm of things first maybe before you have to do it, there’s something pretty great about that. There are many organizations right now that get people outside whether they’re kids, at-risk kids, in foster care, or whatever. There are a lot of people in need right now. The outdoors is a great place to take people who need a little extra love. It’s healing.
There’s a guy who wrote a book called Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv. He’s like, “There’s no such thing as ADHD, there’s just nature deficit disorder.” I’ve met quite a few parents who have kids that were struggling and some have put them in extreme wilderness therapy and it worked or some did a Knowles trip and it worked.
When I was 16, my mom sent me to Costa Rica and I had to do a community service project with a bunch of kids, and it was rustic. We lived on a cement floor, there were giant cockroaches, and we built a fence using a machete to clear the grass. It changed my life. These trips are not always cheap. I don’t know what she paid back then. There are a lot of things you can do in nature that isn’t expensive as well. People think that nature’s expensive and it can be but it also can look like going outside to a local park or paying for a park pass or going to a rock climbing gym and hiring a rock climbing guide for $50, which is the cost of a nice dinner.
I was going to say it’s insane. In your book, this chapter is important to you, facing your fears.
Fear is something I’ve tried to face every day. We’re all scared for different reasons. One of the things I’ve learned is that humor is a great sub for fear. If we can learn to laugh at ourselves and make fun of ourselves, that will take us out of our heads. Sometimes you just have to jump off the boat or jump out into the waves or paddle for something that scares you. If you can use humor, it deflates the fear.
Alex Honnold, one of the best well-known rock climbers, free solo El Capitan. There’s a movie about him, Free Solo. He uses humor with his favorite climbing partner and they talk shit the whole time. He says that deflates the fear. Big-wave surfers do it all the time, they talk smack to each other. It loosens the mood because it’s already really intense. You have to be focused. When you’re in your head, you can be neurotic and you can panic. If you use humor, you can be more of your authentic self.
There’s a line from a comedy special I heard Trevor Noah say, and he said, “When we laugh, we’re our most authentic selves.” He made this ridiculous face and he’s like, “That’s why we’re ugly when we laugh.” Adventure and facing our fear, we are forced to be authentic. When I’m surfing, I got a wedgie and my butt is hanging halfway out of my bikini.
Sometimes one boob is hanging out or I have a frog belly where the lower boob is exposed. I have sand in my hair, it’s all over the place. I don’t look that pretty but I’m facing my fears and I’m full of joy and that’s who I am without makeup and glitter. By the way, you can’t be that pretty when you’re in nature. You can’t even wear a ring when you’re rock climbing.
It’s not functional.
That’s why I love meeting other adventurous women. I live in San Diego in an area that’s a lot like Malibu and people pay a lot of attention to aesthetics. When I’m with my buddies from Oregon or Breckenridge, it feels a little bit more relaxing because they don’t give an F on how they look. It’s all about, “Let’s go climb that mountain.”
The experience of things.
Going back to fear, humor. Humor is great.
That’s true not only in the idea of adventuring, which by the way, the other thing I appreciate about adventures or being outside is you’re not in a role, you’re not anything. You’re a visitor in this place and all of a sudden, all our identities, our titles, or all the things, I feel like we get to get out of all those roles. The other thing is I always think it’s funny when you see people who’s like, “Now I’m an adventurer.” They have this outfit now and the gear and all that. For people reading, you’re going to always meet those people and that’s okay but know the essence of it, that’s not what it’s about. That can make people intimidating.
That’s a cool thing. I have a friend, Diana Helmuth, who wrote the book How to Suffer Outside, and she said, “Nature is great because she doesn’t give an F about you so she forces you to give an F about yourself.” Nature doesn’t care how much money is in your bank account and doesn’t care what color skin you are. It doesn’t care how old you are. It doesn’t care how big your muscles are but it helps. It has no idea where you went to college or cares if you went to college. Nature is the great equalizer because she doesn’t care.
As Laird always says, “We’re all equal before a wave.” He’s like, “You’re a hot chick? Pounded. You’re a successful CEO? Pounded.”
I do want to be one of those hot surfer chicks who surf in my thong all day long.
With a long-board, it’s amazing. I’m like, “How does that bathing suit stay on?”
Even on a shortboard, those big wave girls charging pipe in their thongs, I’m like, “It’d be fun to come back as one of them in my next life for a little bit.”
I’m happy to be me but it is pretty wild. It’s pretty cool that women are embracing no clothes no matter what right now.
Sometimes, if you’re surfing, you might want to protect your bits a bit.
You should protect your bits. I protect my bits.
I see that.
The sun right now.
This is part of my vanity, I’ve protected myself in the sun. When I moved to play volleyball, I saw everyone, I was like, “The sun…” I have friends who are surfers and they know and they go, “Fun, experience, and better skin.” They said, “Screw it, let’s go have fun.”
My grandma was super wrinkly. She lied out on the beach in Waikiki with Mai Tai in one hand and a ciggy in the other.
She was okay?
There was no Botox then. I’m sure she would’ve gotten it but she was just wrinkly and she dated younger men and lived large. She was probably not the best mother. She was a great-grandmother. She was wrinkly as F but people loved her. Genetically, I was not blessed in the wrinkle game. I dated a guy who looks young and he was blessed in the wrinkle game. He’s like, “It’s because I’m vegan.” I’m like, “BS. I’ve seen your grandma, she has no wrinkles.” His clean eating helps. I was a goalkeeper. I squinted into the sun in the goal box as a kid and then I taught surfing where you’re this level with the water reflecting. It was terrible. I should have worn sunscreen and a hat and sunglasses. You live and learn.
In this modern day, we’ve got lasers, and we’ve got all kinds of things. I love when you talked about that there are Trail Angels, it’s important for people to remember that. When you talk about looking for things or signs, we have those people.
It’s cool. On the PCT and even on the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, there are these real people in this world called Trail Angels and they show up on the trail in places like Idyllwild and they bring hikers fresh fruit and fresh water. They make them hamburgers, they take them in, and they give them rides back to the trail. They help them when shit goes wrong, which will happen because it’s an adventure. They’re physical people. The term Trail Angel can apply to our everyday life. If you can, you should be a Trail Angel because it’s one of the best things you could do.
I’m going to this guy’s house and he and his wife are ur full-time Trail Angels. He’s a retired lawyer. They’re in the book, Barney and Sandy Mann. I thought by now they were going to be retired from Trail Angeling but they’re full-on. What they do is they host hikers who are about to hike the PCT. They provide them lodging, they let them ship boxes ahead of time, and they pick them up and take them to the trail. They feed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They take into account dietary restrictions. They get their plane flights. They do this for free. They take zero donations.
He was a regular lawyer and she was a schoolteacher. They don’t have a lot of money. They don’t have a fancy house. They have an average size backyard in San Diego and they love it because they’re helping people on the cusp of a life-changing experience. They did the PCT and it changed their lives so they want to do it for other people. They take Trail Angeling to an extreme and they’re so cool and they teach people how to line dance and they’re funny. They’re cool. The reason they do it is because they experience trail magic from Trail Angels when they did the PCT. Simple acts of kindness.
In surfing, a Trail Angel is someone who picks you up on a jet ski when you’ve fallen off a wave and you’re in the wrong place and they get you in the nick of time. It can also be someone who teaches you to surf or takes you rock climbing or tells you, “Paddle to the side, there’s a rip current. You’re going to float out at sea.” In life, a simple smile and an act of kindness goes a long way.
It’s not hard.
Being kind costs zero.
I always love it when I see a surfer getting another surfer’s board that’s gotten away from them and you see the one surfer way away and I go, “That girl is bringing his board.”
Sometimes I do that and then I go ride a couple of waves on their board and I’m like, “You can have my board,” because they always have a better board than me, it’s usually a longboard. I’m always on too small of a board so I’m like, “This is great.”
Laird always used to say, “Make sure you have enough foam so you can catch the waves.”
I’m guilty of having too little foam a lot of times.
You like to sit.
I like to carry a light board and I don’t like to carry it. I got a Prius. You can fit a ten-foot paddle board through a Prius, it’s impressive. I don’t want to have a lot of stuff. We live in a little condo in Solana Beach, we don’t have a lot of room.
You don’t want a 9, 8, or something.
I have little boards. I like carrying them.
My first board was eleven feet.
That’s why I know how to carry boards on my shoulder. My arms are long and I could carry it this way, but ultimately, it’s way better when you carry it on your shoulder. We live in a world that is the ultimate pissing contest, like, “Look what I’m doing and how good am I,” and all this. Also, talking about taking adventures and getting out in nature, the notion of there are maybe times that you’re measuring it so it is more of a race if you’re that person or at that level or in that situation. Also, it’s the notion of enjoying it.
If you’re going to go for the FKT, which I learned is the fastest known time, go for it. It shouldn’t be a suffer fest unless that’s your thing. If that’s your thing, go for it but take the scenic route, or take the side trail to that epic vista or waterfall. Say yes to the invitation from a stranger as long as they don’t look like an ax murderer or you don’t get that vibe from them. Be safe. That might lead you to a relationship that you have for a long time or to an amazing vista that you’ve never seen or to an incredible night.
The times that I’ve said yes spontaneously to something that felt right led to amazing experiences. I was in New Zealand, we arrived, and we rented a house from the local real estate agent and their son was like, “Do you want to go caving?” we’re like, “Okay.” We had no idea what we were getting into. He takes us to a pasture with a bunch of cows and there’s a clear bull in this pasture and I’m like, “I’m not walking across there.” He’s like, “It’s no big deal, mate. We’re going to walk across here and go to the mouth of the thing. The bull is not going to bother us. There’s a pack of three of us.” I’m like, “I’m the one girl.”
He writes a note on his car that says, “ETA, be back by 0100. If not back, call XXX.” Johnny and I looked at each other and were like, “We thought we were just going to go check out a little cave.” We have leggings and a tank top and tennis shoes. He takes us into this cave that has narrow passages called the birthing canal that you feel like you’re never going to fit through. If you’re claustrophobic, you would die. It was amazing. There were glow worms inside these caves.
In New Zealand, there are these little maggot-looking things that glow in the dark. As a kid, I had a glow worm doll that lit up, and it was the only doll I had. I didn’t like Barbie dolls but I had a glow worm. These were real-life glow worms and it was an incredible experience. Saying yes to the real estate agent’s advice was cool. Also, saying yes to surfing at 5:00 in the morning one day with a girlfriend in Costa Rica led me to meet Johnny, he was out surfing.
How do you pick up a guy surfing?
You’re like, “Didn’t you hear me? My butt is hanging out. My boob is hanging out.”
My butt was not hanging out. I was thick when I was living in Costa Rica.
What does thick mean?
What does thick mean to you?
I was a little chubby for me. My diet was Imperial beer, rice, beans, and tacos. I was eating a lot. I was surfing a lot. I was eating a lot. I was pretty thick. I loved what I was doing. I was happy and I met Johnny out there one morning surfing, he was cute. He and his friend were both cute. We were teaching women to surf so we started talking to them. They were from San Diego. We had a mutual friend in common. I was teaching a bunch of single women to surf. I figured, “If I talked to them, maybe one of the women would like them.” I didn’t think much of it.
You’re being a good wing woman.
Part of being a female surf instructor on all-girls’ retreats, you show the girls a good time. You’re talking and six months later, you ended up surfing every day together.
Eleven years later, now it’s starting to get real.
What does that mean? After 11 years?
Yeah. We had our first fight, the throes of book pressure, and I was like, “I don’t want to be that couple who fights. Let’s go back to being that couple who doesn’t fight.” We worked hard on it.
How do you not fight? What do you mean?
We fight but we were bickering every day.
It’s petty BS stuff.
I was like, “This is not us. We’ve never been like this. Let’s decide to not be like that.” We started hippie meditating. I hadn’t been meditating. We started meditating together for eight minutes a day.
At night. I heard it on a Tim Ferris podcast, which is funny, he had said that he and his girlfriend at the time would say three things that went well during the day and one thing that they would like more of. we do something like that. I know it sounds so cheesy.
I’m going to put this into my practice. I’m kidding.
I was in the depths of the book promo and not understanding how it was going to go. we have to move out of our house all of a sudden randomly and some stuff iss going on with the family and I was like, “We have to enact a little routine.” We’ve probably done this five times but it was enough to reset us back to being the couple who doesn’t fight. Part of the problem is I have a broken toe so I’m not adventuring, I’m not surfing, and I’m not running. It’s challenging. I was bickering with him. It probably wasn’t him starting the fight, it was probably me.
[bctt tweet=”Nature is the great equalizer because she doesn’t care.”]
Do you know what I appreciate? The incredible reminder is when we can shift. It’s coming at us, family stuff, moving out, which is stressful, projects that we care and we have worked hard on, and now they’re coming to fruition.
It’s like friends have cancer. It was a lot.
I was like, “We have to do something.”
It’s that tool, how do you shift?
Normally I’d say, “Let’s go on a trip into an adventure because I need to reset,” but I can’t, I got to be here right now. I’m required to Zoom a lot, which I know you like it.
I don’t, it’s just a reality. Think about Zoom, here’s one positive idea about it, you can be anywhere. At some point, it is weird. Justin, you get to ask any question that you like.
One thing with Zoom is I have vitiligo.
She won’t let the Zoom out.
I have vitiligo on my face. You cant totally tell. I have a little bit of tinted moisturizer on. Even on my hands, there are parts turning white. I’m normally golden brown and a lot darker shade. It’s changed my pigment. I never thought I would ever have anything wrong with me. Nobody in my family has it. It’s strange. It tends to get exacerbated by stress. I have to be real about stress. It’s also taught me to get real about vanity.
When you’re on Zoom, you’re looking at yourself. The iPhone camera is gnarly, it highlights everything, it’s high def, and you can see any white spot that doesn’t even totally exist. We also see people differently on Zoom than in real life. I don’t love it for that reason but I do embrace it for the fact that we can communicate with all sorts of people via FaceTime Jetson style than we hadn’t before.
Have you found anything that helps calm the vitiligo down? Do you have any secrets besides you staying calm?
I’ve done everything. I’ve water fasted with Alan Goldhamer who is interesting, the water fasting guy, for 5 or 6 days. It worked the first time but I was also using a new cream, I’m like, “The cream could have worked.” Certain creams do work. I’ve taken a steroid once before, it was a low-dose steroid. I took 2 a day for 4 times, the lowest dose you could ever take. Afterward, I got a huge sinus infection so I’m like, “I don’t know if I ever want to do that again.”
Breathwork and meditating. Sometimes it happens. When I got COVID, it came on full on and I wasn’t stressed, I just had COVID. I’ve had to embrace this thing that might be part of my life or might not but not giving it energy has worked. That’s interesting. I try not to give it a lot of energy. I am talking about it now because a lot of people have it.
I know several people with it.
I had met a girl in breath class and I had been talking about it in breath class and she’s like, “Shelby, I’ve never told anybody but I have vitiligo.” I was like, “It’s okay.”
It’s weird that we make certain things that we have, like, “It’s bad.”
There are a lot of people I know of cancer, they just don’t like talking about it. They don’t want to put any energy into it because they want to heal.
That’s a little different though.
I know. I had an aunt who had cancer, she never would talk about it. With vitiligo, it’s kind of embarrassing and you feel like it might be your fault.
Why is it embarrassing?
Some of us feel like maybe we caused it. I have a health-based podcast and I’m like, “I should be able to cure it.” I’m like, “Maybe this is a podcaster thin because Joe Rogan also has it.” It’s not.
I have several friends with it.
You’ll have to talk to me about it. I have tried everything.
We all have things like that in our life that there should be zero shame around and it’s not a thing like, “I did something wrong or right.” It is something and who knows why. I’m sure you’re going to learn a million things because of it.
I have learned a lot because of it. I’ve softened. I’m way more empathetic to people with some physical disability than I ever have before. There was a guy who had vitiligo when I was a kid and we didn’t know what it was. It was scary to shake his hand and he was the nicest surfer on the planet. I remember he was a local at La Jolla shores and it always intimidated me and now I’m like, “I have that. That’s so interesting.” It’s taught me to have kindness towards all sorts of people. It is weird, I noticed. Every now and then, when it’s full-on, people look at me in a different way.
Do they though or do you think you think that?
No. I’ve seen somebody ask me about it, but barely. I’m white so you can’t tell.
There’s a famous model.
Winnie Harlow. She’s black so you can tell the contrast.
She’s hot as hell.
You get the point. You look at her and you go, “She’s hot.”
It looks funnier on white skin. It looks a little red. One guy asked me once, “Did you get a face peel?”
Also, people say stupid shit. At some point, whether we have a certain thing, there are people out there who say stupid things.
The last thing I would’ve done is get a face peel. That was not the type of life I was living at that point.
You should’ve been like, “I have vitiligo.”
That’s what I did say.
He’d be like, “Okay.” It’s like, “Why is that important to you?” People say weird things instead of, “Hey,” or, “Good afternoon.” It’s like, “Did you get a face peel?” What dude is coming up to anybody and saying that? Have you ever asked a girl if she had a face peel?
It was a friend. It was okay.
I’m just saying that people say weird things.
Someone told me this nice thing to say, they’re like, “You shouldn’t comment on someone’s appearance unless they can change it in ten minutes.” I was like, “What’s that mean?” They’re like, “If you comment on someone’s zit, they can’t change it in ten minutes.” If you comment on the fact that their fly is down, they can change it. You can’t change someone’s gray hair in ten minutes. You can’t change their wrinkles. You can’t change the color of their skin.
I’ll take it a step further, don’t comment on people’s appearance unless it’s like, “You look great. Your hair is pretty.”
When someone has something in their teeth, it’s always nice.
That’s different and you should know them too though.
I don’t think you should walk by a stranger and be like, “Hey.” Sometimes I walk by people and I say it quick, I go, “Zipper,” and then I keep walking. Justin, do you have any questions?
Was there a particular adventure or sign that inspired the book? Where did this need to adventure and do writing this come from?
It’s interesting you asked that because I’ve always wanted to write a book ever since I was a little kid and part of it was I wanted to write a book so badly, I had to get out of my head about that and write a story about this. There wasn’t a direct sign except for that my mom wrote a book fast during COVID and it was about addiction in the family, it’s a great book, and she did it so quickly.
She didn’t have the biggest advance in the world but she worked with a publishing company that worked with her on it and they turned in chapter by chapter. That was probably the sign, watching my badass, 75-year-old mom bust out a book in COVID. I was like, “If my mom can do this at 75 and I’ve been studying writing my whole life, I went to journalism school, I should write a book. It’s time.”
Do you want to take an adventure now?
Do you have one in mind?
Where are you going to go?
Probably the beach. She’s saying get out, go. I live by the beach and I was thinking, “When was the last time I went to the ocean?” It’s been too long.
I love to do the birthday challenge. I’m turning 43 this 2023. You can put a decimal point out, 4.3. You can do 4.3 miles. You could catch 4.3 waves or you get 43 waves in 43 miles. I’m not going to do that but that’s fun. When I turned 30, I did 30 adventures in 30 days and they were debaucherous. They were like, “Ride on the back of this guy’s motorcycle and go to the waterfall with him. Make out in the waterfall. Teach journalism to the local Spanish newspaper.” There were some altruistic ones but there were some wild ones. I had to run a certain distance naked from my house. I had to do the dolphin in the middle of a discoteca. My girlfriends run it for me. It was such a fun way to celebrate 30. It was not something I would do at 40.
Do you mean the naked part?
Probably a lot of it, like the dude on the back of the motorcycle. There are all sorts of things. I’d surf this scary wave. It’s a fun way to celebrate yourself by doing a bunch of adventures at the age that you are with the number. It might take all month to do it. It might take if you’re older a couple of months.
With my age, it might take till the next birthday.
How old are you?
You look good.
What does that mean?
I didn’t think you were 53.
You have less wrinkles than me. Good job.
How old did you think I was, Justin?
I thought you were coming up on 50.
Laird is 59.
He looks good too. Is his hair naturally blonde?
Of course. Can you imagine? Because people ask that over time, he’s like, “Do you know what some lady asked me today?” I was like, “What?” He goes, “If I highlighted my hair.” I was like, “Yeah.” All you need is teenage daughters to get checked on the boards. My youngest daughter said to him, she’s like, “It’s amazing that you’re that old and you don’t have gray hair.” You’re like, “Thank you.” It’s great. Kids will be like, “That’s a weakness you have. Let’s point that out.” It’s great because you have to go, “You’re right.”
I have nieces and nephews and they’re like, “Why are your eyes red, Shelby?” I’m like, “I stared at the sun for many years. I probably should have worn sunglasses.”
It’s a great humbling.
They say the gnarliest things too, and you’re like, “Okay.” It’s that constant reminder when we get a little too crazy, the gift of being healthy, alive, and be able to adventure. Adventuring does that for us, it helps us get it to that perspective of, “What’s important? What’s going to make me feel good?” All these other things I can get consumed with are a lot of times pretty silly. I appreciated this invitation in this book to not only remind people but give them pointers and nice invitations in every chapter on how to do it. Shelby, maybe remind people of all the places that they can find you.
Thanks for having me on the podcast. One thing I was going to say is if you ever have a hard discussion you need to have with someone like an adventure or even a long walk on the beach, something in nature can help open someone up. Think about all the deep conversations you’ve had around a campfire. First off, Gabby, thank you for having me on your podcast, it’s been a joy. You can get Will to Wild: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life anywhere books are sold. They will even be in REI stores.
I will be doing some book launches, hikes in Santa Monica with REI, and an event on June 13th, 2023 with Box Union, Diesel books, and more. I’m doing a TEDx Talk on June 11th, 2023. You can find me at @ShelbyStanger on Instagram and ShelbyStanger.com. On my website, I have two podcasts, Wild Ideas Worth Living, which is owned by REI and Vitamin Joy, which is a podcast about health and humor. On pause, until this book is done.
How do you have time?
I don’t have time for that. That’s on pause. Right now I do REI’s Wild Ideas Worth Living. REI owns that podcast now so they do all the work I do. I just show up and interview people, it’s awesome. REI is a great company to work with. They get a lot of people outside. I show up and I have some interview questions. They do even a lot of the research for me. I still research it. You got to research your guests. You can’t hack that. You got to do it. It’s a joy and I love connecting with real people in real life. This was fun to do this and not on Zoom.
When someone meets you, I’m sure all they see is a big smile and shiny eyes and a lot of energy.
You got to get ready, I got a lot of energy, which is why I made an enthusiastic surf instructor for many years. Even though it was not the most responsible and lucrative job, it probably was one of the most life-changing jobs I’ve ever had.
You met a boy.
I met the dude, it’s great. I met all sorts of great people. Thank you, Gabby. This was a joy.
Thanks for joining me.
Thank you so much for reading this episode. If you have any questions for my guest or even myself, please send them to @GabbyReece on Instagram. If you feel inspired, please hit the follow button, and leave a rating and a comment. It not only helps me, it helps the show grow and reach new readers. Shelby Stanger
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- Will to Wild
- Wild Ideas Worth Living
- Vitamin Joy
- The Gift
- The Choice
- Dr. Edith Eger
- Running On Empty
- Laura Day
- How to Suffer Outside
- Last Child in the Woods
About Shelby Stanger
Shelby Stanger has been passionate about storytelling since she inked her first article in a national publication at age 15. As a longtime adventure journalist in the outdoor sports world, Shelby has standup-paddled a portion of the Peruvian Amazon, reported about a summer-long punk concert series called the Vans Warped Tour, surfed from Tofino to Tavarua, had her own adventure column in five San Diego newspapers, and interviewed countless CEOs, entrepreneurs and pro athletes on assignment for national publications like Outside Magazine, ESPN, CNN.com, and Shop-Eat-Surf.com. Prior to becoming a full-time storyteller and consultant, Shelby worked at the iconic shoe company, Vans, where she helped oversee all the women’s branding and later the international marketing for the Americas and Australasia regions. She later served as a media consultant to brands including Nike, PrAna, and Body Glove.