9 Adventure Stories From Stoke Series Live
Breaking barriers between humans and nature
Every adventure leads to a story. Since it’s Backcountry’s mission to break down barriers between humans and nature, we’re especially drawn to stories of people overcoming obstacles to their own experiences outside. That’s why we hosted a night dedicated to these tales this September. Stoke Series Live brought 10 adventurous souls to the stage to share stories about overcoming odds and facing fears in nature.
Hosted by adaptive athlete and SheLift founder Sarah Herron, Stoke Series Live raised over $8,000 for Backcountry’s partner, the National Ability Center (NAC), which empowers individuals of all abilities to build confidence and skills through outdoor recreation. The NAC is based in our backyard of Park City, but globally renowned for its work in making the outdoors accessible for everyone.
Watch these tenacious adventurers deliver their stories on the Stoke Series Live stage, from a surfer scientist and a pro skier facing down his fears, to an adventure family living in a van and a 16-year-old adaptive monoskier with a dream.
This summer, Ayesha McGowan (@ayesuppose)—who’s vying to become the first female African American pro road cyclist—took a break from the pavement and hit the dirt. She detailed how she pulled herself out of a slump and powered through 200 miles of gravel, mud, river crossings, and both literal and metaphysical darkness at the Dirty Kanza race in Kansas.
While Ayesha will always love biking and getting outside, the race reminded her that not every outdoor activity is for everyone: “I thought it was important to share this story to show that it’s possible to try new things and not enjoy them … I was able to find things about the experience that I did enjoy, which led to other ways for me to truly enjoy the outdoors.”
When Brianna Madia’s (@briannamadia) not in the desert, she’s writing about it. At Stoke Series Live, she shared an excerpt from her forthcoming book about a canyoneering adventure in southern Utah that almost didn’t end well. The heart of the story is the “why” behind her adventures, namely the fact that the world we live in today no longer “requires us to dig deep.”
While Brianna could’ve recounted a tale of an adventure with less risk involved, she feels strongly that speaking about challenges is important. “In a world where we see beautiful pictures and hear perfect stories,” Brianna explains, “it’s important to share the gritty details of the worlds behind them.”
As a female ski mountaineer, Caroline Gleich (@carolinegleich) has lived the gender inequities in the alpine firsthand. Climbing gear not made in her size. Assumptions about her husband leading in the backcountry (spoiler alert: it’s the other way around). Even a lack of adventurous female emojis.
Caroline explains, “We need to decolonize the way we talk about mountains, nature, and women. Mountains aren’t something to be conquered, and neither are women.” Sharing her own story is one of her most important tools in decolonization, allowing her to “normalize the discussion and inspire other people to speak up, too.”
“In my native tongue, when we say that we’re Hawai`ian people, we say, ‘I am Hawai`i—both the person and the place. We don’t distinguish oneself from nature.” That’s how Cliff Kapono (@cliff_kapono) explains his identity as an indigenous Hawai`ian. And that’s his answer to our question, How have you overcome a barrier between yourself and nature? For Cliff, there are no barriers—he is nature.
Through his Surfer Biome Project, Cliff essentially proved that belief. And he argues that surfing, or however you explore outside, is key to protecting nature, humans included. Cliff says that an outdoor experience “is the first step to becoming a warrior for our planet.”
Since Backcountry calls the mountains of Park City home, we tend to lose sight of marine protection issues and focus on land. Johnie Gall (@dirtbagdarling) issued a friendly reminder from the stage, sharing a recent disturbing encounter with plastic pollution while surfing in Bali. The experience led her on a six-month deep dive into people working on the issue of plastic pollution, including to meet a man she calls the “Willy Wonka of Trash.”
Johnie hopes the story and images she shared will empower everyone to own up to their “response-ability”—not just the duty to respond, but the power to. “Hopefully the stories I shared inspired non-ocean people to feel … how interconnected our shared human and environmental experience is, even if they never step foot in the ocean.”
It’s not always easy to talk about your ego, but pro-skier Cody Townsend (@codytownsend) did just that in hopes that his honesty would spread the lessons that mountains have taught him. Cody explains, “Being able to share stories is how and why humanity evolves. It’s as ancient a tradition as eating. That’s why I feel it’s important to share stories that may provide some value for others.”
In his Stoke Series tale, Cody transported us to a moment in his past when he was 4,000 feet shy of Mt. Denali’s summit, moving at a dangerously fast clip, and struggling with his ego and what it was telling him.
Natasha & Jacob Moon
Does having kids spell the end of outdoor adventures? That’s what all of Jacob and Natasha Moon’s (@moonmountainman) friends told them. But they threw the cautions to the wind and doubled down on the outdoor adventures that brought them together in the first place.
With Zoey, they’ve backpacked, hiked, and paddled their way to a family life rooted in the outdoors. The Moons shared stories of their adventures and misadventures. “To all those people that say kids don’t belong in the outdoors, from our experience, we say it’s not true. It’s not easy, but you can do this,” says Natasha.
Nicole Brown (@im_nicolemarie) was worried that sharing the story of her lupus diagnosis and how it kept her from the mountains for a decade would be anything but empowering. Usually, she shows up in the outdoor space as a public lands advocate and the founder of @womenwhohike, an organization that helps female hikers connect “on and off the trail.”
But lupus has been Nicole’s greatest barrier between herself and nature, so that’s the story she decided to share at Stoke Series. “I’ve actually never talked about lupus in the way I did that night,” she reveals. “It was incredibly empowering … I spoke raw and honestly, and could feel that my story, my words, were having a real impact in the room.”
After being born 13 weeks early and diagnosed with spina bifida, Saylor O’Brien (@saylorjae) says that the “odds were stacked against me.” She was never expected to walk, let alone ski. But her entire life has been about vanquishing any and all barriers in her way.
Now a 16-year-old adaptive monoskier, Saylor shared the story of her first Super G race on the Stoke Series stage, and the next long-held dream she hopes to fulfill outside: competing in the Paralympics.