Imagine wanting to ski 350 miles through Alaska - next week, without much training or real experience on cross-country skis. That’s the situation I found myself in a few months ago: I was signed up to ski the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile race through the interior of Alaska. The only challenge was that I am neither a skier, nor had I ever completed a 350 mile non-stop race — and in true “me” fashion I didn’t have the time to properly train for this behemoth of an adventure, either.
By Nite Ize Field Team Member Sunny Stroeer
What’s the hardest part of any adventure? To me, the answer is clear: it’s that moment where you turn a wish into a goal and start to plan. Many adventures, big and small, never get off the ground… and often for a reason that we don’t like to talk about: for a lack of trying. I should know - big adventures are my jam, like the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim ALT (or, for short, “R3.alt”) route that I completed with two girlfriends of mine this past October.
The R3.alt is adventure running at its finest. It entails a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, which means 42 miles and over 10,000ft of vertical gain on rugged trails far, far off the pavement. If that wasn’t enough, here’s an added challenge: there is no bridge across the Colorado River connecting the trails of this particular route at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so you have to swim across the mighty Colorado in order to complete the adventure; you can imagine how thankful I was for Nite Ize’s awesome RunOff Waterproof Bags which helped bombproof my essential non-waterproof gear to ensure it would stay dry while we swam across the river. Through the hours of darkness, I was grateful for my Nite Ize Headlamp. After a botched first attempt, and despite a few minor epics on the second attempt, my friends and I managed to pull off the R3.alt in 22 hours and 27 minutes and established the first women’s speed record on this backcountry route.
As you consider what the R3.alt requires, you might argue that the hardest part of this adventure should be running 42 miles, or swimming across the Colorado River. But here’s the kicker: running long distances is what I do, and the swim across the Colorado turned out to be less difficult than we had imagined (in large part thanks to a dry season which meant warm and slow-flowing water).
So for this adventure, as for so many others, the true crux of the R3.alt was formulating the concrete goal of making it happen: the moment where I moved my internal dialogue from a hypothetical "wow what a cool route - I wish I could try that someday!" to the concrete "I am going to attempt the R3.alt." That simple change in words is often all it takes to turn a wish into a goal, and to start making a plan for how to accomplish said goal.
If it’s that simple, what keeps us from bridging the gap between ‘wishing’ and ‘planning’? Let me go back to my Grand Canyon R3.alt adventure for a moment. When I first heard about the R3.alt route in 2018, it immediately captured my attention - as a wild “someday” idea, not as a goal. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get to the trailhead, or if I’d have the chops to jump into the mighty Colorado and swim across it; my internal dialogue was all about reasons why I wouldn’t ever be able to do the R3.alt, rather than about ways I could attempt the route.
The reason for that is part an old habit of negative self-talk, and part mental laziness. I firmly believe that most of us, myself included, use the phrase "I wish" far more frequently than we should. That’s why I differentiate between three different categories of "I wish" statements; hear me out.
I personally spend most of my time in categories one and three, but I constantly try to remind myself that the first category serves no purpose outside of social interactions. The third category, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: it is a way for us to deliberately distance ourselves from a challenging goal that we think we want but that is scary, difficult and/or time-intensive to pursue. That third category is the category that I like to invest in, and where I put work into converting my ‘I-wish-I-could’ wild dreams into ‘I-want-to-and-I-am-going-to-figure-out-how’ game plans.
That’s the reason that my friends Lexi, Christin and I were able to pull off the R3.alt in the Grand Canyon this past October: not because we are the strongest athletes, but because we turned a wish into a goal and made a plan for how to get there. My wish for you in 2021 is that you may do the same in the areas of your life that matter to you.
Last year, we worked with our friends at AWExpeditions to create a scholarship for one woman to travel to Nepal for a mountaineering trip of a lifetime. We are excited to announce that we have again partnered with AWExpeditions to bring the Summit Scholarship back for year two! We caught up with Melissa, last year's Summit Scholarship recipient, to talk about her experience trekking to Everest Basecamp and summiting 20,305ft Island Peak with AWE. Read her interview here and prepare to be inspired.
Q: Hi Melissa! First off, tell us a little about yourself and how you got into mountaineering.
Sure! I have lived in Boulder, Colorado the last 8 years where I’ve been enjoying the Rocky Mountains, but am originally from California where I grew up exploring the Sierras and Cascades. I work as a water resource engineer and hydrologist, and feel lucky to work in a profession in which I can connect to the outdoor places I love. Although I enjoyed the outdoors growing up, moving to Colorado after college multiplied the opportunities for getting outside. I made a conscious effort to try every activity that sounded fun and at least a little bit terrifying, all of which led me to appreciate the numerous dramatic peaks in the Rockies. I had the opportunity to learn how to ice climb, started overcoming my fear of heights by scrambling (climbing low-grade exposed rock without a rope), then transitioned from resort snowboarding to backcountry skiing to spend more time in the wilderness. Simultaneously, I pushed myself to move higher and further on my trail runs. I started snow climbing after recovering from a near-death accident in order to conquer my PTSD and fell in love with it. I realized that all of these activities could naturally blend together as interesting and fun mountaineering objectives.
Q: Why did you apply for the AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship and how did it feel to win?
The AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship embodied my journey into outdoor independence. Although I found great outdoor communities, nearly all my foundational experiences in the outdoors relied on a male partner. I often depended on a significant other to plan objectives and felt like I needed him there to feel secure in challenging environments. If I wasn’t invited on outings or my partner wasn’t available, I felt like I couldn’t do the things I wanted to. After being excluded from a series of trips that I felt prepared for because I was told I couldn’t handle them, I decided to take charge of the situation by training myself to execute trips independently. I started getting outside more on my own and took classes to educate myself. I realized that many other female friends felt a similar lack of empowerment and began pushing others to do more all-female trips. The AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship emphasizes female empowerment in the outdoors to encourage more equality in high altitude mountaineering and break down some of the barriers women have historically faced in getting into the sport. While I had spent a lot of time building the essential skills for mountaineering, I still wasn’t sure how to put together a high altitude expedition. Sunny Stroeer and her partners have recognized that this is a huge factor in the lack of female mountaineers and this scholarship was a great opportunity to break into the sport in a more controlled environment led by a woman that encompassed all of these values. I was incredibly honored to win this scholarship. From what I understand there were women from over 20 countries who applied for this opportunity, all of whom had incredible stories. This speaks to the importance of the work Sunny, Nite Ize, and Lowa are all promoting.
Q: How did you train for the expedition to Everest Base Camp and Island Peak?
Living in Colorado, I am lucky to have access to many peaks in the 14,000 ft elevation range. We had a fairly long winter prior to the expedition, so I spent the spring climbing and skiing the taller mountains in the state using the technical gear (crampons and ice axe) I would use on Island Peak. Over the summer, I got up to 14,000 ft. one to two days a week by squeezing in trail runs and scrambles up high into the dark hours after work and doing longer (7-12 hour) pushes on ridges at altitude on the weekends. I had just transitioned from graduate school to a full time job so efficiency was essential. My main goal was to stay acclimated and prolong my endurance as much as possible. Speed was not as critical as the expedition would require long days carrying a heavy pack at altitude.
Q: What surprised you the most while on your expedition?
This was my first trip to the Himalayas, and I made a point not to look up photos of the hiking region prior to the expedition apart from the necessary technical aspects of the climb. I was blown away by the dramatic, lush canyons below treeline and the enormous rivers we crossed over precarious suspension bridges. Once we climbed into the alpine, the mountains were on a scale that dwarfed every previous experience I had. It is an incredible feeling, hiking on a plateau at 14,000 ft. and seeing mountains stretch more than 10,000 ft. above you. That said, I think the Sherpa people were just as impressive. They live at elevations up to 17,000 ft. and are the loveliest and most generous people I’ve encountered.
Q: What was it like to reach the summit?
Reaching the summit was even more satisfying and fulfilling than I anticipated. I say that because I had tried not to put too much pressure on myself to reach the summit so that I could embrace the experience regardless of the outcome. However, at about 19,000 ft. I really began to struggle physically with the altitude and wasn’t sure if I could finish the route. I think I had become weaker from having issues with sleep apnea at altitude a few days before summit day in which I would stop breathing at night and wake myself up. The final push is a 1,000 ft., steep headwall on which you need to simultaneously ascend with a jumar in one hand while climbing with an ice axe with your other hand. My team noticed that I was starting to deteriorate and provided an enormous amount of emotional support to help boost me up the final part of the climb. Pushing through that mental barrier was huge for me in recognizing my potential. It was also wonderful to celebrate with the team on the summit with a 100% success rate. One of our Sherpas celebrated by taking his shirt off (at 6,000m!) and opening a can of beer to share with the team. And I suppose I should mention that the views were spectacular!
Q: What Nite Ize product came in most handy on the trip?
I enjoyed using a variety of Nite Ize products on the trip, but I really relied on the INOVA STS PowerSwitch headlamp. Throughout the trip we had minimal to no lighting at night in our teahouse rooms and on our summit day we spent the first many hours hiking in the dark through technical terrain. I have often been disappointed with the brightness and reach of headlamps I’ve used, but this one is incredibly bright on high power. It also has a dimming feature to conserve power, as well as a red light function to use in the evening at camp when you don’t want to blind your climbing team. The other feature that was really helpful was the ability to swipe the top of the headlamp to change the settings and toggle it on and off. On Island Peak I was wearing enormous mittens and usually trying to press a button on a headlamp is challenging, but this technology allows you to have full functionality without exposing your hands. The other great feature is that the headlamp is both rechargeable and uses AAA batteries so you have backup methods for charging. I should also mention that the Nite Ize team was incredible to work with and was very generous in its support of this scholarship.
Q: What was your favorite part of the trip as a whole?
Everything! But if I have to choose something, I would say the relationships I formed along the way. I shared a room and tent with Kerry, one of my new role models and the other female participant on the trip. We bonded over our suffering, laughed at the deteriorating state of our cleanliness and ultimately pushed each other up the summit. I had wonderful talks with Sunny and her husband Paul, a climbing icon himself, about making goals happen and about general life wisdom. Alex, the only male participant kept the climb light-hearted with his humor. This team of strangers quickly became more like a family to me and I know these relationships will last the rest of my life. On top of that, our two Sherpas, MIngma and Phurba, introduced me to a completely new culture and became good friends. These two had climbed Everest multiple times as well as many more technically challenging peaks - coming from the land of super-athletes in Boulder, this was definitely a humbling experience.
Q: What’s the next adventure you hope to tackle?
This year I have a few smaller objectives including skiing a few more of the volcanoes in the Cascades and completing the longest and steepest ultra running race I’ve done. However, next year I would like to try to ski Denali. It is almost exactly the same elevation as Island Peak, but has more relief and more objective hazards. I love Alaska and think skiing a high altitude peak would be incredible. Immediately after the trip I thought I wouldn’t be interested in more high altitude climbs because of the health challenges, but my memory seems to change over time...
We're excited to take the Summit Scholarship into year two by sponsoring one woman to join AWE on their expedition to climb Kilimanjaro this fall! If reading this has piqued your interest, applications are open on www.awexpeditions.org from March 16th - April 15th, 2020.
We recently teamed up with Nite Ize and the Seminole Heights Dog Pack to test LED products that make nighttime walks with your pup simpler and safer. With Daylight Savings Time ending, it gets darker earlier and the Nite Ize LED products make it easy to keep track of multiple pets in the dark.
The Seminole Heights Dog Pack typically convenes on Saturday mornings, so their members were excited to gather on a weeknight to light up the night.
Pictured below is the Nite Ize SpotLit Collar Light, which easily clips onto the D-ring of your pet’s collar or harness. A simple push of a button lets you switch from a constant glow mode to an attention-grabbing flashing mode.
We walked around the neighborhood and the SpotLit Collar Light attracted a lot of attention from passers-by, which is exactly what you want when walking in the dark.
We’ve met pups in the past that need to walk at unpopular hours due to leash aggression, so walking later at night is a necessity. Having a collar light will make those walks even safer.
Darker dogs are especially difficult to see at night. The SpotLit Collar Light is necessity to ensure your night time walks are safe.
We also tested out the NiteHowl Rechargeable LED Safety Necklace, which is made with flexible polymer that’s illuminated by bright LEDs and can be recharged for hours of nighttime fun and safety. The NiteHowl makes identifying multiple dogs easy with the ability to choose from one of three selectable colors (red, green, blue), plus a unique Disc-O mode. By illuminating the polymer with multiple colors at the same time, Disc-O mode creates a flowing color-blending pattern that’s as fun as it is functional.
A crowd favorite during the Pack Walk was the Nite Ize Leash Lit. The Microlight will help light the path ahead and keep your favorite furry friend and yourself seen and safe. Four Gear Tie legs are attached to the bright white light so the LeashLit can easily wrap around leashes, treat bags, belts, and more to create a conveniently accessible light that is always right at hand. The design allows it to be quickly attached or removed, as well as stand on its own for hands-free lighting. Last but not least, the LeashLit will always be ready to shine a light on the inglorious task of cleaning up after Fido.
Stay safe with your pups at night!
All photos by AGoldPhoto
AGoldPhoto Pet Photography is made up of Tampa-based husband and wife team Mary and Adam Goldberg. AGoldPhoto hosts Pet Photo Shoot Fundraisers all over the country and raises awareness about pet rescue and adoption.
Topics: Field Team
Vanlife has long graduated from its renegade counter-culture beginnings to cover a broad spectrum: from folks living out of their barely converted hatchbacks all the way to the fully-tricked-out $80,000 Sprinter van with 4WD and a custom interior that would give the most luxurious RV a run for its money.
My personal vanlife experience falls closer to the humble end of the spectrum - I bought my first dream mobile in 2015, an old Chevy Astro van named Eddie, for less than $3k on Craigslist. Ripping out the seats and a bit of basic carpentry gave me just enough headroom and storage space to have a little mobile adventure basecamp for one.
Three years and one wedding later, it was time to upsize so my husband Paul and I could live on the road as a couple. Once again, we scoured Craigslist and finally settled on a 2003 Ford E350 XL - a spacious but rusty bargain for $7k - whom we named Merlot the Van.
If there’s one thing that I have learned in my years of living on the road, it’s the importance of space and functionality in a van. That’s why I’ve come to use and love a ton of Nite Ize gear; here are five of my favorites that I work with on a daily basis:
Gear Ties. Everybody loves Gear Ties, but it’s hard to overstate their usefulness in the van. We use them to secure our curtains, as a handy paper towel holder, for bookends, to hang lanterns, to organize our door storage space, and as a sunglasses holder in the driver’s cab. We’ve even used Gear Ties to fix a loose mounting bracket on our exhaust system that was causing a rattle!
GearLine. The GearLine is one of my new favorite tools. With space at a premium it’s important for us to be able to use hanging space efficiently, and that’s exactly what the GearLine was designed for. Back in my old one-person van I actually used to (poorly) jerry-rig a homemade version of the same concept, stringing paracord and spiffing it up with knots for spacers… but that didn’t work very well for anything but the lightest loads. You can imagine my joy when I got my hands on my first GearLine.
Steelie. The Steelie phone mount system is an obvious choice for any driver, but we get a lot more use out of it than handsfree navigation: many surfaces in Merlot The Van are metal, and that means that my phone sticks to just about anything!
Pro tip: even though I use the Steelie Phone Socket directly on the van’s walls, you may want to consider using a Steelie Dash Mount to keep painted surfaces scratch-free.
RunOff bags. The new line of RunOff bags has been getting tons of attention - and awards - since their introduction a few months ago. I love them in the van for three reasons:
SlapLit LED Drink Wraps. Okay, these are just pure fun. One of the best parts of vanlife is getting to enjoy amazing views and a cold one at the end of a hot day of playing outdoors. Having different colored SlapLits to insulate, tell apart and light up our beverages is practical, yes, but mostly it’s simply just awesome.
Now… these five items may be my favorites, but they are far from the full list of Nite Ize gear that Paul and I rely on to keep us organized and efficient in the van. We use a plethora of, Nite Ize and - and the has saved us more than once from getting locked out of the van.
In the end, vanlife is all about freedom and mobility - but in order to enjoy that freedom and mobility, you first have to learn to navigate minimal space in an organized and efficient way; that’s why Nite Ize is with us every mile of the road.
Follow Sunny's adventures on Instagram at @sstroeer, visit her website and blog at www.sunnystroeer.com, and check out her organization Aurora Women’s Expeditions (AWE) at @awexpeditions and www.awexpeditions.org.