Sam Fulbright of PCM wrote a wonderful post over at WW Dreams that he might have thought was about paddling, but was really about life.

Life’s trials are like a paddler’s swims.

Other times, you try to roll, and can’t. You try again, and can’t. You’re head hits a rock here, a rock there. Maybe you cut a gash on limestone above your brow, or break your nose or mandible. Maybe (gasp!) you have to pull the ripcord and take a big swim, and, as Sam wrote, enjoy the grit of that humiliating beverage drank from your rank old bootie.

Enjoying my time between swims, tenkara fishing for wild rainbow on the Bitterroot River in March, 2013.
Enjoying my time between swims, tenkara fishing for wild rainbow on the Bitterroot River in March, 2013.

I have to laugh a little whenever I hear a young person think that life is like a box of chocolates. Sure, you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s still chocolate, they say.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how life has been for me. Sometimes, the chocolate just ain’t chocolate, man.

I think we’re all between swims.

And the swims – that’s what’s makes us, you know?

Ice climbing at Hyalite, February 2013. Ice climbing is a wonderful activity to partake in when you're in the midst of a big swim. Bleeding, bruising, freezing, bashing, and a general sense of discomfort and sensory awareness keeps you feeling ... alive. And keeps your perspective clear so you can navigate the swim.
Ice climbing at Hyalite, February 2013. Ice climbing is a wonderful activity to partake in when you’re in the midst of a big swim. Bleeding, bruising, freezing, bashing, and a general sense of discomfort and sensory awareness keeps you feeling … alive. And keeps your perspective clear so you can navigate the swim.

“I’m Ready to Help.”

“I’m Ready to Help.”

I’ve been a guide for a long time. Officially, I started 25 years ago.

For the last many years, I’ve heard the same old thing from my son, usually after he sees the photos from my trips:

“I wanna go.”

“I wanna catch those fish.”

“I wanna sleep up there.”

“I wanna cross that glacier.”

I wanna. I wanna. I wanna. It’s been like a broken record. I leave, he cries. Same old story.

This year, it was different.

“I wanna help you guide.”

Ohhhh really?

Now that rings a little different, I have to admit.

So I tell him.

You’re ready to be the camp cook, exhausted? You’re ready to hang heavy bear bags? You’re ready to repair the packrafts at midnight? You’re ready to stay calm when the clients are freaking out because it’s snowing, they’re cold, and you know exactly what you’re doing? Yeah?

OK, cool.

It starts with learning to work. Hard work.

“What do I have to do?” he says.

That’s the right question!

I love guiding because I love to work hard. I love carrying a client’s pack if they’re struggling, I love to battle a storm when I know that my joy in a storm helps a client’s morale, and of course, I love that part where you’re showing a client how to cast a tenkara rod, and your fly lands perfectly and up comes that twenty-something inch cutthroat. “That’s how it’s done,” you say, and “Wow! Gimme that rod!” they say! And it happens again. Bam. Fish on.

So when Chase asked me this winter, “what do I have to do?” I told him to load up his pack with twenty pounds, we’re climbing hills twice a week.

So he loaded up with almost 30 pounds, and said, “OK, let’s go.”

“Alright then, let’s go.”

This is a short film I made about a typical after-school training hike on a local trail. Yes, it’s still winter in Montana. But it’s awesome, and we love it, because we hike year round.

We train in the Bridger Mountains, mostly. This trail is the Bozeman darling, the College “M” Trail.


Technical: Shot on a Panasonic GH3 (24p MOV, 72 Mbps, flat (-5, -5, -5, -5), exposure grading in post, with some 40% slo-mo thrown in for fun. Lens was the wonderful little Panasonic 12-35/2.8 (weather-sealed!) with manual focus racking using Wiley’s killer $50 Follow Focus rig on CF bars – heck ya, because it’s light!

Swimming Slots and Intentional Living

Last spring, I spent 10 days exploring the water, canyons, slots, and mesas of Glen Canyon. One of my fondest memories was taking my friend and his 70-year old parents on a little bit of a day hike.

I didn’t divulge all of the details of the hike – I was too afraid they wouldn’t come. But I did scout it the day before, so I knew what I was leading them into.

So I sold them on things like “incredible beauty!” and “fantastic sand!” and “smiling lizards!” and other flowery descriptions of landscapes that indicated nothing but sheer awesomeness.

Being responsible, I did follow all of this up with…”(Oh yeah, bring your PFD.)” And then with, “It should be really sunny!” and “I’m pretty sure we’ll be back before dark!”

It turns out that swimming a deep and shady slot canyon filled with freezing cold water, followed by a twisty walk where body contortions were required to go from points A to B to … Z, was the right amount of adventure for an American Senior Citizen. Boy, will my friend’s mom have something to tell her book club group back in New York City.

No normal person wakes up and says, “You know, I think I’ll go swim a slot canyon today. There’s just something about wearing neoprene and PFDs in algae-choked waters and then coming up onto a hot sandy shore with scorpions and snakes that really makes me feel…alive! Back by dinner!”

People do this because they want to live an intentional life and enjoy the unexpected benefits of taking intentional risks where the outcomes are unknown.

This is a particularly difficult thing to impress upon both youth, and seniors.

My experience as a Scout leader tells me that if you leave a group of boys to their own devices, and allow them to plan some sort of activity without restrictions, I can almost assure you that the activity would include a cabin with electricity and a wood stove vs. a remote trek in a wild place. So, as a leader (guide, Scout leader, father, husband, etc.) you sometimes have to offer a framework in which the people you are leading are stretched a bit – so they have that opportunity to experience that beautiful thing I call quite simply exploring your wild side.

As a wilderness guide, this is the part I love the most. I have developed a reputation amongst my clients (at least, my repeat clients – ha ha!) of providing experiences that are completely unexpected. I really, really like this part of guiding. And, I really like the clients that come back a second (or third, or fourth…) time – these are the ones that crave the growth that intentional living reveals.

My wife and I reviewed most of our photos from 2012 this year, and she kept gravitating back to one. It’s a picture of our family hiking in the snow in May. I looked at the photo and remembered being cold, and wanting a hot cup of coffee back at the car. She looks at the photo and remembers how incredible it is to feel alive out in the hostility of a wild place.

Bridger Range, Montana
But this is what we like to do, so we don’t allow the weather to negotiate with us (very much).

We know that making the intentional choices to pursue our passions comes with a bit of risk in what might be revealed when things don’t go how we expect them to go.

Therein lies the beauty of living with intention. It’s not about what you are able to control, but about jumping into an unknown abyss and being excited for what will be revealed in the end.

Last year, our troop’s high adventure expedition was to be a hard one. We were doing a traverse of the Spanish Peaks, which are steep. We had days where we climbed several thousands (that’s plural) of feet per day in elevation. That’s a hard sell to a youth culture addicted to video games and easy living.

Only five kids in a troop of twenty signed up for the trek.

Some will argue that we pigeonholed our high adventure program into an experience that excluded (by nature of their “interests”) most of the kids in the troop because of physical ability, personal preferences, or skill level.

Sure, we could have shortened the duration of the trip. We could have shortened the mileage. We could have traveled during a season where the thunderstorms would have waned. We could have changed our route to something easier. We could have camped closer to the trailhead. We could have camped at the trailhead. Heck, we could have camped in a cabin at the trailhead and taken day hikes! We could have brought two-burner car camping stoves for gourmet meals! Or a solar shower, or a …

But we didn’t.

We planned and offered something big so the quality of adventure was preserved for those that wanted it, rather than something small for all that provided a more diluted experience.

And for the five kids that went, they experienced something at a level most kids will never, ever get to experience…

…by choosing instead, to take it easy. And by not living an intentional life and seeing what’s beyond that next pass.

Five thousand feet of elevation gain leads to this lonely spot, where these five young boys (and a few parents) found something they didn’t quite expect, but celebrated nonetheless.
If you’re in a position of leadership, consider what you do to provide a framework that allows for these unexpected paths of self-discovery. All you have to do is trust that the outcomes will be what they will be, and that your character is revealed in how you respond to them (for better or worse, right – but heck, who of us willfully admits to “bad” character – we all want our character to be developed and revealed, no?!).

In Scouting, we just call this “being Brave” – the tenth point of the Scout Law. Choosing the lower trail, the easy trail, the sanitized trail, the trail where you control everything – this is quite the opposite of bravery, is it not?

Trust what these experiences might have in store for you, and pursue them with intention.

You just might like what is revealed. 


It’s Pretty Simple: Be Best Friends

Ryan and Stephanie on Chestnut Mountain, Gallatin National Forest, Montana. November 2012. Taking a half day off of “work” to hike, and instead work on being best friends.

I was originally going to write this as a letter to my Ultralight Life subscribers but the advice is too valuable to keep private.

Stephanie and I don’t have a perfect marriage but we have a marriage that people notice, and ask questions about because they like what they see enough to overlook our blemishes.

I’ve thought about this a lot: what one piece of advice could I tell people to improve their marriage? There’s the usual things you read in the supermarket magazines: take out the trash, do the dishes, keep the gas tank in her car full, cook dinner, protect her, stay fit, comb your hair, write mushy cards, etc. etc. These are all good things and yeah, you need to do them, pal.

But my answer to the questions always comes back to the fact that we’re best friends.

It really is that simple.

I’m not a marriage counselor and I’m not a touchy feely sort of guy. I’m an INTJ, an engineer, and an intensely practical man. If you ask me what the secret to a good marriage is, I’m more likely to write down a mathematical formula (yes, I do have one, if you are interested) than to give you some flowery description of love under the Big Blue Sky of Montana in a mountain meadow with snowy peaks framing the scene and chirping birds etc.

But I’m no dummy either.

You want marriage advice, then I’ll distill it for you, and keep it simple. Make sure you share this with your spouse, because if both of you don’t agree to it, then you’re short selling the potential of what your marriage could be.

OK, ready? This won’t cost you a dime.

Here it is:

Make serious sacrifices (time, mainly) to do what you have to do to invest into a best friend relationship with your spouse. Be best friends, and realize that your second best friend should be way down in second place. Is your best friend not your spouse? That’s a problem.

It’s not the whole story, but it’s a simple recipe that can take you a long ways.

What are you doing to invest into a best friend relationship with your spouse today? What are you giving up to do it?

“I just want to be with my friends…”

Photo: Teenagers are social creatures. Why not let them enjoy each other on top of a 10,000 foot ridge instead of a bunk bed in a cabin down in the valley? When they earn and work and suffer together, they just might be more likely to stick together. This photo features the high adventure crew from Troop 676 of Bozeman during our August 2012 traverse across the Spanish Peaks in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness of Montana, standing atop Indian Ridge listening to our oldest Scout tell an animated story about another adventure from the past.


As a Scoutmaster, I’ve heard this one a lot: “I just want to be with my friends.”

Usually it’s in the form of an excuse not to go on an outing, because maybe the outing activity just isn’t their thing.

That’s why as a Scout leader you have to aggressively develop a sense of loyalty and brotherly love amongst your kids.

Loyalty and love – both of which require self-sacrifice – are key ingredients to true friendships. Kids are learning about loyalty and love – they may not have a strong sense of what either really means.

This is why I think high adventure activities in remote wilderness are an essential ingredient to a successful Scouting program.

Wait – what does loyalty and love have to do with wilderness trekking?


You see, when you drop kids into a wilderness, they are put in an environment without temptations for selfish ambition. In wild places, self-serving interests not only result in a failure in group dynamics, but a failure in self-gratification. Remember, Scouting is about cultivating the Patrol Method, which requires cooperation, and if that cooperation is missing, a lad will get mightily uncomfortable mighty quickly on a long trip in a wild place.

But when they have a sense of love for each other, they see a need to serve each other, and they understand what self sacrifice means. Loyalty is a logical outcome – loyalty results from love in action. Some might say that loyalty leads to love in action. Maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg argument. It may not matter, because neither loyalty nor love should be earned, but given freely.

The result of unconditional distribution of loyalty, service, and love? The building blocks for friendship, perhaps.

Then, the next time an opportunity for high adventure comes along, you just might hear “I wouldn’t miss it for the world – my friends will be there.”

About the Author

Ryan Jordan is an Eagle Scout, a former High Adventure and Program Director at Camp Parsons (Chief Seattle Council), a former Scoutmaster, and currently – an Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 676 in Bozeman, MT and the Montana Council BSA’s High Adventure Committee Chair. Ryan is a frequent author and speaker in a number of Scouting venues, and focuses his Scouting outreach efforts on preserving and cultivating High Adventure as a critical component in the development of Scouting’s young men.