BODY BY JESUS
Can Church Fitness Give You Heavenly Abs?
L I V E B R AV E LY
16 TOWNS A DV E N T U R E Where to Live
The Coolest Gear of theYear
29 BRILLIANT DESIGNS + RADICAL IDEAS
The Silent Head-Injury Epidemic
(YOUR HELMET WONâ€™T SAVE YOU)
Doing Hard Time in Nature
THE PLAN TO EXPOSE PRISONERS TO THE OUTDOORS
The ZeroCalorie Diet HOW FASTING CAN MAKE YOU FASTER
BELLINGHAM BEND BILLINGS BOISE DENVER DURANGO GRAND MARAIS GUNNISON HANALEI JACKSON KETCHUM LUDINGTON SEATTLE STEAMBOAT SPRINGS TAOS YACHATS
And the Winner Is... (OPEN TO FIND OUT)
BILLINGS, MONTANA! THE (VERY BIG) SMALL TOWN THAT BLEW AWAY THE COMPETITION
Introducing the Agoge
Spartan’s newest event will take you to hell—but bring you back a better person IT’S DAWN, AND THE SOLSTICE SUN
quit. At one point, De Sena angrily demanded is beaming on a ragged group of athletes crumpled that everyone assume plank position and hold it haphazardly in a Vermont field, all participants in until they convince the last quitter, a guy named Spartan’s latest event, the Agoge 60. It’s the pinnacle Dave, to rejoin their ranks. “Dave leaves, and the Spartan Race series event: 60 hours of physical race is over,” shouted De Sena. From plank, they challenges grueling enough to make Navy Seals coax Dave back. Then De Sena gave them ten and Green Berets cry, combined with wilderness minutes to reclaim their packs, which had been survival skill building, food and sleep deprivation, unceremoniously thrown into a giant tangled pile, and forced teamwork. The event is loosely modeled and line up to get ready for the next task. after the rigorous ancient education and training This isn’t the first time the toughest men and program to ready Greek Spartans for the army. women on the planet—everyone from adaptive Spartan held the first-ever Agoge event here in athletes to weekend warriors to former military Vermont, where Spartan founder Joe De Sena types—have gathered in Pittsfield, Vermont, for lives, this past February. This is the first summer a sufferfest. Whereas the former event was an event—and it’s living up to its grueling reputation. individual race with an actual winner, the Agoge Most of the hundred or so athletes in the field is a different beast. There are no winners, people are passed out with exhaustion. Others are huddled must work together on rotating teams, and one of in sleeping bags, tending to injuries. Chaos erupts the goals is to come away with new skills you can when De Sena, stomps onto the use in everyday life. “We break you field and starts barking orders. down, then we build you back up Ready for Participants have 20 seconds to stronger than you were when you Agoge? rise, form a circle, and bang out 100 came in,” said Chuck Piso, Agoge The next Agoge burpees in unison. event director, Spartan athlete, (and its ﬁrst “It was complete chaos,” says and a former hostage negotiator. international Amy Winter, an elite adaptive “We push participants to the edge, edition) is this October 13-16 participant who says she resisted the and they find that they’re capable in China. Next urge to sleep because she believed of more than they once thought. February 10-12, it was a ruse to get racers to let Purpose, commitment, resiliency, the event returns their guard down. Many did, and knowledge… exceeding your to Vermont. Learn the group initially struggled to get expectations and finding your more and start organized. On the fourth attempt at potential—that’s what Agoge is the registration group burpees, Winter took charge about.” application at counting out rounds to keep the Over the 60 hours, participants Spartan.com fastest in sync with the slowest, and covered 75 miles and 15,000 feet of the group made it through. One elevation. Teams hiked a tandem participant collapsed and was taken kayak full of water plus a tube of to the hospital. Four participants cement to the top of a Vermont
mountain—the first 15 miles of a 27-mile hike. They hauled a round of hay through a swamp for four hours, ate night crawlers, rappelled into an ice cave, built a litter and then carried a splinted teammate on that litter through treacherous terrain. All this was after a five-hour workout at registration that involved building a set of stone steps. One hundred thirty-seven people started. Ninety-nine finished. “I do things to teach my children that nothing can stop you, that you can overcome any barrier,” said Winter, who lost her leg in a motorcycle accident and carries a foot full of screws and plates in her remaining appendage. “If you can do a grueling event for 60 hours, who knows what you can do every day?” For Winter and other participants, the most rewarding aspect of the Agoge is taking care of one another under extreme duress and then applying those learnings to the rest of their lives. “When you do something that makes you a better person, it has a domino effect,” says Winter. “And the world needs that—people pushing themselves to be better people and focused on supporting and taking care of each other.” W
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Skim new surfaces when you visit the mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva. Your story begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Jackson County, where you can choose from hiking trails that climb all altitudes, rafting, fishing or golf, to some R&R amidst historic resorts, casinos and cultural treasures. Visit us online to Plan, Get Away and Play On.
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CONTENTS O U T S I D E M AG A Z I N E 09.16
Carter’s Brewing in Billings, Montana
Nearly 700,000 votes later, Billings, Montana, is this year’s winner, thanks to its ridiculous fishing, backcountry access, and affordability. We’ve also got the lowdown on what makes our other 15 finalists great, from Seattle’s ferries to Hanalei’s surf.
88 Righteous Abs
How much would Jesus lift? More than you might think. Christians are celebrating their faith in newly physical ways as evangelical churches inspire their congregations to stay healthy and get ripped. BY ERIN BERESINI
92 Impact Zone
The degenerative brain disease CTE isn’t confined to the football field. As BMX legend Dave Mirra’s recent suicide demonstrates, concussions are exacting a deadly toll among actionsports and adventure athletes, too. BY DAN KOEPPEL
100 The Great Escape
Time spent in nature has therapeutic benefits for everyone from veterans to at-risk youth. Now researchers think it can help those who’ve spent years cut off from the outdoors—ex-cons. BY BRIAN MOCKENHAUPT
COVER AND THIS PAGE, PHOTOGRAPHS BY
Peter Frank Edwards
GUTTER CREDIT TK
64 Best Towns 2016
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When expert wingsuit ﬂyer Rex Pemberton ventured down to Baja, Mexico, this past June, he had one overriding mission— to essentially turn himself into a human rocket. After years of planning, he mounted engines on his carbon-ﬁber X-wing, jumped off a helicopter, and took a leap of faith.
Can Man Fly?
Watch Rex explore the frontiers of human ďŹ‚ight on outsideonline.com/ beyondadventure.
Today, tomorrow, and never saying never.
4x4ever. ÂŠ2016 FCA US LLC. All Rights Reserved. Jeep is a registered trademark of FCA US LLC.
12 Exposure 18 Between the Lines 126 Parting Shot
First Look: Kelly Slater’s big-bucks battle to win the artificial-wave race. Food: From Phat Ladies to Murder Points, southern oysters are sweeter. Gear: Running shoes are getting personal. Bikepacking: After rolling 5,000 miles, one couple is helping to define cycling’s hottest trend.
Watches: Black magic.
Design + Tech: Bulletproof. Packable. Connected. When cutting-edge engineering meets the outdoors, the result is 29 breakthrough products to help you survive everything from a freezing bivvy to your daily commute.
In the Lead: The benefits—and pitfalls—of intermittent fasting. Performance Enhancer: How caffeine and cardio help drive climber Sasha DiGiulian up the wall. Active Cities: Las Vegas, Nevada. Fuel: The latest all-natural protein powders have ingredients you can actually pronounce.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: INGA HENDRICKSON; TODD GLASER; HANNAH MCCAUGHEY; INGA HENDRICKSON; CHRIS NOBLE
“You can easily fall down a slippery slope where one more day without training accumulates into one more week. But training is my job.” —CLIMBER SASHA D GIULIAN
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At 650 feet high and almost 500 feet wide, the initial cavern in central Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong was pronounced the largest on earth when Britain’s Adam Spillane and his team surveyed it in 2009. In May, Bassingthwaighte captured Spillane near a spot where the roof had collapsed. “Besides the high contrast between light and dark, what makes Hang Son Doong so complicated to photograph is that the main passages actually have their own internal weather and wind,” says the photographer, who lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan. “Everything about the place is staggering.” THE TOOLS: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Sigma 12–24mm f/4.5 lens, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/20 second
Last October, Diener dropped into Sedona, Arizona, to join pro mountain bikers Simon Bosman and Josh Langdon in Coconino National Forest. After an hourlong climb at sunrise, the group took turns riding a steep, 200-foot downhill run off the sandstone White Line Trail. “It takes some truly precise bike handling, and any mistake would have serious consequences,” says Diener, who splits his time between Boulder, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Simon was on his game. He pulled it off like it was a walk in the park.” THE TOOLS: Nikon D300S, 28–70mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 400, f/7.1, 1/640 second
EXPOSURE David Jackson
As the banks of the Ottawa River flooded with snowmelt last April near his home in Eganville, Ontario, Jackson knew it was time to capture whitewater heavyweight Ben Marr at work.“The river gets serious this time of year,” Jackson says. “It’s icy, it’s filled with logs, and it has the biggest waves in the world.” To capture Marr performing a Sasquatch at the bottom of a 12-footer that locals call the Buseater, Jackson stood on an island in the river. “This is Ben’s home wave,” Jackson says. “He’s in his happy place.” THE TOOLS: Canon 5DSR, Sigma 70–200 f/2.8 lens, ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/64,000 second
In the past five years, perhaps no sports story has seen more mainstream coverage than the head-injury controversy in football. Reports about concussions and former NFL players suffering from the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have featured regularly on the front pages of major newspapers and are the subject of books, hard-hitting documentaries, and even a major Hollywood movie—last year’s Concussion, starring Will Smith. Nearly every one of these stories touches upon the case of Mike Webster, the former Pittsburgh Steelers center who played in more than 240 games, suffered numerous concussions, and died in 2002 after struggling with mental illness. It was an autopsy of Webster’s brain that first revealed CTE and led us to an era in which many parents, including President Obama, wonder aloud whether it’s safe to allow children to play football. Concern soon spread to other professional sports—soccer, hockey, even basketball—but little has been written about the issue in the adventure realm, including activities such as
skiing, cycling, and climbing. That’s likely to change now that those sports are confronting their own Mike Webster. On February 4, BMX icon Dave Mirra, who suffered dozens of concussions during a career that saw him win the second-highest number of medals in X Games history, committed suicide. Three months later, a study of Mirra’s brain at the University of Toronto revealed that he suffered from CTE, confirming what many of his fellow athletes had suspected in the wake of his death. How will this discovery change the landscape of the sports Outside celebrates? That’s the question explored in our wide-ranging investigation “Impact Zone” (page 92). As writer Dan Koeppel discovers, the answer is complicated. Many action sports don’t have a governing body, no all-powerful commissioner like Roger Goodell to be our public bogeyman. Instead they have loosely affiliated media brands such as Red Bull and ESPN that oversee major events but limit their involvement in athletes’ medical care outside of competitions—and have little incentive to slow the high-flying progression of the sports they showcase. But the data on concussion rates in classic outdoor endeavors is sobering and irrefutable. If Webster’s brain changed the way many Americans think about its most popular sport, it is likely that Mirra’s will similarly alter Outside readers’ feelings about the ones they love most. —CHRISTOPHER KEYES (
In “Impact Zone” (page 92), Koeppel examines the concussion problem in action sports. A lifelong rider and former editor at Mountain Bike magazine, Koeppel was dismayed to learn that some of the world’s most accomplished surfers, skateboarders, snowboarders, and BMX riders lack the information and resources they need to deal with head injuries properly. “I had my outraged-journalist hat on, but I also felt reconnected to a sport I love in a way that I haven’t in a long time,” says the Los Angeles writer, who recently purchased an Ibis Ripley—his first new trail bike in years. “I hate to see anything hurt the sports I feel so passionate about, but there’s something I despise even more: seeing those sports hurt some of their most talented athletes. I’m not saying athletes shouldn’t do these amazing feats. I’m saying pay them better and take care of them.”
When reporting June’s “No Restrictions Apply,” Outside editor at large Grayson Schaffer saw how the Bureau of Land Management’s hands-off approach to freewheeling recreation is converting places like Moab, Utah, into either trashy free-foralls or paradise, depending on who you ask. Some readers are pleased by all the climbers, BASE jumpers, and slackliners, and by large gatherings like the Turkey Boogie. Others wonder whether extreme athletes are really the best caretakers of America’s outdoor spaces. As participants in the Turkey Boogie, we were disappointed to see our group portrayed as a leaderless bunch of outlaws who are using the land irresponsibly. In fact, we work closely with the BLM, which has been a great partner in allowing activities like highlining, climbing, and BASE jumping on feder-
ally owned land, guided by a Leave No Trace ethic. We welcome anyone to join us and learn about breaking personal boundaries and experiencing the Moab area with a greater respect for the outdoors. SCOTT ROGERS AND MATT BLANK
Los Angeles, California
Visit Moab and you quickly realize that nothing is being ruined there. The only reason I’m not a fan of Schaffer’s article is that, as a multiyear frequenter of Moab, I would hate for this place to change. It’s one of the few areas in the U.S. where it’s still OK to be wild. JOSHUA HOUSER
Midway, Utah Schaffer omits one point in his description of the Turkey Boogie: it’s a fundraiser for Grand County Search and Rescue. Why? Because jumpers and climbers around Moab call on SAR members >
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: GRAYSON SCHAFFER; FOREST WOODWARD; COURTESY OF DAN KOEPPEL
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“When a magazine runs a story on megachurch pastor Joel Osteen and takes notice of his abs, is that an opportunity to win over more converts, or a triple whammy of lust, vanity, and pride?”—ERIN BERESINI, PAGE 88 Go With Us
For “Righteous Abs” (page 88), Outside Online staff writer Erin Beresini visited churches that emphasize pushups and burpees as a key part of the Christian faith. “A lot of congregants in Texas or Arkansas really appreciate that a church is addressing more than the afterlife,” says Beresini, who was surprised at the robustness of the Jesus Is Jacked movement. Although Beresini enjoyed reporting the story, she felt let down that the editors rejected her pick for the article’s title. “I still love ‘Thou Shalt Work Out,’ ” says the writer, a four-time Ironman finisher. “It sounds like the 11th commandment.”
It’s time for your family (or crew of friends) to take over Morukuru Ocean House, a beachside paradise in South Africa’s De Hoop Nature Reserve. With room for eight adults and four kids, this luxurious homestead gives you the chance to snorkel in the Indian Ocean, explore gorgeous seaside caves, bike through wild fynbos gardens, or even sandboard down a dune, all while enjoying spacious private lodging and meals served right on the beach. From $375; outsidego.com
((full disclosure: I’m I m one of them) so frequently. MIKE CORONELLA
Moab, Utah Selected Shorts
In “Watch the Birdie,” Elizabeth Weil writes that the owners of the women’s-apparel company Oiselle have “a feminist bent.” It’s interesting that Oiselle designates size 12 as extra large, given that the average size of a woman in America is 14. The notion that women who are size 14 and above don’t need athletic apparel is kind of bizarre. Maybe they also believe the brand would be tarnished by being seen on women
who stew o aaree not ot ste reotypically fit. MAMIE-JANE KARREL
Picking Up the Pieces
I was in Nepal shortly after the 2015 earthquake to provide humanitarian aid. Like Patrick Symmes’s article “Aftershock,” the trip reinforced my belief in how utterly ineffective international aid is in Nepal, and how determined its people are to recover. I urge everyone to support the local economies by visiting. There’s still plenty to do in places that weren’t affected by the quake. HEATHER KNIGHT
The Ads Are Alive Not all magazine advertisements are created equal. To see what it’s like to race a Porsche 718 Boxster up a mountain pass, download the free Blippar app (Android and iOS) and follow the instructions at the bottom of page 29.
By Our Contributors
Painter and illustrator B. B. Cronin has been doing stellar work in the pages of Outside for years. (His most recent contributions appeared in July’s “The Bears Who Came to Town and Would Not Go Away.”) The Dublin-born artist’s talents are also on display in the new children’s book The Lost House ($19, Viking), out this month, in which Cronin’s expressive, playfully intricate illustrations tell the story of two kids on a treasure hunt through their grandfather’s chaotic home.
FROM TOP: ANNIE MARIE MUSSELMAN; DOOKPHOTO (3); COURTESY OF BRIAN CRONIN
Exercise the Demons
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BETWEEN This summer an array of scrapes, bumps, and breaks made it harder than usual for our staff to make the September issue happen. Here are some of the hurts we powered through.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING On Labor Day, Outside Television features a five-episode marathon of Locals, a documentary series about the hometowns of America’s best adventure athletes. Join host Cam McCaul as he tours the stomping grounds of kiteboarder Damien LeRoy, climber Steph Davis, and others. The fun kicks off September 5 at 8 P.M. eastern. McCaul (left) with LeRoy
Now that the results of our 2016 Best Towns contest are finally in (find them on page 64), our inboxes are overflowing with expressions of exasperated hometown pride (“Jackson was robbed!”). If you’re already looking ahead to 2017, here are a few things that helped past competitors stand out.
JONAH OGLES (1) Bruised his abdominal muscles after slipping off his bike pedals and hitting his gut on the seat. ASSISTANT EDITOR
WILL EGENSTEINER (2) Fractured his left hand during rugby practice. ART DIRECTOR
ROBERT HARKNESS (3) Broke his right ankle after falling 20 feet while rock climbing. ASSOCIATE EDITOR
CHRIS COHEN (4) Fractured his collarbone while mountain biking.
With an overburdened prison system and ineffective rehabilitation programs, our country is in desperate need of new ideas when it comes to preparing those who’ve been incarcerated to rejoin society. This month, Outside contributing editor Mockenhaupt explores how nature therapy is being used to help ex-convicts keep their lives on track (“The Great Escape,” page 100). “This is not a segment of the population most Outside readers would necessarily want to share the trail
with,” says Mockenhaupt, a former Army infantryman and an Iraq war veteran who lives in Phoenix. “But nature can be just as restorative and world-opening for them as it is for the rest of us, maybe even more so, because there are so many benefits that come with it. And as I soon realized, 90 percent of the people who are in prison are not serving life without parole, which means most of them are coming back. Whether it’s a basic humanity thing or just a pragmatic thing, we have to ask: What do we want returning to our communities?”
BRAD RASSLER (5) Jacked his back while stretching at his desk.
Facebook Comment of the Month: Rob T Geraghty It’s just not a road bike experience until you’ve run over a penny and snapped 3 spokes. Like Reply June 22, 2016
Obama in Alaska last year
OUTSIDE HEADS TO SLC This August, Outside Online’s gear team visits the 2016 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, where they’ll scour the convention for the very best of 2017’s new equipment and apparel.
>In 2006, Missoula, Montana, installed a massive whitewater park in the city center. >Philadelphia organized a group for the World Naked Bike Ride in 2009 and arranged a police escort for participants’ cruise through downtown. >Seward, Alaska, got Bear Grylls to visit—and bring the POTUS along with him—in 2015.
FROM TOP: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY; TRAVIS ROBB; COURTESY OF BRIAN MOCKENHAUPT
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T H E
FI R S T LOOK
Last One In Is a Rotten Kook KELLY SLATER IS LEADING THE CHARGE TO ROLL OUT A TOTALLY SURFABLE WAVE pool. will tech-savvy INVENTORS BEAT HIM TO IT?
by David Ferry oN deCeMBer 15 last year, Kelly Slater made a key addition to his surfing résumé. That day he released a three-minute, 40-second video of himself gliding through a series of squat, glassy barrels. In the clip, the waves come one after another, and they’re perfect. They ought to be— they were the product of ten years of R&D by the Kelly Slater Wave Company in California’s Central Valley. “It was the most incredible bit of surf pornography we’d ever seen,” says Jess Ponting, head of San Diego continued >
After a decade of R&D, Slater is inviting pro surfers like Stephanie Gilmore to test out his artiﬁcial-wave facility in central California.
DISPATCHES State University’s Center for Surf Research. “It was a onevideo paradigm shift.” Artificial waves have been around for decades (see “A Brief History of Surf Parks,” below right), but they’ve been puny—more gimmick than game changer. Slater’s may be the first that serious surfers actually want to ride. But his company is just one of at least a half-dozen racing to bring surf pools to those willing to pay to ride a consistent break—even if the ocean didn’t produce it. “You could call it a wave war,” says Robert Reynolds, an investment banker and consultant who specializes in surf parks. “Within the industry, there’s quite a bit of drama.” One of the men on the front lines is entrepreneur Doug Coors, who’s currently completing the NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas. NLand uses technology from a Spanish company called Wavegarden, and its six-footers are good for 35-second rides through Texas Hill Country. (The waves in Slater’s video appear to be about four feet.) The park will also offer a barbecue pit and a brewery. “It’s the first of many we’ll develop,” says Coors. Slater, for his part, has been linked to plans for a park on San Diego’s waterfront. Building a surf park isn’t cheap—each pool costs about $20 million—but at least a dozen of them are scheduled to open in the next few years in Russia, Spain, and Hawaii, among other locations. The World Surf League snapped up Slater’s company this
been trying to reach those potentially lucrative customers for decades, with little success. What’s different now, says Tom Lochtefeld, owner of Wave Loch, is the technology. “It’s a space race,” he says. Lochtefeld spent millions pursuing tech similar to Slater’s, which works by dragging an underwater sled across the bottom of the pool at a rapid clip. The resulting wave is beautiful, but riders must wait 90 seconds for the next one to roll by. That might be a problem from a business standpoint. Fewer waves per minute could mean fewer customers. Lochtefeld thinks he has a solution, in Surf parks are geared toward the form of a scale model that sits in his people who may live hundreds San Diego office. Perof miles from the coast but fect peelers—albeit only six inches tall—roll want to try getting on a board. down a 40-foot-long tank every eight secspring for an undisclosed sum, and there’s onds, pushed along by puffs of air from pneutalk of adding a competition park to the matic engines. The company plans to turn a World Tour or including artificial waves in canal in the Dutch city of Rotterdam into a future Olympics. “There are so many surf- wave pool and to use the technology at a park ers in the world and a finite number of great outside Bristol, England. spots,” says Wayne Bartholomew, former But a firm called American Wave Machines, president of the Association of Surfing Pro- located just north of San Diego, is trying to fessionals. “Being able to produce a wave that beat him to it. “Lochtefeld says that pneubreaks 24/7 is really appealing.” matics are the greatest thing, but he didn’t At least it’s appealing to businessmen. even invent the system,” says Bruce McFar“Surfing’s more fulfilling in the ocean,” says land, who owns AWM with his wife, Marie. Australian board shaper (and park designer) Seventeen years ago, McFarland worked for Greg Webber. “But when it’s beautiful and Lochtefeld, and the breakup was not a clean predictable, there’s a crowd.” Surf parks are one. After McFarland left Wave Loch, Lochtegeared toward people who may live hundreds feld filed for patent infringement. His suit of miles from the coast but want to try getting was eventually thrown out, but the experion a board. Promoters and entrepreneurs have ence rankled the McFarlands, even as they
Slater on his wave
have their own plans A Brief to open a three-pool History park outside New York of Surf City next year. Parks What differentiates 1969: Big Surf, AWM’s pneumatic the first wave system from the techpark in the nologies used by Wave U.S., opens in Loch and Slater, McTempe, Arizona. Farland says, is that it’s 1985: The first customizable. “I’d call surfing com Kelly’s wave a point petition on an artificial wave break, and it’s great,” takes place, says pro surfer Cheyne in Allentown, Magnusson, who is on Pennsylvania. retainer with AWM. 1993: Outside “But here it’s pretty heralds the much wherever your “latest trend.” imagination can take 2012: Pro Sally you. For a surfer, that’s Fitzgibbons mind-blowing.” learns to stick By way of demona reverse aerial stration, Magnusson at Wadi Adven grabs an iPad wired ture, a park into a tank and begins outside Dubai. firing off a series of vacuum chambers, which can shoot air at any angle. “I can hit all the chambers at once and make a big closeout, or do them in succession and make a simulated point, or do a combo swell where you shoot them at each other and make a peak,” says Magnusson. “It really gives you the kinds of dynamics the ocean throws at you. The first time I tried it, they had to drag me away.” The industry is betting big that consumers will feel the same way. “People are ready,” says McFarland. “They saw the Slater wave. Now O they want to know what’s next.”
clockwise from left: david malosh; peter frank edwards/redux (3)
Rowan Jacobsen’s The Essential Oyster ($35, Bloomsbury), out in October, explores the best varieties, recipes, and places to eat them.
Aquaculture has revitalized the southern oyster industry.
Where to find the tastiest
Kimball House DecATUr, GeorGiA the Variety: Murder Point the Chaser: Absinthe
The South’s Shells Rise Again
looking for a road-trip excuse? the atlantic and gulf coasts have some of the best oysters in the country.
by Rowan Jacobsen Not loNg ago, the southern United States was an oyster wasteland. Chesapeake Bay populations had been so overharvested that Maryland’s shucking houses were importing Louisiana oysters to stay in business. Then Louisiana’s reefs were killed off by fresh water released from the Mississippi River to push away oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Meanwhile, years of drought in Florida led the federal government to declare Apalachicola Bay, once the source of 10 percent of the nation’s oysters, a fishery disaster in 2013. “It’s been hard for anyone to make a living oystering,” says Bill Walton, a professor at Auburn University who’s known as Doctor Oyster. But as wild reefs disappeared and prices skyrocketed, growers adopted the cutting-edge cultivation methods
The Ordinary chArleSTon, SoUTh cArolinA the Variety: Phat lady the Chaser: Vermouth Spritz
that turned the Pacific Northwest into an oyster powerhouse. Raised off the ocean floor, in mesh barrels that keep them from being eaten by predators or suffocating under sediment, the oysters flourished—with quality that caught everybody by surprise. “Perfect cups, full meat, nice and clean,” says Walton. Dozens of new varieties have since appeared. Some are sweet, some are salty, and most can be found only in the South’s oyster bars. (See “Slurp, Slurp,” right.) There are buttery Murder Points from Alabama, briny Phat Ladies from South Carolina, and decadent Caminada Bays raised in the rich waters of south Louisiana. Order up a dozen, wash them down with something cold, and send for more. There are plenty to go around.
Pêche neW orleAnS the Variety: caminada Bay the Chaser: Gentilly Shakedown
The Best Running Shoe on Earth
IT’S THE ONE MADE ESPECIALLY FOR YOU, based on 3-d scans of your feet. and it’s coming.
CirCular kNittiNg HOW IT WORKS: a computer-controlled machine creates custom shapes and zones in a shoe’s upper that provide extra support or ﬂex where a runner needs it. nike uses the process in its flyknit models and has hinted at the possibility of customization. WHO WILL USE IT: adidas, asics, brooks, nike, pearl izumi
laser siPiNg HOW IT WORKS: by cutting precision grooves into a traditionally molded sole, designers can create the perfect ride, altering ﬂexibility, cushioning, and support anywhere a runner wants. “different depths and gaps create different sensations,” says tae lee, a design director at nike. WHO WILL USE IT: nike
by Jonathan Beverly trainer is flawed. Sure, it roughly fits the length and width of your foot, but it probably doesn’t accommodate your unique stride or long middle toe. To address this, manufacturers are embracing technologies that allow them to make personalized design changes with just a few keystrokes. In the past six months, two companies—Sols and Wiivv— began printing insoles based on smartphone photos uploaded by customers (cost: $99 and up). But it’s the technology used by big brands like Adidas, Brooks, and Nike that could revolutionize athletic footwear. “We’re going to see a high level of customization,” says Katherine Petrecca, who heads up New Balance’s innovation studio. “It’s in beta now, but we may have a consumer shoe within the next three years.” When bespoke trainers arrive, these are the methods that will make them the fi nest you’ve ever laced up.
seleCtiVe laser siNteriNg HOW IT WORKS: a 3-d printer uses heat from a laser to fuse powdered plastic into a ﬁnely detailed solid. the process allows for unprecedented control over shape and density, creating a “copy of the athlete’s footprint,” says paul Gaudio, global creative director at adidas. WHO WILL USE IT: adidas, new balance, nike, under armour
Bryan Christie Design
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The Swallows have logged more than 10,000 miles across the country.
B I K E PACKING
Path to Freedom
THE BIGGEST CRAZE IN CYCLING COMBINES THE POPULARITY OF DISTANCE hiking, gravel grinding, and vanlife. but for disciples like tom and sarah swallow, simplicity and solitude are the real rewards.
by Christopher Solomon For Four years, Tom and Sarah Swallow lived the good life. Their bike shop, located just north of Cincinnati, Ohio, had enough loyal customers to turn a profit, and they still had time for the occasional weekend ride. But by 2015, the couple started to feel like they spent “a lot of time helping other people achieve their cycling dreams without focusing on our own,” says Sarah, 28. So they shuttered the shop and set off to become the first two people to bikepack the Trans-America Trail—the cob-rough, dirt-and-gravel path across the U.S. adored by off-road motorcyclists. Bikepacking, in which the bike serves as both steed and pack mule along dirt single- and doubletrack—is one of
the hottest trends in cycling. Statistics are elusive, but the anecdotes of bikepacking’s exploding popularity are many. For example, the Tour Divide, the famed 2,745-mile, self-supported knobby-tire course through the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, went from 17 riders in 2008 to 185 in 2016 (though not everyone goes the distance). Large gear manufacturers are stepping up, too, joining niche brands in making equipment that’s stout enough to outfit a multi-day trip, but light enough that riders won’t curse themselves for bringing so much. Giant and Ortlieb now make bikepacking-specific bags, and California’s Blackburn Design can barely keep up continued >
The Starter Kit
Lightweight equipment is just as essential to bikepacking as it is to backpacking. Check out our gear recommendations at outsideonline .com/bikepacking.
clockwise from top left: swallow bicycle works; j. r. mankoff; swallow bicycle works; j. r. mankoff; swallow bicycle works
with demand for its handlebar bags and seat packs. “It’s very redeeming,” says Robin Sansom, Blackburn’s brand manager. “You know that these products are being used for something joyful and extraordinary.” This summer, industry titan Specialized rolled out the Sequoia, the second bikepacking-ready model in its Adventure line, and unveiled a collection of packs, clothing, and accessories made specifically for the long haul. When the Swallows finished their crosscontinental ride at the Oregon Coast—5,000 miles in three months, departing from Morehead City, North Carolina—they realized that they didn’t want to stop. So they scrapped their plans to start a shop in California and kept the wheels turning. As you read this, the couple should be well into their latest jaunt, this time through Cascadia: a 45-day, 1,500mile ride from Whitefish, Montana, to Port-
land on the rough tracks of Alberta, Idaho, and Washington State. Logan Watts, founder of Bikepacking.com, says the Swallows’ journeys have resonated with his site’s readers because, rather than pedaling abroad, they’re tackling places that seem within reach. After all, the allure of dropping out of mainstream existence spawned the entire vanlife movement—and bikepacking is more approachable than coughing up twenty grand for a fully equipped vehicle. “Eliminate the things you don’t need and you can focus on the adventure at hand,” says Tom Swallow, 31. Grab an old beach cruiser, throw some food and a tent in a knapsack, and head out with the kids on a rail-to-trail line. “You’re not doing yourself justice if you lust after this lifestyle and don’t do anything about it,” Sarah says. “Get away for a few days. O It doesn’t have to be hard.”
Hit the Dirt
Bikepacking.com is loaded with routes, along with gPs coordinates, camping sites, and helpful tips. the rides below can be completed with just one night under the stars. yaNCey ridge, North CaroliNa This route winds 37 miles along a Forest Service road through Pisgah national Forest’s lush woodlands.
Joshua tree NatioNal Park, CaliForNia Starting at the park’s high point, this 26 mile outandback follows sandy jeep tracks into stunning canyons. great diVide MouNtaiN Bike route, Colorado The GDMBr is famous for its breathtaking scen ery, and this 52mile stretch of twotrack near Salida is easy to access and ride.
clockwise from top left: swallow bicycle works (3); j. r. mankoff
clockwise from top left: imogene Pass, colorado; White fish, Montana; Mantila Sal national Forest, Utah; Petaluma, california
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Sun057 by Seiko; $450
Black Is the New Black
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FW03 SS All Black/Tort by Electric; $275
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Porter Leather 40MM by Nixon; $125
FALLâ€™S STEALTH TIMEPIECES ARE BURLY, TECHNICAL, AND 100 PERCENT BADASS
Independently owned SoCal brand Electric designs and tests all its gear in California. The FW03 SS is built with marine-grade stainless steel and is water resistant up to 600 feet.
Nighthawk Eco Drive Flight Chronograph by Citizen; $475
P H OTO G RAPHS BY
INGA HENDRICKSON ST YLI NG BY
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Yes, you could buy a car instead. But the investment gets you a watch that can truly save your life. The emergency distresssignal transmitter uses satellite technology to send for help anywhere on earth.
Emergency by Breitling; $18,695
Heritage Black Bay Dark by Tudor; $4,150
Chronotimer Series 1 Sportive Carbon by Porsche; $4,734
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Navy Seal Colormark by Luminox; $395
adventure tools, tested & reviewed
design + tech photographs by
Tinker Tailor Solder Dye
ENGINEERS FUTZ WITH THINGS FOR A REASON: THAT’S HOW BREAKTHROUGHS HAPPEN. AND AS THESE 29 PRODUCTS DEMONSTRATE, THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO MESS AROUND.
by Michael Frank and Joe Lindsey
1. FIT TO RIDE Few “slim cut” button-downs live up to the billing. Rapha’s 100 percent Cotton Oxford Pocket shirt does: it’s woven for a bit of stretch across the back and side panels. Think of it as classic work wear that won’t poof out on your bike commute. $140
2. SOUND THAT STICKS Pair Earin’s Bluetooth True Wireless earphones with your audio device of choice and they’ll do so instantly— without fail—from then on, delivering clear vocals and rich mids. Cushy foam stays in place through every jostling trail run and high-octane gym session. $249
®2016 Toyo Tire U.S. A . Corp. Professional Driver. Closed Course.
IN EVERY FOREST THERE’S A BEAST.
ANY VEHICLE. EVERY TERRAIN. ALL OR NOTHING.
1. A PACKABLE CLIMBING CRADLE Built with hardy but featherweight Spectra fabric, the Petzl Altitude harness weighs just 5.3 ounces and takes up a fistful of cargo space in your pack. Leg-loop buckles let you slip it on without removing crampons or skis. $80
DURABLE GEAR FOR A ROUGH AND TUMBLE WORLD
2. ULTRALIGHT AVY INSURANCE Airbags are buoyant in an avalanche, but the extra pack weight can be a bummer on the way up. Mammut’s Light Protection Airbag 3.0 is svelte (just under six pounds), and shoulderstrap integration provides better protection when the snow slides. $730
3. COLLAPSING BIKE LID Don’t worry, it holds its shape when it’s in use. From high-end cycling gearmaker Brooks England, the Carrera helmet has an accordion folding mechanism for easy storage. The look recalls the classic leather “hairnets” of seventies racing, but it meets crash-test standards. $170 and up
MEET YOUR MAKER
THE PACK GURU
Dana Gleason, 64, president of Mystery Ranch As the founder of legendary pack brand Dana Designs, Gleason pioneered some important breakthroughs in the eighties—compression straps, narrow back pockets instead of bulky side compartments, weatherproofing with Gore-Tex. In 1995, he sold the company and soon settled into an early retirement. Then his daughter asked him to make her a hip pack. “She put it on and gave me a big smile,” he says. “And I felt my heart crumble as I realized, Aw crap, I’m a one-trick pony. I’m building packs again.” Soon he was back at it full-time with his new brand Mystery Ranch, crafting packs with innovations like simpler frame-adjustment systems and size tailoring. Says Gleason, “You just put the pack on, pull the straps tight, and go.”
5. BACKCOUNTRY ARMOR Fresh from Voormi is the Inversion jacket, with ultra-thick wool in the shoulders, arms, and hood that’s as bulletproof as ballistic nylon yet more breathable and stretchy. A tightly woven wool-nylon mesh shrugs off rain, courtesy of a durable waterrepellent treatment. $500
6. THE BURLIEST PANTS We challenge you to wear a hole in these dungarees by urban-bike-wear company Chrome Industries. For the U.S.-made Wyatt Five Pocket jeans, the brand worked with Cone Mills to create raw denim with 8 percent Dyneema fiber, used in some climbing ropes. $150
GUTTER CREDIT TK
4. TEAR-PROOF CYCLING KIT Road rash is the bane of bike racing, which is why the fabric used in the shoulders of Scott’s RC ProTec jersey can stand up to a belt sander. (Seriously, Google it.) The secret? ITD ProTec, a material produced in partnership with the textile whizzes at Schoeller that adds carbon-fiber yarn to the polyester knit. $125
Movement design + tech Go with the Flow
TRAVEL FAST AND FREE, FROM CITY TO MOUNTAIN
1. FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, CARVE LIKE A KNIFE Moment’s Deathwish skis are the first with wavy triple camber—small curves placed fore and aft of the bindings, plus a rockered tip and tail. The result: all-mountain sticks that float in powder and hold an edge on crust. $750
2. REJOICE, SKI MOUNTAINEERS The lateral stiffness that makes for a good downhill boot is terrible for scaling steeps in crampons. Arc’teryx’s Procline bridges that gap. The two-piece upper cuff bends 23 degrees sideways for sure footing on rock and ice, then locks in place to rip big-mountain lines. $1,000
5. ROCK WEAR WITH FLAIR So Ill capitalizes on climbers’ footwear obsession with its Street climbing shoes. They blend technical features— like super-sticky Dark Matter rubber, developed for Navy SEAL boots—with throwback Velcro straps. $129
3. ICED TEE Polartec’s fourseason Delta fabric has a honeycomb structure that increases yarn surface area to move more heat and moisture. Cycling-apparel brand Kitsbow incorporates Delta side panels into its Radiator shirt for the ultimate warmweather, casualbut-techy top. $69
4. A JAZZED-UP CITY CRUISER Electric bikes have come a long way, but many are still clunky beasts championed mainly by early adopters. Faraday’s Dutch-style Porteur bike bucks that trend, pairing a 250-watt front-hub motor and integrated front and rear lights with eye-catching touches like bamboo fenders and leather grips. $3,500
NEXT-LEVEL GADGETS FOR TRACKING, LOGGING, AND PLAYING
3. A SMARTWATCH WITH PANACHE Why does TAG-Heuer’s Connected cost five times as much as other smartwatches? Swiss engineering and a mineral-glass screen with “depth” (the digital hands cast faux shadows). You still get push notifications, but the look is more elegant timepiece than dork device. $1,500
4. GO-ANYWHERE SKY CAM At 1.2 pounds, the Vantage Robotics Snap drone is less than half the heft of any other serious quad on the market, yet it shoots both 4K and syrupy-slow 120-frames-persecond 1080p video. In a crash the body pops free, dissipating force. $1,295
1. ONE PUNCHY MUSIC BOX Libratone’s wireless Zipp Mini speaker pumps out crisp sound, not the muddy thumps and crackly highs of most Bluetooth boxes. Credit the fat subwoofer and dual tweeters. You can link as many as six of them via Libratone’s free app (Android and iOS). $249 2. ALL-IN-ONE FITNESS PAL Garmin’s Forerunner 735XT has customizable faces and tracks your heart rate. It also maps your ride, run, or swim even when you leave your phone at home. But what we really dig is not having to constantly charge it—battery life can reach 11 days. $450
MEET YOUR MAKER
THE CONVERTED TECHIE 6. WEARABLE STRIDE COACH Lumo’s Run fitness tracker clips to your shorts, which is a better spot than your wrist for monitoring cadence, braking force, and pelvic rotation. And you get immediate voice feedback via the Lumo app (Android and iOS), as well as simple suggestions for improving form. $80
5. OFF-THE-GRID COMMUNICATOR A handful of new backcountry devices let you send texts and location info without cell service. But the Beartooth goes further, giving adventurers the ability to make calls to other Beartooth users as much as five miles away. $149 for two
Meghan Martens Loderhose, 36, product manager at Outdoor Research Loderhose followed a roundabout track to the gear world. The business-school grad came from tech, where, she says, “I was bored out of my mind.” So she took a step back, landing a job at the North Face doing data entry. Loderhose enrolled in textiles classes at night before moving into apparel development. Today she oversees Outdoor Research’s gloves line, spearheading the company’s acclaimed AltiHeat (opposite page) and 3D Fit series. The tech industry’s loss is the outdoor world’s gain.
connectivity 52 Outside
warmth design + tech
1. FOG-FREE FUN Abom goggles are moisture creep’s worst nightmare. The key is in the heat-conducting film layered between two pieces of polycarbonate, like a battery-powered version of your car’s defroster. Press the large button on the side and Active mode ensures an unobstructed view for six hours. $250
SMART TOOLS TO CONQUER THE ELEMENTS
2. SNOW DOGS Redesigned with oversight from überalpinist Conrad Anker, Smartwool’s PhD Outdoor Mountaineer socks are knitted from merino and nylon Indestructawool fabric, which the company says makes them 33 percent more durable than its earlier PhD series. A low-volume instep guarantees proper boot fit. $35
6. PERFORMANCE APRÈS Once only the stuff of hard-charging apparel, the North Face’s Thermoball insulation is making its way into classier garments. The Lost Coast Shacket excels as light protection for post-ski beers, especially when style points count: the folddown collar and chambray trim lend an air of cool. $149
3. RAIN OR SHINE At the heart of Arc’teryx’s category-defying Firebee AR parka is W. L. Gore’s new Thermium, a breathable membrane designed to keep insulation dry, thus maintaining warmth. Arc’teryx pairs Thermium with 850-fill down for a 23-ounce parka that’s ideal for any lung-busting winter activity. $949
GUTTER CREDIT TK
5. FIRE IT UP, THEN PACK IT AWAY Primus’s new seven-pound Onja stove is a legit camp cooker in a messenger bag with Scandinavian style. The oak cutting-board lid doubles as a serving tray. When you’re ready to cook the frame unfolds, with a base that’s sturdy enough to support heavy pots and dual burners nested low enough to shield their 10,000-BTU flames from the wind. $140 ILLUSTRATION BY
4. HOT HANDS Outdoor Research debuted its AltiHeat line in 2014, but the company doubled up on the warmth with this year’s Capstone electric gloves. Literally. These are twice as efficient as the old Lucents. Wires in the hands and fingers conduct heat from two lithium-ion batteries per glove, which OR stashed in the cuffs to keep the Capstones from being uncomfortably bulky. $500
M0 M 9 ..1166 Outside Outside 53 53
adventure tools, tested & reviewed
design + tech
See and Be Seen
BRIGHT IDEAS WITH AN EYE TOWARD STYLE AND SAFETY 1. VERSATILE CAMP LIGHT BioLite boosts its rep with the 500-lumen BaseLantern, which does double duty as a power hub that can juice a phone up to four times. The most ingenious feature: when it’s dark, the lantern switches on as you approach with your phone—perfect for those 2 A.M. nature calls. $100
MEET YOUR MAKER
Pete Wagner, 41, founder and CEO of Wagner Custom Skis Wagner grew up in Dayton, Ohio, shredding at a hill so small, he recently had trouble finding it. “It was maybe 100 feet of vert,” he says. Wagner went on to earn an engineering degree from the University of California at San Diego and used it to make custom golf clubs. Not that he loved golf. He still preferred skiing and wondered why nobody was designing planks the way he was making nine-irons—tailored to fit athletes’ height, weight, and strength. So a decade ago, Wagner started doing it himself, interviewing customers for an hour before getting to work. “The ski industry generally doesn’t take that kind of care,” he says. “But we do.”
M9M 0 . 1.61 6
4. SHOE SHINE Visibility is critical when running at night, but who wants to dress up like a neon clown? A great workaround is 4id’s Power Spurz, which attaches to the heel of your shoe and flashes twin LED beacons up to 2,000 feet. It’s featherweight, two button cells last 70 hours, and a clamp ensures it stays put. $20
GUTTER CREDIT TK
2. SHADES FIT FOR 007 Dashing enough for Daniel Craig in Spectre, Vuarnet’s Glacier Glasses feature glass lenses that block UV and infrared radiation. Vuarnet dials in the shading to block snow and ice glare at the bottom and sun at the top, leaving the center nearly clear for unimpeded vision on sketchy terrain. $540
3. A BOMBPROOF LIKE-GENERATING MACHINE The Olympus Tough TG-Tracker action cam doesn’t need a case to withstand the rigors of the wilderness. It performs to a depth of 100 feet and at temperatures as low as 14 degrees. A built-in thermometer and pressure sensor tell you when you’re getting close to its limits. $350
I N T H E LE AD
A GROWING NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS, ATHLETES, AND EVEN A RETIRED GENERAL BELIEVE THAT FASTING leads to better health. SHOULD YOU LISTEN?
by Meaghen Brown
©2016 Jockey International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MICHAE L COT TONE Adoptive father to Vincent shows the gift of family
SHOW ’EM WHAT’S UNDERNEATH #ShowEm your Jockey
on a typical morning, 67-year-old musician and runner Nolan Shaheed wakes up, does 40 minutes of stretches, push-ups, situps, and free weights, drinks a glass of water, and practices the trumpet for two hours. Then he heads to the recording studio for a while before breaking for a 90-minute run. Only then, after an afternoon shower, does he cook and eat his only meal of the day—a piece of fruit, a bit of white meat, and some vegetables and grains, usually rice, broccoli, and carrots. He’s been doing this six days a week for 40 years, and he holds at least a dozen masters world records, from the 800 to the 5,000 meters. Fasting, even for short periods of time, isn’t new, of course—Plato was known to abstain to improve mental and physical health. But it has grown in popularity since science journalist Michael Mosley preached its benefits as a solution to weight loss back in 2012. There are numerous variations (see “Think Fast,” below) and even more devotees, from fitness coach Ben Greenfield to Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging. Retired general Stanley McChrystal considers his one meal—dinner—a reward at the end of the day. Actor Hugh Jackman says he “feels so much better” after fasting. Intermittent fasting has some documented benefits. A 2014 meta-study found that calorie-deprivation diets decreased inflammation, increased metabolism, and reduced stress. (The study subjects were mice.) Other research has found that fasting reduces symptoms of asthma and appears to help children in intensive care recover more quickly. On a less clinical level, it can make for easy weight-loss math: lower your calorie intake a few days per week, or a few hours per day, and you reduce your total calorie count. Paleo bellwether Mark Sisson says that once your body is used to it, fasting can be a quick way to achieve ketosis—the point at which your body burns fat rather than carbs for fuel. If you deprive the body of calories, he says, it’ll utilize natural fat stores
If you deprive the body of calories, says paleo bellwether Mark Sisson, it’ll utilize natural fat stores without causing muscle loss or significant declines in power. without causing muscle loss or significant declines in power, leading to a much improved strength-to-weight ratio. “Many endurance athletes aren’t optimizing their use of fat as fuel,” says Sisson. But many sports nutritionists are skeptical, pointing out that intermittent fasting has yet to be sufficiently tested on athletes. They have long held that properly timing nutrient intake is crucial for optimal performance— eat carbohydrates before exercise and you’ll have more glycogen in your muscles; eat protein after and you’ll recover faster. Trying to cram a day’s worth of macronutrients into a single meal, they say, won’t have the same effect. “It’s suboptimal for muscle building,” says sports nutritionist Brad Schoenfeld, who notes that the anabolic, or muscle-growing, effects of a meal last only about five hours. “If
Four popular methods for restricting calories —M.B. 5:2 Diet Consume a limited number of calories (generally around 500) two days out of the week, and eat normally on the other five.
alternate Day Similar to the 5:2 diet, except that the eating and fasting days alternate, which increases the weekly calorie deficit.
24-Hour Fast No food for a 24hour period once or twice a week. Popularized by nutritionist Brad Pilon’s book EatStop-Eat.
leangains Fast for 16 hours overnight and into the morning, then eat during the remaining eight. In other words: skip breakfast.
you confine all your meals to a narrow time period,” says Schoenfeld, “you’ll miss out on anabolism throughout the day.” Others argue that there are easier ways to raise your strength-to-weight ratio. “In the very best case, fasting yields the same results an athlete can get far more simply by maintaining a high-quality diet and avoiding overeating,” says author and sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald. Even Sisson concedes that the perceived benefits are mostly conjecture. “Intermittent fasting hasn’t been studied to any great extent,” he says. What little research has been done on athletes focused primarily on the sunup-tosundown fast practiced by Muslims during Ramadan. One study of Muslim Olympians found that 5,000-meter runners experienced a 5 percent performance decline. In another study, sprinters and other power athletes experienced little to no effect. Although Fitzgerald doesn’t endorse the practice, he thinks that endurance athletes who are interested in experimenting should consider the Leangains diet—essentially skipping breakfast—which allows you to develop a consistent training routine. For Shaheed, fasting is less about performance than feel. “I’m never hungry,” he says. “I also run quicker after a two-day fast, though I feel a little weak and don’t realize I’m going O that fast—a strange phenomenon.”
PE R F ORM ANCE ENHA NCER
Climber Sasha DiGiulian D i giulian won her first national title as a 14-year-old and has
train for a 3,000foot climb without going anywhere.”
“everything in moderation, always. if your body wants to eat something, have whatever you want—just don’t go overboard with it. if you’re working out regularly, your body needs the proper fuel to keep performing.”
“i rely on caffeine. Currently, i have a coffee in my hands. as part of evening training or if i have class, i’ll drink a red bull—but i’ve never had more than one in a day.”
“because i live far away from most good climbing destinations, i’m traveling all the time. i always joke that i want to make a video of an in-hotel workout. i pack a
Cameron maier/bearCam media
gone on to podium multiple times at the World Championships while sending some of the hardest routes in the world, including the first American ascent of Magic Mushroom on the Eiger, in Switzerland. So it may come as a surprise that her natural habitat isn’t the mountains. It’s Manhattan, where she lives and recently completed degrees in business and nonfiction writing at Columbia University. So how does a Gothamite stay in big-wall shape? —GREGORy THOMAS
“as long as the weather is nice, i walk everywhere. but i don’t do my workouts at public parks. i go to the gym. every day.”
an upper-bodydominated sport, but you need to work your legs for long approaches and certain moves on the wall.”
“i target sportspecific muscles that apply to the type of climbing i do on rock. it’s
“i use a Treadwall, like a vertical treadmill with holds on it. it’s great for endurance. i can
yoga mat so i can at least stretch out or do push-ups and abs. Just a little bit of cardio before or after a flight makes so much difference for jet lag.” “everyone loses motivation, and you can easily fall down a slippery slope where one more day without training accumulates into one more week. but training is my job. So even when i feel terrible and i don’t want to go to the gym, i force
myself to go, because some effort is better than none. my coach, Kevin Paretti, always tells me, ‘Find a way.’ ” “i use bellabeat, an app that tracks fitness and sleep. it graphs everything, so you can see when you felt great and were performing at your peak, and how you were sleeping during those times. You can see when your body operates optimally and then make adjustments.”
rob erekson RACE DIRECTOR, DESERT DASH
“Cottonwood Valley is really close to town and has 100 miles of trails and dirt roads that are great for running. It’s mostly flat, but there are a few good gnarly climbs.”
alex Johnson ROCK CLIMBER
ACT IVE CIT I ES
Adventures in Sin
LAS VEGAS HAS A REPUTATION FOR KEEPING seCrets. but the BEST-KEPT ONE OF ALL HAS TO BE THE TOPNOTCH ROCK CLIMBING, MOUNTAIN BIKING, TRAIL RUNNING, AND PADDLEBOARDING JUST MINUTES from the strIp.
by Graham Averill
reD rock canyon national conservation area More than 2,000 sandstone bouldering routes less than 30 minutes from the craps tables at Mandalay Bay. Try Pork Chop, a classic V3 boulder problem, or Dream of Wild Turkeys, a ten-pitch moderate trad route. lake MeaD The average annual high in Vegas is 80 degrees. Cool off by exploring the islands and beaches of Boulder Basin on a paddleboard.
Bootleg canyon Vegas’s other man-made wonder: more than 35 miles of flow trails and technical singletrack for mountain bikers just southeast of the city. Find speed, sweeping turns, some air, and a bit of exposure on the 1.5-mile POW Trail. yoga at tHe Mirage Hotel The Mirage’s “underwater” studio shares a glass wall with a dolphin tank. Yeah, at $50 it’s expensive—and total Vegas kitsch—but how often do you get to dolphin-pose with actual dolphins?
las vegas cyclery This LEED platinum-certified shop has bikes galore and guides to lead you on multiday adventures. You can even demo a new steed on the trail circling the property. Mount cHarleston wilDerness This 56,600-acre spread west of town has 40 miles of hiking trails winding through evergreen forests, slot canyons, and ice-cold springs. The 1.9-mile Fletcher Canyon moves through a gorge with 200-foot-high walls.
From ToP: CourTeSY oF rob ereKSon; miChael lim
“I fill up at Krayvings, just outside red rocks, after almost every climb. they do all kinds of healthy juices and salads. I’m addicted to their protein plates with quinoa and steak.”
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Sprout Living Epic Protein Plant proteins are often knocked for being incomplete. But the mix of brown rice, yellow peas, artichoke root, cranberry seeds, and sacha inchi—a South American peanut— covers all nine amino acids. On top of that, the blend is organic, raw, non-GMO, vegan, and soyand gluten-free. taste: B
Growing Naturals Pea Protein Pea protein is the product du jour of the anti-soy contingent. (Most U.S. soybeans are genetically modified.) It’s easily absorbed by the body and helps convert fatty acids into energy. taste: C
Vega One Nutritional Shake We typically skip anything with an ingredient list several lines long, but Vega One’s shake is made up of only the good stuff: flaxseed, hemp protein, and organic spirulina, among others. It also packs the equivalent of six servings of veggies. taste: B-
Natural Force Primal Peptides The only ingredient here is collagen, a fibrous protein found in connective tissue that helps muscles withstand stretching. Studies show that adding it to your diet can ease soreness in tendons and joints. taste: A-
Mattole Valley Naturals Goat Whey Protein Mattole Valley’s three ingredients are all derived from pasture-fed goat’s milk. Why does that matter? Goat’s milk is higher in protein, less allergenic, and easier to digest than cow’s milk, the usual source of whey protein. taste: B+
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?
Not Just for Body Builders and Fraternity Bros A NEW GENERATION OF NATURAL PROTEIN POWDERS BUILD MUSCLE AND AID RECOVERY THE CLEAN WAY
by J. Wesley Judd
Source Organic Peanut Butter Smoothies are great, but sometimes you need a break from the blender. Try adding this peanut-butter powder to a batch of cookies or homemade energy bars. taste: A
A lot. Donald Layman, a nutrition professor at the University of Illinois, suggests that adults consume at least 33 grams in each of three daily meals, totaling 100 grams per day. (A typical American consumes only about 70 grams per day.) Endurance and strength athletes should shoot for at least 40 to 60 grams per meal, respectively, to assist with muscle growth and recovery. —lauren kent
ADVENTURE on the rocks.
YOUR TRIP BEGINS HERE
Rickett’s Mountain near Cowell
Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View
Duck hunting near Augusta
Arkansas is The Natural State … for adventures of all kind. Our world-famous duck hunting, 9,700 miles of rivers and streams, 600,000 acres of lakes, zip lines, ﬁve IMBA Epic mountain bike trails and nationally recognized rock climbing are only the beginning. Come see us. ARKANSAS.COM
For this monthâ€™s cover, we found billings, montana, resident Chase brownlee. the 26-year-old geologist has lived here practically his whole life, and when heâ€™s not working in a mine, youâ€™ll find him hiking, climbing, or mountain biking in the hills outside town.
Sweet Home Itâ€™s easy to fantasIze about lIvIng In one of these 16 adventure meccas, but to really understand how great they are, you have to be on the ground. we talked to clImbers, olympIc mountaIn bIkers, musIcIans, and award-wInnIng chefs about what exactly makes theIr hometowns so specIal and fun.
P H O t Og r aP H b y
Peter Frank Edwards
billings, Montana p o pu l at i o N : 1 1 0,0 0 0 When it comes to fitting you for a cowboy hat, the gals at taubert’s ranch outfitters have two ways to go about it. if the hat is a little tight, they’ll point out, your head will stretch it over time. if it’s loose, they’ll advise you to stuff the band with some newspaper. Nothing fancy, problem solved. taubert’s, purveyor of hats, cowboy boots, and pendleton blankets, has been on North broadway in downtown billings since 1979. back then this shopping district was a center of commerce for ranchers who traveled from hundreds of miles away. in the decades since, billings’s population has grown from about 67,000 to more than 110,000. but lou Clayton, 82, who’s been clocking in at taubert’s since 1989, says billings is a small town dressed up like a big city. “We used to say, ‘You can tell when
you get to montana, because people wave at you on the two-lane roads,’ and that’s still true today.” billings is only a stone’s throw from the absarokabeartooth Wilderness area, one of the largest in the country and home to Granite peak, montana’s tallest at 12,807 feet. anglers enjoy the wide, braided waters of the bighorn river to the east and the boulder-strewn stillwater river to the west. the hills to the northwest are a playground for climbers, trail runners, and mountain bikers, and Yellowstone National park is less than three hours away. better yet, it’s all substantially more affordable than already discovered montana adventure hubs like missoula and bozeman—the median house price in billings is still under $200,000. as an energy and agricultural center known for both its stunning rimrock formations and its oil refineries, billings was a dark horse in this year’s competition. locals were pleasantly surprised to see their scrappy city defeat
scenic Jackson, Wyoming, in the final round. “i was shocked,” Caden kosovich, 26, told me over beers at Carter’s brewing, a short walk from taubert’s. kosovich, a billings native, is a bike mechanic at the spoke shop, a bike store operating in town since 1973. He has helped secure agreements with landowners to build a trail network around billings, which now includes more than 35 miles of singletrack on public and private land. “We’re in a renaissance stage,” kosovich says. “there’s so much to do, but billings won’t come to you. You have to go out and find it.” one morning in June, we got up early to ride the High line, a sprawling cross-country net-
1. Fieldhouse chef ben Harman 2. boise rimrock 3. trailhead spirits 4. running by the Yellowstone 5. steepworld climbing gym 6. riding above town 7. Whiskey from trailhead spirits 8–9. Jim Huertas of prohibition brotique 10. billings commute 11. the spoke shop 12. dinner at Fieldhouse
work in the rimrock, where we flushed cottontails and jackrabbits and narrowly missed a rattlesnake sunning on the trail. “the best part of the High line is that you see almost nothing of the city,” kosovich says. “You’re surrounded by sagebrush and sky.” also just outside city limits lies the productive farmland of the Yellowstone Valley. “We showcase montana in our food,” says ben Harman, 30, another billings native. Harman is the executive chef and owner of Fieldhouse, a farm-to-table bistro that opened in 2012. the menu he’s put together features cheeses from farms all over the state, bison from south dakota’s Wild idea buffalo, and vegetables from kate’s
Peter Frank Edwards
Garden and Csa in downtown billings. “You’re experiencing it as we are,” he says. “We’re experimenting as we go along.” Harman, who has sleeve tattoos and an earring, is just one of a growing number of local entrepreneurs who are pushing billings into a new era. Jim Huertas, 46, opened prohibition brotique and barbershoppe in 2014, offering custom suits, haircuts, and straight-razor shaves. “i don’t think i could’ve done this ten years ago,” he says. “billings has matured a lot, like a teenager moving into his early twenties. that’s where we are.” —elliott d. Woods
Round 2 Leavenworth, WA Round 1 Livingston, MT
HOW THE WEST WON For the third year in a row, we hand-picked 64 of the greatest places to live, letting readers choose their favorites by voting in a march madness–style bracket on our website. We seeded towns from all over the u.s. but when the dust settled, not one of the 16 finalists was even close to the atlantic. southerners and Yankees, please note: this doesn’t mean we don’t love your hometowns, too.
Quarterfinal Bend, OR
Round 3 Boise, ID
Fi l Final Jackson, WY
Semifinal Ludington, MI
TAKING ALL COMERS billings defeated some worthy opponents on the road to winning our third best towns bracket.
1. putting in at Grand teton National park 2–4. Yellowstone National park 1
Jackson, Wyoming p o pu l at i o N : 1 0, 52 3 it’s never been easy to live in Jackson. it’s remote, the winters are long and bitterly cold, and the soil is bad for farming and ranching. it’s also very expensive: the average home price in 2015 was over $1 million. For all the challenges, though, Jackson is a hard place to leave. “i’m a classic example of that,” says Nat patridge, 45, co-owner of exum mountain Guides, a local institution. “i moved out here 23 years ago for the winter and then never considered leaving.” Jackson’s attractions are legendary: it’s the gateway to two of the national park system’s crown jewels, Yellowstone and Grand teton, and it offers some of the best skiing, hiking, mountaineering, wildlife watching, fishing, hunting, and whitewater you’ll find anywhere. the tetons rise 7,000 feet straight up from the valley floor, begging to be climbed,
and the mountaineering history here is as long and rich as anywhere in North america. but Jackson is equally famous for skiing—two decades ago, patridge’s first job in town was working on Jackson Hole mountain resort’s red tram. the fun isn’t confined to the peaks. people come here from everywhere to fish for trout on the snake river, hunt elk from the famous National elk refuge herd, or just gaze at wildlife through binoculars. “on my commute to the park, it’s rare i don’t see some kind of megafauna—elk, bison, moose, wolf,” patridge says. the three million tourists who flow through town every summer raise stress levels for local citizens, but they bring in plenty of revenue for businesses, too. as do the superrich part-time residents whose mansions bigfoot the scarce land available for housing. more than 1,500 deedrestricted “affordable and attainable” homes have been built in the past 25 years, but many thousands of workers face difficult commutes over
teton pass from places like Victor, idaho, or more than an hour down snake river Canyon in alpine, Wyoming. in the face of those challenges, patridge says that people who stay “are extraordinary—resilient and driven and self-motivated.” talent and prosperity have given
rise to one other success story: a thriving local arts scene. “my kids can participate in Jackson’s ski programs and then, on the same day, excellent dance, pottery, and arts programs,” says patridge. “there aren’t many places where they have those opportunities.” —FrederiCk reimers
clockwise from top left: jimmy chin; david henderson/gallery stock; intersection photos/brown cannon iii; emiliano granado/gallery stock
the best bet for breakfast? “The Universal (1)—they have grits that will break your heart.”
“Black Shirt Brewing Company (2) is a family-run operation that specializes in red ales. their red porter is amazing.”
“For coffee i go to Lula Rose General Store (3). i haven’t found a better latte anywhere.”
“i love going to shows at the Hi-Dive (4). it only 25 holds a few hundred people. We played there a lot in our early days.” INTERSTATE
Denver, Colorado p o pu l at i o N : 6 8 2 , 5 4 5 Colorado’s capital is one of the fastest-growing places in the country—transplants are drawn to big-city living within striking distance of 14,000-foot peaks and rocky mountain skiing and biking. “i was born in denver, but i get it,” says Neyla pekarek, 29, who plays cello with the lumineers. “the weather is awesome, the people are friendly, and there’s nothing pretentious about it. i’ve seen a lot of places, but i still want to live here.” above, pekarek runs down some of her favorite hometown spots. —aNNa CallaGHaN
clockwise from top: diego j. robles/getty; cyrus mccrimmon/getty; courtesy of lula rose general store; courtesy of black shirt brewing (2); tim mosenfelder/getty; studio 9720; morgan rachel levy (2)
You’ll find vintage-inspired duds at Starlet (5). “i get a lot of my show clothes from here.”
taos, New Mexico 1
brewmaster at newly opened Yachats brewing. When it’s quitting time, they fat-bike along the beach, hike to a stone hut with airy ocean views along Cape perpetua, or wander through the rich coastal rainforests looking for chanterelles. afterward, Van meter recommends stopping by the brewery for the house-smoked salmon chowder paired with a pint of his 10 mile saison. “Yachats is a great place to raise a dog, too,” he says. “at low tide, everyone heads down to the beach to let them stomp around.” —tim NeVille
p o pu l at i o N : 7 1 8 First, you should know that it’s “yah-hahts,” not “yahchats” or “yach-ettes.” it’s also oregon’s loveliest seaside town. only about 700 salt-crusted souls live here, along one of the most stunning stretches of pacific Northwest coastline—think lighthouses and peaks of the spruce-covered Coast range close to a deep-blue sea. Charlie Van meter, 28, moved here with his wife, Jenna, in may 2015 to become the first
1. the pacific coastline near Yachats 2. Charlie Van meter pours a pils on the beach 3. Cape perpetua trail, just outside town 4. oceanfront living
“it’s all about the landscape here,” says brooks thostenson, 29, cofounder of taos mountain energy bars, which makes its delicious products in the area. “it’s unique: right where the high desert meets the rockies.” this favored location means year-round outdoor fun. When it’s cold, the action is on the steep, bone-dry powder at taos ski Valley. Come summer, there’s Class iV boating on the rio Grande, soaking at black rock Hot springs, and mountain biking on the famed alpine singletrack of the south boundary trail. the unbeatable scenery and manageable cost of living don’t just draw the Gore-tex set: hippies living in off-the-grid “earthship” houses, artists like pioneering minimalist agnes martin, and a-listers like Julia roberts have been enchanted, too. the place feels older than most boom-town ski destinations for good reason: taos pueblo, north of town, has been inhabited for more than a thousand years. “there’s just an amazing melding of cultures and a really laid-back vibe here, ” thostenson says. —a.C.
brooks thostenson’s guide to taos eating
Gutiz, a latin-French fusion spot with fortifying omelettes and granola bowls.
taos mesa brewing, which serves tacos and cold beer in its expansive outdoor area.
the love apple, a real-deal farm-to-table restaurant housed in a 19th-century adobe chapel.
clockwise from top right: chris shaffer; sam lambie; jen judge; isaac lane koval (4)
p o pu l at i o N : 5 ,74 0
EVERYTHING WE LEARN MAKING TIRES FOR SNOW RESCUE VEHICLES INSPIRES WHAT WE ROLL INTO YOURS. Learn more at Goodyear.com Goodyear.com ©2016 The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. All rights reserved.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado p o pu l at i o N : 1 2 , 2 6 0 it could be steamboat’s distance from denver—three hours when there’s no snow on the roads—or its roots as a rough-and-tumble ranching community, but this place has a noticeably more laid-back feel than most world-class resort towns. bill Gamber, 52, cofounder of camping-gear maker big agnes and sportsnutrition company Honey stinger, says it’s all about the terrain. steamboat’s ski hill is a bit mellower compared with places like Jackson Hole and telluride, and the timbercovered slopes “attract a less extreme and therefore more relaxed population,” says Gamber. that doesn’t mean the alpha athletes aren’t here—steamboat has sent 88 competitors
to the olympics. kids can take the Wednesday-night ski-jumping clinics at the tiny Howelsen Hill ski area; Gamber is partial to hitting the 12 miles of World Cup nordic-ski trails or skinning up steamboat ski resort (2,965 acres and 3,668 vertical feet) before work. during the summer, you’ll find him mountainbiking the growing network of singletrack. in 2013, voters approved spending $5.1 million of hotel-tax revenues to add 130 miles to steamboat’s system of bike trails. other amenities include Fish Creek, a Class V test piece inside city limits, and a pair of rowdy kayak waves on the Yampa river. Gamber is an asset himself—the jobs he provides keep about 100 people busy, as do companies like kent eriksen Cycles, moots, and smartwool, whose employees can ski, fish, paddle, or ride on their lunch break. apparently, recruitment isn’t difficult. —F.r.
1. riding through aspens outside steamboat 2. ludington’s big sable point lighthouse 3. kayaks on the pere marquette river 4. local pride 3
it all starts with the water. ludington state park (5,300 acres) and the adjoining Nordhouse dunes Wilderness area (3,450) have a combined ten miles of lake michigan frontage. What’s more, Hamlin lake, which forms the eastern boundary of the state park, is warm, and its outflow into the big lake heats up the usually frigid waters early in the season. “so instead of it being 60 degrees, you have 70-degree water,” says 20year resident andy klevorn, the head of technology for the school district and a cyclist and paddler when he’s off the clock. then there’s the 64mile pere marquette river, a blue-ribbon fishery that flows through 540,344-acre manistee National Forest before reaching the Great lakes. but ludingtonites like klevorn aren’t content to just live in a waterfront town. they’ve been building out singletrack, too. “When we finish the system on the north side of town, we’ll have 12 to 13 miles of groomed trails in the city limits,” says klevorn. When that’s not enough, he and other members of the shoreline Cycling Club ride events like the lumberjack 100 mountain-bike race—or hop on fat bikes to tackle the area’s frozen lakes. “there’s 35 miles of world-class singletrack within a half-hour’s drive,” klevorn says. “i’ve ridden in italy, Colorado, and North Carolina, and this is as good as any of them.” —JoNaH oGles
clockwise from top left: noah wetzel; john mccormick; jeffrey wickett/getty; mac girl/flickr
p o pu l at i o N : 8,0 5 8
The he uncompromising GPS sport training watch that makes a statement. REFINED PERFORMANCE MULTISPORT
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Hop on your bike and cast for steelhead and trout (2) anywhere along the path as you pedal toward downtown.
backtrack 1.5 miles to the new 32,000-squarefoot brewery and 200-seat taproom at Payette Brewing Company (4). try the blood orange rustler and toss horseshoes in the courtyard.
boise, Idaho p o pu l at i o N : 2 1 8, 2 8 1 mat erpelding, 41, represents boise’s downtown and North end in the idaho state legislature, which means his district contains the majority of the city’s famous 190-mile ridge to rivers system. “the trails are the reason i live in boise,” says erpelding, owner of idaho mountain Guides, which leads rock-climbing trips in the area. above, he walks us through his ideal boise day: a bike-based quadrathlon via the Greenbelt, a 25-mile path along the boise river. —F.r.
send a few of the more than 100 sport routes at Black Cliffs (1), a crag near the Greenbelt’s east end that offers a wide range of climbs year-round. sweet adene is a classic 5.8 crack route.
shred the whitewater at Boise River Park (3), 13 miles downstream of the black Cliffs. the glassier, board-friendly wave found on mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and alternate sundays, becomes foamier and kayak-friendly the rest of the week.
bellingham, Washington p o pu l at i o N : 8 5 ,1 4 6 this coastal college town’s nickname is the City of subdued excitement, and if that sounds a little low-key to you, no less an authority than american alpine institute president dunham Gooding says you’re taking it all wrong. “it means we’re psyched but civilized,” the 41-year bellingham resident says. “i guide in six states and 16 countries, and you couldn’t design a better place to be based.” situated on belling-
1. a winter ascent of Washington’s mount shuksan 2. paddling the san Juan islands
ham bay, the town is a ferry away from prime sea kayaking and whale-watching in the san Juan islands. a 90-minute drive to the east are the rugged, glaciated peaks of North Cascades National park. the closest ski area, mount baker, is known for its relaxed vibes and staggering snowfall—a ten-year average of 654 inches, more than double aspen’s. “people of all ages are outside a lot of the time. it’s too beautiful not to be,” Gooding says. “it’s a city of doers.” —a.C.
clockwise from top: todd meier photography; bob wick/blm; aaron beck/idaho stock images (2); aurora photos/offset; kiliii fish/aurora; todd meier photography; courtesy of payette brewing company; chad case/idaho stock images; susan seubert
A mountain trail that leads to a secret sunset. A rainbow that dances across a waterfallâ€™s crest. A hidden vista so breathtaking, it catches you completely off guard. Discover the lure of Ashevilleâ€™s great outdoors. ExploreAsheville.com
1. kauai’s Na pali Coast state Wilderness park 2. Not all the waves are huge 3. a foggy jungle hike 4. downtown Gunnison
PARKS AND REC Carollyn Cherry’s sport-by-sport guide to fun in and around town 2
Hanalei, Hawaii p o pu l at i o N : 4 5 0 before dave mcentee makes 200 pounds of tasty taro burgers for his wholesale operation, braddah dave’s, he heads out for a two-hour dawn patrol on Hanalei bay. “actually, i try to get in two surfing sessions every day— one before work and one after,” says the 46-year-old entrepreneur, who moved to the island of kauai from the mainland 18 years ago to start a farm. the town of 450 people doesn’t offer much—a grocery store, some cafés and restaurants, and board shops—but surfing is what life here is all about, especially in winter, when heavy hitters like laird Hamilton tow into the monster swells that jack up in the reliable off-shore breeze. Newcomers shouldn’t worry,
though. “You can have 40foot waves outside, but they’ll only be two feet by the pier,” mcentee says, adding that dozens of breaks along the two-mile-long white-sand bay offer lefts, rights, tubes, mush, or whatever you want. on flat days, mcentee rides horses into the jungle or cruises a stand-up paddleboard along the Hanalei river. the 6,175acre Na pali Coast state Wilderness park, including its spectacular 11-mile hike to a secluded beach, sits just a few miles west. living in a vacation hot spot means high prices and limited employment prospects. but to hear mcentee tell it, it’s all worth it. “this place keeps me on my game,” he says. “i can’t tell you how great it is to be out surfing the best waves and then turn around to see waterfalls lighting up the background. it all feels so healthy.” —t.N.
Crested butte mountain resort is 30 miles north; family-friendly monarch mountain is 40 miles east.
Hike, bike, and Climb:
Hartman rocks, a few minutes from town, includes more than 8,000 acres of public land, including bike trails and climbing crags.
less than two miles from downtown is Gunnison Whitewater park. “there’s a recirculating wave, so you can put in a kayak, play in the waves, ride the rapid, and eddy out downstream and do it again,” says Cherry. When you’ve got your skills down, head to Gunnison Gorge for Class iii rapids.
Grab pizza and beer at the High alpine brewing Company on main street.
clockwise from top left: amanda friedman/trunk archive; matt burt; ethan welty; petar dopchev/aurora; ethan welty/aurora; courtesy of high alpine brewing company; tyler stableford/gallery stock; jose mandojana
p o pu l at i o N : 6,0 76 Gunnison is one of those favored Colorado hamlets whose elevation (7,700 feet) is higher than its population, and it’s a joy to be here year-round. “i came for skiing at Crested butte”—the resort is up the road—“but stayed for the Gunnison summers,” says Carollyn Cherry, 53, manager of scenic river tours and a 28-year resident. Nearby Gunnison National Forest and black Canyon of the Gunnison National park make it easy to play. beyond that, “it’s just a very active, socially conscious, friendly place.” —a.C.
Resow your wild oats.
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1. mount bachelor 2–3. Floating the deschutes river 4. a run outside bend 5. Happy hour at Velvet 6. lounging by the deschutes
bend, Oregon p o pu l at i o N : 8 7,0 1 4 Woody Woodward wanted three things out of life, and he found them all in this city on the sunny, dry side of the Cascades, three and a half hours southeast of portland. “my goals were to be on a beer label, have a ski trail named in my honor, and a mountain-bike trail, too,” says the city’s former mayor, who came to bend in 1978. mission accomplished. Woodward has a pair of namesake trails, and his likeness graced bottles of silver moon’s epic trail ale, a local brew. bend has grown from 14,000 residents to nearly 90,000 since Woodward arrived,
and much else has changed, including housing costs. (the median home price has risen over $300,000.) the city now has at least 16 breweries, a whitewater park, and a $11.4 million rec center featuring a combination ice rink and pickleball arena. For this coming winter, mount bachelor, 22 miles southwest of town, is installing a high-speed quad to access 635 acres of new ski and snowboard slopes, an expansion that will make the volcano the fifth-largest ski area in the u.s. in the summer months, phil’s Complex, an approximately 300-mile network of singletrack, is just a 20-minute pedal from downtown. these riches have drawn more than 70 outdoor-
product companies to bend, including Cairn, Hydro Flask, and ruffwear. Not bad for a once broke timber burg. For Woodward, the best part of bend is how what’s on offer always seems to match his ambitions. that 50-mile trail run around the icy three sisters peaks? it’s an excellent goal when you have time to train, as is the 12-mile loop among the asters up soda Creek to Green lakes and back. maybe you’ll finally flash a 5.11 out at smith rock, 40
minutes away, or take a paddleboard out on the Cascade lakes. but your adventures here don’t have to be that hardcore—the mile-long walk up bend’s in-town volcano, pilot butte, is ideal for sunset hikes. “bend is accessible to so many people in that way,” Woodward says. “sharing the experience is what’s really important—not just getting your ass kicked.” oh, and for the record: Woodward is 76. of course, in bend years that’s more like 55. —t.N.
clockwise from top left: bruce mccammon photography/tandem; michael hanson/aurora; regula heeb-zweifel; jordan siemens/getty; michael hanson/aurora; woods wheatcroft/aurora
grand Marais, Minnesota p o pu l at i o N : 1 , 3 2 7
this one-stoplight town, nestled between superior National Forest and lake superior, is the only municipality in Cook County, which is nearly three times the size of rhode island. that makes it the de facto gateway to the 1.1-million-acre boundary Waters Canoe area Wilderness to the north. this attracts an action-ready crowd: “Canoeing, kayaking, biking, hiking, sailing, fishing, skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, and rock climbing are just some of the outdoor activities that draw people,” says dave Freeman, a local who’s been here 15 years and, in 2014, was named a National Geographic adventurer of the Year, alongside his wife, amy, for completing an 11,700-mile kayak and dogsled traverse of North america. “it’s a small, welcoming community with vibrant arts and music scenes, a host of great restaurants, microbreweries, and art galleries. it’s also a great place to relax and skip stones, enjoy a cool breeze off the lake, read a book, or just be.” —a.C.
DAWN TO DUSK
Dave Freeman’s guide to making the most of a day in grand Marais
Grab scones and coffee at the Java moose, then walk out to artists’ point for views of the largest freshwater lake in the world.
Ketchum, Idaho p o pu l at i o N : 2 ,7 2 8 sun Valley, right next door to ketchum, was america’s first ski resort and the site of the world’s first ski lift, developed in 1936 from a conveyor used to move bananas off ships. skiing is still central to the community’s spirit. the mountain helped start the ski-racing careers of brothers Zach and reggie Crist, both u.s. ski team members and X Games ski-cross medalists. the irony, says Zach Crist, is that the better skiing (and climbing and hiking) can be found in any of the four other, wilder mountain ranges surrounding ketchum—the pioneers, the boulders, the White Clouds, and the sawtooths. “the pioneer mountains to the east are as close to the alps as you get in america,”
1. the pioneer mountains 2. a chalice of beer at Grumpy’s 3. Cooling off in the sawtooths
says Crist, “and the sawtooths contain some of the best couloir skiing in the world, but you better have your shit together.” (sawtooth mountain Guides, where Crist works, can help you with that.) With its ritzy history and fine-dining and drinking establishments (we like the pioneer saloon to get a little fancy and Grumpy’s for something more casual), plus hundreds of miles of manicured ski slopes and singletrack, ketchum has a glamorous face. but, as Crist says, “Venture a few miles off-road and you’re in some of the wildest country in the lower 48.” —F.r.
drive 45 minutes up the Gunflint trail, rent a canoe from Hungry Jack outfitters, and take a day trip into the boundary Waters Canoe area Wilderness. spend two hours paddling and portaging up to rose lake on the Canadian border.
stop at the trail Center lodge for a malt—a postpaddle tradition—before driving back to town. (Watch out for moose!)
Head to the angry trout Café for dinner. “i’m partial to the cisco—a local fish—but it’s all fresh and excellent.”
Grab a frozen custard at sydney’s, then walk to the Gun Flint tavern’s rooftop bar for a nightcap.
clockwise from top left: witold skrypczak/getty; ackerman + gruber (3); dale fine; carl zoch/stocksy; woods wheatcroft
W HAT B AD BACK? M A K E S PA I N A D I S TA N T M E M O R Y.
Use as directed.
Â© Pfizer 2016
Durango, Colorado p o pu l at i o N : 1 8,0 0 6 2016
“the Colorado mountains are spectacular in autumn,” says Wells, and the san Juans north of durango are home to one of the highest concentrations of fourteeners in the state. Hike through yellowing aspens on a 2.4-mile trail on the flank of engineer mountain, 35 miles north of town.
the 1,360-acre purgatory ski resort, 35 minutes from downtown, averages 260 inches of snow per year and is ideal for families, beginners, and people who don’t like lines. the tiny in-town ski area, Chapman Hill, stays open in the evenings, so kids (and parents) can shred after school.
“most of the trails in town become rideable in the spring, so it’s a great time to mountain-bike,” says Wells. there are multiple trail systems, like Horse Gulch, that start right in town, and the international mountain bicycling association’s epic-certified Colorado trail starts just outside.
North of durango, the animas river is churning Class V whitewater. Closer to downtown it mellows out. “my favorite thing is to just tube it, floating from 32nd street down to the Ninth street bridge,” says Wells. “on a summer day, it’s a big party down there!”
clockwise from top left: michael deleon; scott d.w. smith/purgatory ski resort; buff strickland/offset; ben gavelda
“people don’t move here for a job,” says todd Wells, 40, a three-time olympic mountain biker and a resident for 22 years. “they move because they love mountain biking or kayaking or another outdoor activity, and then they figure out a way to make it work.” it’s easier to pull that off here than in most Colorado mountain towns. the median home cost is $360,000—pricey, but affordable compared with most first-class rocky mountain meccas. and durango is certainly first-class; residents get after it all year long. We asked Wells how to make the most of each season. —a.C.
On the road or in the ofce, paper and paper-based packaging help us get the job done. And that’s just one way they’re important to us. Discover how paper and packaging are instrumental to how we work and how we live. HowLifeUnfolds.com © 2015 Paper and Packaging Board. All Rights Reserved.
Seattle, Washington p o pu l at i o N : 6 8 4 , 4 5 1 You’ll hear people from the eastern part of the state call seattle “the coast.” and while that’s not strictly accurate, it doesn’t feel far off. From the top of the 605-foot space Needle, you can watch sailboats drift on lake union and green and white ferries zigzag across puget sound. “to have a city situated in a place this beautiful, with mountains and water? that’s exceptional,” says renee erickson, 43, a seattle native who owns five restaurants and a coffee shop in town. three national parks and six ski resorts are within a three-hour drive, and they don’t call seattle the emerald City for nothing—green space is abundant, with some 465 city parks. the local job market is strong, thanks in part to giants like amazon and microsoft. there are downsides, of course. though home prices aren’t quite as bad as, say, san Francisco, the median is around $500,000, and houses
1. drinks at bar melusine 2. by the sound 3. Cascades lookout tower 4. Coyle’s bakeshop pastries 5. lakeside lunch 6. renee erickson at Walrus
in the most desirable neighborhoods command much more. and as you might have heard, it rains from time to time. but newcomers are undeterred, making seattle one of the country’s most popular cities. “that energy is great,” says erickson. “people come from all over the world to get the best of everything, from the outdoors to jobs.” —a.C.
PACK IT IN renee Erickson’s ideal Seattle day
Grab coffee and an almond croissant at Coyle’s bakeshop in Greenwood.
spend a few hours on the water at the shilshole bay marina. try your
hand at salmon fishing or just enjoy the views.
an independent pacific Northwest producer.
“the city’s focus on museums is incredible,” erickson says. Head to the seattle art museum to take in some downtown culture.
stop into upper bar Ferdinand for a glass of sparkling wine from
Have dinner at bar melusine, erickson’s airy seafood spot.
Grab ice cream at kurt Farm shop, where milk, cream, and eggs are sourced from nearby Vashon island, across the water.
clockwise from top right: ethan todras whitehill/the new york times/redux; elizabeth cecil; nelle clark; michael hanson/tandem; courtesy of bar melusine; michael hanson/getty
OVER 400 MILES OF TRAILS, ALL LEADING TO WHERE YOU’LL
© Blaine Harrington III
A WHOLE NEW ADVENTURE IN ONE OF THE NATION’S OLDEST CITIES. Maybe it’s the sunshine – at least 310 days each year to be exact – the sweeping blue skies, or the abundance of open space surrounding this urban oasis that make it such a unique destination. It could be the mile-high backdrop and 38,000 acres of wilderness in the Sandia Mountains, or the legendary Rio Grande flowing through the heart of the city. Whatever it is, it will change your perspective. You won’t have to go looking for adventure in Albuquerque – it’ll be right here waiting for you. #TrueABQ
© Michael Barley
© Michael Barley © Jay Blackwood
© Roy Neese © Jay Blackwood © Kip Malone
A M E R IC AN CH URCH ES a r e bui l di ng F I R S T - C L A S S G Y M S t o g e t followers IN S H APE a n d A T T RAC T NE W M E M B E R S t o t h e f l o ck . C r i t i c s see L U C R A T I VE B US I N ESSES m a s ke d a s m i n i s t r i e s, but t he pr o g r a m s are a sp i r i t e d D EF EN S E A G AI NS T O U R O B E S I T Y E P I D E M I C .
by erin beresini
class starts with a prayer. “i just pray, Father… to be strong and to be healthy, and just have the right focus… in Jesus’s name, amen.” “amen,” whisper 11 women over lowvolume praise music and the hum of 9 a.m. traffic on houston’s 10-to-610 interchange. then instructor Debbie Brown, a spunky 56-year-old with a halo of bright red hair, gets to it. Flanked by two wooden crosses, her amplified voice sounding like a holy directive, she leads us through 45 minutes of stretches and strengthening exercises that’ll leave me face-flat on my houston First Baptist Church–branded yoga mat. this is my first time doing pilates. and
h e p i l at e s
my first workout in a church gym. i spend the top half of class worrying that my triathlon shorts are flashing too much thigh in a sea of calf-length black yoga pants. i spend the rest of the time wondering if i’ll be sent to hell because i thought it was funny when the band on the stereo sang “We press into you, God!” while we were all doing bridges. i’m here because health-minded Christian pundits have hailed First Baptist as a shining example of what’s possible when religion and fitness unite. in late 2009, the church invested a quarter of a million dollars to renovate its existing 25,000-square-foot rec center, making it a viable alternative to the city’s upscale health clubs. Besides the Group X room—a full-size basketball court where
14 instructors teach pilates, tRX, highintensity interval training, “Godspeed spin,” and other classes throughout the week—the facility has two weight rooms with hFB-branded Cybex machines, a cardio room, an indoor track, sprawling locker rooms, a hydromassage bed, and, for good measure, six bowling lanes. the walls throughout are adorned with snippets of health-related scripture: God gives power and strength to his people (psalm 68:35, in the weight room); For in Him, we live and move and exist (acts 17:28, in the Group X space); Strength and honor are her clothing (proverbs 31:25, in the women’s locker room). the place gives new meaning to the mantra “the gym is my church.” “God wants us to be healthy and strong
and to shine out his light for others to and cultural problems of the age we’re see,” Brown said as she took me on a tour in,” says Nick J. Watson, senior lecturer before class. she’s First Baptist’s fitnessin sports, culture, and religion at York st. ministry associate, as well as its most John University in the UK, whose research popular pilates instructor. “We should focuses on the role of the church in public be the fittest people on the planet!” health. that’s a nice way of saying we’re athletics and the Christian faith have fat. in august, he is gathering some of the not always been mutually exclusive. in world’s top Christian academics to meet the mid-1880s, the muscular Christianwith politicians, clergy, and athletes at ity movement arose in the UK, preaching the inaugural Global Congress on sports that participation in sports could help and Christianity. the event’s goal is to develop morality and manly character. encourage collaboration and improve and since 1963, Oral Roberts University, public health through multidisciplinary funded by the famed evangelist, has research on effective interventions. espoused “whole-person education.” at Watson, along with a growing numits strictest, this meant that obese stuber of other observers, is buoyed by the dents could be suspended until they lost belief that church exercise programs weight. that policy is no longer enforced, could be a powerful weapon in america’s but in January the university announced flailing battle against obesity. ironically, that all freshmen in the class of 2019 the greatest challenge to the rising movewould be required to wear Fitbits moniment is coming from the mainstream fittored by professors. ness industry, which is doing everything still, in the U.s. organized religion has it can to contain what it views as an exislargely focused on developing followers’ tential threat. minds and spirits, leaving the body to it’s JUst BeFORe nine in the morning team sports and athletic clubs. Now that’s when the techno beats start pumping into changing. american churches are geta 147-seat conference room on the secting into the workout biz, and the effort ond floor of New Orleans’s morial Conis blowing up. the american Council on vention Center. attendees are gathered exercise named faith-based fitness one here on a drizzly Wednesday the week of the top trends of 2016. there’s a magabefore thanksgiving for the first-ever zine dedicated entirely to the cause (Faith & Fitness) and a website that helps churches set up their own exercise ministries (ChurchFitness.com). “ G o d wa n ts us t o be HEA LTHY last year, health Fitness RevoluA N D S T R O N G a n d t o s h i n e out tion, a nonprofit best known for producing health-related listicles, h i s l i g h t fo r ot h ers t o s ee,” s a i d ranked the top 50 fitness-minded D E BBIE BR OW N, Fi rs t B a pt i s t ’s american megachurches (number one: lakewood Church in housmo s t po pul a r pi l a t es i n s t ruc t or. ton)—and that only covered con“ We s h o ul d be t h e FITTEST gregations with more than 2,000 people attending weekly services. P E O P L E O N THE PLA NET! ” make no mistake: in an era of declining church membership, one of the main reasons faithFaith and Fitness Conference, an eightbased gyms exist is to draw people to the hour slate of presentations preceding the gospel, whether they’re parishioners or athletic Business Conference and expo, not. “We want people to come,” says First one of the nation’s largest gym convenBaptist fitness minister Dave Bundrick. tions. tomorrow there will be meatheads it’s the exact opposite m.O. of big-box everywhere. today’s crowd looks more gyms that base their business models on like a middle school pta meeting. people not showing up. Church fitness most attendees hail from the south: centers do charge fees, but they measure texas, louisiana, arkansas, Georgia. their success not in dollars but in what the woman sitting next to me, Rhonda, Bundrick calls ministry opportunities— teaches K–8 pe at a local lutheran school. interactions in which there’s a chance to she’s also going to the larger expo, to look “positively impact a person’s perception for fun kids’ sports equipment. Other of our ministry, church, and ultimately, participants work for church-based fitour God.” ness ministries they hope to improve. a academics see another explanation for few would like to incorporate their faith the trend. “it’s a response to the social
into their own non-church-affiliated gyms. they’re all looking to conference organizer Brad Bloom, of Faith & Fitness magazine, and his panel of seven experts for enlightenment. Bloom shuts off his eDm pump-up soundtrack and briefly takes the stage to introduce the first speaker, Rob Killen, the short and shredded owner of ChurchFitness.com. Killen kicks things off by reminding attendees about the value of a church gym. “We want church to be the go-to place seven days a week,” he says. “Not just sundays.” like many of the speakers that follow him, he discusses the religious duty Christians have to focus on exercise: “You could have a great heart, but your ability to serve is going to be impacted by your fitness level.” Debra B. morton, pastor of a Baptist church in New Orleans, explains what could be labeled the Jesus is Jacked theory: “if we had to do what Jesus and his disciples did, walk miles and miles to minister, he would have very few followers today.” another speaker argues that physical exercise mirrors what Jesus does for believers in the spiritual realm, breaking them down only to build them back stronger. and laurie Graves, a personal trainer for NBC’s The Biggest Loser, laments the fact that pastors have long prioritized spiritual over physical health. “the message has been, ‘Don’t have affairs!’ ” she says. “But you can do food like nobody’s business.” at other moments, discussions touch on the many deep-seated issues that church gyms bring up for ministry leaders. is fitness vanity or a way to glorify God? Will it encourage evangelism or lustful thoughts? When a magazine runs a story on Joel Osteen, pastor of houston’s lakewood megachurch, and calls attention to his abs (as Texas Monthly did in 2013), is that an opportunity to win over more converts or a triple whammy of lust, vanity, and pride? even if a church’s leadership gets behind building a fitness center, these concerns don’t simply vanish. “We didn’t install any mirrors,” says amy Johnson, a conference attendee who runs the fitness ministry at a Baptist church in arkansas. Bloom, a slender, energetic guy in a mustard-colored polo, recalls the struggles that Faith Community Church in indiana had when it wanted to put in an aquatic center. “they’re Baptists, and they really had to come to terms with the fact that, ‘hey, we’re going to have girls running around our pool in bikinis! Can
courtesy of davidbartongym
we deal with that?’ ” (apparently, they could—the pool opened in 2007.) and what about music? “You have to be super careful about what you listen to,” says presenter michelle spadafora, the toned, blond owner of Christian exercise-video conglomerate Faithful Workouts. “music is alive and powerful, and it is a sword.” if you’re listening to, say, sir mix-a-lot, your workout might cross the line from glorifying God into booty shaking. Baptists, meanwhile, have long had a complicated stance on dancing (remember Footloose?), making many trendy cardio classes a challenge. When i ask one leader of a Baptist church about this, he expresses relief that Zumba isn’t as popular as it once was. For all these reasons, getting into the fitness business has been decidedly easier for non-institutional churches. Namely, megachurches— those supersized bastions of faith that have at times been accused of practicing a fluffy, self-indulgent brand of religion, among other things. they have been leading the charge in building new gyms and unabashedly telling members that their unhealthy bodies are hindering their full potential to serve God. Osteen’s lakewood is the nation’s largest, with an estimated 43,500 people attending weekly services. in 2012, Osteen teamed up with his wife’s personal trainer, fitness guru samir Becic, to create the church’s first health Fitness Challenge. the eight-week program, launched that January, featured fitness and nutrition classes designed “to help families live a healthier, more active lifestyle,” according to its Facebook page. parishioners resisted the health directive that first year, feeling a bit put-upon. “But after we had ten, twenty people see a tremendous difference” in their weight, Becic says, “they became ambassadors.” they started bringing their friends to lakewood’s campus, the former home of the NBa’s houston Rockets. the program has continued ever since, changing its name to total life Challenge, enrolling around 2,000 people this year, and earning Dr. Oz’s endorsement. similarly, California megachurch pastor Rick Warren has been crushing the diet market with his 2011 creation the Daniel plan. Before expanding into waistlines, Warren shot to fame with his bestselling 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life and his heartfelt sermons at 36,000-member saddleback Church in lake Forest. the
diet is named after the prophet Daniel, who rejected the rich food and wine of King Nebuchadnezzar in favor of veggies and water. its widespread adoption has been hailed as a massive public-health victory. in the program’s first year, the church claimed that 15,000 members lost a collective 250,000 pounds. the “secret sauce,” Warren told the Los Angeles Times, “is faith, friends, and focus.” he preaches that mind, body, and spirit must be in harmony for people to be good stewards of the body God has given them. (incidentally, Zumba is one of saddleback’s most popular fitness classes.)
Johnson, a conference attendee determined to help her fellow parishioners at New hope Baptist Church in Baton Rouge stay healthy. When you take away local favorites like beignets and po’boys, she said, “it’s like you take away who i am.” Watson and other researchers make a compelling argument for the potential of churches to change that attitude, and now public officials are beginning to support their efforts. last year the mayor of trenton, New Jersey (obesity rate, 39 percent; religiously affiliated, 52.6 percent), awarded seven local churches grants totaling $56,445 to help them promote exercise and healthy eating as part of a Faith in prevention initiative by the state’s Department of health. the department has since pledged to give qualified faith-based organizations up to $900,000 to implement community health programs. “Our vision for a healthy city can’t be achieved in isolation,” mayor eric Jackson said at a press conference where he announced the grants. “Our faith-based organizations play a vital role in making this a reality.” CReatiNG a ChURCh fitness center
social scientists look at the impact that megachurches like lakewood and saddleback are having and see huge opportunities for faith-based health interventions. “how sport and Christianity relate with regard to health, fitness, and wellness is an emerging area in academia,” says Watson, a fit 44-year-old who loves indoor bouldering and became a Christian at age 30. he and others have published numerous papers on the topic, with titles like “health promotion in megachurches: an Untapped Resource with megareach?” according to the pew Research Center, more than 40 percent of americans still attend church every week. that number is thought to be higher in the south, where obesity rates are the worst. as was repeatedly pointed out during the Faith and Fitness Conference, a dozen cities in louisiana consistently rank among the nation’s fattest, with Opelousas residents tipping the scales at 42.3 percent obese. “Food is ingrained in the culture here,” said Nettye
that can compete with a regular gym is expensive and time-consuming. “it’s a business,” Debbie Brown told me during my visit to houston’s First Baptist. Just like any other gym owners, the church’s leadership has to keep tabs on employees, day-today details like membership-card scanning, and marketing strategies to recruit, engage, and retain new participants. First Baptist’s Fitness and Recreation ministry is a $1-million-a-year enterprise that generates about threequarters of its income on its own, partly through the $25 per month it charges roughly 1,200 members. (the gym also offers scholarships.) the other $250,000 comes from church revenues gathered through offerings at sunday services. the gym isn’t profitable as a stand-alone business, but the cost of running it is still less than 1 percent of the church’s $31 million annual operating budget. in the secular business world, First Baptist’s fitness center is known as a loss leader. Bundrick points to the 43 percent of its gym members who aren’t affiliated with the church; by his estimate, visits to their workout facilities generate more than 9,000 ministry opportunities per month. “it helps our church be relevant in a culture that’s very health-minded,” he says, “better continued on page 116 >
O U T S I D E
W H O
C O M M I T T E D
M A G A Z I N E
E X C L U S I V E
S U I C I D E
FEBRUARY, HAD THE DEGENERATIVE BRAIN
CHANGED IN THE WORLD OF ACTION SPORTS. OTHER ARE
HAVE BEEN SO WIDELY REPORTED IN THE NFL?
DAN KOEPPEL INVESTIGATES.
doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Catherine Harnden, a Canadian downhill mountain biker, is competing in the 2012 O-Cup, a race series held every summer throughout Ontario. The clip, shot by a spectator, starts with a view of the lodge at Sir Sam’s ski area in Eagle Lake, 80 miles north of the Minnesota border. The onlookers are chatting, then there’s the stutter and bump of tires on dirt. Harnden, dressed in white and green racing skins with spiderweb graphics, hurtles into the frame from the lower left. She hits a tabletop jump, but her weight is in the wrong position, and in a flash she launches over her bars. She lands on the ground headfirst, with a chilling thud. There’s a groan from the crowd. “Rider down! Rider down!” a voice announces over the PA. Harnden, 23, doesn’t remember much about the crash. Her recollection is pieced together from photos, witnesses, and friends who were at her bedside when she woke up in the hospital. Now she and I are sitting at the counter of the crowded Coffee Pot café in Littleton, New Hampshire, near her home. This is one of those lucky former northeastern mill towns that has figured out how to thrive in a postindustrial age, its Main Street a mix of craft stores, booksellers, and a half-dozen coffee shops. Harnden has just gotten off work; she cohosts a morning talk show on WLTN radio, whose offices are across the street. She has long blond hair, and she’s muscular and smiling. She’s also amped, energized after a few hours on-air. She insists she doesn’t mind if I replay her wipeout on my phone so she can walk me through the details. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Definitely,” she says. “But you’re gonna mute it. I can watch, but I can’t stand to hear that crunch.” Harnden’s accident video is still featured
on several major bike sites that promote click-generating reels of wrecks like hers. Describing the crash as we watch, she agrees with some of the online commentary about what went wrong. “It was a basic, easy table,” she says, “but I came into it with too much speed, and somehow I found myself on the lip of the jump grabbing a whole handful of brake and getting my weight too far back.” In the emergency room, Harnden looked across the hall and saw another competitor—a close friend—wailing in pain after shattering his collarbone. Harnden’s elbow was dislocated, but she was stoic. She wasn’t aware of her severe concussion. She doesn’t remember yelling at the ER doctor not to cut off her prized team jersey. In retrospect, Harnden says, it was a practice run before the crash that threw her off her game, rattling her ability to concentrate. There’s no video of it, but Harnden doesn’t need footage to reconstruct what happened. “I was coming down to a hip jump,” she says, referring to a feature in which the launch slope points in a different direction than the landing. “It was in the trees, and I didn’t clear it. I bounced off the landing and ate it. I hit my head hard, but I didn’t lose consciousness, and I rode myself down to the pits.” There, sitting dazed and cross-legged on the grass, Harnden knew she needed to remain still. “But everyone was telling me I should take another run, that I needed more practice. And I was like, they’re right. That can’t be my last run before the race. So I went back to the top.” Her next time down, Harnden cleared the hip jump. “That’s awesome,” she remembers saying to herself just before arriving at the next obstacle, the tabletop. Then everything went dark. Harnden still races and is now sponsored by Mongoose bikes. She’s a ski coach at the
nearby Bretton Woods resort. She’s out almost every day, running and hiking the trails of the rugged Presidential Range. You’d never guess that, four years later, she still struggles with basic memory, not just of the crash but also of the name of a man she once dated or a flight she booked for the holidays. She can’t go to loud parties, stare at bright lights, or watch point-of-view action-cam footage. “It makes me hurl,” she says. Harnden says she’s a different person now than she was before her head injury. Precrash, she was “cocky and extroverted.” Now she experiences mood shifts, depression, and fears that come and go, and migraines sometimes force her to retreat for two days into a dark room. Most of the time—when Harnden’s out on her bike, competing, or helping to launch a clothing company—things are “very good, great, in fact.” But the bad periods still come. One thing she’s certain of: “I shouldn’t have gone back up that day.” WHEN THE NEWS broke in May that Dave Mirra—a BMX superstar who won 24 X Games medals and countless other competitions during his career—had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it’s no exaggeration to say that everything changed in the world of action sports. CTE, a degenerative brain disease that can occur after repeated head trauma, is most often associated with NFL players and combat veterans. Classic symptoms include mood swings, severe headaches, confusion, and dementia, and the condition can lead to depression, erratic behavior, dependence on drugs and alcohol, and suicide. Several high-profile NFL players who took their own lives were shown after autopsy to have had CTE, including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who died in 2012 at age 43, and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest at age 50 in 2011, leaving a note requesting that his brain be examined. Mirra, 41, committed suicide in February, and many speculated that a series of concussions and head injuries he experienced during years of competing, in addition to cracking his skull at 19 when he was hit by a car, might have contributed to his death. When the stunt rider’s wife, Lauren, confirmed to ESPN The Magazine that Dave had CTE, questions that previously had been whispered became headlines. Do sports like road and mountain biking, BMX, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding— all of which can result in repeated knocks to the head—pose a risk of concussion and
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THE VIDEO—IT HAS NOW BEEN VIEWED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF TIMES— I S J U S T 1 6 SECONDS LONG, BUT THE BREVITY
Downhill mountain biker Catherine Harnden
THERE ARE SIGNS OF WIDESPREAD HEALTH CONSEQUENCES FROM CONCUSSIONS IN THE AMATEUR RANKS—PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME.
CTE similar to what we’ve seen in the NFL? While head trauma is common in action sports, it doesn’t occur as frequently as it can in football. But with ever advancing gear that makes huge jumps—and huge impacts—possible, and an audience that thrives on risks and wrecks, action-sports ath-
letes are going bigger, higher, and faster than ever before. Head injuries and their outcomes range widely—from concussions that fully heal, to a condition called post-concussion syndrome that can take months or years to resolve, to more serious traumatic brain injuries and CTE. Meanwhile, research shows that it doesn’t take a large number of concussions to cause adverse consequences and that concussion rates are increasing among action-sports athletes. A study that analyzed more than four million emergency-room visits in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011, conducted by researchers at Western Michigan University and published last year in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, reported a steadily rising number of concussion injuries in seven sports: surfing, mountain biking, motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and ski-
ing. Snowboarding was the most concussive activity, with 42,811 concussions over that ten-year period. Of the summer sports, the researchers counted 28,328 skateboarding-related concussions, 3,242 in surfing, and 4,530 in mountain biking. The latter number doesn’t include statistics from BMX, which hasn’t been widely studied yet and would likely make the figure much higher. Sadly, Mirra isn’t the first action-sports athlete to have taken his own life after a series of head injuries. Several competitors in BMX and skateboarding have also committed suicide. Whether their deaths were related to head trauma is impossible to confirm, but the families of the deceased often describe symptoms that fit. Biker Sherlock, whose first name was Michael, gained fame as a downhill skateboarder and street luger, winning multiple medals at the X Games and Gravity Games between 1996 and 2002. On the morning of December 3, 2015, two months before Mirra’s suicide, a surfer checking the waves
at San Diego’s Pacific Beach found a body at and depression that he “self-medicated the bottom of a stairway leading down from with alcohol.” a parking lot. The victim, later identified as When McLaughlin was called to the bridge Sherlock, had shot himself in the head. He by police, she told me, she looked down and was 47, and he left behind a wife and two thought, “If anybody could have survived young boys. this jump, it would be Bryan. He was that Sherlock’s family has never spoken pub- much of a daredevil.” On September 1, 2014, licly about the cause of his death, but in Bell’s body was recovered from the bay. response to my request for an interview, his Presence of CTE can be confirmed only by sisters Margaret and Marjorie provided a a brain autopsy, and neither man’s brain was statement that read, in part: “Michael had examined. It’s important to note that not all his first brain injury at the age of 7. He rode his bicycle down a hill with no hands, the bike W I L L P A R E N T S stammered over rocks and C O M E T O T H I N K O F Michael went down—resulting in a fractured skull. In his pro- S K A T E B O A R D I N G A N D fessional action sports life he M O U N T A I N B I K I N G sustained many concussions— THE SAME WAY all the while wearing the best in protection in helmets. The S O M E N O W T H I N K world is coming to know more O F F O O T B A L L — T O O every day of the life-altering and sometimes tragic loss of R I S K Y F O R A C H I L D ? life due to the effects of brain injury. While Michael was not officially diagnosed with CTE, no other conclusion can be drawn—his last act demonstrated this.” A year and a half earlier, less than ten miles head trauma leads to the disease. But Mirra’s away, a white Pontiac minivan was found diagnosis, along with mounting scientific idling and abandoned on the Coronado and anecdotal evidence, has many pros Bridge, the sweeping 2.1-mile span over wondering if we’re on the verge of a CTE San Diego Bay that connects San Diego and epidemic among action-sports athletes. Coronado Island. The van belonged to pro- More shocking are the signs of widespread fessional in-line skater Bryan Bell, 36, who health consequences from concussions in appeared in the X Games and many other the amateur ranks—people like you and me. competitions during the 1990s. Bell had taken countless hits to his head. “Smashing “THIS IS A VERY messy case,” says neuroyour helmet or face planting was a constant pathologist Thor Stein as he delicately slices thing,” Bell’s older sister, Cari McLaughlin, a human brain into thin strips. The tissue told me. She said that Bryan experienced is discolored, he says—pale gray when it frequent migraines “to the point of tears” should be pinkish—and seems, even to an
After the Hit
There’s no universal blueprint for treating a concussion. The protocol depends on the individual’s symptoms and medical history, and recovery times vary. Keep these points in mind, starting from the moment of the injury. —DEVON O’NEIL
0--1 hours You hit your head. The ﬁrst step is to determine whether you have any concussion symptoms—such as disorientation, dizziness, or headache—or need emergency help. “When in doubt, sit it out,” says
Melinda Roalstad, former medical director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and owner of Think Head First, a concussion clinic in Park City, Utah. Even if you can get home on your own, tell some-
body that you injured your head. “That’s in case your symptoms deteriorate,” Roalstad says. If you lost consciousness or are vomiting, have someone drive you to the emergency room immediately.
untrained observer, almost ragged. “This is a person who would have had major cognitive issues.” Stein hands a slice to a colleague to mark for further study. This narrow room at Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, in Bedford, Massachusetts, is dominated by sharp tools, a stainless-steel table, and refrigerators. In the latter, behind glass doors, I see buckets about the same size as jumbo ice-cream tubs, each marked with a number. Inside are human brains. This facility holds the world’s largest collection of cerebral matter donated by professional and amateur athletes who wanted to further the cause of CTE research. To date there are some 320 athletes’ brains here, and more are on the way. Among others, soccer star Brandi Chastain and Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. have agreed to donate their brains after death. Stein tells me that only one athlete from the action-sports world—an 18-year-old snowboarder who committed suicide six months after he’d suffered a concussion— has supplied brain tissue to the Rogers facility. It showed signs of CTE, he says. (Mirra’s family had his autopsy performed at the University of Toronto.) Stein, who is part of Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease and CTE Center, performs cerebral autopsies here every Thursday. (The CTE Center’s labs and Brain Bank are housed at Rogers.) The veterans hospital opened in the late 1920s to help soldiers returning from World War I cope with an unexpected array of symptoms, including mood swings, depression, headaches, and suicide. As the U.S. population began living longer, the facility’s mission expanded to include diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, that afflict older patients. The CTE Center’s director, neuropathologist Ann McKee, became interested in CTE after finding a buildup of tau protein, now
1--12 hours If you have trouble processing information, like where you are or what you have to do that day, or experience nausea, blurred vision, or loss of balance, get checked out by a specialist. There’s a nationwide list at ConcussionClinics.org.
Maximize rest and minimize stimuli. Roalstad recommends limiting screen time, even on your phone, to ten minutes per hour, max. Your eyes are more susceptible to muscle strain from processing the pixelated light ﬂicker, and you can wind up with intense headaches. Stay hydrated, eat protein-rich foods, and reevaluate your symptoms every 12 hours. If your
nausea, balance, or headache doesn’t improve, consult a medical professional. Sleep is good. Alcohol is bad. Also, steer clear of ibuprofen and aspirin, which thin the blood. “If by some chance you have a brain bleed, that can make it worse,” says Ruben Echemendia, founder of the Sports Neuropsychology Society and cochair of the NHL’s concussion subcommittee.
Cameron Zink goes big during the 2015 Red Bull Rampage in Virgin, Utah.
known to be a clear indicator of the disease, in the brain of a boxer in 2003. In 2008, Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler who cofounded the Concussion Legacy Foundation with Robert Cantu, a Boston University clinical professor of neurology and neurosurgery, asked McKee if she’d look at an NFL player’s brain to see if it showed signs of CTE. (It did.) Later that year, McKee teamed up with Nowinski and Cantu to form the CTE Center, which works with the Concussion Legacy Foundation to acquire athletes’ brains. Since 2008, McKee, Stein, and their CTE Center colleagues have examined the brains of 94 former professional football players. Ninety of them have shown markers for
CTE. (Bennet Omalu, a Pittsburgh-based neuropathologist, was the first to discover the disease in an NFL player—in the brain of legendary Steelers center Mike Webster—in 2002. Omalu’s push to change the concussion policy in the NFL was dramatized in the 2015 movie Concussion.) CTE occurs, Stein explained, from an accumulation of impacts, both concussive and subconcussive. (The latter is a milder hit that does not lead to obvious symptoms.) Scientists don’t yet understand why some people develop the disease and others don’t. Stein says the best indicator of future problems isn’t necessarily the number of concussions but how long an athlete plays a sport that includes regular impact.
The physiology of a hit is pretty simple. It begins, for example, with you falling off your bike, snowboard, or skateboard. As you’re flying toward the ground, your brain is floating inside your skull, suspended in a layer of clear, colorless fluid, like a bowl of Jell-O that hasn’t quite set around the edges. When impact occurs, it’s the shaking of the brain inside your skull that causes the concussion. “That force—the banging, the twisting, the rotation, the acceleration and deceleration—deforms the brain and causes damage to the neurons and other cells that help the brain function,” Stein says. Initially, you may or may not lose consciousness. Later you might experience memory loss, nausea, equilibrium problems, or headaches—sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. The damage you sustained—and any further injury after that, especially before the brain has fully healed—can lead to problems with the transport of proteins in the brain, the same way potholes might impede the smooth flow of traffic on a city street. In fact, this metaphor is nearly literal. As Stein slices the brain he is working on, he shows me spots where trauma created visible gaps in the tissue. Stein also says that an athlete doesn’t need to take a direct hit to the head to incur damage. “Sports where riders make these big landings could cause problems,” he says. “They’re 20 feet in the air, and their brain is falling at high velocity, just like their body. When they stop, the brain keeps moving inside the skull. They don’t have to have pain. They don’t have to say ouch.” Stein, McKee, and their colleagues have identified four stages of CTE. In the first, tau protein builds up, mostly in the brain’s frontal lobe. As levels of tau increase in stage two, pathways in the brain called microtubules become twisted. Then they collapse, degenerating into neurofibulary tangles, effectively acting as roadblocks to normal function. It’s in stage two that symptoms like aggression, depression, and impulsiveness begin to appear. In stage three, as the tau spreads, the most essential parts of the brain—the mood-, memory-, and learning-
3--10 days Gradually return to normal life as your symptoms permit, but keep prioritizing rest and remain vigilant. “Many patients feel worse 48 to 72 hours after the injury than they do 24 hours after,” Echemendia
says. Slow down your breathing for ﬁve minutes at a time. Start your return to physical activity with low-level cardio workouts like riding a stationary bike. Be patient as you ratchet up the intensity; you should
be able to ride at 50 percent of your max effort for 30 minutes with no concussion symptoms before you increase your workload by 10 percent increments. “There are some people who can get back to their
sport in a week or ten days,” Roalstad says. “For others it takes four to six weeks.” Or more: Echemendia says some patients need up to a year before returning to full speed without any problems.
1 month onward Keep in mind that once you’ve suffered a concussion, you may be more prone to another. If you experience even a slight recurrence of
symptoms—like dizziness or headaches— consult a specialist. Roalstad recommends the CDC’s Brain Injury Basics page for more information.
controlling amygdala and hippocampus— lose function. By stage four, the brain is overloaded with tau deposits, sometimes shrinking to half its original size. Ultimately, it can no longer perform the basic functions required for life. Before Mirra’s family had confirmed the BMX rider’s CTE diagnosis, I spoke to McKee. She said that permanent brain trauma “is something athletes in those kinds of sports should be very concerned about.” I told her about other concussed athletes I’d interviewed, and she became distressed. “We need to figure out a way to help these people,” she said. By their nature, action sports are often individualized and not always overseen by a governing body. “We don’t have a great way to find out what’s going on out there,” McKee said. Preventing and healing CTE is McKee’s ultimate goal, but she’s equally concerned about weekend warriors who’ve had a few serious knocks to the head. What should an athlete who has a concussion do? McKee paused. “Right now we’ve got no effective treatment besides rest,” she said. “We need to be sure we can figure out when somebody has recovered.” She paused again. “But we don’t really have a way to do that, either.” “I’m sorry I’m not giving you firm answers,” she said. “That’s because there aren’t any.” EVEN IF YOU DON’T follow mountain-bike
racing, you may have heard of Missy Giove. Through much of the 1990s, she was one of the most outrageous and exciting athletes in the sport. When Giove won the 1994 downhill World Championship in Vail, Colorado, she had wild dreadlocks, wore a dried piranha she called Gonzo around her neck, and rode faster and crashed harder than anyone else, regardless of gender. Giove kept racing for another decade, winning 11 more World Cup events and appearing in the X Games, where she took the women’s downhill gold medal in 1997. But by 2003, she was suffering from multiple injuries to her brain and body. She began to have seizures and severe migraines. In 2009, she was arrested for transporting 400 pounds of marijuana in upstate New York. She avoided jail time and is in the last year of a five-year probation. Giove is now 45, married, and living in Virginia Beach, where she works at local marinas, maintaining private boats. She knows that her many crashes made her “different mentally and physically.” She says her worst symptoms are migraines. She gets “tunnel vision and pretty much can’t move. Everything’s dark, you’re throwing up.” What helps, she says, is rest, a vegan diet, and “a skill that I’ve developed, or acquired,
through experience.” She turns off the lights, submerges herself in a warm bath, and makes sounds, which she describes as “oscillating singing,” underwater. As Giove sees it, the consequences of her crashes are part of a life she still loves. “There are things about my mind and body that have changed. I deal with it, but I have to not be hung up on how I used to be,” she says. In 2015, Giove entered a World Cup race in Windham, New York, her first competitive event in more than a decade. She came in a respectable 17th in the qualifier, making it to the finals, where she crashed on a jump over a section of the course called a road gap. Giove recorded the event’s third-fastest top speed, but one of her longtime friends and sponsors, John Parker—the founder of Yeti Cycles, who’s launching a new mountainbike brand called Underground Bike Works— expressed concern about her continuing to race. “I don’t know that I could in good conscience put her on a bike again,” he says. “I worry about her crashing.” Many other young athletes I spoke to, all of whom have experienced multiple con-
cussions, wonder about their futures. Robin Carpenter, a 24-year-old road cyclist on the Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team, has competed on bikes since he was 16 years old. He told me he’s had four concussions—one as a child, while skiing, and three as a cyclist, including one on February 7, 2016, during the CBR Dash 4 Cash near Los Angeles. A rider made bike-to-bike contact and Carpenter went down, landing on his side, hitting his head, and cracking his helmet. As Carpenter recovered, he felt depressed. He rested a month and started riding again, but he was uncertain if his return to the sport would have repercussions and whether his team would see him as a liability. He no longer has those concerns, but he is worried about the long term if he sustains more concussions. “I picture myself 20 years from now, and I see myself just sitting, not reading, not able to watch television, not do anything,” he says. “And I wonder whether this is all worth it.” Another road biker, 21-year-old amateur Cameron Rex, decided to stop racing in 2014 due to burnout. He sustained three concus-
According to a 2015 report in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine that cites U.S. emergency-room data, between 2000 and 2011, the number of concussions that occurred in various action sports breaks down like this. —D.O.
clockwise from top left: ian collins; david royal/ap; courtesy of thor stein; chris grant/jettygirl online; josh maready; otto greule/getty
sions while cycling and two more during other activities. “The trouble with this kind of injury is that it gets worse,” he says. “Four or five big hits start to compound.” Though Rex can’t definitively attribute any cognitive issues to head injuries, he told me that he noticed changes in his handwriting when he went back to college in 2015. “When I got to school, my handwriting was terrible,” he says. “I had to learn cursive so I could write neatly.” USA Cycling, the governing body for professional and amateur road and mountain biking, has a post-crash protocol for riders who may have sustained a concussion, but the young riders I interviewed said that the information they’d received about it varied widely. It depended on the team and the event. “You look at other sports, they seem to tell you what to do,” Rex says. “You don’t see a lot of that in the cycling world.” The main page for concussion information at the USA Cycling website, titled Concussions in Cyclists for Team Managers and
Coaches, links to some important resources, including several concussion and cognitive-baseline-assessment tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s concussion pages, and the Zurich Concussion Consensus page, which has information on the first attempt to create a worldwide policy aimed specifically at athletes. USA Cycling is affiliated with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the sport’s global body, and both have policies recommending that riders be withdrawn from competition and taken to a medical facility if they experience symptoms that include disorientation. But the ethos of the sport means that many keep going. On day three of the 2015 Tour de France, 20 cyclists went down in a clattering pileup. Though several withdrew, Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, who’d been leading until then, continued, despite a team manager telling journalists that Cancellara felt “groggy.” Cancellara withdrew from the race later that day with two broken vertebrae.
Clockwise from top left: Downhiller Missy Giove; Biker Sherlock, who died in December 2015; neuropathologist Thor Stein, who autopsies the brains of athletes; surfer Harley Taich, who suffered a severe concussion in 2011; BMX superstar Dave Mirra; Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who had CTE
“A lot of it goes to the athlete’s mentality,” says Davis Phinney, a former professional cyclist who partially attributes his earlyonset Parkinson’s to crashes he’d suffered while racing in the eighties. “We get into these sports because we want to do something different. We see the sports as counterculture, even if it’s a huge commercial enterprise. When you get injured, that mindset doesn’t help you.” According to some neurologists, in the heat of an event, the best continued on page 108 >
The Great Escape Once released, the formerly incarcerated face a daunting set of challengesâ€”a job, a place to live, and, most urgently, breaking the cycle of bad friends and bad habits that can lead to more prison time. Now scientists and activists are asking whether nature is the key to their rehabilitation.
rock climbing, surfing—to promote well-being and even treat mental and physical traumas. So it makes sense that some experts are beginning to believe that time in the outdoors could also help stanch criminal behavior. Options abound for at-risk youth, from confidence-building challenge courses to extended wilderness trips paired with group therapy. Studies have shown that these can reduce a young offender’s likelihood to commit more crimes, improve judgment and decision making, and reduce depression, anxiety, and stress in adolescents with mental-health problems. We generally regard children and teenagers as deserving of a second chance, their clay not fully sculpted. Adults who have served time receive far less understanding. “You have this scarlet letter on you,” a Sponsors client told me. “You feel everyone will do their utmost to hold you down. No one is going to forgive you. You’ll be forever judged.” Nature can provide an injection of calm. We know this as we breathe in the quiet of a park or flee the city for a weekend in the backcountry. We extol the power of the outdoors to bring balance and perspective. But is that benefit due only to the well-adjusted and trouble-free? Because here is a group that perhaps needs it more than any other. They are locked away from nature, sometimes for decades, then ostracized upon their return to society, where they often struggle to find housing, jobs, and friends. Yet Sponsors runs one of the only programs in the country that takes formerly incarcerated adults into nature as part of a reintegration program. This needs to change. As you’ve likely heard, America has a prison problem, with too many people behind bars and too little help as they try to rebuild their lives on the outside. The U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. That’s 2.2 million people held in federal, state, and local facilities. The vast majority aren’t serving life without parole, which means they’ll eventually be our neighbors. If we want to keep them out of prison and prevent them from committing more crimes, if we want to help them succeed, we need to rethink how they’re treated. And bringing offenders into the outdoors— even while they’re still locked up—may vent just enough steam from the pressure cooker to get them back on track.
Rain-swollen and cloudy, the McKenzie River ran fast, and fat drops from a flintcolored sky dimpled the water. Brian* pushed his way along an overgrown trail to a small clearing on the riverbank. He stepped onto the trunk of a fallen, halfsubmerged snag and edged along the rainslick bark, a tightrope walker with a fishing pole a few miles outside Eugene, Oregon. At 39, he had spent much of his adult life in prison, mostly for drugs and theft. He had just finished a yearlong sentence for possession and wasn’t yet fully free, locked down at night but allowed out during the day for work release—or for an activity like this, which is considered therapeutic. The water on his right was quick. He flipped his fly into the deep water to his left, near the bank, and drifted it through the calm pocket. “The solitude is such a good thing for me, and being away from the prison politics,” he said as he watched the water. “Being able to talk to normal people, who aren’t preying on people, talking shit, loudmouthing.” He brought in his line, the rod tip hovering just over the water. A trout nibbled, and he flicked his wrist to set the hook, but too soon. “You’re never alone. No privacy, no time to think. Even when you’re lying in bed, there’s someone making noise right next to you,” he said. “That’s something people take for granted, the solitude to reflect without reacting to something all the time.” He worked the hole a while longer, then retreated down the path to rejoin the halfdozen others, more of society’s outcasts. Together they had spent decades in prison for everything from assault to failure to pay child support. Mike, 60 and heavy through the middle, with a deep voice, accounted for a good chunk of that tally: 34 years broken up over several stints. Among other crimes, he once threatened to kill President Bill Clinton. He now spends much of his spare time fishing and camping, and serves as a mentor for the recently released. “No matter what society labels us, we’re free,” he told them. “We weren’t born with
Former inmates are identified by first name only; Sponsors clients written about in the past have lost jobs after coworkers and others read about their criminal backgrounds.
tags on us.” He’d been out of prison seven years and acknowledged that it hadn’t been easy. “At times,” he said, “I wanted to throw in the towel and go back.” “Seven years?” Brian said. “That’s pretty good. I can’t go a year without getting caught back up in some shit.” “What makes you fail?” Jen Jackson asked. Jackson runs the mentorship program at Sponsors, an organization in Eugene that helps the formerly incarcerated relearn life beyond prison. For the past several years, she has organized regular outdoors trips, too. “I hit the gate running, feeling like I have to make up for lost time,” Brian said. But the drugs and partying and poor choices had beat him down so far that he was looking for a change. “I’m trying to do some of these things,” he told Jackson, referring to today’s outing, “instead of getting back into the bullshit I was in.” At least if he was fishing, he said, he wouldn’t be chasing dope. Nearby, on a grassy patch along the river, Eric was dressed more for a coffeehouse poetry slam than a fishing trip, with black jeans and a turtleneck, wavy brown hair brushing his shoulders. At the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where he served three and a half years for cashing counterfeit checks, a concrete wall blocked the views of the surrounding area. Many mornings, Canada geese landed in the yard, and he imagined himself among them, flying away and over the land to places like this. “There’s something about the sound and flow of water, the wind in the trees, the colors, the freedom, that gets a person to reflect on what’s important to them,” he said, “and maybe get back to the basics with their needs and the needs of the people around them.” That sentiment captures what science reconfirms almost weekly in study after study: nature is good for us. It can ease anxiety and depression, pull us from spirals of negative thinking, boost brain function, and improve our physical health. Just a short walk in the woods is enough to see benefits. Today there are countless programs that combine the restorative power of the natural world with outdoor activities—horseback riding,
TONY STABBEd and wounded a man, served five years, and left prison in October 2013 with a cardboard box that held the entirety
of his worldly belongings: his legal paperwork, some cards and letters from family, a coffee mug, a few toiletries, some pictures of friends and fellow inmates, and the black Nikes he’d bought at the commissary. All the rest—his clothes, furniture, family photos— were thrown away when the landlord cleared out his apartment. After an 11-hour ride from eastern Oregon, the bus dropped Tony in Eugene, where he’d grown up, and he stood on the street alone. His mother had died while he was inside. Boyhood friendships had faded. But someone had come for him: the manager at Sponsors, who took him to Taco Bell for three tacos and two bean burritos, and then to 7-Eleven, where Tony bought a Coke Slurpee with some banana syrup mixed in. From there they drove to a light-industrial area on the outskirts of Eugene, to a small compound of brightly colored buildings surrounded by rich landscaping meant to counter the drab tones of prison. Tony would live here for the next 90 days. He had heard about Sponsors while incarcerated and wrote a letter asking for a spot, figuring it was his best chance for success after his release. The executive director, Paul Solomon, served time two decades ago for drug possession and bank robbery. He receives 50 such letters a week but has far fewer slots available. The wait list to join the program, in which clients pay a nominal fee for food and rent, is now about six months. Solomon
Sponsors runs one of the only programs in the country that takes formerly incarcerated adults into nature as part of a reintegration program. This needs to change. wants applicants to show motivation to change their lives, but he accepts only those who are considered most likely to reoffend, based on what corrections experts call criminogenic risk factors: do they have antisocial values, such as blaming others and a lack of remorse? Are most of their friends also criminals? did they grow up in dysfunctional families? do they have a history of substance abuse? “Think about it. You just spent five or ten years in prison, you have no family support, no money, you’re walking out the door with a bus ticket and a mandate to meet with your parole officer and find housing,” Solomon told me. “How do you do that when you’ve got nothing?”
The compound’s main building, three stories high and meticulously maintained, can hold 60 men. They share two-person rooms, large common areas, and kitchens where they cook their own meals. A dozen men live next door in “honors housing” apartments, where they can stay on for up to a year. Sponsors has another five locations around the city with 78 more beds, including one site specifically for women and their children. Many clients receive cognitive behavioral therapy, in which counselors help them reframe and redirect negative thoughts and behaviors. Approximately 80 percent of clients also have drug and alcohol problems; to live in a Sponsors facility, they must attend treatment programs and abstain from
using. Roughly 33 percent are sex offenders, who contend with added restrictions on where they can live and spend time—away from parks and schools, for example. But just having a felony conviction, as an estimated 20 million Americans do, can be problem enough. In several states felons can’t vote, and until the recent Ban the Box campaign, most had to disclose their status on job applications, which is often a shortcut to the trash can. Landlords can reject them, too. In some areas, felons are excluded even from setting foot in public housing, which means they can’t visit family living there. “It’s a life sentence,” says Ann Jacobs, who runs the Prisoner Reentry Institute at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “You’re still a former felon. These civil penalties almost never go away.” At the Sponsors resource center, staff guide clients through the basics of building
a new life: getting an Id card and a copy of and the yearly total explodes to $260 billion. their birth certificate, enrolling in governOver the past 20 years, crime rates that ment assistance programs, learning how to tripled between the 1960s and 1980s fell use e-mail. They help them write résumés by nearly half, but incarceration rates that and coach them in interview skills. (don’t ballooned in the 1990s stayed relatively dwell on the crime or prison time; acknowl- steady, in part due to get-tough measures edge the mistakes and talk about the positive like mandatory minimums for drug offenses things you’ve done since then.) A whiteboard and three-strikes laws that impose long lists businesses where clients have found sentences for third convictions. As prison work in the past—like local restaurants and populations remained high, rehabilitation hotels—to save them time and frustration. programs were slashed as money was chanIn the warehouse, clients can pick up clothes neled to more immediate needs like new for job interviews or furniture and house- facilities and additional staff. Though the hold items when they move into their own national conversation has gradually shifted apartments. from warehousing prisoners to better preSuch services might seem like an obvious paring them to return to society, funding way to help people get back on their feet, hasn’t caught up to ideology. but they aren’t yet the norm. “Most of these reentry programs operate on a shoestring,” Jacobs says. “They’re underfunded and underdeveloped, and they don’t reach the majority of people.” Groups like Sponsors that provide several integrated services— particularly housing—under one roof are exceedingly rare, she says. Even in Lane County, Oregon, where Sponsors is located, most men and women released from prison don’t get the suite of transition options that Sponsors offers. Last fall, when I met with donovan dumire, Lane The federal government and many states County’s head of probation and parole, he are trying to shrink their prison populahad 1,944 high- and medium-risk offenders tions, but for each inmate released, daunting under his watch. The 700 low-risk offend- challenges await, even with the support of ers, who have advantages like family support, robust programs like Sponsors. “And just to positive social networks, and decent jobs, are be real about this, we’re in Eugene, Oregon,” treated with a more hands-off approach— Solomon told me. “We’re not in Oakland or keeping them on too tight a leash has been detroit or other communities ravaged by shown to increase their chances of returning economic disparity and hopelessness. We’re to criminal behavior. Sponsors, founded 43 not sending people back to gang-infested years ago by Catholic nuns and neighborhoods.” community activists, is the MOST REENTRY programs, only reentry provider for Lane where they do exist, focus on County and can house, at best, housing, employment, and 500 people a year. Just how effective is Sponsors’ outdoorsubstance-abuse counselMany former inmates do end focused mentorship ing. A roof, a job, and clean up back in prison. According to program at keeping pee. That’s a good start, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics, clients out of prison it doesn’t make a life. Former which tracked 400,000 prisafter two years? inmates can have those things oners released in 2005, some and still be miserable, and 68 percent were re arrested 68% therefore more likely to fail. To or violated the terms of their Former prisoners succeed they need some enparole within three years, and nationwide who joyment in their lives, hobbies, 77 percent did so within five reoffend. and supportive friends—all of years. If nothing else, this is which fall into another tier hugely expensive. Between 24.8% of criminogenic risk factors federal, state, and local jails, Former prisoners when estimating the likeliwe spend about $80 billion a in Lane County. hood of reoffense. Indeed, set year housing prisoners. (The against many states’ inability annual cost of keeping a single 5% to help the formerly incarcerperson incarcerated can run Sponsors clients ated with the basics, a hiking anywhere from $30,000 to in the mentorship trip can seem frivolous. more than $90,000.) Add in program who do so. “If you’re not happy, if you court fees and legal services,
don’t have something to live for, you’ll go back to where you started,” Jackson told me. “Play and laughter is often a missing piece.” One-on-one mentorship programs are becoming more common. Sponsors pairs the recently released with community members who will spend several hours with them each month on healthy activities, anything from hiking to dinner out to church services. Many former inmates, like Mike, also serve as mentors, friendly guides who have walked the same path. Jen Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental humanities, with a focus on people’s connection to the natural world, and a master’s degree in adventure-based experiential education. She has mentored
After one excursion with Sponsors clients, Jackson sent a picture to a donor agency and received a curt reply: We’re not paying for them to have fun.
through Big Brothers Big Sisters, worked with at-risk youth in wilderness-therapy programs, and taught high school environmental science, art, and physical education using the outdoors for hands-on learning. She later began working for River House, the city of Eugene’s recreation program, which leads activities like kayaking, mountain biking, sailing, and snowshoeing. She came to Sponsors in 2010 and quickly started the outdoors program. “It was a no-brainer,” she says. “This was a culmination of all my life experiences and interests.” Over the past six years, Jackson has run about 50 outdoors trips with Sponsors clients, taking them hiking, rafting, and crabbing on the coast. She is 34 and petite, with a small nose hoop and light brown hair that falls to her jaw. She lives in the forested hills outside Eugene, with a large garden, goats, and some chickens—a bucolic escape from hectic days. Sponsors clients don’t have that remove. On a sailing trip, one of the men in the mentoring program jumped into the water without a life preserver and ignored Jackson’s entreaties to get back in the boat. He couldn’t help himself, he told her later. He hadn’t been submerged in water for 25 years, and the sensation, the joy of the moment, overwhelmed him. Jackson’s vision for outdoor therapy hasn’t always been well received by those who help fund Sponsors. After one excursion with clients, she sent a picture to a donor
agency and received a curt reply: We’re not paying for them to have fun. That’s shortsighted. Sponsors clients in the mentorship program are 80 percent less likely than other former inmates in Lane County to reoffend. For Tony, who is now 46, just wading through the aisles of options for socks and underwear at Walmart was enough to overwhelm him, never mind the fruitless job searches and the anxiety of explaining his past to complete strangers. At times he would sit at the bus stop and weep from frustration, unsure how to navigate the world into which he’d reemerged. The brighter moments, few and cherished, carried him through the early months. Not
away, in a world ruled by alien norms, where at times they embraced behaviors at odds with civil society. “My first night in prison was the scariest of my life,” Eric told me. His cellmate wouldn’t let him enter until he had inspected Eric’s paperwork, which shows a prisoner’s crime and sentence. Fortunately for Eric, he had “good paper,” which basically meant that he wasn’t a sex offender. (They don’t fare well in prison—they are often ostracized, assaulted, and extorted for money or snacks from the commissary.) “He put me on the top bunk, and I had to ask permission to come down and use the bathroom,” Eric said. “People are yelling
long after his release, he went snowshoeing with Jackson in the Cascades, his first time back in the deep outdoors, and watched a hawk soar overhead in a cloudless sky. He counts that day as one of his best ever and a much needed counter to the relentless pressures of life post-prison. “The time really begins when you come back out to society, when you have to deal with the roadblocks and hurdles,” Tony said. “People have no clue how hard it is to get your life back.”
at each other, cussing. It didn’t quiet down until 10 P.M.” He kept to himself for several days and watched the other prisoners, the gang members in particular, the way they rolled their shoulders when they moved, a strut, a show of confidence and authority. He walked around the recreation yard, practicing his swagger. “It’s a crash course, and the learning curve is almost vertical,” another Sponsors client told me. “It’s a very, very violent society.” Some new inmates won’t leave their cells for days because they are too scared to enter the free-for-all of the open areas before they understand something of the power dynamics. Young prisoners in particular face huge pressures to join a gang, with promises of protection, friendship, and status. The chow hall is an easy place to spot the newbies,
Ex-CONS ARE NOT unlike soldiers return-
ing from war. Now back among people who don’t understand where they’ve been, or how they’ve been changed by the experience, they are expected to resume or establish a role as functioning members of society. Yet they’ve been shaped by their time
who often stand with their backs to the wall, tray in hand, waiting for a table to open. Not one with an unoccupied seat, but a whole table, so they can be sure that they’re not sitting with the wrong people—gang members or, far worse, the sex offenders, who often form their own band of outcasts. Tony once accidentally sat down with a gang member, but the veteran inmate recognized that Tony had made a mistake, not a statement, and let it slide. He quickly learned that respect rules life in prison, where the seemingly innocuous can be interpreted as a deliberate affront, a test. “You step on someone’s shoe,” Tony said, “you best turn around and give your apologies.” He spent the first two years of his sentence at the Snake River Correctional Institution, near the Idaho state line, where many other Sponsors clients had cycled through as well. The largest of Oregon’s 14 prisons, it’s one of the more violent, known among inmates as a “gladiator school.” I visited Snake River on a cold fall morning. Located an hour northwest of Boise, it sits amid rolling hills, a complex of beige buildings ringed by high fences topped with razor wire that sparkles in the sun. Captain Thomas Jost and corrections officer Michael Lea met me at the front office and led me through a series of locked doors into the housing areas. Lea has worked here nearly 19 years, and Jost for 16. “There are guys that I’ve known for that long—we came here at the same time,” Jost said. “We kind of grew up together.” About 8 percent of Snake River’s 3,000 prisoners are serving life without parole; they’ll be in prison long after Jost and Lea retire. But the rest—like the clients at Sponsors—will eventually get out, which means that how they act here, how they’re treated, and whether they’re able to improve themselves matters a great deal. We walked down the wide, high-ceilinged, brightly lit corridors that connect the housing units, each of which holds 80 inmates, with one officer overseeing them. The halls were empty, the inmates locked in their cells for one of six daily counts. They live in long, rectangular bays, where a common area separates two wings of ten small twoman cells. The inmates are always on display through two large windows, one in the door and another beside it. We peeked into a cell, where an inmate lay on the top bunk watching a ten-inch TV, its case made of clear plastic so that nothing could be hidden inside. A man of perhaps 50 sat on the bottom bunk, his left eye badly blackened and swollen to a thin slit. “What happened to you?” Jost asked. “I fell down.” “Uh-huh,” said Jost. Had an officer seen that fight, the assailant
would likely be headed to segregation, or what we think of as solitary confinement. (Snake River calls it “special housing.”) Inmates who violate prison rules, assault other inmates or officers, have persistent behavior problems, or can’t be in general population for their own or others’ safety live alone in roughly eight-by-twelve-foot cells. Stays range from a week to six months, but prisoners can be in segregation longer if they rack up too many infractions or are deemed a danger to others. Just outside one of the segregation units, Jost and Lea showed me a chair-like device that scans the body for metal. Lea told me of an inmate who slid a whole paper clip into his heel through the thick callous. “They have nothing but time,” he said. “You’re hypervigilant in here,” Jost said. Inmates in segregation wear orange jumpsuits instead of the denim pants and shirts worn in general population, and their hands are restrained anytime they’re escorted outside their cells. But that is rare—they spend 23 hours a day alone on lockdown. Tony spent a week in Snake River segregation for fighting his roommate, and he told me that what he remembers most is the strange synergy of isolation and noise: alone in your head, with sounds bouncing off concrete as inmates yell at guards and to each other, some calling out chess moves between cells for games tracked on homemade paper boards. As Jost, Lea, and I passed through the main hall, where water from an overflowing toilet had puddled, an inmate shouted to us: “You guys are walking through shit water, just so you know.” We climbed the stairs to a control room, where an officer kept watch. From this perch, they can see into cells on both floors, like looking at animals on display in a pet store. The lights are always on in the main room, which means the cells are never dark. In one, a man sat on the toilet, unspooling a length of toilet paper. In the next, a shirtless inmate did side planks. Televisions aren’t allowed in segregation, but a few were reading or calling between their cells. The rest slept or stared at the ceiling. “Isolation is not good over time,” Jost said. “If you were stuck in that cell 23 hours a day, eventually you’d crack. We’ve seen guys come in normal and they just break down.” Snake River can house as many as 456 prisoners in segregation; nationwide, by one estimate, 80,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement at any given time. Inmates held alone, with limited human interaction, can suffer mental-health problems ranging from anxiety and insomnia to paranoia and depression. They’re more violent, and they kill themselves more often than other pris-
oners. For those who already have mentalhealth problems, as many do, time in solitary makes it all worse. In good weather, inmates in Snake River’s general population have twice-daily yard time, for up to six hours total. They can play soccer, baseball, or basketball, run on the track, lift weights, throw horseshoes—rubber ones—or just lie in the turf. There’s fresh air but not much nature. Those in solitary have barely any contact with the outdoors. For their daily 45 minutes outside their cells (not counting the 15 minutes they get to shower), inmates have access to a recreation yard—a cementfloored space about 15 feet by 30 feet, with high cement walls. If they look up they can see the sky through a mesh grate, a narrow glimpse of the world beyond the prison. The lucky might see a bird fly over. But the housing unit that Jost and Lea showed me had an indoor recreation room, too, and here, in a 15-by-12-foot space with
high walls, I saw something remarkable and entirely out of place: on the far wall, in brilliant color, palm trees swayed in a tropical breeze, and water lapped at the sand. The sounds of gently breaking and retreating waves filled the room. A projector mounted out of reach on the opposite wall displayed the six-by-nine-foot scene. A library of 38 clips included scenes of waves pounding rocks on the California coastline, a tranquil sunset, time-lapse images of clouds building and breaking, sweeping mountain vistas, and forests with birds singing. Ambient sounds accompanied some of the videos. Others were paired with classical music. This was the Blue Room, a first-of-its-kind effort to connect the most isolated prisoners with the natural world. And its presence in a penitentiary says much about both the power of nature to soothe the human mind and an ongoing shift within the corrections system, from punishment to rehabilitation.
NALINI NAdkARNI, the inventor of the Blue Room, is an ecologist who, in 1980, started studying the Costa Rican rainforest by using rock-climbing equipment to ascend high into the canopy. The importance and inherent benefits of trees seemed obvious to her, but she realized that many didn’t share her connection to the natural world, so she embarked on a public education campaign. She gave sermons at churches and synagogues about trees and spirituality, worked with rappers to reach inner-city kids, and took lawmakers on climbing trips into the treetops. A decade ago, she started a science-education project in a Washington state prison, where she taught
efits. For instance, patients who could see trees outside their windows at a Pennsylvania hospital recovered faster from gallbladder surgery than patients whose windows looked out on a brick wall. They needed fewer painkillers, had fewer complications, and complained to nurses less frequently. Nature imagery on hospital walls eases patient stress, herb and flower gardens in dementia wards can calm residents and reduce violent outbursts, and public housing developments that incorporate trees and natural spaces have lower crime rates and promote stronger social bonds among neighbors than those that don’t. “When you
Inmates can sit on a cushion, but many exercise, walk around as the videos play, or stand a few feet from the projection, the natural world filling their view. minimum-security inmates to grow moss and raise endangered butterflies and frogs. The prisoners in Nadkarni’s project had the highest level of privileges among the inmates, including opportunities to interact with the natural world. With good behavior, inmates in some prisons can earn spots on work crews to landscape local parks, pick up trash along highways, or maintain walking trails. Several states have farm programs, with inmates raising livestock, running dairies, and growing vegetables for use in the prison or to donate to nearby communities. Inmates on wildfire crews enjoy perhaps the greatest immersion in nature. (Of course, the impetus is cheap labor, not improving participants’ mental well-being.) Both Tony and Brian had worked on outdoor crews—cutting lawns, raking leaves. “The worst part of the day,” Tony told me, “was having to go back.” Nadkarni wondered: What of the prisoners most removed from the natural world? While scientists had long studied the mental-health effects of solitary confinement, no one looked at the effects of nature on those most distant from it. Prison offered the perfect laboratory. “If we had tried to do an experiment—let’s keep men away from nature for seven years, then reintroduce nature and see what happens to them—it would have been impossible,” Nadkarni told me. “It would have been unethical.” Research on nature’s role in other institutional settings suggested to Nadkarni that prisoners would experience the same ben-
surround people with nature, you can get a change in behavior,” Nadkarni, 61, said. “People respond positively—physiologically, psychologically, emotionally.” In 2008, she approached a Washington prison about a nature-imagery program for inmates in solitary confinement, but corrections officers there said it would coddle prisoners. Two years later, a Snake River corrections officer watched Nadkarni’s TEd Talk and called her. This time she didn’t pitch the nature imagery as stress reduction for prisoners; rather, she said that the program could make officers safer by improving inmates’ behavior. Lea, who worked in the intensive management unit at the time, built the projection system in 2013. “I was just tired of listening to them gripe the whole day,” he said. “If I can get them to shut up for an hour, that’s golden.” The Blue Room, named for the color the walls were painted, succeeded in quieting the inmates, but it did a lot more than that. They received fewer disciplinary infractions than inmates in other segregation units, and prison staff said they required fewer cell extractions, in which teams of corrections officers physically remove unruly inmates. Patricia Hasbach, an eco-psychologist on Nadkarni’s team, interviewed six inmates about their Blue Room experience and found that the imagery helped them with selfregulation, the ability to resist their worst impulses—a skill that’s degraded by time in solitary. They often recalled the experience
hours later to calm themselves. Many said they thought the videos helped them sleep. Inmates can use the room every other day for up to 45 minutes. They can sit on a cushion, but many exercise, walk around as the videos play, or stand a few feet from the projection, the natural world filling their view. Most of the inmates she interviewed—like many prisoners in the U.S. today—hadn’t spent much time in nature before they were incarcerated, so the Blue Room didn’t help them recall pleasant memories. Instead it was the imagery itself, and the emotions it conjured, that calmed them. The project has also given corrections officers a tool to head off potentially unruly behavior in inmates. Hasbach heard this during interviews with staff, and Jost and Lea told me the same. If they see an inmate who seems agitated or has become unusually quiet, they might ask if he wants time in the Blue Room. “They can’t go down the street to be alone,” Jost said, and Lea picked up his thought: “But they can go in that room and be in a forest.” A prisoner in the cell nearest to the Blue Room had been eavesdropping. “They can talk all the bullshit they want about that room,” he shouted. “You can’t be locked in a cell for over a year and not start losing your mind.” The inmate was a regular in the Blue Room. “That guy would be the first one to freak out if we took this out,” Lea said. Twenty-four of the prisoners currently in segregation will be paroled within months, with very little time in general population as a transition. “How do you think they’re going to react if they’ve been stuck in a cell 23 hours a day?” Jost said. “What are we trying to push back to the street?” Many states have reduced the use of solitary confinement in recent years, and last year the federal government banned solitary for juvenile offenders in federal prison and prohibited its use for minor infractions. Advocacy groups say this doesn’t go far enough. They want solitary abolished altogether, which has brought Nadkarni criticism—and some nasty e-mails—for her Blue Room work. By making solitary more palatable, some have told her, she’s helping maintain an inhumane practice. “I do understand where they’re coming from, but we’re not going to abolish prisons,” she told me. “All I can do is provide as many prisoners as I can with the healing power of nature as a way to mitigate some of the negative things that go on in prisons today and to make them more productive, better people when they come out.” Snake River hopes to add Blue Rooms to its other segregation and general-population units. A controlled continued on page 114 >
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if they take a fall, but it’s a very defendable position to give the medical staff absolute control,” he says. “Don’t let coaches make the determination. Medical staff makes that decision.” THE SITUATION IS more complicated in
practice is to give athletes who’ve hit their head, yet appear to be OK, at least 15 minutes of evaluation before letting them return to competition. This isn’t possible in the context of bike racing. A racer shaking off a crash while lying on the side of the road has a splitsecond choice: either get up fast, because the peloton is speeding away, or quit. While event rules and protocols vary, the decision to start pedaling again is sometimes made by the athlete or the team manager, who is trailing behind in a support vehicle, and not always by a medical professional. Concussion policies at many sports organizations are undergoing rapid change as more and more information comes to light. USA Cycling is no exception. According to technical director Chuck Hodge, the organization is aware that its head-injury policy needs to evolve, and it’s in the process of putting together a medical consulting team that will recommend more stringent ridersafety protocols. Hodge says USA Cycling is seriously considering a “mandatory withdrawal policy” for athletes who’ve had head injuries. “The challenge is in the implementation,” he says. “How do we make this happen at all levels of racing? It opens up some very broad questions for our sport.” The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s concussion policy on its website includes language that says athletes who have sustained concussions or brain injuries must immediately be removed from any USSA event and cannot return until they’ve been cleared by a qualified health-care provider. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who specializes in athletic brain trauma, works as a team doctor and consultant to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. Medically, Kutcher says, it isn’t a good idea to let athletes make the decision about whether to continue after banging their head. “It’s like asking the patron who comes wobbling out of the bar whether they’re good to drive,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense if somebody’s impaired.” Kutcher also believes that coaches shouldn’t be making that decision. “You don’t want a situation where somebody is automatically removed
sports like BMX and skateboarding, which have loosely arrayed governing bodies and a variety of disciplines. Most athletes compete as independent contractors, and there’s often a void as to who’s responsible for setting concussion and injury policies—and lots of questions about how, and by whom, it should be filled. The larger action-sports competitions are controlled by media organizations like ESPN, which runs the X Games, or consumer brands like Red Bull, which has multiple events and also sponsors many athletes. These entities don’t act as leagues or governing bodies. What’s more, athletes might enter a variety of competitions throughout the year, many of them operating independently of one another. While most have extensive safety protocols and on-site medical and evacuation resources, providing things like concussion policies and coverage for injuries hasn’t typically been the job of event producers or sponsors, and athletes are required to carry their own health insurance in order to compete. While there are hundreds of competitions each year, Red Bull’s Rampage freeride mountain-bike contest may be the most thrilling. It also illustrates some of the knottier issues in action sports. Rampage is a work of aerial art, in which a by-invitationonly group of riders compete in the cliffs and canyons of Virgin, Utah, doing things on a bike that should be impossible—and sometimes are. At the 2015 Rampage, 19-year-old freeride phenomenon Nicholi Rogatkin, currently ranked first in the world and sponsored by a host of gear manufacturers, missed a drop and rode off a cliff. His helmet-cam footage shows him tumbling and twisting, and you can hear him groaning, but you really have to see the video shot from a distance to appreciate how far Rogatkin fell. After he gets up, he’s back on his bike within moments, despite apparent damage to the front of his helmet. In an interview conducted just after his run and aired during the December 27, 2015, edition of Red Bull Signature Series, on NBC, Rogatkin said, “I was just waiting to go unconscious, but I stopped, fi nally, got up, checked that my bike was OK, put my helmet back on, got the OK from the judges to drop, not really the OK from the medics, but went anyway and finished my run.” (Rogat-
kin walked away with only minor injuries.) Red Bull doesn’t list an athlete concussion policy on its website and declined requests to comment on whether it has a head-injury protocol for its events. When asked about athlete injuries, communications director Patrice Radden offered a written statement. “Red Bull provides platforms for world-class athletes to realize their dreams,” it read, in part. “The safety of spectators and participants is always our primary concern.” Some Rampage riders didn’t respond to interview requests, but Logan Binggeli, who took home the bronze medal in 2012 and placed 15th in 2015, and Cameron Zink, the 2010 champion, said they weren’t aware of a concussion policy at the event. Zink, the current world-record holder for the longest horizontal distance covered in a backflip—more than 100 feet, performed at the 2014 X Games—has been trying to get better compensation and safety protocols for Rampage athletes. After the 2015 competition, he and a group of riders met with Red Bull to ask for some changes to the event, including an updated policy for injuries, a rest day, a larger purse (in 2015, it was $100,000), and for the company to pay gap insurance, so that athletes’ deductibles would be covered. (Action-sports riders are able to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but many have only the most basic policies, which often come with high deductibles.) “The Rampage is incredible,” Zink says. “I love it. Some of the best times I’ve ever had have been there. We all feel that way, and Red Bull knows it. We get taken advantage of because we’re going to do it regardless. We’ll do it for no money, so they can shove us in a corner and we have no rights.” On June 23 of this year, the company announced changes to the 2016 Rampage format. The biggest was that a new venue, not far from the old one, would be used, and that the rider-built obstacles would be limited to those constructed by hand or with hand tools, potentially resulting in smaller— and less risky—stunts. The number of riders invited was reduced to 21, and the rest day that Zink and his colleagues had asked for was added. The purse was increased to $150,000, and riders will receive $4,000 each for expenses. But there was no word about gap insurance or injury policies. In her statement to Outside, Red Bull’s Radden said: “The industry practice for almost all events is that individual health care coverage is the responsibility of the participating athletes. Any incidental costs are expected to be covered by such individual’s health insurance provider.” Other Rampage riders I spoke to think the system is working, citing expert on-site
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medics and the opportunity to compete in carefully planned venues broadcast to large audiences, and adding that it’s up to riders to know their limits and not push past them. But given the nature of many action sports, there’s an acute likelihood of sustaining head and other injuries, even for the best in the field. One of Dave Mirra’s signature moves was a double backflip, which he first executed off a BMX ramp built on San Francisco’s Pier 30 for the 2000 X Games. It was one of the most astounding feats ever accomplished on two wheels. But he also crashed, badly, at other events. So have dozens of other riders—at competitions, on the trail, and in practice at backyard tracks. When asked if Mirra’s death has prompted a rethinking of medical protocols, Danny Chi, director of communications for the X Games, offered a written statement. “Athletes who are determined by the X Games medical staff to have sustained a concussion will not be allowed to continue to participate in practice or competition for the duration of those Games,” it read. “We have made a commitment to provide top quality medical care for athletes at X Games events. We constantly examine and evaluate our processes and policies, always with one goal in mind: athlete safety. This is a topic we take very seriously.” Meanwhile, the financial and emotional costs of head injuries can take a large toll on athletes and their families. In August 2011, 16-year-old Harley Taich was the topranked female surfer in California and was about to compete at a contest in Point Mugu, just north of Malibu, when she flew off her board and landed headfirst in the sand. She was diagnosed with a concussion but says she received conflicting medical advice. “Some doctors told me to keep surfing, some told me to stay home and do nothing,” she says. Taich continued surfing and says she reconcussed—“dozens and dozens of times.” She reached a point where she could no longer balance properly and suffered near constant migraines and mood swings ranging from anger to “hysterical tears.” In 2013, she attempted suicide. “I did everything wrong in my recovery,” she says, “because I didn’t know what to do.” When asked how she paid all the medical bills, Taich says, “I have grandparents. They’d been saving for my college all my life, and it was pretty clear I wouldn’t be going. So they paid for my treatments instead.” She estimates the total cost at almost $200,000. After three years, Taich decided she’d take the rest that one of her doctors had recommended. After eight months of no surfing, no school, no electronics, no stimula-
tion of any kind, and an improved diet, she began to feel better. Taich, now 21, says that most of her symptoms have diminished. She recently wrote a children’s book about her experiences, called Heads Up: The Story of Finn and Reef, to “get the correct information out there in a way that people can understand.” But her career as a professional surfer is done. “It was everything I wanted to be since I was four years old,” she says. PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES put themselves at risk far more often than most of us, but the new science of concussions is disturbing for amateurs, too. As an avid mountain biker who competed in both downhill and cross-country events throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I’ve had at least four concussions from crashes, including two in which I was knocked unconscious. In the most serious incident, nearly 20 years ago, I hit a tree on a downhill course in France. I was out for ten minutes and woke up with a broken eye socket and gashes on my face that required multiple stitches. Other than being told not to sleep for 24 hours—a myth that may actually make things worse—I didn’t receive a word of advice about brain injury. In the years that followed, I married and had two kids. I haven’t had much time to ride the way I used to, and I haven’t taken a hard blow to the head in a decade. But I have found myself struggling with depression, attention, and organization. Some of my friends and loved ones would describe me as impulsive, at least some of the time. I can’t say that my concussions contributed to that; I can’t say they haven’t. I’m not sure I really want to know. I recently bought a new mountain bike, my first in over a decade, and was reminded as I sped down a Los Angeles fire road at 30 miles per hour how much I love the sport. But I’m worried about my slower reflexes and what might happen if I hit my head again. The scariest part of all this are the cognitive consequences of a concussion that weekend warriors may face. A study published earlier this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at more than 235,000 men in Ontario who’d had concussions between 1992 to 2012. Among those who’d suffered a single concussion, researchers found that suicide rates were three times higher than those who’d never had a head injury. That rate increased to four times when the concussion occurred on a weekend, leading to a suicide frequency, the authors wrote, that “exceeded the risk among military personnel.” The authors of the study say they don’t have a clear understanding of why the men who concussed during a weekend faced
higher risks for suicide after a single concussion. But they noted that on weekends, people may not seek medical care as quickly as they might on a weekday. “There aren’t great protocols for weekend warriors,” Jeffrey Kutcher says. “And we need to keep the general population in mind.” One of my former riding buddies, Warren Shumway, remembers falling off his bike a lot. “I never thought about it much,” says Shumway, who is 55 and works as a textileindustry sales rep in New Hampshire. “I felt invincible.” But two years ago he was knocked out during a race. “That scared me. My son was less than a year old, and I sat in a fog for a couple of days,” he says. Since then he’s stopped racing and now has two boys, who he says “won’t be allowed to do extreme sports until they’re 16.” I’m not sure if I’ll be that conservative with my boys. I want them to be fit and to learn that there’s reward in risk. How much risk? Hard to say. Though there’s debate about what parents need to do when their kids sustain head injuries—rest is called for, but what kind and how much is something the medical community is still sorting out—Kutcher says that the most important thing is for parents to make smart decisions. “You have to ask, what’s your child’s plan for playing sports, and what are the risks?” he says. At U.S. Ski and Snowboard, Kutcher calls for pre-participation neurological exams for all student and youth athletes, and follow-up exams at least once a year to determine whether a child’s brain is tracking the right way. “Are there issues starting to come up,” he says. “If there are, why are they there?” Kids are becoming more aware themselves. During an Amtrak trip down the Pacific coast recently, I overheard a group of teenage boys talking about concussions. They were all 17 and heading back to San Diego after a week at summer camp. One of them, a burly redhead named Remington Naves, had concussed three times, once surfing, once playing lacrosse, and once skateboarding. “I had a huge impact at the skate park in Carlsbad,” he said, “and I felt groggy for a week.” Naves was so confused by the conflicting information he received afterward that he ended up doing a lot of research on head injuries. While looking into it, he learned that his father had suffered four concussions as a high school and college football player. “We’re concerned for each other,” he says. That concern was heightened when he heard about Dave Mirra’s suicide. Naves had taken an Impact test, a cognitive measurement that helps provide a baseline for future results. Nearly all youth and
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college athletes in organized sports are now required to take the test, a 25-minute online series of questions and exercises designed to measure cognitive skills, reaction time, attention span, and memory. Naves said that, after a concussion he suffered while playing football last spring, he scored “17 percent lower” than he had on his initial test. Will parents come to think of skateboarding, mountain biking, and other action sports the same way some now think of football—too risky for a child? Kutcher says there’s no reason for excessive restrictions. “We need to be vigilant about it,” he says, “but you can have concussions and have a healthy life after sports.” There’s variance, he explains, “in how much force it takes to cause an injury to any particular person’s brain, based on genetic factors and maybe some physiological factors. And there’s also a threshold that’s very individual in terms of how much injury it takes to produce a clinical effect.” Kutcher’s point is that it’s an oversimplification to say that concussions invariably lead to cognitive problems. “I’ve seen athletes who’ve had many concussions and their overall brain health is fine,” he says. “We monitor them, but we let them continue to play. And I’ve had athletes who had just one or two concussions, and it seemed like the best thing for them to do was retire.” Many athletes I spoke with pointed to helmet usage as a protective measure against concussions. Several new designs are available, and the technology continues to evolve. But the neurologists I interviewed said that at this time, helmets can’t prevent concussions. “Concussion occurs when the brain moves,” says Kutcher. “Whatever you have outside your skull might absorb some force, but if you get hit on the helmet by something, your brain is still going to move.” Neurosurgeon Robert Cantu says that athletes need to continue to wear helmets to “reduce the risk of skull fracture, not concussion.” For now the best protection may come from talking about CTE more, an idea expressed by Lauren Mirra, Dave’s wife, when she broke her silence about her husband’s death. “This is the beginning of bringing awareness of talks of better equipment,” she told ESPN The Magazine. “It would be amazing if this is something we can detect in life one day. If we can detect it, prevent it, stop it, let’s do all of the above.” Biker Sherlock’s family offered a more sobering outlook. “It’s easy to feel like superman,” Sherlock’s sisters wrote in their statement, “when the adrenaline is rushing and you are part of something bigger
than yourself, especially when surrounded by like-minded individuals who love their sport. From our perspective, at the end of the day, the medical, physical, and psychological consequences of the fleeting moments of elation will outweigh it all. Michael’s passion for sports was eclipsed exponentially by his love for his family and friends. The consequences of brain injuries took him away from us.” WHAT WILL IT take to create change for athletes? Zink is considering forming a union to band riders together. Tim McFerran, president and founder of the World Skateboarding Federation, a two-year-old group that’s hoping to create a global body for skateboarders, is working on getting secondary insurance for skaters. The federation has 5,000 members and is one of the groups consulting with the Olympics as the sport is considered for 2020. “You have to create a co-op, or something like it, where everybody signs up together to create a big enough group that an insurance company would want to do business with,” McFerran says. That’s a start, but obtaining NFL levels of recognition will require more. “Nobody has put together a cogent plan to get these athletes safe,” says Jay Fraga, a 44-year-old former BMX racer who retired in 2010 after suffering multiple concussions during his career. “That’s how the NFL got sued, that’s how there was so much human carnage in football. History is going to repeat itself.” In 2012, Fraga started a website called the Knockout Project to provide an outlet for athletes who’ve suffered concussions to share stories and receive consistent, up-todate information. At this time, with most action sports existing as loose confederations, there’s often no single entity to bring to court, as NFL and NHL players have done. And for many athletes’ injuries, the statute of limitations on damages has passed, according to Michael Kaplen, an attorney who teaches braininjury law at George Washington University Law School. But, Kaplen says, “If somebody takes a fall and they’re allowed to continue, you’d have to ask: Did the organization have a rule? If they did, did they follow it? Should they have? Today everybody has knowledge of repetitive head trauma. Everybody has knowledge of keeping participants out of the game until they’ve recovered. If the organizations don’t do that, they could be liable.” In the meantime, the race is on to figure out a way to test for CTE in living athletes. One possible method is being studied by Dara Dickstein, an adjunct assistant professor of neuroscience at New York’s Icahn
School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Building on work that has successfully detected markers for tau buildup in Alzheimer’s patients, Dickstein and her colleagues are investigating whether those methods can be transferred to subjects suspected to have CTE. The technique involves injecting a radioactive tracer into the bloodstream; the tracer binds to any tau proteins in the brain, which can then be detected via PET scan. Dickstein says she can’t discuss the study’s findings before they are published, but the initial results are promising, showing retention of the radioactive tau in the brain of a living 39-year-old former NFL player. She also mentions a difficulty she’s facing: finding control subjects whose brains are unscathed. “You look at the general population of men over 35, and it gets really hard to find anybody with no history of being bumped hard on the head or knocked out,” she says. Meanwhile, Catherine Harnden had a full racing schedule this summer and had no plans to quit. “I love this sport,” she says. She’s moving from downhill to the enduro division. She’s feeling a lot better, and she says that prioritizing exercise, sleep, and a good diet has led to fewer occurrences of her symptoms. She’s also discovered that doing crossword puzzles and word games helps her to manage them. We’ve made plans to meet later this year at the Highland Mountain Bike Park, in Northfield, New Hampshire, to launch ourselves off jumps of varying heights and onto a 50-by-50-foot airbag with massive Red Bull logos silk-screened onto it. It’ll be fun. In the end, I love my sport as much as any athlete, and as conflicted as I am about how and when to participate, I’m not going to stop. I can’t wait to fly through the air and land on that cushy bag. One thing Harnden says she needs to do is get over hiding her injuries from her friends and loved ones. Doing so takes a lot of energy. She wrote in an e-mail that, throughout her life, she’s worked hard to “nurture a love of speed, adrenaline, endorphins. Because of that risk-reward ratio, I also became accustomed to injuries. It’s easy to pretend to be fine. As an athlete, it’s far easier to say ‘I’m OK’ than it is to say ‘My season is over.’ ” Harnden concluded her note with this: “Concussions sit in a gray area where the athlete decides when to return to play.” It’s a decision that can cost far too O much. DAN KOEPPEL ( @SOULBARN) iS A FORMER EDiTOR AT MOUNTAIN BIKE MAGAZiNE. THiS iS HiS FiRST STORY FOR OUTSIDE.
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study with a larger sample size is now under way, but preliminary results generated interest from facilities in Alaska, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and even the Washington prison that originally turned down Nadkarni’s proposal. Prisons in Wisconsin and Nebraska just opened their own versions of the Blue Room. Last year a sheriff from Utah embraced the idea when he discussed it with Nadkarni. “We keep getting more and more punitive, taking away their privileges, subtracting what they’re able to do,” she remembered him saying. “It’s not working.” WHEN JACkSON and her Sponsors clients first arrived along the Mckenzie for their fishing trip, they gathered under a riverside pavilion, out of the spitting rain, and their guide for the day, Jonathan Blanco, explained the seams and pools where trout could be found. He mounted a few vises to the picnic tables and guided the group through the fine and frustrating work of fly tying. “I’m going to give it a whirl, but I don’t see this being my talent,” Tony said as he spiraled thread around what would become a woolly bugger. Tony is thoughtful and earnest, with a ruddy face and close-cropped, graying hair. His tongue poked from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated. “What happens if the thread breaks?” he asked. “You just wrap right over it,” Blanco said. Blanco, who is 35 and quick to smile, started tying flies at age eight and was doing so professionally at 15. He built his first fly rod at 18 and now has his own rod-building business, a side gig to his 14-year career at the Oregon department of Corrections. Prisoners and corrections officers are both shaped by the struggle for control and respect. Blanco had seen himself as an enforcer, tasked with reminding inmates that they had done wrong and had forfeited their rights to freedom. “I made life a living hell for some guys,” he said. “I’m fivefoot-six, and I weighed 130 pounds when I started. I had to be aggressive.” He was a taser and firearms instructor, and spent more than three years with prison SWAT teams, called in to break up fights and subdue unruly
inmates. “I’ve had things turn ugly,” he told me. “The only way to get through that was to dehumanize the individuals we were working with.” Blanco worked on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary for two years, then met an advocate for inmates whose own father, a corrections officer, had been murdered by a prisoner. How could he work with inmates when one had taken so much from him? Blanco asked. By helping prisoners, the man told him, he was keeping others safe, maybe preventing another murder. In 2012, Blanco transferred to the prison’s hobby shop and helped inmates establish their own online handicraft businesses, selling jewelry, leather goods, and artwork. He now runs the prison arts programs statewide, though he’s still learning to dial back who he’d become as a corrections officer. “What helped was nature,” he said. “Going outside, that’s my outlet.” He fishes or hikes most weekends—and on the occasional mentalhealth weekday—and hoped these men would find the same relief. “Some of them give up quickly,” even committing new crimes just to return to a world they understand, he told me. “Going out into the woods may give them enough solitude to take a deep breath.” He led the group onto the grass and gave a quick lesson in casting, the wrist fixed and the forearm gliding like a metronome from 11 o’clock to two and back again. They fished the river for several hours. Brian, working a hole by a downed snag, caught a single rainbow trout. The other six came from Mike, who opted to spin-cast with worms. They gathered again in the late afternoon under the pavilion to cook their catch. The rain had stopped and the clouds had thinned, with a hopeful patch of blue in the western sky. As they nibbled on the trout, Jackson asked them to discuss the pressures they faced and what might ease them. “How do you find time day to day to step back?” she asked. “I’ll just walk around the block, look at the trees, the colors,” Tony said. “A five, tenminute walk and I’m able to regroup.” Jackson nodded and smiled. Just as a 45-minute session in the Blue Room can’t counteract all the effects of prison, a trip into the outdoors every month or two doesn’t erase the daily stressors. That’s the shortcoming of such programs: the impacts are lessened if exposure isn’t maintained or revisited, even in small doses. “We’re working with the most marginalized people, and there are a lot of barriers to recreation,” Jackson said as we drove back into town. “There’s transportation, there’s time, there’s money. But what is nature and what is recreation? It’s not that nature and the outdoors is this
other place you go—it’s right here. It’s what’s right outside the window, or on the walk between your two or three jobs.” THE NExT MORNING, I toured the grounds at Sponsors and saw its nearby nature, a moment of peace within easy reach, where clients can sit by the meandering flower garden or help work the five large raised beds, which in summer are crowded with beets and squash, corn and tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries. The importance that Sponsors places on time spent outdoors can be seen in the bright and sprawling mural painted across a wall behind the garden. Sketched by a local artist and painted by the clients, it depicts the prisoner’s journey from the bleak setting of incarceration to a vibrant landscape where he’s embraced and supported. In the middle of the mural, surrounded by sunlight, the man kneels and drinks from a mountain stream. In a renovated garage beside the mural, I found Wayne, who runs Sponsors’ fledgling bike shop. With his wallet chain, tatted forearms, and thick brown goatee, he still looked much like the hard-drinking, hard-swinging biker he’d been before prison. About half of Sponsors’ clients can’t drive. Some lost their license for drunk driving or nonpayment of child support; others can’t afford a car and insurance. “When you get out, you don’t have any freedom,” Wayne said as he unwound a coil of brake cable. With bicycles they can ride to interviews and appointments or just cruise along the riverside paths for some exercise and relaxation. Every few months, the Eugene police department donates a couple dozen confiscated and abandoned bikes. Some just need a tune-up; others Wayne cannibalizes for a growing inventory of spare parts. That morning he had loaned out three bikes. Another, a Trek mountain bike halfway through a rebuild, hung in a Park floor stand. He’d just received several light kits for anyone who needed to ride at night. A few stop in each day with flat tires, squirrelly derailleurs, squeaky brakes. He wants the shop to become a gathering spot, where clients can learn to work on their own bikes. Wayne had racked up three drunk-driving arrests and lost his license but kept driving, which earned him two years in prison. There he cleaned himself up, started going to church and Alcoholics Anonymous; getting right, he calls it. Since his release last March, cycling had become a core element of his life, for both logistics and enjoyment. His girlfriend offers him rides in her car, but he usually declines, preferring the independence of his bike, clear skies or rain. He rides an electric bike around town and
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bought a Specialized Crave Comp 29er for trail and downhill riding. He had also made new friends at local bike shops and on the trails. “You lose your friends when you go to prison, and you have to stay away from them when you get out, if you want to stay out of prison,” he said. “The majority of the people you hung out with have the same problem you did. You feel really lonely.” Later that afternoon, I drove with Tony into the hills south of Eugene for a hike up Spencer Butte, and he spoke of loneliness, too. He told me about the first night in his own apartment after his 90 days at Sponsors, after the friends who helped him move had left, when the quiet and solitude had overwhelmed him. “The fear set in,” he said. “The fear of being alone. You don’t know how to manage on your own anymore.” He would like to counsel troubled youth someday, to help them avoid the bad choices he didn’t. “Nip it in the bud,” he said. He still has his own struggles. He wasn’t getting enough house-painting work, Sponsors staff suspected he’d started drinking again, and he’d been arrested a few months earlier for misdemeanor assault and spent several days in jail. For much of the summer, he slept in a tent by the river in a Eugene park, returning there each night after work. He presented this time to me as an extended camping trip, but when I mentioned it to Jackson, she offered a different perspective: The camping was partly by necessity. He was between housing during that period, but whether by circumstance or choice, he spoke of the experience with what sounded like genuine pleasure and appreciation. Last summer, Tony also bought a used blue kayak, and he often loaded it into his pickup truck and drove to a series of ponds north of town, where he had canoed with his stepfather as a boy. On one kayaking trip, three small ducks jumped on his bow. “It gives you a tender moment,” he said. “I carry that with me.” We set off down the trail, a late-day sun pushing bars of golden light through the fall foliage. Tony stepped lightly over rocks and tree roots in paint-spattered leather boots. In these woods he was merely a hiker, and the many people we passed, the dog walkers and college kids and trail runners, offered friendly nods and greetings, bonded, for a moment, by a shared enjoyment of nature. We rounded a corner on the trail and Tony glimpsed the summit, a short climb away. He sucked a breath and sighed. “I see that,” he said, “and O everything just leaves my head.” BRIAN MOCKENHAUPT IS AN OUTSIdE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR.
than any other aspect of the church.” Maybe so, but many lawmakers and leaders in the fitness industry argue that religiously affiliated fitness centers are using their tax-exempt status to offer rock-bottom membership fees that help them siphon off customers from for-profit gyms. It’s unfair competition, critics complain, and it’s time to level the playing field. In 2004, Nashville’s Christ Church opened a 104,000-squarefoot family life center and began charging a $100 annual fee—the amount many forprofit gyms charge per month. Half of the 800 people who signed up weren’t part of the church. The State Board of Equalization filed a lawsuit, claiming it was a commercial enterprise. After an extended court battle, Christ Church agreed to pay a 50 percent property-tax rate on the building. “I’m not anti-government—there has to be a tax base,” says dan Scott, pastor of Christ Church, which sees about 4,500 attendees at weekly services. He makes it clear that he harbors no resentment toward the state and recognizes that some megachurches do take unethical advantage of their tax status. “In the end,” Scott says, referring to the settlement, “the city and state didn’t get why a church needs to have a gym.” It wasn’t an unusual outcome. Church fitness centers have had a rough time in court recently. In 2014, an Ohio appeals court denied tax exemption for the gym at Vineyard Community Church, near Cincinnati, on the grounds that it wasn’t warranted because the facility wasn’t primarily used for worship. The same thing happened in 2011 to Northmoreland Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, but the decision was overturned the following year. The appeals judge ruled that the church’s gym wasn’t in direct competition with for-profit businesses, in part because its basketball court doesn’t have wooden floors or locker rooms. For Christ Church, the 50 percent property tax made it financially impossible to continue operating its own gym. But the facility didn’t close. “The YMCA took it over,” says Scott. “They’re not questioned.” Indeed, the YMCA retains an unofficial,
grandfathered status as a nonprofit fitness and community center, despite functioning very much like a standard gym in most places. Revenues, including those from membership fees, are typically not taxed, while many Y’s also receive millions of dollars annually in government subsidies to build and maintain facilities. Since as early as 1950, Y’s across the country have been repeatedly challenged over their tax-exempt status but have almost always prevailed in court. In one recent battle in kansas, when lawmakers failed to knock down the YMCA’s tax status, they took another tack, attempting to win tax exemption for all health clubs in the state. The proposal didn’t pass. But the battle in kansas and across the U.S. is not over. Y’s continue to face an offensive from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a powerful industry group with 10,000 member gyms in 75 countries. For more than a decade, the group has mounted an aggressive effort to have YMCAs taxed like any other health club. “Selling adult fitness services is a business,” says IHRSA spokeswoman Meredith Poppler. “We support identical tax treatment for identical business activities.” In 2015, kansas lawmakers passed House Bill 2109, requiring all YMCAs in the state to pay sales tax starting in 2020. The IHRSA would like to make that happen nationwide, and if the effort succeeds, it could abruptly end Christianity’s fitness awakening. In the meantime, whether megachurches are building gyms to attract parishioners or dollars, they are getting a whole lot of people to start exercising. And if the pilates class at Houston’s First Baptist is any indication, they’re going to get righteously fit. As we wind down from our 45-minute session, we sit cross-legged, eyes closed, in the glow of two tower lamps that light up the wooden crosses at debbie’s sides. She whispers a final prayer into her mic before sending us back into the world with sore thighs and a sense of inner peace: “We thank you, God, for giving us this time to come meet with you, to enjoy one another, and to be strong, O and to be healthy. Amen.” ERIN BERESINI ( @EBERESINI) IS A STAFF WRITER FOR OUTSIDE ONLINE. Volume XLI, Number 8. OUTSIDE (ISSN 0278-1433) is published monthly by Mariah Media Network LLC, 400 Market St., Santa Fe, NM 87501. Periodical postage paid at Santa Fe, NM, and additional mailing offices. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. R126291723. Canada Post International Publications Mail Sales Agreement No. 40015979. Subscription rates: U.S. and possessions, $24; Canada, $35 (includes GST); foreign, $45. Washington residents add sales tax. POSTMASTER: Send U.S. and international address changes to OUTSIDE, P.O. Box 6228, Harlan, IA 51593-1728. Send Canadian address changes to OUTSIDE, P.O. Box 877 Stn Main, Markham, ON L3P-9Z9.
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