Expedition Announcement: Race To The Gulf 2017

Here I go again.

For some unknown reason I have not been able to get over the Mississippi River. If you follow my adventures at all - you know that I travelled the river by canoe once before - and got more than I bargained for. It was four years ago when I bought a couple cheap canoes, paddles, and PFDs online for less than $300, rented a truck, and drove to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. I spent 53 of the hardest days of my life traveling in that worn-out fiberglass boat - and I got humbled.

I was physically up to it, but not mentally. There were so many headaches, hiccups, and hard lessons learned - I’ve just not been able to put it behind me. For just under the four years it’s been since getting off river, my friends and co-workers have patiently listened to me rant and plan out-loud about my grand plans go back, do it right, and maybe, set a new speed record. I don’t fully understand my own reasoning for this improbable urge - but it won’t go away. Part of me feels that the river beat me last time - and how then do I go back and set a world speed record? Well, simply put - by trying.

Currently, Guinness World Records has given me the only documented solo time to travel the river - and it's very vague. They have  a 42-day time of traveling the river on record. No name was given or how they “traveled” it. But I’ve crosschecked this time with numerous paddling communities and have found zero evidence of faster solo times. So that’s the time to beat. I invite anyone, with real evidence of a faster time, to email details to Info@TheMountainFolk.com.

I want this record to last and have gathered a team of experienced paddlers to be my shoreline crew and assist with the logistics involved. First up, my friend and Crew Chief, Abby Kaeser. I met Abby while working at an outfitter. She was gearing up for her paddle with Warrior Expeditions and we became friends as she prepared for her trip. She’s a fantastic photographer, and I’m thrilled to have her along. Traci Kroupa was recruited from an online paddling community - and has also paddled large portions of the Mississippi River. Traci is retired from the Navy and currently works as an EMT - but for the Race to the Gulf Expedition - she’s whom I’ll depend on as a logistics coordinator and overall fixer of problems! I’m so thankful for both of these ladies - and I’m honored that they’ve put their trust in me to set a new record! Moreover, I’ve been working hard on my paddling skills with my paddling coach, Michael Bowersox. He works as the Program Manager for a paddle sports company in Portland - but has raced and taught paddling for many years. Michael - thanks for your patience - I know I’m not the best student!

Lastly, I want to take a moment to thank all of my sponsors for the Race To The Gulf Expedition. I work very hard to gather the skills, knowledge, and money it takes for such an undertaking - but without these sponsors, it still wouldn’t happen. I owe a massive thanks to the team at Epic Kayaks - they have literally given me the right tools for the job. I’ll be paddling two of their kayaks - the Epic GPX in the headwaters, and their 18X Sport expedition boat for the waterway below the Twin Cities. Another big thanks to Kokatat, Garmont Boots, Ugo Bars, Epic Bars, Motionize, Sawyer Outdoor Products, Sea To Summit, and Wigwam Socks. These companies have all come forward to help make this expedition possible - and we’ll be sharing more about how they’ve helped in the coming months. When you need gear - support them as they have supported Team Race To The Gulf!

Also, I want to set the record plans straight. There are lots of opinions, theories, and strategies for undertaking a record-breaking expedition. The following are my plans to minimize questions: There are a total of 2,552 miles of the Mississippi River. I will travel every mile by kayak and every portage will be made on foot. The project will officially begin when I paddle out of Lake Itasca, Minnesota - and will finish at Mile Zero, at the Head of Passes, south of New Orleans. Every moment between spent paddling, sleeping, eating, or walking will be included in the official time.

I invite everyone to follow our expedition at www.RaceToTheGulf.com, www.CanoeKayak.com, and at www.LimestonePostMagazine.com. I’ll have live tracking via the race website and invite all paddlers to join me on the river as I pass through your neighborhood.

So here I go again - down the Mississippi River. This time will likely be the most difficult physical challenge of my life - and I am so excited for it!

Expeditious: Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa

QUICK INTERVIEWS FROM THE EDGE OF ADVENTURE

EXPEDITIOUS

LONG-DISTANCE HIKER WHITNEY "ALLGOOD" LARUFFA

When I write Expeditious, I try to inspire readers by telling the trails and hard lessons learned from explorers of every kind. But after chatting with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa about the thousands of miles he’s hiked you wouldn’t know that he’d had any hard times at all. Secondly, when interviewing explorers, correspondence with some can be difficult. Some think they’re celebrities - and treat you like a small-time subordinate. But immediately after meeting “Allgood” I felt we’d been friends for years. His attitude towards life and work is one to aspire to. His positivity and kindness is addictive, and stays with you long after you leave the interaction.

He’s a hiker - and that sounds simple, but it’s much more than that. At 38 years old, he’s been hiking semi-professionally for 20 years. In that time he has hiked the Appalachian Trail, Allegheny Trail, John Muir Trail, Wonderland Trail, Timberline Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and submitted more North American peaks than I care to list. He founded AllgoodsK9Adventures.com where he advocates and educates people on hiking with their dogs. In his remaining time, he somehow squeezes in being the president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association (See more at: ALDHAwest.org) I met up with him last month just before he set off for a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

Along the plains of Abraham, encircling Mount St. Helen's. 

The Interview

I just think the reality is that we’re on this planet once, you better make it what you want.
— Allgood

MFA: How has long-distance hiking changed you and how does it excite you?

Allgood: More than anything - I am a pretty fast-paced person, and it makes me slow down. When  you can only travel at 3 mph max you get a very different perspective of the world around you. For me, it’s the connection back to earth and nature, at a human pace, that makes you appreciate the fine details of things. Secondly I just like to walk. I mean humans have been walking since the beginning of time! It’s kind of this primordial instinct in each of us, that when I get started - I just want to keep going. Also, I’m more of a hiker than a camper. Some people go backpacking and bring a lot of crap, hike for 5 miles and get to a place then relax with a book by a lake. But me - I’d rather walk 10-15 hours, through different environments and see how far push my body, and how much I can see in a day is the most intriguing thing about it. Lastly, it's my first love. The first big thing I did as an adult, when I first left home? I hiked the Appalachian trail. So there's a fair bit of nostalgia every time I go for a hike.

MFA: Over seven thousand miles of hiking with a dog!  Highlight a few of the challenges and benefits of hiking with canine?

Allgood: The benefit is companionship. People always think it’s protection, and both my dogs can let out a growl if needed, but in reality, after hiking 25 miles they are completely sacked-out like me. There's lots of joy to watching them enjoy nature - getting back to instincts on their own adventure is rewarding. But the flip side is hiking with a dog is that it’s twice as much work. Depending on the environment you have to bring more food and water,  which means more pack weight. When you take your dog out, you're on your dog’s hike - not your hike. So if your dogs having a bad day you might have to sit a day out and chill. You have to pay attention to how their pads are doing, how their bodies are holding up, and if they’re starting to suffer - dogs will hike themselves to death for their master. It’s expensive too! Vet bills and all the extra food, etc. add a lot of extra work and money to a hike.

 MFA: If you weren’t a long-distance hiker, what other kind of adventurer would you like to be?

Allgood: When I was a kid, I would have said a Himalayan climber. But I don't think the wife would be very keen on that. I spent a decade as a very passionate winter steelhead fisherman, and I’m a very avid saltwater fisherman. I spend a lot of time on the water fishing, but I love the mountains and mountaineering - the mountains call to me. So I might say spend half my time mountaineering and the other half rafting. I used to whitewater paddle a lot. I obviously like to be well rounded in my outdoor adventures!

MFA: What has a life of adventure taught you?

Allgood: It’s made me very humble. Mother nature doesn't have a copy of your spreadsheet, and if she did - she wouldn't care. You can have all the plans in the world, but when the rubber hits the dirt it can all change. Its also made me really appreciate simple things in life. My trail name is “Allgood,” because it's all-good. All you really need in life to be happy is a relatively flat, dry place to sleep, clean drinking water and a warm meal. If you have those three things you are a lot better off than like 90% of the people in the world. It just helps me keep a good perspective on the rest of my life.

MFA: Give us your best advice for completing a thru-hike?

Allgood: Never quit on a bad day, and don’t overthink it. When I get out on the trail you’ve got roll with the punches and make sure you’re having fun.

MFA: Tell us something that not many people know about you?

Allgood: I have really wide feet, and I play the tuba, too!

MFA: What would be your ultimate adventure?

Allgood: To do a sea to sea hike across America, to Thru-hike the Trans-Canadian trail, or lastly, a bucket list item - I want to race in the Iditarod.

MFA:  What advice do you have for those nervous of following their passions, and might be scared of the risks involved with taking a leap-of-faith like that?

Allgood: I just say do it. I got out of college and wanted to hike the PCT, and it didn't happen. I fell in love with a girl and we built a life together. When I was 30 years old, I lost a very good friend of mine to cancer. He was also 30. From 27-30 I watched his life completely change as he got really sick with a rare form of cancer and it just ate his body away. And the last week he was alive he came into the office to say goodbye to everyone.

I was pushing him in his wheelchair, and he turned around and said, “Hey, I know you love to be outside and adventure, I’m going to give you one piece of advice...I’m laying here on my deathbed, and never once have I said to myself - man I wish I had gone to work more often.”

I just think the reality is that we’re on this planet once, you better make it what you want. And it doesn't have to be 6 months at a time. There is adventure in life everyday if you simply seek it out.

Follow Allgood's current thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail at: 

TheDagoDiaries.com or on Facebook!

Expeditious: John Huston

Quick Interviews from the Edge of Adventure

EXPEDITIOUS

POLAR EXPLORER JOHN HUSTON

I'm going to be frank. John Huston is an American legend. He's a midwestern kid that was Chicago born and bred and learned many of his outdoor skills at a Outward Bound school in Minnesota. His resume is a long list of awe-inspiring expeditions that include a 72-day expedition recreating Roald Amundson's 1911 South Pole expedition in Greenland, a 100-day dogsled expedition with adventure-god Will Steger, a 57-day South Pole expedition, a 65-day skijoring journey to document the arctic frontier, and with teammate Tyler Fish, was on the first American team to make it fully unsupported to the North Pole. Furthermore, when he's not out in the wilderness, he spends his time teaching his craft at Northwestern University.

It takes incredible discipline and strength, both mental and physical, to pull hundreds of pounds of gear through negative temperatures for weeks on end, and John Huston makes this seem easy. No matter your opinion on polar exploring or any dangerous pursuit, there is a lesson to be learned by observing John. Everyone would be better off if we looked for and found that same strength within ourselves to follow our passions and dreams to make them a reality. So to that end, I'm an honored to pick the brain of American Legend and Polar Explorer, John Huston. 

-M.Waterford

THE INTERVIEW

MFA: You and Tyler were the First American Unsupported Team to reach the North Pole unsupported. Seven years have past since that expedition, what does it mean to you now?

JH: That trip will always be a vanguard trip of my career, not necessarily because we were the first Americans to do it, but to go the North Pole unsupported is a rare accomplishment. I think only fifteen teams have done it throughout all of history. It's very, very difficult and the chances of failure are very high. The majority of teams that attempt the North Pole unsupported, fail; so the fact that we accomplished our goal, and prepared right.  It was a big risk at that time in my life. I put everything in my life on hold to focus on the North Pole for three years. As you get older, have a family, and things like that, it's difficult to do that sort of the thing. To have that singularity of focus on one major expedition that has a high probability of risk and failure, it will always be cherished as something that was a big journey.

MFA: A big journey is an understatement! It had to change things for you. I know, amongst other big changes, you got married shortly after returning home.  How did that expedition change your life and what has it taught you?

JH: I was so focused on the North Pole, that when I tried to envision my life beyond the expedition, it was all a black screen. It was all on making it to the pole. It was my total focus. It made me think differently about expeditions. So many things about that North Pole trip were totally awesome. Living on the Arctic Ocean for 55 days was an awesome experience because it’s the most awesome power of nature I've experience. But also, when you're racing for a pole you don't have time to fully enjoy what's around you all the time. It's stressful. It’s a race, and you need to make certain time markers.  So when I went to Ellesmere Island in 2013, it was a bit of a reaction to the North Pole trip because I wanted to do a trip that wasn't as stressful. I wanted to tell a story of a remote place in the arctic and really take time to film, photograph, and take side detours if we felt like it.  Whereas when you're going to the North Pole, you're going to the North Pole, that's your total focus. You have plenty of time to think and look around while you're skiing, but making it to the pole is what dominates your thoughts. So I'll do other polar expeditions when I'm racing to a pole, but it's nice to have other objectives as well.

Mountain Folk Adventure: In 2005 you were a part of an expedition that recreated Amundsen's 1911 South Pole Expedition. Is there anything you learned on this expedition that directly contributed to your success of the North Pole Expedition 2009?

John Huston: This trip was actually in Greenland. It was a big film project. They used Greenland as a venue to pit a modern Norwegian team and a modern British team against each other to recreate the first race to the South pole. So it was all 1911 period food, clothing, equipment, and everything was in the original style. The big thing out of that was connecting me to the Norwegian polar explorer network. Those connections have become totally invaluable, and also just fostered some lifelong friendships. And to be able to learn from the best in the world was an awesome opportunity. And I tried to make the most of that. Also just being on a team from the very start that was competent, and well run, and did safety the right way, and communicated the right way; all that, were great models for me to take moving forward. I did go to the South Pole two years later, the actual pole. I was guiding that expedition, and it was a kind of warm-up for the North Pole.

MFA: In a world where world first expeditions are dwindling and the market is so saturated with people wanting to go on expeditions, wanting firsts, and needing sponsorships and funding; what advise to you have for someone chasing these dreams?

JH: Fundraising is more competitive than ever. I think a lot of it is about relationships...coming in and presenting yourself authentically, and presenting yourself as a responsible professional. The people who are going to sponsor you need to be able to trust that you're going to do it right, and that you have a high degree of being successful, or that you're not going to have a big safety incident out there. A lot of that is a person's experience and track record and a lot of that is professionalism in which they present themselves.

MFA: Getting into the day-to-day while on a trip, how do you deal with the constant mental struggle? What do you tell yourself to stay positive?

JH: Yeah, how you entertain your mind out there is perhaps the biggest factor of your experience. If you let negative thoughts intercede, or if you start complaining in your own mind then everything's going to become more difficult than it needs to be. If you start thinking about failure at all, you’re going to increase your chances of failure. You have to be realistic and solve problems. That is a great way to occupy the mind. Little things happen all the time on expeditions that don't go as planned and I love the resourceful creativity that we have to use out there. I like when things go wrong. They are like little puzzles I have to solve. I mean I'm only human and don't like everything to go wrong, of course, but it's fun to use the resources we have available to try and figure it out. There's a lot of creativity there. Another thing is that failure or quitting is not something I let into my mind. I just keep it out of there. As soon as you start thinking of quitting as a possibility, it's become a magnet. As long as I'm able to keep myself moving forward, and keep coming up with solutions, and just keep on going to the next step, I'm going to figure it out. At certain points, it can feel very doubtful or impossible. It also depends on your team and your commitment. That's a big part of it. But the biggest thing about managing the monotony, because your skiing 12 hours a day or whatever, is not using an iPhone or iPod, and letting your mind just flow after a certain point.  It’s the rhythm of the skiing or biking or whatever I'm doing. It's kind of like a meditative state where the passage of time changes, and a 90-minute ski session can feel like 5 minutes if it's really flowing well. I think in today's world, people are always being entertained I think that being able to let my mind go and operate at its own pace, you can get to different places of engagement and positivity that you don't when you're plugged in. 

MFA: In your book “Forward,” you ask the reader this question, “What if you could take your most prized skills and passions and apply them to a far-flung, mind-blowing, sometimes scary dream? What would you do? For us the North Pole was that dream…” What’s your advice for people that are hesitant and nervous of the risks that often come with pursuing your dreams?

JH: I think it comes down to two things. Embracing challenges; there are all kinds of them. There are challenges that you chose and challenges that happen to you. If you run away from them, then life can become scary and you start to limit yourself. But if you're able to embrace those challenges and see them as opportunities for you to perform positively and keep a good mental outlook then that starts to snowball and you start to build confidence. There always little things that people don’t want to do every day, but if you do them well, you start to feel positive about that thing. And then there is also trying a lot of new things, and casting about, until you find your true passions. Those will change throughout life but if you can identify what you are truly passionate about, which is also realistic for you to pursue, then you can't go wrong if you pursue it. I think it's scary for people if they are making money or have other priorities. But if a person truly has a passion and pursues it, they will find a way to make money doing it.

MFA: What's it like working with adventure legends like Will Steger?

JH: Right, I mean, Will is a friend of mine. He’s a true pioneer. When he did his first expeditions with Paul Schurke in the 80’s, they had to read [Frederick] Cook and [Robert] Peary; they had to read to the original polar explorer text, to learn about where they were going. That’s a whole different situation than today. So I really respect his ability to make big projects happen. It's really fun to be around. He's a dreamer and he makes his dreams happen, and he never stops pursuing that, And that something that's very cool to see.

MFA: Teach us a bit about the differences in gear from a dogsled trip to a human powered expedition? What have you personally brought on one versus the other? Anything more or less?

JH: On a dogsled trip, with the length of the trip, you can bring more items. But it just adds weight to the sled. It all depends on where you're going and what you're doing. Weight is the enemy to a good travel pace, no matter what. I've always tended towards gear that is well tested and I know very well, so I know how to fix it, I have a lot of experience with it. It might not be the newest or the lightest, but I know it's going to work. I think certain choices like that can make or break a trip. But on a dogsled trip, there're all sorts of gear you need to bring for the dogs that can make a very heavy load. Dogs eat about two-plus pounds a day, depending on the dog, sometimes more. That's a lot of food. In some ways, dogsled expeditions are much more complicated. Logistically, you have to transport the dogs, train them, and sometimes raise them. They can get injured, fight, you have to manage them. I thought our Ellesmere Island trip was a great hybrid because we skijored. So we had four people and four dogs. I love having the dogs out there because their personalities are infectious and it decreases the human-to-human intensity, because there four other teams out there. And the dogs add quite a bit of power so we probably did 50% more distance every day. It was very easy on us compared to hauling all our own weight all the time. It was tons of fun. To be able to have a dog with you, hitched up to a sled or yourself, and be able to glide is pretty incredible.

MFA:  You mentioned that the most important part of an expedition planning is finding the right partner? How does one really know?

JH: The team and whom you choose to work with is the most important thing. Doesn't matter how incredible the place you're traveling through, if you're dysfunctional or not getting along, it won't work. I think a lot of it does depend on your personal network and the relationship you have with people that would be a good expedition teammates or those trusted people that are two degrees of separation away through recommendations or connections. A lot of it comes through shared experience. Tyler and I were pretty different people, but we worked together at the Outward Bound School for a long time, and we had a common language. The same with my Norwegian colleagues, we know we like to go about things similarly we have similar values out there.

That being said you still never know. Tyler and I had our issues. We were able to solve them, but you never know sometimes until you test it out. You have to be able to really talk about your relationship. I'm a big fan of having structured check-ins, where no matter what else is happening, you stop and talk about how things are working. You focus on the relationship and reaching the goal. And if you have those two focal points, ego can fall by the wayside more easily. But it takes being deliberate and vulnerable, and the ability to say difficult things to each other. I'm not perfect at it either. I've had my interpersonal issues with expedition teammates but being able to see the long term, talk it out, have a common commitment, that you're going to stick together and succeed, no matter what come up, is a big deal. I try to look for those that are going to have similar values, train right, and aren't into the ego game. Sometimes you got to have a feel for a person and other times vet them out. I'm a bit wearier of guiding long expeditions because I don't want to spend two months of my life with a questionable relationship. It might turn out great but it might not, you never really know.

MFA: I think of expedition travel, or adventure travel, as the great equalizer and can teach people everything from patience and humility, to math, science and geography? You've made it your life? Can you put into words what it means to you?

JH: Well, I think it’s a bit of a misnomer. A life of adventure, getting out to see the world, and work in small teams in remote areas, I feel completely fortunate to be able to do that. To tell stories about remote places and get away from population density, to put it into words is tough. I think I live for the moments where effort and reward flow together. When you're immersed in nature at the same time, it's a powerful feeling.

MFA:  Tell me about Baffin Expedition and what you're excited for, and why people should go!

JH: I'm headed up for a short crossing of Baffin Island in the spring of 2017. Through Auyuittuq National Park, or Provincial Park as they call it in Canada. It is a classic ski route of the eastern Canadian arctic. It goes through a river valley that cut by the base of the tallest mountain face in the world. It's a great introduction to polar expedition travel. It's not going to be super intense. It's a two-week, beautiful expedition with relatively simple conditions. It’s a great opportunity for people that want to get a taste of arctic travel and see some of the most beautiful scenery in the arctic.  

MFA: Thank you, John. And good luck on Baffin Island!

If you would like to learn more about John or the upcoming Baffin Island expedition check out www.JohnHuston.com. 

Today should have been Reno.

Today, I should have been the day I hiked into Reno, finishing the near 700 mile trek across the Great Basin Desert. And although the #GreatBasinExpedition has been left incompleted, it is not finished. As for now, I'm healing up well. The swelling in my shin has almost completely gone, and I have a plan to get myself in the best shape of my life, so that when the next expedition comes around, I'll be better suited to see it through.

I find myself missing the desert. I look at pictures, still in the raw, that are astonishing. The great vast white, fading into pinks, blues, and oranges, and I associate the colors with the thrill of my daily responsibilities. Get up at sun up. Hike hard with what little light you've got, and set up camp as the sun sets over the mountains I'll be crossing in the morning. But it's the inspiration I need to get back out there at the very next opportunity.

Big thanks to all involved in the expedition. I could not have gotten as far as I did without my Garmont Boots, the UGo Bars, Epic Bars, Kelty pack, and Atlas snowshoes. All were indispensable. And when I hit the desert next time, those items will be there too.

So what I'm trying to say is...Great Basin, here I come...again.