This story was published in Issue 24, Buy One: HERE.
RUN TO THE HILLS. These words are embedded into my skin from shoulder to shoulder. This first tattoo, received at 18 years old, reminds me of how I would escape the madness of the world. It brings back memories of my best friends and our shared love for the metal band, Iron Maiden. We were skateboard punks and snowboard bums. Our obsession started as an escape and ended as an awakening.
Born in a small city north of Seattle, near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, I came into this world unconsciously knowing the importance of mental health. My mother was living with a lot of anxiety while I was still in her belly due to my father’s mental state. He has shared stories with me of wanting to run away from an early age after dealing with major abuse as a kid. Before the age of 20, he was diagnosed as bipolar/schizophrenic. He was also taught from a very young age to fight, growing up in an era of “boys don’t cry” and “I’ll give you something to cry about.” This gave him the fuel to go against what the Western medical system wanted to force upon him. “Take these pills for the rest of your life. You’ll never be normal. There is no other way.”
Going big at Stevens Pass Photo: Matt Lanning
My father dove deep into books and educational programs, getting to know the inner workings of human beings and different healing modalities. He developed a love for Indigenous teachings, particularly those native to North America. In my early years, my father influenced me in a unique way, pushing me into an interest in the inner life and the natural world. Connecting to nature, myself, and the divine energies of life had an enormous impact on me, and I started reading self-help and personal development books when I was just 10 years old.
As a teenager, snowboarding became my obsession. It was all I wanted to do and all I could think about. I was running to the hills anytime I could, and it continued for decades. I was never the most naturally talented in my group of friends, but my love for it was profound and it was a deep enough love to allow me to go pro.
I was lucky enough to travel the world living my dream and on one of my trips, I met a powerful young man In South America named Tamo Campos. Like me, Tamo had received teachings from his father from an early age. Tamo’s lessons were focused on
environmental impact; taking care of the Earth and being mindful of how we tread on this living planet. He opened my eyes to where I was asleep and how I was contributing to environmental impact every single day without any awareness, never once thinking about how my actions have a ripple effect on the planet.
I became obsessed with understanding more about the environment. I began learning about waste, fossil fuels, manufacturing, pollution, soil degradation, and many other subjects. I followed Tamo for some time and began embracing the title of an environmental activist. Becoming aware of the destruction of the natural world while living in a society that continually values profit over sustainability was a tough road to walk. Recognizing this challenged me and brought about depression and anger. I was in pain from the amount of guilt I carried. I was aware of all the years I wasn’t paying attention, feeling the agony of pumping fuel in my car and throwing away endless amounts of trash.
I started to change all of my snowboarding sponsors at this time in my life. I was working hard to get my actions to align with my words. Simultaneously, my connection to nature was strengthening. Every day in the mountains became a ceremony of life, bringing awareness to every breath as an exchange with the plants, feeling the sun rays warming my skin and the snow under my feet in a whole new way.
My life was ridiculously gifted. I was traveling in a vehicle that ran on waste vegetable oil, deeply immersed in my greatest passion, joined by some amazing people. I was utilizing my platform created through snowboarding to share awareness about how we can enjoy the outdoors while creating less impact. I was surprised to find that snowboard companies would fund some of these eco-snowboard adventures. At this point, all my attention was going into writing and media.
On the outside, I was living the life of my dreams. However, I was suffering inside.
What I struggled with most was that it seemed like no one was listening. I was published in magazines all over the world and had the privilege to produce several films on eco-consciousness, yet I felt like I was making very little difference. It was an uphill battle that seemed to be getting steeper. I was losing traction. And then one day something changed.
I can’t remember what triggered my epiphany. It was almost as if it came from nowhere. A thought bubble from infinite space and possibility burst in my brain.
How could I expect people to care about the natural world around them when they barely cared about themselves? Most of us were raised in a society that taught us nothing about personal care; everything we put into our body and mind affects how we think and feel. Food, TV, music, alcohol, cigarettes, video games, social media, relationships, etc., all affect our way of being. This, combined with a complete lack of awareness of our connection to the earth, has set us up for failure.
After many years of inquiry, I came to the realization that the environmental destruction going on outside of us reflects our collective inner turmoil. Pollution, degradation, contamination, and acidification; all add up to depression, anxiety, disconnection, suicide, and loneliness. To solve these outer issues, we must address this inner commotion. The natural world– plants, animals, swimming creatures, the birds in the sky, all need us to get our act together. Quickly. The generations to come will inherit the earth we leave them.
There is a saying- we teach what we most need to learn. As I begin my departure from a life that was simply focused on finding the next big storm cycle, I am finding that I have a new passion for guidance. Teaching, coaching, writing, and sharing these perspectives of finding balance in our minds, bodies, and hearts. Ultimately, I can only do this work for myself, but I feel inclined to guide others as I have been taught. I see now that my fathers’ struggles are becoming some of my greatest gifts. The teachings I was soaking up from a young age are many of the same lessons I share with others today.
The mountains were where the alchemy took place for me. I learned to care for nature, which taught me how to properly care for myself. Running to the hills began as an escape and ultimately became how I found a truer sense of self. I wanted to play a part in raising the quality of life for others in this world. To heal. To feel more happiness and fulfillment, and to learn how to enjoy all the sensations of life, the highs, and the lows.
It’s all connected. Our very thoughts are measurable energy rippling into words and actions, either raising the quality of life or diminishing it. The first step is awareness, creating spaciousness within the continuous stream of thoughts. To do this, we must go inward. We must “drop-in.”
“Dropping in.” These words are often yelled to announce to others at the top of a line or jump that “it’s my turn, I am going.” However, as I turned more toward the practices of meditation and connecting with my inner self, the words “drop-in” has taken on a different meaning.
Now I see that dropping in – into the world, into myself, into reality – is an obligation that we all share. As outdoor enthusiasts, we are on the front lines of the natural world, taking our joy, pleasure, and meaning from its endless generosity. So it should also be outdoor enthusiasts who connect with and protect the meaning of that experience, because we know more than most, that in the wild world, we truly belong. In the words of the great poet Mary Oliver, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”