This episode of the Out and Back podcast brings a deep conversation with “Adventure Alan” Dixon, who inspires all of us to simply put “two feet on the trail” and get out there.
A trailblazer of ultralight backpacking and author of one of the most popular and comprehensive backpacking websites, Dixon is widely known for his spec-heavy, detail-oriented backpacking gear reviews and expert advice on all things backcountry. But in this interview, Dixon leaves behind his engineering background and the gear spreadsheets to reveal his more vulnerable side.
Dixon recounts one of the most harrowing mishaps of his outdoor career, bringing him and his climbing partner to hallucinations and the brink of death in Wyoming’s Tetons. He talks about the “controlled chaos” of his upbringing that trained him to love high adventure in the outdoors and why he prefers high routes to slaying miles on long-distance trails. Although an early adopter of the most extreme versions of ultralight backpacking, Dixon tells us that you should not wait until you have the perfect gear or are in better physical shape to get moving on the trail. His goal is to encourage everyone to get on the trail and start hiking today.
Tune in to episode 6 to learn more about Adventure Alan’s backpacking philosophy, including the one thing you need to leave behind in order to lighten your backpack. Check out his website at www.adventurealan.com and follow him on his Facebook and Instagram accounts to tap into his gear reviews, backpacking trip reports, and expert backpacking tips. Watch his informative backpacking videos on his YouTube channel.
Also, check out Adventure Alan’s ultralight backpacking tips in the story on the Gaia GPS blog, which sheds light on how to reduce your pack’s weight without having to spend a dime on expensive ultralight gear.
Episode 6 Highlights: Putting Two Feet on the Trail with Adventure Alan Dixon
2:50: Adventure Alan tells us a story about his disaster in the Tetons.
8:20: “We’re going to die here.”
9:12: “I’m not going to die here; I’m going to die 100 feet lower.”
10:35: “You know you’re dying. You know you’re on a limited time frame and you can feel the life force leaving you.“
13:45: Alan describes hallucinating as he and his climbing partner descend the mountain.
14:50: Alan has no “off button.”
17:00: What happened was something bigger than the person; the mountain was guiding Alan down.
18:05: Alan carries what he learned from this near-death experience into every trip he takes to the mountains, even on day hikes.
20:15: Adventure Alan’s parents were wild risk-takers, taking Alan deep into the Sierra when he was 4 or 5 years old.
23:50: A non-fear-based, controlled-chaos way of life was a huge gift to Alan from his parents.
25:30: How everyone can get beyond the fear of going outside, whether it is backpacking or day hiking.
26:30: The outdoors is the perfect place to tap into your inner strength, let go a bit, and embrace the chaos.
27:00: It’s okay to make mistakes if the goal is to learn from them.
27:30: What is your intention when going to the backcountry? Control your thinking away from a fear-based approach.
29:00: High routes defined, or maybe not.
30:10: Roper’s Sierra High Route misses the tallest peaks in the Southern Sierra, so Adventure Alan plotted the Southern Sierra High Route.
33:50: The high route gives a rewarding experience that people with off-trail navigation skills can accomplish in a week to ten days.
36:30: What is your intention and what do you expect to get out of your trip to the outdoors? Leave fear behind.
37:35: Nature is a gift; be open to what happens and experience it rather than trying to do damage control.
40:10: Ultralight backpacking and Alan’s 5-to-7-pound base weight on the Appalachian Trail. What?!
42:10: People pack for their fears. Leave fear behind and your pack will get lighter.
43:30: Adventure Alan backpacked once with a 50-pound backpack, but only one time because he hated it.
46:10: There is no substitute for getting out. Our legwork is just to show up.
47:00: Adventure Alan turns 60 this year, and his advice to people getting a late start in the outdoors is to just show up and do it. The first two steps on the trail are the hardest; it gets easier once you’re moving.
Next Episode: Liz “Snorkel” Thomas Takes on Budgeting for a Thru-Hike
In episode 7 of the Out and Back podcast, Shanty tackles the financial costs of a thru-hike with long-distance hiker, author, and former Appalachian Trail record holder Liz Thomas. Known as “Snorkel“ in the trail community, Thomas gives an honest and realistic picture of a thru-hiking budget. Whether hiking the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, expect to spend thousands of dollars on gear, food, travel expenses, and resupply luxuries, like hamburgers and ice cream. From gear replacements to town stops, tap into Thomas’ experience to find out where you can save money so you can stay out on the trail longer. Also, find out how and why Shanty blew his budget in the first half of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike last year and what he did to make up for it on the last half of the hike.
Snorkel also tells us that thru-hiking doesn’t have to be a wilderness experience. Snorkel advocates for staying active even when your trail is a paved sidewalk surrounded by mountainous skyscrapers. The creator of 100-mile hiking routes through 13 U.S. cities from Los Angeles to Seattle, Snorkel says the best part of urban trekking is getting to see neighborhoods you never knew existed, stopping in and visiting friends along the way, and getting to eat delicious food for every meal. One of her routes focuses on sampling all the breweries in Denver. While not the most economical thru-hike, Snorkel says these trips are culturally rewarding and provide a unique way to experience the hustle and bustle of any metropolis.
Snorkel’s latest adventure includes editing the website Treeline Review, a conglomeration of gear-review articles from outdoor adventurers and experts who help you buy the right gear the first time around. Read her book Long Trails, Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike and her recent Falcon Guide, Hiking Waterfalls Southern California: A guide to the Region’s Best Waterfall Hikes, released in November 2019.
Learn more about Liz Thomas on her blog and follow her on Instagram.
Last Episode: Lifestyle Overland
Take a ride with Lifestyle Overland’s Kevin and Sarah McCuiston in Out and Back podcast’s episode 5. Known for their full-time overlanding adventures, the McCuistons casually stepped into the sport when they were “looking for something to do” in rural New Mexico. Surrounded by public lands and sprawling open space, the couple quickly became obsessed with the freedom they felt on the backroads. They loved overlanding so much that they ditched the traditional 9-to-5 grind and took up residence on America’s lesser known trails, almost instantly becoming famous for their travels to wild places in their Toyota 4Runner “Silver.”
You won’t want to miss this episode as Kevin and Sarah discuss their transition from conventional life to full-time overlanding, taking up a nomadic life with their young daughter Caroline in tow. They talk about the nearly 800-mile Enchanted Rockies Trail they created in the beginning of their overlanding career, and their northern trip through Canada, Alaska, and beyond the Arctic Circle. Of course, like any good overlander, the McCuistons dive into the details of their rig, explaining why they chose a Toyota 4Runner instead of the vehicle they thought they wanted. Sarah gives her tips for traveling long distance with a toddler, and Kevin talks about their favorite meal out on the road. Together, they explain how to break into the sport of overlanding by seeking out trips on local trails and using the 4WD vehicle you already own.
Learn more about Lifestyle Overland in episode 5 of the Out and Back podcast. Follow the McCuistons on their Lifestyle Overland Instagram page and YouTube channel, and listen to their brand new podcast Campfire Confessions. You can also join Lifestyle Overland on Patreon to get exclusive content.
If you’re wanting more, tune into Out and Back’s earlier episodes with long distance hiker the Real Hiking Viking, PCT record-setter Heather Anderson, hike/bike adventurer the Blackalachian, and backcountry navigator Andrew Skurka.
Meet the Host: Andrew “Shanty” Baldwin
In 2019, host Andrew Baldwin completed a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. After five months on the trail, Baldwin returned home to pursue a career in voice acting. A friend of the Gaia GPS company, Baldwin was a natural choice for hosting the Out and Back podcast.
In each Out and Back episode, Shanty strives to bring you conversations with people who spend an extraordinary amount of time outdoors. Listen in as Shanty taps into each backcountry expert’s superpower so that you can take their knowledge and experience with you on your next adventure.