The Fine Print

This is not the original post I intended to share this week, but something happened that has been on my mind perhaps more than it should. Now let me prefice the following ramble by saying there has been a lot of crazy, heavy, and disheartening events going on the past six months that are WAY more important than what I am about to blather about. None the less to me it is a loss that has caused me to pause, remenice, and contemplate the future and therefore is worth sharing if only with myself.

This past weekend I was off the grid both literatally (mostly) and figuratively. When I returned Sunday night, I kept seeing Instagram posts about two of my all time favorite magazines -BIKE and Powder. After some googling, I found the source of the activity. A360, a media company that owns several major magazine publications had decided to fold BIKE, Powder, Surfer, and Snowboarder. Now I know most people wouldn’t even recognize these titles let alone morn their loss, but for those such as myself who have literally worn out issues over the years it is a major blow to the culture of their respective sports communities. 

Through my teens and twenties before you could mainline the digital herion of social media, magazines were a major source for content about outdoor adventure sports such as mountain biking and skiing. Particularly for mountainbiking, which grew tremendously through the 90s and 2000s publications such as Dirtrag and BIKE provided not only the latest trends, but stories that captured (and contributed to) the evolution of the sport and it’s culture. As a non-techno-gear junky I was immediately drawn to the soulful writing and epic photographs contained within each issue of BIKE. Those stories inspired my own riding, adventures, and articulated why I and many others loved riding bikes.

As a photographer the images I saw printed in BIKE and Powder were absolute inspirations as they went beyond simplistic eye candy action shots (though there were plenty of those) and resenated with my creative side. I discovered some of my most inspirational photographers through those magazines such as Sterling LorenceScott Markowitz, and Jordan Manley. My absolute favorite issue of the year were the photo annuals which showcased the best of the best in full page print and made me want to be an outdoor photographer too. Those issues were flipped through and through and often disected for wall art.

Sadly “progress” marches on and in the age of scrolling, tic-tocs, and tweets the majority of us give little time or appreciation for written stories or visual print. Video may have killed the radio star, but social media has certainly killed the magazine star. Though it is likely that the collapse of the magazine industry started before the dawn of Facebook. Remember the days when you got a whole year’s subscription for like $12?!? Most of that probably hinged on subsidizing through advertising, but it also seems like it was a race to the bottom where you tried to capture as many subscriptions as possible through pricing well below production costs. Not likely a sustainable model in the long run. And as is often the capitalistic way, the print media world consolidated. Smaller publishers were purchased by larger firms that wanted to add segments to their portfolios and those companies were bought by larger companies and well, you know where that goes.

All is not lost however and as with film photography there is still a small number of folks out there that appreciate longer (in modern terms) form stories and the feel of print. A number of great independent publication still exist focused on creating high quality content such as the DrakeSki JournalFreehub, and Adventure Journal. Their content maybe art and soulful expression, but at the end of the day magazines are a business and nothing is truly free. In a recent interview, Steve Casimiro producer of Adventure Journal and former editor of Powder magazine framed the formula for a successful publication. Steve said “It is the publisher’s job to create a high quality product and the consumer’s job to pay for it.” This is increasingly hard in an age where the majority of consumers willingness to pay is zero and alternatives of vary quality abound. I won’t be hipocritical and say I never consume free mindless content of the interweb, but I have increasingly found myself returning to print. Perhaps it is my heightened appreciation as a photographer, a sense of nastalgia or the simple fact that you can’t beat a morning on the porch with a cup of coffee and a good story.

BIKE and Powder are gone and that is a damn shame. If you are like me and want to see great storytelling publications continue, pick up an issue of one mentioned above or explore your own. When you are done with it, subscribe and pass it on to someone else who may appreciate it too. Perhaps with enough interest and appreciation we can keep independent print storytelling going.

Where There is Smoke

No matter where you live, there is a time of year you hope is short lived. You go through the five stages of seasonal grief - lamenting its approach, raise anger over its arrival, accept (or resign) to it, pine for its end, and finally celebrate its passing. Here in the Intermountain west, and most of the west for that matter it is the haze and heat filled days of late summer fire season. Usually the latter parts of August and beginning of September, smoke from fires in surrounding states gathers and settles in the valley. The heavy haze turns the sun red, trapping the heat and stagnating the particle-heavy air making outdoor ventures pretty undesirable. 

Having reached maxed capacity on spending time inside, we headed to the high country in hopes of some reprieve. As we drove northeast towards the higher elevation mountains, the distant (at least what we could see of it) ranges did not instill confidence. Before leaving I knew there was a fire burning near where we were headed, but I held out hope that there might be a break. Turning off the main road onto the dirt forest service road, the hazy skies proved by hypothesis wrong.

It had been several years since I last spent time in this particular drainage, and as we made our way farther along, each dirt road mile revealed evidence that the surrounding hillsides had experienced a significant fire in my absence. The forest alternated between live stands and spindly remains. In several spots chutes of rock and debris culminated at the base of denuded slopes where rains scoured vegetation-less ruts. The combination of smoky skies and chard forest stands made for an eerie feeling and briefly I questioned the wisdom of camping back in a dead-end canyon. As we passed by several campsites I hoped our neighbors would adhere to the numerous signs stating the prohibition of campfires.

We found a quiet spot to camp in a stand of trees that for the most part survived the fire, most likely aided by the nearby creek. After settling in, we decided to take a short hike to a nearby lake. Given the scene as we drove in, I thought about how different everything appeared and wondered how the trails had faired through the fire. As we made our way up several switchbacks we walked through a graveyard of scorched trees, many stripped of their bark, others looking like the standing remains of a previous night’s campfire. I thought what a shame it was that a place that I remembered as being so beautiful now looked so scarred. 

Climbing higher (and breathing heavier) my brain’s pace began to slow and my vision seemed to pick up more of the details. While the obvious was the dead trees surrounding us, the more subtle was all of the undergrowth that had grown with the opening of the canopy. We often think of fire as a negative, when it is in fact an important element to many western ecosystems. Fires often clear unhealthy and dead trees. Quickly behind them comes new life and vegetation that benefits from the aftereffects. It might look unsightly at first, but deadfall provides cover for animals, enriches the soils, and creates structure in the rivers for trout. Seeing these more subtle details reveals just how resilient the landscape can be. Even trails for which I came to this drainage survive. Yes, signs may burn and some downfall may need to be removed, the underlying paths and destinations remain.

We fear fire, and rightfully so. Having once been evacuated from my home due to an impending blaze, I feel for folks in California right now. Fires today are also different than they were even 100-200 years ago. Poor land management, even poorer land-use planning, and global weirding have all combined to create “mega-fires” that are too much even for the natural ecosystem. But just as I accept the inevitability of fire season, we residents of the west must accept that fire is part of our environment. We need to look past the obvious destructive effects of fire and consider the importance it plays in the long-term health of our regions.

Me, Myself, and I

None, nada, zip, zero. That is not the number of fish I caught, it’s the number of fish I saw. It made no sense, a complete head scratcher. All the necessary elements of good trout water were there - clean mountain run-off, gravel beds, flow, bends, pools, structures…and bugs! Yet there I stood in that mountain stream literally by myself. Okay, yes there is the obvious and I freely admit I am far from a good fisherman. However, I know enough as to what makes good trout water and this was it. 

Resigned to the fact that my casts were drifting on deft waters, I got up close to the crystal clear pools most likely to contain residents. Not spooking anyone with my steps, I peered closely down into the darkest parts of the pools. There?!? Nope, just a branch getting pushed by the current. THERE! Wrong again, just the swirl of woody debris on the sandy bar. I pushed my hat back and rubbed my chin. Why the hell weren’t there any fish here? Didn’t they get the memo I came for quintessential alpine fishing? 

Turns out it was I who didn’t get the memo. 

On vacation, the water is too cold here. See you in September. 



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