Because Made-in-America matters

It's no secret that the group behind Wicked Outdoorsy is Pale Morning Media, a public relations agency specializing in the outdoor world. And the guy at the front of Pale Morning Media is Drew Simmons.This week, Pale Morning Media unveils a new twist in the form of an agency specialty in the promotion of Made-in-America outdoor gear. To help wag the flag on this new initiative, we threw Drew a couple softballs in our traditionally irregular and barely thought through Q&A format.

So ... why did Pale Morning Media just start a Made-in-America PR division?

Actually, it’s not that new. We’ve been active in the promotion of domestic manufacturing brands and storylines for the last six years, building direct experience, deepening our contacts and meeting some fantastically enthusiastic people along the way.  

For the last two years, we’ve also been the administrators of the American Made Outdoor Gear Awards, which we helped create and launch for our friends at Kokatat.

So at this point, we’re really just formalizing our commitment to the space, assigning staff roles, and dedicating future time and resources to the category. We see outdoor gear "makers" as an engaging community going through an exciting time, and we want to be a part of it.

Is Pale Morning Media actually big enough to have "specialties"?

Even a one-person shop can have specialties, as long as they're fluent in a particular market and are able to engage that community. Pale Morning Media has been a specialist in the Outdoor market since day one, and over the last decade the agency has also built the staff and knowledge base to have specialties in Ski, Hunt/Fish and Natural Products.

Imagine you're on National Public Radio with Kai Ryssdal. Explain the importance of Made-in America gear in 10 seconds or less. Don't bore me, I'm driving home and only paying half attention.

If you’re only paying half attention, then you’re probably not somebody that’s going to care much about where stuff is made.

But if I had Kai’s ear, I’d tell him that American gear manufacturers are making a deliberate choice to sacrifice short-term profits for a long-term benefit that doesn’t exist yet. That type of economic optimism is worth encouraging, especially when it’s tied to an industry that celebrates the environment, health and adventure.

What does a Made-in-America “commitment” actually mean?

We all know that it’s got to be more than just putting on a red, white and blue trucker hat and calling yourself an expert. There has to be more meat on the bone than that.

So to build on the work we’ve done in the past, we’ve committed ourselves to an ongoing campaign of education. Our goal internally is to reach a level of fluency that you can only get when you live, breathe and eat something every day. That internal dedication is matched by an external commitment to share what we’re learning, so that more people are conversant, interested and eager for news on the topic.

A sample of this line of thinking is GearMadeHere.org, a Made-in-America news and social media portal that we’re launching this month. Like a lot of American manufacturing initiatives, GearMadeHere.org is a small first step toward a larger goal. We hope people will check it out, enjoy it, and send us their own stories and links to post.

How big is the Made-in-America gear community?

Big enough that it should get noticed more often. In the data collected during last year’s American Made Outdoor Gear Awards, brands with a substantial and measurable made-in-America commitment were found in all parts of the country and at all sizes of organizations.

A big chunk of the most excited and most intriguing companies were relatively young and growing fairly fast: 42% of applicants were founded in the last 10 years, and 76% of applicants had a hand in creating more than 500 new manufacturing jobs in the last year. That’s solid stuff.

Does support of Made-in-America brands mean that you’re opposed to making things elsewhere?

Of course not. Global manufacturing is an essential part of our world and our culture, with many positive impacts and inspiring stories.

We’re just adding a new layer to our current services. It’s really no different that having a bike division or a ski division, or putting a sign out on Main Street that says we’re now open on Saturdays.

What’s the most awesome piece of American-made outdoor gear?

A chimney sweep friend of mine from Wyoming once told me that America makes two things better than anybody else in the world … bicycles and guns. It's tough to disagree with that kind of country logic, but plenty of awesome can be found in virtually every outdoor category right now.

Why aren’t more people telling their Made-in-America story?

Most people are actually trying really hard to tell their story, but are struggling to find the right way to do it. It can be a tricky balancing act to tell your story to a bunch of vested parties, all the while staying compliant with FTC and California regulations.

You think consumers actually care where their stuff is made?

I think the more relevant conversation is “how many” actually care. And the obvious answer to that is “more and more every day.” A healthy majority of Made-in-America outdoor industry gear makers  -- more than 90% -- are planning to increase the size and scope of their manufacturing operation in the coming year. You don’t do that unless you’ve got fans.

Is this a good business decision for Pale Morning Media?

As a business owner, you make a lot of decisions for a lot of different reasons. Some are for money, some are for free skiing, and some are for your kids. I don’t think this decision is necessarily going to do much for our short-term bottom line, but I do think it’s a positive step for Pale Morning Media in the long-term. 


It's always dumping somewhere

Enjoying the trailer from "Some Thing Else,"the newest addition from Powderwhore Productions.


Something sweaty this way comes

The first-ever O2X Summit Challenge (www.o2x.com) will debut at Sugarbush on Sept 13-14, 2014 ... bringing a new kind of adventure race to the Vermont outdoorsy crowd.

I guess it's time to start getting in shape.  

On the course, there'll be natural challenges (ie, no mud pits, no windmills) and different courses for different fitness levels. The big payoff is the finish line at the summit of 4083-foot Mt. Ellen. 

And off the course, there will be an event "BaseCamp" with performance and tech exhibits, farmers markety goods, on-site camping, and general good times.

You can read the first official details here (LINK)

The whole thing was the brainchild of four friends who wanted to build something of real value together.  It turns out out that three of them are ex Navy SEALs, and one of them is a recovering attorney.  

We got a few minutes with the attorney.


Why O2X?  Why not start a super hoppy beer company like everybody else?

There isn’t a race out there like O2X, and we wanted one so we had to create it.  There already is an awesome super hoppy beer out there, which is something we also want, but we can easily grab a four pack made by better brewmasters than we’ll ever be.

Where exactly was the idea hatched? 

After a run, the four of us were standing around the island in Gabriel’s kitchen.  Paul and Adam raised the idea and it was unanimous - “that’s it!”

Why a summit finish?

Because “three quarter’s of the way up” doesn’t have the same marketing power.  No, seriously – summiting a peak is a timeless, physical and metaphorical accomplishment that is tough to beat.  And the views are incredible.

No mud pit? No Crisco climbing wall?  Why not?

Well, for a few serious reasons.  First, expending fuel and resources to construct false mud-pits, electrocution gauntlets and 2x6 framed cargo net climbs in a parking lot is (a) already being done and (b) very unnecessary.  When you look at Mt Ellen, North Peak at Sunday River, Loon Mountain, Windham Mountain, or any mountain for that matter, you see that Mother Nature has created all of the natural obstacles, and then some, that we need to set up a challenge run.

Who are you trying to bring out with O2X?  Hardcore trail geeks or weekend wobblers?

Both, plain and simple.  Women, men, hardcore trekkers, weekend wobblers, runners.  Everyone who loves to be outdoors and try a new running and trekking challenge.

What has been the reaction of venues to the idea?

Very, very positive.  One mountain owner (a steward of the mountain) put it best: “I said no to most other race event companies because I am always concerned about how I would put my mountain back together on Monday morning when the circus leaves town.”  We don’t create that issue – our stated objective is to leave the mountains and the communities they support better than when we found them.

I heard there was going to be camping available at the race venues.  True story?

Yup, true.  Camping near the base lodge on the mountain – we call it BaseCamp - will be available on a first come first serve basis.  We won’t likely have room to accommodate all runners so sign up now.

What does "remediation plan" mean?

We are active partners with 1% for the Planet, Leave No Trace and are a registered EPA WasteWise Partner.  With their guidance, we are tailoring programs for each mountain.

What sort of research did you do before launching 02x?  

We have completed dozens of triathlons and marathons, and three guys were Navy SEALs.  Fitness and respect for the wilderness is in our collective DNA.  The research?  Looking at the market, we see two types of companies who are having great success – the first is the obstacle course market that gets by with contrived challenges.  Doing well, but not appealing to us personally.  The second is the endurance event companies – marathons, halfs, trail runs, triathlons – that are also doing extremely well.  We saw the demand for a combination of the two: trail running over authentic, natural challenge courses set in mountains.  The reception has been great.

Hit me with the full  Navy SEAL resume.  What teams, what years, what action...

We’re not leading with this part of our resume, but we are extremely proud of serving our country.  Collectively, we have over 30 years of active service in the SEAL Teams, all over the globe.  The camaraderie and professional experience is the most rewarding of our career.  Paul and Adam served together for over a decade, primarily cleaning up the global messes Gabriel left behind. 

And then, of course, there's the attorney.  Who let that guy in?

Exactly.  We toyed with the idea of naming our LLC “Three Men and a Baby” but the attorney convinced us that could be trademark infringement. 

Of the four founders... Who's gonna put the best time up in the first race?

There is money on that question.  You’ve got two Naval Officers and a lawyer against an enlisted guy – you figure it out.

Did you choose to launch the series in Vermont so you could be closer to Heady Topper?

We could say yes, but that would be ignoring the fact that Win Smith was our first marketing meeting. 

If Gabriel had won that Senate seat .. would O2X still have happened?

Probably not, but maybe he could have brought our awesome O2X web developer to DC and www.obamacare.gov would have been a lot better.

What's your favorite Dylan track?

Good grief, who is your favorite child?  What kind of questions are these?  OK, gun to head . . . “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”


Eat More Kelp

A few weeks ago, I made my first visit to the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, Calif.  Surrounded by virtually anything that anybody could ever buy in a Whole Foods-type store -- from organic dogfood to every conceivable chia-seed product you can imagine -- it was impossible not to share the eco-sensory overload on social media.

One of those posts prompted an old friend to reach out about his newest enterprise ... a kelp farming operation in Portland, Maine called Ocean Approved (www.oceanapproved.com)

Farming their kelp in Casco Bay and already cranking out 80,000 pounds of kelp a year, Ocean Approved sounds like a tasty triple-bottom line operation.  I'm pretty sure I ate some on a salad at American Flatbread.  It might have been on the pizza, too. Tasted great.

Tollef Olson is the founder of Ocean Approved, and spent some of his valuable time to visit with the wildly influential readership of WickedOutdoorsy.  

In three words or less, what does kelp taste like? 

Mild, slightly crunchy.

In five years when this is huge, where am I going to find kelp at my local grocery store? In the produce section next to the lettuce? Or in a refrigerator case next to the olives and salsa? Or somewhere else? 

In the freezer case with the other frozen seafood specialty items. Its a fresh frozen product. Use enough for one meal (a little goes a long way) and put the rest back in the freezer. A no waste veggie!

How much does a pound (or whatever) of kelp cost to a shopper?

10 bucks a pound, give or take some coins.

Is there anyplace on earth where kelp is on the daily menu already?

Tons of places! Our kelp is in hospitals, private school cafeterias, college dining halls, and restaurants like Flatbread right here in Portland.

Who would be the best celebrity endorsement for kelp?  Bono, Michelle Obama or Lindsay Vonn?

Michelle Obama on the nutrition side probably. She is rumored to already be on the kelp bandwagon. Bono on the sustainability side

What's the super-fast explanation of why kelp is important for the ocean environment?

It sequesters carbon and releases oxygen into the water. It fights ocean acidification. Our kelp farms form "structure" for all types of marine organisms. It also is a winter crop so it helps those people who rely on the ocean for jobs - winter is typically a very lean time for those who work the ocean.

So there's the environmental angle of saving the oceans, the food angle of feeding a growing population, and the pure business angle of getting ahead of the curve on something truly new and innovative ... But which of those three is the biggest strength of this kelp endeavor?

Three things. Good for us - nutrition. Good for planet - sustainable. Good for economy - new source of jobs for US labor. Biggest is probably that you are growing a crop that doesn't need fresh water, fertilizer, or tillable soil.

How big is the kelp "industry"?

Difficult to measure. On the global scale estimates are between $4-6 Billion per year. 

Are there different "grades" of kelp, like levels of quality in maple syrup?

Not officially, but our kelp raised in the cold clean waters of Maine grows in one of the cleanest environments available and is then cleaned, blanched, and then flash frozen, as opposed to a dried kelp grown in a less ideal environment that is then "reconstituted"  with preservatives and yellow and blue artificial color.

Who is currently buying Ocean Approved's harvest of 80,000 pounds of kelp a year?

All different folks. I mentioned a bunch before- Flatbread, Phillips Exeter, Bowdoin, and many distributors - PFG, Native Maine, Farm Fresh in Rhode Island 

How much kelp is in your refrigerator right now?

My freezer is pretty full right now - 15 lbs? Some slaw and some rounds.

How does your wife feel about this whole kelp thing?

My wife thinks its a howl. We had a party where we attempted to construct the perfect sandwich using kelp. I think we came close. We named it the Ernie Banks - "so good you want to eat two!"  The kids even eat it. I gotta get you some.


Does climate change need a Michael Sam moment?

I'm not gonna lie. I adore Porter Fox and aspire to be more like him every single day, but I don't want to read "Deep" -- the story of how climate change is killing snow and ending winter.

I'm old enough to have seen the writing on the wall for the last four decades: the shrinking snowpacks, the 33 degree thundersnowstorms, the emotional roller coaster of climate whiplash, and the blissful ignorance of everybody standing around watching things melt. So I sort of feel like I should get a pass on this one.

I don't want to read Elizabeth Kolbert's "Sixth Extinction" either (though I did read Al Gore's review of it, NYT LINK).  It's a book about how carbon emissions are fueling (word choice intended) mass extinctions, with up to 50% of thew world's species doomed for the history books in the coming century.

Out my backdoor in Vermont, bats have gone from a regular sight in summer (my first year here in 2004 I caught one on a fly rod back cast) to practically invisible.  Bees are storied to be next up on the hit list.  So once again, I feel like reading about something that I"m already seeing is just gonna send me into a gin-spin.

But I didn't get a pass on proofreading my daughter's climate change paper the other night.  

She's in eighth grade, smart as a whip, and a strong writer.  I was supposedly just reading the paper for grammar and punctuation, but the content kicked me right in the gut.  

Our children, with their bright eyes and their undying trust in the world of adults, already know what's coming.  It's not hypothetical to them.  Nor is it political.  It's their future.

It struck me that my daughter's paper followed the same general format as Mr. Fox,  Ms. Kolbert, and Mr. Gore. They all lay out the case, prove it with a litany of beautifully written examples, and then wrap it up with a Lorax-ian call to get our shit together, or else.

Michael Sam, on the other hand, is a top-rated NFL draft pick from the University of Missouri. Last week, he made massive headlines by announcing that he is openly gay.  He'd had enough of hiding, enough of worrying about what might happen, and instead decided to take control of his future ... all of it.  Mr. Sam was rewarded by massive media coverage as well as incredible support from his alma mater and their fan base. I bet it feels good.  

To a certain extent, Mr. Sam's announcement didn't come out of the blue ... it's been in the works for decades (or longer), as activists and individuals have taken their own stands, at their own times, saying simply that enough is enough.  

On the other hand, it's hard to think of an announcement that made bigger headlines for something that the vast majority of people already knew and accepted (i.e., that being gay has zero to do with the ability to play football).

At this point, climate change is known and accepted as well.  It's here and it's queer.  Get used to it.  

But as the torch of proof moves from the best scientists of our age to the best writers of our generation, you've gotta wonder when the greens will get their Michael Sam?  The one that stands up and says "enough is enough" in a way that can get the attention and the support of a majority of Main Street America?

I certainly have enjoyed watching Mr. Fox's book get swept up in the draft of Winter Olympic media coverage, get a slot on the editorial page of the NY Times, make it on with Diane Rehm, and even get used as a prop on the floor of the House of Representatives.   And I'll be rooting for Ms. Kolbert's book to make a similar -- if not greater -- impact.  

The one I'll cheer the most, however, is the one that puts all the dots together.  The one that gets a Michael Sam moment.


Top 10 perks of living in the Seattle of Vermont

10.  Only 124 hours until we start tailgating for the Broncos-Pats game.

9.   Childhood dream of making a million dollars in the windshield wiper fluid business inching closer to reality.

8.  Dog poop in yard finally reaching that gelatinous can't-be-picked up stage.

7.  Prancercise.

6.  Two-for-one tanning night at Hair Force One.

5.  Guilt-free Dark Roast binging.

4.   Phish's 'Round Room' has stopped totally sucking.

3.  State troopers too sluggish to pull you over for that 4-month overdue vehicle inspection.

2.  No-pants Mad Bus day!

1.  Could be worse.   You could be Roger Hill.


David McLain has balls

If you're a National Geographic reader, you've probably seen the work of David McLain.   If you're an Outdoor Retailer kind of person, you've probably seen David's work through Merge Creative in the visual language of Horny Toad.    And if you're a Mainer, you've probably seen David kicking around the outdoor skating rink in Yarmouth.   

A normal looking guy with a seriously abnormal frequent flier account, David's most recent project is "Bounce:  How the ball taught the world to play," a massive project that included traveling around the world to document some of the world's oldest games.

One of those stops was the Kirkwall Ba' in the Orkney Islands of Scotland ... a game with no uniforms,  no rules, and total carnage.   Starting in the center of the village (where windows and shops are boarded up, duh), farmers scrum against fishermen in a game that makes rugby look pretty tame.  One side wants to throw the ball over the hill, one side wants to throw the ball in the ocean, and apparently the beer flows like bandaids at the end.

Your body of editorial work is increasingly filled with ideas that sound simple, but clearly are not.   Allergies, happiness, secrets of long life, and the history of the ball ... is using imagery to make people give everyday things a second thought incredibly challenging?   Or incredibly easy?

DM:  Lots of interesting things that affect us profoundly are too obvious to be apparent. Stopping to take a look at them every now and again can be really fascinating.

There is a phantom like quality behind the clear communication of ideas though.  Essentially the better you do it, the more invisible you become.  

It’s like reading a New Yorker article where you are so engrossed in the story you forget that someone spent a year of their life researching and writing it and someone else with a lifetime of experience edited it so it flowed seamlessly and made sense. Professionals make the complicated appear simple.

Whose idea was 'Bounce'? And how long has the project been going on?

DM: Jerome Thelia and I are long time business partners in Merge, a boutique video production company.  John Fox, a mutual friend of ours had just written a book called The Ball:  Discovering the Object of The Game and when we read an early version of the manuscript we fell in love with the idea. 

It was so visually rich and intellectually challenging.  That was over two years ago now and we are just coming down the home stretch after having logged tens of thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of footage all over the world.

When you told your family that you were going to film the Kirkwall Ba, what did they say?

DM: Well, the Ba game is only played on Christmas day and New Years day so naturally they said “we’re coming” and they did.  We travelled all around Scotland as a family and wound up having an incredibly memorable Christmas together in Kirkwall.  My son Finn, who was 11 at the time, was almost run over by the mob during the Ba game and lost his shoe trying to get away.  He made it back to the apartment we were renting and his shoe was sitting right on our doorstep.  Everyone in town knew us by that point so whoever found his shoe knew it was his and where to return it.

What kind of gear did you use to shoot the Ba?

DM: The entire film is being shot 5K on a RED Epic camera which is a pretty sophisticated tool.  Lots of major Hollywood features are shot with this camera.

After the Ba ends, is there a celebration?   Or are people simply too exhausted?

DM: I’ve heard it said that in Scotland Beer is the staple carbohydrate and it’s basically true.  After the game each side goes to their favored bar and drinks and sings until 1am or so.  Then, the winner of the Ba (one guy) has to throw a party for the entire team at their home so the afterhours party moves there.  It’s an experts only double black diamond party situation.

Is there any sort of Frank Deford-ian sportswriting grace evident during the Ba, or is it total chaos to be in a 350-person scrum?

DM:  Well, there are no rules.  Literally.  It appears like total Chaos and is actually quite horrifying to shoot (akin to covering a riot).  That said, the guys have literally been playing their entire life (there is a kids Ba game before the adult one) and know how to look out for one another in the sense of making sure no one dies. 

I guess the Defordian grace comes out of the fact that grown men who are farmers, fishermen and truck drivers live to play this game twice a year.  They are not spectators but active participants in a very ancient game which the ruling elite have been trying to squash (quite successfully) since the middle ages.  They do this for the love of the game and tradition and pride and nothing else.  

If you ask one of these guys what would happen to the game if the winner got money or they hired “professionals” or they got corporate sponsorship they either look at you like they are going to beat the crap out of you for even thinking this way or politely say it would never happy implying that the game lies outside of commerce, commercialism,or profit.

What other segments did you film/shoot for Bounce?   Which were your favorites?

DM: We’ve been to Italy, England, Mexico, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Canada, Belgium, and probably 10 or so different states in the US.  They were all fascinating for different reasons and you can see a bit what we covered at each location here:  http://bouncethemovietravels.blogspot.com/

How did working on 'Bounce' change your opinion about the games people play?

DM:   The urge to play predates language, culture, and even humanity.  Most mammals and many non-mammals play.  This is strange from an evolutionary point of view because why would we engage in an activity that has no purpose, expends unnecessary calories, and even puts us at danger.  What benefit does fun, laughter, and unbridled joy bring to us as a species?  Its one of the core ideas we explore in the fim and has made me realize that pure play (an activity without purpose or goals) if fundamental to our existence and development as human beings.

When are you coming to Vermont?

DM:  I’m embarrassed to say the last time I was there was to shoot a story on Jay Peak for Skiing magazine about 15 years ago.  Looks like a trip over there is long overdue.  


Can skiers scare the world straight? "DEEP" launches on Kickstarter to find out

Porter Fox is a busy guy.  These days, he keeps his stuff in Brooklyn and spends his days as the publisher of Nowhere, a literary travel e-zine.  But back in the day, he did a stint in the Wyoming newspaper business (Jackson Hole News) before trying his hand at self-publishing with a backcountry newszine ("The Pass").  He eventually found his way to Powder ...  and although it was on the diametrically opposite side of the universe from his Maine roots and newsprint background ... it was a perfect fit.

Photo:  Dave Reddick
At Powder, Porter sharpened his natural ability to go long without losing his way; weaving thoughtful story arcs into travel pieces that easily could've been mailed-in chronological blather.

This fall, Porter brings his toolbox to his biggest story arc ever:  the 8,000-year-old history of skiing, the miracle of snow and how climate change could wipe out both in the next 75 years.

DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow lays out some sobering data, like how the rate of winter warming in the U.S. has tripled since 1970, how half of Northeastern ski resorts will close in the next 30 years due to rising temperatures, and how more than a billion people depend on snowmelt for their everyday water supply.

There's no big publishing house behind this effort ... no major marketing or distribution plan ... just a bunch of skiers who feel like this is a story that's worth being told.   If you agree, head on over to Kickstarter and give the thing a kick.  (LINK: DEEP on Kickstarter).


I would say it's closer to a cautionary tale. Big changes are coming to the mountains in the next 30-70 years, including diminishing snowpacks, increased avalanche danger, intense storms and other changes that will alter how we travel in the high peaks. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, then we will likely see the end of skiing as we know it by 2100, if not before. If we can decarbonize and lower emissions significantly, it's possible to keep winters similar to how they are today. With 97% of climatologists in agreement that humans are warming the Earth, it is also true that we can slow that warming.


I went to Breadloaf  to study creative writing. I worked with Josip Novakovich on a few short stories I was editing. He was great and it was a terrific experience, inspiring on all fronts.


I think the line was "By about mid-century, the coldest year will be warmer than the hottest year in the past." Either way, DEEP covers a range of predictions, because that's all we have. The lower end of the range (2C) is manageable, the upper end (4-6C) is scary and will be catastrophic to the world and the human race. Though computer models can't make exact predictions 50 years out, the range that they are predicting is getting more accurate. So it's good to know what the upper and lower ends of warming mean, because either could happen.  


Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson's comments on climate change are pretty funny.


Half and half. Two skiers from Jackson Hole approached me with the idea. When I read about the state of snow and ice in the world, I adapted the storyline to what it is in the book. 


I think I'm telling a story people simply don't know about. I didn't, and I've worked at a ski magazine for 14 years.


I think every generation has its fight. My grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.  Many parents today fought in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Our generation has been incredibly lucky, and somewhat spoiled. This is our fight and a chance to make our mark. Not just to protect our way of life, but to make it even better, more equitable and more sustainable.


Stock up on canned food.