Anchor's Away

Dec 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

After two decades in the hot seat of American TV journalism, Tom Brokaw, 64, is stepping down as the anchorman of NBC's Nightly News on December 1. Don't expect to find him sipping piña coladas under an oceanside palapa; he's far more likely to be brewing cowboy coffee over a yak-dung fire. For years, Brokaw has unwound with the Do Boys—a gang of adventure luminaries that includes Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, climber and writer Rick Ridgeway, and environmentalist Doug Tompkins—kayaking in the Russian Far East, trekking across Mongolia, fly-fishing at his Montana ranch, and climbing throughout the West. MICHAEL ROBERTS recently talked to Brokaw about a life in which "breaking news" may simply mean the trout are biting.

OUTSIDE: What are you up to first?
BROKAW: I was thinking of getting a big hog, growing a ponytail, and getting a tattoo. But, uh, I'm probably not going to go that far. I'm heading down to Patagonia with Yvon Chouinard. We've been helpful with the Patagonia Land Trust. They've made some remarkable advances, and I want to see the operation. And Yvon and I always love to fall into a stream and fish and climb a mountain. He's got a peak lined up, but I don't know what it is.

You're just going to trust Chouinard?
No, I never trust him. The trick is to take Rick Ridgeway along—to be my anchor, literally. He once stuck his crampon behind me on a steep piece of ice, just in the nick of time. Yvon wasn't worrying about me.

And after Patagonia?
To New Zealand to fish. Then I'll try and get back to Mongolia with the Do Boys for a kayaking trip on Lake Hovsgol. It's a great lake—ten times larger than Tahoe. You can see down 300 feet, it's so clear. Only about a 100 people live around it.

Must be nice to be finally free of the Nightly News.
In the past, I've always had to have that shortwave radio to my ear—or the satellite phone. And they all laugh at it. At the end of the day, I'm up on some peak trying to get the BBC World Service to see if we have to call a helicopter to get me out of there. If the world's blowing up, I gotta get back to someplace where I can deal with it.

So you're going to lighten your load?
I'm gonna try going ultralight.

Does that mean you're going to—
Freeze my ass off.

You've always had a passion for both the urban and the wild. How does that work out?
Every time I come over Wolf Point [in Montana], leading down to our ranch, my heart skips a beat. But when I come back to New York in the autumn and come across the Triborough Bridge and see the skyline, my heart skips a beat. That's part of being a complete person.

I imagine all your adventures have served as a restorative tonic to the high-speed life of a newsman.
It puts it all in perspective. Why was I getting so worked up over some episode in Washington or development on the political trail that turned out to be an asterisk in the long course of human events? When you get out there, into the wilderness, you see all around you the long course of time. It puts you in your place, and that's very useful. Anchormen really need to be put in their place.

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