How did you become a professional adventurer? Well, it wasn’t a job option on the high school aptitude test. Once I graduated from university, I wanted to climb and be outdoors as much as possible. I worked as a part-time carpenter and kept up a relationship with The North Face. One thing led to another and I'm lucky to be where I am now. It was a circuitous path with lots of adventure throughout.
How did it feel coming across George Mallory’s remains on Everest? It was a very humbling moment. Mallory set the stage for the subsequent Everest ascent in 1953. His body had been covered in snow for most of the time, save for an exceptionally windy winter. During those times he was exposed, his body had been eaten by the ravens encircling Everest. In a way, he was given a sky burial, which is part of Tibetan culture.
What was it like recreating his journey for The Wildest Dream DVD? We now wear oil-based clothing, from synthetic insulation to foam-insulated boots and nylon. In the 1920s, everything was organic—leather, wool, silk, and cotton. My admiration for Mallory increased every time it got cold. Noodling around on the North Side of Everest in a button-down jacket most people would wear for a casual dinner function, you’re like, “Oh my God, these guys were really strong.”
Favorite climbing movie? Cliffhanger is good fun if you turn the sound off and watch it with some PBRs.
How can we find adventure in the modern world? Specifically choose not to take a GPS. Just create a challenge. You can climb Everest or walk across Antarctica with minimal gear and still have that sense of adventure. But in terms of exploration, Google Earth has this world mapped down to the square foot.
Have you seen climate change effect at high altitudes? As a climber, I practice the sport on tall mountains. If you compare Everest photographs in 1953 with its current state, things are melting. I imagine if I were a golfer in Indiana, I’d be hard-pressed to believe in climate change because nothing’s going on there. But when you’re up in the mountains and seeing the glaciers melt away, it’s an obvious physical manifestation of a warming planet.
Will we see you competing in 2014? Probably not. You’re more likely to see a competition ice-climber like Sam Elias. I mean, I’m 48. If I made it to the Olympics, it’s because the youth are a bunch of slackers.
If Alexandra Cousteau could impart just one piece of wisdom, it would be this: Get to know your water source. Like her grandfather, Jacques, the legendary explorer whose 1956 film “The Silent World,” is still the most influential underwater documentary ever made, 35-year-old Cousteau is educating millions of viewers worldwide. But just 55 years after her grandfather filmed the pristine reefs of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, his granddaughter is forced to report an urgent reality: watersheds everywhere are becoming fractured and polluted, almost beyond repair. After founding the D.C.-based non-profit Blue Legacy in 2008 and being named a National Geographic “Emerging Explorer” the same year, in 2009 D.C.-based Cousteau embarked on Expedition Blue Planet, a 14,500-mile journey across North America to investigate global water issues in her own backyard. I recently met the soft-spoken Cousteau, who is having a baby girl in July, in Costa Rica. She told me how it feels to be part of an exploratory dynasty, what she’s learned since her grandfather taught her how to dive at age seven, and why you’ll want to pay attention to her latest mission: reconnecting people to the water in their own backyards. --Stephanie Pearson
Outside: Where do we start? Cousteau: Get acquainted with water as it runs through your life. I believe that everyone lives on a waterfront. Your waterfront can be the storm drain on your street, the creek in your backyard or the ocean that borders your town – our relationship with water in all of its forms is critical to the health and wellbeing of our families, our communities and the planet.
"Old Man" Chris Horner decimates the field atop Sierra Road. via Flickr
The 2011 Amgen Tour of California was one for the old men, and I’m not only talking about the GC. Yes, 39-year-old Chris Horner ran away with the race by beating up on riders young enough to be his son. And yes, older racers dominated the podium (2nd place Levi Leipheimer, 37; 3rd place Tom Danielson, 33; and 4th place Christian Vande Velde, 35). What many people missed, however, was a Masters Class ride called the Carmichael Training Systems ATOC Race Experience that ran concurrently with the Tour.
Organized by pro-racer-turned-coach Chris Carmichael, this event saw 21 amateur cyclists, age 41 to 71, take on the entire 765-mile Tour of California, riding each stage just a few hours before the peloton roared through. I tagged along with the group for the final stages, and the riding I saw was as impressive as the pros—perhaps more so considering that these CTS riders are doctors, financiers, lawyers, and businessman who still managed to train for such a demanding event.
The ATOC Race Experience stems from Carmichael’s personal bucket list. Last year, in the run-up to his 50th birthday, Carmichael decided he wanted to celebrate by doing La Ruta de Conquistadores, the treacherous, four-day mountain bike stage race in Costa Rica. He mentioned it to a few friends and clients, and before he knew it 15 people had signed up to train and compete alongside him. “It made me realize that there are a lot of guys like me out there who want to do something big and challenging,” Carmichael says. To address those aspirations, CTS has launched the Epic Endurance Bucket List, a series of high-commitment, big-ticket adventures, and the Tour of California Race Experience was the centerpiece of the 2011 schedule.
The ATOC Experience wasn't for the casual rider. Since they were riding the same stages as the pros on the same days, the CTS crew had to start early and ride hard or risk being unceremoniously yanked off the course by the official pre-race sweep. That sometimes meant 4:30 a.m. breakfasts, long transfers to and from the start, and hard miles in the saddle with few, brief nature stops. “The goal was to give these guys a real taste of what it’s like to be a professional racer,” said Carmichael, whose palmarès includes a spot on the 1984 US Olympic team and a trip to the Tour de France in 1986 with the 7-Eleven squad. “This has been a week of hard, fast-paced riding with plenty of stress and bad weather. It’s been tough, but that’s what makes it rewarding.”