The Stories That Inspire Us

Doug Peacock, Mark Allen, Kris Tompkins, Shaun White, Lynn Hill, Lindsey Vonn, Yvon Chouinard, Conrad Anker, and Laird Hamilton reflect on their passions and their lives outside

(Courtesy of Tompkins Conservation)
Photo: Courtesy of Tompkins Conservation


Discover: Doug Peacock

Author, Grizzly Conservationist, and model for George Hayduke in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang

(Courtesy of Doug Peacock)

In 1973, after my second tour in Vietnam, I was hiking in Yellowstone during an autumn storm with my friend Ed Gage. We crested a hill and looked into a valley filled with steam and some 300 elk. They were churning in confusion, avoiding something. Then we saw it: a grizzly on a bull carcass. Over the past five years, nearly 200 grizzlies had died in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and the population was in danger of collapsing. Watching the bear, I realized I’d do anything to protect it. Soon after, Gage gave me a Bolex camera and told me to make films—so I did. I never considered it coincidental that I got mixed up with the grizzly during my little quest into the wilderness to lick my battle wounds. Protecting them was the war that saved my life.—As told to Jakob Schiller

Gamble: Mark Allen

Six-time ironman triathlon world champion

Mark Allen runs towards a record during the 1994 Kona Hawaii Ironman. (Guy Mayer/Flickr)

Good races, bad races, good training, bad training—if you ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? How can I bring something more to it next time?” then it can help you evolve as a person. I think that’s one of the big reasons I started to win the World Championship in 1989: I wasn’t going there to win. My goal was to try to bring more to it each time. That’s a very different focus. —As told to Reid Singer

Build: Kris Tompkins

Former Patagonia CEO and founder of Conservacion Patagonica (Shown above)

As my late husband, Doug, always used to say, it was one of those one-in-a-million marriages that was life changing for both of us. To have that extraordinary love between us and be working in these wild and isolated circumstances, it was definitely unusual. We were always based wherever the projects were, so it was quite nomadic. Doug was a bush pilot, and we flew almost every day. That’s how we got around. When I was little, I wanted an extreme life—to be living on the Champs-Élysées in Paris or under a bridge. And in many ways, that absolutely came true. I like intensity. It’s not for everybody. —As told to Luke Whelan

Go Long: Shaun White

Two-time Olympic gold medalist

Shaun White of USA attends a press conference of the US snowboard team during the Sochi Olympics. (Michael Kappeler/dpa/AP)

I had all these big plans for after the Sochi Olympics, but then I didn’t win and it all went out the window—and it was awesome. My whole world had been built on winning, and I lost. It was very humbling, but it allowed me to finally have a life. At first I was playing with this band, but we had some differences and that stopped. It was about a year after Sochi that I wasn’t playing music, I wasn’t snowboarding or skating, and I went, Well, shit, what if I just stayed at the beach and lived? I own a house in Malibu, and I had friends over to surf and barbecue and hang out. It was amazing to realize that there was life after competing. Now, going into the next Olympics knowing that, win or lose, I still have my life and everything I’ve already accomplished, I feel like I’m just that much more dangerous. No matter what, I’m going to keep going. —As told to Christopher D. Thompson

Believe: Lynn Hill

First to free-climb the nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley 

(Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post/Ge)

Climbing found me. I never chose to start climbing or to become a professional—it just happened. And after it did, I didn’t say no to a lot of the opportunities that came my way. I was forging new ground, so there was no precedent. That gave me a lot of freedom. I could climb whatever I wanted, and I was having the time of my life. —As told to Jay Bouchard 

Reboot: Lindsey Vonn

Olympic gold-medal skier

Vonn can put her strength on display without much backlash, in part, because she still fits into conventional beauty standards. (Gero Breloer/Associated Press)

In my very first race, when I was about seven, I went around one of the gates the wrong way. No one saw it, but I knew I had to go to the referees and tell them to disqualify me. I wasn’t very good in the beginning—my coach would call me a turtle. That changed when I met Picabo Street. I was nine, and she was a huge role model for me. I realized I wanted to be in the Olympics. Then, when I was 16 years old, I had a season where I didn’t finish 50 out of 55 races. I almost quit. Instead I decided to recommit everything to skiing. I hired a trainer and made the U.S. Ski Team and then the Olympic team. That’s when I got over the doubt. After that I never again thought about not racing. —As told to Axie Navas

Share: Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia founder 

Yvon Chou­i­nard, founder of Patagonia. (Ben Baker/Redux)

You know what? I keep telling people you don’t need our expensive jackets. I don’t have one. All my shit is old as can be. I mean this shirt is, uh... I don’t know how old this one is. Same with my pants. Christ. I don’t hardly own any new Patagonia stuff. —As told to Abe Streep

Endure: Conrad Anker


Climber Conrad Anker stands for a portrait on a snow mound with a white background. (David Hanson/Aurora Photos)

Losing people is part of high-altitude climbing, and it’s really tough. If you were close to the person who died and there with them when it happened, the guilt is very hard to overcome. It’s just, Why did I make it through when they didn’t? For me, though, there was never a question about getting right back to climbing. I was just too driven. It grabbed me. But last year, we went back to Tibet and re-attended to the bodies of Dave Bridges and Alex Lowe on Shishapangma. The guilt came back in the weeks beforehand, then afterward there was PTSD from putting to rest friends who had been missing for 17 years and who I was the last person to see alive. It unsettled my life again for a period. It’s heavy stuff. It’s not something you’d want to do. —As told to Nicholas Hunt

Let Go: Laird Hamilton


Laird Hamilton poses for a portrait during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. (Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

Going forward, I only see evolving—learning more and becoming more efficient and focused. As you get older, you can take your destiny into your hands and define for yourself what success means. I love the concept of doing what I haven’t done instead of doing something again just to prove that I can still do it. I was in Peru this summer and surfed the longest waves I’ve ever ridden—just under six and half minutes for almost two and a half miles. My mentor is 84 years old, and we’re about to take a heli-snowboarding trip to Chile. The people I admire stay full speed ahead into the unknown and are relentless in their pursuit of life. You just don’t stop.—As told to Michael Roberts 

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