We had a generally uplifting culture month, minus our obsession with a show called Fleabag (not as dark as it sounds!), the grisly surgical details that got us through a long road trip, and the significant amount of time we spent thinking about the Oregon Trail.
What We Read
This New York Times piece featuring Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers, Pattie Gonia, Brown People Camping, Disabled Hikers, and Latino Outdoors makes me endlessly proud to be a part of the current outdoor community.
—Katie Cruickshank, digital marketing manager
I just finished The Oregon Trail, a wonderful book by Rinker Buck. One afternoon, after seeing remnant wagon-wheel ruts off the highway in Missouri, Buck hatches an audacious plan to ride the entire 2,000 mile trail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the Oregon border and beyond, and purchases an authentic covered wagon and three mules to do so. He also recruits his brother Nick, a gregarious mechanical whiz and perfect comic foil for his narrative. Riding along a combination of state highways and original ruts through stark stretches of vast wilderness, the brothers endure misadventures and calamities. And Buck weaves in the fascinating history of the original Oregon Trail, revealing surprising details about everything from mules to wagon design to the tragedies the original pioneers faced.
—Chris Keyes, editor
This month, I took a lot of deep breaths and read Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them By Their True Names. There are other feminists and political thinkers to read, sure. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed, Solnit is everything to me. She synthesizes so many ideas about identity, ethics, and responsibility clearly and carefully into essays that make the world feel a little more sane.
—Abbie Barronian, assistant editor
When I can’t get outdoors enough I like to read about people who can, and The Voyage of the Cormorant by Christian Beamish, a former editor at The Surfer’s Journal, was a savior for me this month. Beamish is a searcher, and hand built an 18-foot sailboat based on traditional open fishing craft from Scotland’s Shetland Islands before taking off on a series of surf trips powered only by oar and sail. Eventually, he pointed south down the coast of Baja California, intent on sailing the peninsula and living in a way lost to modern civilization, what he calls “blood memory.” I could hear the creak of the oars on windless days, feel the power of over-burdened sails when the wind picked up, and smell the hand-made tortillas on the stove as he found shelter with a local family. I was sad when I turned the last page because I had to leave the sea.
—Will Taylor, gear director
I love science fiction, but not so much the kind that relies on spaceship-based warfare or a whole different world of imagined technologies. I’m more into stories where one thing that we take for granted changes, but human nature stays the same and bends around it. Ted Chiang is a master of this—he wrote the story that became the movie Arrival, in which aliens who experience time very differently than humans land on a very recognizable Earth. I planned to blaze through Chiang’s new short story collection, Exhalation, but instead I have to take a break after every piece because they’re freaking me out so much (in a good way).
—Erin Berger, senior editor
What We Listened To
On the drive home from Telluride Mountainfilm, Outside culture editor Erin Berger and I listened to the entire season of Dr. Death. In 2010, Dallas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch began operating in Texas. Over the span of his short career, he killed or seriously injured 33 patients. The 2018 podcast tells the story of Duntsch’s botched operations and the broken medical system that failed to stop him for several years. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger that makes you press next until you’ve binged the entire show in one sitting.
—Abigail Wise, online managing editor
While driving from New York to New Hampshire this month, I listened to Going Through It, an interview podcast with Ann Friedman where she talks to other ambitious women about turning points in their careers and personal lives. Think: Rebecca Traister on writing a book while dealing with postpartum depression, Ellen Pao on losing both her gender discrimination lawsuit and her job, and Samin Nosrat on becoming a cooking sensation when her real ambition was to be a writer. I’m a longtime Ann Friedman superfan, and this show did not let me down. My only complaint is that I wished the interviews were longer!
—Molly Mirhashem, senior editor
Shameless plug, but this month on the Outside Podcast we produced a fascinating episode about Bob Ross, the science behind his paintings, and how statistics show his aversion for painting anything to do with humans, particularly chimneys.
Strava’s new podcast, Athletes Unfiltered, is like This American Life for the endurance set. But it's not just about elite athletes in their prime—it’s also about those making change in sport and redefining who can be a runner or cyclist.
—Nicole Barker, marketing manager
What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced
I watched the new HBO Sports and Lebron James-produced documentary about Muhammed Ali, What’s My Name. It was an amazing deep dive into the athlete's life and professional career, while also investigating racial themes, culture, and sociological issues in our country.
The second season of Fleabag—Amazon Prime's fourth-wall-breaking, bad-feminist, way-too-real British comedy—just came out, finally. I watched the first season in a single day and was distraught to realize I wouldn't get more for two years. But the wait has paid off: I sobbed, I laughed so hard I thought I would pee… and I made the same terrible mistake of binging it all at once. No regrets.
—Maren Larsen, gear team editorial assistant
By now you’ve already heard raving reviews for Fleabag’s newest season. I’m here to add to that applause. It is, no hyperbole, the best six episodes of TV I’ve seen in a long time. Picking up a year from where it left off, season two follows Fleabag (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, also the creator and writer) as she navigates a rocky relationship with her type-A sister Claire (Sian Clifford), her dad’s engagement to her Godmother (Olivia Colman), and, in the juiciest plot point of all, a hot-yet-adorkable unnamed priest (Andrew Scott). While all the actors are flawless, the writing is the true star: one episode had me nervous sweating, scaring my cat with big-belly laughs, and crying, all within its short 28-minute runtime.
—Kelsey Lindsey, assistant editor
Rarely do I give new shows a chance. I’d rather not invest the time and emotional energy in new characters. (Whenever I want to watch something, I usually throw on season three of The Office.) But for some reason, I decided to watch the pilot episode of HBO’s Barry. After the credits rolled, I was hooked. Bill Hader plays Barry, a former Marine, turned contract killer, turned actor. The show is equal parts gripping crime drama and laugh-out-loud dark comedy. Hader’s acting here is incredible (in fact, he recently won an Emmy for his performance). I blazed through the first two seasons in about two weeks, and I can’t wait until season three.
—Jeremy Rellosa, reviews editor
I started Netflix’s Losers—each episode is devoted to a team or athlete that experienced a career- or even life-defining moment in the negative sense. Through interviews with the athletes themselves, we get a glimpse of how the event and its aftermath affected them personally and in their careers. I Initially thought this series was going to be a big bummer, but was pleasantly surprised by each episode's “no regrets”mentality and was very interested to learn about the roll society and culture had in fueling the fire.
—Julia Walley, marketing art director
I went to see the documentary Amazing Grace, which is about a gospel concert Aretha Franklin recorded at a baptist church in South Los Angeles in 1972 with the Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. You feel like you get an insider’s view back into this snapshot in time (among others, a young Mick Jagger is in the small audience), the music and singing are incredible, the choir director will definitely make you want to get out of your seat and start clapping, and Aretha is captivatingly absorbed in the spirit of the music. And her voice, wow. I came out singing.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor