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We asked staffers to name the story they loved the most from across the Outside network this year. (Photos: from left to right, Jessica Chou; Luis Ortega Flores/Stocksy; Olga Sibirskaya/Stocksy; Sonia Pulido; John Fullbright; Courtesy David Kushner)
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Our Favorite Outside Stories of 2021

The stories we were most excited to read and publish across Outside titles this year

From long reads about Moab to deep dives into the qualities of a super shoe, titles under the Outside umbrella published a ton of great stories in 2021. We asked staffers to name the story they loved the most from across the Outside network this year.

“In the World of Ultralight Hiking, Everything Weighs Something,” Outside

I loved this story by a new writer to Outside named Ali Selim. Selim usually works in television and film. Because he isn’t a journalist per se, he brought a really unique and often hilarious voice to his story about hiking through Utah’s Buckskin Gulch with a group that included ultralight gear guru Glen Van Peski and actor Matthew McConaughey. Selim’s attempts to lighten his own load and keep up resulted in a fun—and ultimately meaningful—adventure, hitting on the reasons we all need more time in nature and the outdoors. —Mary Turner, deputy editor, Outside

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“For Kelly Catlin’s Parents, Athlete Mental Health Finally Takes Center Stage,” VeloNews

Kelly Catlin was slated to be one of the American stars of the 2020 Olympics, and her tragic suicide in 2019 sent shockwaves through the U.S. cycling community. Catlin was one of those uber-talents who seemed to excel at everything she attempted. She was a world champion athlete, accomplished violinist, and a scholar. Her death shone a light on the internal struggles that extremely accomplished and talented people often face, and it came two years before this topic took center stage at the 2021 Olympics. When Simone Biles’ decision to sit out events at the Games placed a microscope on athlete mental health, I thought that Catlin’s parents could provide some valuable perspective to the cycling community. And they did. —Fred Dreier, articles editor, Outside

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“Notes from a Moab Trailer,” Outside

When he’s not writing books or reporting stories for Outside, Mark Sundeen moonlights as an English professor who often teaches classes on the art of the memoir. For good reason. Sundeen has a gift for revealing the intricacies of his life with a mix of painful honesty and surprising humor, always tying his own experiences to larger themes that anyone can relate to. This story chronicles his nearly 30-year relationship with the town of Moab, and how that location shaped him as a man, a husband, and a father. And wow, the writing: I was going to cut and paste a couple of my favorite sentences in here, but there are just too many to choose from. —Chris Keyes, editor-in-chief, Outside

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“How a Viral Documentary Saved the First Black-Owned Gear Shop,” Outside Business Journal

The pandemic crushed a great many small businesses in 2020. When a Texas outdoor shop, Slim Pickins Outfitters, the first Black-owned outdoor gear shop in the nation, was on the verge of throwing in the towel, something wonderful happened. A digital media company, the Outbound Collective, called saying they wanted to produce a documentary about the shop. What followed was a GoFund me campaign that raised close to $175,000, allowing the husband and wife team Jahmicah and Heather Dawes to stay open, reboot, and keep serving their community. —Kristin Hostetter, editorial director, Outside Business Journal

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“The Final Descent of Dean Cummings,” Outside

This is the heartbreaking story of the rise and fall of extreme skiing star Dean Cummings by Outside contributor Devon O’Neil. It covers his freestyle fame (and his legendary marijuana) in Telluride in the eighties all the way up to being charged for murder in New Mexico in 2020. It’s about stardom and catastrophe, but, as one of Cummings’ former employees put it in the story, “This isn’t a tale of savagery. This is a tale of mental illness.” Everything from the timeline-style formatting of events leading up to the tragedy to the beautifully executed peek into the glory days of free-skiing make this long read an Outside classic and masterpiece. —Abigail Wise, digital managing director, Outside

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“How a Plus-Size Hiker Found Her Footing on the Trail,” Backpacker

I’ve long been the biggest fan of stories about everyday adventurers overcoming a big obstacle. That’s bread-n-butter stuff at Backpacker. In this piece, though, Kara Richardson Whitely showed me there’s an even better type: stories of hikers being exactly who they are. Her experiences with binge eating, stereotypes, perseverance, and, at times, hiking one mile per hour, are enlightening. —Shannon Davis, editorial director, Backpacker

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“It Happened Deep in a Cave in the Amazon,” Outside Podcast

In the summer of 2019, I assigned Outside contributing editor David Kushner a story that took him to a mysterious cave in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Cueva de los Tayos, or the Cave of the Oilbirds, has for decades tantalized fans of the occult, who believe that it contains artifacts of a lost civilization and evidence of extraterrestrial visitors. Kushner was there to profile Eileen Hall, the daughter of a Scottish explorer who helped make the cave famous in the 1970s when he led an expedition into Tayos that included astronaut Neal Armstrong. We published Kushner’s fantastic feature, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” in late 2020. But for Kushner, that was just the beginning of an adventure. Since his trip, he has slowly come to understand that his experience inside the cave had been transformative. A science-centered journalist by nature, he was reluctant to accept what he was feeling: that something inside him had been released while he was deep underground in a space that defied the imagination. In this episode of the Outside Podcast, which includes numerous recordings from inside Tayos, we capture the full breadth of his remarkable odyssey. —Mike Roberts, senior executive editor, Outside

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“The Pandemic Is Not a Marathon,” Triathlete

I’m cheating and picking something I wrote, but back in March I talked to a lot of different people and tried to encapsulate the vibe it felt like so many of us were struggling with. And now, as we enter the second year of this whole thing, this is the piece I keep coming back to over and over. —Kelly O’Mara, editor-in-chief, Triathlete

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“I Choose to Remember the Bike Ride” Outside

In Tracy Ross’s story about her older brother, Chris—a longtime alcoholic who struggled for years to overcome his addiction—she braids his life story with the up-and-down saga of a multi-day bike trip she arranged in eastern Kansas to help jumpstart his sobriety. It didn’t work, as she makes clear from the start, but the story that emerges—a combination of family memoir, personal testimony about suffering and loss, and a sibling who was funny, talented, and doomed—is a heartbreaking and unforgettable classic. —Alex Heard, editorial director, Outside

Tracy Ross excels here at balancing emotion and explanation in her painful personal history with her brother. The honesty in her words and scenes is as beautiful as it is relatable, especially if you’ve lived with those burdened by a struggle with alcoholism. While it’s not an upbeat adventure story, it’s certainly one of this magazine’s best pieces this year. —Kevin Johnson, editorial fellow, Outside

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“What Makes Super Shoes Super,” Podium Runner

I loved this story because it dug beyond conventional wisdom and oversimplifications about new technology behind the increasingly-ubiquitous super shoes. It taps primary sources, the biomechanists who are conducting the research (even breaking the results of one study pre-publication), and doesn’t shy away when they deliver contradictory theories. Despite the lack of consensus, the story advances understanding of these shoes and delivers practical shoe-selection advice from the experts. —Jonathan Beverly, senior running editor, Outside

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“The Spark After the Darkness,” Outside

Yes, this is a pandemic essay. No, it’s not a drag. In the hands of Bonnie Tsui, it’s a celebration of real life in the moments before dawn. Tsui, who lives in California’s Bay Area, spends those moments surfing. The wave riders she sees at this time of day, “are existing in a liminal space, between night and day, ending and beginning. Together and alone. The neither-nor quality of this period is somehow inclusive,” she writes. “In its fuzzy borders, I feel that we take more care.” Her words are just as comforting now, as the pandemic drags on, as when we published them in February. Plus, they just make me want to go surfing. —Will Taylor, gear director, Outside

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“Key to the Kingdom,” Beta

This story could’ve only been covered by a reporter as thorough and skilled as Devon O’Neil because it required really getting sources to open up, something Devon does better than any other writer we work with. His piece on why Vermont land owners pulled access from the lauded Kingdom Trails network is the most revealing piece on the topic published. One of the things we’re proudest of at Beta is that the magazine is a home to real journalism, and this feature exemplifies that. —Nicole Formosa, editor-in-chief, Beta

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“Young, Dumb, and Broke: Why Outdoorsy Types Suck at Money,” Outside

From the headline alone, I knew I needed whatever advice this piece had to offer. What I didn’t expect was how funny and honest the writing would be. Gloria’s work is always relatable, sometimes painfully so, and this piece is a prime example of that voice. The combination of essay and service, narrative and reporting, and levity and thoughtfulness in this article represents some of the best of what I think journalism can be. —Maren Larsen, associate podcast producer, Outside

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“Rock Climbing Is Too Hard. One Lifelong Climber Considers Quitting and Taking the Easy Road.” Climbing

This is a favorite of the year because it is the first story to plumb climbing’s “why I climb” depths in a meaningful and honest way. —Duane Raleigh, content director, Climbing

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“How (and Why) to Adventure Solo,” Outside

As someone who lives in a bustling city, the thought of venturing out into the wilderness alone is a particularly nerve-wracking one. This story presented a challenge to push myself outside of my comfort zone, as well as the information and encouragement that helped to ease the anxiety of doing so. In a time of social isolation, it was a reminder that not only can you venture into the outdoors without company, but that there is value in choosing to do so. —Kevin Spencer, social media manager, Outside

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“We Are All Geraint Thomas,” VeloNews

Geraint Thomas is one of the five active pro cyclists to have won the Tour de France, yet even he can suffer the occasional moment of comic humiliation. That came on stage 4 of the Tour of Romandie. As Thomas sprinted for the line he lost the grip on his handlebars, flopped around on his bicycle, and then crashed just a few feet from the finish. It was a rare uncoordinated and goofy moment for a man who is normally a model of agility on a bicycle. In my column, I likened Thomas’ crash to the very relatable moments of idiocy that all of us suffer in our daily lives. For him, crashing at the finish atop a huge mountain in Switzerland is the same as a normal person bashing her shin on a chair, or forgetting to save a word document, or cutting his hand while slicing a bagel. —Fred Dreier

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“I Was a Bad Dog Owner. Don’t Be Like Me” and “How to Grieve for a Very Good Dog,” Outside

Like millions of other Americans, my partner and I adopted a dog at the beginning of the pandemic. It was at once the most stressful and rewarding decision we could have made—our pug-chihuahua-heeler mix, Henry, became an irreplaceable source of companionship and comfort during a horrible year, but also the cause of endless headaches, from pulling out cactus needles to cleaning off poop found in all sorts of places. This year, Outside published two thoughtful essays on dog ownership that I found invaluable while navigating my own experience. Kate Siber’s essay “I Was a Bad Dog Owner. Don’t Be Like Me” was a clear-eyed reminder to new dog owners like me that letting our untrained dogs off a leash is not cute—it’s a nuisance to wildlife and to others sharing trails and open spaces with you—and we need to be taking better responsibility for our dog’s behavior. “How to Grieve for a Very Good Dog” by Annette McGivney tackled the other end of having a dog: grief and loss. She perfectly captured the special bond between humans and dogs, and how misunderstood it is by people who haven’t experienced it (“Our culture treats the death of a pet more like the loss of an automobile. When it wears out, you should just go buy another one.”). I sent this essay to so many people in my life who’ve lost a dog and felt alone in their surprisingly intense grief. —Luke Whelan, senior editor, Outside

Read “I Was a Bad Dog Owner. Don’t Be Like Me.”

Read “How to Grieve for a Very Good Dog.”

“The Hottest Ticket in Tokyo? Olympic Triathlon.” Triathlete

With coverage so limited in Japan, we lucked out with an on-the-ground Japanese triathlon editor, who gave us insights not available otherwise. Like this one: the only event most locals in Tokyo could see turned out to be the triathlon race. —Chris Foster, executive editor, Triathlete

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“The Driver Who Hit Me Got Two Years in Prison. But I Got a Life Sentence.” Outside

Last year, cyclist Andrew “Bernie” Bernstein wrote an open letter to the driver who hit him and left him for dead by the side of the road as he was biking home in 2019. As Bernie began to recover from a long list of near-fatal injuries, including internal bleeding, collapsed lungs, and 35 broken bones, police worked on finding the driver who plowed into him. They finally did and charged him with leaving the scene of an accident, careless driving, and criminal attempt to leave the scene of an accident. In October, 2021, Bernie spoke at his arraignment, but didn’t find closure there. In his essay, he grapples with questions around forgiveness and justice. “The only fitting punishment for a person who’s shown such little interest in being a safe driver is to take them off the road forever, which I stated in court,” he writes. “But in this country, we give such priority to cars that a punishment of that nature is deemed unthinkably severe.” Anyone who bikes or drives a car needs to read this piece.  —Abigail Wise

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“The Dairy-Free Mozzarella That’s Powering New York’s Vegan Pizza Renaissance,” Vegetarian Times

For this feature, we sent reporter Emily Wilson on a real drag of an assignment: eating pizza across New York City. She met the passionate innovator behind NUMU Mozzarella—a revolutionary vegan cheese that is shattering preconceptions of “vegan cheese”—and visited with some of the region’s most iconic pizzaioli who are incorporating this modern product in their traditional craft. Since this story was published, Whole Foods Markets across the U.S. have begun offering NUMU at their pizza bars, so there are now even more opportunities to try it for yourself. —Brittany Martin, editor-in-chief, Vegetarian Times

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“My Month of Doing 100 Wheelies a Day,” Outside

I’m glad we’re doing this exercise, if only because I now have an excuse to pore over Kim Cross’s essay on wheelies again. It would have been an excellent piece had Cross simply written about her goal of glorious frontal liftoff. She did that, often humorously—“By Wheelie No. 60, my arms and legs feel like overcooked pasta.”—but by, oh, Wheelie No. 681, she had allowed the story to take an entirely different shape. I won’t ruin it for you; I’ll only say that this one will stick with you. It has for me. —Tyler Dunn, audience development editor, Outside

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“The Power of an Invitation,” Beta

We’re really proud that writers, photographers, and filmers from all corners of mountain biking are finding Beta to be a home for their creative and visual voices, especially if they haven’t felt heard before. This essay from Alex Showerman is one of my favorites of the year—her ability to express why representation is so important to marginalized communities is very powerful. —Nicole Formosa

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“The Marathon Doesn’t Care If You Did an Ironman,” Triathlete

Sure, a marathon and Ironman run leg both cover 26.2 miles—but that doesn’t mean they’re the same. This article breaks down all the differences, why great triathletes don’t always make great marathoners, and provides some training tips (and a marathon training plan for triathletes). —Susan Lacke, digital editor, Triathlete

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Filed to:
Lead Photos: from left to right, Jessica Chou; Luis Ortega Flores/Stocksy; Olga Sibirskaya/Stocksy; Sonia Pulido; John Fullbright; Courtesy David Kushner

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