It’s not often one can say they met a legend.
What’s even more uncommon is when one can say they got to shake a legend’s hand, mutter a few “I love your work” sentiments and slink back off into the crowd.
It’s not often one can say they met a legend.
What’s even more uncommon is when one can say they got to shake a legend’s hand, mutter a few “I love your work” sentiments and slink back off into the crowd.
By Gordon Wright
“County finals? I didn’t even know you were running track.”
My mom, who was raising two kids on her own, was far too busy to know that in my eighth-grade year, I was running track for Neil Cummins Junior High School.
“Yeah. I kind of need a ride, because it’s at College of Marin.”
“When is the meet?”
“Um…in about an hour.”
After grinding her teeth for a bit, Mom calmly put down her Saturday morning coffee, changed out of her sweats, and bundled my gangly 13-year-old body into our Mercury Cougar.
On the way to the local community college, she asked what events I was running. “Sprints,” I said, “The 100, 200 and the 4×100 relay.”
It was the relay that worried me. We weren’t a fast squad, and we’d be facing fearsome Del Mar of Tiburon and their legendarily fast anchor, Jim Detomasi.*
After a fairly quiet ride, my mom glanced at my shoes. They were clunky, awful things — canvas and suede proto-tennis shoes that merged all the performance benefits of Hush Puppies with the weight savings of backpacking expedition boots.
“Honey, are you running in those?”
Well, yes, I was. I had been, all year. Things were pretty tight, post-divorce, and I didn’t want to ask my Mom to buy me new running shoes when my boats still had a good sixteen or seventeen years left on them. Plus, we needed to…you know – eat.
With a sigh of resignation, my Mom took a quick detour, over my protestations, to the local sporting goods store, and spent $35 dollars she didn’t have to buy me a pair of fly Nikes.
We didn’t beat Del Mar that day, but I flew in those shoes. I wore them until they were so threadbare that my Mom threw them in the garbage, where I found them, pulled them out, and wore them another year.
Bottom line is: I don’t like to ask for stuff. I’d rather suffer for ages than ask for anything.
Which brings me to bloggers.
Way back in 2007, when we first started really devoting ourselves to publicizing our clients to the blog world, we made a critical decision: we would treat bloggers like journalists.
This had a profound effect: because we treated all bloggers seriously, because we devoted the same sort of care and diligence to our interactions with them, they responded well to us. Our clients, in turn, have enjoyed expansive coverage in the blogosphere. Everyone wins.
But things have changed.
As of this writing, two new trends are developing that has caused us to write our very first Policy Statement Regarding Blogs.
The first trend that we are noticing is the proliferation of blogs that ask for product from our clients despite the fact that they don’t have any readers.
I do not understand this.
If you don’t have any readers, you may have a blog, but it is not a blog that is a credible outlet for our clients. There are dozens of blog posts devoted to the subject of developing readership, and developing that audience should be a requirement before you approach a brand or PR agency to review their gear.
I’m not trying to be harsh. You may write beautiful, thoughtful prose, but if you’re asking for gear for your blog, and you have no readership, or very small readership, it isn’t a proper venue to ask for free gear, for one simple reason: our clients are commercial enterprises. They absolutely believe in giving product away, but only if it increases their sales, and they can’t do that if you don’t have an audience.
How big an audience? That’s a fair question. You don’t need to be as big as Beth Risdon or Steve Stenzel, but let’s take them as examples. Not all blog sites are listed in measuring sites like Quantcast, but those two are, and that tells us that they have 54,511 visits per month (Beth) and 15,301 (Steve) trending over the past six months. Those are big numbers; in Beth’s case, almost as large as some magazines.
Let’s just take our own agency blog as an example. We have about 115 monthly readers and most of our posts get zero or maybe one comment. Would we feel ok about asking for free gear to review? No, because we simply don’t draw a big enough audience. We recently got a request from a blogger to provide him a very expensive pair of running shoes to review. He seems like a great guy, but his site is ranked 30,000,000 by Alexa; while our own site ranks somewhere around 9,000,000th. We did not send him shoes; only an apology.
What about other social media functions that support your blog? Well, yeah, we count that too. If you have a bigger Facebook network (we have a very small audience of 578 Likes) or Twitter following (we have 862 followers), then at least that counts towards your overall audience. But if you have fewer followers/friends than we do? You probably shouldn’t ask for gear.
We work with hundreds of blogs. We love bloggers. Build your audience and come see us – we’d love to get you free gear, as long as it makes business sense for our clients.
Which brings us to a second Policy Statement Regarding Blogs. This hearkens back to the manner in which we treat bloggers: like journalists. We have noticed, increasingly, that some blogs ask for money in exchange for reviews.
Again, I do not understand this.
We work with media outlets ranging from UltraRunning Magazine to the New York Times. They do not ask for money, and neither should you.
“But that’s my economic model,” you say. OK, that’s fine, but we still won’t pay. If you ask us, we recoil like slugs in a salt storm.
“But big PR firms do it all the time,” you say? Fine. But they and the blogs they’re working with are not doing PR, they’re doing something else, something that isn’t proper journalism.
We’re a bit old school about it, and we’re not going to change.
TL;DR? Develop an audience, please, before asking for gear. And if you work in a journalistic way, we’ll treat you like the journalist you are.
Feel free, as they say, to leave a comment.
*Jim Detomasi, weirdly, is still a big part of my life. I wound up playing high school rugby and club rugby with him, and college rugby against him. We even served as a pair of wings together on a Divison One club in San Francisco. Today, Jim is my insurance agent, though I am, finally, faster than he is.
Happy New Year, OPR friends and adoring fans! (Don’t you laugh, haters; they do exist.)
We’re kicking off 2013 with a fond farewell and an invitation to adventure. Sad news first: Beloved OPR Account Executive and Resident Bodhi, Scott Surface, has left the building. Not for greener pastures, but for bluer waters: he’s on a multi-month, seriously badass surf journey south of the border. Our dear Surf-face took off for Nicaragua Jan. 9, and is currently kickin’ it with the locals and the occasional German tourist in the small surf town of Playa Gigante. Keep up with his adventures on his blog, Lobstapot.
Scotty surfing at Playa Amarillo, giving the folks at home a board’s-eye view. Dig that sunset.
After we got drunk and smashed a cat pinata in his honor (pictures or it didn’t happen? BOOM), we attempted to articulate just why Scott is so special. Here’s our tribute. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll grab a surfboard and head for the horizon. We hope you’ll also feel inspired to share your favorite Scott stories in the comments.
Gordon Wright, OutsidePR President
I miss Scott like I’m missing a limb. A hairy, surf-bleached and very athletic limb. What people don’t know about Scott is that he put in a few extended periods of serving as a Manny for my two teenage sons, Will and Griff, who idolize him. One day, they were all out surfing, and some older teenager started hassling Will and Griff. It got a bit heated, to the point where my sons were invited to paddle in to shore to “take a beating.” Hearing the commotion, Scott paddled placidly over, and defused the situation by noting that the dickhead teen would have to go through him first. Scott Surface: Line-up enforcer, PR savant, ambassador to the world.
Scott and Will, conquering the two-wheeled world
Devon Sibole, OPR Account Manager and Carpe Diemer
Scott is a colorful bundle of wonderful. We met each other at a media agency in 2008 and became fast friends, eventually both landing jobs at OPR shortly thereafter. For the past 5 years, Scotty has pretty much been my better half, helping to make work trips absolutely hilarious and incredibly enjoyable. Outside of work, he’s even more magical. From impromptu dance parties in the middle of Highway 1 and toga country line dancing to tent high-jumping and getting weird in Salt Lake City, Scotty has played such a huge and FUN part of my life. Miss ya, buddy!
Devon and Scott, sporting their bestest vestests. (Apparently, Scott was feelin’ the sleeveless Sasquatch look.)
Jenny Radloff, OPR Account Manager and Resident Redhead
When I think of Scott the first thing that pops to mind is the day I met him. Bounding down the stairs of the old OPR headquarters in the Presidio, Scott greeted me with a big smile, eyes full of life and shiny hair (that always managed to make me jealous and self-conscious of my wild mane). Relaxed, fun-loving and endlessly level-headed, from day one Scott was the calm in the wild crazy storm of OutsidePR that helped a newbie like me stay afloat. Between his baby-sized feet and Grand Canyon-sized heart, Scott managed to make the ladies swoon (that shiny Justin Bieber hair slayed ‘em) and the fellas love him. Easy to laugh with and even easier to learn from, Scott always delivered a magical balance of bro and brains that made him a truly special cog in the OutsidePR wheel.
Jeff Howard, OPR Multimedia Meister and Snow Whisperer
As the resident pretty boy, Scott loved whooping over his blond hair and making sure his silver jewelry shined brightly. On one cold November morning, Scott asked me to take a head shot for a magazine he was featured in. I took some artistic liberties and this is the shot. It looks like he should have slept a little bit more and laid off the Norwegian Licorice before the photo shoot. Miss you buddy!
OPR bids Scott an alcohol-aided farewell. From left Devon, Gordon, Becca, Jenny, Jeff and the Soul Surfer himself.
Next week: New OPR cadet Becca says hello, and we relive the greatness of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City. If you just can’t wait seven days for more OPR wit and wisdom, stalk us on the social medias:
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Being from the Northeast, I grew up well accustomed to long, cold winters. I lived for pond hockey. I thought it was normal for my toes to freeze every time I skied. I prayed for blizzards in April, hoping to build one final igloo before the emergence of spring.
Today, I’m what New Englanders would call “soft”. It’s been five years since I left Massachusetts for Northern California and I can’t say I have had any regrets. Life in the Bay Area is too good. It never gets too hot & humid in the summer, there are activities aplenty and more importantly, the temperatures never (ever) drop below freezing for a significant amount of time. In fact, I’ve seen it “snow” here at sea level just once. A brief flurry attempted to blanket Market Street with an elegant carpet of white, yet the bricks and asphalt would not comply.
One of the main reasons for my pilgrimage to the west coast was to find a place where ocean activities are a year round staple. While San Francisco is a far cry from San Diego, you can surf through the winter without any real worry of extremities falling off, motoring to ice-free marina front bars is no problem, and the occasional beach day does indeed pop up in January.
One oceanic event I particularly look forward to each winter is the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade—a main attraction during the annual Winter Fest in Sausalito. Combining gaudy Chevy Chase inspired Christmas lights , carols blaring over outdated yacht loudspeakers, and a dedicated city-front firework display, this event is the perfect union of holiday and oceanic festivity.
This Saturday, December 8th marks the 25th Anniversary of the event. From the deck of my friend Matt’s fine sailboat, Cavallo, I plan on taking in the splendor of the celebration and downing my fair share of egg-nog. It’s sure to be a fun one in this not-so-wintery wonderland.
Photo by Dan Patitucci/PatitucciPhoto
From The Ultimate Road Trip essay, to his Gear of the Year 2012 and Dude, It’s OK to Hug Your Bro posts– Brendan Leonard’s talent is in his ability to say what every passionate outdoor lover (and PR flack) is thinking, but can’t seem to find the words to say. We’ve been reading his stuff for the past few years and it has been exciting to watch his voice and career grow.
Today Brendan’s work regularly appears in Elevation Outdoors, Adventure-Journal.com, Climbing, The Dirtbag Diaries, among others. Lucky for us, he was willing to take a few minutes out of his Semi-Rad routine to answer our questions on work, love, gear & bumper stickers.
Photo by Dan Patitucci/PatitucciPhoto
OutsidePR: What is the biggest perk of being a freelance writer/editor?
Brendan Leonard: Man, there are a lot of them. Being able to work from anywhere means almost exactly that. I really just have to keep formulating ideas, selling them, and creating content, so I’ve worked in my van in highway rest areas, on my phone in tents and on trails, in coffee shops all over the West, in friends’ kitchens, and at beach campsites. That said, there’s no leaving anything at the office and going home, ever.
OPR: Who is your biggest pro crush?
BL: Ha! I don’t really have one. But I think I’ve developed 3-minute crushes on dozens of women who have pretty smiles and look like they can run five miles without stopping, or carry a heavy pack. Or lead the hard pitches on a climb. And then we both moved on, most of the time without them knowing anything.
OPR: What is your favorite coffee shop/location to write in?
BL: Oh man, there’s about a million-way-tie for that. The Denver Bicycle Cafe, Zeitgeist in Seattle, Acre Coffee in Petaluma, CA; Coffee Bar in L.A., Think Coffee in the West Village, Coffee Garden in SLC, Big City Coffee in Boise, The Break in Missoula … one time at Sambalatte Torrefazione in Vegas, this lady sat down next to me two days in a row, and on the second day, we got to talking about the book project she was working on, about her past as a dancer and other career in timeshare sales, and sales strategies. She was calling it “Six-Figure Stripper.”
OPR: To date, what has been your favorite product testing adventure?
BL: I had to test a bunch of backpacks this summer, and I ended up spending about a week in Jackson climbing a bunch of stuff, and every time I went out with a partner, I think we both had brand-new packs on. That’s my best memory this year — but I think lately every time I go outside, I have a new piece of gear on, so my life feels like it’s getting to be a product testing adventure sometimes. Without naming names, though, it’s pretty nice when a company flies you somewhere rad to check out their new stuff. (My contact info can be found on my website, BTW)
OPR: What is the dirtiest thing you’ve ever done in the woods?
BL: I guess that depends what you mean by dirty? I had a real touch-and-go moment on the summit of Mount Whitney this spring. There was very nearly an incident with directing materials into a blue bag. Maybe I’ll just leave it at that.
OPR: What is your favorite bumper sticker quote?
BL: Like 11 years ago in Missoula, this car had one bumper sticker on it, saying “Hypocrites Against Bumper Stickers.” I could never find anyplace that sold them, even online. But damn.
OPR: If you were dropped at the base of a remote canyon or on a desert island, what one piece of gear could you not live without?
BL: Survivalist me says a knife or zinc firestarter, but what I really want to say is something that plays music.
OPR: What is your guilty pleasure brand?
BL: Fritos. I don’t even know if that’s a guilty pleasure. They really are superior to any other tortilla chip, when it comes to durability, taste, and ability to move salsa, guacamole or refried beans.
Follow Brendan on Twitter @semi_rad
Like Semi-Rad on Facebook
Founder of one of the most revered gear blogs around, Trek Tech managing editor Billy Brown is well known in the industry for his hardcore product testing, fantastic writing and warm personality.
An adventurer and athlete by nature, Billy’s passion for the outdoors, great sense of humor and keen knowledge of gear make it clear why his work appears in Wired, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine and of course, his baby, the Trek Tech blog.
Billy was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time and go through the Outside PR ringer of questions to learn a little more about this wild man we know and love.
What is the biggest perk of being a freelance writer/editor?
It’s got to be the travel. In the last few months, I’ve ice climbed on Spencer Glacier, jumped off 30-foot waterfalls in the Grand Canyon, and pack-rafted across the Colorado River. I’m crossing stuff off my bucket list on a regular basis. The gear’s pretty sweet too: we get boxes coming to the house on a regular basis. My garage looks like an REI threw up in it.
Who is your biggest pro crush?
Nancy Prichard Bouchard: she’s written for some of the best publications around, climbs like an animal, and she and her husband John have accumulated some of the best stories I’ve ever heard.
To date, what is your favorite product testing adventure?
Probably the Helly Hansen trip to Alaska a few weeks ago. We did an Alaskan sampler: hiking, sailing, sitting in a river six feet away from wild grizzlies, deep sea fishing, ice climbing, and rafting. We caught six flights in seven days. It was freaking wild.
What is the dirtiest thing you’ve ever done in the woods?
That’d probably be the time I spent researching my piece on the proper use and application of the pee bottle. There was a lot of trial-and-error stuff going on there. Let’s just say my tent mates were not happy campers.
What is your guilty pleasure brand? (Fruit of the Loom undies? BK Knight basketball shoes? Spill it.)
In n’ Out Burger. Pounded a ten-by-ten in college, been a fan ever since.
Hi everybody, James the Intern here again with yet another Intern Recommended Mildly Challenging Adventure!
My continuing internship at OutsidePR has provided an engaging and useful education in the world of PR while also allowing me an awesome amount of free time to explore the beauty of my surroundings here in Marin County. This free time, coupled with my lack of a girlfriend, has enabled this summer to be the most mildly adventurous of my life. I have braved hiking trails that my mother described as “rather poorly maintained.” I have risked elevation related apnea after prolonged exposure to the perilously thin air atop Mt. Tamalpais (elev. 2,461 ft). The most mildly challenging adventure of the last few weeks, however, was the hour I spent paddleboarding last week.
While I expect the majority of this blog’s readers are familiar with paddleboarding, this growing sport necessitates a bit of explanation for those who have yet to discover the joys of standing on a board slightly wider than a surfboard and paddling around. Woah. That explanation was easier than I thought it would be… For further clarification, see the picture below. Pretty self-explanatory.
My mother and I took part in a beautiful bit of paddleboarding last Thursday in the waters of Sausalito’s Richardson Bay, and I officially recommend this mildly challenging adventure to you.
Location: There are multiple places to rent paddleboards in the Bay, but my experience with Sea Trek Rentals left me nothing if not satisfied. Located at 30 Libertyship Way in Sausalito, Sea Trek boasts an ample supply of boards and a surprisingly pleasant little beach nestled in a small, marina-protected cove. The staff was helpful and engaged, and I was impressed by their ability to store the uneaten half of a burrito I was saving for a mildly nutritious post adventure carboboost. Once out into Richardson Bay I found myself amidst dormant sailboats and barnacled fishing vessels at anchor. The backside of Tiburon and the hills of Sausalito across Richardson Bay formed a corridor that forced my eye across the bay, past Angel Island and Alcatraz to the beautiful San Francisco skyline. Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
Cost: Sea Trek’s rate is a fair one, $20 dollars per hour of board rental. This includes paddle and life vest, along with a handy tutorial from a kind-eyed employee whose name is apparently far less memorable than his patient and straightforward guidance. After our excursion it was clear to me an hour was all we needed in order to keep the adventure “mildly challenging” rather than “somewhat tiring.”
What to do/see: An enjoyable aspect of this adventure is its lack of parameters or boundaries. Once out of the marina you can go any direction you please. The decision to turn left presents you with a view of Mill Valley and Marin’s crown jewel, Mt. Tamalpais. If you were to go far enough in this direction you would find a number of creeks upon which you could embark on your own Heart of Darkness–esque expedition for Mill Valley’s best cup of coffee. The decision to turn right presents you with the aforementioned view of the San Francisco Skyline. My advice is to do what feels best, and to be less conscious of where your headed that of your immediate surroundings. When you are out on that board you are a tourist, really, venturing into one of Marin’s most authentic and gritty cross-species communities. Move through the buoys. Read the names on the back of the boats. Seals and old, haggard sailors alike will poke their heads intermittently from their respective domains, both giving you a dismissive glance before again disappearing. At one point on our adventure, some sort of ray emerged from the murky water of the Bay not only sun its back but also to scare the bejebus out of me.
Must eat/drink: Remember that burrito I mentioned earlier that Sea Trek so graciously stored for me in a location safe from the harmful rays of the sun? Well, it came from a delicious Mexican restaurant a mile up the road called the Salsalito Taco Shop. Forgive me for the assumption, but my best guess is that the name is a play on the restaurant’s location in Sausalito made relevant by the fact that they make their own salsa (which is delicious). While I took my burrito to go, I urge you to take a sit and enjoy yourself at Salsalito’s vibrant outdoor patio.
Miscellaneous: Be wary of the wind. It is best to take up your paddle and shove off in the morning before the harsh winds of the summer come up and sweep across the bay in the afternoon. The wind is far more prominent due south towards the end of Sausalito, where the wind creeps around the Golden Gate Bridge and over the Waldo Tunnel and falls across the water. It is markedly more difficult to paddleboard against the wind, and far colder. Put simply, it is far less mildly challenging. Be cognizant of this threat.
Paddleboarding was a ton of fun. It was relaxing. It was a great workout for the core and shoulders. It was helpful in my quest to conquer my irrational fear of pelicans. It was all in all a phenomenal experience, and I recommend you try it out as soon as you can.
James the Intern
PUBLISHED: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2012
In early August, a 34-year-old record-breaking endurance racer died on a six-mile solo run in the 120-degree heat of Death Valley, California. Now friends in the community are left wondering how such a formidable athlete succumbed to heatstroke on what should have been a routine day.
BY: Gordon Wright
The squeak of a seatpost and the soft crunch of 29″ tires were a welcome distraction from the scorching, dusty silence. I was on a long backcountry run earlier this summer, on a sweltering afternoon, and hadn’t seen a soul since I left the trailhead near Fairfax in Marin County, California.
The mountain biker passed slowly on the rock-studded jeep trail, grunting a hello as he powered past. He was enormous, with Promethean thighs and calves the size of muskmelons. Even huger was his pack, a full 70-liter monster, loaded up expedition-style, with a pair of La Sportiva trail running shoes strapped tightly to the lid.
No one carries a pack that big, I thought. No one heads out this far in this heat, without being an adventure racer. And there is only one adventure racer in Northern California the size of an NFL linebacker.
“Michael,” I shouted, and just one month before he would die, cooked in his own skin on a 123-degree day in Death Valley, Michael Popov stopped his bike, turned around and said, “Gordon! I thought that was you! What are you doing out here?”
Michael Popov was as physically imposing as his endurance exploits. Standing well over six feet and slabbed with muscle, he looked—and sounded—like Ivan Drago, the stony Russian boxer played by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. But like many big men, Popov’s intimidating frame hid a friendliness and gentle nature that endeared the Walnut Creek resident to the adventure and endurance communities of Northern California.
We caught up on gossip and compared each other’s routes for a while before he set off up a long slope. I would catch up with him later, and we leap-frogged through much of the next hour on the ridgelines perched above West Marin. When I saw him last, shortly before I closed my run loop to head home, he was resting in the shade of a dwarf cypress, sweating heavily.
“Great to see you, Michael. You all set for water?” I asked the Russian native, who grinned back.
“I have some, thanks, and I may filter some later,” Michael replied, and we committed an awkward fistbump-handshake-hug before I trotted off, not knowing that this man, the strongest athlete I knew, the holder of some of the most brutal endurance running records in the West, would be dead before summer’s end.
Sarah Spelt is holiding up admirably well for someone who just lost a person she describes as, “A partner. That’s what we were. Partner in adventure, professional partner, romantic partner…” she tailed off, caught on the degree to which her life was entwined with Popov’s.
Spelt, 53, a co-founder of Pacific Coast Trail Runs, was with Popov last week on a reconnaissance trip to Death Valley to scout a 100-mile ultramarathon race the two planned to stage next year.
On Tuesday, August 7, they entered Death Valley from the north, passing through Bishop and Furnace Creek before leaving Badwater Road to head south along West Side Road.
After driving into the heart of the Death Valley basin, Popov turned to Spelt and said, “So, I may regret it, but I’m going to run from West Side Road to Badwater today. You can drop me off and drive to Badwater and pick me up.”
According to Spelt, Popov had never sprung an adventure on her like this. He was known to be a meticulous planner, and while he had a backpack and running gear, he had only a cell phone as an emergency measure.
“We had always planned our days, runs and hikes together, but not this time,” noted Spelt. “And I think now that it was because he knew it was risky, he was nervous about it, and that he knew I might object.”
Meticulous planning is as essential as fitness for the exploits that Popov took on—feats of endurance that shattered records and left many speechless. In 2007, he crushed the record for the fastest unsupported traverse of the John Muir Trail, taking only four days and five hours to run from Whitney Portal to Yosemite Valley (a record since broken). In September 2011, Popov took on the Tahoe Rim Trail, also unsupported, and circumnavigated one of the world’s most scenic trail network, covering 165 miles in a staggeringly fast 63 hours, 54 minutes—more than 20 hours quicker than the previous record.
Expeditions like this are enormously taxing, nerve-fraying, and present mental and physical challenges unimaginable to recreational trail runners. The amount of planning and hard-won experience needed just to consider endeavors like this are tackled by only a handful of men and women—like Marshall Ulrich, Brett Maune and Sue Johnston. Even the world’s greatest trail runner, Killian Jornet, took on the Tahoe Rim trail record only with the substantial help of sponsors and supporters.
And yet, on that Tuesday in August, in the heart of the summer, Popov set off southeast from West Side Road, intent on running cross-country to reach the paved Badwater Road, which he and Spelt thought to be roughly 10 kilometers away. If he was nervous, he had to have been reassured by the looming ramparts of rock shimmering just across the valley.
After stopping once at a crossing that proved too overgrown to traverse, the couple headed farther south, to a speck on the road called Shorty’s Grave. After some more debate about the route, Popov decided to head across the basin to an easily-identifiable black rock outcropping visible across the desert.
“Do you feel safe doing this?” asked Spelt, something she said she had never before asked him, or felt the need to ask him.
According to Spelt, “He grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘No—don’t start your worry-watch for three hours.’”
Spelt loaded four water bottles with ice, water, and Nuun, snapped a few pictures of her partner, and watched him run out into the desert. The time was approximately 2:00 p.m., and the temperature was 123 degrees.
“That’s the last time I saw him alive,” said Spelt.
According to Ben Jones, the Lone Pine physician better known as Badwater Ben Jones, who would have the difficult task of performing the autopsy on Popov’s body, the terrain at that point in Death Valley isn’t just scorchingly hot—it is unpredictable, and nasty.
“There is rainfall in Death Valley, and in that area—Lake Manly—there is subsurface moisture that can make you posthole up to your knees.” Jones suspects that Popov found the footing to be so bad that he contoured southeast on a diagonal to avoid it.
Jones also notes that even experienced adventurers like Popov can underestimate the intensity of the heat, and the amount of water needed. Badwater Jones, who for years held training camps for prospective competitors in the Badwater Ultramarathon, estimates that at least two to three weeks of heat acclimatization are needed for the race, and that runners need to drink at least two to three liters of water per hour to maintain hydration.
Popov, conqueror of so many epics, bet his life that he could cross a few miles of desert.
He was carrying less than two liters.
The southern diversion meant Popov would ultimately travel an estimated 10 miles. The crossing took him only approximately two and a half hours, and like so many other adventures he took on, he made it.
Few cars are found on Badwater Road in the middle of summer, but around 4:30 p.m. several of them stopped when they saw Michael Popov’s form lying on the side of the asphalt, six miles south of Badwater itself. One good samaritan drove north to the town, found satellite phone reception, and called the authorities.
Others stayed with Popov, who was conscious but delirious and combative. When his condition worsened, they performed CPR. An ambulance crew arrived and took over resuscitation efforts. They called in a Life Flight helicopter, and that crew attempted to shock his heart into beating.
All efforts failed.
Dr. Jones said that the cause of death was “Heat-related, including asphyxiation due to pulmonary hemorrhaging.”
In about two and a half hours, the desert had torched the life from Michael Popov. All four of his water bottles were drained. “He didn’t have enough water to last him much more than an hour,” noted Jones, who also said that Popov, who had crewed at the Badwater Ultramarathon, was the closest acquaintance on whom he’s ever had to conduct an autopsy.
Sarah Spelt, who has spent the past week juggling the hundreds of responsibilities of the bereaved in the social media age, reflected on her loss, and on the meaning of Michael’s death.
“Losing one’s true love should be unbearable, but when you love someone as much as I did Misha, it somehow becomes more bearable.”
Some may fault Popov, or even, somehow, Spelt, for Michael’s last run. The temperature was simply too great, and his fluid reserves too thin, to attempt the adventure. But both of them respected the desert greatly, and both were familiar with Death Valley. Michael Popov simply was guilty of a fatal miscalculation, perhaps brought about by his unsurpassed record of endurance successes and fateful strength.
Gordon Wright is an adventure racer and the president of Outside PR & Sportsmarketing, based in Sausalito, California.
As you may well know, Jayme Moye is always smiling. Well, almost always. Sometimes she’ll pause, take a sip of green tea, narrow her eyes, and grill you with a deeply inquisitive look as she susses out the intricacies of a worthy story.
Her love for adventure travel, outdoor sports, mental and physical health, and social justice issues are passionately relayed in her writing, which has appeared in a wide variety of publications including National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, and Bicylcing, among others.
We recently convinced her to take a break from her post at Elevation Outdoors to discuss the finer points of life as an adventure travel writer:
What is the biggest perk/best part of being a freelance writer?
The travel. I turned down three trips today because they conflicted with trips I was already committed to. One was a river-rafting trip in Utah, one was a two-week safari and arts tour in South Africa, and one involved a castle built in 1228 in Ireland. People say you can’t make a living doing this, and that’s just BS. They either don’t have the balls to try, or the talent to land the assignments. It’s all out there for the taking. And there’s plenty to go around.
What is the dirtiest thing you’ve ever done in the woods?
I trekked across the central plateau of Haiti this spring. It’s pretty much entirely deforested, so I wasn’t exactly in the woods, but I ate goat, which is filthy, because people graze their goats in the garbage piles in their backyards. I didn’t have much of a choice—goat bouillabaisse is what my host family was serving for dinner that night, and hiking makes me hungry.
Who is your biggest pro crush?
Darcy Africa. That lady just crushes it on the ultra-running scene. And she’s figured out how to pee while standing, while jogging actually, which is undeniably rad.
To date, what has been your favorite product testing adventure?
SRAM brought me out to the Ashland Super D downhill mountain bike race in 2010. I don’t think I even did the race, we all got so wrecked the night before. And the night before that. And the night after that.
Whats your guilty pleasure brand? (Fruit of the Loom undies? BK Knight basketball shoes? Spill it.)
The Victoria’s Secret Bombshell bra. It’s a real game changer.
James the intern here, back again with the second edition of the IRMCA!
This week’s edition is a real cracker, but let’s take a step back. Right now I am looking out over the Bay from OutsidePR’s office. The morning’s unseasonably rainy weather is wearing off and spots of blue sky are beginning to shed some light onto the water. The morning rain has cleared the air and I can see the northern face of the San Francisco landscape with considerable clarity, and the sight reminded me of today’s mildly challenging adventure, which I took last week and think you should too. What I’m urging you to do, friends, is to bike from San Francisco to Marin County.
This adventure is far less specific and contained than my previous one. I’ll throw you some loose guidelines, but I know that no matter what exact route you take you will get the best of what the area has to offer. If you are Bay Area based you should take this adventure from a “maybe one day when the kids go off to college” to a “been there done that but I’m probably going to do it again because it was awesome” as soon as you can, and if you are not I suggest that upon your next visit to the area you take some time to mildly challenge yourself with this journey.
Location: The city compensates for its lack of surface area by providing steep hills that will provide a workout and, depending upon your location, panoramic views of the Bay Area. If urban biking is not your style, you can enjoy the beautiful bayside succession of the Marina, Crissy field, and the Presidio as you approach the Golden Gate Bridge (which was built by my second favorite civil engineer, M.M. O’Shaughnessy). The ascent from the Presidio up to the bridge is mildly challenging, and will provide a sense of accomplishment that will only enhance the majesty of the bridge you will feel as you cross it.
Once on the other side of the bridge, you have options. Those more open to an adventure on the less mild to more challenging side will salivate at the Marin Headlands, which provide landscape as beautiful as any on the West Coast on a good day and lead to seemingly limitless miles of beautiful coastline and mountainous green terrain. The pinnacle of the area, and all of Marin, is Mt. Tamalpais (FUN FACT: Mountain Biking was pioneered on Mt. Tamalpais by an innovative young Marinite named Gary Fisher in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s).
If you are more inclined to a simpler, shorter, and flatter (translation: more mild) adventure, keep to the right once on the Marin side of the bridge and descend into Sausalito. Sausalito is a small but crowded town, home to both OPR (stop in and say hi!) and, depending upon what day it is, an inordinate amount of tourists. If you plan your trip around peak hours, though, Sausalito will show itself to be the truly charming bayside town that it is. It also proves to be the gateway to the rest of Marin’s quaint small towns like Mill Valley or Larkspur.
Must do/see: Whether you choose to go into the headlands or to head down into Sausalito, it is worth it to take pause and explore some of the historic military bunkers that pepper the hills of the coastline. They are eerie and exciting, and when I was in second grade my friend Max and I used to go there and play army men. Continued efforts to find a superior setting for a game of army men have failed.
Must eat/drink: When in Marin one should do as the Marinites do, and one thing people from this part of the world do as well as anyone is sit around and drink coffee. Thus, after your ride I suggest stopping for a nice refreshing one at Taste of Italy, a charming Italian bistro with excellent coffee situated just out of the downtown Sausalito hubhub. It is a favorite respite of like-minded pursuers of mildly challenging bikers.
Where to stay: San Francisco hotel options are numerous, but I cannot claim a great deal of knowledge on the subject because I have lived so close to the city for so long. However, if you are looking for a mildly adventurous and cheap option I suggest some of the youth hostels around the presidio (on the SF side) or nestled within the Headlands (on the Marin side).
Miscellaneous: Many of the friends of OutsidePR who will read this are far more experienced and advanced on the bicycle than I am, and may scoff at just how mildly challenging this Intern Recommended Mildly Challenging Adventure truly is. What I see about this excursion that validates it even for a more valiant biker, at least in my eyes, is that it strikes me as the foremost example of successful interplay between man-made and natural phenomena. Before you start off across the bridge try to visualize the natural elements of your surroundings before the bridge had been build and marvel as I do at the harmony and mutual enhancement of the bridge and its surroundings. The city gives way to the bridge; the bridge gives way to the headlands. I guess what I’m saying here is that this mildly challenging adventure is much less about the biking and much more so the intense feeling of being swept up somewhere into this intense exchange between man and nature.
I highly recommend it.