Lessons Learned from a Year of Blogging

I woke up this morning and realized that I’ve been blogging on a weekly basis for over a year.

When the notion struck, and after my first Nescafe, I started to think about lessons learned (as one does). Very quickly, I distracted myself with other things because a reflection piece was not of interest to me today.

But I have a streak to keep in tact. It’s Thursday after all.

Read on for lessons learned. (Scroll down for a while if you’re eager for the takeaways).


First: A long-winded intro that circles back to the theme eventually. Per usual.

The idea of pursuing writing or of becoming “a writer” has been brewing for several years.

Last February, I began to put pen to paper while in Budapest. This was the second leg of my Eastern European Trip, Pt. 1 (Act 2): The Prelude, and I had determined that a month in Hungary’s capital city would be the perfect place for a “writing” sojourn. The vision in my head was myopically poetic.

I imagined frantic notebook scrawling in cafes during the morning and long soaks in thermal baths in the evening. There would be walks in between and plenty of goulash sampled on my traipsing through the city (or whatever it is they ate in Hungary). I also kind of hoped I’d become an alcoholic, because that seems to be a thing good writers have in common.

The script didn’t go as theoretically conceived (for one, the beer wasn’t very good there). But, I did write (poems and essays mostly), and more importantly, I began to believe it was possible.


Life progressed and the idea of giving a go at “writing” niggled it’s way irreparably into the depths of my brain. Like a parasite that couldn’t be satiated.

(Which is probably necessary because writers don’t make a whole lot–outside of the power-law-few anyways–and you likely need to be slightly delusional / intrinsically motivated to pursue such a fool’s errand. But hey, at least I’m not a poet.)

Come November (2018), I committed to posting at least one article per week on this blog.

There were several reasons for this:

  1. The main aim was simple: To write more.
  2. I needed to start somewhere, and you only get better at writing through the act of writing.
  3. It was a schedule that I could stick to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be dedicated to a craft.

So I began, and the weekly streak is alive. Onto the lessons learned.

Lessons Learned:

You never really know what’s going to catch fire.

This goes for what you like to write about, and for what gets page views. If I’m being honest, I was banging my head against a wall for a longtime trying to figure out what I wanted to write.

I actually enjoy creating poetry, but that wasn’t going to further the cause of becoming a writer. My early essays and observational travel pieces felt a bit flat to me then, and read that way to me now. Upon reflection, I know that it’s because they lacked a certain essence or deep-rooted interest for me (poet alert!: He said, “essence”).

For whatever the hell reason, climbing has been the muse that’s really launched things in a new direction: It’s personally intriguing to me, I see plenty of potential to tell different kinds of stories, and I actually get paid to write about it.

The takeaway here is: You need to start writing, try a bunch of shit, and hope to God you come across something that tickles your pickle.

As for page views…

Give the people what they want. (Sort of).

No one really cares about my broken heart.

So I’ve been told on a few occasions. But they love climbing related shit. Like The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe that has been far and away the most popular post, and continues to brings in consistent organic traffic each month.

Thanks to writing, I got paid to climb here.


Additionally, distribution matters a lot more than the content.

Every post that’s brought in high volumes of traffic (note: It’s all small-small numbers) has been shared by others through social media.

This is because the readership on the blog is somewhat contained (mostly friends and family–thanks for reading!–and people who subscribe). The only way for articles to spread to the wider world is when I beta spray and post them around, or other people do.

For people to share, it has to be of value to them. Things like informational pieces, destination guides, how to’s, etc. lend themselves more to spraying.

Growing the readership and “creating a brand” haven’t been the priority so far as I just wanted to focus on “writing” and “finding my voice.” I’m not sure if I’ll try to do more with this blog, I kind of like the liberty to talk about whatever.

Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. From the Eastern European Trip, Pt. 1, Act 1: The Prelude


It’s fun. It’s creative. It makes people more likely to talk to you.

By far the coolest part of this is that people are open to chatting with you.

It’s like getting a license to reach out to whomever and ask all sorts of questions you would normally be too modest to ask of your friends.

As a result, you get to help share stories about people who aren’t typically covered. Oftentimes these folk are inspiring, relatable, kind… and doing really cool shit!

Through this process I’ve flexed my journalism muscles (which I’ve found I quite like), experimented with markety-type content, bared my heart (take that, haters!), and played with a variety of other forms of writing.

It’s changed my life.

Not to be dramatic about it…

If you had asked me last year if I thought I would be able to make a living through writing in 2019, my answer would be emphatically, “No way, dude!” Quickly followed by, “But like, that’d be really cool!”

And now here I am in Queretaro, Mexico getting paid to put words into 1’s and 0’s across the interwebs.

A lot can happen in a year, apparently. Such as it is.

To be clear, it wasn’t the blog all on its own. Rather, it’s been the process of writing, learning that this is something I can do, and then going out and doing it (plus some luck). Still, the blog has played an important role.

There you have it, some begrudging lessons learned from this past year.

Onwards and upwards!,” as one of my former bosses liked to say.

Estoy viviendo en Mexico. Porque?

A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.

So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.

It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.

Why am I here anyways?

Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”

It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since. 

It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with. 

It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.

After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”

This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.

Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity. 

I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot. 

Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.

Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either. 

We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!


Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay

Thanksgiving: On Origins and Deviations

As a holiday in practice, I like Thanksgiving. The family, the food (especially), the remembrance of the past year is all very wholesome.

But like a lot of things, the representation departs from the origin.

Thanksgiving Day is also known as The National Day of Mourning among Native American Tribes.

Early European settlers were some of the first slave traders of the New World, and Native Americans were part and parcel to this. Relations among Natives and settlers were strained, as one can imagine, but Pilgrims and Wampanoags did hold a feast in 1621. This was facilitated in part by Squanto, a Christian-convert, escaped slave (captured by who, would you guess?), English speaker, and a member of the Wampanoag tribe.

All good so far.

Skirmishes, mistrust, disease, and utopian pursuits eventually led to wars and massacres, as occurred in 1637. In what is now a small town in Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe were gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival, similar to our modern day holiday. They were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries, demanded to submit to Christianity, and then murdered.

Allegedly, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” the next day, as a celebration over the “savages.”

As the years have passed, Thanksgiving, the narrative as a holiday of celebration, has been shaped to become what we know today.

The implication of a shifting story is profound. It’s easy to reframe events to give it a better spin, to ignore certain details; to anesthetize it. And the farther we get from the original events, the less important the truth may seem, given the emotional and time distance. After all, we are driven by emotions, and the modern incarnation feels good.

You may say, “What’s so bad? Why can’t we separate the past from today’s holiday? Evolution of a holiday seems normal. I like being in company with family and friends. I like celebrating with loved ones.”

As a standalone event, I’d agree. Thanksgiving in today’s practice is a nice festivity, and is a way to promote certain values that a lot of us can get behind, that of thanks, humility, togetherness.

But, we are part of a longer narrative, and today is an extension of what has already occurred. Events don’t happen in isolation, so we can’t ignore what preceded it. To ignore the past is to be disconnected from reality. Today’s actions will continue into the future.

Put another way, the essence of a thing becomes manipulated if we let it. Like a day of thanks that disregards its bloody beginnings. Or how Christmas has become about spending money.

In the end, the original intent is lost and we celebrate in bad faith, if we choose to disregard the past.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Stay Wild

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Erik Howes

Job: Seasonal labor + creative work


Erik and I met at a get together at Thee Off-Width, a V4-5 boulder problem in Cape Ann. When I arrived at the parking lot there sat an old trolley which extended from parking lot edge nearly to the road. It looked like the cable cars of ‘Frisco, all nostalgic chic with an aura of party bus. If that was the case, I cautioned, this night might get a little weird. At the boulder there was a throng of people bedecked in various stages of costuming. Erik was dangling from the roof, his wild hair Doc Brown splayed (he was wearing a wig) as he grunted through the crack. We chatted briefly, and I left that night thinking, “I bet he has an interesting story to tell.”



1) How do you describe what you do to others? 

Unless you are hiring me for money, I don’t have any intent to ‘do’ anything for other people.

But if you are hiring me; then I will do whatever you want! Hah.

I suppose there are some people I do more for. A few months ago I gave a big presentation in front of an entire middle school, sharing the message of “writing your own story.” Their view of me will be much different than that of a climbing partner and that of a coworker.

Working the rig. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


2) What are some of the jobs you’ve done as you’ve traveled and climbed?

The jobs I have worked on the road can be divided into two different categories: “skilled seasonal” and “unskilled short term.”

The jobs that require skill pay well and usually last 3-6 months (i.e., Scuba diving or any of the working trades, such as carpentry, masonry and bartending.)

Then there comes the miserable category of unskilled labor. You name it, I’ve probably done it. The pay is garbage and you are disposable. But, if you need $100 to pick up some groceries or get money for a climbing trip, you can always wash dishes or help move a few boxes in just about any city of the country—no matter the season. 

A wild van appeared. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


3) How do you learn about these gigs?

I asked for them.

Most of the jobs I have worked weren’t because I saw a ‘help wanted’ sign, it was because I went up to the owner and said: “I work hard and I need money.” 


4) Can you talk about STAY WILD?

Stay Wild is a personal mantra of mine.

Those two words are something I draw on most of my gear and look at when I need a boost of stoke. Whether that’s on a ski mitten before dropping into a line or on the cuff of my work jacket before I start in on an engine repair.

Most people know Stay Wild from the stickers I make, which started by being hand-drawn on USPS Priority Mail slips that I took from the Post Office.

For awhile I was just handing them out to friends and travelers I met on the road. I still do this, but now I also get them printed professionally and sell them to help fund my adventures. 

Sticker making. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


5) What are your plans or hopes for STAY WILD? 

It will grow and transform with me through time. My only hope is it never becomes something that detracts from my personal pursuit of adventure, instead of inspiring it, as it does now.

Being a full time ‘businessman’ isn’t my style. I’ve had to devote a lot of time towards learning how to start a website, what an EIN is and how to manage money… You know, ‘adult’ kind of stuff.

I use Stay Wild as an outlet for my photography, art and a way to tell my life’s story. That will continue to evolve alongside some long term projects I am working on. My artistic pursuits are starting to shift towards making movies and books.  

Staying wild. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


6) What are some of the perks of your lifestyle? 

As of right now I am not ‘tied’ to anything. I could walk away from this life at any point. I don’t have any significant bills or locking obligations.

If I wanted to hop on a plane and not come back for two years, I could. That sounds kinda awesome. I just may do that!

I’d say that kind of freedom is a big perk.


“It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first.”


7) Do you see this as a long-term thing?

There are certainly some days I consider folding it all in; going a different direction and finding some sort of comfort in a routine.

It’d be easy to stop. Stopping is always easy.

Following through and building the life I dream of is not easy. But I like difficult things. It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first. Conquering the impossible is fun, and I haven’t stopped yet.


8) What are some of the challenges?

I’ve mastered the art of job hunting. It usually only takes a few days to find a new job.

But I’m typically unemployed for around 4-6 months out of the year.

That’s not to say I am not working; I am hustling side work. But that flux of income makes for a roller-coaster of bank account statements. I’d say I have less than $500 in my bank account for around half the year. That’s pretty stressful.

Not to mention those times when I spill my pee bottle in the van or wake up to a completely frozen food storage. Without having the amenities of a ‘real house’ daily life gets a bit harder. 

Cold nights. Warm fire. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


9) What motivated you to pursue this path?

In 2016, I took my first cross-country road trip to Joshua Tree. It was there that I met a group of wanderers who showed me the lifestyle.

They taught me the ways of the dirtbag: We danced naked under the stars and climbed rocks without ropes.

The spirit of adventure I felt on that road trip has consumed my entire life and I’ve given up countless opportunities in a constant desire to recreate those wild feelings of adventure. 

10) I know this is a silly question… what does a “typical” week or month look like? 

Do you have a home base you come back to? 

There is no typical week in this life I live. Month-to-month, I live entirely different structures. 

My home base was my van. That died last year.

I am currently working on developing a new home base: An old trolley that I am restoring into a mobile basecamp.

Squally filling up on liquid stoke. Photo courtesy of Erik Howes


(Editor’s note: You can read about Squally the Trolley, “a 1994 GMC P3500 chassis with a Big Larry 7.4l gas engine that has a big round tail light that says ‘STOP'” and was used to shuttle people to/from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in New Jersey.)

I have friends and family who welcome me into their lives: My mom’s driveway and friends’ backyard have served as temporary basecamp over the years. Without them, I would not have had the space to create all that I have!


11) What do you wish you knew when first starting out

Nothing. Being naive to what I was doing, in the beginning, is the only reason I’ve gotten to where I am. Having to ‘figure it out’ from the beginning has given me the ability to achieve all that I have.


12) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

In life, we are only given so much ‘time.’

During that time you get to do ‘things.’

Some of those things will give you meaning, and some of those things are done purely to enable you to do that which does give you meaning. Be aware of the difference.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Stay Wild!… and buy more stickers!

Erik doesn’t need no stinking ride. But please do stay wild! Photo courtesy of Erik Howes

Thanks, Erik!

You can buy more stickers on his website, and follow along with his adventures on instagram at @staywildnevermild (business) and @smellybagofdirt (personal).



All photos courtesy of Erik Howes.

News from Nova Scotia: Meet the Town Crier Delivering Boston’s Christmas Tree

James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow, he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s also the man that delivers Boston’s Christmas tree most years. In this interview, we talk with James about what it’s like to be one of only 400 town criers in the world.



The hand bell explodes with the deafening vigor of a fire truck siren at 2am. It’s piercing ring fills the ear, shakes the head, and shatters the silence of the small municipal room in the town hall of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. We are seated in a semi-circle like school children during show and tell.

“Oyez!,” bellows a man in a tricorne hat; It comes out elongated, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yaaaaaAAAYYYY!” The bell clangs four more times (I count), followed by another, “Oyez!”

The producer of boisterous noises is garbed in 19th century Glasgow Tartan regalia, and the glint in his eye indicates that he enjoys the ruse. He unrolls a scroll and begins bellowing his Cry: “My lords and ladies, boys and girls, I welcome you to the township of New Glasgow.” His voice carries depth and reverberation. We settle in for the show.

James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s won numerous awards in world town crier competitions. Aged 64 years old, he’s a burly man with a ruddy face that accentuates his snow white beard. He has been the crier for 27 years, and one wonders if he is only getting better with age.

Stewart accompanies Boston’s Christmas tree most years, the big one you see in The Common, which comes compliments of our neighbors up north. 

Why is that? On Dec. 6, 1917, catastrophe struck Halifax and Boston helped in the aftermath.

Here’s what happened: The French ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, was preparing to exit the harbor to carry high explosives needed for the war overseas. But it didn’t make it very far. The cargo ship collided with the Norwegian vessel, the SS Imo, precipitating the largest man-made explosion at the time.

“A view across the devastated city of Halifax, Nova Scotia after the Halifax Explosion, looking toward the harbor.” Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives


Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. One of the main culprits of injury was high-velocity glass shards ripping through the air leading to eye trauma. Roughly 5,900 eye injuries were reported. (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind would go on to become internationally recognized as an important center for eye-injury research and rehabilitation.)

Halifax, scrambling in the aftermath, sent out frantic telegraphs for help. Boston took up the charge and organized a relief train filled with supplies, doctors, and other volunteers. The train, delayed by a blizzard, arrived two days later.

Shipping up to Boston (woah). Photo courtesy of James Stewart


Nowadays, Halifax, and Nova Scotia as a whole, sends Boston a locally grown spruce as a way to commemorate the support and to spread good tiding from the annals of history.

Each year, around this time, a ceremony on the Boston Common welcomes the delivery. Alongside the commanding tree, chaperoning Dave, the truck driver, is, you’ve guessed it, James Stewart, town crier of New Glasgow.

If you’ve attended the event before, you may have noticed James as the man wearing a kilt and Inverness cape in winter. He’s the one who opens the spectacle. This year, he will be delivering the tree on Tuesday, Nov. 19, and you can be certain he’ll be presenting it with a loud crash and a Cry.

(Editor’s note: You can follow the tree’s journey online.)

Tree lighting from 2018. Photo credit: Tree for Boston


I chatted with James to find out, well, why he’s a town crier, and like the hokey-pokey, what it’s all about.



Aaron: Let’s start with the basics: What is a town crier?

James: Traditionally, criers were one of the few people who could read, which allowed them to translate cables, announcements, etc. and share it with the public.

They were like the earliest form of public broadcasting.


How did you first find out about town criers?

I’m the second town crier in New Glasgow. The first was Ian Cameron. I wear his cape, the same tricorne hat.

He was the crier from 1988-1992, then he decided he would retire. There was an article in the local paper stating the town was looking for a new crier. My wife read it. 

At that time we were doing a lot of community theater, dinner theater, drama festivals. Very busy in the theatrical community.

She came to me and says, “Oh New Glasgow is looking for a town crier. You should do it, you’d be good at it. If you don’t, I’ll kick your butt.”

So I drafted a letter (because that’s what we did in those days), then a month later I got a call. They asked if I could do a cry in front of a committee. “When?,” I asked. “How about in 20 minutes?,” they said. I had to throw together a costume, a cry and present in 20 minutes. This was in 1992.


How did you prepare for the role?

Every time I do a proclamation it is like theater. But, I was a crier for four or five years before I started to learn how to do it properly.

[In the beginning I was] very much like a singer that sings from their throat. A trained singer sings from their diaphragm. It took me going to competitions and watching other town criers, and seeing what they did, learning by watching, and experimenting [to get the hang of it].

What opened my eyes was a competition in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. It was the North American Town Crier Championship, and it was MC’d by Robin Leach, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

It warranted being written up in one of the airline mags. Delta, maybe. I saw it on the plane on the way there.

That was when I saw Francis Taylor Slate, from Alexandria, VA, 80 years old, still crying. At that time I was in my 30s. I thought to myself, “Is this something you just do for the rest of your life?”

This was the first introduction to criers who were really, really good at what they did. I didn’t place anywhere near the top. I don’t even know where I finished (they only told you who the top 10 were).

Next year, at an event held in Hamilton, Ontario. I came in 5th. Then at the the World Championship in Sidney, BC, with 100 town criers from around the world, I came in 15th.

Every time I go to a competition I observe and learn. I’m still learning.

“Jim Stewart, left, is pictured with Ed Christopher of Hamilton, Bermuda and host crier David Hinde of Helmsley, East Yorkshire at The Magna Carta Cup. Stewart placed second behind Christopher.” Photo credit: Truro News


What is it like to be part of the town crier fraternity” (using this term loosely)?

It’s a very social thing. There are only about 400 town criers in the world.

Odds are pretty good if I’m in another city, and someone says, “Oh, we have a town crier in our town,” about 50% of the time I know them or know of them. 

When I gave my first proclamation, which was on June 30th, 1992, there were two other town criers in area, from Trenton and Westville [Nova Scotia]. Still are. They were welcoming of me to the fold. 

What are competitions like? What are the events?

Generally, they give you a list of topics for a 3-day competition. One day is your town cry (I’ve been doing this [same] one for years), and there are other topics, usually related to the area. 

In Bermuda, for example, they might choose a bird, or something native to the island:

When the island was first founded, one of the first ships had pigs or hogs, as they were called then. They went forth and multiplied. Or a bird that is native, called the cahow. It has a weird cry that almost sounds like someone screaming. Bermuda was called “the island of devils” because of the sound the birds would make. [These are things I might incorporate into my cry.]

For grading, you are judged on clarity, volume, content, poise, etc. Your voice needs inflection, to be “listenable.”


How do you research your proclamations for competition?

It depends on the topic.

In respect to the tree for Boston, there’s so much documented history. But, sometimes you just can’t find information. 

Last year, at the Nova Scotia Championship, it was held at a seaside community and we had to write a cry about “women in the age of sail.” I ended up writing about how frustrated I was trying to write this. But I had absolutely nothing about the topic itself [just how hard it was to find information].

Here’s a story: The Founder of Bermuda, when he died, they put him in a rum barrel and pickled him. That’s how they sent him back to England. I used that for a cry.

…I’m a trivia buff. I enjoy telling stories.

2018 Nova Scotia Championships. Photo courtesy of James Stewart


How did you form your costume?

Some of the stuff I have was from a short-lived project, the Historic Costume Co-op. I don’t always wear a kilt, I do have britches. But I probably only wear those 2-3 times per year. The kilt is so comfortable, and it matches my cape.

(Editor’s note: Perhaps James meant The Costume Society of Nova Scotia (CSNS). I couldn’t find the Historic Costume Co-op online.)

The kilt was made locally by MacIsaac Kiltmakers. My other cape was made by the Historic Costume Co-op.

When they made the original cape, the design was called an Inverness Cape, or a coachman’s cape, from the 1780s. That’s basically the period when New Glasgow was first founded.

The joke I made in England [during a recent competition]—over the two days they gave out awards for best dressed, I won both of them—“I’ve been trying to get a new uniform for years, and this won’t help at all!”

My cape is 31 years old, same as the hat.


Have you made any additions to the kit? 

When I got the original uniform [with britches], it was all velvet. Rarely wore them because they didn’t have any pockets. I went right to the kilt off the bat because I had one.

I’d love to get a uniform that was similar but a different color. Perhaps in Nova Scotia’s colors.

One guy in Ottawa has 26 uniforms. When you go into competition against that, you go, “There goes the best dressed!” He travels with 2-3 uniforms, and his partner is dressed in a matching set.


What is it like to present the tree to Boston?

It’s special. I think, “How lucky I am to be the person to deliver it to Boston?”

Every time I go down, I hand out hats from the province. Last year, I was staying at the Omni House and shared Nova Scotia touks (Editor’s note: A knitted winter hat popular in Canada) with the staff outside. I usually have a lot of pins from Nova Scotia and New Glasgow and give them out as well.

When I put on my uniform and do a walkabout, to the Common, let’s say, I get approached quite a bit. One time, I went to Macy’s to buy a bottle of perfume. The lady behind the counter goes, “well aren’t you the cutest little Paul Revere-Santa Claus I’ve ever seen in my life!”

This year’s Christmas Tree about to be sent off. Photo credit: Tree for Boston


Where does the tree come from?

The tree this year is coming from Chance Harbor in Pictou county, outside New Glasgow.

Where I’m sitting right now (Editor’s note: He was calling from his home), is in Chance Harbor, where I grew up. My dad had a place down here. When I was born, I was taken from the hospital and the first place I went was Chance Harbor. The tree, like me, is from here. 

I’ve lived in New Glasgow nearly my whole live, but spent the first 25 summers in Chance Harbor. I built a place here in 2013.

I am actually two km from where the tree is. If I were to walk, it would take about 15-20 minutes to get there.


Is history important to you?

When I travel, maybe people know about the Halifax Explosion and maybe they don’t. We take it for granted that it’s something that everybody knows about [here in Nova Scotia].

In England, I toured two museums, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. Didn’t see anything about the Halifax Explosion. I did see a few things about Nova Scotia, but nothing about the explosion. There was a made-for-TV movie about 15 years ago, but never a major motion picture.

It’s a really well known secret. And it’s something I get to help educate people about.


You’ve been doing this for 27 years, do you see yourself doing this much longer?

As long as I can continue to do it well, and not embarrass myself. I’m a firm believer that one should know when it’s time to quit.

Maybe I’ll continue to my 70s or 80s? As long as my voice holds up.

I’ve talked with the town about secession planning. 

I see the value in it when I see the look on people’s faces when I interact with them. The majority of time it’s approval and warmth. When I’m dressed the way I am, people feel I’m very approachable.

It’s funny, when I’m in Boston, they think I’m a tour guide. They are always asking me for directions. 



You can follow James on Facebook and track the tree delivery at Tree for Boston.

Thank you to Coastal Nova Scotia for having me on the Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores fam tour. (Which is how I met James. My ears are still ringing.)


Feature photo by Kimberly Dickson, Town of New Glasgow

Projecting into the Unknown: Sending My First V6

A few weeks ago I started projecting boulders outside. That means choosing one particular line on a boulder and working out the moves over several sessions (days). It’s a similar idea to practicing “YYZ” on Guitar Hero II until you nail it, or training for a half-marathon.

It’s a process, one that takes time to figure out the intricacies and/ or to build up the strength needed to climb the line. A project should be something a bit beyond your current abilities.

So far in climbing, it’s not something I’ve tried. Rather, a typical day at the crag would consist of jumping on a bunch of routes, and maybe re-trying one I’ve done before. I’ve rarely gone back to the same route, or wall or boulder over the past year.

Because I had only been attempting V4 and V5 boulder problems, grades I could reasonably get in one session, I firmly believed that was my level. I was “a V4/V5 boulderer.” I’d jump on an occasional V6 or V7 at the end of a session, make some progress, but never return.

After seeing a friend send a 5.12 sport route that he had worked over seven sessions, I wondered, “What could I send if I gave it seven days?”

So, three weeks ago I started going to Pawtuckaway with the intention of projecting V6 boulder problems. Specifically, Ride the Lightning, Terrorist, and Bulletproof.

A curious thing happened:

  1. I wasn’t sending them in one session.
  2. I was making progress each session.
  3. I felt like I belonged.

Reiterating point one, I didn’t send any that first day, but I was able to work many of the moves. I thought I might be able to get them the next week, when I was fresh.

V6 #2: Bulletproof. Photo by the author.


Turns out, that’s true. In week 2 I sent Terrorist (my first V6!) and in week 3 I sent Bulletproof (my second V6!).

I got me wondering: What might I be able to accomplish if it did take a full seven sessions?

A V7 or V8? Hell, there’s a V9 I’ve been eyeing at that looks doable. That’s way beyond what I would have considered for myself just four weeks ago.

From a different angle, have I been arbitrarily holding myself back because I didn’t think to work harder problems? Without consideration, I was constraining myself. Perhaps subconsciously I even thought these grades were “beyond me.”

In some sense, I don’t know what the boundaries are or what my limit is. This matters because growth happens at the edge. Food for thought as I continue my own climbing career.

Considering the bigger picture: What could you accomplish if you actually started projecting something at your limit?

You’ll probably be surprised.

How to Have a Successful First Fam Tour: Lessons Learned from a Trip Through Nova Scotia

In early October I traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada to write an article for Climbing Magazine and to participate in a Familiarization Tour (aka Fam Tour, aka press trip) to explore the Northumberland historical counties. This story is about participating in my first Fam Tour, and lessons learned about how to have a successful one.

I’m surprised the bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S. In my life I’ve seen one, perhaps two, of the species here in the States. Yet Canada is flooded with them, or at least the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are teeming with these taloned tyrants.

Upon crossing the border into N.B., what did I see? Sarcasm. Or rather, tearing of the flesh. Or rather rather, I saw a bald eagle sarcasming a seagull along the side of the road. All blood and tossed feathers as if the eagle was using the ‘gull in a pillow fight against a barn door made of down.

“The land seems more savage up here,” I thought to myself.


On I drove to Saint John along an empty road, then down to Boston’s sister city on the Atlantic, Halifax.

I was here to participate in my first ever Fam Tour organized by DEANS, Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores. (Thank you for having me!). Climbing Magazine also thought enough of my association with my cousin, Andy, to let me write a front of the magazine story about bouldering on Dover Island. So I combined the two and made a go of it for a 12 day trip through the land of Moose and hockey.

First off, what is a familiarization tour? Namely it’s in the name, and hence self-explanatory. A tourism board (or authoritarian leader) invites members of the media, bloggers, content producers, and other vocal types, to visit a place in order to become familiarized with it and to help tell the story. #BetaSpray in climbing terms. The aim is to highlight destinations that may be lesser known in order to encourage tourism.

Like when Roger Federer posed with a quokka as part of a promotional stunt for Rottnest Island in Australia.

Photo source: Roger Federer / @rogerfederer


On this trip, we traveled from Pictou, across from Prince Edward Island, along the northern shore through New Glasgow, the jagged edges of Cape George, Antigonish, Guysborough and to the end of the world, Canso, close to Cape Breton. There were no cute quokkas on this tour, though we heard tales of bald eagles ripping the heads off of seagulls. Such as it is.

The visit was fun, factually stimulating, and full of very generous people. I won’t give a full run-down of the tour, but here are some neat little nuggets I picked up:

  1. If you grow up in these communities, everyone knows who you are by who your father is.
  2. Boston has nothing on the local dialect of Pictou county. ‘Magine!
  3. The Northumberland Strait is said to have the warmest water north of the Carolinas, 1,400 miles to the south.

Alas, this story is about making your first Fam Tour a good one. Below you’ll find my takeaways, as well as input from my fellow travelers on the trip.

Onto the meat. 

How to Have a Successful First Fam Tour:


1) Know your angles

What kind of stories do you like to tell? Being clear with what you would like to write about helps you identify the appropriate people and threads to follow. There is so much activity each day it can be easy to miss an opportunity if you’re not on the lookout.

My preference is to write profiles about people. Based on the itinerary, I thought there might be some interesting local entrepreneurs to chat with and maybe there would be something about the growth of outdoor adventure sports.

Knowing what I wanted to write about made it easier to find leads, by asking questions like, “who would you recommend talking to about…?” or “do you know anyone doing something interesting in…?”

I’ll come away from this with stories about a world champion town crier, a local climber who designs fantastical guidebooks, and cooperative businesses. Among others.

With that said…


2) There’s only so much you can research ahead of time

Because the point of the tour is to expose you to a lot of things, places, and people you would not normally encounter, you have to remain open to stories when they present themselves.

“Do some advance research based on the itinerary,” suggests Denise Davies of Out and About Nova Scotia. “Think of possible stories [but also realize] this will change as you go on the trip.”

Denise helped turn me on to the the rich history with cooperative businesses in Canada, originating around the fishing industry of Antigonish county. That leads into today, where the country has a high concentration of cooperative climbing gyms. Why have cooperatives maintained? Other ideas that arose: Why does the inn keeper want to be in a punk rock band? How is commercial weed growing impacting rural communities?

On the other hand, I had a bulk of the Climbing Magazine article written before I went to Dover Island. There were gaps that I needed to fill in, that could only be gleaned by being on the ground: Understanding the personalities of the characters in the story, gaining a feel of a place, humanizing the idea through personal experience.

While a lot of facts can be researched online, the color and substance of a piece only comes from being there.


3) Be prepared for long days

It’s quite a bit of work to be toted around in a chariot all day to visit museums and shops, walk the beach or the woods, have catered lunches and restaurant dinners, and speak with locals from cheesemakers to historians to town Mayors…

In all seriousness, there’s a lot of information, sensory details, and social activity to take in, which can get draining after awhile. How to stay engaged while finding time to recharge was important for me as an introvert.


4) Take lots of notes and photos

“In my experience, the one consistent regret I’ve had after getting home from a press trip is that I assumed some experience or another, some subject or another, some encounter or another would never be of any use to me as a writer,” shares Darcy Rhyno, an award-winning travel writer from Shelburne.

“I’ve learned to document as much as possible from any trip with audio recordings of interviews and presentations, photos of everything from menus to interpretive signs and contact information for everyone I meet. It’s paid off many times when suddenly an opportunity arises, sometimes long after I’ve taken a trip,” he continues.

For me, it was the sheer volume of exposure that necessitated taking notes and photos in order to remember it all afterwards. Sometimes I would take photos for media usage, and for others it was simply notational.

Denise seems to agree: “I take lots of photos, not that they are all for publishing, but to help me remember. We cover a lot on a FAM trip so you need reminders.”


5) Be curious!

“Head out on a press trip with a heightened sense of curiosity,” encourages Darcy. “Everyone has a story. Dig until you find the nugget of gold.”

For me it’s about recognizing when something piques my interest, because if it catches my attention, it’s possible it will be intriguing to someone else.

6) Don’t forget to ask for contact information so you can follow up!

“Often, time is short on press trips,” warns Darcy. “If I do find a story that needs follow up, I’ll ask that person if we can be in touch in the coming weeks.”

AKA, get those business cards!



Have you been on a Fam Tour?
What are your tips for having a successful trip?
Comment below!



Thank you again to DEANS for inviting me to participate on the Northumberland and Eastern Shore tour!