From a Single Cell to a Whole Lot More: Writing About Growth and Destruction

The ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and organic development

Hey everyone,

This week features larger narratives around life-and-death, the ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and the organic development of a climbing community.

There are also two pieces offering advice for pitching stories and, trying something new here, a log of my own pitches to shine some light into the process.

“Art is commensurate with the human spirit.” – Naturalist, John Burroughs

We all have a story to tell, how are you expressing your human spirit?


Travel writing in Croatia

Learn the fundamentals of travel writing for magazines and websites from professionals. Alex Crevar and Molly Harris are contributors to The New York TimesNational Geographic Travel, and Lonely Planet magazine.

$5,000 adventure grant

GearJunkies and NordicTrack are offering one lucky winner 5 grand to pursue a bike, hike/run, climb, or paddle trip.

What I’m Reading (& Watching)

A single cell become a complete organism

From Dutch director Jan van IJken, watch the alpine newt go from a single-celled zygote into the hatched larva.

What’s plastic doing to our bodies?

Plastic was once thought of as a long-lasting, coherent substance that didn’t make much difference to the environment outside of trash pile up. Now we know it continuously breaks down into microscopic pieces, with long-term consequences.

“A growing body of evidence suggests some chemicals commonly found in many plastics are associated with everything from breast and prostate cancer, to underdeveloped genitalia and low sperm count in men, to obesity.”

On facing the unexplored and the ethics of taking another step

Where Not to Travel in 2019, or Ever.

Kate Harris is a fantastic writer, who I only came across this week. I’ve been reading a bunch of her articles (they are all great) and am eager to start her book, Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road.

“Chau’s escapade… was nothing more than a violation: he was just another person who believed that the world was his to do whatever he wanted in and with.”

Perhaps more headlines should have read: “Remote Community Faces Biological Terror Threat From U.S. Religious Extremist Killed by Local Authorities.”

How Miguel’s Pizza made the Red River Gorge

If you like climbing narratives that are not so much about climbing, this is an insightful peel-back-the-curtain style look at the history of Miguel’s Pizza, and the enigmatic man behind it all.

Miguel said, “Art becomes part of your ego… that got to me.” As Miguel recounted, the epiphany came when he drew a cartoon character lifting up the costume of an artist and getting inside. “You don’t need a costume to be a person; you just need to be yourself,” said Miguel. “I threw that outfit out and became who I am today: a pizza man.”

Photo source: The Walrus

Writing Advice

Advice from Nat Geo Editor at Large Norie Quintos

Norie offers tips on how, when and what to pitch:

“What’s the story? Why now? Where do you see it fitting in the outlet (what section or department)? And, why you? Stay pithy; aim for no more than a page.”

Also, something I’m probably under-appreciating:

“A rule of thumb: the earlier the better. A year ahead is not too early for a magazine feature story, nor a month ahead for a digital piece. And get to know the editorial cycle of your favorite outlets.”

A Freelance Writer’s Life: The Art of the Pitch

To the keen observer, you may recognize the author of this piece from the Opportunities section. Alex Crevar offers up his own tips for pitching from years of practice (and struggle).

“A writer must make an editor’s job easier. Full stop…

A salesman who hopes to earn a client knows who his client is; he knows what his client is looking for; and knows he must make the best pitch possible to sell his widget…

The simple question: why would an editor want to buy my widget over a similar widget being sold by Jane Doe?”

I take comfort in outlook #2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Log: My Freelance Writing Journal

I’ve started keeping a training journal to track my progress towards some big mountain goals I have this year. I like the idea of opening up the process and also using a public forum for some semblance of accountability.

So I’m sharing what I did this past week for pitching stories and writing.


  • Pitched three stories. One feature, one newsy story (see below), and one series of posts that will turn into just a one-off piece (also, see below). This is the first time I’ve pitched a feature story idea.
  • One newsy story accepted for online publication in a climbing magazine. I was hoping to be able to do a longer-form interview, so I need to figure out what this will look like.
  • The one-off piece came about from clarifying how I wanted to write the series with the editor. The timing is off for a series, so the editor decided to simplify and do a self-contained piece that is still timely.
  • Two story ideas were rejected by an outdoor magazine and a climbing magazine (pitched weeks ago). One was about gear reviews which didn’t really fit their typical review model, so that makes sense. I didn’t get feedback on the other story.


Personal Blog:

What do you think? Is sharing a recap of pitches interesting to you?

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Out There / In Here, vol. 4

Feature photo source: Climbing Magazine

On Breaking into the World of Freelance Writing

Let’s kick it (off)

Hey everyone,

This is a weekly round-up of stories about adventure and reflection, action and meditation, awe and all the rest.

There is a mix of personal story, adventurous narratives, engrossing news, humor pieces, and poetry—all with the aim to inspire action and contemplation.

In the words of Kurt Hahn:

“There exists within everyone a grand passion, an outlandish thirst for adventure, a desire to live boldly and vividly through the journey of life.”

Go find it and live it.

What I’m Reading

“I don’t think you should ever have to tell anybody how good you are at anything.”

A fantastic-artistic video about Ned Feehally, who struggles with the self-promotional aspect of today’s media-driven landscape. He is one of a few climbers who have flashed V14.

Alas that is the world we live in. And to be frank, social prestige isn’t anything new. Of course, the paradox is that here he is as the main feature of the video.

“Under a Sheffield house lies a head high cellar featuring steep plywood and sculpted wooden holds. It is the training venue of Ned Feehally, climber and co-founder of Beastmaker. He is a member of an elite group of climbers to have flashed V14. This is a film about his mindset, motivations and what it takes to be one of the strongest climbers in the world.”

The selfishness of adventure?

“The idea that adventure is a good thing—that is a proposition that needs to be critically examined.

How do we know it’s a good thing?

I think it’s a good thing because it’s dictated my life.

I also recognize what it’s cost me and I don’t mean in just in terms of friends dying, but in aspects of my own character I never fully developed because adventure is ultimately selfish.” – David Roberts

(Emphasis by the newsletter curator)

This is a tension I grapple with. There are activities that you love to do, that make you feel the most alive. Inherently, these may be selfish acts.

The alternative is surely not to not pursue these. We are here to live, after all. I do believe we should all be so lucky to find things that make us sing for joy.

Perhaps the key is in the recognition of the selfishness, and then to actively welcome others into finding their own pursuits (worth being selfish over).

In Bosnia, a father’s grief swells into an antigovernment movement

In stark contrast to adventure writing, Davor Dragicevic is putting his life on the line for the sake of his deceased son. David, 21, was found dead in a creek last March, and the official explanation was that he had been “a drug addict and a thief, and had killed himself or been murdered by a criminal gang.”

Mr. Dragicevic didn’t buy it.

“He started a one-man protest movement that has grown into the largest antigovernment demonstration in Bosnia in decades.”

Davor is a Bosnian waiter in a cafe, not an adventure seeker.

In case you missed it: Pictures of the Super Blood Wolf Moon

“When the central part of the Earth’s shadow, called the umbra, covers the moon, the only light that reaches the lunar surface has been filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, which strips out the blue wavelengths and casts the moon in a red glow.”

On breaking into the world of freelance writing

This interview with Abigail Wise, the Online Editor for Outside Magazine, is jam-packed with advice. I’ve started implementing some of her tips in my own pitches (holler at me Climbing Magazine!).

It’s the freelancer’s job to get to really know the publication, know what we are looking for, and then bring an idea to me. A fresh idea.

The basics can be summarized as such:

What can a freelancer do to stand out from the pack, and to make themselves more useful to you? 

  1. A great pitch email
  2. Show me you read our publication
  3. Explain your story format
  4. Provide photographs

A fun idea: Take a surprise trip

You only learn about the destination 24 hours in advance.

“In their 2018 Travel Trends Report, Ford Motor Company found that 52 percent of U.S. travelers said they enjoy getting lost and spontaneously discovering hidden restaurants and shops to create unique memories when they travel.”

Pack Up and Go organizes everything for you, from accommodation to recommendations of what to do. It’s sort of like a spontaneous trip with bumper lanes. Go figure.

I once had a friend who would get drunk and buy himself plane tickets to random places. If you wanna have a go, Kayak makes it easy to find destinations you can afford. Though, I prefer skiplagged or skyscanner to find really good deals.

What would you do if you knew you would be blind by 40?

Emilia Wint faces just that dilemma. This is her turning point:

“In the fall of 2015 I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa… a degenerative retinal disorder. Imagine a vignette photograph with blurred edges. With RP, the edges of your vision gradually get fuzzier and fuzzier, slowly closing in and getting darker…

I’ve committed to spending my time with extreme intentionality. I structure my life around experiencing as much as I can and doing all the things now which I may not be able to do later.” – Emilia Wint

(Emphasis by the newsletter curator)

What’s the turning point in your life?

Other Bits

Events to get amped for:

  • Feb. 8-10: US National Toboggan Championships. “The tension of competition thickens the air. The smell of wax pierces your nose, as a complete set of Abominable Coneheads saunters by with their sled. It’s February in Camden, Maine, which can only mean one thing: the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, bitches!”
  • The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe to Get You Stoked for 2019. Need some inspiration for where to climb this year? I’ve organized a list of fun climbing festivals to help you sort it out.


“Even sweetness can scratch the throat, grandma said, so stir the sugar well.” – Ocean Vuong in “Notebook Fragments

Books I’m reading:

  • The Ascent of Nanda Devi: I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it by H.W. Tilman
  • Kurt Hahn’s Schools & Legacy by Martin Flavin

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Out There / In Here, vol. 1

Header image source: The Project Magazine