Make the world your skatepark

For a real challenge, get outside and away from the concrete jungle 

Skateboarding is an urban sport. 

Right?

I mean, just look at any city’s downtown scene. Even if there’s nothing built specifically for skateboarders, you’ll see them flocking to stairs, handrails, curbs, and concrete art installations. Anything bolted down or built up, really. The DIY concrete skatepark movement is so ingrained in skate culture, that visiting historic parks has become a rite of passage.

But what if skateboarding didn’t have to have such hard lines?

What if you could take your board into the wilderness for a realer experience?

If you thought cracked concrete was crusty, you’re going to have to get real creative, real fast when you try to boardslide a fallen log. Skating in nature demands innovation. 

It’s imperfect, will definitely mess up your bearings, and requires a level of knowing one’s limits that not every city skater can achieve. Creativity unleashed.

And yeah, not everyone is up for the challenge, just as not everyone has access to choice skateparks and skater-friendly downtown areas.

So some skaters who don’t live in big cities, don’t have access to skate-mecca plazas like Kulturforum, or have done Burnside so many times it’s lost its appeal (heresy, I know!) – they’re forced to head out to the sticks. Literally. 

Others just want to feel that connection between their board and the forest it came from.

Inspiration

The idea of skating in the great outdoors isn’t a new concept. Element’s “Nature Calls” is only the latest installment in the years-long trend of raw nature skating. It’s just that this one’s gained a lot of traction.

In just one month, this video’s had over a quarter million views on YouTube alone. Even more impressively, almost nobody in the comment section can think of anything negative to say about it.

In “Nature Calls,” Jaako Ojanen, Madars Apse, Phil Zwijsen, and other Element Europe skaters brought their boards to the Pyrenees to dig up a whole year’s worth of unconventionally – but undeniably – skateable spots.

They found bike trails. Aqueducts. Mountains. Desolate roads. Fallen logs. I-beam bridges. Breakwaters. Even a cactus patch looked like a good enough spot for these guys. 

The creativity in this film is next-level. Not every trick was one for the record books, but how are you going to skate down a mountain or across a frozen lake and not be considered a badass?

Even if you’re not a skater, “Nature Calls” (and the subsequent extended version) is highly jealousy-inducing. Between shreds, the crew took breaks to go canoeing, swimming, throw rocks, and bother a cow. Like any outdoors adventurer, they couldn’t help but stop in awe and take photos that would never do the real thing justice. 

One viewer said they felt like they were watching Planet Earth, but with skateboarding.

Brand purpose

Like practically all skate brands, most of Element’s vids are city-centric. This time, they’ve released one that embraces their.. ahem.. true nature. And if the rumbles from the skate community mean anything, “Nature Calls” has put them firmly on the cool list. 

Element is not a new company, and it’s had its share of critics. Some snobs who insist on a minimum level of gnar (and a minimum pricetag) will turn up their noses at this affordable, tree-huggingly wholesome brand.

But for those of us who are interested in breathing fresh air while we enjoy outdoor sports, Element is a go-to. They know what’s up.

This brand is doing its best to be ethical, environmentally aware, and nature-promoting. Their sustainability commitments, recycled collections, and partnership with National Geographic have earned them some crunchy brownie points.

As much as Element’s trying to pioneer ethical skateboarding, Cariuma beat them to the B Corp punch. 

It’s the very first certified B Corp skate company, and for good reason. Cariuma has made sustainability and negative carbon impact their priority, been transparent about their impact, and are actually participating in reforestation.

This is a big shift in messaging from the major skate brands.

Most brands have no comment about sustainability. There’s very little supply chain transparency and they have nothing to say about environmental impact. 

And yes, skateboarding does have a significant environmental impact

Deforestation is a serious global problem, and this particular industry is a contributor in a way we can’t ignore. Maple logging for skate decks, specifically, needs to be confronted. That, and fast fashion. Nike SB, the hottest skate shoe brand du jour, is working on lessening their environmental impact, so that’s good. But considering the immense demand for constant wardrobe updates, high rate of consumerism, and the broader community’s “edgy” low opinion of eco-conscious brands, this is more than an uphill battle. It’s a vert ramp.

Find your natural skatepark

Skating in nature isn’t exactly an anomaly, but it’s not easy to find groups willing to get off the streets. The most common idea of a skatepark is decidedly free of vegetation.

Most of the info you can find about off-road, mountain, wilderness, outdoor, nature, or forest skating is almost exclusively geared toward longboarders. Sometimes electric skateboarders. Probably scooterers, too, but by then we’re way off track.

If you want to skate outside, just find a spot and do it.

Urban exploration is wonderful, but there’s something extra special about rural skating. If rural means farmland to you, skate it. If it means deep forests, beaches, deserts, or snow ramps, by all means. Skate it.

Bottom line? You don’t have to be a concrete surfer

But there is a catch.

If you do decide to skate off road, be kind. Ride safely on bike and hike trails, and be respectful of the plants, animals, and geology around you. Don’t trespass, don’t damage fragile ecosystems, and if you’re in a park, don’t stray from the trails. And don’t crash into any pedestrians, either. 

And nature skating has the same rules as hiking. Go with a buddy, tell someone where you’ll be and when you expect to be back, keep track of your location, and bring a first aid kit. You’ll also want a first aid kit for your board because your bearings are going to be toast.

But there’s a lot to be said for nature skating. 

The silence, for one.

The challenge of making the most of the unknown.

The immeasurable, incomparable beauty of an untouched landscape.

Also, no cops. 

For more nature skating inspiration, check out these classic films.

Book Review ~ Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands

Part travelogue, part history lesson, part environmental plea, Our National Forests is exactly what we need to ignite a renewed interest in our country’s protected lands.

Turns out, National Forests (not National Parks, which are something else entirely) are much more than I thought. I was surprised to learn that not only had I likely visited a National Forest without even knowing it, they’re absolutely essential to the fabric of our nation. The National Forests are steeped in history — both good and bad — and the author doesn’t shy away from either. Whatever your mood (introspective, light, frustrated, or scientifically curious) you’ll be greeted with insightful stories and huge color images that you could easily get lost in.

Spotted Bear River, Flathead National Forest, Montana | US Forest Service | Flickr

Our National Forests is as varied as the lands in question: sometimes dense and textbooky with dates and figures, sometimes sprinkled with relatable anecdotes that’ll make you chuckle, and sometimes sobering. The author addresses challenging topics from the early days of the Forest Service as well as ongoing issues like human impact, apathy, and inequality. But just before the reader’s heart breaks, we’re presented with new stories of citizen science, advancements, and renewals. I especially enjoyed the historical chapter about the first planted forest in Nebraska. What an uphill battle it must’ve been to learn how to efficiently establish a forest where there was none!

A cool, clear mountain stream. A wide open prairie of tall grasses. A majestic range of western peaks covered in ponderosa pines. These are some hallmarks of America’s cherished national forests.

But, if we look more closely and shift our lens from macro to micro, a very different world comes into view.

-Greg M. Peters, Our National Forests

As the author points out, much of the forests themselves are millennia old, but the Forest Service is only 115. Clearly, there’s a lot more history to be written in this ongoing tribute to trees. If you love our lands and are interested in what’s protected, how, and why, Our National Forests belongs on your coffee table.

Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands by Greg M. Peters was published November 9, 2021 and is available now.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saving the World One Mail-Order Lordship at a Time

Yes, it’s a lot of fun to run around and insist that people call me Lady Sarah, but it’s also a clever way to conserve the countryside.

That’s because I can’t call myself a Lady without actually owning a piece of land in Scotland.

Highland Titles sells souvenir Lordships, Ladyships, and Lairdships of Glencoe, each associated with a small dedicated plot set aside in the Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Mine’s near Kiel Hill.

And the land that came with my title is mine, mine, all mine. 

Nobody may do anything to it or on it without my express permission. And when I die, that property passes to my heirs. That means my 100 square feet of Scottish wilderness will remain untouched indefinitely.

Except by me, if I want. I can visit my parcel of prairie, set up a tent to camp, or hug my trees in the room-sized plot anytime I wish. As part of the nature preserve, it can’t be paved or built up. No fishing, hunting, or chopping down trees, either.

Scotland boasts some of the most amazing and varied landscapes on the planet. From staggeringly steep cliffs to marshy bogs to dense ancient forests, it’s home to a huge variety of plants and animals.

Watch the trail cams to see animals playing in the reserve. Badgers, red squirrels, roe deer, pine martens, golden eagles, and even wildcats have been spotted in the area.

No doubt they appreciate the space to roam.

Honestly, this is a win-win. I get to demand everyone call me by my rightful title and I do my part in keeping the wild wild. 

And you can lower that skeptical eyebrow when it comes to my ladyship.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually have a claim to peerage. I’m not a noblewoman. True, I have papers proving my landownership, but I’m more of a landlady than a land Lady. 

It’s clearly an honorary title as thanks for purchasing a souvenir piece of land. Not legal admission into the House of Lords, so calm down. 

The title is all in good fun and increases tourism in a positive way.

That’s because Highland Titles Lords, Ladies, and Lairds live all around the world. The nature preserve has seen upwards of 6,000 nature-loving tourists a year, many of whom surely wouldn’t have visited if they didn’t have a claim to it.

The preserve is staffed by volunteers so the maximum amount of profits go toward conservation. They make active efforts to set up the preserves, plant trees, promote rewilding, and stoke curiosity in Scotland’s wildlife. They’ve even set up a hedgehog rescue center!

So if you’re looking for a way to support conservation while poking fun at your snooty friends and family, Highland Titles should be on the top of your gift list.

I was given my ladyship as a tongue-in-cheek gift years ago, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize the true value of my Highland Title.

This article is in no way sponsored. I actually do have a mail-order ladyship and think it’s cute and clever. Whatever gets people to pitch in and fund conservation, know what I mean?

Those Ubiquitous Peruvian Alpaca Hats Interweave Culture with Nature in the Most Beautiful Way

You’ve seen them before. They’re super colorful cone-shaped hats with big earflaps, long ties, and are adorned with intricate geometric knitted designs. They’re a favorite among indigenous Peruvians, tourists, and snowboarders alike.

A must-have souvenir for almost every Machu Picchu tourist, chullos are much more than a fashion accessory. This cold-weather garment evokes the majesty, culture, and natural vibrancy of the Andes Mountains.

Andean culture has brought us some amazing things, not least of which is the chullo. These hats are traditionally handspun, handknitted, and worked on narrow gauge needles for firm fabric, maximum warmth, and space for intricate designs. The earflaps provide full coverage from the elements.

Sure, you can purchase solid-colored machine knit hats made out of synthetic fibers. But you’ll be sorely disappointed on all counts. The patterns are culturally significant, the local artisans who make them are skilled in their crafts, and the real alpaca, llama, or vicuña fibers are as luxurious as they are practical. These eye-catching hats are definitely worth wearing in the Andes.

First and foremost, chullos are comfy. Alpacas have super soft wool that is perfect for insulating against the frigid mountain winds. Because of the structure of alpaca fibers, there are lots of teeny tiny natural air pockets that will keep your head warm. And because it’s so insulating, you can use thinner spun yarn than you could with sheep’s wool or other fibers. This makes alpaca chullos perfect for tucking in your pocket.

Alpacas and llamas are domesticated but native to the Andes, so their wool is truly local. Vicuñas, their wild cousins, are still thriving in the mountains. This national animal of Peru produces eye-wateringly expensive ultra-fine luxury fiber. The price tag is largely due to the fact that most of these animals still live in the wild. Sustainable humane vicuña wool harvesting supports both the local community and species conservation efforts. So if you have the budget, vicuña chullos are a great way to support Peru as a whole.

Whichever natural fiber you choose, forget the plain hats and look for a regionally significant style.

The geometric patterns, exuberant colors, and design of each chullo are unique to the region and the makers. This mark of heritage represents thousands of years of cultural significance. In fact, the acts of spinning wool, weaving, knitting, and producing textiles is as essential to the fabric of South American culture as the Andes themselves. Traditionally, the vibrant colors are made from local plants, insects, minerals, etc. and each color has specific associations. Green represents lush forests, yellow for riches, red for warfare, and so on.

Most chullo designs feature repeated geometric motifs, but many modern styles include images. Jaguars, plants, birds, and of course, the animals who generously gave their wool for the hat. (It doesn’t harm them any more than a haircut, by the way.)

It can be very cold and windy in the higher peaks of the Andes, and tightly-knitted alpaca earflap hats are just the ticket to keep you from catching a chill.

This distinctly mountain-friendly style gained popularity from communities living in the Andes. For the longest time, chullos were nothing more than a functional piece of outerwear. What was once a humble stackable hat has become the most instantly recognizable garment of South America. Tourism has kept this traditional style vibrant and expanding.

It wasn’t always considered fashionable in Peru, but the chullo has taken hold as one of the most popular, iconic garments of the region. Customized to the local climate, knitted from the wool of animals who live there, and covered in unique motifs indicative of local history, chullos are quintessentially Peruvian.

If Lisa Frank was tasked with designing a bird, it’d be the ocellated turkey

Most wild turkeys look something like this…

Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash

Or this…

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

But then there’s this fella.

National Audubon Society

Meet the ocellated turkey — wannabe peacock and birdwatchers’ darling.

And one of the most flamboyant birds I’ve ever seen.

There are six types of wild turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and our prismatic friend. Most turkeys can be found in Canada and the USA, but the ocellated version lives exclusively on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their small region includes only a small part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. 

And yes, if you visit Yucatan ruins like Tikal, you might get a glimpse of these seussical birds. They’re quite comfortable living and nesting near Mayan ruins.

Ocellated Turkeys at Tikal, Guatemala by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Though I’m pretty confident you could identify an ocellated turkey without a description, this bird stands out in more ways than one. This species is small as far as turkeys go, topping out at 12 pounds for males and 7 pounds for females. They have neon-blue heads decorated with garish hot orange warts, but no dangling ‘beards.’ Both sexes are blindingly colorful with females only marginally duller and greener. As a bonus, these turkeys’ voices are slightly less obnoxious than that of their blander cousins.

Ocellated turkeys spend most of their time walking rather than flying and enjoy a buffet of bugs, seeds, and leaves in their rainforest homes. The ‘ocellated’ part of the name refers to eyespots on their peacock-like tail feathers. Considering the brightness of the rest of this bird, you’d be forgiven for missing that detail.

Tim Proffitt-White / Flickr

These vibrant animals are Near Threatened and declining, thanks to overhunting and habitat reduction. But all is not yet lost — the ocellated turkey fanclub is growing, drawing ecotourists and conservationists to the region.

With continued conservation efforts and increased awareness of these eye-popping birds, more and more tourists can hope to spy an ocellated turkey. For some, ocellated turkeys are on the menu, but it’s my humble opinion that they’re better enjoyed visually. Maintaining their habitats and encouraging sustainable tourism to landmarks like Tikal will help get this glorious bird back on track. 

In the meantime, check out this desperate dance our rainbow friend does for a bunch of females who couldn’t care less. At least his fashion sense is on point.


Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Alaska’s Kennicott Ghost Town

Alaska has a lot to offer. Mountains, glaciers, polar bears, whales, heart-stopping beauty, and… ghost towns.

Just when things looked most promising for the brand-new copper mining town of Kennicott, Alaska, everyone left. What remains is the country’s most picturesque ghost town right on the edge of the country’s largest, most untouched national park.

It is awesome in the most literal way.

Let’s explore Kennicott and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Alabama’s Rattlesnake Saloon

Are you ready to travel the American South, but not sure whether you prefer to explore untamed wilderness, dance the night away, or dive into a plate of jalapeno poppers?

No need to choose! Alabama’s Rattlesnake Saloon ticks all the boxes and even offers handsome lodging for you and your horse.

Let’s go to The Rattlesnake Saloon!

link redirects to Medium. no paywall

Hidden Gems – An Alternative Travel Guide

The sun is shining, it’s almost summer, and your vaccination card is filled.

Now you want to go on vacation, don’t you?

Me, too!

We all know about the big tourist traps and unmissable sights, but what about those lesser-known spots that always seem to be the highlight of the trip? I’m on a mission to find them! Let’s explore some of the country’s most interesting, unusual, underrated, and awe-inspiring locations.

Big, small, or just plain weird, America’s hidden gems are worth digging up.

Come on vacation with me!

link redirects to Medium. no paywall