4 Values Dirk Collins Embraces to Manifest Success

Graduation. Everyone’s asking you what’s next and their expectations are palatable. Supposedly, this is the best time of your life but you can’t wait to leave. You’re ready to sink your teeth into life’s next phase, but whether that means college or an office job, you remain unconvinced the traditional path will satiate your desires. Society beckons you with its easily-accessed roads toward average success and creature comforts, but that’s not really what you’re seeking. You need adventure, exploration, and to figure things out on your terms—creature comforts be damned. Although college is a valuable option for most careers, many people pursue their dreams without formal education. This is not an escape from education; learning simply happens in a different way. Graduation speeches propagate an idea of success that not everyone buys into. Similarly, a recently earned degree can tether you to a ladder you didn’t mean to climb. But regardless of where you are on that ladder today, you can still choose differently.

Dirk Collins

Dirk Collins. Photo credit Ty Klocke

Dirk Collins, who founded two successful film production companies, is one such person. As founder of OneEyedBird Marketing & Entertainment and co-founder of Teton Gravity Research, he’s traveled to some of the most remote places in the world, worked with some of the top adventure athletes, and continues to learn knew things every day. Breaking into the film industry is difficult, and starting a production company is downright foreboding, yet Dirk never attended college. Tackling any career away from the insulated guidance of college is a vulnerable place to experience trial and error, thus four values have become pillars in Dirk’s ability to navigate the system and manifest success: progress convention, build upon past success, commitment to passion, and hard work. Of course, Dirk didn’t begin adulthood with those pillars, he learned them along the way, and with every challenge he’s learned to embrace those pillars further.

But at one time, he felt exactly like you.

Dirk recalls his high school commencement speech: “The ex-mayor of Anchorage was up there telling us how this was the most amazing time of our life and we needed to really enjoy it and the next couple of years were gonna be phenomenal and all I can remember is this is the dumbest time of my life and I can’t wait to get the hell out of here and be out of everybody’s control so I can go do what I really want to do.”

So what did he do?

#1 Progress convention

Every day, workers proffer their mental energy and stress to soulless businesses that don’t care for them in return. Many companies don’t deserve such power over their employees, yet they succeed in taking it. “I struggle with society constantly because I don’t buy into most of it and the older I get the less I believe in any of it.” Simply rejecting convention, however, is embittering. One must put that energy into something positive. Dirk invested it in skiing.

As heli-ski guides in the early nineties, Dirk and his friends, Todd and Steve Jones, pushed the big mountain skiing scene around Valdez, Alaska and Jackson, Wyoming. In the wake of Greg Stump’s instantly classic ski film, The Blizzard of AAHHH’s, they felt the then-current ski movie formula—cutaways from one powder turn to the next—lacked big mountain soul. “We’ve got our own philosophy of what ski movies should look like and we wanted to see the full line.”

All three friends were making good money fishing in Alaska in the summers. One day Dirk and Todd were hiking a couloir and they realized they had the ability to make the ski movie they wanted to see. “We know all the talent and none of these film guys can go anywhere; they want to shoot from the groomer. We need to get in there and do it. We can ski anything and climb anything.” It was a risk, but Dirk says, “it’s never safe to live your dreams.”

That conversation was the impetus of Teton Gravity Research (TGR). Among the talent was Jeremy Jones, Todd and Steve’s younger brother, who would go on to become Snowboard Magazine’s ten-time Big Mountain Rider of the Year. They used some of their fishing money to buy cameras, learned how to operate them, and over the next few years filmed Continuum and began building an adventure film brand.

These guys didn’t just reject the convention, they progressed it.

Dirk Collins big mountain skiing

Dropping in on the other side of the camera. Photo credit Brittany Mumma

Thirteen years, 23 films, and over 70 television episodes later, Dirk itched to diversify. It would have been easy to stay with TGR, which continued to grow as a leading adventure sports platform, but the easy route has never been Dirk’s way. It was time to build something new once again. He parted TGR on good terms and started OneEyedBird, a production vehicle for building brands and messages through multimedia platforms. Once again, Dirk set out to progress conventions.

Listen to Dirk recall his nervousness at the premier of TGR’s first film, Continuum

#2 Build upon past successes

Strength coalesces from many areas in one’s life. Of all the activities Dirk was exposed to in his outdoorsy childhood, skiing fulfilled him from a young age. His story begins in Salmon, Idaho, a then-unincorporated nook of the United States that in the 1970 census boasted a population of 186. At 2, Dirk started skiing at a nearby resort. Before long, a group of local, pro mogul skiers took him under their wing and skied with him on weekends. At seven, however, Dirk traded downhill skiing for nordic skiing when his dad accepted a job in Alegnagik, a remote village in Western Alaska. He was bummed to lose skiing but adapted to his new environment.

He and his brother became the only year-round white kids in the village, something he remembers fondly. “Talk about a sick place for a ten year old to grow up, right? Boats and snowmobiles, fishing and hunting, and exploring and wandering around and playing with Eskimos and yeah, it was rad.” In fifth grade he moved to Dillingham, a larger village that these days is connected to Alegnagik by a well-maintained 25-mile road, but back then the road was always washed out, iced over, or snowed in. He transplanted from a class of a handful of kids in Alegnagik, to one of perhaps a hundred in Dillingham, to a school of around 2,000 in Anchorage.

Filming on Baffin Island, Canada

Filming on Baffin Island, Canada. Photo credit Dirk Collins

The transition could be overwhelming for any displaced small-pond fish, but Dirk’s mom channeled her son’s troublemaking energy into something productive. Dirk began helping a commercial fisherman at Point Possession, Alaska that summer—a more intense situation than he suspects his mom was aware. “I don’t think she had any clue how dangerous that was, because it was pretty gnarly.” Dirk soon graduated into real commercial fishing and by high school was making twenty grand a summer, and essentially living without parents. “I was a total loose canon.”

But another thing Dirk’s mom did was involve her young son in junior ski patrol at Alyeska Resort, 30 miles down the road. In Anchorage, downhill skiing quickly obsessed Dirk once again and the opportunity with ski patrol got him on the hill more than they could otherwise afford at that time. There, Dirk met many of his mentors, gained professional skills, and began steering his path toward guiding. After high school, and “free of everyone’s control,” he delved deeper into the thing that made him happiest: big mountain skiing.

Dirk’s life tells of challenge and success. A kid from remote Alaska is an unlikely profile for the film industry. To manifest success, each of us must draw from our personal well of experience. How we approach obstacles defines us not only in the moment, but in future challenges, as well. Through uproot, divorce, and physical challenges Dirk learned perseverance. Although he now has many career successes to draw from, at the ground level he only had that which he held in his heart—confidence born from past challenges. By absorbing such lessons, we empower our future selves.

#3 Commitment to Passion

The word passion has been rendered meaningless through overuse, so what is it really? Passion compels you, whether you heed it or not. If ignored it will corrode and leave you hollow. It can add depth to your life and help you achieve your highest goals, but only if you make it a priority—otherwise society will calmly guide it to slaughter.

On the job: A musher and his team push on toward the Bering Sea coast en route to the finish line in Nome, Alaska during the 2015 Iditarod.

On the job: A musher and his team push on toward the Bering Sea coast en route to the finish line in Nome, Alaska during the 2015 Iditarod. Photo credit Dirk Collins

Dirk’s passion lies in storytelling through adventure. “A lot of the stuff we’ve been trying to do [at OneEyedBird] is kind of take my roots of action sports but grow them into bigger stories and feature documentaries and bigger television.” Adventure means more than just thrill-seeking. There’s an educational component implicit in travel. “Some of the most important education that a person can get or that a child can get is traveling because it creates tolerance and understanding.” It’s not enough to live somewhere special; traveling fosters something bigger by breaking down misconceptions. “You start to gain respect for other places, and other people, and other animals, and tolerance for religion and other ways of life that don’t make sense if you never leave the United States. So I think it’s critical, right? Everybody really should have to do it.”

But not everyone can so Dirk funnels the world into people’s homes and hopes to inspire social change through media. Whether he’s helping the World Wildlife Federation track snow leopards, or snowmobiling a thousand miles across Alaska filming the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, Dirk has a passion for creating content that promotes understanding. Clearly kids are plugging-in more than ever, and Dirk sees that as an opportunity. “It gives us the ability to pipe content to them so maybe we can get some good messages to them that way.” Passion is inspiration, which begets action.

Butchering a yak

“Villagers butcher a yak as children watch and learn. While on location for the WWF snow leopard project I spent quite a bit of time with the people of the village, which was amazing. No matter what part of the world they are from it is always amazing to see the skill, efficiency and lack of waste characterized by indigenous people and the food they harvest. The butchering of this yak took about an hour, start to finish. Not a drop of blood was spilled and when they were finished only a small pile of dung (from the intestine) remained. Everything else was used.” -Dirk Collins

“Every day—if it’s a bad day, or a good day, or a bad month, or a bad year—I’m still super stoked to get up and do my job. I love it. I get to work with phenomenal people and I get to go to amazing places and I learn new shit every day and, you know, a lot of it’s super dangerous and a lot of it’s hard work—actually probably all of it’s hard work—but I’m living, right? I believe in everything I do and I’ve created a vehicle right now where I have influence and can tell stories and make change.”

That is the voice of passion embraced. As Dirk states, however, passion begets hard work. If you starve passion of commitment you cheat yourself and, for that matter, the world and that is why #4 is the most important value of all.

#4 Hard work.

It doesn’t matter how much you embody the first three qualities if you don’t invest your blood, sweat, and tears into the battle. “You’ve got to fight to do what you want to do, and it’s really easy to say, ‘it’s too difficult or I’m too beat down’ or whatever and ‘I’m just going to get a normal job.’ […] I’ve just never been able to do that.” Dirk’s work ethic is revered. IMDB shares: “With experience based in adventure, Dirk is renowned for his ability to get the job done no matter the athletic challenge, remote location or harsh environment.” His passion consistently convenes with challenge, something he’s learned to embrace. “With business and life I’m always taking the most difficult path because I feel like that’s the one that’s closest to your heart.”

These days, inspirational mantras litter social media. “People love to throw around quotes from famous people or people who took risks.” But for most people, the commitment ends there. “Those things are easy to throw around but to live that is super difficult and to live that you’re going to get beat the fuck up, and so most people can’t do it. They can put it on their photo on Instagram or whatever but to actually live by that, I’ve learned, there’s not too many people that do it.” If you’re not willing to dedicate long hours and endure sleepless nights and deal with rejection, trailblazing isn’t for you.

Dirk Collins

Dirk doing what he does. Photo credit Chris Owens

Dirk lives amazing adventure but not without cost. Recently, two major projects ended that cost OneEyedBird a couple million dollars in lost revenue. But OneEyedBird continues to evolve and is developing several major new projects.

The first is an adaptation of Steven Kotler’s book, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. It studies the concept of flow, a heightened state of decision-making that enables adventure athletes to progress their sports at a never before seen evolutionary pace, which Kotler believes can be decoded and applied to advance all areas of society

The second project follows Mike Horn, perhaps the greatest living explorer today. The 48 year-old South African’s accomplishments are too extensive to list here, suffice to say, he swam the Amazon from source to sea (roughly 5,000 miles) and skied solo around the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. Now, OneEyedBird wants to develop a multimedia platform using Mike’s upcoming pole-to-pole, circumnavigational trip to create broad-scale educational content through adventure.

OneEyedBird at work

OneEyedBird at work. Photo credit Brittany Mumma

Both projects, however, have met resistance from the industry. “This is so phenomenal and amazing, you know? How come Nat Geo’s not jumping on this or why isn’t someone paying attention?” Even so, each barrier becomes fuel for the fire. It’s the way Dirk’s always greeted opposition his life. “Just like they’ve told us the whole time since I was a kid, they’re like, ‘you can’t do that,’ and so it’s like, ‘okay cool, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.’” Where there’s passion and hard work, Dirk knows there’s a way.

Listen to Dirk Collins talk about determination and perseverance in his own life


yak and herder

“Not a bad commute. A herder and his yaks begin a two day walk down valley to trade potatoes and wool for firewood and millet.” Photo credit Dirk Collins

The college to corporation track, though valuable, is not suited for everyone. Graduation speeches advise you to go out and contribute to the world. Do it. But do so on your terms. 

Dirk progressed the norm with TGR, which empowered him to start OneEyedBird. He’s accomplished so much, yet the future continues unfolding possibilities because he sticks by his values. “I’ve been all over the world a hundred times and met amazing people and worked for some of the best athletes in the world and got to interview crazy people and I feel like I’m just starting. That’s the cool thing, I don’t even feel like it’s really even begun.” With a healthy dose of passion and hard work, nothing is impossible.

So imagine, take risks, and create because trailblazing promises no linear path. If your passion means something to you then it will to someone else. Embrace these four pillars and never lose site of them as the world tries to crush and conform your values. Pursue your dreams to the fullest because there’s no other way. Without them, you’re not really living.

But, of course, it’s one thing to read it here. It’s another to have the courage to go out every day and live it.

Filming giraffes in Kenya

Filming in Kenya


Photo Collage: Show Us Your Playground!

Landscape offers a canvas for the imagination. For professional nomads, it’s not a thing to tame or conquer but something with which we connect and develop a relationship. Artificial environments don’t cut it. We seek an authentic, full-sensory experience that envelopes us in the moment within our environment. Our landscape is our playground. We learn how to fit into the environment and as our minds and bodies mature we keep the childhood wonderment but up the ante, push the limits, and redefine what we are capable of. The land becomes a part of us and we’re a part of it, for we’ve learned it is not harsh, but hospitable. We blend with the landscape itself—a purpose that fulfills us, mind, body, and soul. 

In this moment, the laws of nature are all that matter. We tune into our environment; the sailor senses the nuances of the wind, the winter backcountry enthusiast deciphers the composition of the snowpack, and the fisherman learns the ecosystem of their local fishery. The more we learn about an environment, the more the landscape gives back and enhances the experience. Through this we develop a quiver of tools that extend to other life experiences. Our playground becomes a source of strength for life’s curveballs—countless metaphors for perseverance and a refuge for healing. Time in our playground fortifies the soul.

We asked you to “Show Us Your Playground!” and you responded with oceans, mountains, rivers, lakes, and skate parks. Thank you! Because of you, this collage represents six countries, ten states, and one U.S. territory. It’s tied together by contributions from four Professional Nomads previously featured on this site, as well as one to-be-featured ProNo, Mike Boyce (see the sailing in Greenland photo). Many of us have built a community around our playground, but something greater continues to draw us in. The landscape gives us a sense of belonging while empowering and humbling us simultaneously. Focused completely in the moment, what happens next depends solely on us. Here, we connect to something bigger than ourselves, amidst a raw canvas that beckons the imagination.

Show Your Playground Final


Expand to view individual photos:

 Left side of the collage part 1  and part 2;         Right Side of the collage


Stay tuned to Adventures in Aperture! Next week we’ll reveal details for the next open call for submissions. We want to hear from you!


Phil Hilbruner: The Unwavering Passion of an Alaskan Fishing Guide

Phil and his sister, Anna, on the Deschutes

A young Phil and his sister, Anna, on the Deschutes

The trout water of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge spawned Phil Hilbruner’s love of fly-fishing. Phil grew up in Hood River, 45 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River, a short cast from the Deschutes and other rivers that piqued his boyhood curiosity. Now the 30-year old is launching into his third season as owner/operator of Catch A Drift, a drift-boat fly-fishing business on the world-renowned Kenai river in Alaska and it’s clear the proud business owner is as excited about fishing today as he was as a little boy.

As a little kid, Phil was intrigued by his dad’s fly-tying hobby and his dad took notice. “He was pretty awesome about getting me started and teaching me. He saw that I really wanted to do it.” His dad supplied a vice and the necessary tools and extended him free reign of his materials. By the time he was 8 or 9 he was selling flies to The Gorge Fly Shop in Hood River. “I dunno what the owner was doing with those flies, if he was actually turning them around and selling them or if he was throwing them away or if he was using them himself or what.” Inarguably, he was stoking Phil on tying flies and fly-fishing.

Phil, Anna, and their dad at Canon Beach

Phil, Anna, and their dad at Canon Beach

Wonderment rippled through the young angler’s river days. “I remember, like, sailing in the Columbia and saw this huge chinook tail—it had just jumped and it was going back in the water. It was twice as big as me as a kid.” Although Phil played soccer, baseball, and ran track, organized sports never compared to the mystery of the river. “Fishing—it’s like a different world in the water.” Phil was increasingly drawn to the rivers but a jarring move to Maryland as an eighth-grader disrupted his intimacy with trout water.

He felt ripped out of his habitat; as stark a contrast as freshwater to saltwater. He had developed a fond appreciation for nature but eastern rivers didn’t harbor the magic of those he’d abandoned. He fished on, but his heart yearned for the west coast.

Alaska beckons

IMG_0054After high school, Phil’s priority was to move back west. College wasn’t immediately important. “I didn’t want to waste a bunch of money and get in all this debt.” He hoped to figure out what appealed to him at which point he’d acquire the necessary education.

His sister worked in Denali National Park and she encouraged Phil to apply, as well. Employment included room and board for a nominal fee and Phil, almost broke, was sold. “When I got on the bus to go up to Denali in Anchorage I had twelve dollars in my pocket, and I spent six of those dollars on flip flops to shower in Wasilla.” The move didn’t immediately return Phil to desirable fishing water. The glacial waters of the north side of the Alaska Range support little aquatic life, and he was without wheels or a fishing rod anyway.

First steelhead Phil caught on a swung fly

First steelhead Phil caught on a swung fly

A few years later, directionless and desiring change, Phil experimented with life in Anchorage, a metropolitan access point near Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. One day, a coworker shared photos of large rainbow trout he’d caught on the Kenai River, and Phil begged to be taken the following weekend. “The first day I caught a rainbow three times bigger than the biggest one I’d ever caught, if not bigger. I mean, just 28-incher. That was it; I was hooked.”

For a couple years, Phil worked minimal-pay customer service jobs three or four days a week and tried to fish the other three or four—often hitching rides or borrowing cars to get down to the Kenai. Eventually, he returned to Denali where a significant wage increase allowed him to catch up a little bit financially. “At the end of that season I bought a piece of shit van, took it down to Cooper Landing, and got a brand new, nice fishing rod and a little pontoon one-man rowboat.” He camped out on the Kenai for six weeks, and as the Kenai revealed itself to him, he realized there was more potential on that river than he’d imagined. Back in Anchorage, however, he floundered. Finally, a non-profit job that paid eight dollars an hour to, among other things, power-wash human feces off roads became his breaking point. “One day I was just on a break at work and I realized: this is fucking miserable. I need to start pursuing what I want to do.” It was a blessing in disguise.

Take me to the river

Phil needed a job to position him in Cooper Landing and allow him to truly learn the Kenai. Any job. Search engines directed him to Kenai Cache and the owner enticed Phil with an intern guide program, a somewhat misleading description. Essentially, he worked at the tackle shop and if the guides used the boats for fun-fishing he had a guaranteed seat.

First fly-caught lake trout

First fly-caught lake trout

But Phil came prepared with a keg of beer. “I figured I’ll roll in there and there’s going to be somebody that wants to go fishing.” A few solid guides adopted Phil as a guide-in-training and razzed him into hitting his mark with the oars. “I was still a miserable rower at the time. They really schooled me up fast.”

Day by day, Phil learned his craft. The tackle shop turned out to be a good place to get information, and Phil fished hard every second he wasn’t working. “If I wasn’t working or sleeping I was fishing. That got me to where I needed to be so that I felt confident that I could start guiding the river.” The next summer he signed a two-year service contract to guide for Kenai Cache. The first year was rough and filled with disagreements but things improved the second year. “That year was better because by then I was exclusively his trout guide which is what I want to be.” In a state widely celebrated for its salmon, that’s a strange thought.

Big resident rainbow

Big resident rainbow

Phil’s infatuation with trout grew from fishing them as a kid. They are a resident species that feeds year-round, minus spawning season when it’s unethical to fish them. “If you’re in touch with what the trout are doing you know what’s going on with the river.” A good fly-fisherman knows what the fish are eating, which requires an understanding of the ecosystem. Then, he must replicate that ecosystem in fly choice and presentation. “It’s not like sockeye where you go out and you’re basically trying to snag them in the face.” Salmon are on an upriver trip to their breeding grounds “basically on a mission to spawn and die,” and therefore rarely eat in fresh water.  “You gotta have mind tricks. Like, how do I fool this trout?” And if you do, you’re in for a good fight reeling him in. In the end, Phil may prefer trout but he doesn’t dislike salmon. He laughs, “It’s not their fault they’re not trout.”

Phil planned to spend several more years learning from other guiding outfits in preparation for starting his own. However, an exciting job prospect at a new lodge guiding under the wing of perhaps the most veteran Kenai guide fell through last minute. Suddenly adrift, without a backup plan, and past the prime hiring season, Phil couldn’t face losing a season’s experience. It was time to either hit the streets begging for a job or go all in and start his own drift-boat guiding business, ready or not. Phil anted up.

Catch a Drift

Phil rowing with clients

Out with clients

Everyone who knew Phil at that point understood his passion for fishing. People saw him working hard on the river so they supported him. “I had a decent amount of capital to get started but not enough. I could probably write a movie list of credits of people who helped me in some way.” Permits, gear, and tackle added up. Unable to find a used boat he had to purchase a new one. “Starting up was steep.” And terrifying. “The biggest feeling preseason that I had was fear. I’m investing all my money into this, I’ve taken money from other people that believe in me, I’m going out, I’m putting myself out there; I have nobody I can rely on for a paycheck other than myself.” A good friend and successful businessman bought Catch a Drift’s first fishing trip to support his young friend and kick off the season.

Bookings were slow but other guides assured him business was coming. Phil scraped by. After all, he didn’t really have any overhead other than the initial money for the boat and gear. “It’s not like I had huge payments to make other than the same cost of living I’d always had, just rent and phone.” Then, ironically, Kenai Cache called. A guide had quit so to fulfill bookings they lobbed a string of trips to Catch A Drift. Overflow business trickled in from other outfitters and Phil slowly built a customer base from independent bookings, as well. Though he didn’t have a lavish past for comparison, that first season he made more money than ever before. In one day, he could now make what used to take five days working for someone else.

A perk of the job

A perk of the job

Fear diminished and pure enjoyment bubbled in its wake. “It’s a dream come true. I get paid, and get paid well in-season—which, it’s a short season—go to the river and do what I love to do, and get people excited about it.” From first-timer to trophy fisherman Phil invests himself in every river trip. “I try to give everybody at least a small taste of what it is that that river means to me.” Simply put, it’s nostalgia blended with an opportunity to participate in an ecosystem. “Very few days have ever felt like work since I started guiding.” The fact is, more often than not, after dropping off clients he’s quick to grab a couple friends and go right back out fun-fishing.

Phil-osophies on Fishing

Out with clients

The peacefulness of the drift boat experience

Catch a Drift guides drift boat fishing for rainbow trout, dolly varden sockeye salmon, silver salmon and steelhead on the Kenai River. Phil believes drift boats offer the best experience, allows clients to get closer to the fish without spooking them, and also cut down on pollution. Phil waxes fishing philosophic with the bewilderment of a child, the audacity of a young adult, and the ease of a professor. That is to say he’s cozy with the subject matter and his opinions fringe on controversial.

“There are some demons with it. Being a catch-and-release fisherman there is a certain mortality rate that goes along with it. Being an ethical fisherman you do everything you can to reduce mortality.” For instance, Phil encourages fishermen to pinch their barbs, something a lot people don’t want to hear. Lately, Phil’s leading by example. For the last two weeks he’s frequented a section of the river that is known for trash. After a couple hours he puts down the rod and picks up litter. In the last two weeks he’s pulled 80-90 pounds of lead out of the river, including a 50-pound anchor. He’s presently organizing manpower to join in the efforts.

“This may be smelly, but it’s a beautiful thing. Roughly a 60lb king has completed his life cycle against all odds, one of two or three of his thousands of brothers that got to perpetuate the species” -Phil Hilbruner

On a local level, Phil feels it is unethical to fish king salmon, harbingers of the impact of current unsustainable fishing practices. Low runs and smaller average fish sizes suggest kings need time to heal their population. Motorized traffic, though not prohibited in all sections of the Kenai, is further compromising the health of the fishery by, among other things, disturbing the specie’s spawning practices. “A lot of these kings are spawning in pretty shallow water. When kings spawn you get trout right behind them trying to eat up the eggs.” People fish those spawn beds to target the trout, which doesn’t affect the kings. However, after fishing a hole in their powerboat relatively quietly, they’ll “fire up the motor and run straight back up over it, right over all those spawning kings.” There are many reasons Phil doesn’t like motors, “But the biggest one is they’re unnecessary.” Perhaps for that reason every other drawback carries a little more weight.

But the fight for the fishery’s health has escalated. The Ninilchik Tribal Council recently gained permission to put a gillnet just below Skilak Lake on the Kenai River—a decision that could decimate the ecosystem. “It’s a super nonselective and lethal way to fish.” A gill net, of course, catches indiscriminately. “It’s not a tribal rights issue; it’s a subsistence community issue. They’ve come out and said they don’t have a meaningful method of harvesting their subsistence fish.” A claim that is simply not true. Subsistence communities must be a certain distance from a grocery store to be classified as such, and because of that distance they’re extended privileges for hunting and fishing. The thing is, Cooper Landing, out of which Catch a Drift operates, is also considered a subsistence community. Because they’re all fishing the same river, locals know the claim doesn’t hold water and they’re fighting the decision. “Subsistence does not trump conservation.”

Morels, a different river offering

A morel mushroom, a different river offering

It all comes back to connection with the ecosystem. “What you get from fishing is an opportunity to be an advocate for those fish. Sport fisherman are the biggest voice or the only voice to protect the fish. The more you know about them or understand them the better you can do that.”

The Future

Winters are still a work in progress for Phil. He’s considering options in other states and scheming ways to extend his season. “Winters need a change. I need more fishing and possibly better work until I get to a point I don’t have to work in the winters. That would be nice.”

A small sampling

A small sampling

Last winter Phil tied over a thousand flies. He tied for many purposes but one was his latest obsession: to hook a steelhead at the surface. “I’m on a mission for next year to try to get one from the top of the water so I’m gonna tie some top water patterns that will skate across the surface and try to entice a steelhead to bite.” Steelhead are a variation of rainbow trout that go out to saltwater for several years at a time. Phil marvels at the fish’s adaptability and the risk of swimming into a foreign expanse teeming with large predators. “They go out in this big black hole, this big void, this big tough ocean and come back as huge rainbow trout that fight hard. […] This fresh-saltwater, rainbow, ocean beast.” Unlike salmon, steelhead also have the potential to spawn multiple times, and to Phil that’s always painted them as the stronger species. “They’re my holy grail.”

A man doing what he loves

A man doing what he loves

Phil eats, sleeps, and breathes what he loves. During a low point in life he trustingly redirected his life toward the thing that impassioned him. A few years later, facing another low, he risked everything and did it again. In a relatively short period of time, he became owner/operator of a guiding service on a desirable river—and he’s succeeding. Regardless of whether he’s fishing with clients or friends, Phil’s engaging in what he loves. When people feel that their job is not actually work the world should pay attention. More people should be so lucky—but of course, luck has little to do with it. The forces that be may have shaped his love of fishing, but his success is the result of deliberate lifestyle choices and hard work mixed with passion. More people should live so deliberately.

On a somewhat recent trip to Hood River, Phil was stoked to see The Gorge Fly Shop still supporting it’s local fisherman. “I was back in there a couple years ago bullshitting with the guy and three kids probably ages 8-12 come in the store.” The owner welcomed the kids by name who, of course, had run out of whatever fly they were fishing with. “Okay, well, you know where it’s at—get it and get out of here,” the owner barked. Perhaps those flies, if presented right, could catch more than just fish—they certainly did with Phil.


Photo Collage: Show Us Your Playground

Professional Nomads’ new monthly feature “Adventures in Aperture” allows YOU to shine. This month we want to know what your playground looks like–diving in the tropics, riding a roundup, hiking your local nooks and crannies, urban skateboarding; desert, snow, the tree in your front yard—whatever; you show us! Get artistic with your lens and we’ll post a collage of the best submissions May 1st! Email submissions to ProfessionalNomads@gmail.com, provide some beta to flesh out the photo, and Show Us Your Playground!

Denali, the exclamation point of a 6 million acre playground

Denali, the exclamation point of a 6 million acre playground

This month, the first ten participants receive a Professional Nomads sticker so let us know where to snail mail your shwag! Selected work will be showcased on ProfessionalNomads.org. Professional Nomads retains the right to use your submission anywhere on ProfessionalNomads.org as well as ProNo social media (giving you photo credit, of course); photographers retain reprint rights as well as bragging rights in social settings.



Want to be first to know about contests like these? Click “Follow” and have notifications sent to your inbox! ——–>


Aliy Zirkle: The Trail Less Traveled

A frosty Aliy Zirkle

A frosty Aliy Zirkle

For those willing to break the paradigm, a deeper fulfillment becomes possible. In the dog mushing community, Aliy Zirkle represents a breed of mushers who learned to travel with dogs by following their passion for adventure. Initially, Aliy had no intention of racing, let alone making a living off of it. Now, after three consecutive second place finishes in the thousand-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, Aliy has unquestionably developed into the people’s favorite competitor in this year’s race. It’s easy to look back at her life now and see destiny, but the true story shows a trail of blood, sweat, and passion.

One flyer on a University of Pennsylvania lab door rerouted sophomore biology student Aliy Zirkle’s future. “Why are you studying biology in downtown Philadelphia when you could be in Alaska?” it asked. Aliy wondered the same thing and seized the bait. She volunteered for Fish and Game in a national wildlife refuge on the Alaska Peninsula, made $4 a day, and fell for Alaska, “hook, line, and sinker.”

Two years invested in college obliged Aliy to finish her degree. Traditional life, after all, was the culture she knew and the environment college propelled her toward. She contemplated med school versus vet school, but the standard path felt lackluster compared to the connection she felt to summers in Alaska. The post-college rhetoric soon changed to finding a “real job” in Alaska. After graduation she wrote 250 letters to parks, BLM, and everything in between; received two offers, and selected the more remote location of Bettles, Alaska.


The formative years

Nicknamed “Gateway to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Bettles lies above the Arctic Circle, has a winter population of 35, and is disconnected from the road system. Therefore, the village is accessible only by airplane, boat, snow machine, or dog team, depending on the time of year. Dog mushing captivated Aliy immediately but she knew nothing about it. She bought one dog and a random book on the subject written by a woman “who’s probably from Wisconsin,” and started figuring it out. At the time, she didn’t know people bought dogs from champion kennels for several thousand dollars and it wouldn’t have mattered if she did—this wasn’t about competition but traveling the land and learning self-sufficiency.

Initially, she brought her dog, Skunk, to the other two kennels in the village and asked to run her dog with theirs. However, she soon realized “that probably wasn’t really correct” so she adopted five more dogs. Guided by her mushing book, she built a sled, figured out harnesses and lines, and began traveling with her hodgepodge team.


Purely Alaskan

In the early days, twelve miles was a big adventure. She’d set up a camp with a tarp and cook dog water over a fire. “That was really cool to me, being totally self-contained with no mechanical anything—fire, dogs, snowshoes, and go.” Eventually, someone invited her on a fifty mile trip—an intimidating prospect. “I was like, ‘are you serious? I don’t think I could do fifty miles. I could do it but it would take me, like, a week.’” Yet soon she was exploring the Brooks Range on more robust trips with friends who opened her eyes to what dogs were capable of accomplishing. They traveled forgotten trails and seldom saw another soul. “There’s not a lot of people in that part of Alaska in the winter. No one goes snowmachining for fun there.” She stayed in Bethel four years and never stopped learning. “You can do so much more with dogs because they have the power to help you carry stuff and go for a long ways. One soul being out there is a lot harder and scarier and wild than with a group of dogs. They’re there to help you.” Little did she know, she had only scratched the surface of what dogs are capable of athletically.




SP Kennel out on the trail

Dogs became Aliy’s passion. When a busy friend near Fairbanks needed help with his kennel, she seized the opportunity to work with larger dog teams and moved back to the road system. The following winter she handled for her friend on the Yukon Quest—a thousand mile sled dog race that alternates direction between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. This introduction to long-distance racing inspired her to run it herself and the following year Aliy came in 17th out of 26.

Halfway through the race, Aliy left Dawson near the back of the pack and hit a blizzard around American Summit. Another musher, heading east on a westward racecourse advised Aliy to follow suit. Aliy was incredulous. “I was like, ‘Turn around? Where are you going? Dawson is, like, 75 miles. I’ll stop and camp for awhile but I’m not going to turn around.’” She continued on and never saw another dog team for 450 miles. “All the teams who were ahead of me were so far ahead of me that when I came into a checkpoint they’d already left and all the teams that were behind me had waited for that storm so my first thousand mile race, for 500 miles I didn’t even know I was racing because I was just the only one there.” It didn’t matter.

Fairbanks was practically home, so it never occurred to her to quit the trail. She had to get to that area eventually—it may as well be by dog team. “I came to the finish line, the banquet had started two hours earlier, and I remember the Yukon Quest champion in 1998, Bruce Lee, saying to me, ‘Aliy, they get easier after the first one.’ They did. He was right—until last year.”

When Aliy initially moved to the Fairbanks area she still had a job with Fish and Wildlife as a biological technician making decent money. For many people with her background, she’d found the ultimate career track that synthesized the love of the outdoors with a steady paycheck. “I could have definitely done that for twenty years and then been free with my retirement.” She recalls the incessant buzz of artificial lights in February while people sat around making work for themselves. Discontent and disconnected from her reasons for being in Alaska, dogs pulled her toward something richer.

When Aliy chose to leave her Fish and Wildlife job to bartend, work construction and pursue dogs she officially left behind the academic pathway for the passionate one. Since then, the girl who was once intimidated by fifty miles has finished seventeen thousand-mile races, won the Yukon Quest in 2000 (two years after her rookie race) and took second in the Iditarod the last three years. Aliy found her passion, lives it daily, and has taken it to a competitive and economically viable level.



Aliy and Allen

Aliy and Allen

Aliy’s entire world revolves around the kennel she operates with her husband, Allen Moore. Although the travel-for-fun harnesses are hung up, long-distance racing continues to deepen that connection. “Both Allen and I have always had a competitive spirit. If you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it to the best you can do.” SP Kennel requires complete devotion from both of them these days. “We are similar yet we are different enough that we can have a work relationship and a love relationship.” Their differences become complimentary strengths in keeping their kennel sharply competitive. That relationship, the commitment to the dogs and to each other, is a driving force in their success. “I love him with all my heart. I would do anything for him, but he probably wouldn’t ask me to do everything for him. But I would.”

At SP Kennel, the dogs and mushers work equally hard. “Our dogs enjoy themselves but they’re working dogs. They have this desire to work that comes from being raised by us.” To be at the top, everyone must give their best everyday. “You’re going to fail sometimes and you’re going to make the wrong decisions sometimes, and that’s all okay as long as you always continue to know that you always tried your hardest.” Aliy and Allen raise all their dogs at their kennel and only breed one litter a year.

Schmoe helped lead Allen's team to second place in the Yukon Quest earlier this month

Schmoe helped lead Allen’s team to second place in the Yukon Quest earlier this month

“You put a hell of a lot of effort into them. You know them, you know their parents, you know their grandparents, you know that when Scooby fell in the water when he was 7 weeks old that’s why he’s scared of water. You just know everyone and that’s what almost makes it not only addictive but more competitive, as we continue to raise these dogs they get better and better and better because we only breed the best physically and mentally to the best physically and mentally. Year after year, we’re like holy cow, they not only keep getting better genetically but they’re more part of us.”

Last year’s race surpassed ’98 as Aliy’s most challenging race, yet she finished only two and a half minutes behind the champion, Dallas Seavey. Low snow conditions and a game-changing windstorm near the finish meant the 2014 Iditarod required a bit of luck for even the most savvy race veterans. “That just makes fuel for the fire when you get through an incredibly hard situation and you’re actually still alive.” Aliy asks one hundred percent of her dogs in all conditions and in return she can’t give anythings less. Dogs are acutely attuned into their musher’s psychology, so when the trail is toughest Aliy must reach inside herself for something positive to give back to them. “If I was down either physically or mentally, I would be the one letting the whole team down.” Intense sleep deprivation preys on mental weakness and therefore the musher is simultaneously the leader and the weakest link. The harder it gets, the more Aliy strives to rise to the challenge and prove to herself that she can handle it. “Last year’s Iditarod did nothing but get me more and more positive about my dogs’ ability, my ability, and our commitment to each other.” More than anything, chasing a win is about giving the dogs the recognition they deserve.


Purity of the Race

Aliy and team

Aliy and the team out on the Bering Sea ice, Iditarod 2014 (photo courtesy of Sebastian Schnuelle)


Aliy represents a breed of mushers who learned the land, and learned to travel with dogs for the sheer passion of it, without intention to race. As the Iditarod becomes a bucket list item for wanna-be wilderness types, Aliy recognizes that less-skilled people are going to be scraping together the minimum requirements to participate in the race. While that weakness is unavoidable, there is something else compromising the race even further: the rescue button.

When activated, the SPOT rescue button sends GPS coordinates to a designated center to summon help. “The button,” Aliy sighs. “I’m not a fan of the button, personally.” After examining her background it’s easy to understand why. “So, when I first started mushing I had those six dogs, it was me, myself and I, and six dogs. I learned right away that I had to stay with them and they had to stay with me, so I started wearing a leash on my arm. Wherever they went I went, wherever I went they went. It’s a team, it’s a commitment; it’s everything. So I’m not into the button. Every one of those people could have just taken a breather, you know, fed their dogs for 24, 26, 48, 50 hours, a week, and then gotten somewhere. Just because your race is over doesn’t mean you have to push the button, to me.”

The purity of the race lies in self-sufficiency which the rescue button undermines. “The glamor of the race really was you and your team endure what you need to endure to get where you need to get, but that goes back to these people who are just there to race it.” There’s no going back once you soften the race. She continues, “These people need to read some books of, like, 150 years ago where, like, Russian sailors were stuck above Svalbarg in Norway and, like, endured three months of hiking across open sheets of ice. We need to be that way if you’re claiming to be this long-distance, endurance musher.” Furthermore, those who don’t raise their own dogs or embed in that lifestyle never develop a spiritual connection with the landscape—a journey that only increases the reward. When sled dog racing is approached and treated like a Nascar race, some mechanical thing on a track, that organic connection is lost.

Failures and successes in equipment, dog training, and handling personal emotions—as well as the ability to prioritize all of the above in extreme conditions—is what grooms the musher. Alaska reality television perpetuates a myth that Alaskans take extreme risks and live in constant danger. Similarly, Into the Wild glorifies a kid who cut human ties and common sense from his life and died attempting to live off a foreign landscape. True Alaskan wilderness men and women, however, learn to listen to the nuances of the environment to mitigate risk. Native cultures have always done this. As that way of life is continually compromised, Iditarod pays homage to that lifestyle by celebrating sled dogs’ value in the landscape. If the race’s spirit lies in the relationship to the land and the ability to care for and depend only on your team, then the rescue button mocks that intent and simultaneously puts local volunteers in adverse conditions on behalf of the poorly prepared. This is a nine-day race not a four-hour game. There is no rescue button in Alaskan bush life.


Inspiring passion

Aliy felt uninspired by the 9-5 dream so she invented her own. “That was always so very run of the mill. You can live life easily these days as an American or some other country, get a little job, make enough money to have a small place to live, eat, buy food at Wal-Mart—you can live, it’s not hard to live.” To strive for something outside the paradigm, however, takes courage, but with that comes potential for incredible reward. Guided only by passion, Aliy bushwacked an unmapped path toward personal fulfillment.

Most people get into dog mushing through dog handling for a professional kennel but Aliy modeled a different method. “It’s an obvious way to get into it, but crap, you could go get a job anywhere in Alaska and make a little bit of money and have six dogs and be pretty righteous and go to Hatcher Pass. I never had a dog truck in the beginning, I had a little Chevy S10 and all the dogs fit in the back.” If the passion is to travel the land by dog team, then pursue that because competition morphs the training philosophy and reduces raw adventure overall.

At the professional level, dogs require far more invested time and energy than the 9-5. “I can’t imagine how many hours a week I put into my, quote, job now so 40 hours a week is like a pittance.” However, every iota of that time and energy is invested in personal fulfillment. Aliy encourages kids who are uninspired by traditional culture to shed their fear of adults disagreeing with them, and instead listen to their passions. “Realize that there are different ways to please people. You can please family, friends, and yourself through so many different means than your normal societal expectations.” By relaxing our clutch on tradition we can more fully embrace our personal values. “I definitely think you can break the mold if it’s a passion,” Aliy encourages.

Aliy made a conscious decision to pursue this lifestyle; it wasn’t an accident. “I still think that the bottom line to life and to mushing and to dogs is that you have to actually enjoy your life because your life could end tomorrow. These dogs know that they’re going to have fun.” Fulfillment comes not from money but from the bond with the dogs. The lifestyle is the reward. Professional Nomads are nomads by choice, not by default. “Find your passions. I’m excited to have found my passion and not everyone does.”

Aliy on back of sled

Aliy out on the Bering Sea ice, Iditarod 2014 (photo courtesy of Sebastian Schnuelle)


Learn more about how you can become a dog musher from our Skill Building Resource Page

Want more from Aliy Zirkle? Become an Insider and follow Aliy in the Iditarod! Race begins March 7th!


Want more from Professional Nomads? Click “follow” below and like us on Facebook!



Raising the Nomadic Kid

Children thrive on stability. For the Overingtons, that balance spans two homes in two separate environments, thousands of miles apart yet inextricably linked by a predictable, seasonal migration. In part 1 of their story, we discovered the obstacles the Overingtons overcame to make their lifestyle work. In part 2, we’ll examine the opportunities that their nomadic lifestyle has offered their son. Just as sharing in the outdoors bonded Buckwheat and Louise as a couple, the birth of their son, Louis, secured that passion as the cornerstone of their family dynamic. The Overingtons prove that professional nomads can lead stable family lives, and even offer their children valuable opportunities endemic only to the nomadic lifestyle.


Family time

BW and Louis skiing 9mths copy

Louis hitching ski laps in Buckwheats backpack at nine months

Born in April, Louis began hitching rides down Utah ski hills in his father’s backpack at six months. “First two years with him in a backpack I didn’t slow down. I was skiing everything, all the trees and steeps and chutes, not even changing my ski tactic at all, just taking him everywhere.” Buckwheat laughs. “I got a lot of crooked looks out of that.”

By three, Louis was getting a little heavy so they put him on skis and took turns parenting on the bunny slopes and indulging hot chocolate breaks. The adventure slowed down temporarily as Louis learned the fundamentals of skiing, but simultaneously it developed new meaning for his parents. A brand new adventure awaited on the other side of that learning curve. At eight, Louis showed interest in jumping bigger, so Buckwheat figured he’d test out each jump or drop to measure its suitability for his son. It wasn’t long before the roles reversed and these days Buckwheat finds himself following his son off cliffs he would never have dared on his own.

Family on the Jack 2010

The family enjoying flatwater on the Jack River in 2010

Like Wasatch snow in the winter, Alaskan rivers provide a summer environment in which the Overingtons can grow as individuals but also bond as a family. They comprise a perfect, self-sufficient boating trifecta with enough eyes and paddles to look out for each other. No longer do they follow in a tight line through rapids for safety. Now the family scatters across the familiar, turbulent water and catches waves within eyeshot of each other as they dance from one feature to the next. Although Louis has developed into a solid class IV boater, it’s not important to him to always be on the gnarliest section of river—though it is critical to explore whichever section he is on to its maximum playfulness. Beside him, Buckwheat enjoys guiding his son’s development and Louise values family time outdoors. Sharing their passions keep their lives intertwined and engaged with one another. Their nomadic lifestyle provides daily outdoor opportunities year-round and Louis’s enthusiasm ensures that everyone gets a large helping of them.


Natural classrooms

Louis first time on skis at 2 1_2 yrs old copy

Louis’s first time on skis

Like many kids, Louis’s athletics are a classroom for life lessons. In all areas of their son’s development, Buckwheat and Louise have encouraged Louis to approach challenges by analyzing risk versus reward. “I think that’s been the balancing act with Louis in adventure sports: taking the risk but trying to keep the fear out of it, not taking the risk too far; knowing where the limitations are, knowing where the edge is, and giving him the opportunity.” In this situation, that approach has worked well. “Fortunately he’s not a blind hucker. He’s a calculated risk kid; he wasn’t the first one down the slide.” Louis learned by watching others and estimating his abilities from what he saw. Even in adventure sports, that calculated attitude still pervades.

Louise recalls her son’s first powder run. Louis watched an older kid ski first and then assessed the slope thoroughly. “I saw him contemplating the run, for a little guy who was five. Louis just stood there watching it—very calculated—and then he just took off. It was so cute; it was perfect! Beautiful little turns all the way down.” From there, Louis would always be reaching for more of that—more autonomy, more understanding of the environment, and more confidence that he can work within natural parameters to face challenges.

Louis huck

Louis huckin’

The Overingtons couldn’t fathom how integral the outdoors would become in their son’s development. Over the years he patiently built a technical skill set, but the winter and summer surrounding his eleventh birthday showcased that the physical and mental side had finally caught up to his dedication. “It’s a whole new level of confidence,” his dad says. “He’s stronger and smarter. He’s not a little boy anymore.” His drive grew with his abilities and at twelve Louis became the no-name kid who won the IFSA Freeride Nationals in his age group. The title was exciting, but the season was about much more than that for Louis. Similar to the painting an artist hangs in a gallery, the championship was payoff for dedication unwitnessed by the audience. Moreover, for Louis it’s meaningless without it.

Louis 2014 IFSA Jr Freeride Camp Ski Line

Louis at the 2014 IFSA Jr. Freeride Nationals

“I don’t really want to have a competition against other people, I just want to have a competition against myself. If I’m, like, skiing like crap but I’m winning…” Louis looks for the words. “You’re not as happy as if you were skiing really well and not winning,” his dad offers. Louis nods. “I kind of, like, have a goal against myself. I just see how well I did so it’s definitely a goal, not an expectation.”

The seasonal dynamic has offered Louis unique learning opportunities right outside his door. Consistent exploration in these environments have taught him about the natural world as well as himself. Through skiing he’s likely learned about different types of snowpack, how temperature alters it over time, and mountain composition. For himself, skiing’s taught balance, skill progression, and how to set achievable goals. Similarly, through kayaking he’s learned about buoyancy, displacement, current, characteristics of glacial water vs. fresh water, how water and erosion shape the landscape, and that water flow is unceasing. Consequently, he’s learned to maintain mental composure, embrace difficulty, and that consistent hard work pays dividends. Reflecting upon both sports, he may have even likened the flow of water to that of wind over a ridge top recognizing that both create eddies on the leeward side of the current.

Louis’s adventures reaffirm his ability to assess situations thoroughly and trust his judgment. Through all of it he probably learns more from his failures than his successes. He tests himself against the challenges nature sets and in return the environment provides measurements that don’t lie. For Louis, the world is a playground and the lessons are infinite.


Après ski lessons

Buckwheat and Louis Ducky

Buckwheat and Louis paddling the downriver race in the Nenana Riverfest (photo courtesy of Kris Capps)

The same lessons taught in adventure sports mirror the Overingtons’ parenting philosophy. Buckwheat encourages his son to, “explore those boundaries, and assess the danger factor, and make those decisions and pay the consequences for whatever the result is from that decision; learn from it and grow from it.” They believe responsibility mixed with culpability have given him a step up in many aspects of his life.

Lessons about right and wrong are achieved through self-discovery and consequences. “I learn a lot every day from letting this one play out. And it encourages Louis to test the boundaries, sometimes to our frustration, panic, alarm, etcetera, but more often to our pleasant surprise and amazement. You take the good with the bad,” Buckwheat explains. “I want to be there to monitor, nurture, and assist in his discovery and decision-making while I can, so hopefully he will be more capable when I’m not there. How can you learn self-preservation when you’ve been guided by, “stop, don’t, and no?” Throughout all of it Louis is making decisions and learning about his own abilities.

“The thing is,” Buckwheat explains, “I’ve also noticed that by leading with a loose leash you don’t really have to yank on the leash. They learn how to discover that edge themselves because they’ve been discovering where it is their whole life and so they’re much more familiar with where that edge is and how to recognize it when they get there. A few times here and there, it’s more like suggestions, giving them a different perspective on something that maybe you’re seeing in a different way.”

Louis ender

Louis getting endered in the Nenana



Louis has grown up in a more socially varied world than just winter scene versus summer scene. From raft guides, to kayakers the age of his grandparents, to ski coaches, to local athletes he admires, Louis’s dynamic background seems to have given him a step up socially. He engages easily with people of all ages and older and younger companions alike often find his excitement and optimism infectious.

At ten years old Louis’s dad lobbied for him to get into the Alta Freeride Division (AFD). They had tried several ski programs previously but because those organized participants by age nothing quite meshed. The minimum age requirement for AFD had just been lowered from twelve to eleven for the first season ever, but Louis was only ten so his dad arranged for him to tryout with the coaches. They determined that Louis’s skiing skills and maturity would balance well with the rest of the team and invited him to participate. Throughout the winter, Louis impressed the coaches with more than his skiing. At the end of the season they award a cowboy-style belt buckle to the member of the team who brings the right attitude and embodies the values that they’re trying to instill in all the skiers on the team. Normally the buckle is reserved for a second or third year athlete but that year they picked Louis, a brand new athlete and youngest member on the team. Buckwheat beams when relaying this. It’s clear that public recognition for those qualities in Louis makes him prouder of his son than any gold medal.


The big picture

Louis has made some notable athletic strides in his young life, but those aren’t the things that make him a noteworthy kid—it’s what Louis and his family represent on a larger scale that’s important. The nomadic lifestyle enables deeper immersion into our passions—a valuable gift nomads can share with their children. Not only is it possible to continue the seasonal lifestyle into parenthood, when done well it offers children unique learning opportunities, connects them with their environment, and provides opportunities to achieve autonomy at a young age. For Louis it’s not a question of how he handles the seasonal lifestyle because that’s been the tempo of his entire life. So far Louis has been part of only two communities—one in the summer and one in the winter—and in each one he’s connected with the landscape and grown his identity from that. The Overingtons teach us that professional nomads do not have to abandon the lifestyle they love to raise a family. In fact, that lifestyle might rank among the greatest gifts they have to offer a child.

Louis Stern Squirt

Louis playboating, summer 2014. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Tifft Photography)


Missed part 1? Catch part 1 of the Overingtons story and learn how the Overingtons built their nomadic family dynamic!


Resolving to Your Natural New Year

ProfessionalNomads_V11 Enhanced

The new logo! The product of a resolution that began early last fall…


It’s January fourth and already you’ve cheated on your New Year’s resolutions. Crap. Clearly you can’t stick to a simple plan so you may as well turn on the TV, open a fresh bag of Cheetos, and resume the path of least resistance. There’s always next year, right?

Perhaps next year is sooner than you think. If January first is irrelevant to your yearly life cycle—aside from, perhaps, a predictable hangover—then forcing a change will set you up for failure. Most likely, there is a less arbitrary place somewhere else in your year where you naturally tend to organize thoughts about the future: a personal new year.

The new year is a time of reflection, transition, and growth. It should beckon the excitement of opening a new book, not rushing to complete an assignment. Consider the rhythm of your life. Is there a time of year where something naturally concludes and something new begins? Maybe it’s as simple as the expectation that your child’s school year ends for summer and resumes in the fall. For most of us, there is a place in the calendar year that feels like the beginning of something new, but it’s nowhere near January first.

January first  is irrelevant to caribou.

January first is irrelevant to caribou.

In the natural world, spring heralds growth and welcomes a fresh start. Blossoms bloom, animals awaken from hibernation, and migrations begin. This natural transition is reflected in the human world in ways as simple as the ritual of a spring cleaning—an embracement of our awakening habitat. Throughout history, human survival in both agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies hinged on tuning into natural rhythms. It is only in the last handful of generations that humans have deafened to the more subtle of those synchronizations, yet some larger ones still pulse through human societies around the globe—even if we are less aware of them.

Nomads sync to the rhythm of the seasons and often our personal new year hearkens spring or fall transitions. My personal new year occurs in the fall. It doesn’t happen overnight, which is helpful because I’ve been told I require time to process things. Similarly, summer doesn’t relent easily. Sparkling fall colors slowly cascade down the northern hemisphere, and leave cool winds and dimming leaves dropping in their wake. My own mind dances along in that period of transition, and uses that framework to distill my personal reflections into clearer thoughts.

Summer employment concludes about five weeks after my birthday. Birthdays mark some people’s personal new year but for me they kickstart the process. Did I do what I set out to accomplish this year? How do I feel about those things? Are they still important? What do I want the next year to look like?

Around this time of year I’m finalizing my winter plans so those questions get forced to the back burner. There are logistical hassles I expect to encounter that will prevent me from giving those questions the reflection they deserve. My winter profession is snowboard instruction so after deciding if I’ll return to my home mountain or explore somewhere new I still have the headache of procuring winter housing. But soon the stresses fade and the adventure begins. I have two and a half months in which I literally do not have employment available to me, and that is precisely the payoff I have been working for all year. This year I summitted Kilimanjaro, went on safari in Tanzania, saw my friend’s life in Rwanda, completed my first multi-day whitewater kayaking trip, and visited family and friends in two states. Next fall’s adventure will draw on inspiration from the coming year, but for now I reap the reward from the year’s toil.

As the fall ramble pushes forward it bulldozes a clearing of headspace and those birthday questions revisit me. How do I feel about everything up to this point? Were the pros worth the cons to be here today? What do I value at this point in my life? What do I want to accomplish? What steps will I need to take to accomplish those things? Where will those steps fit in? From these I distill a resolution game plan, and when I move into my winter habitat that plan is set in motion. Any changes to the day to day must be incorporated now or TV and Cheetos will muscle out the opportunity.

The holidays mark the busiest time of my year professionally. From mid-December to early January, there simply isn’t spare time or mental energy to consider if I’d like to, say, learn Spanish—not in any real way at least. If the thought did occur to me I couldn’t entertain it nor begin contemplating where it might fit in my daily/weekly/monthly routine or if maybe French would in fact be the more practical choice to pair with future traveling prospects. An incunabular thought can be scheduled for future germination.

Lift Access To The Top of the World--Retouched

The timing of my personal new year developed naturally and I learned to embrace it. I do, however, check in on my resolutions at the calendar new year and consider my progress. Part of having resolutions is recognizing the difference between a slip up and a lack of commitment. Work craziness is an acceptable excuse until it becomes TV and Cheetos—the go-to excuse that masks lack of commitment. If it really is the latter then its time to reexamine if that resolution is right for you. Sometimes, you shed failed ones to free up room for what is right in your life, because the wrong resolutions can act like TV and Cheetos, as well. The process of checking in continues leisurely throughout the year.

Life is wasted on regrets for the irrelevant and resolutions need not be one of them. Resolutions should put you in pursuit of desires worth working to obtain. If your desire is for TV and Cheetos then go be the best at that. Whatever it is, don’t quit simply because you didn’t get to it on January first. In relation to how the planet functions and how society interacts therein, January first is irrelevant. The placement of the personal new year is intrinsic upon individual values and shaped by forces as deeply rooted as our ancestors’ relationship to the land. The new year cannot be forced in place of natural rhythms; heed their wisdom.



The Overingtons


Part. 1: Building the Seasonal Family Dynamic

The family and their new boats

The family and their new boats in New Zealand

For professional nomads, the seasonal lifestyle is not about stringing jobs together, it’s about weaving employment into a lifestyle guided by passion. For some, the idea of raising a child in that lifestyle sounds irresponsible if not impossible—but it doesn’t have to. There is no reason the driving, architectural force of one’s young adulthood should be stymied by parenthood. By adopting that commonality as the cornerstone for their seasonal family’s foundation, couples that meet while working seasonally can remain in the lifestyle that attracted them together and still raise a child responsibly. The unknown path, though intimidating, is not unnavigable. For the Overingtons of Healy, Alaska and Salt Lake City, Utah, it’s been a series of calculated risks.

Bill “Buckwheat” Overington and Louise Lovrich have raised their 12-year old son, Louis, entirely in the seasonal lifestyle. They own a rafting business in Denali National Park that operates in the summer, and the rest of the year find themselves in Salt Lake City where Louise works in pharmacy and Buckwheat drives for the transportation concessionaire at Snowbird ski resort.

Louis on the top of the podium at the IFSA National Freeride Championship

Louis on top of the podium at the IFSA National Freeride Championship

That recipe has produced interesting results. If the fear of raising a kid seasonally is that transferring between schools twice a year will stunt him socially, fill him with loneliness, instill a penchant for over-compensation, and—yaddah yaddah—ultimately leave him homeless and in a ditch, we can probably shelve that one. In reality, what’s emerged from the oven is a well-adjusted kid who looks up to his dad, kayaks with his parents regularly, out-paddles boaters twice his age, and last year became the national freeride ski champion in his age group. He’s confident, smart, and supportive of his peers. Although there’s still time for him to end up homeless in a ditch, the evidence suggests he’ll be fine.

Beyond passion for the outdoors, as business owners the Overingtons’ livelihood depended on blending parenthood into the seasonal lifestyle successfully. “The thing is, most people have never done it themselves and they don’t know anyone else who’s really done it that way either, so in their mind you can’t do it—until someone does it and it seems to work. Then they’re pretty supportive,” Buckwheat explains. Trailblazing requires fortitude, but the Overingtons’ sagaciousness enabled another Salt Lake City family to set up a seasonal lifestyle in Panama. Most of the anticipated roadblocks, both families discovered, were nothing more than untested parenting taboos.

“It’s all about risk, all of these things,” Buckwheat says. “It doesn’t always work out, and it doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to, but if you have the fortitude and the gumption to accept the consequences as they be, whatever it is, you know, you learn from it, you grow from it.”

Navigating the school system presented the first hurdles, and tested the family dynamic they’d constructed. Until this year, Louis began each school year in Healy, Alaska before transferring to Salt Lake City in the fall. “[People] ask us, ‘Does the Utah school allow that?’ It’s like, ‘how can they not?’” Buckwheat laughs.

Louise recalls being warned by the school that Louis would lose enrollment if he accompanied her to New Zealand for six weeks in kindergarden. Louise asked, “Can I just re-enroll him when we show up?” Well, yes, she could. By testing the perimeter, they’ve teased out opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise existed, and for the first time they’re carving out a more significant slice of their year to devote to New Zealand.

In an effort to integrate Louise’s home landscape deeper into their lives, this year the family has made an opportunity to visit Louise’s parents and explore New Zealand kayaking and mountain biking. After beginning the school year in Healy the “Wheats,” as friends often refer to them, are trying out homeschooling.

Taking a break from skiing

The family taking a break from skiing

So what’s the recipe behind the recipe? What aspects of their seasonal lives became the pillars of their seasonal family? Where were forks in the road where they could have folded? By evaluating the risks they took as individuals, and then as a couple, we can understand how the Overingtons beat odds to become the seasonal family they are today.


Louise and Louis kayaking at 3mths copy

Louise with a 3-month old Louis

Louise grew up in New Zealand, the daughter of Croatian immigrants. Her parents, WWII survivors, had made aversion to danger the guiding force in their life and that was reflected in their daughter’s upbringing. Louise felt sheltered from many benign experiences. Family beach outings provided an egress but a desire for something more burned inside of her. Although New Zealand would become the adventure sport capital of the world, that exploded after Louise’s time, and like many Kiwis she looked out from her country in search of more world than could fit onto her tiny island. Thus, as a young adult Louise left the country in search of adventure.

After pharmacy school, a ski week in Austria inspired Louise to make plans with a friend to move to Colorado and become ski bums for one winter. At the last minute, however, her friend bailed to get married. This was an important moment for Louise. Her friend married and never again had the chance for that one winter at a ski resort, and it would have been easy for Louise to bow out and follow suit. Louise was intimidated but the departure date was approaching fast so she stuck to the plan, found a restaurant job near Aspen, and fell skis first into a twenty-five year passion for powder. A series of events led to her renewing her visa, living in Durango, and meeting Buckwheat. What was intended as one winter abroad quickly evolved into a lifestyle of adventure.



Punching Two Rocks rapid on the Nenana (Buckwheat guiding far left)

Punching Two Rocks rapid on the Nenana (Buckwheat guiding far left)

By age ten Buckwheat was already riding his motorcycle solo through the woods. Although he claims his mom was “a bit of a scaredy cat,” she was apparently out riding motorcycles at times, as well. Regardless, Buckwheat’s childhood provided more room for scrapes and bruises than Louise’s, and he mitigated the doldrums of suburban Florida by channeling his energy into motocross and football. At twelve, his parents divorced and he and his mom moved to Colorado where winters suddenly impeded on the Floridian’s hobbies. An extracurricular ski class at fifteen, however, gave winter purpose. “Winter was just a pain in the ass up to that point. Skiing opened up a whole new side of life,” he reflects.

Under the guidance of his best friend, Rick, Buckwheat evolved into an aggressive skier. The pair often skipped school for powder days and were gifted enough students that it bore little affect on their academics. Adventures amplified their lives until one fateful night when Rick was killed in a car accident. Rick’s ashes were scattered on Telluride and since then skiing has become more spiritual for Buckwheat, who still thinks of his friend often while on the mountain.

In college, Buckwheat couldn’t afford motorized bikes anymore so he ditched the motor and joined the pioneer mountain biking scene in Durango. An outdoors class at Fort Lewis introduced him to kayaking and soon this trifecta—skiing, mountain biking, and kayaking—vied for his attention and became the guiding framework of his young adult life. Eventually, photography and driving work for a Grand Canyon raft company led Buckwheat to raft guiding on the Animas in Durango. That segue planted a major life seed that years later blossomed into the founding of Denali Outdoor Center, but it’s significance lay dormant at first.

Initially, sports were about adrenaline—even skiing to an extent. Buckwheat’s first overnight river trip on the San Juan, however, developed his spiritual connection to the outdoors. “Finding solitude in the canyons of southern Utah, reading Desert Solitaire, and discovering the tranquility of isolation, truly turned me on to river life,” he explains. “[Adventure sports] became a catalyst for spiritual and physical happiness; connecting me with the power and humility of the experience, and maintaining my physical well-being as they continued to satisfy my desire for the next adrenaline rush.” What began as hobbies escalated into indispensable intimacy. Since then, these pursuits have infiltrated every aspect of his life.



Louise hit the jackpot. Her first ever river trip comprised three weeks on the most coveted section of high volume whitewater in the country and even introduced her to her future husband. They didn’t date immediately, however. Buckwheat would drive Louise twice that year, first as her shuttle driver for the Grand Canyon and then again for public transit in Durango that winter. After the second meeting, Buckwheat invited Louise out for a drink but in an effort to stick to a new personal restriction about not agreeing to every date proposal, she turned down the man she would eventually marry. Providence provided a second chance meeting at the laundromat that evening, however, and afterward they found themselves getting that drink after all.

Many adventures later, Buckwheat would get hired at a rafting company in Denali, but bailed on the idea after doing some research at the library. “We’re looking at the rainfall amounts and stuff and we’re like ‘we don’t want to go there, drive all the way up there and have it be cold and rainy all the time,'” Buckwheat says.

“I just remember that picture of everyone [rafting] in Helly Hansen,” Louise laments. “I was like, uh, looks like it rains a lot there.”

It does, which they discovered firsthand that year when low water on the Animas expanded their migration to Alaska despite themselves. Denali revealed something more desirable than rain, however. The Nenana proved to be a high volume, low traffic, non-permitted river through incendiary landscape. Over the next few years, they built a home, built a business, and made that glacial-fed river their backyard, rain and all.



Otto Lake Sunset

Home sweet home: sunset over Otto Lake at Denali Outdoor Center

The Denali business originated as an idea for an inflatable kayak school with little hope of getting off the ground. Banks continually refused Buckwheat’s proposal until finally he met with a loan officer who happened to recognize him as the now grown son of her husband’s good friend. She took a chance on his risky idea and, thus, the Denali Park Paddling Center was formed in 1993. Eventually, that evolved into the Denali Outdoor Center (DOC), one of the most respected rafting companies in Alaska today.

Until then, Louise was building a pharmacy career but she quit her full-time gig to start DOC. They had hoped DOC would make enough money for Louise to quit pharmacy all together, but it didn’t work out that way. Although the business is successful, it’s difficult to make enough money in four months to fund their preferred lifestyle. “There’s a certain level of income that’s required to meet those needs to raise a family, it’s one of the reasons why we only have one child. We can afford the tickets to New Zealand, we can afford the toys for everybody, and still live the lifestyle. At 2 or 3 kids we might have to reassess and have a different lifestyle.” Buckwheat analyzes. Therefore, both parents maintain employment in the off-season. Louise became a relief pharmacist which allowed her to work when and where she wanted. It also took her over Colorado mountain passes and away from home for several days at a time—an arrangement unsustainable into parenthood.

They searched Alaska and the West for a place that allowed all facets of their lives to synchronize. Louise offered Walmart winter pharmacy work strictly in Salt Lake City and they accepted. “Back then it was easy since they were so short of pharmacists and they took what you could offer. Hence, I created a seasonal job due to the need for pharmacists. I don’t think I could get away with it now.” In Salt Lake City, they could afford a 4-bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath, decent house in a nice neighborhood, ten minutes from the world class skiing of Snowbird-Alta, for $170,000. “To be able to afford a home that we were only going to live in half the year and that we didn’t want to rent out the other half of the year—you can’t do that anywhere else that I’ve found. You couldn’t pull those pieces together, the work, the other shoulder season activities, great mountain biking in spring and fall there, close to the desert, you know, all the elements. International airport, direct flights to Anchorage.”

Louise adds, “Everything gets negated because of the smog.”

Undoubtedly, her comment represents the underlying truth: there isn’t one landscape that currently meets the family’s needs and desires. Thus, the migration persists, something everyone processes differently. Buckwheat accepts it as a necessary discomfort because neither landscape is attractive to him in the opposite season, whereas Louise is reminded that she would prefer to integrate into one, year-round community. For Louis, the seasonal cadence has permeated his entire life so he has no basis for comparison. Despite the obvious inconvenience, the fall drive south—peppered with kayaking and mountain biking adventures—has developed into a beloved, annual, two-week family vacation capable of dissolving the rest of the bullshit. Indeed, the parents especially know how rare it is to share adventure with the whole family.


Built-in adventure buddies

First day of skiing 2012

First day of skiing 2012

If the couple that plays together stays together, then the family who extends that gift to their children fortifies their bond that much more. For those who disbelieve that a person can chase their passion and raise a happy family, the Wheats shatter that illusion. Parenthood mellows the terrain temporarily and adventures metabolize at a different pace for a few years, but seeing passion mirrored in the incredulous eyes of one’s own child deepens that activity’s value forever. In the long run, it can even keep adults engaged in the outdoors at a greater intensity for more years than they naturally would otherwise. It certainly has for Buckwheat and Louise.

Louise admits she satiated her addiction to powder and no longer needs to alter her life for it, however engaging in her passion for the outdoors with her family remains paramount. Buckwheat recognizes that parenthood now has him playing on his skis and kayak with the intensity of his young adult years. As a family of three, the Overingtons travel as a self-contained unit—built-in adventure buddies looking out for each other’s safety and sharing the stoke. For professional nomads, that qualifies as living the dream.

To succeed as a parent in the seasonal lifestyle only the rules need change. As with everything, there’s a way to do it responsibly and a way to do it irresponsibly, and this one starts with a change in the narrative. It’s not a rootless existence but migration between seasonal habitats. Pick your playgrounds, create a niche, and the resultant passion will foster a dynamic learning environment for a child. Adventurous couples have the opportunity to break the paradigm and see their passions take on new life in the next generation. If life is a series of calculated risks, then parenthood is the last place to start taking the easy way out.


Ready for adventure in New Zealand

Ready for adventure in New Zealand

Continue to Part 2: Raising the Nomadic Kid


What You Need to Know About Becoming a Commercial Pilot

Now’s the time because of:


  • “It’s not going to ever get less expensive,” Trent says. “So if you have any sort of inclination to do it, you’d better do it, because the longer you wait the more expensive it’s going to get.”


Tightening FAA regulations

  • The FAA is changing the eligibility requirements for pilot in command. Traditionally, commercially certified pilots could build flight
    Moose's Tooth on the Ruth glacier

    Moose’s Tooth on the Ruth glacier

    time in small airplane operations like Trent did, but that is no longer permissible. “First of all they want age 23 and they want you to have 1500 hours.” Second in command and flight instruction with the appropriate credentials are still viable options for building flight time, at least for the time being. Most larger aircraft, including the airlines, require an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license “Just to get the certificate they’re going to make it $15,000,” Trent laments. “It’s almost like they don’t want anybody else doing it. Or if they do, it’s only for those who can really afford it which might chop off a lot of those pilots who would probably be better at it. Just because you’ve got money doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good pilot.” While that requirement has not gone into effect yet, it’s implementation appears inevitable.


How to make it cheaper:

Know a flight instructor?

  • Most people in the aviation community recognize how astronomical the expenses are and many are willing to help out newbies for a reduced fee.

Study solo

  • Skip ground school costs by purchasing text books and studying solo. Each rating from private to ATP requires the candidate to pass a written knowledge test which you can prepare for on your own. After acing the test,  enlist a flight instructor or flight school to bolster what you’ve learned and fill in the blanks with real world knowledge.

Buy an airplane. Seriously.

  • Although the price tag for most planes is intimidating, it usually works out to be large savings for new pilots. Trent recommends buying “a little Cessna 150, mid-time engine, you can fly that thing for 500 hours, sell it for five thousand less than what you paid for, maybe ten thousand less than what you paid for.” A plane equipped for instrument flying would be best, though harder to find. Part of that daunting price tag is the associated costs—insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.—something you are actually paying for during airplane rental whether you realize it or not. This way, you pay for it for yourself. “It’s the cheapest possible way to do it. A lot of people don’t do that because buying an airplane and getting any kind of insurance on it is very difficult if you don’t have any flight time but it’s doable. You can do it.”
Office with a view at 10,000 ft.

Office with a view at 10,000 ft.