Pedaling the Planet: A Story from Kapp to Cape

Reza Pakravan - Header by Christine Fonner | November 6, 2014

Reza Pakravan finished the Kapp to Cape cycling adventure in November 2013. Currently working on a book to tell the adventure, I caught up with Reza to ask him about what it is like to ride the length of the planet. Literally.

With his partner, Steven Pawley, Reza cycled over 11,000 miles in 102 days to raise money for schools in Madagascar and attempt to set a new Guinness World Record. Fighting Malaria, food poisoning and intense road conditions, they made it to the finish line in Cape Town, South Africa.

You finished Kapp to Cape about a year ago. Did you initially encounter culture shock on your return?

My partner, Steven, went back to work straight away. I wanted to make the adventure part of my life and make a living out of adventure. For him, it was very difficult but for me, I took a couple of months off. I had time in California to finalize my book and was also looking for a production company to partner with me to turn Kapp to Cape into a documentary. Since August, I have been in Rome and production on the film will be finished in two weeks. 

Was it difficult managing the filming for a cycling adventure that you were deep into?

We had a cameraman at the beginning, middle, and end of the race. All the rest of the footage was self-shot between Steven and myself. It is not the easiest thing in the world when you are passing through some of the most unforgiving climates and roads in the world.

I realized the most challenging part after the expedition was coming back to normal life.

The terrain could be difficult and the environment desolate during the Kapp to Cape journey.

We struggled with time and food, basic requirements and add filming in was quite a difficult task to do. Steven wasn’t into the idea of filming but I really wanted a documentary. Sometimes you really want to be in that moment and you are in the middle of Africa and you experience something fascinating and you come out of an experience of life and death or see the hospitality of a stranger and you want to live that moment but you have to take the camera out and film.

Being in the moment (and capturing it!) riding through the countryside.
Being in the moment (and capturing it!) riding through the countryside.

What was your biggest mental challenge in Kapp to Cape?

To keep pushing and motivating myself to pedal ahead. There were times that I got really ill and times that I got knocked down by heat stroke, food poisoning, and Malaria but to just wake up and pull yourself together and carry on that was the most difficult challenge.

The physical struggles of the trip are a different story but the personal journey…that is the toughest moment, after the expedition.

Reza in the hospital with heat stroke, food poisining and Malaria.
Reza in the hospital with heat stroke, food poisining and Malaria.

To be honest, the expedition was a journey and it’s finished but the personal journey started when the expedition finished. I realized the most challenging part after the expedition was coming back to normal life. I decided to change my life and do what I love to do. I received calls from headhunters asking me to return to the corporate world with a good salary. I didn’t know when my next paycheck was coming and I was struggling with my finances but I had to tell them no. Turning those calls down and telling them I was not interested is actually something that hits me in my personal journey every day. It is a very tough moment to get through. The physical struggles of the trip are a different story but the personal journey…that is the toughest moment, after the expedition.

Reza and Steven capturing their time in Egypt.
Reza and Steven capturing their time in Egypt.

The Kapp to Cape takes you from the tip of Norway to the tip of South Africa. What was the starkest contrast between the two points?

Temperature! Then, obviously, wealth is the second contrast. And diversity. In Norway and Finland almost everyone is basically the same. The races are limited. In South Africa, it’s a very multi-racial society.

Have you found a commonality among people in your travels?

It’s fascinating because when you travel the world at the speed of bike and you see the world in that level of detail, the needs are so basic – eating, sleeping, water food – you are actually looking for similarities – you do not look for differences. Even if you want to go as fast as you can, you are still going so slow!

My dreams since I was a kid were inspired by explorers and adventurers who went way beyond their boundaries and achieved and made the impossible possible. 

All you see are similarities, not differences. You see the hospitality of people everywhere. You see that most of the people in the world are the same. We may speak different languages, but pretty much we are made from the same wood.

Meeting the locals!
Meeting the locals!

Has it been difficult for you to find the words to tell your story?

It took a while for me to reflect. We had some really extreme experiences. I also asked Steven and he had the same feeling. I look at adventure as my job. When you are making a living out of telling your story, then you have to do it with some sacrifice. You can’t have everything. The whole thing about adventure is that if you want to make a living out of it, you have to be able to share it with other people. I miss that good old fashion adventure. No phone, no nothing…you just go with it.

Riding through 13 countries isn't for the faint of heart.
Riding through 13 countries isn’t for the faint of heart.

You were an international pro basketball player back in Iran in your younger days. Did you get the chance to play ball with any of the kids during your journey?

Not really. We were just cycling non-stop. It was a race!

During the Kapp to Cape, you worked to raise money to build schools in Madagascar. Why did you choose schools in Africa?

In 2009, I went to Africa to do volunteer work with an NGO in Madagascar, which is one of the most impoverished places in the world. I carefully studied the financials of this grassroots NGO and went and worked as a volunteer for a month. This was a real trigger point for me.

If every person takes one step towards their own bit, collectively we could make this a better place.

What I experienced and what I saw people doing out there was fascinating and good. For all the good things I had in my life, I was able to give something back. Since then, I decided to raise money for them. In five years we have raised $120,000 dollars for them.

Reza getting to know the local children!
Reza getting to know the local children!

It was also important to feel the energy of people behind you. If you are doing something at that scale, why not raise money for a good cause? I combined my expedition with fundraising and it was a win-win situation for everyone and inspiring for others to do the same.

Have these adventures and endeavors for fundraising made you think about wealth, poverty, and income differently?

Not so much this trip but my previously travels did make me think a lot. I traveled in Africa a lot so I knew that there is poverty that exists in the world. It wasn’t anything new to me. In fact, I have been to fairly removed places in the world even poorer than the places I traveled this time. It’s fascinating that it’s such a cliché but the poorer the country the more hospitality they have. They invite you into their places and share more experiences with you.

What would you say would help bring the biggest positive change to our world collectively?

We all have and want different changes. The guys living in Gaza Strip need a different change than people like you and me living in democracy or someone living in Africa in poverty. The requirements are different. If every person takes one step towards their own bit, collectively we could make this a better place.

Reza and Steven enjoy local cuisine and a few moments off the bike.
Reza and Steven enjoy local cuisine and a few moments off the bike.

Environment, political, human rights or activists or whatever they do there are lots of people out there campaigning and standing up for other peoples’ rights to make the world a better place.

If you really want to get out of your comfort zone and experience what you want to experience you have to draw the line and do it.

A lot of people just succumb to the daily world and are completely detached. If we all did something we could all move mountains and make it a much better place.

What do you want people to gain from your story?

I have been a financial analyst for 10 years of my life. My dreams since I was a kid were inspired by explorers and adventurers who went way beyond their boundaries and achieved and made the impossible possible. I wanted to have a big adventure of my own. The comforts of my life stifled that dream. Basically, comfort killed ambition.

Get out of your comfort zone and amongst the challenges, you'll have amazing experiences.
Get out of your comfort zone and amongst the challenges, you’ll have amazing experiences.

One day you look back and realize you will never ever get any younger. If you really want to get out of your comfort zone and experience what you want to experience you have to draw the line and do it. I resigned from my job and started training to travel via bicycle.

One of the tougher moments...
One of the tougher moments…

I feel that I can do whatever I put my mind to now. That is what I really wanted to get out of it and I got there. Now, I changed my life completely. My documentary is going to come out shortly and I am already signed for making a new one. I am very happy with my choice.

If you are really passionate about something, sooner or later you will be good at it.

It was quite a big risk to come out of the comfort zone and leave my hefty salary to hit the road. Coming out of my safety net where everything was safe in my life, I left everything to go to the unknown. Fortunately, everything turned to be good!

The finish line in Cape Town, South Africa. There are no words to describe the feat…the smiles do a great job!

Do you think this was a required way to go – to just up and quit corporate?

The reason I did such an extreme thing – working corporate I lost confidence to be able to change my life. I needed to do something so big and way beyond me. I needed to know that I had to work so hard for it with 100% effort. I needed the validation for my ability and to go to that extreme to say, “If I really get to Cape Town I can do anything in my life.”

If I learned one thing in the entire expedition it was that in order to achieve any dream or make any dream come true, the most important thing is to take that first step.

Once I got there I just realized I managed to go from office desk to this level and battle through the most horrible terrain in the world with all sorts of weather conditions, malaria, heat stroke, whatever obstacle came in front of me…I could do anything. I can change my life. I needed validation to my ability and I got that validation. There is always the element of self-doubt but I think that is part of an adult’s life.

Why do people do what makes them safe vs. what they desire?

There is a struggle that every human in modern times faces. I have been in an environment where everyone hates what he or she does but they do it because it gives them a comfortable life. I can talk about my personal experience. When I came out of university I had student debt, I wanted comfort, and to pay back debt and have comfortable life. That is the way that society is structured. If you are really passionate about something, sooner or later you will be good at it.

Passion for something allows you to eventually become good at it.
Passion for something allows you to eventually become good at it.

If you want certain things in your life, rather than make a five-year plan, you might make a ten-year plan instead but at least you are doing what you want to do. I think the financial thing, absorbing corporate life; they pay you lots of money. It’s easy to get into it and get comfortable so that makes it very difficult to get out of it.

Is it possible to merge comfort with adventure living?

Yes, there are ways that people can combine their passion with a bit of commercial giveaway. What I did was drastic but there is always a possibility. I personally couldn’t do it because I wanted to do something completely different but I know people that have corporate lives but follow their passion at the same time. Obviously, it’s not as good as someone who is living the life they want all the time. It’s always a compromise, isn’t it?

People have different priorities – family vs. a single guy like myself. It really depends on the situation. My life allows me to be an adventurer but I am not sure a guy with three children couldn’t take the same risk so easily. If I learned one thing in the entire expedition it was that in order to achieve any dream or make any dream come true, the most important thing is to take that first step. Sometimes you have to ignore conventional wisdom and just go with it. There are so many different ways to live your life. The easiest thing is to give way to the corporate.

Only 1,045 kilometers to the finish!
Only 1,045 kilometers to the finish!

What’s your next adventure?

Adventures are addictive. I have three adventures planned that I am working on parallel. I want to cycle the Trans-Amazonian Highway. I am working on a documentary of a trip from Mumbai to London via solar panel rickshaw. Another project is focusing on my discovery of Malagasy music. I will be traveling in Madascar with a human powered mobile recording studio to capture the music. I would like to do all three in 2015 but at least two…definitely.

TP Question: Crumple or fold?

I fold. I normally take my toilet paper with me while biking. I usually use wet wipes which are obviously crumpled and I don’t fold it. I don’t use a toilet roll. I use the pocket tissue. I fold and put them away. It really depends on the situation. I never thought of that but yea, I definitely fold!


profile miniReza is an ex-corporate financial analyst that took the big plunge into full-time cyclist and extreme sport junkie. Reza has poured his energy into scheming big dreams into reality. He has conquered the summit of Mount Sabalan (4,811m), cycled the entire Annapurna Circuit in the Nepalese Himalayas and set the world record for fastest crossing of the Sahara Desert by bicycle, clocking an impressive time of 13.5 days. Adding Kapp to Cape to his impressive portfolio, he is already on to the next adventure. Oh, and did we mention he used to be a professional international basketball player??

To learn more about Reza, visit

Can’t get enough of the story? Visit Reza and Steven’s YouTube channel.

Would you like to donate to building schools? Click here to donate now!

Gates Carbon Drive did an awesome interview on the entire Kapp to Cape adventure. Read it here!

Copyright 2015 Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Perfect Pair: Gates Carbon Drive & Bronto Bikes

Josh Fonner - HeaderJosh Fonner | December 21, 2014

bike dorkI’m a bike dork. 

There I said it…I’ve had the pleasure of riding some of the most amazing bikes in the industry: carbon, ti, steel, full squish, rigid, you name it.  Despite all the amazing technology out there, it never ceases to amazing me that the piece of the bike that helps move it forward is the one that is most exposed to the elements: dirt, water, grit, and grime.  This would be the drivetrain of course.  I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a totally enclosed drivetrain, i.e. – a driveshaft like on some motorcycles, but alas, we’re still here with chains.

Radio Flyer Trail. Vail, CO. (2012) Photo by Jake Orness
Radio Flyer Trail. Vail, CO. (2012) Photo by Jake Orness

When they work right, chain drive systems are amazing.  Electronic shifting was a huge leap forward.  Single chain ring drivetrains revolutionized the MTB world.

Bronto Bikes built the frames with a splitter specifically for the belt drive.
Bronto Bikes built the frames with a splitter specifically for the belt drive.

At the end of the day though, they all seem to be working with an inherently flawed system.  Enter Gates carbon belt drives.  With a nearly maintenance free system, that is almost totally silent, it offered some promise to help break the chains (man, that was a stupid pun!) of the chain drive world.

So why hasn’t the belt drive system gotten more traction?  The challenge is that to run a belt drive system, you must have a compatible frame – meaning there has to be some sort of apparatus that can allow the one-piece belt to slide through the frame and into place.  Luckily for us, our good friends over at Bronto Bikes got us dialed on some belt drive splitters when they were making our frames.

New Bronto Day!
New Bronto Day!

The first up on the belt-drive extreme makeover was the Bronto Willy singlespeed.  After years of talking 32×18, 33×20, etc., it was a change to no longer talking gear ratios. Belt drives operate with a different set of gear ratios.

gear calculator

This is easily done, however, with a handy calculator located on Gates’ website. In the initial set-up, belt tension is a critical item.  This can be measured in a couple ways, from an iPhone tension app to a specifically designed tensionmeter to squeeze testing it.  The latter is least advisable, though often used.

Our initial test rides on the singlespeed revealed, well, not much.  I say not much in a good way – silence.  It just plain worked, no metal on metal grinding, no squeaks, just pure simplicity.

My wife tested out her Gates Belt Drive on her Bronto, too!

Though it was silent at first, I was advised to pick up a can of silicone lube at the hardware store to keep any dust and grit from leading to a noisier ride later.

Of course, the belt is a frequent talking point on the trail.  From “How do you like that thing?”, to “Man, that is cool”, to “Stupid singlespeeder” are all phrases that are often heard…so get used to hearing some comments!

The belt drive is a constant point of interest!
The belt drive is a constant point of interest!

Though I spend most of my time on a singlespeed, we really wanted to dial in some killer, low-maintenance, geared bikepacking rigs.  We don’t really like getting bitten by the upgrade bug later, so we went all in.  S&S couplers, titanium, Thomson, Rohloff…and Gates Belt Drive of course!

We picked up the bikes from Gates...ecstatic!
We picked up the bikes from Gates…ecstatic!

Winter hit the mountain so we haven’t had much of a chance to pedal the Rohloff rigs yet…but there is no doubt they’ll prove to be just a reliable as the singlespeed version.  The one challenge is that the sliding dropout on the Rohloff bikes does not have a tensioning bolt, which makes setting the proper belt tension almost impossible.  Hopefully that won’t negatively affect the longevity of the belt.

One of our rigs set up for bike packing.
One of our rigs set up for bike packing.

We’ve definitely got some testing in mind for the belt set-ups coming up in 2015.  Some desert training rides, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Leadville 100, and some to-be-decided bike packing destinations all should put the belts to the test.  Looking forward to putting some more time on the belts and to minimal maintenance in the process.

Titanium Bronto Bike with Rohloff hub (and now a Gates Carbon Belt Drive!) - ready to map out a new adventure.
Titanium Bronto Bike with Rohloff hub (and now a Gates Carbon Belt Drive!) – ready to map out a new adventure.

In the meantime, there is some snow in the hills, and some skin track to put down.

For now, we'll be skiing but once the snow melts, we are back on our Bronto Bikes with Gates belt drives!
For now, we’ll be skiing but once the snow melts, we are back on our Bronto Bikes with Gates belt drives!

Copyright 2014 Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mountain Biker to Moto Head

Jason Fenton - Header

Jason Fenton | November 9, 2014

My name is J. I am a trail builder and bike shop owner. I have been immersed from head to toe in the bicycle world for 30 years. This is a story about how I fell in love with a different kind of bike, an orange bike from Austria with a 400cc motor.

I knew about moto guys and their amazing skills on mountain bikes. I saw the ease at which these guys controlled their bicycles in the woods. Something was quite different about these guys. They were comfortable at very high speeds and they could handle obstacles and terrain changes easier than most of my mtbing friends. They made “Brraaappp” noises while we pedaled through the woods and most typically they seemed to be having the most fun of all of us.

moto 1I had a Honda 3-wheeler when I was a kid for a short while. It was an x-mas gift that my Dad and Step-mom bought me. My mother was not happy about this purchase. I loved the power, and the thrill of this little machine. Unfortunately, one of our neighbors broke his leg on the 3-wheeler and it was sold without my consent.

I took some serious lumps on this bike as I learned quickly that there is no such thing as a good dual sport bike.

I had no intention to be hooked on moto riding, it just sort of happened. At first I started with a Suzuki DRZ 400. This bike is claimed to be a great dual-sport bike. It was claimed to be good, both on and off road. It was neither. I took some serious lumps on this bike as I learned quickly that there is no such thing as a good dual sport bike. It was piss poor on the road and maybe worse in the woods. It felt fast to me, but in hindsight it was mostly top heavy and slow through the woods.

In about 3 turns I realized that these guys had been riding longer than I had been alive and that I had no chance in hell to keep up with their “easy” pace. 

Not long after I got this bike, I was invited out in the pine barrens of New Jersey with a bunch of guys on an “easy” Sunday ride. Most of these guys were 20-30 years older than me. They walked slow and they basically had none of the marks of the fast guys I knew from mountain biking.

moto 2

In about three turns I realized that these guys had been riding longer than I had been alive and that I had no chance in hell to keep up with their “easy” pace. It was disheartening to get dropped so badly but I figured I had to learn the hard way. On that particular ride, I managed to drive a sharp stick through the radiator, and after a long push of the bike back to the road, I swore I would not ride this bike in the woods again.

I soon bought a KTM EXC. All the fast guys rode these orange beasts and I knew that I would figure it out sooner or later. It was a mean bike, maybe more than I could handle but I was determined. I quickly learned about suspension tuning, various costly repairs and basic bike setup. There was so much to learn and I was so excited at each new element I dug into.

So little of what makes sense on bicycles carries over to motorcycles.

I competed in a few harescrable races and quickly determined that I cared for my life more than my competition. I got knocked off the bike and I had enough. I was in the top ten but the racing really turned me off. It seemed like a competition to see who might out red-neck their buddies. I remember sitting at the start line with 40 guys all revving the hell out of their bikes for no apparent reason. It was fast and I learned a lot in a hurry, but in the end I was happy to go ride with a few racer types on my own terms. I quickly found a few guys who rode a lot and they taught me countless things that I would have taken much longer to figure out on my own. So little of what makes sense on bicycles carries over to motorcycles.


Fast forward to the present day…I now do a handful of dual sport rides a season and mostly trail ride on trails that are a bit tougher than what we mountain bike. These dual sport rides are usually 80-100 miles a day. They are mostly on private land. You pay a fee for access to trails that are otherwise off limits most of the year. It is a great way to ride some amazing single track with good friends and have a blast.

moto 8

As a mountain biker I appreciate the fact that so many of the trails we ride on bicycles were first cut by motorcycles. I love the acceleration and the power to climb hills and mountains that are simply too much for a bike to climb. I am simply amazed by what is possible on a dirt bike. It has been an interesting journey to get to a point where I feel equally at home on a KTM as I am on my Cannondale.

moto 4

It is interesting that my cycling friends look at me as a moto guys and my moto friends see me as a bicycle guy. Luckily I don’t need to choose just one. I think they compliment each other nicely.

mtn and moto


profile picJason Fenton owns Halter’s Cycles in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. When he isn’t slinging bikes out the shop door, Jason is trail building, riding bikes with the cutest daughter and raddest wife in the world, or hopping on his KTM to tear up some dirt. 




Copyright 2014 Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Swiftwick Wins South Africa

Christine Fonner | June 21, 2014


My Love for Swiftwick Runs Deep

About a year ago, I started exclusively only wearing Swiftwick socks. It wasn’t a conscious decision – they were just more comfortable so when I would look in the sock bin and eye all the sock options, I inevitably would pick up a pair of Swiftwick until, one day, there were just no other socks except for Swiftwick.

So, it’s with no great surprise that when I was packing my carry-on bag for a nine-day stage race in South Africa, that, without hesitation, I piled in all the Swiftwick socks a girl could need and then decided to also throw in my Swiftwick Arm Sleeves as well.

You Don’t Know About Swiftwick Arm Sleeves??

Ah, the arm sleeves. Not arm warmers. These nifty little sleeves do much more than keep your arms warm. If it was cold out, I would throw them on and marvel at their stretchiness. They kept my arms warm. If it got hot out, I would forget I even had them on until I was properly sweating up hill. They kept my arms cool. They breathed really well. They protect from sun burn. They never seem to smell and are incredibly comfortable. I was in love.

The Swiftwick Arm Sleeve was carefully designed to be effective as a wind break, offers great UV protection and its an easily removable base layer protecting against the cold.
The Swiftwick Arm Sleeve was carefully designed to be effective as a wind break, offers great UV protection and its an easily removable base layer protecting against the cold.

I had learned to use the arm sleeves often. All the time. On all my rides. My Swiftwick arm sleeves (seen or unseen) have been part of many amazing friendship driven adventures and life moments (my wedding engagement, bottom left!). I’ve become emotionally attached!


I knew they breathed well, were stretchy, and you could wear them for a long time and not feel hot when the sun was beating down on you. But I can’t begin to tell you how much MORE grateful I was that I brought these little arm sleeves to South Africa for the JoBerg2c Mountain Bike stage race, especially after wearing them for 9 days straight.

South Africa’s JoBerg2c – 9 Days, 900 kilometers

South Africa’s JoBerg2c 9-Day Mountain Bike stage race is no joke. It takes you from Johannesburg, South Africa all the way to Scottburgh, at the ocean. 900 kilometers over 9 days with many of those days climbing you up and over the mountains of the Free State. 99.5% of the route is off-road. Over the course of the race, only 10 kilometers is on actual paved road. It isn’t until Day 6 that you finally get to see some proper descending. The race is an amazing way to see a very diverse (and big!) country.

The 9-Day JoBerg2c route

For my partner and I, race was a term we used loosely. For us, it was about finishing every day and enjoying the experience of crossing half a country by bicycle. Over the nine days on a bicycle, we were averaging 7-9 hours on the saddle each day. We become a well-oiled machine and learned what works and what doesn’t work. Part of my essential gear were comfortable, breathable socks that could keep the toes warm in the morning and let them breathe once the sun warmed us up and would help in preventing blisters, sores, etc on my much used feet.

I climbed (and sometimes walked) many hills.

Or climbing and climbing...until your legs give out.
Climbing and climbing…until your legs give out.

It was also essential to have socks (and arm sleeves!) that could get wet and dry quickly. In addition to crossing on top of water, we had to sometimes cross through water. Once, it was up to my stomach!

I crossed floating bridges

Floating pallet bridge on Day 2
Floating pallet bridge on Day 2

And sometimes had to cross non-existent bridges!

The Invisible Bridge - Day 6
The Invisible Bridge – Day 6

I experienced amazing descents (70 km an hour!) and looked out across amazing vistas.

Looking out across the mighty Umko Valley
Looking out across the mighty Umko Valley

I froze in the morning and felt scorched in the afternoon.

The temps varied widely from morning to afternoon.
The temps varied widely from morning to afternoon.

The days were long and challenging…but the singletrack made you holler for more…

day 4 - 2

and the people made the experience unforgettable.

The "Back of the Pack" Crew at the finish line!
The “Back of the Pack” Crew at the finish line!

When I came home, I found I was at a loss for words on how to describe such an intimate, challenging, long, and unique experience. How do you explain what 77 miles riding your bicycle feels like? How do I describe the hot wind scorching my lungs as sugar cane leaves smack my face down double track? How do you describe the endless miles of cattle trail and how absolutely uncomfortable single track can be when it’s that bumpy?

You can’t. Not really. A person has to experience that for themselves. I can tell you that it made me closer to the Earth, to people, and to my bicycle. It made me really grateful for good gear and comfortable clothes. And, most importantly, after all was said and done…it made me look forward to my next adventure on my bicycle.

Do what moves you.

– Christine


Becoming a Minimalist: A How-To Guide

By Christine Fonner | December 4, 2013

My dad had this habit of calling me Imelda Marcos growing up. I had a thing for shoes. And handbags. And cute jackets. I converted a bedroom into a big closet and I filled it up.

After four years of living to work rather than working to live, I had a revolutionary moment: I started purging all of my stuff. I felt trapped and weighed down. It was time to re-prioritize. Over the last three years, I have gone through several phases of becoming a “minimalist.” There is no proper way of getting this done.There is no secret formula that makes it really easy to get rid of all of your “stuff.” It’s a process that takes time to sort out and to begin minimizing your inventory and then looking at material possessions differently.

If you are looking to live out of a few bags, one room, or your car, this Guide may prove to be helpful. [Read More…]

Snow in the Adirondacks

by Brian Wittmer | November 12, 2013


Yesterday morning, while I was stacking wood for my father, I was feeling rather glum. My father just had hernia surgery so it is up to me to get the firewood this year. Add this to working my butt off day in and day out to make some cash to fix up my old Subaru, I was burned out. I looked around and noticed all the snow that had accumulated in my yard. That didn’t help how I was feeling. I spent last winter in Park City, Utah living the dream and skiing every day. Motivation kicked in. “There is way more snow on Whiteface Mountain!” I thought. That last three wheelbarrow loads went quick.  I was going skiing.

I pulled up to the tollbooths on the road that leads to the summit on Whiteface and cars were everywhere.  Normally this bothers me, but today I was excited to see who would be up there. I walked my skis past the assortment of old trucks and Subarus and began to hike. As I climbed up, rocking out to my hand picked ski tunes, I noticed the kindness in the smiles of each fellow adventurer as I yelled, “WOO!”  cheering them on as they descended.  I had done this ski route a couple of times before. It is a 5-mile climb; which, as you can deduce, is also a 5 mile return downhill.

walking shot

Tracks in the snow.
Tracks in the snow.

I had a grin on my face the entire way up. I love exercise and this is exactly what I needed. My attitude did a 180 as soon as the skis were on. As I reached the castle that stands at the end of the road I was bursting with joy!

Out of breath I said “hi” to some fellow skiers snapping photos of the rime ice on the castle. It did look striking and almost foreboding. I mean, it’s a castle near the summit of a mountain. Since the summit is only a quarter mile hike from the castle, I went for it. The wind was strong but I knew to throw a fleece on before the ascent. After a struggle hiking in telemark boots on icy rocks, I made it. There was no view, which I knew there would not be. Even with the wind it was simply peaceful. I was alone at nearly 5,000 feet. I sat there for a while feeling renewed and reflected.

Whiteface Mountain, 4,867 feet.
Whiteface Mountain, 4,867 feet.

The ski back down took only forty minutes compared to the two and a half hours it took to make it up. I felt free. Spent, I was ready for some dinner and a shower. I was so glad to get out yesterday; I decided to do it again. This morning I got up at 5:15 to check for more snow. Sure enough, there was more! So I ate and took off.  It was another bomber day.

Some may say, “I’m too broke to do that or to go somewhere new.”  This is not a valid excuse. You find your own adventures. If you want to enjoy a trip like this, except for gas, it was free. I drank water along the way and ate before I left the house. I have a beat up cross country set-up or you can snowshoe. The skis got me to the top of one of the highest mountains in New York. I have an old car, and some acceptable gloves and layers, which are very important. Anyone can do this. All you have to do is drive to Wilmington, NY and up Memorial Highway to the gate at the tollbooths. The road is closed in the winter so you hike it up and it’s a good ski. You don’t have to go to the top to get a view either! I saw all the way to Vermont yesterday.

It's all downhill from here!
It’s all downhill from here!

Roaming, adventuring, or whatever you call it is addictive. It is letting go and getting away from routine. It lifts your spirits and engages your senses. It can also be challenging. I never regret dropping everything to roam when I am feeling down. It changes you and your attitude. Everyone has different interests. Mine are skiing, hiking, biking and getting lost exploring. Others might prefer, reading, writing, surfing, climbing, or driving to a place they have never been. Whatever it is, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and roam! (Yes I feel you can roam into a good book.) So, go and challenge yourself. It is rewarding and makes you feel great! So go and ROAM LIFE!

Roam Life!
Roam Life!

P.S. I forgot to mention I am trying to fix my car so I can roam to Montana in February. I’m going to a place I’ve never been and living with people I’ve never met. It’s going to be more challenging than anything I have done and I can’t wait!


Keep the dream alive! Help Brian get to Montana!

Unchained Cyclist: Adventures with Geoff Harper

Geoff Harper - Header

by Christine Perigen | October 18, 2013

Geoff Harper is one of those adventurers that feeds off the challenge of the adventure itself. Traveling can be overwhelming for some people. Not for Geoff. In fact, he goes out of his way to find the more difficult ways to experience a new land. Like traversing Iceland’s South Coast the hard way, by beach, using roads only as a last resort. He embarked on his journey in August and toured the gorgeous country by cutting through 500 miles of Icelandic beachfront. After finishing over three weeks of fat bike cycling through severe wind, rain, and conditions that can make you question your own sanity, Geoff sat down and chatted with Roam Life about the experience.

An example of Geoff's contribution to bike porn.
An example of Geoff’s contribution to bike porn. Source: Geoff Harper

One thing I noticed about you is that you are really good at bike porn.

That’s probably an extension of my design background. I used to design plastics packaging, which is basically cell phones – how they look. I have a fairly keen eye for linear design, keeping everything very symmetrical which is the same approach I used for engineering as when I look at or style a bike.

I was also big into motorcycles. Symmetry is something I look for and I think that’s something that actually lends into the way a bike rides. The balance that you perceive when you look at a bike is somehow aesthetically pleasing and somehow translates into the manner in which the bike handles and rides.

We read that you had done some mountaineering in Iceland. 

Actually, my mountaineering experience has been in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I had been to Iceland once before but not to hit the glaciers or to do any mountaineering. I would like to get back to do some mountaineering in Iceland now that I’ve seen it. My experience is climbing the Cascades and on Denali which I summited in 2009.

20,320 feet - Denali Summit, 2009 (Geoff Harper Photography)
20,320 feet – Denali Summit, 2009. Source: Geoff Harper

What made you decide to go to Iceland for a cycling trip?

 Growing up in the UK, my best friend, Olaf, was from Reykjavík, Iceland. His mother lived in London and his father lived in Iceland. Every summer holiday he’d go back and spend time with his father. At the end of the summer holidays, we would regroup and he would talk about what he’d been doing all summer time. He would have gone glacier walking to geysers and in the middle of the summer time it stays light for 24 hours. This stuff that was completely off the wall for me as a kid. I think it went in at a very young age and I’ve always had this interest and fascination but never really had the opportunity to go and check it out. With the fat bike, and trying to come up with an adventure that was suitable it just seemed perfect.

Geyser (from the Icelandic geysa, ‘to gush’). Geysir eruption, 2000. Source: D. Schweitzer
Geyser (from the Icelandic geysa, ‘to gush’). Geysir eruption, 2000. Source: D. Schweitzer

Where did the idea to use a fat bike come from?

Iceland has always been somewhere I wanted to go and it came about that way. I was doing these big long rides in the Rockies throughout the winter. I would go out for a day on these solo rides through the passes and this is where I started to think, “Alright this is cool. I am getting strong on the bike. I can see what it can do. Where can I take it? Where can I go? What kind of adventure can I come up with?” And then somewhere along the line I connected the dots: Iceland, fat bike, and started to look at the beaches.

9:zero:7 fat bike with J Pak set up. (Geoff Harper Photography)
9:zero:7 fat bike with J Pak set up. Source: Geoff Harper

How much preparation did it take on your part to prepare for a trip like this in terms of logistics?

One of the first things I did was buy some books by different authors. One that stands out is Arctic Cycle by Andy Shackleton. It’s a really good read. He actually did the ring road going all the way around the outside of the country. He’s a British guy too. I contacted him and asked him what he thought of my idea and he said it would be tough but doable. Once I heard the word “doable” I decided this is what I am doing and it all started to solidify.

It’s a very strange dynamic of human experience to go from extremes within such a short period of time and to be dealing with that. It’s incredible.

I started research by contacting the Icelandic Search and Rescue to find out what maps they use because maps are very hard to get a hold of for Iceland. I guess population density doesn’t lend itself too much to the demand for maps, especially not for what I was doing. I talked to those guys and they told me of a cartographer based in Iceland called Ferdakört. They have incredible maps of everywhere I needed to go. Then I really started to go through what gear I would need.


A lot of the gear was borrowed from my mountaineering. I improvised. I was going to go with panniers at first but then I got to chatting with my good friend, Joe, at J Paks. I met him through the same bike shop I bought the bike at and he schooled me on this new style of bike packing. It was phenomenal. The packs were actually a huge part of the trip and made it easy to manage my gear and keep important parts of the gear dry.

I just messed around with setups. It took a couple of months of honing the gear and checking out ideas and looking at other peoples’ set ups and talking to different people.

bike on coast

I didn’t really allow myself to have that self-pity. If I did, I think it would have crumbled me. I would have just packed up shop and gotten on a bus and gone home.

I ran Vee Rubbers tires.  They weigh 4.5 pounds each, which is horrific, but they were the best tires for the trip. If I had run my standard winter tires I think they would have just been trashed within the first week because the lava sand and rock can be extremely coarse and the gravel goes through rubber in no time. I shredded these Vee Rubbers and they are extremely tough. They lasted the whole trip but they look like slicks now and have all kinds of scarring on the tire wall, which would have trashed a regular snow tire. The guys at 9:zero:7 suggested to “just go with the safe option because if you are in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have spares the safe option is always going to be better even if they weigh a ton.” They were exactly right.

What things did you leave up in the air? You know, “Oh, I’ll figure it out…”

The main one was actually the route because I couldn’t plan the route due to the ever changing glacial run offs, the tides, and the weather. I couldn’t plan an exact route because I didn’t know what I would come across. That would keep me up at night because I would say to myself, “Well, I know this area and I know roughly how I am going to do this.” But on any given day, depending on the time of day I was riding or if I got delayed because the tides would change, the glaciers would melt and the run offs would be higher or lower, I didn’t know whether I could ride through them or couldn’t ride through them. There were quite a few things I couldn’t really predict, including camping locations, because of this.

A nomadic life. Source: Geoff Harper
A nomadic life. Source: Geoff Harper

How do you plan for meals on a trip like this?

I laid out spots on the map where I could get food and I memorized them and I would plan according to these. I would say, “Ok. There are two days I’ll be on the sand.” and I always tried to pack an extra day of food just in case. A couple of times this was the right thing to do because usually, in Iceland, a gas station means food but sometimes the information is wrong. Somebody who lived locally would own the gas station and they would have a café attached and they would have some basic supplies there for people that are traveling and one of these was actually shut down. It was a crucial one. I got there and there was no food. I had an extra day’s food but it took another day to get to another town and stock up. As much as I planned, it didn’t necessarily fall 100% the way I wanted it to.

This was not an easy travel plan. Did you have a “shit your pants” moment?

I had a lot actually. In the beginning of the trip, I had this feeling more. The first time I got on the beach, I was hit with this moment that this was it. I was good. Then it started to get a bit weird where I thought, “Hang on a minute. Where is this going? What is this?” The third day is when the big storms and the rough stuff hit me. That was really when I started to doubt what I was doing. I had to stop myself from having those thoughts. I had this whole moment of “No. Not going to go there. It’s going to be okay.” In the cliché sense, staying positive was really what I was doing in that moment. It paid off.

I had marched into the elements with groups or friends but I had never really done it on my own before.

Did you have a "shit your pants" moment?
Did you have a “shit your pants” moment?

Traveling solo can be isolating. Did you wish for a teddy bear or a friend along the way?

I got into this process of thinking about the difference between aloneness and loneliness. I felt quite alone but I didn’t necessarily feel very lonely. It’s hard to quantify the difference between those two but loneliness is a little bit of self-pity and aloneness is more of an acceptance of being alone. In the process of thinking about those two ideas, I was okay. I’m alone. But this is temporary. I am going to be here for 3 or 4 days. I just have to push through. This is what I signed up for. I am going to be okay. I didn’t really allow myself to have that self-pity. If I did, I think it would have crumbled me. I would have just packed up shop and gotten on a bus and gone home.

There was a point when you hit the most difficult part of your trip – the Sandur. Before you got there you had “daunting knowledge that I would be traversing the legendary Sandur often described as ‘soul destroying’.” Tell us how you had mentally prepared for this and whether or not that plan really worked out once you got there.

That was one of those moments that I couldn’t necessarily plan for mentally. I knew it was going to be rough. I used my mountaineering experience.  I had some rough times mountaineering. I would tell myself it’s not that bad because I’m not at altitude or it’s not that bad because it’s not -40 degrees and it’s not that bad because worse case scenario there is a road 10 miles away. I used perspective mirrors to keep dimension on where I was and what I was going through. It was a tough process and it was testing. One of the big things was having the roads so close by. If that road had not been there and I would have been way, way out in the middle of nowhere, just the knowledge that I could get to that road, even if I had to dump my gear and walk there, I had that. It was nice to know, for sure.

I spent hours riding and I would look at the GPS and I had done a zigzag route and I hadn’t really gone anywhere. 

Is riding solo lonely or just simply being alone?
Is riding solo lonely or just simply being alone?

You ended with “I battled the Sandur for 3 days in total, an experience I will never forget.” So, it was a piece of cake?

It was definitely up there with the experiences I’ve had on big mountains for sure. It was rough. There were definitely times on the Sandur that it would have been nice just to chat about the plan with someone. To say, “Well, what do you think? Maybe we can do this or maybe we can do that.” But of course, I didn’t have that option so it just forced me into that mindset, “Well, okay. You are going to just have to call it.”

Challenging terrain and weather made it difficult to continue in certain sections of the journey.
Challenging terrain and weather made it difficult to continue in certain sections of the journey.

I read about 60 mile per hour winds and torrential rain but I thought I would just put my raincoat on and ride my bike. 

The weather and visibility were the most difficult. The riding on the sand was rough. I couldn’t always tell I was headed in the right direction and I was getting battered by the rain and wind. I couldn’t see farther than ten feet in front of me. I would run across a glacial run off I couldn’t ride through and then I would have to go inland. This meant backtracking away from the westerly direction I was headed. I would have to go northeasterly to get to the road and then I would have to climb back. It was frustrating to feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I spent hours riding and I would look at the GPS and I had done a zigzag route and I hadn’t really gone anywhere. I was soaking wet and cold and it seemed like a lot of pain for not a lot of gain. Mentally, after a few hours of that, it ganged up on me a few times. You get those thoughts, “Maybe I will just hang out for a little while and regroup.” And that’s what I did. I tried to control that sense of frustration.

Icelandic Serenity. Source: Geoff Harper
Icelandic Serenity. Source: Geoff Harper

You said that you had “Moments of glassy-eyed elation followed by moments of gut-wrenching hardship” – to a person who has never done a trip like this…bring us there with you.

It’s a very strange dynamic of human experience to go from extremes within such a short period of time and to be dealing with that. It’s incredible. It is life changing. For me, that’s what defines these trips. That juxtaposed experience that highlights both ends of the adventure. I was riding through the Sandur and I felt like it was Groundhog Day. It was never going to end. I was going to be riding this thing for the rest of my life. And then all of a sudden, the terrain started to change, the sand started to even out, the wind started to calm down and I started to see the shoreline that was running along toward Vik. Right there, I snapped back into being normal and not being in this heightened state. It was very uplifting and almost instantly I forgot about the hardship. The three days that I spent suffering just completely dissipated. I don’t know whether that’s a human defense mechanism that we just shut that stuff out and maybe we shut it out temporarily and deal with it later which plays into the idea of how hard it is to write about the trip afterwards. You don’t process that stuff for a while.

Experiencing something on your own is great but if you take it to the grave with you then what use is it to anybody else?

So, there I am in this completely changed position and I was so thankful for it and was immersed and I had forgotten about the Sandur, it felt like, instantly. It’s a huge sense of relief. There were times when I also went from riding on a beautiful beach into a mess and that was a whole fearful conversation. I was scared. It was completely counterintuitive, too. I was riding from these ideal conditions to hell. I would tell myself, “This is what I came here for. Let’s do this.” Those are the moments that once you get through them you feel good about them because you overcame those fears. Being alone and doing that is something I had never done before. I had marched into the elements with groups or friends but I had never really done it on my own before.

One of our big beliefs at Roam Life is the power of people connections. How did your interactions with locals and travelers influence your adventure?

There were different levels of interactions. If I met somebody at a campsite or a store people would look at the bike and would want to know what the hell I was doing. So I had interactions with people that weren’t bike riders and weren’t riding out there. They were in a car or a coach (bus) so those interactions were limited in a sense because I couldn’t really share what I was doing with those guys but then I would meet some guys who were riding the road and who were cyclists and I could share a lot of what I was doing with those guys in a much closer way.

I didn’t meet anyone who was riding the beaches so my experience was very much my own experience and it was interesting. It was nice to talk about it with the other bike riders; especially the ones that knew about fat biking, they “got it.” They understood what I was trying to do.

Reykjavík. Source: Geoff Harper
Reykjavík. Source: Geoff Harper

When I pulled into a campsite toward the end of the trip, I bumped into an adventure scout group. At that moment I was kind of disillusioned because the trip was coming to an end and I didn’t want it to. I was ten miles from Reykjavík. I gave a little impromptu presentation. Luckily, there was a big map on the wall and I was able to point out where I started and where I would finish. They were all taken by the bike. That was one of the most powerful moments because in that moment I was sharing the trip and I was handing over elements of the trip. I could see in their faces, not just the younger scouts but the group leaders as well, I could see they were very much interested in what I was talking about that gave me value and perspective.

Experiencing something on your own is great but if you take it to the grave with you then what use is it to anybody else?

Had you considered doing this ride with a partner or group or was it always intended to be a solo trip?

With mountaineering, I had always wanted to do a solo trip but it’s such a high-risk game. I don’t think I have the skills for putting up a new route as a mountaineer. I don’t think I have the willingness to risk that much just to put up a new route. So this trip was the “putting up a new route.” It just happened to be on a bike. No, I didn’t want to do this with anybody. In fact, I had a couple of people say they wanted to do it with me but that wasn’t what the trip was about. I wanted to go and do this on my own.

Give us a gear list.

Gates Carbon Drive set up. Sweet. Source: Gates Carbon Drive
Gates Carbon Drive set up. Sweet. Source: Gates Carbon Drive

907 Tusken Aluminum Fat Bike

4” Tires – Vee Rubber

Gates carbon drive

Nuvinci N360 Internal gear rear hub

45 NRTH platform pedals

Ergon MTB saddle

Ergon grips


Bicycle Weight: 34 lbs.

Fully loaded: 60 lbs.

Bike Geeks:  Click here for a full list

Looking back, did you have any silly misperceptions or naïve understandings of what you were about to experience?

I had read about the weather but I hadn’t fully absorbed what it was. I read about 60 mile per hour winds and torrential rain but I thought I would just put my raincoat on and ride my bike. That doesn’t do it justice. When you actually get into that stuff it is pretty hard going.

I don’t know why but I thought I would see more people. Even when I went to the towns, they were very quiet; the weather pushes people inside. It’s a little eerie. I don’t think I fully appreciated that.

I tried not to go in with too many ideas of what to expect. It is what it is. I actually read some fairly conflicting stories and got conflicting opinions along the way so I decided to just go and see.

Camping at sunset. Source: Geoff Harper
Camping at sunset. Source: Geoff Harper

Are you dealing with post-adventure, reality bites depression?

I wouldn’t call it depression but there is a void since I got back. Dealing with the intensity of the experience and being alone while seeing amazing and different things on an every day and every minute basis then getting back to your normal life takes a little bit of work. It’s difficult to try and do the trip report while dealing with that. I train a bunch of bike guys as a strength conditioning coach. They want to talk about the trip, which is nice, and they are enthusiastic about the trip and that’s been helpful. It’s been a month long process of coming back down to Earth.

What’s your next adventure? 

I came up with this idea of “The Unchained Cyclist.” I am hoping to get another belt driven bike and go off on another adventure. I have got my eyes loosely on the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. I used to live there in a place called Andora. It is one of my favorite regions in Europe. I would like to ride from the town of San Sebastian all the way through the mountains through Girona down to Barcelona. Extremely ambitious! I might have to make it a little more doable. [Planning a new adventure] gets you enthusiastic and pumped. I am a big map geek. I love maps. In my place I’ve got a big map up and I look at it for hours on end just thinking about what the next adventure will be.

The next adventure?
The next adventure?

When I was packing up and getting read to go home from Iceland, I wanted to lighten my load. There was no way I was going to get rid of the maps. They are my most favorite mementos of the trip because they were my guide the whole way. In the absence of having someone to talk to the maps were as much of a conversation as I could have. Between me, the maps, and the bike it was a team effort.

Did adventure for you start from the get go or was it developed over time? What was Geoff the 7 year old like?

My mom has a story that she likes to tell. When I was 5 or 6 years old, she says that if she left the gate open or let me out, I would just take off on my bike. I would just go. She would find me in random places and I would just be sat there staring at something. I didn’t know anything about road safety, I would get on my little tricycle and ride it a half a mile down the road in any direction and sometimes a bit further and she would come and find me. I wasn’t in danger and I wasn’t doing anything, I would have just stopped at a freeway or a field. She likes to tell that story. It’s possibly indicative.

Geoff in Moab, 2011. His appetite for exploring out an open gate is still apparent.
Geoff in Moab, 2011. His appetite for exploring out an open gate is still apparent.

Geoff today is a strength and conditioning coach. What kinds of advice/support do you give your clients?

Ever since I have been in the US I have been a trainer of some sort. I gravitate towards performance based training which is to oversee the strength and conditioning type stuff. I am a big proponent of developing strength. Even in endurance athletes because I think it’s what keeps us strong throughout big adventures. I have never had an injury. As endurance athletes, we tend to wear ourselves into the ground and don’t take care of the mechanics of the body in the manner that we should. I follow the primal blueprint methodology and did the trip in a fat oxidizing mode and stayed away from red lining. I trained specifically to become very strong and efficient at using my fat supplies for energy. Hopefully I am pushing out decent wattage for minimal expenditure. I maintained this oxidization mode throughout where I wasn’t pushing too hard and I wasn’t dealing with any of the fall out that happens when you burn a lot of carbs and sugars. This way I finished strong and finished healthy.

Finish this sentence: “When the going gets tough…”

…don’t think. Just do.

Stop thinking, in that moment when you start thinking, you have diverted your mind. If you are thinking, “Oh my God, this hurts,” just stop thinking. Your instincts will take over once you stop thinking.

A little Roam Life psychoanalysis question: When doing business in the bathroom, do you crumple or fold?

[laughing] I’d have to be a crumpler. Definitely a crumpler.

profile thumbnailGeoff Harper is an adventure seeker and strength/conditioning coach living in Colorado. An avid mountaineer, Geoff summited Denali in 2009. Geoff will continue his adventures throughout the winter on his fat bike as the “Unchained Cyclist.”

 For more information about Geoff Harper and his adventures visit

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For more information on Roam Life and adventure opportunities, e-mail [email protected] or visit

National Geographic Weekend, Episode 1346 | Air Date: November 17, 2013:

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Emma Frisch: In the Kitchen and on the Peaks

by Christine Perigen | January 16, 2013

Emma Frisch’s joy is contagious. Her big smile jumps through the phone and makes you think about her delicious cupcakes and the good work she’s doing through her organization, PEAKS. Just married and having just attended her twin sister’s wedding in the same year, Emma’s had a lot of reasons to smile, laugh, and celebrate.

Your wedding photos looked like they were straight out of Wedding Magazine – you couldn’t have had a more fun and gorgeous time. Tell us about the event.

I’m lucky to have married my partner of eight years, Bobby Frisch. We met while we were both at University of Pennsylvania. He is my fellow business partner and project dreamer. We’ve travelled all over the world together and created all sorts of cool things. He started a hotel that I helped him work on and that’s where I opened my first and only restaurant, to date. He’s now getting an MBA at Cornell, which is how we came to Ithaca. It’s a place we both love.

Did you know you’d be planning such a large wedding?

Absolutely not. I thought it would be small with an intimate group of people. It just didn’t turn out that way. We both come from enormous families that we love. We had 125 people attend and the majority were family members. We still managed to stay true to our values. We had the wedding at Millstone Farm, a place I worked at for several years and I’m really close with the owners and farmers. All the food was prepared by our friend who is a chef that partners with the farm and uses food grown from Millstone. All the guests were given a tour of the farm. The wedding tent was made out of used sail cloths. We were married in the horse field amongst horse jumps with a blue grass band playing. We celebrated until the morning with all the people we loved the most.

Your identical twin sister just got married in the same year?!?

Emma and identical twin, Dimity

Yes! This was a totally unexpected coincidence. Her husband, Nolan, was planning to propose the same day Bobby proposed to me but Bobby got to it first. So, Nolan pocketed the ring for another four months. Neither of us were expecting it so it was really special to share that process. She had the opposite wedding: a city wedding, half the size of mine, at the Brooklyn Winery. We enjoyed great food and drinks with a multi-cultural and eclectic, amazing group of people.

Twins: is it true that they are telepathic with one another?

It’s true that we are definitely connected. We think and feel the same way. When we share things, we are sharing the joy, burden or sadness. Our lives are uncannily in sync. An example of that was getting engaged and married at the same time. Similar things are always going on like that in our lives. We’re connected beyond being best friends. She is part of me. I feel that people don’t fully know me until they have met her.


You started an organization called PEAKS. How did it all start?

PEAKS started, quite literally, with the idea of reaching new heights and overcoming major obstacles. My colleagues and fellow mountain hikers, Steve and Chris, and myself saw a unique opportunity to raise money for EkoRural, a small non-profit in Ecuador working on climate change issues with indigenous mountain farmers. Thousands of adventure tourists were pouring into the Andes, with little awareness that the trails they hiked on were farmers’ footpaths. We found a way to bridge these two worlds by launching our first climb-a-thon.

At the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi, Ecuador 

In September of 2010, PEAKS was officially launched. I climbed to the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi, which is nearly 20,000 ft. Steve and two friends ran the “seven hills run” in the Netherlands. Another group of climbers in Colorado climbed a series of peaks. We shared our stories and pictures with family and friends through the PEAKS website, and collectively raised over $10,000 for EkoRural. For me, PEAKS was a way to combine two of my greatest passions: climbing and agriculture. After our launch, I took on the lead role for PEAKS development.

What have you learned from starting your own company?

The biggest lesson for me is this: you need to have a really committed and solid team working together to achieve success. I felt like I was flailing on my own alongside a full time job for quite some time; our volunteers and board members were incredible, but having salaried team members that you can depend on is critical for growth. The past six months of growth have proven this for me. But I am really appreciative of the people who have helped build PEAKS since the start. PEAK has been a team effort through and through.

What are the most successful campaigns on Peaks?

 Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua, a student group that is part of Cornell University’s Sustainable Design Program, recently raised $25,000 to build an ecological housing community in Nicaragua. Eight days into their PEAKS Campaign they raised over $5,000, and hit their $25,000 goal in less than 45 days. We didn’t have a single customer support question from over 60 Champions and nearly 300 donors!

You have a side project that I love reading about: Cayuga St. Kitchen.

Food is my biggest passion. More so than rock climbing or anything outdoors.

Emma climbing

It’s my creative outlet where I can share food adventures I have with family and friends. I love cooking and I love eating even more. I’ve been involved in farming systems since I was 18 and in college. Cayuga St. Kitchen is a fun way to bring all that experience together and give myself an excuse to keep learning…and cook more food.

What has been the most fun dish you have created?

Gluten Free & Vegan Almond and Candied Orange Cupcakes

This past weekend we made vegan and gluten free cupcakes for a friend’s birthday. It was like learning how to cook for the first time. I had to use totally new ingredients. Gluten free cooking is a totally different pantry. I found myself cooking with potato starch and xanthan gum. I had to clear the whole food bank and start from scratch and use my own flavors. I was determined to not stick to the recipe. The frosting was supposed to be a vanilla frosting but I turned the frosting into almond cream. It was fun to light all of them with candles and eat them together and celebrate.

Where do you find your ingredients?

 Food is so much about the story and where it comes from. It’s important to cook with quality ingredients; it makes a difference. The food I use always has story or is connected to people I know. I love going to The Piggery and I know Heather, the owner. She tells me about the meats and they raise these incredible pigs in environmentally and animal friendly way. I’m always asking where the best Brie is or where the best food comes from. I try to buy food from anywhere and everywhere: Asian market, Ithaca Farmer’s Market, I’m always looking to try something new. It’s an adventure every time.

What change do you want to bring to the world?

It’s hard to know if you are actually creating change. The change I want to create is helping people feel empowered to make change happen themselves. Giving people tools and space to feel confident in making their dream and mission come alive.

Reaching New Heights: Emma climbing in New Paltz

Through Peaks, it is those little encounters that happen now and then that make you realize you are making change happen. Sometimes there are weeks or months where I feel that this is a dream in my head and it’s not actually creating any change but then someone will write us a letter and let us know that they think it’s amazing and they met their goal and they’ll thank us. There are lots of moments that show it is the little things that matter and if you keep plugging forward with your dream then you can create change.

What is your travel essential when you are on the road?
My advice is to pack as light as possible and be open to any new experience. One thing I have to bring with me…[long pause]…I know!! My fanny pack. Dead serious. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I have the coolest one. Everyone should have a classy little fanny pack to store all your valuables and what you need on hand. None of that stuff under your waistband.

When in Ecuador…do you Crumple or Fold?
I’m a crumpler. I wish I was a folder. I’d probably use less. I guess I could be an in between but I’m more of a crumpler.

Emma Frisch is the Director and Co-Founder of PEAKS, an organization that provides the platform and audience for your fundraising campaigns. She also manages her food blog, Cayuga St. Kitchen and continually is experimenting with ingredients to make new dishes. She lives in Ithaca with her husband, Bobby.

For more information on Emma, PEAKS, or Cayuga St. Kitchen, click on the links!

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