Adventuring with the Adventurer of the Year: Interview with Stacy Bare
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National Geographic recently awarded Stacy Bare with The Adventurer of the Year Award, which is the like the Oscar of the outdoor world. He decided to sit down and chat with us about his exciting life as The Ambassador to The North Face and his work with The Sierra Club.
Josh Campbell: I read that you won the adventurer of the year award from National Geographic. That is incredible! What all does that mean for your career?
Stacy Bare: I think that both Nick and I were very honored and lucky to have been recognized. The award isn’t just for Nick and I, we were just lucky to be the face of a growing movement that is getting outdoors. That award could have just as easily gone to a number of other veterans. Whether it’s Warrior Hike, some of the veterans behind Soldiers to Summits, DJ Skelton, who helped co-found Paradox Sports. There are a number of people who could have gotten that award and there is probably a case to be made by some of them as to why they should’ve won the award. But I think it’s a validation of the value of getting people outdoors. I think for us and Dave and Amy Freeman and for some of the other folks that are on that list, it’s a validation that being an adventurer doesn’t mean that you have to be adding another foot. Which is really cool, there are people really pushing the envelope physically, but I think that it’s also a validation that community engagement and making sure that our communities are also getting outdoors is equally as important as pushing the bounds of human limits right now. So, I’m really appreciative to National Geographic for recognizing the value that community organizers have in adventure and in the outdoors. For me, it’s increased visibility and its opening new doors, not much has changed on my emphasis at work from before the award to after the award. It’s just a nice validation for me. Its also really nice to be in a group of people that have similar goals to keep pushing the human bounds and helping other people get outdoors and it’s just a broader connection and network that really grows the community. Getting the National Geographic “Seal of Approval” is really exciting. I never really set out to win any award though; it was always just “ok, this is the next step.” So that was what we did. The only major out of character thing I’ve done is going to graduate school. It was very unexpected, but no one expected the Berlin Wall to come down. Unexpected things happen.
JC: What does the average day look like for you?
SB: The average day for me is basically just a normal day. It’s sending emails, it’s responding to social media, it’s talking to great people like yourself, it’s a lot of the coordination. To do the events that we do is not easy. The events themselves are super sexy, but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes other than what people see. It’s like when you pick up a backpack or you pick up a new crampon or you pick up the new Magnatron carabiner from Black Diamond. It’s there in your hand, it’s a few ounces, and it’s there. And how often do you think about what all went into making that, and hopefully, you don’t. You see the gear and you see that it works, and you see that it’s not going to fail and maybe you’ve read a couple gear reviews and you just clip in and you go and that’s what you want people to see, the finished product. But it really is that finished product that gives me the drive to get there and it makes coming into work a lot of fun.
JC: You mentioned the Black Diamond Magnetron. Do you use the Magnetron when you climb?
SB: Yea, I think they’re great. I think they’re helpful for folks with bigger hands or who have some challenges with the way they use their hands. I really like them and I think they’re great. For the most part, in terms from a gear perspective, we’ve been really lucky because a lot of gear companies have supported our work. I think that’s one of the cool things with getting kids and veterans outside is that the outdoor companies see that we need to be working together at this level to build up the future. But at the end of the day, whether you use a Magnetron or Petzel or Camp, we’re all part of the same tribe.
JC: How would you describe what Sierra Club does?
SB: It’s hard to describe what the Sierra Club does without using our mission statement, which is “Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet.” What we really focus on is the first two thirds of that. So we really encourage our country and the world over to just explore and enjoy the planet that surrounds us. Maybe it’s just a little strip of green in front of their house or the park just down the street or traveling across the country or across the world to see what this planet has to offer. From a military perspective, what we are most concerned with is making sure that our servicemen recognize that largely what they fought for is the land. What better representation of democracy in our country than our public land. We want everyone to be able to see that not just the guys in uniform. The trees don’t care what color you are or gender or sexual preference you have. They treat you equally.
JC: What do you do when you’re not working with Sierra Club?
SB: When I’m out of work, I do my best to be in the outdoors. There are always projects. I’m not near the climber that I thought I would be when I started climbing five years ago, because I had this opportunity to do the job that I do. But I like to climb, I hike, I got married like eight months ago. Marriage is probably one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever been on. We’ve got a huge landscape project in our front yard this year so I’ve been devoting a lot of time to that as well. It’s not climbing or mountaineering but I’m in the outdoors and I’m playing with dirt and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
JC: What was your life like before the outdoors and before the Sierra Club?
SB: I grew up in Eastern South Dakota on the edge of the plains. Where the highest point was a big landfill where I learned to sled and we used it for hill training. My family did a lot of camping and vacations and we traveled all over the country and got to see and do a lot of great things outdoors. I went to school in Mississippi and I was in ROTC. So my life before this current iteration in the outdoors was really the military. I was in the military from 2000-2004. I was an intelligence officer in Germany. And I couldn’t get myself deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, which is actually really heartbreaking as a soldier, but I did get to deploy to Bosnia in 2003. In 2004, the Army and I disagreed on what my future career path would be. So I left the Army and I did land-mine clearance work in Angola, which is on the Southwest coast of Africa and in the former Soviet state of Georgia in a little breakaway republic called Abkhazia. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had the opportunity to be around amazing people and stunning landscapes. And I basically I got to play in the dirt and blow things up. Then I got recalled to Bagdad in the end of 2005. I can’t speak enough good things about the Iraqi people that I met. But I also met some folks who were interested in killing me. I don’t think that they were interested so much in killing Stacy Bare as they were in whatever challenges they had with the U.S. military. I don’t think that they had anything against me as an individual. When I came home from that experience, I went to graduate school and I thought that I was just going to punch my ticket in the upper middle class. Maybe do something in a war-torn country a few weeks out of the year or something like that. My graduate school experience was great but I also lived a second life in graduate school where I struggled with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The VA diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress and then later told me that it wasn’t from the military. While I was there I had a cocaine addiction, I was a full-fledged alcoholic, but I was pretty high functioning through all of that. It wasn’t until after I graduated and moved to Boulder, Colorado in 2009 that I really didn’t know who I was. I had been a warrior, I had been a team-leader, I had been a captain, and I had been a graduate student. I had identities that made sense to me and recorded who I was. When I got to Boulder, the veteran identity wasn’t providing me sustenance. It was a challenge. I didn’t know how to navigate in the world and I was very suicidal and still struggling somewhat with drugs and I just passed three years of sobriety this last Memorial Day so you can see that it’s a long journey. It was actually a buddy who I met in Iraq who got me climbing and that experience caused a pretty big swerve from what I thought I was going to be doing. I quit my job to start a company called Veterans Expeditions and Nick Watson came on board pretty soon after. The company has had its ups and downs but it’s still going strong today. The Sierra Club then hired me and at first, I was scared but it was a perfect fit for me. I think the two things that bonded me to the Sierra Club were 1: this real commitment to exploring and enjoying the earth and 2: this real commitment to protecting it.
JC: What is a major goal of yours for the future?
SB: One of my major goals is to go back and climb or ski or hike in all of the areas that I have been in under less than ideal circumstances. Although the circumstances haven’t been super great, I’ve had a lot of great interactions with a lot of great people while I was in these places. I’ve gotten to experience a lot of what our country has to offer. I definitely haven’t seen everything or even close to everything but I love exploring and seeing beautiful places and I want to see the beautiful places that the other countries that I’ve been to have to offer have as well.
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