That One Time I Nearly Died

Just yesterday, I gave a short speech on gut-wrenching adventure.

I spoke in front of my HubSpot peers as part of our company Toastmasters group. It was my first speech in the program, an ice breaker speech, where the goal was to teach the audience a bit about myself.

Over the course of 6-7 minutes, I spoke about adventurous times throughout my life. Careening down our neighborhood hills on scooters and skateboards and mountain bikes. Starting a high school breakdancing club. Climbing Mt. Shasta and Mt. Rainier, getting lost in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains. Studying abroad in Nepal and trekking into the Himalaya. Adventure racing. Traveling to 60+ countries as a cost-of-living analyst. It was a fun first speech, and while I undoubtedly fumbled my way through it in some parts, I thought it went relatively well.

There was one story that I left out, and that’s a story that I’d like to share below. I’ll be sharing the story by transcribing a few snippets of an old journal entry I dug up over the Thanksgiving holidays.

A bit of background — it was the summer of 2004, and I was 18 years old. I had flown from Nashville, TN out to Aspen, CO to meet up with an outdoor buddy of mine, Brandon, to visit another outdoor friend of ours, Perry. Perry’s family had a house in Aspen, and we planned to use the house as a base camp of sorts.

It was a two-week trip, and we had planned in advance to hike the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop, a 26-mile jaunt through Colorado’s finest wilderness. We had researched ahead of time and had also planned to follow a more challenging itinerary – sticking to the trail the first day, then the morning of day two, veering off (and up) toward Snowmass Mountain, a 14,092-foot mountain that we had deemed appropriately technical for our own abilities at the time.

That brings us to Friday, July 23rd, 2004. Below is the journal entry from that day.

We awoke at 4:45am to start our ascent of Snowmass Mountain. We packed up in the cold, in a soft pink and white alpine glow, and had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. We made for the scree field at about 6:00am, slowly hiking up the mountain.

When the sun started to come out, we stopped to apply sunscreen and lip balm. We ventured upwards, playing then “name game” until the scree field became looser and more technical. In the distance and to our right, we saw a man ascending a steep grassy slope. We traversed a small gully and followed the grass up, a much easier path.

Over the next twenty minutes, the mountain opened itself up to us. It was massive. We meandered farther up, stopping to check our map, pointing out cairns and trying our best to navigate the most efficient route. At around 13,000 feet, we hit many patches of snow, and on one I dropped my water bottle. It rolled thirty feet down the slope into some rocks. I felt sluggish and unbalanced. It was about 10:00am. We kept moving toward the ridge. We looked at the map again and picked a line between Hagerman’s Peak and Snowmass Mountain.

We reached the ridge and our jaws dropped. The guides, the book and the Internet all classified this climb at a rank of Class 3, but it looked much more difficult. We knew that the only way to get to Geneva Lake, our intended destination, at this point was to go up and over the mountain, and considering we were 80% of the way there, we made a group decision to keep going.

We traversed the ridge, scrambling, using rock climbing moves to avoid the occasional cliff-like drop offs to our left. There was no way around them. We reached the summit around 12:00pm, and because we knew the chances that an afternoon storm would roll in soon, we started heading down the other side of the mountain as quickly as possible.

At that point, it was too late. We didn’t have time to look for cairns, or at the map for the right trail. We needed to get down. We stuck to our closest route – loose rocks and boulders. During our precarious descent, the clouds rolled in. We knew how serious the situation was. Lightning kills about 100 people each year in the Rockies, mostly during the summer, in the afternoon, on climbs just like this.

With lightning flashes a half-mile away and thunder crackling and roaring overhead, the three of us descended as quickly as possible.

I slipped.

I slipped, and I fell about eight feet down the gully of small and medium-size boulders. As I tried to stand back up, I slipped again, and this time I began tumbling down the mountain. After fifteen feet and two or three somersaults, my 45 lb pack became wedged between a couple of larger rocks.

Perry shouted at me from above. “Hold on! Hold still!”

I tried to move my limbs.

A broken bone or serious injury at this altitude, around 13,000 feet, would have been bad news. My arms and legs felt OK, as did the rest of my body. My arms and hands were cut up and my legs bruised, blood on both knees, but nothing serious. Deep breath.

Brandon and Perry helped me back up. I tried to maintain composure on the way down, but I was shaken up. I thought about my life, my family, my friends, how I was only 18. As the storm continued to envelop us, I remember Perry yelling, “hand’s all about the hand holds!”

At 2:00pm, the storm cleared up. Seemingly safe from nature’s wrath, we stopped for a much-needed lunch and recapped the morning. Salami and cheese never tasted so good. At 2:30pm, we began heading down an even steeper slope, and wouldn’t you believe it, another (the same?) storm rolled up and over ridge – this one was even more severe.

A heavy, dense mix of rain and sleet and snow. Brandon slipped and hurt his hand. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck dart up as lightning struck several hundred feet away. The three of us kept each other in check – we stayed close but moved fast, and didn’t stop moving until we hit a river.

We followed the river until it ran into a deep gorge, and that’s when we spotted our trail.

At that point, we followed the path in a zombie-like state toward Geneva Lake. We found a nice, scenic spot, made camp and plopped down in our tent just as it started raining again. It was 7:00pm at the time, and the three of us took a nap until 8:45pm. Hungry but too weary to venture outside, we cooked pesto pasta in the tent’s vestibule. It got cold. We fell back asleep.


Reflecting back on the situation, I feel…lucky. I feel terrified. I feel alive.

I cried that next day. I thought of all the people I would have left behind.

I still shiver with the sharp cracks and penetrating booms of lightning and thunder.

When Politics and Marketing Gloriously Intersect

Note: Due to high winds and unfavorable weather, I called off the Presidential Traverse. These decisions are always tough, particularly with so much physical and emotional preparation. Keeping an eye out for a window in 2013. Stay tuned!

Every Friday at HubSpot, two employees host a live-streamed Marketing Update. Notable marketing events from that week are covered, and many a beer bottle is opened.

This past week, a number of interesting stories were discussed, two of which I want to share. Both stories involve companies that put a clever marketing spin on the current political race.

JetBlue Offers Free Flight if Your Candidate Loses

If your candidate loses the presidential election this November, don’t worry, because JetBlue is there to help soften the blow. Their consolation prize? A complimentary international flight.


1006 people will win an opportunity to flee the country. Most of JetBlue’s international destinations are in the Caribbean, a fine spot to ride out a presidential term or two.

I should note that the contest tickets are roundtrip, so winners are free to return if they so choose.

Based in Queens, New York, JetBlue invites voters to enter at At the moment, Obama is being chosen in favor of Romney at a ratio of 56% to 44%.

7-Eleven Coffee Drinkers Predict Next President

At 7-Eleven, your coffee purchase counts.

When purchasing coffee, 7-Eleven patrons in participating states are asked to choose either red or blue cups to indicate their preferred candidate. Results are captured in real time and displayed on the website, 7-Election.

What a brilliant idea. I’d imagine the infrastructure to set this up was a hefty investment, but I’m curious to what extent average coffee sales have been affected. Either way, my brand perception of 7-Eleven is much stronger than it was before.

Similar to JetBlue, at the moment, Obama is being chosen in favor of Romney at a ratio of 56% to 44%.


I love these two examples. Brands embracing a high-profile current event and weaving it into the fabric of their marketing landscape. Contrast these two clever examples with that of Pizza Hut, whose presidential debate stunt triggered enormous backlash, becoming the butt of many jokes.

Nerve Rush Turns One (3 Things I Learned)

This past Saturday, Joel Runyon and I celebrated our first anniversary.

Aww, shucks.

One year ago, with a mission to inspire gut-wrenching adventure and deconstruct extreme sports for the masses, Joel and I launched Nerve Rush to the world. We set out to interview professional athletes, to curate heart-wrenchingly cool content and ultimately, to tackle Red Bull as the #1 extreme sports brand.

Fast forward to this evening, 170 posts later.

Things, I must say, are going swimmingly. Traffic has shot up these last few months, and each week Joel and I are  speaking and working with some really cool people. Building Nerve Rush, I’ve taken away business lessons and experiences that will undoubtedly help me in the future.

In an effort to jot down my thoughts more frequently, here we go.

1. Scheduled Communication is Critical

Joel and I live in two different cities, so this was important to hash out early. After talking through our schedules and weekly bandwidth, we decided to speak at least once every two weeks via Skype or phone. Between then, we agreed to use email and our project management HQ to keep pushing projects forward. This continues to work well for us.

At HubSpot, I meet once every two weeks with my current manager for an hour long, one-on-one session. On my last team, I met once a week. In both cases, that frequency of communication worked really well.

I know Kristen and Shannon, founders of Revolution Apparel, as they worked remotely from each other to build their business, made a point to chat with each other at least once per day.

What kind of regular, communication do you have with your co-workers? Scheduled communication is critical to a team’s, a project’s and a company’s long-term success. Particularly when the agenda is clear, but that’s another bag of marbles.

2. Define an Organizational Process

Trello, Basecamp, Evernote, Dropbox — these are a few of the tools that groups can use to collaborate with each other online. Over the last year, I’ve become comfortable with my own personal organizational process, as well as a process that works for Joel and I as a team.

Individually, I use a combination of Dropbox and Gmail tags/filters. As a team, Joel and I use Dropbox and Google Drive. There are a number of other tools that we use, but everything, in some  form or fashion, makes it onto Dropbox or Google Drive.

At HubSpot, my manager and I use one single Google Drive doc to track everything I’m working on. Personally, I use Evernote, Google Drive, Gmail and yes, a series of hand-written notes and post-its around the desk.

There is a lot more I’d like to say here, but I defer any additional insights on organization to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. A phenomenal read.

What tools and processes do you use to stay organized?

3. Deconstruct the Vision to Work Smarter, Not Harder

At any given moment, Joel and I have 101 half-brained ideas.

We constantly revisit our 30,000 ft. vision for Nerve Rush and break  that down into small, manageable tasks. By writing out these tasks, estimating what it will take to complete them, prioritizing them and relating them back to our vision, Joel and I have learned how to work smarter, not harder.

It’s been tough. We haven’t really pinned down a business model for Nerve Rush. At this point, we could see Nerve Rush manifesting in a lot of different ways.

And I think that’s OK.

We’re ready to pivot when the data starts pointing us in one direction versus another. For now, we’re testing out a series of these small, manageable tasks, each with it’s own micro-vision, to help us better assess our future plans.

I look forward to Nerve Rush’s future milestones, to working with Joel and to sharing these stories and insights with you.

In the meantime, stay adventurous out there.


Training for the Presidential Traverse

In 27 days, I will be attempting to hike the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for the second time. I tried to complete it a couple of years ago, but due to my group’s pace and injuries, we made a joint decision to turn back.

In a few weeks, Nate Damm and I will set forth from the Appalachia Trailhead off NH Route 2, leaving at around 4am. We plan to move at a quick pace for the first 8-10 hours, as we ascend, descend and ascend our way back up to the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest part of the trail.

Some facts about the hike:

  1. The 20+ mile traverse spans 7 mountain peaks, with 9,000 ft. of elevation gain
  2. The suggested book time to complete the traverse is just over 16 hours
  3. The route is famous for its tumultuous weather and sometimes dangerous conditions
From my friend Yoav’s recent trip report:
As SummitPost says, “The Presidential Traverse is arguably the most spectacular and challenging one-day hike in the Northeast. Unquestionably, it passes over the highest peak in the Northeast, as well as the second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth, a couple of sub-peaks that are just as high, and a couple of “smaller” peaks that are still among the fifty highest in New Hampshire.”

Sounds fun, right?

I’m using the next three weeks to kick up training.

Sporcle, Einstein’s Riddle and the World’s Hardest Sudoku Puzzle

I recently read Moonwalking with Einstein.

In this non-fiction book, the author, Joshua Foer, is on assignment, writing a journalistic piece on the U.S. Memory Championship. When Foer learned that most of the people competing were not in fact geniuses but average folks like himself, he wanted to learn more.

Soon, Foer finds himself among a quirky subculture of mental athletes. Foer learns how to memorize decks of cards, faces and poems through a series of mnemonic techniques.

Long story short — he adapts these practices and wins the U.S. competition less than a year later.

Tackling My Own Mind

This book got me thinking.

While I’m not particularly interested in memorizing decks of cards or long poems, I’m very passionate about expanding the capacity of my own mental bandwidth. I love reading about nootropics, solving puzzles and figuring out ways to think faster and more effectively. Where can I improve?

As we hit the gym to get our heart rate going, so too should we flex our mental muscles and workout the brain. Below are three mental workouts. If you complete them, let me know in the comments!

1. Being able to name all countries of the world.

You can use Sporcle to practice memorizing. Over the course of a couple weeks, I probably spent 5 hours practicing. I then whipped out my camera. It still took 6 tries to get it right.

2. Solving the Zebra Puzzle.

It is said that Einstein created this puzzle as a boy, and that only 2% of the population can solve it. This took around 45 minutes to work out. Can you solve it?

Let us assume that there are five houses of different colors next to each other on the same road. In each house lives a man of a different nationality. Every man has his favorite drink, his favorite brand of cigarettes, and keeps pets of a particular kind.

  1. The British person lives in the red house.
  2. The Swede keeps dogs as pets.
  3. The Dane drinks tea.
  4. The green house is on the left of the white house.
  5. The green homeowner drinks coffee.
  6. The man who smokes Pall Mall keeps birds.
  7. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
  8. The man living in the center house drinks milk.
  9. The Norwegian lives in the first house.
  10. The man who smokes Blend lives next to the one who keeps cats.
  11. The man who keeps the horse lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill.
  12. The man who smokes Bluemaster drinks beer.
  13. The German smokes Prince.
  14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
  15. The man who smokes Blend has a neighbor who drinks water.

The question is, Who owns the fish?

3. Solving the world’s hardest Sudoku puzzle.

Deemed the Everest of numerical games, this particular Sudoku arrangement was designed Arto Inkala, a Finnish mathematician. I don’t quite remember how long it took me to solve this. I spent 3 or 4 days picking it up and putting it down. I love Sudoku puzzles and do them frequently.

Do you do have any challenges like this? What would you recommend?