The benevolent distraction

The nausea that accompanies chemotherapy is difficult to describe to those who haven’t had the pleasure.

Most often, I describe it as being not too far from a serious hangover, all the time. The low energy, the turbulent stomach, the nasty flavor in the mouth, the lingering fog that never clears: that’s the legacy of a FOLFOX regimen.

But unlike a hangover (which only worsens when confronted by a quick shake of the head), the chemo haze is quite constant. You can’t make it go away, but you can’t make it get worse either.

The trick is to find something to do, something other than lying in bed, feeling shitty and watching Seinfeld DVDs to cheer yourself up.

For me, I craved something that involved as much physical activity as I could handle (which wasn’t much), something that a dealt out a good dose of mental distraction, and something that ate up huge chunks of time.

Something like golf.

In the previous few decades of my life, I’d spent a decent amount of time on the golf course, but mainly for the drinking and gambling. I liked the game enough, but I was really just a follower along for the ride.

It’s a ridiculous game, as every golfer will admit. But for me, in that season when swinging an aluminum shaft a few dozen times in an afternoon became as much as I could physically and mentally handle, golf became my saving grace.

Most of the time I would walk, though on the days close to a chemo dose I would take a cart. The dizziness and exhaustion I’d feel from walking a few dozen feet was a drag, but the company of other people was wonderful. And the pace of the game was addicting.

The excitement and anxiousness I’d feel pulling into the parking lot were the same emotions I remembered from big powder days. The first holes would be filled with promise, the middle holes a blissful blur of sameness, and on the 18th fairway I would always feel a touch of sadness for the round that was about to come to an end.

The chemo … of course … went away. But my love for the benevolent distraction of golf only grew.

In the seasons since then, as the oncology appointments have slowly dropped, so has my score. And today, just a few months away from what will hopefully be my last invasive reconnaissance mission for a very long time, my golf game is about to reach its peak.

In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a plane for Scotland with three friends, heading to St. Andrews – the birthplace of golf – to celebrate one of their birthdays. We will play some of the most heralded courses in the world, including the heralded Castle Course and Old Course of St. Andrews, and the epic links of Carnoustie.

That this once-in-a-lifetime trip is actually happening seems like a bit of a miracle to me.

But then again, each time I hit the ball well seems like a bit of a miracle, too.


Is that a Buff in your pocket, or are you just happy to be adventure racing?

To be honest, I'm not sure where Stephen Regenold came from, though I've heard it's a place called Minnesota.

As a nationally syndicated columnist in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Redding Record, Casper Star-Tribune, Billings Gazette and Twin Falls Times-News ... nobody rocks the red states like Stephen.

But as much as Stephen loves the adulation of the Casper, Wyo., crowd (who wouldn't?), he hasn't rested on those dusty laurels. Instead, he has parlayed his newspaper savvy into an ongoing series of cool pieces for the New York Times (like this one about natural water parks in Vermont), a spotlight slot on Outside Online, and a recently redesigned www.GearJunkie.com.

Didn't you used to work in a climbing gym? If not, I seem to remember talking to you when you were IN a climbing gym ... and you were telling me that you were thinking of getting into the outdoor gear space as a journalist. What was your original plan then?

I was the editor of a climbing magazine called Vertical Jones. Might be what you're thinking. Although I used to hang in climbing gyms a lot (though was more of a "trad" climber outdoors.) I started Vertical Jones while in journalism school in the late '90s at the University of Minnesota. It was a quarterly 'zine, and it lasted for about four years. Not successful in a financial way. But it launched my career into the world of outdoors writing and travel journalism.

How many people get a paycheck of some sort from the Gear Junkie world at this point?

I have three business partners with GearJunkie.com, a tech/design guy (John Peacock), a marketing guy (Pat Petschel), and a publisher, who sells ads and sponsorships (Mike Santi). Through our company, Monopoint Media (http://monopointmedia.com), we partner with web sites like TrailSpace.com, SuperTopo.com, Gear.com, GetOutdoors, Wend, and
WildSnow.com. We sell -- Mike and Pat sell, that is -- network ad buys. So people from some of those web sites get paychecks that come through us as well.

If you hadn't called it Gear Junkie ... what would you have called it?

I used to have the list of names I brainstormed for the newspaper column -- this all started as a newspaper column -- and I think a few of the other thoughts were Gear Fix, Gear Guru, Gear Jones. . . a few other bad ideas, too. But I think it was always something to do with gear in the name. Gear Junkie just seemed to work best.

Your blend of newspaper syndication and online media is pretty unique. It's almost the direct opposite of those who start in the very visible outdoor magazine world, and THEN try to get online and into the papers. Was this something that grew organically? Or was it part of the plan?

Organically, I guess. I have always preferred writing for newspapers versus magazines. I can retain the rights to my material easier in the newspaper realm. It was the key ingredient that allowed me to launch GearJunkie.com in 2006 with hundreds of pages of content -- I had all these "old" newspaper columns sitting on my hard drive, and I owned the rights to everything. With magazine writing, most freelancers sell all rights and get paid only once for their words. A syndication model, what I do, allows me to sell my content to several places around the country. And then I can post it to GearJunkie.com as well.

Remember those Evil Kneivel ski gloves you wore at Alta? Where did those come from?

Those things rock. They are the Kombi Captain Freedoms from 2007. I get many questions about those gloves.

Is your newspaper syndication work growing at the same rate as your online presence?

Online is the future of Gear Junkie. I still have about eight syndicate newspapers and a few magazines that run the column. But my reach is growing almost as big online. And last year I made about 50% of my income from Gear Junkie from online ventures.

Last year, you did a sweepstakes where readers could "win a trip with the Gear Junkie" ... do you think you'll ever do that again?

It was a big success. Here's a wrap-up of the trip: LINK. The winner, Matt Eder of Portland, was an awesome candidate to win this trip, as he was a resort skier dabbling in backcountry travel. The trip -- to mountaineer in Sequoia National Park -- was the perfect introduction for Eder.

What's next for the Gear Junkie empire?

We just got back from the Teva Mountain Games. Did a big push there making an event out of my experience racing in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge. (Here's the area of the site on that). Next up, we're putting our noses
down for a couple months of traffic building initiatives. And, as always, we'll be at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in July.

Do you get much teasing for listing the Original Buff as the top gear innovation of the last 10 years? If not, can I tease you now?

It was five years, not 10. But, dang, I tell you, no other product has served me so often and so well. Make fun all you want. I love the Buff. (No, they do not pay me a retainer fee!) And the company just made me a happy man: They designed a custom Gear Junkie Buff for the Teva Mountain Games.


I just read about how the media and PR is dead and I can’t stop hyperventilating


I also feel like the oxygen is being sucked out of the room when somebody starts spraying about the death of media and PR. But then I remember that the media delivered the story that made me hyperventilate, and that the sprayer-in-question was using the media as PR conduit for their message.

Ahhh. Breathe.

Sure, media is changing … but it’s far from dead. Public relations is changing too, but it’s been doing that since my first job out of college where I’d spend 6 hours a night faxing basketball results around the country.

The first pose of my mental yoga on this matter is keeping in mind that we are living through an era that could truly be called the “bubble bubble.” One more rapid deflation of a seemingly impervious and skyscraping market shouldn’t really surprise us at this point ... but it does. After the dot-com bubble crashed, we didn’t stop using computers. And after the housing bubble imploded, it’s not like we scrapped windows, doors and wood.

I suppose it’s more than a little ironic that the media (which has definitely profited from covering bubbles) is enduring a bubble of their own. But the bursting of any bubble, even that of media, should be recognized as a valuable opportunity for change. The fact that PR is undergoing some changes at the same time shouldn’t be seen as a Swine Flu-level disturbance in the Force … it’s just business.

If you're still hyperventilating, try thinking through these cocktail party conversation starters:

* The best that social media has to offer comes in links to published works. Published works are supported by advertising. Advertising-supported works are considered media. Ispo facto, media is not dead.

* We crave the voices of leaders.From Walter Cronkite and Hunter S. Thompson to the more recognizable voices of the outdoor world, citizen-consumers love to hear what people with a point of view have to say. At the moment, those leaders are refining their voices within the new rules of media engagement. Take the hyper out of your diaper and give them some time. They’ll be back.

* We are all capitalists at heart.
As much as you think you’re a groovy, nerd-geek chic hipster with three Twitter feeds and a couple fixies in your garage, and the end of the day you are going to look at yourself in your deliberately skewed mirror and admit that figuring out a way to make money is in your DNA. That's what your parents did, that’s what Americans do and that's what makes us different. And it's what most pros are doing with their conversations on Twitter and Facebook right now. Trust me, when somebody finds that leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, the secret won't last long and the resulting emergence of structure in the previously unstructured social media landscape will be faster than a house falling on the Wicked Witch. Media will be back. Hard and fast. Of course, if the money doesn't get found in this big Twitter-treasure hunt, you can bet that things are going to dry up fairly quickly over in social media land.

* The current leaders of social media only talk about how much they know about social media.
Ironically, the most money to be made in social media appears to be from being an expert in social media. Did I mention that we’re living in a bubble bubble?

* Public relations professionals who think it’s only about media relations should never have gotten into PR in the first place. I spoke with a prospective client the other day who was simply speechless to hear that paper press kits were a no go. The fact that her current PR firm is – yes, in 2009 – spending hundreds of billable hours per year designing, printing, stuffing and mailing paper press kits is all the proof you need that old school public relations firms are off the back. The efforts of their PR pied pipers to replace the old PR management structure with a bright-shiny-new management structure is nothing more than a shell game. Same shit, different piles.

Breathe ...