Wind and Lightning

13 Apr
Mt Washington Weather

Leaning into 70-80 mph winds at Mount Washington. (Photo by Ryan Knapp)

I interviewed a couple more people for an Outside series on working in extreme weather. First, Ryan Knapp, at the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, told me what it’s like to work in the world’s harshest weather, where winds have reached 231 mph. Knapp checks the instruments hourly, suiting up for fierce conditions. He told me what it’s like to be knocked down by wind: “You’re leaning into it, so the first thing to go is your feet. You fall, and you slide. Rime ice is a frictionless barrier. Eventually gravity and friction slow you down. Then you have to get to safety. It’s like a riptide. Don’t go head-on into it—zigzag to the lee of a building.”

I also interviewed Don MacGorman, from the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, who has been chasing storms for almost 40 years to launch truck-sized meteorological balloons into the clouds. Along the way he’s been soaked to the bone, pelted by potentially lethal hail, and survived very close lightning strikes. He told me: “One hit a power line a couple hundred feet away. When lightning is that close, the sound is different. It’s almost like tearing paper, and then there’s a big boom that’ll make your ears ring, like an explosion. That’s what thunder is—air heating up so fast it explodes.”

Not Your Average Desk Jobs

14 Mar
Art Woods jumping in

Scuba diving in Antarctica (Photo courtesy of Art Woods)

I just finished an assignment for Outside interviewing five people who work in extreme weather. Three of the interviews are posted now. I talked to Ashley Lehman, an ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service who spends three months of the year in the rainy Pacific Islands, where she contends with warm water immersion foot, saltwater crocodiles, poison trees, and leftover bombs from WWII.

Then I spoke with Art Woods, a marine biologist at the University of Montana who takes two-month trips to Antarctica to dive under the ice and look for sea spiders. The dives are frigid, frostnip is a reality, and there’s only one hole to come up for air.

I also spoke with Matt MacIsaac, a motor vehicle operator at Death Valley National Park, where he routinely works in temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “There was a day that was 129 degrees,” he told me. “I remember walking across a parking lot and putting on leather gloves to protect my hands from the heat coming off the pavement. You know it’s hot when your hands feel cooler inside gloves than out.”

Warrior Pose

14 Mar
Yoga pose army man

Photo by Todd Goodrich

At the University of Montana, student veterans are turning to mindfulness techniques to cope with the struggle of coming back from war and starting college. Veterans may not seem the mdinfulness-type, but their military training has already taught them the value of breathing exercises and yoga feels a lot like P.T. I wrote about the program that teaches student veterans yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. The story is in Vision, UM’s science magazine, and it’s available online.

Libby’s New Leaf

31 Aug
Hotel Libby

You can check out, but you can never leave.

Libby, Montana, is a small, picturesque town in the northwest corner of the state, surrounded by wilderness and wildlife, with an ice-green river running through it. By all measures, it should be one of Montana’s most popular tourist hotspots. But it has some baggage–an asbestos contamination that the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The toxic mineral once filled the town’s playgrounds, homes, and schools. Living there was deadly. But now, after almost two decades of cleanup, Libby wants you to know that it’s safe, beautiful, and open for business. How does a town undo its tainted history before vanishing altogether? I wrote about Libby, and other towns like it, for Outside.

Kootenai Falls

Leonardo DiCaprio’s stuntman swam through these falls in “The Revenant.”

Getting Away With Murder

4 Aug
Zone of Death

Image by: Annie Vainshtein

In 2005 a Michigan law professor stumbled upon a jurisdictional grey area in Yellowstone National Park where a Constitutional loophole could allow someone to get away with murder. In the last 11 years, Congress has done nothing to fix it. I wrote a piece for VICE about the uninhabited 50-square-mile Idaho portion of the park where it would be impossible to form a jury and a crime could go unpunished. There are some caveats, though, so don’t do anything rash. The story is online here.

The Fastest Man in Rugby

20 Jul
Carlin Isles

Photo: Harry How/Getty

Rugby will return to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924. The United States, believe it or not, is the reigning world champion. If Team USA has success in Rio this year, it will likely be thanks to the feet of Carlin Isles, the fastest man in the sport. Isles grew up in a foster home in Ohio. He was a football player and a star sprinter before he found rugby in 2012. In just four years of play, he’s already become a standout player. I wrote about him for Outside magazine.

Lily Gladstone

13 Jun

Lily Gladstone cover
I profiled a rising star recently for Montanan magazine. Lily Gladstone is a Blackfeet actor who co-stars with Kristen Stewart in the new independent film “Certain Women.” Critics sang her praises when the film premiered at Sundance–Variety said a sustained closeup of Gladstone’s subtly expressive face was the “best single minute of acting this critic saw all festival.”

Despite her recent successes, Gladstone is grounded and humble. She enjoys teaching children to make movies as much as she does acting in major roles like in “Winter in the Blood,” or across Benicio del Toro in “Jimmy P.” Wherever she goes from here, Montana will be watching, and so will the rest of the world.