Storytelling podcast stops in Mammoth.
On Friday night March 1, The Warming Hut swarmed with people who like stories – hearing ‘em and telling ‘em. It was opening night of Mountain Culture Month a speaker series running through March focused on mountain culture.
All were there for a traveling storytelling competition called Boldly Went, run by Tim and Angel Mathis, self-described dirtbags, a dirtbag power couple—if dirtbags subscribed to social hierarchy. (According to the Urban Dictionary, a dirtbag is “a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle.”)
Tim and Angel record the competition and edit it into a 30 minute or less podcast that they release online.
“Our main values are inclusivity, equal access, supporting local economies, and promoting environmental stewardship,” Angel said.
The stories must be true and have to do with outdoor adventure. The line-up is random. Potential storytellers write their name on a piece of paper which goes into a bag from which Angel blindly draws. Storytellers have ten minutes. There are two categories that stories can win: gnarliest and best. The gnarliest is the most extreme, the most terrifying. There are judges, selected from the audience.
The competition serves as a way to give feedback to storytellers through a scoring system and provides a sporting subplot. The main plot is to tell and hear stories, to share in an oral tradition. The competition’s purse is $0. Winners win the chance to write a note on a postcard that gets sent to past winners.
Originally, Angel and Tim wanted to use the show as a way create a dirtbag network. “So when people went to other towns they would have someone to go out adventuring with,” Angel said. That proved too difficult. They shifted the show’s focus to the storytelling and let the networking happen naturally. After the awards ceremony, the crowd stayed. People shared stories and contacts.
The night before the competition, Tim and Angel hosted a workshop for potential storytellers.
“We never ever accept the argument that somebody doesn’t have a story,” Angel said, “If you’re alive, then you have a story.”
Bohdi Silva of Mammoth Lakes won best overall story. Silva told a story about BASE jumping off of El Capitan at midnight on a full moon. While flying he came face to face with a blue skink in a moment when time slowed as if he was diving through jelly. Into the BASE jumping narrative, he wove his time as sniper in the military. One time on a battlefield, he was lining up a shot and he looked down and saw a black beetle burrowing into the sand. Seeing the skink and the beetle were parallel moments: one in war, one in peace.
Andy Selters of Bishop won the award for the gnarliest story.
He told the story of how he became a mountaineer. Among many accomplishments, he’s climbed all over the world, written guide books, including a guide book for Mt. Shasta, a history of mountaineering, “Guide to Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue”.
While living in Bellingham, Wash., he dreamed of a being in a plane that, after taking off, was subsumed by a wave and then emerged. A few years later, Selters and a climbing partner were on a glacier in Alaska. They had finished an ascent but were waylaid on the descent by a storm and could not reach their pick-up spot at the scheduled time. A pilot met them on the glacier. The plane took off and made it a few feet off the ground before it crashed to the bottom of a crevasse. Selters, who had been sitting behind the pilot, came to upside-down pressed against the pilot seat and fuselage. When his partner came to, he was completely disoriented. The pilot was dead.
Selters freed himself, doing the hardest off-width climbing move of his life, he said. They spent the night at the bottom of the crevasse, thinking of their demise. The next day, they were rescued by a crew who was trained with Selters’s “Guide to Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue.” Selters’s own book saved him.
But Selters’s learned a different lesson: listen to your dreams because they can come true.
Selters at the Edison, March 13
Selters’s has a lot of stories and he’ll be sharing more at Mountain Culture Month on March 13. That talk is going to focus on a two and a half week backpacking trip through the Brooks Range in northeastern Alaska that Selters took last August.
Here’s a preview: The trip was supposed to be 120 miles. They made it 100 and only saw one grizzly bear, who Selters said “wasn’t too worried about us.” They were carrying bear spray but decided against a gun. He didn’t want to have to decide to shoot a bear. They saw caribou, raptors, ducks and other fowl, a musk ox, some wildflowers in bloom, and a lot of fall colors. Selters will show photos he took from the trip and discuss drilling proposals and climate change in the Brooks Range.
Mountain Culture Month continues every Wednesday of March at 7 p.m. at the Edison Theatre in Mammoth Lakes.