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Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.
Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
Amy Bushatz 0:06
The first time I ever heard the word pee cloth, I was sitting exactly where I am today having a conversation with Judith Sadora, an incredible mental health professional and outdoor recreational therapist who came on the podcast in season two. She said Kula Cloth was her favorite outdoor gear. So what is it? Well, guys, it’s a pee rag. Yes, a pee rag, used primarily by women during outdoor adventures far from the convenience of toilet paper or otherwise. If you’re a lady, you know the struggle is real. But with Kula Cloth, use it, snap it to your bag, let it dry, reuse, rinse when you can. Okay? But you’re probably grimacing right now, because who really wants to talk about a rag you use for pee and then carry around with you? Nasty, practical, but gross. And yet, it didn’t take long after I started following the work of Kula Cloth and its founder, Anastasia Allison, that I saw what they’re doing is not only not just not cringy, but Anastasia and her small business run out of her home in Oregon is easily one of the best things in the outdoor gear space, and even the internet, thanks to her authenticity, tireless work towards making the outdoors a space for everyone, and the resulting truly hilarious Instagram feed. They even offer outdoor focused classes, both in person and virtually through the Kula Academy. I took one at 5am one summer morning that taught me how to shuffle dance. And that was a sight to behold. But maybe we’ll get to that later. Of course, I didn’t have to take a dance class over Zoom to know I had to bring Anastasia on the show to talk about her own outdoor journey, Kula, and the things that drive her. Anastasia, welcome to Humans Outside.
Anastasia Allison 2:38
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
So we start all of our episodes imagining ourselves hanging out in our guest’s favorite outdoor space, having a chat. Where are we with you today?
So we are on a rocky ledge that is actually on a hill above my house. It’s a pretty simple spot for me to get to. But it’s probably the outdoor space where I spend the most time and it has sort of become the place that I go if I’m feeling any amount of overwhelm from being a business owner. And it’s a beautiful rocky ledge. There is moss on the rocks. I can see Mount Rainier in the distance if it’s a clear day, and I’m looking down on to the Stillaguamish River and it is a perfect spot to watch sunrise and sunset. And it’s just a place where I instantly feel at peace the second that I’m there.
You’re also a musician who likes to play outside. Do you ever take your violin up there?
I have taken my violin up there. I’m the violinist for a small duo called the Musical Mountaineers and we carry a violin and a keyboard into backcountry locations for unannounced sunrise concerts. And my musical partner Rose and I have done many concerts from the ledge and they’re all really special to me because it’s not that far of a hike, but you can still find that sense of big wild piece up there on the ledge and it’s just really lovely.
I don’t know, but backwoods concert probably means it’s attended mostly by wildlife, I would guess.
We’ve seen one bear although the bear did not attend the concert. Rude, I know.
So before anything else we need just some background information, so can you tell us about you? How did you become a person who likes to go outside?
I have always felt the most myself when I’m outside. As a really young kid, I moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania when I was about 10 years old. And if folks can think back to when they were 10 years old, it’s sort of this awkward middle school-esque period in your life. And I had a southern accent, super short hair, and I thought I was Huckleberry Finn. So needless to say, I did not fall into the cool group at school. And as a result of that, I was bullied quite a bit. And I started using the outside and being outdoors— it was always a place where I just felt like I could be myself, and nobody is necessarily judging me or telling me that I’m weird. And so I just was always the kid outside, playing in the dirt or playing in a stream looking for wildlife. And I grew up and was privileged enough to have a family that went camping, starting when I was about 11. I went on my first camping trip; and we were living in Pennsylvania at the time. My parents took us to all the national parks in the western United States, or at least a lot of them: Yellowstone, the Tetons, Badlands, and I did all the Junior Ranger programs and I started volunteering for the National Park Service when I was 12 years old at a park in Pennsylvania called Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. And I decided that I wanted to be a park ranger. And I sort of held on to that dream until I got to college, and I got to college and everybody was pre-med at the school where I went, and I remember thinking — well, gosh, I guess I have to be pre-med, too. And so for some strange reason I switched over to being pre-med. And it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I was working in a trauma unit and applying to medical schools and I sort of had this I guess, epiphany. I was volunteering at the National Park and the superintendent in the park said — Well, what do you want to do after college? And I said — This is what I want to do. I just want to be at a park. And he’s like — Well, why aren’t you becoming a park ranger then? And it was like the original idea kind of came back to me and I was like — wait, why did I get so distracted for years? I’m glad I went through college pre-med and had those experiences. That was really great. But I sort of had this renewed interest in becoming a park ranger and I decided that I was going to go to a law enforcement academy and become a law enforcement ranger because at the time when I was doing this, it was only a few years after 9/11. And they were not hiring for interpretive rangers at that point, most of the hiring money within the National Park Service was in the law enforcement realm. And so I became a law enforcement ranger. And I had always looked at people who were working in the outdoors doing what I thought were really cool, adventurous things. And I really wanted to do that. But I didn’t know how to do it. And I think being a park ranger was the only sort of word that I could put to somebody who works outside. And I sort of had the privilege of working as a park ranger for about seven and a half years in Washington State. And I got laid off from that job. And I was really devastated because being a park ranger is sort of like your identity, like, attached to it as a part of who you are. I had to give up that hat and it just broke my heart.
Well, I mean, it’s a part of your identity, but it literally comes with a uniform that you’ve put on every day. And, you know, we’re a military family. So I hear this a lot from servicemembers. Right. It’s just like this act of putting on a uniform that sort of is icing on the identity cake.
You know, it is, you know, it’s interesting, it’s good and it’s bad because it strengthens, I think—our individual egos tend to cling to things that are easy to identify with. And being a park ranger, wearing a uniform like that is a very, very strong identity and when you lose it, you’re sort of lacking for this question of — who am I? And I had always sort of looked at people who were doing, like I said, these very cool adventurous things in the wild. And I thought that they had gotten some sort of really lucky code that I had just not gotten. And I was always extremely entrepreneurial. As a kid, I was always starting businesses and had a lot of limiting beliefs, particularly around money, particularly around like, just things I told myself, like businesses always fail. I mean, that was literally a thing that I believed. And I didn’t realize that I was sort of the one standing in my own way of doing something. After I got laid off from being a park ranger, I kind of panicked because I needed a job. And I thought — well, I’m in law enforcement, I guess that’s really the only thing I can do. Instead of sort of investigating or being open to infinite possibilities, I sort of tunneled myself into this one career path. And I ended up taking a job as a police officer with the BNSF Railway. The railroad actually has their own police department, which a lot of people don’t know, I didn’t know it. So if you don’t know it, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know it until I ended up applying for the job. And I got hired as a special agent with BNSF Railway. And I did that for about five years. And it was a really cool job. I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of aspects of it that I loved. But I was sort of looking down the barrel of — Okay, do I want to be patrolling railroad tracks for the next 29 years? And, like, is this really what I came here for? And again, that sort of desire to connect with the outdoor community was there. I’ve been a volunteer backpacking instructor for almost a decade, and I had ideas for things that I wanted to do, but then I just sort of convinced myself that it wasn’t a good idea, like — Oh, I couldn’t afford it, or how could I leave my job? Like, that’s so irresponsible, how am I going to pay for all my bills? There were just all these fears like compounding. And I was really in sort of a low place. I was looking for other jobs, this sort of perpetual grass is greener syndrome, not realizing like — hey, wherever you go, there you are. And maybe the problem is within yourself, Anastasia and the way that you are talking about things and thinking about the world.
And in January of 2017, I was driving home from a snowshoeing trip up to Stevens Pass with my mom and my husband. And I was driving and our truck spun out on some black ice and went right into the path of a semi truck. And it was this very, very surreal moment. Obviously, there’s an extremely happy ending, because here I am. But in that one moment where I literally was like, looking at my own mortality, I felt no fear whatsoever, there was no — What if this happens, what if that happens? What if I failed? There was nothing because there was no space for it. And that one incident for me was this catalytic moment to begin looking at all of the quote, unquote, fears that I was using as sort of excuses in my own life, or maybe as defense mechanisms. It is also understandable and totally normal, but to talk myself out of pursuing things, and in the previous year, in 2016, I had had this idea for an intentionally designed pee cloth. I had the idea while I was on a backpacking trip. I had started using just a scrap of fabric as a pee cloth a few years prior, and I would always teach my students—I mentioned I was a backpacking instructor—and I would always teach my students about using a pee cloth and how great it was. And I was taking a photograph of this ugly blue scrap of fabric that I was using a pee cloth. And my idea, if I’m being completely honest, was to make a series of these photographs to enter into cards to give to a friend as a gift, like it was going to be this hilarious series of like dramatic wilderness photos of my pee cloth.
And that’s how Kula was born. I was taking a picture of the blue pee cloth in the Wind River range in Wyoming. And all of a sudden, it just felt like this idea was gifted to me instantaneously. It was like — why isn’t that a piece of gear? You should do that. And, you know, back in 2016, I very quickly talked myself out of it, because I did some research. And I was like, I don’t know how to sew, I don’t know how to start a company. This is too expensive. And then fast forward to after that incident in 2017. All of a sudden, I didn’t really feel like I had much to be afraid of anymore. And I remember thinking — Well, yeah, I don’t know how to sew, but there’s people who do know how to sew, make a phone call, use Google. There are so many resources out there that I like, realize, like — Oh my gosh, nobody has been preventing me from doing this except for me. And so I just started by calling people that I knew. I called a friend who knew how to sew and said — This is what I want to make, how would I do this? And she loaned me a serger, which is a type of sewing machine. And I started sewing squares that did not look like squares. First, they looked sort of like clumps of fabric that were like, folded over each other because I could not sew. And regrettably white, if I recall correctly. Oh, yeah, let’s design a pee cloth that people are literally going to be wiping with and potentially having their period while they’re using it. And let’s make it cream colored. Like, great idea, Anastasia. Luckily, that got vetoed very quickly. So I started sewing these squares. And I would say within a few weeks of sewing them, I felt comfortable enough to give some samples to my friends. And then people were testing them. And then when something picks up momentum and you are just inspired and excited by it, it takes on a life of its own, and the right people come out of the woodwork to help you. And to put this into perspective of how clueless I was, there was a point I knew that I wasn’t going to be making these. Like I don’t have the technical skill, I needed a production facility to make them for me. But I didn’t know what that was called. And so there was literally a moment where I was googling — how do I find somebody who will make something for me? I mean, like, what is that? I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know the verbiage. I now have two production places that make the Kula cloths. But what I’ve really learned is that if you have this vision for something and you believe it’s possible, you don’t need to know the answers because the answers all come and find you. And it sort of works the opposite, where we all think — Oh, I need a perfect plan from A to Z, I need to know everything in advance, I need to have everything planned out. And that is so paralyzing, because now you’re spending so much time envisioning future imaginary scenarios that aren’t even real. And I would say that I’m a bit of a non-traditional entrepreneur. I’ve literally never done a business plan, I tend to be a little bit more free flow and freeform about how I run the business because that’s what works for me. I would never put my own method on somebody else. But I will say that there isn’t one way to run a business. And if something doesn’t feel good, it probably means that you should be doing it a different way.
I want to go back to something you just said about overthinking stuff. I’m sure you see this teaching backpacking or you know, people in Alaska, how to shuffle, who can say? But there’s being prepared, which is good. Then there’s overthinking it and never leaving, you know, never going and having that adventure, never going backpacking, never doing this thing because it’s a little scary. And instead of just walking out your door, you spend a lot of time coming up with every possible way you might die by a bear attack. Um, yeah, that’s extremely unlikely. I just think that’s such a good parallel lesson there that it’s possible to overthink something.
Yeah, well, and I think one of my favorite books is Eckhart Tolle’sThe Power of Now. And I mean, I’ve probably read it 10 times. And one of the things that it talks about a lot in that book is, I mean, obviously, it’s the power of now. But he’s sort of talking about recognizing whether we are living in the moment and being present, or if we are living in an imagined reality that hasn’t actually happened yet, and how paralyzing that can be. And if I am being honest with myself, I look back at my own life, and I didn’t ever take action on things, not because of something that was happening in the present, but because of what I thought could happen in the future. And so it was like a self sabotaging cycle of like — Oh, well, this horrible thing could happen, so I might as well just not do it. And it repeats itself and repeats itself. And for me, after the snowshoeing driving home incident happened, while I was a police officer, I became very interested in the practice of meditation. And that, for me, has been the biggest part of learning how to detach from the thoughts in my mind and seeing them as thoughts that exist based on conditioned beliefs that I have, you know, some of them have been passed down to me, and everybody is in a different situation, and everybody has different belief systems that they’ve grown up with. And a belief is just something we thought over and over again, and very often we don’t question them, we just think — oh, that’s true, because I believe it. And when you start to meditate, and when you start to recognize that your thoughts are just these sort of, I guess, energetic forms, like flowing through your sphere of awareness, they tend to start to lose their grip on you a little bit. And one by one, you start to free yourself from them and be like — Oh, if I didn’t have this belief about all businesses always failing, is it possible that there are businesses out there that are successful? Like, could I name five businesses that are doing well right now? Yeah, I probably could. And is it possible that my business could be one of those businesses? Absolutely. And what’s so interesting is that what we focus on is what grows and what we become, ultimately. And so I think that with Kula, that’s what I focused on is like, if I tell myself the story, this business isn’t going to be profitable for the first five years. Well, guess what? Guess what? I should expect it to not be profitable. But you know, I told myself, right off the bat, there’s no reason why my business can’t be profitable year one. And it was. I mean, not like a huge profit, but that doesn’t matter. It’s sort of like questioning those things that we just say without thinking about them. And then and then you can start to have fun with it too. Because you can play around with big ideas and dreams and then really use what you’re doing to make a difference.
Yeah. So I want to say it was last season, we had an interview with a guy named Cordell Glass who talks about creativity outdoors. And he talks about exactly that, that going outside is such a good place to learn how to break down those self-limiting beliefs. Because you can say — Well, I don’t know how to backpack, therefore I would not be good at backpacking, therefore, I’m not going backpacking. And when you create that box yourself, well, of course you live in it, you know, but if you start the conversation by saying — Well, I mean, I’ve never been backpacking, so I don’t know if I’m good at it or not. So it’s only really one way to find out.
Exactly. It’s all about how we talk about ourselves, and can we be open? I used to tell myself that I was not a morning person. And guess what, I never woke up early. Because I told myself and everybody else, I made sure that everybody else knew, I’m not a morning person. And so I barely could drag myself out of bed at 9am or 10am. And now, I decided that I wanted to change that story about myself. And, it wasn’t overnight, but I started telling myself that I’m somebody who loves waking up in the morning, and I feel energetic, and I love moving or dancing in the morning. And lo and behold, you know, a few months into doing that I’m easily waking up at 430 in the morning, five in the morning, and like really getting to enjoy that and feeling good all day. And yeah, it’s pretty cool when we realize that we can change our story by changing how we talk and what we focus on and being open to possibilities and not boxing ourselves in.
Okay, so you created a pee cloth, which as I said in the introduction, gets a lot of grimaces; okay, but probably from people who have never used one because they don’t know how great it is. And I say this was some authority having both never used one and also used one. I actually gifted a Kula to my youngest sister who came and visited me up here in Alaska not very long ago when we took our Kulas on a little trip and photographing your pee rag and scenic places is totally a thing, so I feel that. I mean, you’ve created a very practical product, there’s no question that this is needed. And yet, what has most surprised you about running Kula and folks’ reactions to what I’m going to go ahead and say is a vital piece of gear.
Well, thank you, I think it’s vital to and as the founder of the company who has forgotten my Kula on several, embarrassingly enough, like it’s on those trips, like I am just devastated, and it has nothing to do with me being the owner of the business. It’s like, no, like, it makes that much of a difference. That if I don’t have it, I just feel disgusting.
Let’s backup, and say like, for people who are maybe dudes and don’t have this problem, as a woman, your options are pretty limited, right? You’re bringing toilet paper, you’re doing the drip dry method, which ain’t great guys, okay. Or you’re having a product like this, like, those are the options. And the first one is prohibitive, because it means you probably are now carrying dirty toilet paper around with you—not great. If you remember to bring toilet paper, and I hope we have time to hear your story about your first backpacking trip, which I heard you tell on another podcast I listened to recently. And it was very funny. So we need to hear that. But like, that’s not great. And then the second one is drip dry. Well, that’s not sanitary, after, you know, in the long term. And so then the third is a pee rag. So here we are. Okay, so what are folks’ reactions to this?
I have a very funny career now, because I’m usually talking to people about peeing within the first five minutes of meeting a new person. And that is pretty funny. So, typically, if somebody has never heard of a pee cloth, it is probably a similar reaction to what I had when I first heard about it, where initially you’re sort of stunned and like — oh, like gross. I don’t know if I can do that. And then you try it because it is a pain point. Like anybody who has spent time outside and has drip dried or had to carry around a ton of extra toilet paper or dirty toilet paper that is a pain point. And also seeing toilet paper blooms discarded in the wilderness is also a pain point for people. Because those are things we all share commonly that we don’t like and so people are typically open to using it. And I think one of the reasons why we’ve intentionally made the Kulas so beautiful and have this really wonderful art on it is because number one, it makes the product less squeamish and it makes it more beautiful. And it makes it something that people feel proud of. It does not feel like a jokey sort of shameful type of hygiene product. Like it’s this fun thing that you can be proud of. And once people use it, typically I will get letters from customers who will just say that it was life changing for them. One of the messages that really has always stood out to me was a woman, a middle aged woman who sent me a message and said that she had been dehydrating herself on hikes and not drinking water, because she didn’t want to have to pee on the hike, because she wasn’t really sure how to handle the hygiene for that. And that now with the Kula, she was able to go on long day hikes because she wasn’t afraid of it anymore. And something like that is really exciting, like knowing people are more comfortable outside. To me, that is a vehicle to exactly what we talked about earlier, which is like more time outside, more creativity, more connection with ourselves and the planet. And so if Kula can be a tiny part of that, then I think that that is important to me. The other thing that really excites me is hearing stories about people meeting other people on a trail with a Kula. And that being like an instantaneous connection and a conversation. And it’s sort of become this fun thing, like where if you see somebody with a Kula on a trail, those people always say hi to each other. And I love that that type of good energy is out there in the world. And that is maybe breaking down some barriers. I actually got an email yesterday from a woman who said that when she got her Kula in the mail, she thought it was kind of silly that on the postcard we send out it says something like — when you see somebody else with a Kula, say hi, or smile at them. And she said — I thought that was kind of dumb, and then I was out hiking, and I saw somebody else with a Kula, and I got really excited about it. And I went and said hi to her. And now I like met this new friend because of a pee cloth. And so to me, that is really exciting. And those are the stories that you know, I’m sitting at home packing up orders or, you know, doing the sort of administrative side of running the company. And I love knowing that is what’s happening out there. Like, like, how many Kulas are out on adventures today? I have no idea. But that’s so exciting for me to think about.
I just took mine on a glacier. I mean, it wanted to go on a trip. So off we went, you know.
I’m taking mine tomorrow out for a hike. And I’m really excited about it.
Yeah, it’s like a pet, you gotta walk it, got to take it on adventures. What you’ve been talking about, though, is a tool that creates accessibility. You mentioned the woman who is now comfortable going on these long day hikes because she knows how to take care of, you know, take care of business, for lack of a better description. You know, and a lot of this is focused on women. I think a lot about inclusivity and privilege and that kind of thing. You know, we’re both, you know, people can’t see you. But we’re both white women who live in places that have easy access to nature. You know, you’re in Washington State, I’m in Alaska. We’re not people who face a lot of barriers around getting outside. And we’re not people who are told literally or figuratively that going on big adventures or simply spending time outside where we live isn’t something that we do. It is cool that it taught you about creating inclusive spaces and an inclusive environment for other people.
I grew up seeing people like me in the outdoors. And so I am somebody, as you mentioned, who comes from just a massive amount of privilege with accessibility to the outdoors from a very, very young age. And when I started working with Kula I think one of the first things that I realized was how important it is to listen to and validate the stories of other people who have not had that type of upbringing or that access, and then to use the privilege that I have, in order to support them directly, or in order to support organizations that are out there, doing that type of work. And I think it would be completely blind for Kula to say that that isn’t a reality. It would just be such a huge blind spot in our business to pretend that that isn’t a problem. And I think that if we aren’t using our product as a vehicle for good, then we’re missing a really important piece of the puzzle. When you start a business, it’s sort of very self centered. And I say that not necessarily like in a look at me type of a way, but it’s, you’re focused on like — Okay, I’m gonna have this business and be successful and have these accomplishments. And along the way, you sort of realize that the number of sales that you have, or the success of your product, though, that is not what’s actually important. It is the people that you can interact with along the way, in the way that you choose to use what you’re doing to make the world a more inclusive place for everybody. Like, it’s how you show up in every moment and every situation for people. And I think my sister who helps me with social media, I think she wrote something really beautiful. Last year, we released a solidarity Kula, and we gave 100% of the profits of that to different organizations that were helping underrepresented groups get into the outdoors, and she said something to the effect of if a pee cloth can do this, then so can everybody.
I remember that.
Yeah, you know, and it seems funny that like a pee cloth would be, you know, just on the surface level, when you say it, like — oh, a pee cloth, that is working for inclusivity. But, you know, if we aren’t going to do it, then who will? And if we can do it, then I believe everybody can and it just starts with looking out. And I think my sister also said something about being eco, starts with respecting the rights of everybody to be out on the trail. That’s where we start is by including everybody, making people feel welcome, and that they belong, listening to them when they say that they don’t feel like they belong, and then asking ourselves — what can we do better to make sure that they do? And then also being open enough to take feedback in places where we have not been as inclusive as we could or where we have maybe not represented groups in certain things that we’ve worked on and being open to hearing that instead of immediately getting defensive.
Right. So I’m thinking about the small steps concept. So let’s just describe what a Kula looks It’s like what, three, three and a half inches maybe?
They are about six by six.
Okay, so it is a six by inch square fabric. The one side is like water resistant. The other side is absorbent. And the idea is that you use one side and the other side is safe to touch if you know if needed, although please don’t touch my Kula and for your own, you know, safety and yeah, okay. So, this is not very big. My point is, this is not a big product. It is a small thing, solving a big problem in a you know, very practical one step at a time kind of way. And that is I think a lesson. You talked about overthinking earlier. We tend to overthink a lot of stuff, and being inclusive is one of them. And if a six inch square pee cloth can solve a huge problem for a lot of people, you know, by just existing, what else are we overthinking on this subject? That’s sort of a rhetorical question. But you know, like, I think we think about change as having to be big, instead of incremental, or instead of this something little that we can all do.
Yeah, well, and I think it starts with each of us, I think, if you’re looking at making these huge, big dramatic plays, and like changing everybody’s mind, and getting everybody to think exactly like you, right? That’s gonna be really frustrating. But if you can just start within yourself and ask like — Okay, what does the world that I want to live in look like? Like, how do people treat others? How do people love others? And how can I model that? And then trust that, that, like, when, when that’s how you live, other people notice it. And it does ultimately ripple out into the world. I’m not saying don’t go actually take action, right? But I do believe that it starts with each of us, like looking at our own lives, and recognizing certain things that might be difficult to look at at first, but I think that’s an important part of it. And then starting from there, envisioning out like, what do we want the outdoor space to look like? And how would people feel? And thinking about that, and then allowing my actions to be inspired by the vision of what I believe is possible. And I think if people can do that, harness the feeling of what we want now, believe it’s possible, and then let’s just see what happens. Like, what actions do we all get inspired to, that are going to line up with the realization of what we want to create in the world? And so I think, ultimately, that’s part of why Kula Cloth was gifted to me. I mean, maybe this sounds corny, but I think that in some way, the world is shifting towards being more accepting of people. I’m not saying that there are not people out there who are not quite there yet, because there are, yeah, but I think that the world is trying to find a way and the more that people are looking beyond the physicality of the product, or the business, and looking for ways in which what they’re doing can make an impact. It starts to spread. I hope that it will become the norm, and not the exception. And, and I’m really proud that Kula is a part of that in a small way. And I hope that it inspires other brands to do that as well. And not from a brand or a marketing standpoint. But from like, this is the right thing to do for other humans. I’m just excited for opportunities to continue to use Kula to support the people who are doing a lot of really amazing work. Most recently, we have had the opportunity to give to an organization called Unfilter the Outdoors, which is giving micro grants to BIPOC individuals who are hoping to get into hiking. I’ve been working with that group for a while and it’s really fun to watch those types of projects come to fruition.
That’s so great. Okay, not to pivot wildly away from a super serious topic, but I do want everyone to hear about your first backpacking trip, because I mean, I didn’t plan to ask you about this, but then I heard that story.
I really, it’s a good story. So my very first backpacking trip, relatively stupidly, was climbing Mount Baker. So for those of you who don’t know, Mount Baker is a nearly 11,000 foot tall glaciated volcano here in the Pacific Northwest. Now, I did have a lot of hiking experience. I had absolutely no glacier travel experience whatsoever and was just sort of, in this state of completely ignorant bliss. And I got invited on this trip. And in the, you know, I asked the trip leader, I remember asking him like — what do I pack? And he said — well just go to REI and you can rent an ice axe and crampons and a harness and and then just pack what you’d normally pack for a backpacking trip and you’ll be good. And I just remember thinking like — Oh my gosh, like, I don’t know what to pack for a backpacking trip, but I can’t tell this guy cuz then maybe he’ll disinvite me from the trip. And so I sort of cobbled together this total just cluster of gear to bring on this trip and got up to the campsite. And we’re camping in this sort of rocky outcropping called the Hogsback. And for some reason, right, I’ve never been backpacking, I think I thought like — maybe there’s a toilet there. And yeah, you know, there was not a toilet there. There was not a toilet and I didn’t bring toilet paper, not one square of toilet paper. And so this is a two day trip. And I most definitely had to use the bathroom at some point. And so I stole toilet paper from from my tent mate. And when I say stole, you know, sometimes when you say steal, you mean it like kind of cutesy. Yeah, no, this was like, she was not in the tent. And I specifically waited until after she was out of the tent. And I went into her pack very quickly, so as not to be discovered, stole some toilet paper, and then like, left, you know, to go to the bathroom. Poor Janet, I don’t even know if she knows to this day. I don’t think she has social media. So I don’t know if she’s ever listened to a podcast I’ve been on. So Janet, if you end up listening to this, I’m sorry. I stole your toilet paper. But I was so embarrassed. There was this older guy leading this trip. And I think I was maybe 26 at the time when I did this. And I was just so embarrassed to like ask him about like — what do I do to go to the bathroom? Yeah. And, and so I just wasn’t prepared and had no clue and, and stole toilet paper. And that worked. And I remember thinking like — Oh my gosh, if I could do something to save anybody else from this level of like, number one, just like sort of humiliation. And then number two, like being completely immoral and unethical. I find it just super ironic now that I started a company that makes like, essentially what is reusable toilet paper—for pee only, I might add. Don’t use Kula for poop. I feel like it’s really come full circle for me. Right? And I like to give away a lot of Kulas because giving is a daily practice for me intentionally and also just like a fun thing to do. But I feel like I am just perpetually paying penance for the stolen toilet paper. No, actually I’ve released myself from the guilt over it at this point.
It’s such a good story.
It’s pretty funny, and it also goes to show too, that everybody starts somewhere, right? I started my first backpacking trip not bringing toilet paper. Even more tragic than the toilet paper was that I did not bring sunglasses to the volcano. I brought a pair of pink ski goggles. So I did have eye protection, but it was pink ski goggles. And so in all of these photographs of me, I’m wearing shorts with tights underneath and pink ski goggles. And then I only brought SPF 15, I got burned like in my nostrils everywhere. Oh, it was it was just so many errors. And I was so sore. I couldn’t walk for a week. I did summit Baker for the record. Miraculously. So I would recommend if you want to climb a volcano, like actually get some technical skills, know what you’re doing before you just sign up for a trip, and go do it without having any clue whatsoever what you’re doing, which is what I did.
And always wear sunglasses on a glacier and sunscreen because it magnifies lights because it’s white and icy. So, in case you never thought about this, guys, glaciers burn.
Yeah, it was extremely intense. But I still remember, you know, after I did that one climb, I was just totally hooked. And I had never felt anything quite like that before, like being on a volcano, being able to like, look down in the, just the whole Puget Sound that day, the whole Puget Sound area was covered in clouds. And you could see the tops of all the other volcanoes peeking up. I was just in heaven up there. And that trip ultimately, was what sort of got me started with this obsession of like, getting out and backpacking, which of course, ultimately led me to where I am now. It’s still a very sentimental experience to me.
Oh, my goodness, that’s such a good story. And isn’t it in those moments where we’re like, epic fail situations, where I don’t know about you, maybe it’s because I’m a story person. But even in those moments, I’m like — yep, I am suffering now. But this will be a very good story later.
Yes, exactly. It’s always the horrible stories that we retell. Nobody ever is like — Oh, it’s so perfect.
No, it’s disasters and fails. All of my adventures have some sort of epic, epic disaster in them. I mentioned I took my Kula on a glacier hike. We did an ice climbing trip, my husband and I, and about three quarters of the way through, the guide who was helping us, you climb up and then you repel down the face of the ice. He was really wanting, plus, it’s hard for me to not have to stand and like a foot of water. And, you know, basically just get super wet feet, and then have to hike back. So he’s like, I will let you down and when you get your feet under you, you can stand up and all will be well, um, but he didn’t wait for me to get my feet under me. And so he dropped the rope which I was like, leaning into so instead he dunked me in two feet of ice water. Even as this is happening, like I’m being dunked in, in water, like a graham cracker in milk, y’all. Even as this is happening, I’m thinking — this is cold and also funny.
Okay, so we must wrap up even though I could talk to you all day, as I’m sure you could tell. We finish our episodes talking about our favorite and most essential outdoor gear. You are allowed to say that Kula is it. That’s okay. If that’s how you’re feeling, we don’t discriminate. As I said, I got turned on to Kula because of someone else’s recommendation in this section of the show. So there is power here.
I have one answer for my favorite outdoor gear. And this is actually a piece of gear designed by one of my friends named Merrick Bowers, who’s the founder of a company called Rawlogy. And Merrick basically invented this super lightweight cork ball that you can take on backpacking trips or hikes to sort of like roll out and let me tell you, like when you get to camp and can like give yourself a legitimate like foot massage, or like, give your partner a back massage or like lean up against a tree and like get knots out of your back. It is like you end up feeling like a million bucks while you’re backpacking, which is something I’ve never experienced before. So I would definitely say a Rawlogy ball is probably my favorite outdoor gear item, tied with Kula. And then and then my most essential outdoor gear item, I will have to say it is a Kula. And I’m saying that not as the founder of the company, but as somebody who has forgotten it. There’s been a couple times and it’s devastating. And then this isn’t a piece of gear, but I have a habit of carrying homemade chocolate chip cookies with me. And that feels extremely essential. And I just, there’s nothing I enjoy more than eating like a chocolate chip cookie in nature.
And if I recall correctly, you offer said chocolate chip cookies on some of your Kula Academy trips.
I do. If the bribery is laid on thick enough. The last Kula event we had was a river rafting event and I baked like 25 gigantic homemade chocolate chip cookies and gave them out to all the participants. And it was really, really cool. And also everybody really liked them. So it’s always nerve wracking when you bake something for people, and then you have to wait for the moment where you watch their face. And you’re like — oh, gosh, please like it.
Cookies and kulas. There you go. Maybe not at the same exact time.
Maybe like a five minute intermission between the two.
Okay, finally, and last but not least, walk us out with your favorite out for a moment. If you’re going to close your eyes, picture yourself somewhere, just like that moment that gives you peace. I mean, we heard about where you like to hang earlier when we started. But maybe there’s somewhere, like a moment or just a snapshot in time that you go back to. Where are you and what are you doing?
It is September 1 of 2017. And it is the very first Musical Mountaineers concert. Rose and I woke up at 2am, drove to a trailhead, hiked in the dark to this off trail Tarn. And it’s really warm out. And we are both standing barefoot on these big granite slabs. And it is just before sunrise. And so the colors and the distance are starting to get pink and yellow and purple. And as the sun starts to come up, we start playing a song together. And at the end of the songs, we play this beautiful song. And when you play a song in nature, when you play music in nature, there is no applause because it’s just the two of us standing there playing music and I, more than anything, love the creation of music in that moment, just as much as I love the silence afterwards. And that feeling of just like total peace. And there’s a recording of that. There’s a recording of the audio of that moment, I can be heard saying — I wonder if anybody heard us. And it’s just a really special moment. Because when we did that concert, I couldn’t have possibly imagined all the cool things that I would get to do with the Musical Mountaineers, that was actually before Kula. It was sort of in the beginning phases of creating Kula and Musical Mountaineers was like a huge part of sort of keeping me focused on things when I got scared or overwhelmed by creating a business. The Musical Mountaineers was sort of always this experience that really grounded me and brought me back to the present moment, which is sort of getting me out of that overthinking mode and keeping me here in the now. That first concert was just so so special to me. And, yeah, a lovely experience.
Thank you for sharing with us. And thank you so much for being on Humans Outside today. I really appreciate you.
I just loved this conversation, and I so appreciate the time you took to ask such meaningful questions.