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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.
Max Romey is a person in motion. I usually start our episodes trying to capture my guests by describing who they are or what they do. But when I was trying to figure out how to introduce Max to you all, I had a lot of trouble. He’s an artist who paints stunning watercolors of mountains and ridges worldwide, often while on top of the mountain he’s sketching, which means he had to get there first. He’s a filmmaker who specializes in capturing athletes, particularly trail and ultra runners as they do their thing. He’s a runner himself, and not just because he has to keep up with the people he’s filming, but because, like I said, Max is a person in motion. But my favorite thing about today’s incredible guest is that he’s a storyteller, pairing watercolor with film and often running to bring mountainscapes and the people who love them to life in a way that really defies words. Seeing his art is like physically stepping into a painting. Today, we’re going to talk about heading outside to find a life in living color, but how getting out there unlocks who we are. Max, welcome to the Humans Outside Podcast.
Max Romey 1:53
Thanks so much. Glad to be here.
So okay, so we like to imagine ourselves hanging out in our guest’s favorite outdoor space when we are talking to them. I can’t imagine that you have, you know, like only a few of those. I’m sure you have a lot. Um, what is yours and where are we talking with you today?
I think my go-to outdoor place is up on a ridge called Little O’Malley and it’s just a quick hike from Glen Alps. And it kind of goes up this gully on this new trail. And it’s got just enough of a hike where you feel like you got somewhere pretty high and you’re looking over and this acreage in the background. And there’s Big O’Malley and it’s a little bit stormy and it feels like you could just go anywhere. And you have gotten out of the city and you’re in Middle Earth finally and that’s kind of my go to hike. We’re gonna hang out right there in the saddle.
Awesome. I’ve been up there and it is a beautiful, beautiful place. So, lots of beautiful places here in Alaska. It’s hard to pick.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Okay, so tell us, how did you become a person who likes to go outside?
I think that it started when I was kind of bundled up like, in a sleeping bag with my parents. They were really good at getting us out whether we wanted to or not. And looking back at the photo albums, there’s, you know, just like the little face in the backpack was me a lot of the time. And I remember just always being outside. And I don’t remember when I wanted to become a person outside though, because as a little kid, I just remember being dragged into the car on a Saturday afternoon and just kicking and screaming the entire way to the trail head. I wanted to stay and watch TV or something. And then the second the car door opened and we were outside, I was loving it and didn’t want to go home. And then I guess at some point, I grew up a little bit and then I was the one who had put myself in the car kicking and screaming because I didn’t want to go out for a run and drag myself to a trailhead, and I still love it all the way home.
So that I mean, isn’t that just how life goes? You know, like my son does something very similar. Now as an adult, I have this habit where I go outside 20 minutes every day and some days are better than others. There are definitely days that I make myself go and then there are always days that I don’t want to come back inside.
Yeah, I’ve heard this phrase. It’s called like the “doorstep mile.” I have a friend who’s a runner in Norway and he has like the Norwegian word for and it’s great, very guttural. But like it’s the idea that it’s like the first mile of any run or walk or hike is getting out the door. And it’s funny because it’s like, I love being outside. But I feel like that inner eight year old is always there. It’s like — I don’t want to do this. If somebody else gets me out there, it’s easy. But for me to actually get out of the door is so tough for some reason still, and I just need to remind myself that it’s like — Alright, this is a common enough thing that there’s a Norwegian phrase about it. So like you’re not alone. Other people struggle with this. Get out the door. It’ll be fine. And then once you’re there, it’s easy.
They say the only run you regret is the one you don’t take. And I, you know, that’s like specific to running. But I think that’s true for any kind of outdoor stuff, like the only outdoor time you regret is the outdoor time you did not have.
Yeah, even bad ones. But I feel like there’s another Norwegian term for that. Like, yeah, you know, outside when it’s just miserable. Yeah, that makes you feel like an adventure, like you can’t lose. Although, I guess you could lose a finger or something. But even then, it’s a good story.
Fair enough. You and I are both storytellers in our own way. So I can’t help but agree with you on that. You know, I like anytime there’s a disaster. I’m like — well, that’ll make a good blog post.
Basically, you’re gonna have a good time or a good story. And it’s the same for you know, getting outdoors, making a painting, like telling a film like yeah, it’s kind of insurance. Storytelling is insurance for life.
It absolutely is. We have Humans Outside supporters on Patreon and one of the Patreon bonuses is an episode entirely devoted to Amy’s outdoor fails. Like stories of me doing something disastrous, and someone else joining me in this episode to talk about my embarrassment.
It’s the same with watercolors too, like, I mean, it’s not as embarrassing. Usually, it’s kind of horrifying. But like, I would say, probably my favorite paintings I’ve ever made often either start or end with just a massive mistake, which is like — Oh, I wish I did not do that. And then it turns into something beautiful. And I feel like life and especially getting outside is usually the same way.
So that’s a great segue to describe the kind of art you do. I feel like when I look at your art, it’s very similar to the Mary Poppins scene where they step into the chalk. And all of a sudden, they’re in this other world. That’s how I feel when I view your paintings. Can you describe them for us, though? How you marry watercolor and video, because I think it’s just something that can be hard to visualize.
So yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, that’s certainly what it feels like a little bit with Mary Poppins stepping into kind of that chalk world. I really liked the intersection of watercolors and what it took to make them. And I have always been painting since I was a little kid. And I am recently I guess, 10 years is recent, into like videography, and photography. But for me, like my first real language is watercolor. I think my grandmother was an incredible adventurer and water colorist. And as a little kid, I just spent so much time just like flipping through her sketchbooks. I couldn’t read very well, but like, I can flip through these and just like get them and kind of fall into that world. And I kind of want to reverse engineer that a little bit for other people to have that experience. So what I often do is I’ll make a painting that fits perfectly into the landscape like a puzzle piece. So that way, you can just, you can see where it came from, you don’t just see the beautiful picture, because the world’s full of beautiful pictures, but you can kind of see that connection of the artwork into the landscape. And hopefully, if I do my job, right, you can even see the connection of yourself into the landscape as well. So I’m still playing around with it. I so often feel that whether it’s a film or a painting, you should create the artwork that you don’t see that you would want to. And I’ve had a really good time making the paintings that I would like to see. But I feel like there’s so much more, I want to see paintings that I want to see somebody be able to walk into a world of watercolor and the way the artist can see it. I want to see paintings that kind of explain and diagram stuff that doesn’t exist. Or maybe it’s really hard to describe. So whether it’s a time lapse or a painting puzzle piece that fits in. I’ve been posting a lot, but I feel like there’s just a whole world to explore in there. And I’m so excited to see where it leads.
Was there like an aha moment where you realized that this marriage of the film and the watercolor was going to unlock something for you?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I think it was one of those accidents, to be honest. I think I never saw painting as something that was viable.
From an economic standpoint?
Well, honestly from an artistic standpoint. I mean, I was working with Salomon pretty, pretty quick off. Like I’ve always been painting, it’s just kind of been like a little side thing. I love to do it, but it’s very much been just something I do on my own. And I thought kind of film was where it’s at. From college, I was working with a company called Run Gum and then I switched over to a company called Salomon and it was really cool. I was getting a lot of feedback from these really neat videos. I mean, I’ve been flown around the world to run with some of the coolest, fastest people and capture their story. And it was great. And I’d always be painting on the side. And just like, you know, like giving little paintings as gifts and everything, and it was fun. But that was really just for me. And then I think once I was like, waiting for somebody on a mountain top, like, and just sketching.
As one does.
As one does. I mean, like, painting used to be a big thing. We’re just watching Victoria on Netflix and the queen is just sketching all the time, and it’s like — Wow, she’s so artistic. But back in the day, that was just a part of life, you know. You would, you would paint in the same way you would write, it was a way to capture the world and communicate with others. And I’m really lucky that I’ve been encouraged to, and people give up on it a lot. Because if you paint until you’re nine years old, and then you stop for 10 years, and then you start again, you’re basically painting a nine year old level, and people are embarrassed, and they don’t, they don’t want to show anybody and they don’t want to continue because it looks like a nine year old painted that because that was kind of when you stopped. But I think what people don’t realize is that if you keep on doing it for a week, two weeks, three weeks, like it gets good quick. And that you just keep that up little by little. And, you know, you become a very good painter very quick.
But I was sketching on top of one of these mountains. And I took a picture of like, a mediocre sketch with a mediocre camera. And it became a very good picture. That picture was a better picture than the sketch and a better picture than just the landscape picture. And all of a sudden, it was like — Oh, that’s really cool. Like that kind of gets it. And, and then all of a sudden, like that kind of happy mistake just led to more and more and more and more. And when you repeat something, you just get better and better at it. And so yeah, now I’ve kind of like stumbled into this and actually recently kind of left that sort of career of filming with, you know, Salomon and sort of these like large scale, just running events. And I’m really diving into this kind of sketching painting thing. And it is so cool. Like, yeah, mistakes, they lead you to some of the coolest places, and then you get lost and then finding your way back out is where you know, life happens.
Yeah. So, we talked a little bit before we started recording about how you sort of find your place in the world. I know you deal with dyslexia, and that that’s had a pretty big impact on how you ended up doing what you do. So can you tell us about that?
Yeah, absolutely. Um, I think dyslexia is often pretty misunderstood. I know there’s a lot of famous Dyslexics out there. Walt Disney was dyslexic, Harrison Ford was so dyslexic he couldn’t read the script, so somebody would have to record it for him. And he listened to it again and again before, but you know, filming low Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indiana Jones or even Star Wars. So there’s Dyslexics all over the place.
And what it does is it makes it more difficult to comprehend reading and writing. And you can still see perfectly fine – your eyes work. It’s just that the information kind of gets jumbled up inside of your brain. You know, you have all these senses and your brain kind of puts them together. And for Dyslexics, your brain is literally rewired. I mean, like your left, your left side does something with your right side – something with like, how it’s all wired up in there. Like, obviously, I didn’t go into neuroscience. But one of the effects of that is that left and right is very difficult. That’s when everybody says — oh, dyslexia, it’s Bs and Ds. It’s not really, it’s just kind of your, your information is getting sent all over the place. And so reading and writing is a little bit more difficult. Even like for comprehending, even though somebody reads it to me out loud, I get it instantly. It also means that lefts and rights are pretty difficult. People will say like, you can do the, you hold your fingers out, and you have an L, the left hand makes the L but for me, I just see two L’s, because I can’t really tell that apart very well. It takes me like a few minutes. And, and so growing up, what that does is it really kind of can throw you for a loop. So if you are like dyslexic, or maybe if you have a kid who’s dyslexic and struggling with that, it just makes middle school and high school a little bit more difficult. All these other kids are learning how to read and they’re just picking it up really quick. And so for me, it just took a really long time. And I was good at faking it. It made me really good at like BSing everything. I could fake read, I could listen to somebody else read the passage and then basically copy them. I kind of hide it. I would like to spell check everything and I was pretty good at hiding a lot of this, but then on tests and everything it would come out. My mom was really good at kind of picking that up and she’s like — we see what’s happening. We’re gonna get you a little extra time. We’re gonna be a good advocate for you. In addition to like all the extra help that she was able to give me, she really encouraged me in the artistic side of things – my whole family did.
And for me, watercolors kind of became this refuge, because I was falling behind in everything. Aside from basically art, I, whether no matter what subject it was, writing an essay was, was gonna be brutal and terrible. And I wasn’t going to be able to do it well, because even though I had all these stories stuck in my brain, I couldn’t get them out on paper without somebody being like, you misspelled 90% of the words here, like it is just it like written in red text from all the underlining basically on the computer. And so it’s just this big struggle, English is both my first and my second language, basically, and I still haven’t gotten either. And, and so watercolor was just this thing that I could do, and I would get it instantly. You can’t misspell a painting. It was amazing. And so for me, as a kid, I really just gravitated toward anything creative, because it was this even playing field, both athletics, watercolor, and kind of being outside were places as sort of safe from words. And even today, I mean, my biggest nemesis is emails. It takes me four or five times as long to write and read emails. And even then it’s, it’s pretty rough. But I’m comfortable in some of these places. They’re little refuges for me.
So okay, you just said that, you know, you listed three things running, watercolor, and being outside that were refuges. So I think it’s really interesting that you’ve now created a career out of like, the marriage of those three with a side of video.
Yeah, well, a lot of the success that I’ve seen in life happens in the intersections. If you want to be the best speed skater in the world, that’s a great pursuit. And you can put your entire life and then perhaps, if you’re very lucky, you will become the best skied speed skater in the world, you know, after just working harder than everybody else, for a very small amount of time until somebody else becomes faster than you. But if you want to become the best, you know, speedskating, watercolor videographer in the world, that’s much, much, much easier, because that’s just a Venn diagram that creates a color that very few people have seen.
I mean, it sounds pretty dangerous, too, by the way…
Oh, I honestly, I would totally go for it. I recently did a couple paintings in a helicopter and I’m hooked. But like, it’s the same for anything. I mean, like, if you just focus on one thing, you’re you’re one in, you know, maybe a billion, if there’s a billion people that do that. But as soon as you focus on two things, all of a sudden, you’re maybe one in a million, they focus on three things and combine those now you’re one in maybe 1000.
And so for me, being able to use these tools really allowed me to kind of do things that I’d never seen, done, and really give a lot of confidence to a kid that was struggling heavily to basically communicate with the outside world. And so it was really awesome to be able to find kind of my own thing and kind of realize, too, that you don’t have to be the best in the world you can, you can really be very unique very quickly by just by seeing the things you love to do and mixing them. And, you know, maybe you’re not the best in the world, but who cares, you’re doing three things that you love to do. So for me, the filmmaking, the watercolor, the being outside has been this awesome skeleton key that’s kind of unlocked all these opportunities in life. But right now, I’m just excited for like, how many more ingredients can I add to this? Like, how can I make this even more different to bring more people and get them excited about these things?
Okay, so two things you just said. First, you said, you talked about unlocking who you are and unlocking that creativity. And I’m wondering what, what part of that is tied to being outside. Like, does heading into nature have a role to play in unlocking that? Or is that something that you can unlock in the same way, by being a person who spends a lot of time inside instead?
That’s a good question. Oftentimes, I do find myself going into nature to seek out creativity. It draws me there. And to be honest, there’s nothing we can do that will be more wild and surprising than what we can find outside. All you have to do is like look into nature. And you’ll find all the inspiration for the wildest, craziest dreams that you’ve never even thought of. Maybe it will be on a different scale. But even just like horror films and alien movies, I mean, all they do is they’re basically like what is the scariest thing we can create and they go into their yard and they find a praying mantis and they’re like — Alright, we’ll make this 10 times larger. There we go. That’s scarier than anything anybody can like conceive of, but it’s same with inspiration. I mean, to go outside, it kind of hits something that’s deep. It’s like, it’s like living in Alaska. You know, when you’re here, when I first moved up here at 16, it just felt like home. And I’m not sure why, just something clicked. And I feel like it kind of can be the same for your brain when you get out there. And ideas for me just happen. Oftentimes I’ll kind of have all these pieces maybe in my normal life, but only once I go on a run out in the mountains do they kind of like all fall into place. And I feel enormously lucky that I live where I do, and that I’ve been encouraged to get outside because who knows who I’d be without, without these big places. But yeah, I think creativity is something that you find in your own head. But only when you fill your head with the beautiful things that you can find outside.
The other thing you said was you talked about that intersection and adding layers to that, do you think there are infinite layers?
I’ve heard that the amount of chess moves that you can do on a single chess board with, you know, after watching the Queen’s gambit, like I’m sure everybody’s like — okay, chess boards, right? I think it’s you know, 48 squares, and then you know, 18 pieces or something. And the amount of chess moves that you can do on one of those boards is a number so large that if you made a move per second, it would take in the billions of years to do all the moves, something huge like that. And if you think about that, with those 48 or, you know, however many numbers, with that limited like board that you can hold in your hand, and then you think of like how big the world is, there are an infinite amount of things that you can add to what you’re doing to make you unique and to have these combinations, it can feel kind of overwhelming. Especially in the outdoor world, to kind of feel like you could stand out because every single day, it seems like somebody else broke some record of maybe something that you were working on. You know, Kilian Jornet like runs up Everest in 27 hours. So it’s like alright, cool, check that one off. No way I’m gonna like, you know, do anything remotely, you know, stand-out-ish in the mountain running side of things. Or perhaps in watercolors, all you need to do is look on Instagram, and you’ll see like 1000 artists that are better than you. You know, it’s absolutely just staggeringly depressing, it just pushes you down, like how much success there is, and then how small you can feel. But in the same way, all it takes is just to add a few tiny extra things, and then all of a sudden, you’re in a world all to yourself. And it’s a little bit like hiking out in Alaska. I mean, yeah, you can use these huge, big trails, and it’s great. But then all you need to do is take like one or two single tracks, and then maybe a moose path, and you’re somewhere nobody’s been for 1000 years. And, and I feel like the outdoors kind of reminds you of that. When you get up there, you might feel like all these people are doing these big wild things, and you go and talk them out and you realize, like, how much possibility there is, and then how small you are, and what a freeing thing that can be.
I’m so glad you said that because I was just thinking that exact same thing, like the man is keeping you down, right? It’s due to the excellence of so many other people. And as you said that, like that’s exactly what I pictured, like this moment where you’re on top of a mountain, or in a wild place. Maybe if you’re not in Alaska, where you feel that sense. It’s like both this sense of like absolute exhilaration, like you just described, and it’s very humbling, like — I’m a small cog in this wheel.
But what a wheel, I mean, it’s just, it’s so cool. And it is tough because with the advent of social media, it can really feel like nothing you can do will be nearly as cool as what all these people do. And that’s something I still feel on a daily basis. And I kind of feel like the mountains are sort of medicine to that. And a lot of ways they don’t care what you do, like, you know, you’re just part of them. Regardless, they’re so much bigger and older than you’ll ever be. And so you may as well go for a hike and then come back with that renewed sense of perspective and do what you want to do anyway because you know, you’re just like, you’re not even a fly to them. And so you may as well enjoy your tiny little fly life to its fullest.
I love that. I love that perspective that you have. That you feel like that when you look at social media because when I look at your videos, I think — man, nothing will ever be as cool as this. So it’s nice to know that we all feel that way.
No, no, no, don’t worry, like, like, yeah, it’s like I remember cuz I think I’ve got like on Instagram, it’s like 11,000 followers, and I remember being at you know, 9000, like 1000, or even like 100 and it was kind of like — boy, if I could have 10,000 followers, I would be happy. And like social media is not the answer. I have friends who have hundreds of thousands of followers. Social media is a great tool, it helps you connect to really cool people and really cool ideas, but the truth and like, you know, the actual happiness is found with those people and in those places, not on the social media that you know, that gives you a couple fake internet points for posting about them.
So you were a non-stop world travel guy before the pandemic. And you mentioned no longer working on the, you know, shifting careers. But if I, if I understand correctly, that’s sort of like pandemic driven, you know, like — well, we’re not traveling, so we’re not traveling. What has pandemic life taught you about stories and about how we interact with our world? Just because you’re here doing that at work?
Yeah, well, I guess the main difference is that I’m in my own bedroom doing this, you know, talking, talking somewhere familiar, which is kind of great. Um, I actually decided to step away from the global travel stuff about a month before the pandemic. I think if anything, it’s kind of been a little bit of a reminder that following your own path, can actually be a really, really safe bet. Yeah, you can always do the safe thing of following the big, fancy job, that’s well paid benefits, and they send you free gear. But if you are willing to kind of chase down what feels right, and you stick with it, like the rewards are infinite. And so I had this moment, in a way, I guess it was like a month before the pandemic happened, where it’s basically this choice of doing this big project in Alaska, or continuing and doing the big global stuff all around the world. And I was really pushing for this Alaska project. And it basically got shot down because you know, Alaska is this one tiny place. And then you know, they’re going to focus on the big, wide world, they got to chase down all the big stuff in the wide world. And I had this suspicion that if you spent a year in Alaska, or honestly, even just a year at home, and you just dug down, you would find stories that nobody had ever heard of. Instead of chasing down and retelling the stories that everybody knows, you’d be able to find new ones that are absolutely incredible. And so that was the plan. Basically, we were going to start in Seward on July 4, which didn’t happen this year, and film Mount Marathon. And so for the second time in a year, and then like the 10th time in 100 years, this race is canceled.
And following interviews, we ended up just kind of following this trail called the Iditarod National Historic Trail. And we ended up following this to kind of see where it leads. And it’s like, the stories are incredible. And it’s absolutely just mind bogglingly wild what you can find just like in these places, and these roads and these trails that you’ve been on 10, 15, 20 times when you actually stop and ask. And it’s not because the stories aren’t wild, the fact that you’re not hearing them. It’s not that they’re, you know, not absolutely, just like on par with all the other wild stuff you see documentaries about. It’s just that nobody’s taken time to kind of dust them off and look at them, right? And so this March, hopefully I’ll be heading up to Nome to kind of complete that by foot. And then using watercolor and these kind of new techniques that we were talking about, to kind of try to combine all this like some weird combination of like a Ken Burns documentary, Reading Rainbow, and like Red Bull TV. So, I’m excited.
I want to back up a little bit and explain what you just described for people who aren’t in Alaska. So Mount Marathon is this very, very famous, not just Alaska famous, which is like a much lower bar, like worldwide famous race up this crazy — So I mean, like, I’ve talked to you guys about how steep trails are here and how Alaskans don’t believe in switchbacks. Nowhere is that more true than on Mount Marathon. And it goes straight up this mountain of 3022 feet, right Max?
Yeah, I think they resurveyed it and it’s actually like 3000 something, but we made a film that’s called 3022, so I’ll deny that til the end.
And everyone’s stickers say 3022. So we’re just going to stick with the sticker street cred.
It goes straight up this mountain. The race is a 5k from downtown Seward which, if you’ve ever considered a cruise into Alaska, or taking a cruise into Alaska, you might have gone through Seward. It’s like the last stop on the cruise, before you turn around and head back to the lower 48. And this race goes 5k, starts downtown, runs up this mountain and back down again. And it is like a scree, which is like a very slidey rock, essentially go up this mountain as fast as you can and then fall down it – that’s that’s what it is.
Scree is like if black slate and a knife had a love child. And like the mountain is just full of it. And you just like, scrape your way up it and then you just like basically, I mean, it’s not even falling, you like roll your way down. And then like there’s a waterfall. It’s insane.
Yeah, I like what you said that Alaska’s like bar for fame is like lower. But I kind of think it’s the other way around, like our bar for Alaska famous is lower, but like our bar for Alaska craziness is so much higher. And Alaskans think Mount Marathon is crazy, if that gives like a sense of this race.
Totally, totally. So then the Iditarod National Historic Trail is the trail that they would have taken from Seward on the famous Iditarod run, right? That’s the, that’s the idea?
Kind of, and I’m just rediscovering all of this myself. I mean, you know, like talk about the what you can learn if you actually go outside on stuff. So everybody knows the story of the Iditarod, right? It’s like, all these kids got sick. So they like you know, brought, like the serum, which is very pertinent right now to Nome. And then the kids didn’t get sick. But then like, well, actually a lot of them died. But like, yes, it’s dark. But then if you actually like pick it apart, it’s like three totally different things. It’s wild. So you’ve got like, the Iditarod trail is actually, just goes to Iditarod, which is a town, not Nome. And it was basically a mail route from Seward to Iditarod for all these gold miners to basically send mail and gold back. This was 1910, the Iditarod race actually started in 1970. And the serum run, which is what everybody thinks about on this, you know of what started this, was a run from Nenana to Nome, which wasn’t even on, like didn’t even touch the Iditarod Trail really. And so Dan Seavey and these others started the race in 1970. So three totally different things, each their own wild, insane, huge, wild, crazy story that you could like, make decades of films about. And then people just kind of lump them together in Alaska. And I think that’s what people don’t realize about, especially like Alaska is they like — Oh, well, there’s some good mountains and big trails, but like so do the Alps, you know, in France, yeah. But what they don’t realize is that like Alaskan mountain ranges could eat the Alps, or that there are even Alps in Alaska mountain ranges that nobody has even seen. There’s just not enough people up here to like explore them. We know the Alps, because there’s cities all around them. There are ranges and Alaska is so huge, that they make the Alps and like the Rockies look like nothing. And there’s just you know, maybe one cabin at the base of one of them.
So coming out of Seward, Johnson Pass is a part of that trail, that historic trail, right? And so I bring that up because some people listening to this might have seen pictures of my friends and I running on Johnson pass last summer before I hurt myself and stopped running. Yeah, so that was super fun. So just like packaging it up for people listening to this who have never been here, you have probably seen portions of this. And finally, in Nome, you are working with Carol Seppilu, who was on the podcast in season two, talking about mental health. So we’ve talked to Carol before and we’re familiar with her story, and she described running in Nome for us a little bit and what that’s like.
Carol is such a cool runner too. I mean, like, I mean her, her ability to keep on going on a lot of these trails is amazing. Like I consider myself a pretty solid runner. But when she was running the roads, I mean, she was running like basically back to back 100 milers and after the first road and these whole like brutal winds and temperatures and just like it was it was really tough going. And then Tim and I were running with her basically like — I think we need to not do that again for like several years. And Carol was like — okay, yes, I agree. And then the next day she’s like — so we’re doing the next one next week. Is that right? And then she did it. And we basically just sat in the car and watched as she did it.
So I mean, just in case anybody has not heard Carol’s episode in season two, I think you really, really should. And here’s why. What Max just described – that’s badass. No doubt. It’s even more badass when you learn that Carol runs with a tracheotomy. And so she is a suicide attempt survivor and to survive that, the doctors had to give her tracheotomy, which means that she essentially breathes through a tube in her neck. And she runs in very cold temperatures, by the way, and guess what tends to ice up in that? It’s really incredible. I mean, just makes everybody else look like they’re taking a nap.
Yeah, well, I mean, like Carol’s got some amazing, like, amazing obstacles that she’s overcome. But then also just I mean, like, all of that aside, the reason she runs, what makes it difficult, I mean, she’s just putting in some serious miles for like running up there. It’s, it’s wild. And so the hope here is to run this final trail this year and run the route. So we’ll go from Anchorage to Nenana , partway by train. And then the Nenana to Nome is the 674 mile journey in winter, where it gets sometimes to about negative 55 without windchill, and be able to kind of trek through these trails. And then we’ll meet up with Carol in White Mountain, and then we’re going to run 70 miles to Nome to kind of finish it off is the is the plan. And then hopefully be able to tie this wild thing together, this string of a watercolor basically, and using these watercolors to kind of fill in the pieces that aren’t there and talk about the ways that the trails have really affected Alaska, and you know, public health. And then also, you know, the history, the deep, deep history that we rarely realize, in Alaska, we almost pretend like Alaska started with the pioneers. And so often I mean, you know, it says if Alaska started 100 years ago, but I’m just learning myself that I mean, Alaska has had this rich culture for 10,000 years, basically. And if you want to talk about endurance athletes, I mean, some of the people that lived here, and the feats that they would do, and the way that they work off the landscape and how affected what they were able to do is just absolutely incredible. And so I’m so looking forward to learning more, and actually kind of connecting with this landscape through the feet, as well as the paintbrush, because it’s just, yeah, it’s such a unique place. You feel it like from the second you step off a plane or a boat here. It’s just It is such a unique spot.
So we’ve been talking a little bit about creativity, a little bit about Alaska, I want to go back to creativity before we tie this all up. When you and I were talking earlier, you said something about anybody being able to practice their way into being able to draw. I don’t know that that’s true. I, for example, draw so poorly, that being on a team with me playing Pictionary is like actual punishment. Okay, I drew a dolphin a couple weeks ago, and people thought it was a turtle and I surveyed my Instagram friends and they also thought it was a turtle. Like that was the best guess scenario. It was not good.
So do you think that going at like, obviously you there’s talent, and then there’s learning? Right? Those are two different things. Do you think that heading outside can help people tap a creativity? And not necessarily a talent, but like that creativity side of you, tap that in a way that maybe staying inside or an indoor pursuit can’t?
That’s a good question. Well, I should let you know that being on a team with me for Pictionary is also a punishment, because it takes so long. They’re like — the time has been up for two minutes. What are you drawing? And I’m like — well, this is the tip of the dolphin’s tail. And they’re like — Okay, all right, but like we can’t guess because we lost. Yeah. And I think that kind of gets to is that like a lot of this just takes a long time. I mean, art takes a long time when you see these big, big, big fancy pictures. I mean, they took a lot of time to paint. And if you see a time lapse, or one of these beautiful watercolors just like it seems like they make this landscape in two strokes of a brush and it’s just so perfect. That’s because they’ve done that 30,000 times over the course of 15 years. So the time element is really something that it’s hard to see and really easy to kind of count yourself out because of it.
And so often people draw and sketch because it’s just – everybody’s an artist when you’re a kid, nobody, nobody’s not creative. Nobody’s not a painter. It’s just who you are. And then oftentimes, people stop painting around nine or maybe 12. And then maybe they’ll pick it back up when they’re 22, or 19. But it looks like a nine year old or a 12 year old did that, because that’s kind of when they stopped. And so what I try to encourage people is just to keep with it, just keep with it, because it’s gonna take some time. But sometimes all it takes is a week or two or three weeks until you really kind of get hooked. And then a year goes by and all of a sudden, you’re a pretty good painter. And then two years go by, and you’re a really good painter. Just looking at the work, I’ve got sketchbooks, just like hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of sketchbooks and just looking at the work and how much I’ve changed in the last five years is amazing, in the last two years, in fact, is even incredible. And it just whatever gets you into that is what counts. You’re asking if you know being outside can help people with that creativity side and 100%. Because if you’re outside and you’re sketching something, you’re excited to be there, excited to capture it, that will get you sketching more, and that’s going to make you a better painter, better artist. And whether it’s painting mountains, or you know, painting self portraits, in mountains, whatever it is that can get you out and get you painting is going to make you a better, you know, a better painter. And I know there’s a lot of people that say — I could never paint or I could never do that. But you’d be absolutely shocked what you can do if you take a deep breath and lower your expectations. And then just you know, yeah, just keep on working. I can’t draw faces to save my life. That’s the thing that scares me the most. Or even people frankly, like all the people in my paintings have these tiny little backwards exclamation points. Because, you know, that’s, that’s about the level I’m at, but I can paint mountains and I love it. And so you don’t you don’t need to be a classic Renaissance painter to be a good painter. You just need to be having fun. That’s what counts.
So what I hear you saying is that it’s like from a how to perspective,it’s not osmosis, right? Like, I’m not going to go outside like — mountain, speak to me and I will become a beautiful artist. It’s practice, like, take the sketchbook, give it a try, then do it again.
Exactly. I choke up in the mountains. Honestly, the more beautiful it is, the worse my sketch. Oftentimes, I get like these gorgeous spots, and I get so intimidated about how beautiful they are and how shoddy my sketch is going to look compared to the view that I just leave it in my backpack, I would say 90% of the sketches I make are from like boring views, because they are less intimidating. And almost all of the times that my sketchbook just stays in the backpack is when it’s really really, really beautiful. But whatever it takes to kind of get out there and do it. And in fact, the pandemic is an awesome opportunity to just get painting. And it’s something that some artists and I, Jill Richie who’s one of them, she’s really good painter in Fairbanks. Claire Giordano, she’s a really good painter in Seattle, we were like — how can we do something that encourages people to stay positive in some pretty rough times when a lot of people can’t get outside. And we’ve started this thing called Homebound Sketches on Instagram, as opposed to Trailbound Sketches, which is my account. And so the idea is that we’re just going to give people five prompts a week. And then, you know, they just kind of like have this community and we give love giveaways and stuff. But what it really takes is just practice and you should get all your mistakes done here instead of after you hike up a giant huge mountain and get frustrated because you know, you’re cold and tired and wet and you have one hour to make a painting and it messed up.
Okay, so um, this has been so, so fun. I could talk to you forever. I think I say that at the end of every podcast I do though, so that’s just how it goes. So we do a little leftovers round at the end because I just like to know some stuff, some practical things from our guests. So can you tell us what is your favorite piece of outdoor gear? What is something that is like your favorite?
Oh man. Okay, can I do favorite piece outdoor gear and favorite piece of art gear cuz I feel like those are almost connected but not? Favorite piece of outdoor gear is like those jackets that have pockets. Like I love the pockets that are on the front like this, like a nice little zip up hoodie or something with like, the pockets like right on the front is just a game changer. You can put anything in there like a sketchbook ,sketchpad, like good like that’s all you need is just like jacket pockets. Oh, it’s the best. I have one and I just kind of wear it to death. It’s kind of lame, but that’s just my favorite piece of outdoor gear. And as far as like, as far as painting goes, I think my favorite piece of outdoor gear is these little tiny travel palettes. They are the Art Toolkit makes a really good one, I’ve got one from my grandmother, as well. And it’s just these tiny little palettes, they’re very small, they destroy your excuse to be able to take things anywhere. And you can use them with like a little water brush, which are really useful. And just honestly just having something small and like compact like that, like, I’ve got one here and just like being able to paint anywhere is such a gift.
What is your most essential piece of gear? Can’t live without this? Maybe? Maybe it is the art gear you just mentioned.
That’s a good question. I think. I mean, like, it’d be lame to say just to backpack, but a backpack is pretty incredible.
A backpack is a game changer, right? Like one that fits poorly – zero stars, negative stars. Yeah, when that fits well like life changing.
A small vest too. I mean, like a small vest, a small backpack for running, especially. They really kind of changed things for me because all of a sudden, I could carry these sketchbooks with me. And I’d say as far as like, couldn’t live without – a little sketchbook because it changes your perspective on things. Because a big one is intimidating, and you have to spend a lot of time, but it’s not hard to make a pretty solid tiny painting. And so like mentally and physically, a tiny little sketchbook absolutely is a game changer for me. And I don’t think I could live without them. Yeah, a little backpack, little sketchbook, they do the trick.
I mean, you mentioned Salomon earlier. I love their Advanced Skin 12. Yeah, because that sucker fits probably more stuff than you really should have with you. It is like a second skin. It’s just super, super comfortable. And now you have all the snacks in the land and probably the extra jacket you didn’t really need.
Yeah, it’s like weight training at that point for me. It’s like always like — yeah, this fits so much. And then it’s like — well, maybe I need a camera and another sketchbook and then this and a painting and a pen and like yeah. It’s basically a small art store on my back.
Now you’re essentially heading up the mountain with like a roller suitcase. It’s over.
Yeah, it’s a gateway drug.
All right. Finally, final thing. Last but not least, if you are going to describe your ideal outdoor moment or your favorite outdoor moment, like when you close your eyes and like think of that happy place outside, where are you? What are you doing?
I think I’m in France. I’m on a little kind of like unknown hill that we had no idea about. And it’s where my wife and I got engaged a couple years ago. And it was an absolutely perfect day. It wasn’t anything fancy or like glitzy. We went to like a supermarket because I lost my wallet, so I think we had like basically no money. And we got like some like cheap little sausages and like some cheap little things and then actually borrowed a card and secretly got some cheap champagne. And I proposed to her with like a little like ring made out of grass with a like promise to get a fancier one. And it was just like one of those days where like everything was perfect. And like the you know, including the company. And yeah, it’s so wonderful to be able to share moments like that with the landscape. And I feel like it really gave back as well. So when I blink,ca that’s what’s on my eyelids.
Max, thank you so much for joining us on the Humans Outside Podcast today.
Thanks so much for having me. This is awesome. I feel like I learn more every time I share about this and I’m so excited to kind of get back to sketching now. I feel even more inspired.