How His ‘Enthusiastic Outlook’ Ended in a Long, Long Hike (Wella and Justin Jay)

Jump To section

humans outside podcast episode 1

It’s no secret that spending time outside can help people process traumatic experiences. But about literally walking off a war? And what about doing it with your husband or wife?

Wella and Justin Jay, Army veterans who now call Alaska home, did exactly that in 2017 with the help of the organization Warrior Expeditions. In today’s episode the couple reflects on how journeying through the wilderness not only helped them work through the experiences of service overseas, but also brought them closer as a couple and back to “normal” society.

Some of the good stuff:

[1:22] Wella and Justin’s favorite outdoor space
[2:02] Why Justin decided to go on a long walk
[3:22] Why Wella decided to go with him
[5:05] About Warrior Expeditions
[8:15] How being outside helped them be with people
[9:40] Does spending time outside make you more social?<br>
[10:42] Why leave Alaska to go outside?
[12:06] What is it like to hike the Appalachian Trail?
[15:41] How Justin learned the hard way
[17:12] What were the right things to bring?<br>
[20:13] Is hiking as a couple risky for your relationship?
[21:30] Tips for keeping couple sanity on the trail
[26:00] Did shared experiences help their relationship?
[26:50] Why someone should hike the Appalachian Trail
[31:35] What’s next for Justin and Wella<br>
[32:40] Their most essential outdoor gear
[33:33] Most surprising moment in nature
[39:30] Most unexpected moment on the trail
[41:05] Best outdoor moment ever

Connect with this episode:

Barefoot Sisters

A Walk in the Woods

Warrior Expeditions

Justin and Wella’s favorite piece of outdoor gear:

Big Agnus Fly Creek HV UL two-person backpacking tent

Their most essential outdoor gear:

Justin: Chocolate (listen to the show to find out why)

Wella: Biodegradable baby wipes

Affiliate links included above.

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: In 2017 Wella and Justin, Army veterans, set out as a couple to conquer the Appalachian Trail as part of a process of walking off the war. After months on the trail living out of backpacks, if anyone knows the power of the outside, it’s these guys. Wella, and Justin, welcome to The Humans Outside Podcast.

Justin Jay: Thanks for having us.

Wella Jay: Thanks for having us.

AB: So before we get started, we like to set the scene as if we’re having this conversation outside in your favorite outdoor space. So where are we talking today?

JJ: Well, today we’re in a hanging valley up in the Chugach mountains. There’s multiple hanging glaciers all around us and Dall Sheep playing. There’s a beautiful little creek running through the valley, and gorgeous snow capped mountains bringing you you can see a high mountain pass in the distance and know that on the other side of that it’s just totally remote. Even though you’re only about three to five miles from town.

WJ: And this place does in fact exist. We like to go and hike every once in a while in the summer.

AB: I was gonna say — it’s summer, right? When we’re there? And we’re having fun there because we’ve worked quite hard to get there. So it’s a it’s a good day for us. All right.

Well, thank you for inviting us into your space and for showing us this spot. Tell us and tell me why you guys decided to go on set along with Walk the Appalachian Trail is no joke.

JJ: Well, it was something that I’ve kind of always wanted to do. I grew up in Augusta, Georgia. So I was really only about three and a half hours from Springer Mountain.

So I knew of the Appalachian Trail. And it was something that was always in the back of my mind. I got away every long weekend to do section hikes up there, and knew that that just wasn’t going to cut it. So I really wanted to do the full trail. But time just didn’t allow for that because shortly after finishing finishing up college at Georgia Southern University, I was up in Alaska and had to finish my military commitment.

So during that time I met Wella through work, I actually took her job when she sent, well when she was sent to Afghanistan. And we hit it off right after that and started talking and somehow I convinced her that this hiking thing was a good idea.

And yeah, once we both transitioned out of the military, we just decided that we might as well do it while we had the time before we began civilian careers and, you know, just being outdoors is something that’s always been important to both of us. So we figured that would give us the great opportunity to step back really immerse ourselves in nature and kind of give us the space and distance that we needed from the military to really process everything that we had done. experiences with it we had had and worked out great.

WJ: Yeah, he is really good at convincing people to go outside and hike and I’d never heard of the Appalachian Trail before. And he handed me a book called “Barefoot Sisters.” And it’s by these two women sisters that hiked the Appalachian Trail barefoot, like the title of the book says.

It was really inspiring and he took me. we got married right next to the Appalachian Trail and I got to step foot on it briefly, but he made it sound so exciting and magical that I didn’t really have any second thoughts, bamboozled.

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. But like he said, we suddenly had this opportunity where we both got out of the military the same year, not exactly the same time. But we had this time frame available to us before we had to start back in the civilian world. And I think we also just needed some time to decompress from our time in the military, especially Justin, because he had come right off of a deployment. And I deployed a couple years before him, but knowing how difficult it was to transition back into, like, “normal life,” we saw this is a great opportunity.

And then Warrior Expeditions kind of came into the picture and they made this dream that we had a reality.

AB: So tell us a little bit about Warrior Expeditions. Full disclosure for our listeners — I’m familiar with this organization because my own spouse recently did a long walk with the organization in Ohio. But why don’t you guys tell us what Warrior Expeditions is and how you guys got involved?

JJ: Well, let’s see. It’s been a year or two, but I think we can break out the elevator speech.

So it was created by Sean Gobin, a former Marine, and he had come back from multiple kinetic deployments to various countries in the Middle East and really needed to decompress, so he decided to walk the Appalachian Trail or rather hike, I guess — you’re not really walking.

And after he finished it, he decided that it was an experience that he really wanted to share with veterans, because he got a lot of value out of the healing process of just walking and having some space. So he founded Warrior Expeditions, and the intent of the program is to provide combat veterans with the support that they need to complete long distance hiking trails.

I’m not quite sure off the top of my head what the distances but I know ..

WJ: It’s got to be more than 1,000 miles or something.

JJ: Yeah, something that’s long enough to make it, you know, impactful on the mental state.

So he founded this and was able to get a pretty significant amount of contributors for gear and things like that. So he couples the gear, obviously, to get you on the trail, to get you down the trail with the actual — let’s see, I don’t want to call it like mental health, — but he also has psychologists that assist from the Georgia Southern University psychology department as well, that really tried to reinforce the mental – their not challenges, really.

WJ: So what they would do is they had a little talk with us before we started the hike. But throughout the hike, we would get emails, maybe you would you say once a week?

JJ: Yeah., once a week, you’d get emails from the psychologist with just kind of tips and tricks and things like that to help you along with what you’re processing, how you can take those experiences that you’ve had and really start to work on them and build on them.

WJ: And you also had the opportunity to reach out to them personally. If you wanted to, but you didn’t have to, but they were basically on standby.

And then what Sean also did is he provided community support, or I guess, rather, he organized community support through VFW and other people that wanted to support his program. And so whenever we hiked into a town or we were in a vicinity of a town, we had an opportunity to go someplace warm and shower, resupply and food. And other than, you know, being around people, it kind of forced us also to socialize, because we would tell them a little bit about what we were doing.

And I think it was kind of the kick in the pants that we needed to go out and socialize a bit more maybe something that we had been avoiding before. And in doing so, we got to meet some really, really amazing people. And I think it really changed our outlook on how we felt about humanity in general.

AB: That’s so interesting to me that, you know, we talk about like going outside in terms of getting away, and to create that space right away from people. But you’re saying that it sort of siphoned you into the opposite?

WJ: Oh, yeah, absolutely. They always talk about the Appalachian Trail being a social trail. And that’s 100%. Correct. I would say that’s almost more important than, I mean, putting the miles and being in nature is getting the veterans that are because it’s easy to withdraw.

Once you come back, because you don’t you’re around people that don’t necessarily understand the culture that you were involved in. You don’t you’ve had a lot, a lot of experiences that a lot of people don’t have either. And so you withdraw from society. And it’s great that you’re kind of forced back out of your comfort zone when you’re doing this hike, specifically with warrior expeditions. And on top of that, it’s a very supportive environment. It’s like having, I don’t know, the marathon aid stations for 2,200 miles, where everybody’s just super pumped to see what you’re doing. And they’re all very supportive and all, you know, willing to do anything for you to get you to that finish line.

AB: I’m coming back to this because, okay, so I’ve just been spending about 20 minutes, at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every day for over 800 days, okay. And as I’m doing this, I’m sort of asking myself, what is this doing to me, right? Like, what is the what is the outcome of doing this? Does it make me happier? Does it make me healthier?

You’ve put your finger on something that I hadn’t considered before right now, which is: does spending time outside like that make you more social?

WJ: I think so. I mean, you end up around a group of like minded individuals and you’re outside, you’re outside your comfort zone, you may not be I mean, you spent 800 consecutive days, and I guarantee you not all those were nice days. So you got this kind of shared environment that you In. And I mean, fortunately we’ve got a very active community up here in Alaska. So I would definitely say so.

AB: I don’t know if we mentioned this earlier. You mentioned your outdoor spaces being here in Alaska, but you guys are talking to me from just about an hour down the road from where I am right now, just for the rest of our listeners.

So we’re all we’re all Alaskans, but that brings me to my next question. And my husband gets this a lot when he says he went and hiked all summer in Ohio. We have a lot of hiking here. Why leave to do that in somewhere else? Huh?

WJ: For one we don’t have a trail like the Appalachian Trail up here in Alaska, although we have many amazing outdoor activities and, I admit that it’s always hard to leave Alaska especially in the summertime, because — but we don’t have a trail that leads a consecutive distance of you know, over 1000 miles throughout Alaska at the moment.

And we don’t have something to set up quite like the Appalachian Trail. And I think also, like Justin mentioned at the very beginning, this is a dream that he at least had had for a very long time. The organization Warrior Expeditions doesn’t support any trails up here.

And I, by default of his enthusiastic like outlook on the Appalachian Trail, and how he talked about it, also wanted to experience it. And I think it might have been good for us to just get out of the state of Alaska and kind of get away from, from I guess, our home into a different environment to help clear our head a little bit and get away from everything.

JJ: Yeah get some space. I mean, there’s plenty of space up here.

AB: What is that like to reach the end of the Appalachian Trail? You know what I hike a mountain or go on a long run, you get to that sort of high point and you know, you’re there and — you’re there, right? You eat your snack and you continue on your way and you go back down. What is that like to reach the end of something like the Appalachian Trail?

JJ: It was kind of a surreal experience. We always mentally when we’re hiking the trail we’re about a week behind in our mental state. So like we’d be, you know, we’d be in, I don’t know, Virginia, but mentally we were still in like North Carolina, so, so didn’t actually really catch up to us about a week after we left the trail and we’re like, oh, my goodness.

I mean, I know we’ve been done. We’ve been done for five days now, but oh my goodness, we’re actually done. And so it’s just kind of a surreal feeling that you’ve accomplished this and you’re so used to hiking.

You know, it’s, it’s a big feeling like a great feeling of accomplishment. And then you know, you’ve also got to be careful because a lot of people hit a low spot after they get off the trail too, because you just completed this incredible journey. And you’ve had a purpose every single day, and now suddenly and it’s gone. So we were also very close to monitor, make sure that we kept goals after the fact, to kind of keep us on that keep us on track.

AB: What kind of goals?

JJ: Well, we just like getting outside, doing challenging things was the biggest thing for us. We’ve started doing a lot of running lately. Wella just finished a 50k race in Switzerland. So we’ve transitioned to a lot of trail running and other little things to keep us going.

WJ: I think, to piggyback off of that, um, so some of it felt kind of surreal, because we’ve been working towards this goal for such a long time. And then you were just there and it was a little hard to describe.

So not anticlimactic, but it was like we sat up there and we had our snack and then we went back down. You know, I’m not too much different than any other haikyuu on here. Yeah. And in terms of fighting off what they call, kind of like the trailer blues. You know, you’re riding a endorphin high the entire time that you’re hiking because of the physical exertion. And so we knew that staying physically active was really important.

And fortunately, we weren’t returning to a city like many of our fellow hikers, but we were returning to Alaska. So it’s not like we were ahead of shortage of outdoor opportunities.

And like Justin mentioned, we’ve, we kind of forced ourselves into staying active by signing up for races. So we it’s on the calendar, and we have to show up for them. And just we at the beginning of every year, we kind of plan out our year on on what activity goals we have, and that helps keep us accountable and that way even if it’s raining outside or like today, we, Justin went for a run, and it was -20 degrees, but it was on the calendar so it’s going to happen so I’m just holding ourselves accountable and continuing the endorphin highs really helped us

AB: Do you would you have considered yourself outdoor sort of people before? Before the hike? Outdoor humans?

WJ: Absolutely.

JJ: Yeah, for sure.

AB: I think I read something by you — or there are multiple Justin Jays who hiked the Appalachian Trail about how maybe you weren’t always quite the quite the trail guy and didn’t know what you’re doing and ended up at Clingmans Dome, which is spot on the Appalachian Trail, with the wrong gear and no knowledge and sort of learned the hard way. Can you tell me a little bit about that and about that learning curve? If that was indeed you?

JJ: Yeah, yeah, you got it. I think it’s important for everyone to have kind of those events that are just they seem absolutely terrible at the time. But you learn so much from them. And yeah, I the there is so little, I knew The Appalachian Trail that I googled Appalachian Trail and the first thing to come up was the Smoky Mountain National Park.

And I was like, oh, well that must be you know, there’s a section that’s easy to get too little. I know it’s like one of the harder sections of the Appalachian Trail. So pack all kinds of like cotton clothing. We had a full cook said a propane stove with like, liquid fuel. We didn’t know how to use it. Some hiker took pity on us and showed us how to use it at the shelter.

We bought cans of beef stew and had to open it with a giant knives that we brought to defend ourselves against bears with — just an all out train wreck. But we were hooked by the challenge. You know we did 40 miles in four days, it was extremely hard because our packs were obviously 60, 70 pounds full of all kinds of stuff we didn’t need. I had a radio — weather radio too, by the way.

AB: So for those listening that don’t know the right thing to do — you said cotton clothes. What is the right thing to do? Give us the run down the correct thing the things you should have done, and the way your pack should have weighed if you had known even a little bit what you were doing

JJ: Oh man. So, all synthetic clothing because it actually dries and for the most part it stays warm when it’s wet or merino wool.

WJ: Yeah, or wool because cotton clothing, once it gets wet, it just stays cold and there’s nothing you can do about it. And there’s a saying that goes “cotton kils.”

JJ: Yeah, you get hypothermia quick. Your pack weight for the Appalachian Trail, between you know, 25 to 35 pounds is really what you should be looking at with three days of food. Some of the bigger people obviously it need a little bit more gear about 40 pounds. So yeah, we had way too much stuff.

AB: Your story reminded me of the first few chapters of A Walk in the Woods. For those who haven’t read it very funny book, highly recommend, by a guy named Bill Bryson. But it’s about a guy who decides he wants to do the Appalachian Trail and he goes to REI and gets outfitted and he meets up with his buddy who’s even less prepared than he is. And they have basically identical experience to what you had.

So you clearly had not read that book … the would that would have saved you quite a lot. I recommend to anyone listening read that book before you make the make the mistakes. That’s so funny.

WJ: You didn’t read anything.

AB: One of the things that you guys did that’s unique among hikers is that you went as a couple. So first question would be: is hiking the Appalachian Trail with your wife or husband a way to build a strong marriage? Or is that sort of a risk factor?

WJ: I think I definitely think it’s a way to build a strong marriage. And we, prior to starting the hike, we definitely had a lot of naysayers and people that, you know, joked around and said, we would be divorced within the first month or by the time we ended the trail.

And I think adding some preparation, going into an adventure like that as a couple is definitely helpful. But I think our relationship and the foundation that was built on prior to even hiking probably set us up for success, just because we were coming from a similar environment.

We were used to discomfort through the military and just our physical activities that we practiced prior to going on this adventure. And fortunately, we had many couples that had hiked the Appalachian Trail that we could talk to and we were able to learn from their experiences and what had worked for them and what hadn’t. But overall, I definitely think it It made us a lot stronger as a couple and has helped us ever since.

AB: I know you had some some tips and tricks that you had on the trail for sort of sort of keeping that sanity. Tell me about those.

JJ: Yeah, I I kept a lot of chocolate and emergency food in my backpack. One of us, one of the hikers in our group wasn’t super great about managing their food, I won’t mention which one so that was my survival guide was just keeping a hidden stash of chocolate and I’d always pack out a little extra food.

WJ: Thank God for that.

AB: That’s a very normal marriage management technique. Feeding the significant other is a surefire way for peace in our time.

WJ: I think something that really helped us was clear communication and you know, addressing issues as they came up and it as you know, like with any relationship, I think we’ve always communicated pretty clearly with each other and if an issue comes up, we address it right away versus letting it fester.

And then I think one concern might have been that, you know, you end up hiking the other your partner’s, you know, your partner’s trail, you hiked the way they want to hike. And so we like a different speeds. Justin is a much faster hiker than I am. I’m kind of like the turtle. I get there, but I’m slower. And so, about a week in we figured out that we could get to the same point but we might hike maybe an hour.

You know, he would start hiking together, but we’d meet up at a certain point. And that way he could get there faster, and I could take my time and neither one of us would get frustrated. And then, like he mentioned, he always had spare food because his food always looked better to me than my own, even if we had the same stuff. And I was always short. And he always had chocolate, which was more often than not a lifesaver.

JJ: And to talk about the emotional aspect of it, doing something like this, or something outside of your comfort zone really breaks the drought down and brings out a lot of raw emotions.

And I think, you know, you may have one in your part, you know, your partner’s having a rough day, but you’re doing fine that day, or vice versa. And it’s really important to realize that you’re going through those tough spots, and that you need to help each other through it.

And just being sensitive to that with clear communication because what you’re doing is to your body is going to hurt you’re going to get into a weak mental state at some point. But the great thing about that is I feel like anytime we got broken down, we were actually built back stronger.

And because we always had each other in that there’s always somebody to kind of talk to at the end of the day and be like, ‘hey, this sucks.’ And like ‘yeah, I know. I agree this blows, why are we doing this?’ And then, you know, eat dinner and you have a second you watch a sunset or whatever, you hear the rain on the tent, and everything’s okay.

WJ: And I and I also think, like he mentioned, with one of us was having a rough day, the other person was usually doing pretty well. So if I was struggling, Justin was there to help me or he had chocolate and vice versa. So we were able to kind of encourage each other along the trail.

And then I mean, at the end of the day, you know, he’s my very best friend. And I can’t imagine going on such an amazing adventure and not sharing all unique moments and all the sunsets and even, you know, the weeks where we had, like, three weeks of rains all the time continuously, I want to share with all the ups and all the lows with him. So we’re really great thankful that we were able to do that together.

AB: I don’t think we talked about how long this took you. How long were you on the trail?

JJ: So about six months, we were, I think, like five months in 29 days, but yeah, six months for simplicity sake,

AB: Do you find that having those shared experiences maybe makes up for some of the time that, you know, build the foundation for your relationship for some of the time you were separated took away? We talk about that for military couples — one of the challenges is that we have these experiences while one partner is deployed and the other person’s back home, that you can’t, that you just can’t share them, right? Even if you are also in the military and have an inkling of what it’s like to be over there. You weren’t there for those things.

So do you think that this having such a long period of transformative experience that you can share now maybe makes up for that that last time and away?

JJ: Oh absolutely, you know being able to be in an uncomfortable environment to share those same experiences whether it’s positive or negative was huge in that, like you said, it fills the gaps not that we both did deployed for you know, like you said it was very fortunate that we both understood those deployment experiences, but being able to do that as a couple I know made a significantly stronger.

AB: We’re really good doing a good job of selling the outside here, guys. What were some great times on the trail what were some some of those? Let’s sell it a little guys. Why should someone hiked the Appalachian Trail?

JJ: Oh, man. There’s a long list. I mean, there’s definitely more positives than negatives for sure. I know we’ve mentioned the uncomfortable parts. But I would say the people for the Appalachian Trail specifically, yeah, the views, you know, the first month, they’re amazing.

And then they’re normal until you hit like the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. But the social aspect of the trail is easily the best part of it. And just the pure kindness that you get from strangers is incredible. And I think, well, we’ll talk a little bit more about an experience we had in the Shenandoah National Park that really, I mean, just wowed us.

WJ: We came in a little jaded about humanity in general and, and how we felt about people. And the Appalachian Trail is a very social trail. And we had so many encounters with like Justin saying earlier, it’s kind of like, if you’re running a race and you go by an aid station, everyone’s cheering for you.

That’s kind of what it felt like the entire trail. So it was a huge, like, morale booster, but we also met so many strangers that were willing to do it anything for us. And that was kind of hard to believe in the beginning and really changed how we looked at the world afterward.

And the one experience that Justin was referencing, and we were in Virginia, and we’re hiking through the Shenandoah does and we got caught in this really bad thunderstorm. And all of our gear was soaked. We were soaked and we didn’t really have a place to dry out that night, but we came up upon this campsite and ran into these two older ladies that were there camping for the night. They were out on their first camping experience.

JJ: If they listen to this — they were younger ladies.

WJ: Yes, they were definitely younger.

But they were out there on their first camping experience and they ended up inviting, ended up inviting us for dinner and they had brought out like a tablecloth and wine and they cooked a three course dinner and it was just about amazing.

And at the end of the night, they were listening to the weather forecast and heard that there was going to be another thunderstorm, so they didn’t really feel like staying there for the rest of the night. And they kept on asking if there was anything else they could possibly do for us.

And we already felt like we’d been spoiled because they invited us into their campsite and shared their dinner with us. And one thing led to another and other and we ended up going home with them, even though we had just met them. And they lived in Charlottesville down in the valley and we got to spend the night at their place and wash our clothes and take a shower, sleeping a warm bed, and the next day we went on a wine and brewery tour of that area that’s known for their many wineries.

And they treated us to the whole thing. We weren’t allowed to pay for anything and they took us out to dinner and then dropped us off at the trail at the very end, but it was just so mind blowing. And we had, you know, just met these people and yeah, that really, really stuck.

JJ: And that’s not an uncommon thing to happen to through hikers on the trail. Or that, that’s very common. Maybe not to not to that degree, but a lot of people just take in complete strangers, one of our fellow hikers had somebody throw him the keys to their cards, like hey, go to the store, get what you need and come back without, you know, having no, maybe five minutes.

WJ: Just an example if we’re trying to sell at some more, there are a wild ponies — that was as big like, plus for me. I knew that in Virginia, I’d run into some wild ponies and the Grayson Highlands and that was pretty cool.

AB: There you go. We’ve definitely gotten Christmas cards from people that my spouse met during his walk in Ohio. So that blows my mind these people I you know, never met, they’re sending us Christmas cards up here in Alaska. So people are pretty cool.

WJ: Yeah. We always kept in touch with a lot of the people that they call them — trail angels is someone that your takes you in or, you know, gives you a snack or helps you out in some way or they’re considered trail angels. And I think we’ve kept in touch with most of the people who we met.

JJ: We make lifelong friends for sure.

AB: So I know you said you are keeping stuff on the calendar to look forward to to keep you going outside. What’s scheduled for the next year?

JJ: So fishing, obviously. Car camping trips. I’m going to try to do a 50 mile race in July. And well, uh, I know she’s probably got a long run on the calendar, but it just hasn’t been put on there yet.

WJ: Yeah, some hiking in the future. I’m looking at doing the Colorado trail this summer possible.

JJ: Yeah, those are the big ticket items and then obviously hunting. Oh, yeah, we have something pretty much every weekend from here on out.

AB: Well, I very much appreciate you taking the time to do this today, that’s for sure. Okay, so before we close this out we have my favorite part, which is the lightning round. It isn’t flightning and it’s not fast. That name is completely false. But it’s a lot of questions that I want to know the answer to, that don’t fit very well and the rest of this so we’re going to do it. You ready?

So I want to know your favorite piece of gear. favorite piece of gear.

JJ: Our Big Agnus Fly Creek HV UL tent.

WJ: We got that through Sean Gobin and Big Agnes for the Appalachian Trail and we’ve taken that tent on every possible. Oh yeah, we still use it.

JJ: It is holding up so well and Big Agnes is pretty awesome because our tent has so many tears, but they will take your time back and patch it up for you and wash it for about 10 bucks and send it back, so it’s been worn out pretty well but we still love it. It’s so reliable.

AB: That’s not that much money for a clean tent. You know what I mean?

Okay, so most essential piece of gear? Which is not necessarily the same thing as a favorite, but it could be.

JJ: Chocolate for me.

WJ: It’s because he uses it for me.

AB: Is that just because it’s wife food?

JJ: Yeah, it’s my emergency stash has got an even better one.

WJ: Mine is baby wipes. More specifically biodegradable baby wipes that they now make. But I really — oh, it’s just so nice to have a little luxury item with you whenever you’re outside and every, you know, every part of you is dirty but those you know being able to clean off your face or use them for anything else. It just made me feel like a princess.

JJ: It’s already tough enough out there. Yeah.

AB: What is the most surprising and or scary thing that has ever happened to you in around nature?

JJ: Um, well, when I did a section hike in Georgia when I was still just kind of knocking out sections there had been a guy that was holed up at one of the — I think it was actually like the Woods Hole shelter.

And he had had several long knives and he was threatening a lot of the hikers in that area. And they think he was just you know, he obviously had mental issues and would basically keep them up all night. So I was hiking right around that time and I was headed to that very shelter. And it was that time of night when it was just, you know, it’s dark, but there’s still a little bit of light out.

And up on the hill I see this giant black shape like lurch. From one of the trees and take off, and that just scared me senseless, and I was like, Oh my goodness, it’s the knife, like run around. This is the end.

And you know, I was only about 18, 19 years old. So I’m already not sleeping through the night jumping in every noise and I knew there’s potentially this knife wielding guy at the shelter. I’m going to see that.

And I was relieved because it was just a black bear.

Yeah, that’d be the scariest thing.

WJ: When I was still in the army, but we were on Fort Richardson. And for those of you unfamiliar with Alaska and or for Richardson, they don’t do a whole lot of bear control up there.

So and I think, bears become maybe a little bit more familiar with people than they should and there are just many of them. And we were out in the field doing land navigation. And it heard that there was a sow and cubs in the area.

And so to prepare ourselves, we would go out and little groups of twos or threes and have a can of bear mace with us. And I was the carrier of the mace. And we were walking to our next point, and out of nowhere, mama bear came charging at us. And she was a grizzly.

And that in and of itself was just, you know, I wanted to run but that’s like the wrong reaction. So she came very close to us and ended up standing up and was very upset that we were in the area unfortunately, I think maybe because there was more than one of us. She didn’t physically attack us but she made made it well known that we shouldn’t be in the area.

And at that point, I pulled off the little clip the safety clip off of the mace, but she was so upset that we were worried we’d add it here some more by spraying the mace so we didn’t and so I was with two other soldiers and we slowly backed off and walked away and just stood together. Look as imposing as possible.

And she followed us for a good while down the trail. But yeah, that was pretty terrifying and trying to not run. And that’s, you know, when the only thing you want to do is run and not do that that was interesting.

But I guess the funniest thing at the whole at the end of it was, I had taken a safety clip off of the maze. And we were well out of range of the bear, but I realized I couldn’t put this mace back into my car because it would deploy, so I decided to spray it just to see what it’s like when you spray mace.

And I learned then that mace can expire because my can I sprayed it there was like just a tiny little poof that came out of it. And that was it. And it turns out if you leave your can of mace in the car and it is exposed to very hot and very cold temperatures, it will lose pressure that’s in it and then it won’t function anymore. So, lesson learned for the future, I guess.

AB: Yeah, no kidding. That’s something you really want to work when you need it.

WJ: Yes, it would’ve been so demoralizing if I had sprayed that thing towards her and it hadn’t worked at all

AB: Oh man, that would have been so scary. We visited Yellowstone this summer. And I was amused you know up here in Alaska, for those don’t live here, bear spray is a very common thing. You know, you own several cans. Everybody owns it. You hope you know how to use it. Not everyone does.

But when you visit somewhere like Yellowstone, you best believe that no one knows how to use it even though everyone is buying it. Right”? And the Rangers were telling us stories about people buying this and then taking it outside and spraying it.

Or they had some instructions that were like — well, what does this mean? And basically: this isn’t like you spray it on yourself to deter the bear. It’s not like anti-bear cologne. They’d had people go outside and spray themselves with bear mace. It’s a very, very, very strong mace it’s this is not a joking mace, okay. If you spray it on yourself you will be very sorry.

So I just yeah –close call guys.

Okay, what is something you never thought you would do in nature but you do or have done regularly something you said I’m never doing that but you know you’re totally did?

WJ: I think the closest thing we could come up with is: I don’t think we expected to go home with so many strangers while hiking at or hitches many rides we did. I think maybe Justin could tell you the story of the first ride we got

JJ: Oh yeah, yeah, ‘cause you definitely — your standards drop significantly for ride when you’re hiking on the Appalachian Trail and you’ll just take whatever you can get at that point. And people are just being so kind.

But we got to a gap in North Carolina, we’re kind of standing around deciding whether or not to hitch and a gentleman came up to us and offered us a ride into town. And obviously we graciously accepted. And Wella gets in the back and I start sitting down in the front seat, I noticed that there’s an open beer container and in the couple there was like, oh, this will be interesting.

And then he assured me — ‘Hey, don’t worry, it’s, it’s empty.’ And he’s like, ‘yeah, I just finished it.’ And I was like, well, that wasn’t my concern of whether or not you’d finished your beer or not, but okay. And so, you know, we got in the car with him and took us down and everything was okay is it’s just funny though. Like your, your standards and what you your expectations versus what reality is, and it was great. Yeah, we had a good time.

WJ: I think our first sober driver that we drove with was in Pennsylvania.

JJ: Yeah, who we hired.

AB: Yeah, that’s really far up the trail.

Okay, and finally, what is one of your most favorite outdoor moments ever?

JJ: You know, I’d have to say our our summit day on Katahdin was pretty special because we knew we wanted to catch the sunrise. And that meant that we had to leave, we had to wake up around 2:30 at Katahdin Springs campground, I think that’s the name of it.

And so we went up Katahdin in the dark. And by the time we hit the tablelands, which is pretty much 90% of the way there, the sun was just coming up, and we actually made it to the sign right as it crossed to the horizon. So that was very special. One, because we just finished this amazing journey. Obviously, the view is incredible, too.

And we knew that the sunlight was going to be you know, contains one of the first couple mountains that gets sunlight on the east coast. So it was just all you know, just a very special moment all tied together. Wow.

AB: Well, Wella and Justin, thank you so much for coming on the Humans Outside Podcast today. We appreciate your time. And we appreciate you sharing your journey.

WJ: Thanks for having us and for having us.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Jump To section



Humans Outside Instagram

How does spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day since Sept. 1, 2017 change your life? 

We’re on a mission to find out.

[instagram-feed feed=1]

JOIN Us Today


Keep up with the latest podcast episodes, resources and announcements