It is that time for end-of-year lists. Last year, we listed our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts for 2018. For 2019, we changed the format, and drilled down further, zeroing in on our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes. We focused on a few distinguishing factors. Was it interesting and inspiring? Was it fun, unique, new? Did it stimulate further discussion, reading, or research?
Based on those criteria, below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in 2019, with a brief description of each podcast.
A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense. Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous. Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)? All that being said, hike your own hike.
1. The Chase – Back From The Dead (February 9, 2019) from Off Track
“All this fuss about a little green bird.” It’s a short mystery about a possibly extinct bird, but a story much more revealing about the humans surrounding it, all in a uniquely Australian way. To be clear, this podcast was recommended by the consistently excellent Outside/In podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio, and we were hooked after hearing the story of the night parrot.
Audio quality is very important to host Ann Jones, whose whispered voice sets up the unique nature sounds of Australia’s bush. The story of the night parrot occurs three to four days’ drive from the nearest town, a setup for the introduction of lively characters obsessed with a tiny, elusive nocturnal bird. Jones presents the tale with a full 360 view of the conservation issues of the past, present, and future, and voices from indigenous Australians relaying both science and legend.
(Hint: if you are unable to find the episode on the podcast app you use, look for Outside/In Podcast episode “Hunting the Night Parrot” from March 14, 2019.)
2. Leave No Stone (February 14, 2019) from Outside/In
Host Taylor Quimby starts this episode with the story of a small memorial stone engraved with a name atop a New Hampshire mountain, and proceeds to a surprisingly polarizing discussion of what Leave No Trace actually means. In the backdrop of intensifying recreational use of the outdoors, what mark does human use leave on the land? And with a larger and more varied segment of society using the back country, is Leave No Trace open to interpretation?
Through interviews and social media, Quimby and the Outside/In crew conduct a whimsical exploration of the deployment of decorative stones and painted “kindness rocks,” cairns, blazes, graffiti, and even a plastic skeleton. There are those who create and disperse these items, and those who remove them from the landscape, and no matter which side you fall on, this is an interesting discussion.
3. Episode 37: Jenny & Scott Jurek on the Appalachian Trail Speed Record, Parenting, and What’s Next (May 10, 2019) from Backpacker Radio
This is the longest episode on our list by far, at 2 hours and 28 minutes, but the time moves quickly. Ultrarunner Scott Jurek has been interviewed before, but this Backpacker Radio episode, hosted by Tom “Jabba” Gathman and Zach “Badger” Davis, is fascinating, with a softer, humanizing touch, starting with Scott’s wife Jenny Jurek and their children in-studio. Scott talks about his journey in ultra-running, leading up to his record-breaking (at the time) Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Appalachian Trail in 2015.
Maybe it’s the family atmosphere, maybe it’s the common ground built between a jet-lagged Jabba and Scott Jurek over the “burly” state of Pennsylvania, but this episode hits its stride about 15 minutes in, and becomes a captivating discussion of the outdoors, family, fame, love, friendship, and grueling feats of endurance.
4. Episode 117: Safer Alone in the Backcountry (June 19, 2019) from She Explores
Gale Straub’s series focuses on female exploration, and this episode provides perspective about the safety of hiking in relation to the daily life of some, and the freedom of the outdoors. This is an interview of Sarah Grothjan, a survivor of stalking, alone in a new state, whose deeper excursions into the backcountry helped her through the ordeal.
Frustrated by the inefficacy of law enforcement, Grothjan relied upon hiking (and support from friends) to feel safe, to find community, to cope with a traumatizing time, and to reclaim independence. The episode explores the differences between male and female perceptions of safety, the rise in acceptance of female solo hiking, and the skills and confidence built by the outdoors.
5. Episode 108: The Power of Choice with Edith Eger (May 20, 2019) from Wild Ideas Worth Living
Host Shelby Stanger enthusiastically interviews leaders who break the mold and live wild. We have no idea what, if any, is Edith Eger’s backpack of choice, but at 91 years old, she is indisputedly, as Stanger says, one of the most “badass people” we’ve ever heard. Eger grew up in Hungary, and was in training for the Hungarian Olympic Gymnastics team when, in May 1944, she was taken with her family to Auschwitz. Eger survived, and eventually emigrated to the United States, where she earned her doctorate in psychology, using her training and experience to help survivors of trauma, and authoring the 2017 book “The Choice.” Eger’s story, her advice, and her perspective are an enthralling journey of perseverance and grace, told in her own voice.
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