If March was a time to process, April 2020 was hopefully a time for solutions. Last month’s list included thoughts and feelings on the pandemic, and while the podcasts we listened to in April 2020 were indelibly influenced by the world around them, the podcasts we selected this month as our top five were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. These episodes and stories from around the world focus more on using the limitations we are under as bumpers or guardrails, and finding a way forward. They are filled with video links, birdsong, and hopeful human stories that transcend separation. Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in April 2020, 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.
Mike Flanigan is the “most optimistic person” Scott Guinn knows. The two men met several years ago in San Diego, and quickly became friends and climbing partners. Through descriptions and interviews, Dirtbag Diaries hosts Fitz Cahall and Cordelia Zars recount the growth of Mike and Scott’s friendship, and the mischievous fun and connection they find in climbing and outdoor adventure. While their relationship was lighthearted, and built on shared “shenanigans,” vulnerability and trust created a layered friendship that survived the distance between San Diego and Colorado.
After Scott left climbing gear at Mike’s place, Mike mailed these items back to Scott, along with a written challenge. While the stakes were low (pride and a six-pack of beer), this ignited a series of counter-challenges and accompanying trash-talking correspondence. The story is full of relatable details like unanticipated obstacles, productive suffering, and the unexpected difficulty of catching a thrown beer can from atop a rock face.
The challenges gave both men “an excuse” to get outdoors and accomplish things they would not have attempted otherwise. The Dirtbag Diaries consistently finds the human element in nature, and provides topical, insightful stories of ordinary people finding extraordinary adventures and truths in the outdoors. This simple story of friendship provides relatable lessons on connection and vulnerability, despite the challenges of separation and time (38 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Shenanigans
This short episode featuring Taylor Quimby (and his young son) and Sam Evans-Brown explores the possibilities of watching birds from a window or a backyard with suggestions from Bridget Butler (Vermont, “The Bird Diva” ), J. Drew Lanham, Ph.D (Clemson ornithologist), and Karen Purcell (Cornell, Project Director, “Celebrate Urban Birds”) on how to enjoy the spaces that are available to us.
Rather than a worldwide scavenger hunt to fill a notebook with birds seen, this episode looks at backyard birding as a mindfulness practice. “Birding by ear” is prominently featured, and birdsong records are present throughout the podcast. The Merlin application, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a citizen science project that allows backyard birders to contribute to our understanding of birds, and Celebrate Urban Birds, another Cornell project, salutes the more common birds that survive alongside us. As spring arrives in the Northeast, this simple activity allows us to recognize what we have. As Dr. Lanham says, a “warbler that ends up in your yard is your link to a tropical rainforest,” and “stitches the world together with feathers.” (25 mins).
Apple Podcast link: How to be a Backyard Birber
Broadcast from lockdown, after a hiatus due to Australian bushfires and the pandemic, this brilliant comeback from the Hike or Die podcast wasn’t recorded in the outdoors, but remotely by Tom Griffin and Craig Brinin from a studio (and a desk underneath a bunk bed). Unlike the others on this list, this is not a standalone audio experience. This is a multi-media presentation from Down Under, best enjoyed by listening to the podcast while following along on the show page with links to videos and photos.
After an acknowledgement of the serious of the situation, and the need to be safe and responsible, Tom and Craig curate and comment on lighthearted and positive news stories touching on the outdoors – 4×4’s in lakes, feeding animals, dinosaur trees, helicopter evacuations, walking sharks, insane races caught on video, and amazing trail cam videos. The wide-ranging discussions include gear talk about K-Bar tactical sporks, using bush stoves vs. outdoor fire danger, irreverent listener emails, bushcraft, and great book recommendations. This is a two-hour great escape outdoors for a rainy day (1 hr 59 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Episode 23 – GOOD VIBES ONLY
In October 2010, Pam Bales, a volunteer member of the Pemigewasset Valley Search and Rescue Team, was on a hike up the Jewell Trail, headed for New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, thinking about turning around due to deteriorating conditions, when she found a barely unconscious man (“John”) off a side trail. Pam was confused about “John’s” situation, as he was so clearly unequipped for a fall hike in the treacherous Presidential Range, would not provide his name, and seemed completely unmotivated to rescue himself. Pam tried to get “John” warm with the food, gear, and clothing she had brought with her.
Pam pushed, motivated, and cajoled “John” during the descent down the mountain. “John” departed in his car after thawing out, and Pam was left wondering, “What the F just happened?” We won’t spoil the ending, but an anonymous letter postmarked from Portland, Maine, shed a shocking light on the circumstances in which Pam found “John.” This is a great story about reaching out and helping others, even if they seem unwilling to help themselves (27 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Mystery on the Mountain
Off Track is always full of high-quality sounds of nature, and never more so than in this episode that begins with Australian whipbirds (“whippys”). The Earworms from Planet Earth series are crowd-sourced, composed of sounds submitted from the podcast’s audience. Host Ann Jones introduces the whipbird sounds, and with the assistance of experts, provides background and explanation, including pulling individual calls from whipbirds (and many other birds) from a cacophony of rainforest sounds.
The curated audio then transitions to other wild sounds, including the growling and pecking of the crane-like brolga, and a mystery sound/call from the Sidney area. You can hear the sounds of an island off Tasmania, seabirds from another Australian island, and many other places, animals, and birds (25 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Whip It Good [Earworms from Planet Earth xii]
Back in 2018, we ranked our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts of 2018. In 2019, we changed the format, listing our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes of 2019. We consume a lot of podcasts, and those focused on being outdoors seem to have proliferated exponentially since we started listening. That’s why, in 2020, we are trying something new. This year, we will attempt to pick out the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes each month (or at least our favorites).
Disagree? Have suggestions? Leave a comment or Contact us.