The best podcasts we listened to in May 2020 showed us different viewpoints, or new ways to look at familiar topics. How does vulnerability make us more powerful, how can positivity and the ability to make people laugh benefit us in the outdoors, how can we meditatively appreciate the changing seasons, and what does American wildlife management look like to a visitor from abroad?
Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in May 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.
Rich Roll’s podcast always digs deep, and this interview with elite adventure athlete Colin O’Brady covers O’Brady’s December 2019 human-powered ocean row with an intrepid crew of rowers 600 nautical miles across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica. This incredible feat was timed with the release of O’Brady’s memoir, The Impossible First, covering O’Brady’s journey into adventure sports, culminating in his solo crossing of Antarctica.
O’Brady is a skilled storyteller, and his rapport with Roll yields many nuggets from the experiences of both men. O’Brady talks about the difficult process of writing his book, finding inspiration, and the valuable practice of embracing vulnerability, which O’Brady has honed through a unique twelve year written correspondence with a group of twelve friends called “the fellas.” All this experience helped O’Brady through the book and the rowing journey, which included governmental roadblocks, freezing water, and massive waves.
At the end of the interview, Roll plays a later follow-up interview with O’Brady, in which Roll gives O’Brady a chance to respond to a February National Geographic article critical of O’Brady’s accomplishments. The segment is interesting and fair, but may be a little too “inside baseball” for most. What lingers is O’Brady’s gratitude, and the compelling story of his ascent to the highest levels of adventure racing (2 hrs 42 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: For Colin O’Brady, Infinite Love Fuels Human Potential
2. Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown (May 13, 2020) from Backpacker Radio
The Backpacker Radio interviews tend to be wide-ranging, but few are as broadly interesting as the story of Sean “Shug” Emery, a former circus clown for Ringling Brothers and currently a YouTuber, providing information and funny videos about hammock camping. Emery, an outstanding raconteur discusses how he became a clown, with wild stories from the dog-eat-dog world of Clown College, and his years traveling with the circus via train. This even includes a breakdown of the vaunted “clown car” trick.
Eventually, Emery transitions to his current life in Minnesota, where he backpacks (and still performs). Emery talks about the Boundary Waters, hammocks, art, and practical advice for new or older backpackers. As pointed out by hosts Chaunce and Badger, Emery’s antics are reminiscent (in a good way) of Robin Williams. The podcast closes with the obligatory Backpacker Radio poop story, a mailbag, and some backcountry matchmaking (3 hrs 1 minute).
Apple Podcast link: Sean “Shug” Emery on Hammock Camping and Life as a Circus Clown
Shelby Stanger’s podcast is about turning ideas into reality, and in this episode, she talks to author/illustrator/adventurer Brendan Leonard about his comedic work and inspiration. Leonard’s website, Semi-Rad, contains his humorous drawings, essays, and adventure writing (try clicking through “100 Favorite Things” and not smiling or going down an internet rabbit hole). His comedic drawings mostly consist of charts and graphs, like a pro-con list of adopting a dog or a grizzly bear, or greeting other people on the trail.
Leonard talks about cooking during a pandemic, Instagram recommendations, cultivating humor, how his life informs his drawings and writings, and trying to meet the needs of his audience. This episode highlights Leonard’s uplifting outlook, which is relentlessly positive and humorous, with observations through the lens of the outdoors (32 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Finding Humor with Brendan Leonard
Phenology is the study of the life cycles of plants and animals through the seasons. The delightful Nature of Phenology podcast, hosted by Hazel Stark, is a production of WERU, a community radio station serving Midcoast, Downeast, and Central Maine. This mid-May episode focuses on hobblebush, a flowering shrub whose white flowers are familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Maine woods.
The hobblebush’s large, flat leaves are sometimes known as “Boy Scout’s toilet paper,” and its name comes from its low-lying branches, which can easily ensnare a foot or an ankle. This episode is excellent, and anyone (particularly those in Northern New England) interested in learning more about the seasonal changes around them should subscribe to this easily digestible (5 minutes) weekly podcast filled with nature sounds and insights.
Apple Podcast link: Episode 123: Hobblebush
5. Wolves in Wyoming from Scotland Outdoors
To a New Englander, Euan McIlwraith and Mark Stephen’s excellent Scotland Outdoors podcast, produced by BBC Radio, often seems like a fascinating alternate natural history. What are the similarities we hold with an English-speaking area with a similar climate, populated by comparable or analogous plants and animals, but managed differently over time? Fitting, then, that this episode turns its gaze toward Wyoming, and the Scotland Outdoors crew explores the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park with British ecologist and writer Philippa Forrester.
One of the best ways to evaluate our own surroundings is to see it through someone else’s eyes, in this case, a view of American wolves from the United Kingdom. Forrester discusses her book about the twenty-five year impact of wolves in the ecosystem, including the wolf archetype over time, and the reaction of humans to the re-introduction process. This episode, including an eloquent reading by Forrester from her book, blends anecdotes and science in a fascinating overview of man’s relationship to large predators (33 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Wolves in Wyoming
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.