How Campfires Taught Me Everything About Life

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Marty Brodsky is the owner of Kingflyer Collective, a grassroots outdoor apparel company headquartered in Boulder, CO. Marty wants his fledgling company to celebrate our climbing and outdoor community. It’s not lip service. Every decision he makes at KC first filters its way through the prism of community support and curation. We at Thundercling really dig that. Marty has written for a number of different online publications, including the now-defunct magazine Twine. This is his first guest post for Thundercling. Illustration by Lynn Suyeko Mandziuk

 

I have a shocking news flash for which you may want to sit down. Life is damn busy. It is only getting busier.

When we’re pushing towards that dreamy life we’ve loosely constructed in our heads, busy feels good. That’s not how it always goes. Sometimes busy means getting stuck in one of life’s eddies and spinning in hopeless concentricity until something comes along and kicks you back out into the flow. For some folks, the spinning eddy broils with unhappy comfort, while they helm a desk they never wanted for good money they never expected, all while relaxing the grip on their hobbies and passions. Some people never get booted out of the comfort zone and toward a dream. Any dream.

I didn’t want to live in the eddy. I needed something to kick me hard.

Where does that something come from? Sitting around a campfire seems to be the place for me, somewhere up in the mountains. Everything slows down out there. The unimportant stuff sluffs off. The foibles and drama of society and our busy lives evaporate, if only for a collection of quiet moments. Because the wilderness says, “Get over yourself, man. Nothing is going to happen if you wait a few hours, or days, to respond to that email.”

Allow me an example. On September 10th, 2001, my cousin Troika embarked into the remote Canadian wilderness with a few friends for an extended, off-the-grid trip. They canoed across expansive and placid lakes, fished for their dinner, watched the Northern Lights dance and fell asleep to the loons calling. They had no contact with the outside world. It was perfect.

Troika and his mates returned to a post-9/11 world. Terror and mourning everywhere. A blanket of fear and paranoia draped itself over the country, whipped into a frenzy by the 24-hour news cycle. Tales of heroism punctured the heartbreak and so there was hope, too. It was the human condition exposed like a raw nerve, abuzz and furious.

Though up north the loons kept calling just the same. The fish continued their mysterious maneuvers beneath a vast and entirely indifferent sky. That’s how it goes. The calm of the wilderness balances the electricity and breakneck pace of what life in society can become — and in our lives as individuals, too.

Recently, after working for an asshole boss at a financial startup for two years, spending five out of every seven days hating life, I realized I was doing a pretty poor job at living the life I wanted to be living. I’d say my choices were killing me, but I’m not so sure I’d even made any conscious decisions. I’d hit the cruise control and ended up in a foreign, confusing place because I hadn’t been paying attention.

It took a climbing trip to Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, for me to get out of the big funky rut that I’d fallen into. Somewhere up on those endless pitches of sandstone I decided I wanted to spend more than just nights and weekends being around the good people. The paycheck wasn’t worth it anymore.

I flipped off the cruise control and leapt into the deep end of the pool. I quit the office job and started an outdoor apparel company. It’s called Kingflyer Collective. Those times around the campfire — after long days cragging under the sun, when we share stories and laugh all night long with our friends –that’s what inspired the whole thing. In the end, everything I’ve done since scuttling the desk jockey gig simply means being around the good people a lot more.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a grind. It’s busy as hell. But as Brendan Leonard over at Semi-Rad once told me, “As far as spreadsheets go, don’t you find it much easier to spend hours looking at your own?” Wise words from a guy who knew exactly what I needed to hear.

And the campfire, that’s continued to serve as guide, both in business and life away from the proverbial spreadsheets.

It takes a fair amount of preparation to build a successful campfire. Before anything goes down-—before we even consider lighting the fire itself-—all the bits must be picked, chopped, and accounted for, ready to burn up the chain, like dominoes waiting to fall.

Likewise, before printing a shirt or stitching a hat, I collected the necessary materials: months of late-night internet searches on the apparel industry, questioning if it was even half-reasonable to start a company. I pulled funds together by selling off old gear, whittling down my possessions in order to fund a dream. I pieced together a plan, a malleable vision that could evolve with the millions of changes likely to occur over the course of charging forward.

I placed these materials beside the fire ring, along with the social relationships, good creative ideas, favors to call on. And knowing I couldn’t leave this fire alone once it got burning, I scoped out those big logs in the forest, the heavy suckers that lend sustainability once the coals get glowing.

It’s tempting to haphazardly pile all that into the ring in one big mess. But I remind myself that restarting a quelched fire is a hell of a lot harder than getting it lit the first time. Wasting the good material, the easily-gathered stuff laying at your feet, is a damn shame. A foolhardy first burn sends you twice as far the second time around.

Ultimately, the time comes when you must finally pull the trigger. That moment will never be perfect, but this doesn’t preclude it from being the right moment. Knowing the difference between the two, that is all that matters.

Before I struck the match at Kingflyer I went to the woods to get that last bit of perspective. To the mountains. I could see what I had and knew I was ready. It was the feeling of being prepared, the confidence of knowing you’ve done all that you can do.

At that moment–whether you’re outside with a campfire or in your head with a big idea–there’s only one thing left to do. Light the sonuvabitch up.

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