If you’ve pondered the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the Camino de Santiago, Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the John Muir Trail and are seeking some inspiration, then you’re going to enjoy reading about this week’s Shoestring Warrior! Meet Brien Crothers, retired power-generation professional, thru-hiker, and adventurer extraordinaire! Brien gives a whole new meaning to “retired.”
I’ve run dozens of ultras over the last twenty years and done some mountain trips, but long treks have become my favorite recently.
This grandfather of three was inspired to create a website based on his grandkids’ repetitive question, “Grandpa’s gone again?” Check out www.grandpasgoneagain.com to follow his adventures! Keep reading our Shoestring Warrior interview to find out what hike has been the most memorable for this prolific adventurer!
Willits, Northern California
Hidden Valley Lake, Northern California
Retired Project Manager, Renewable Energy
What are your passions outside of work?
Passions outside of work? Hum, they keep evolving. Thirty years ago I was racing stock cars. Then I met a group of adventurous athletes that invited me on a trip to Africa. Since then, I’ve found most anything outdoors will suit. I’ve run dozens of ultras over the last twenty years and done some mountain trips, but long treks have become my favorite recently. Treks like the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra-Nevada and the Camino de Santiago in Spain are filling more of my calendar these days. And I love that. I like the planning for, the effort, the adventure, the people you meet, and the spirituality of the outdoors. Besides being outdoors, I like writing. Mostly about my adventures, of course, but it varies. Right now, during rainy days, I’m working on a mystery/thriller. Fiction is fun, you get to make it up, make new worlds, people, circumstances. Loads of fun there.
Tell us about yourself!
I refer to myself as a fifty-nine-years-young baby boomer, husband, father, grandfather to three, a retired power-generation professional, and an avid adventurer and world traveler. But mostly, I’m someone that considers himself just another average guy, but a guy that wants to be anything but average.
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
Not as much as I’d like, but only from a desire to see and do all the things on my ever-growing bucket list. I have done the car camping thing, the RVing thing, cowboy camping, snow camping, high altitude camping. They are all good in and of themselves, but I like good long treks with an ultralight pack. In 2016, I walked the John Muir Trail NoBo. I’d have to say that trek is one of my all time favorites. Beautiful beyond belief.
When did you first discover your love for the outdoors?
Growing up in a very small rural community on the north coast of California, in a time when we were encouraged to get outside and play, I knew every kid on my street. Hiking, exploring, fishing, building forts and creating our own toys were how we filled our free time. Also, my father and his four brothers grew up on a ranch where we, as I got older, would get together, usually to trek around in the hills hunting deer. It was great passion for them, less so for me, but I enjoyed and came to respect the outdoors. After our daughter was grown and my career brought better finances, running and cycling put me back in the outdoors.
In 2017 you traversed the Ica desert while competing in the Marathon Des Sables Peru. What is one of your highlights from the race?
For the first time in my running career, I did an event with a purpose beyond my own. I ran the MDS Peru race in partnership with Rotary International as a fundraising campaign in the fight to completely eradicate polio from our world. My wife is a Rotarian and a lot of our friends are as well. They asked about creating this partnership and we did some brainstorming to develop a campaign. From there, we visited Rotary clubs and other organizations throughout California with our “Polio’s Last Mile” presentation in an effort to raise money. Those funds will be matched two-for-one by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaign will run until June 30th of this year, and so far we have raised over $70,000 which will be matched by the Gates Foundation. We hope to reach a quarter million dollars in total from this project. Polio is on its Last Mile. Here is a promo, if anyone is interested.
A few years ago you walked the Camino de Santiago and then wrote a book about your journey, “Su Camino…”. What tips do you have for someone preparing to hike the camino?
Oh, that’s a big one.
First I would say, there is no wrong way to walk The Way.
That theme runs throughout my book, hence the name Su Camino, Your Way.
Secondly, train for what you plan to do.
People don’t have to get crazy fit for the Camino, but training first and having a decent level of fitness will make your trek much more enjoyable. I can’t emphasize that enough. When I did the Camino Frances in 2015, we planned to cover the 490 miles in 20 days. That’s about 25 miles per day, for nearly three weeks. I don’t suggest people do that, but if they want to, they should train to meet their goals. Decide what your goals are and train for that. There are some useful bits in the book, like packing lists and thoughts on training, but an extensive resource is a Camino forum run by a gentleman in Santiago. Nascent pilgrims can find anything there, or can ask a question. There are tens of thousands of members on that site and it’s very well moderated.
Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?
Not sure if it’s funny or a mishap. A few years ago, I went on an annual snow camping adventure in the Sierras with a bunch of like-minded fellows. We were meant to parallel of bit of the Sierras, hiking south to north from one trans-Sierra highway to the next. We got dropped off one evening with a planned pickup time and place at the other end of our trek. The first day was glorious, deep snow, beautiful mountains and fun conversations. But that evening we could see a dark storm coming our way. The next day, we made our way down into a deep canyon as the skies darkened, then stripped to our skivvies and crossed a river with our packs and clothes on the tops of our heads. As we tried to make our way up the other side of the canyon, it started to snow like crazy. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we were fighting a losing battle. So we turned around and crossed back to the other side of the river to make camp. We were plenty wet and cold and everything we had got soggy as we set up camp and made dinner. That was the most miserable night of my life. Wet down sleeping bags inside wet tents sagging from wet snow was no fun. But the next day was beautiful, bright sunshine, and after two more days, we made it back to the highway for a ride home.
What’s your most memorable race or hike and why has it left such an impact on you?
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, 1998. That hike was the start to it all for me. It opened up so many doors. It introduced me to people I still hold as dear friends to this day.
That trip made world travel and adventures, a distant desire at the time, very real and quite doable for me.
It showed me that I could do it, that I could see the world without spending a ton of money on organized tours and the like.
What advice do have for people on finding their adventure community?
Any advice I give usually centers around intention.
Figure out what it is that you want, then intend to get that/there/whatever.
I joined our local running club because I intended to be more social. Most of my running before that was on my own, which I love and still do a lot of, but running with others has been great. I’ve made a lot of new friends through our fantastic club.
What are your favorite outdoor/adventure/survival podcasts or books?
- Though they are mostly of vegan subject matter, Rich Roll has a great podcast, as does Matt Frazier over at No Meat Athlete.
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, is an all time favorite.
- What got me hooked on the Camino was Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino.
- A recent favorite is Pilgrim Strong by a friend, Steve Watkins.
- On endurance and running, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, Finding Ultra by Rich Roll, and another great one, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
What’s your next adventure?
Next up is a section hike on the Pacific Crest Trail with a friend. Because he is not yet retired, we are limited to about three and a half weeks.
Our plan is to start at the Mexican border and hike until we run out of time, and then catch an Uber to the nearest airport for a flight home.
Another that I’m just as excited about is a trek this summer in the Alps with my friend (and Shoestring Warrior) Joann, as we hike the Tour of Mont Blanc.
The perfect s’more? (If you don’t like s’mores, what’s your favorite campfire dessert?)
I’m not much for desserts anytime. So, my favorite end of trekking-day enjoyment is reading. I always have books loaded on my iPhone and a solar charger or battery to keep it going. This is where I splurge on weight in my back, not sugary sweets.
Photos © 2018 Brien Crothers