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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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Athletes & Explorers

Feb 01, 2019

Imagine; A Cleaner World with Rivian, & the End of Alex Honnold’s #VanLife

With Rivian’s new electric adventure vehicles, so came Alex Honnold’s announcement of his partnership with the company and perhaps an end to his #VanLife, for the benefit of a better world.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

New to #VanLife? Check out the Dirty Secrets here

Imagine you are prepping before a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with your family and friends. You drive to the put-in at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona with your gear packed and your rafts loaded. You park the truck, put on the river, and spend a wonderful 18 days floating through one of the most incredible canyons in the world. When the trip is over, the same truck you drove to the put-in upstream is now waiting for you downstream at the take-out. Ready to be loaded up with gear and driven away.

Imagine you’re going downhill mountain biking with your friends. You drive to the top of the trailhead, unload your bikes from the truck, and ride incredible single-track all the way to the bottom of the mountain. The same truck that you left at the top is waiting for you at the end of the trail, ready to shuttle you back up for a second lap.

Imagine heading out for a long-distance point-to-point trail run. You drive to the trailhead, pack some energy gels in your hydration vest, lace up your sneakers, and set off on a moderate pace through the mountains. However, instead of offering beers to a friend in exchange for them picking you up at the end point, the same vehicle that you drove to the trailhead will simply drive itself to the pick-up point. To top it all off – this miracle vehicle doesn’t require a single drop of gas or diesel. It runs on electricity.

Photo: Ben Moon.

This is the ultimate motivation behind Rivian, the newest electric vehicle company – to create self-driving, electric, off-road, 4×4 vehicles that appeal to folks wanting to spend time in the outdoors, and help enable them to do just that.

“better off-road than any other vehicle on the market”

Here’s a big differentiator between Rivian and lots of other companies out there – they don’t want their vehicles to be owned by every single outdoor enthusiast in America. This is because every driver in America does not need to have a vehicle at their disposal 24/7. Rivian’s goal for the future is to allow people to subscribe to their vehicles, where the vehicle then drives itself to your home for your requested time, ready to be driven. Instead of owning a vehicle, you can simply call it to your house, and then use it to take your family skiing for the weekend. Or take your friends to the beach for the day. Or take your kids mountain biking after work.

Rivian’s thoughts are simple: Fewer people owning vehicles = fewer vehicles = less waste and pollution. 

In November of 2018, The Outdoor Journal was invited to the official unveiling. You can read more about this first peek, and the car itself here

Photo: Ben Moon.

For the time being, Rivian is taking baby-steps towards that goal – starting with perfecting the electric vehicle. Rivian (you can check out their current lineup here) is the first electric car company building 4×4, off-road vehicles.
The goal? To be invitational. To help you get out there and enjoy the outdoors in a clean way. Trucks and SUV’s are currently available for preorder, to be released to the public in 2020. According to Rivian’s Founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe, their truck is “better off-road than any other vehicle on the market” – Without using any gasoline or diesel.

Sounds great, right? We think so!

The Rivian x Alex Honnold Partnership

We’re not the only ones – so does world-renowned rock climber and free-soloist, Alex Honnold. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to do a 10-day rafting trip and have your car pick you up at the end? Except it wouldn’t be your car. That’s the whole point – the Rivian picks you up and it isn’t necessarily yours, but you are still getting picked up by a quality vehicle that you know you care about.”

RJ letting Alex take a Rivian for a test drive. Photo: Ben Moon.

Honnold’s partnership with Rivian caught us a little off guard.

Honnold is switching to a truck? What about his #vanlife? He is famous for being a dirtbag climber living out of a van! How will he do that with a truck? With all those questions in mind, we called up Alex to pick his brain about his decision to ditch #vanlife and move forward in a partnership with Rivian.

To Alex, making the decision to switch was easy.

We need more companies like this in the world.”

“Well, I mean the point of van life has always basically been because it’s the easiest way to adventure and access the outdoors. And if there is a way or a cleaner way, then I’m 100% on board. I basically always wanted to go electric for my transportation but there just hasn’t really been the option. And I own a home now… so basically at least half the year I’m based out of the home, and it makes more sense to be able to commute and drive your car to the crag. This is why I’m so excited about my partnership with Rivian is that living in Las Vegas, a lot of the climbing is sort of highway driving. It’s pretty casual, like any electric cars could get you there. But then the other half is pretty rugged, four-wheel drive, you know, dirt roads and there just isn’t an electric car on the market that can do both.”

Until now.

Photo courtesy of Rivian.

From Dreams to Reality

RJ Scaringe built this company from scratch. It was just himself and his dreams, then slowly over the past ten years, built the company up to what it is now. A budding electric vehicle company with five different factories in multiple states and continents. In the way that he built the company from a clean slate, he also built the vehicles with a blank canvas, from the ground up. Completely rethinking the design and storage space available in a vehicle, Rivian went about building their trucks and SUVs from a previously uncomprehended perspective.

We were fortunate enough to sit down and speak with RJ a little later the same day. You can read “Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation” here.

The entire vehicle is built upon something RJ refers to as a skateboard, because that’s exactly what it looks like – 4 wheels and board. This skateboard includes everything that the vehicle needs to run, so everything above is free for you, me and an abundance of storage. Instead of a typically huge engine being stored in the hood of the truck, there is only one vast storage compartment. Instead of the usual workings required behind the back seats of the truck, there is just another gigantic storage compartment. More information about the build can be found here

Alex and RJ checking out the storage behind the seats, wide enough for your surf or snowboard. Photo: Ben Moon.

Electric, 4×4, off-road capable, an environmentally-focused company, ample storage space… it seems perfect. So what’s the catch?

The Cost

Well, as RJ says, “Today with battery prices where they are, it’s very hard to make a large battery pack vehicle at a low cost. It’s super hard. It’s really impossible.” And when building a vehicle is expensive, buying a vehicle then also becomes expensive. With a $61,000 starting price for the truck and $65,000 for the SUV, Rivian vehicles are a price range well above many of their off-road competitors. But despite this, RJ is optimistic that as the world continues moving forward with electric vehicles, the price-point to build Rivian cars will go down, thus allowing the company to sell the vehicles at a more affordable price. “We are at a really interesting tipping point where the whole world will convert and needs to convert to electric. Essentially over the course of our lives, it will go from a percentage of vehicle sales being electric, to literally one hundred percent.”

Back to Alex and Imagining.

100% electric vehicles sounds pretty good when Alex Honnold talks about it. “When you think about how much more liveable cities will be when vehicles are 100% electric. Much more peaceful. Imagine LA without smog!”

We may have a long way to go before the entire world is driving 100% electric cars, but at least this is a step forward!

As Alex says, “It’s the  sort of company that I wanted to see succeed. Even if I wasn’t working with Rivian, if I wasn’t an ambassador or anything, I would still be supporting the brand. We need more companies like this in the world. The world has to go 100% electric at some point and the sooner the better. I am so psyched. Can’t wait to get the truck and use it.”

Photo courtesy of Rivian

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Athletes & Explorers

Feb 15, 2019

Flow State: The Reason Why Alex Honnold and Steph Davis are not Adrenaline Junkies.

“When you’re pushing the limits of ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: it’s flow or die.”

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Recently, while watching Alex Honnold’s film, Free Solo, I began questioning the motives behind why he does what he does. I imagine that like me, you asked yourself, what is the driving force behind his compulsive need to risk his life? Why does he have such a passion for free soloing difficult routes, while the rest of us sit paralyzed in fear, simply watching in awe?

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the directors of the film (which has recently won a BAFTA and has been nominated for an Oscar), touched on Alex’s reasoning a little. For Alex, it is when he is climbing without a rope and is closest to death, that he actually feels most alive.

As an extreme sports athlete myself, with a background in whitewater kayaking, I can relate to this feeling. When I am kayaking a difficult and consequential rapid, my brain is 100% focused on the present moment. In the book, “The Rise of Superman” (if you haven’t read it, do so now), Steven Kotler discusses Flow State. Kotler describes it as being “so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.” Dr. Ilona Boniwell, a European leader in positive psychology, says, “The State of Flow happens under very specific conditions – when we encounter a challenge that is testing for our skills, and yet our skills and capacities are such that it is just about possible to meet this challenge. So both the challenge and the skills are at high levels, stretching us almost to the limit.” Flow State is very difficult to achieve. The perfect balance between challenge and skill must be met, and the result is a very elusive zone, which is tricky to replicate. In Kotler’s book, he describes action and adventure sports as the only way to consistently trigger this flow state. Flow state is often triggered by a sense of being close to death, which, in return, triggers the maximum sensation of being alive. Kotler describes it simply, “When you’re pushing the limits of ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: it’s flow or die.”

I remember the first time I experienced Flow. I was running Itunda Falls on the Nile River. Itunda is known for being one of the biggest rapids on the Victoria White Nile stretch of whitewater and is a rapid that, if not executed correctly, could be fatal. I recall Flow State kicking in as soon as I entered the rapid. My mind went completely blank, and I experienced a hyper-focused state in which every paddle stroke I took, every drop of water that hit my face, every little bit of it was a slow-motion, full experience. I felt nervous before entering the rapid, but as soon as I dropped in, my nerves faded, and I relaxed into a calm state of execution. While in that Flow State, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do, perfectly. I made zero mistakes and had a perfect line through the rapid. It was the first time in my life that I felt I had 100% fully experienced something – not only in a physical sense but also in a mental and emotional sense as well.

“My favourite state of being.”

In a collaboration between The Outdoor Journal and Mercedez-Benz, I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of their sponsored athletes – free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis. When asked about Flow, Davis described it as, “the feeling of taking a deep breath, letting it out and feeling totally good and at ease with nothing else in my mind and truly in the moment.”

When performing high-risk activities, like BASE jumping, Davis says her brain has no choice but to enter a hyper-focused Flow State. “With BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE, getting there is pretty much guaranteed because it seems like there’s no choice but to enter that state of pure focus when leaving the edge – although it’s a pretty short-lived experience because BASE jumping is over very quickly.”

Read Next: Steph Davis: Flow, Focus, and Feeling in Control

The film, Free Solo, suggests Alex’s ability to achieve Flow State. When I spoke with Alex Honnold about the topic (also in a collaboration courtesy of his sponsor, Rivian), he shared a similar sentiment towards free solo climbing. “I think that has always been a big part of the pleasure in free soloing is that it forces you into that state more than other kinds of climbing do.” Alex says that he can tap into the Flow State while climbing with ropes as well, but it is rare and doesn’t come as easily.

For Davis, Flow State while free solo climbing isn’t as much a result of being close to death, but rather a result of getting away from external influences. “For me, a big factor for reaching focus, or Flow, is getting away from outside energy – so free soloing inherently works really well because you are alone.” No matter how she achieves Flow State, Davis can’t seem to get enough of it. “It’s my favorite state of being.”

The Science

According to Kotler’s book, Flow State originates in the brain. The release of five mood-boosting chemicals – dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine, serotonin, and anandamide – creates a high that athletes, just like Davis, “can’t seem to get enough of”. It’s a wonderful experience – Flow State. So wonderful, in fact, that when you achieve it, it can become addictive. Dr. Ilona Boniwell describes the addiction to Flow State well. “Even activities that are morally good or neutral, like mountain climbing, chess or Playstation, can become addictive, so much that life without them can feel static, boring and meaningless. A simple non-gambling game on your computer, like solitaire, which many people use to ‘switch off’ for a few minutes, can take over your life. This happens when, instead of being a choice, a Flow-inducing activity becomes a necessity.”

Searching for Perfection

This addiction to Flow is different from an addiction to adrenaline. An athlete addicted to Flow is not an ‘adrenaline junkie’. They are not searching for that adrenaline rush that comes when you do something risky – like bungee jumping or skydiving. They are searching for perfection in what they are doing. Honnold says he is searching for the feeling of effortlessness. “When climbing feels good, when it feels effortless, when it feels flowy. That’s Flow State. And that is the appeal of climbing in a lot of ways is to get into that state. To feel like you’re doing something well and that you’re performing well.”

“I really belonged there and I wasn’t just scraping through it”

Davis says when she has had experiences BASE jumping in which something almost went wrong and she “got lucky” – which may be a situation where an adrenaline rush could be triggered – she is usually unhappy with that experience. “For me, it’s not really seeking an adrenaline burst. It’s more seeking the ability to do something that maybe should be impossible, and yet doing it in a way that’s actually pretty reasonable… When I’ve had those moments where it just barely worked out, and I almost felt that I got lucky, I’m usually really dissatisfied with that experience. I prefer to feel like I’ve entered the situation in a very calculated way. I’ve really prepared. I’ve gone through Plan B, Plan C, Plan D scenarios. I’ve tried to really think through everything that could ever go wrong and feel like I have a plan for that. And then when it starts happening, I feel like I’m very in control of the situation because I chose to get into it feeling like I’m really ready for it. To me, those are always the most satisfying outcomes. When I either land from a jump or top out a climb and I feel like, ‘wow, you know, I really belonged there and I wasn’t just scrapping through it’.” A perfect balance of challenge and skill.

But for Steph, addiction to Flow is not the main reason she continues pursuing these high-risk activities. For her, it is simply a way of life. “I’m 46 now and I’ve been climbing since I was 18, so my entire adult life I’ve been doing these sports in various forms… it is honestly really hard for me to imagine not being out in the mountains and the desert and just doing these things that I love doing.”

Thanks to Rivian and Mercedes for the interviews.

Cover photo: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes.

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