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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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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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Features

Feb 20, 2019

The Death Zone

World champion free-diver Pierre Frolla sinks without air to depths unreachable by most scuba divers. One day he nearly didn't make it back to the surface.

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WRITTEN BY

Pierre Frolla

This story originally featured in print, in the fall 2015 issue of The Outdoor Journal

Deep down under the sea, so far away from where you live, I have been through the last seconds of my life.

In 2005 or 2006 (oddly I don’t remember), I had the worst accident of my freediving career. After being world champion in variable weight apnea with a dive at 123 metres, where I used a weighted sled for descent and returned to the surface by pulling myself along a line and using my fins, I was training to go deeper.

“No matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.”

In my sport, risks are quite important. Imagine you’re running a 400-m race. You start way too fast, and after a few hundred meters you’re out of breath and you just can’t go anymore. What do you do? You just stop, walk a bit and slowly catch your breath again. When you’re free diving, no matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.

The basis of my sport is quite simple. Going beyond 100 meters is mythic. Only a few hardcore specialists, including the “no limit” guys can go beyond that. Athletes use a weighted sled to dive down and an inflatable bag to return to the surface. This means that the free diver reduces his energy loss to the max, and that’s exactly why he is able to go so deep. The world record is held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch: 249.5 metres on June 6, 2012, in Santorini, Greece. The problem is that at those depths, water pressure is unbelievable! At 100 m, for example, the pressure is about 11 kg per square centimeter of your skin. Consequently, the volume of air inside the human body is pressured and reduced too. Take an empty but sealed plastic bottle: If you get to this kind of depth, it’ll greatly deform. That plastic bottle is a metaphor for your body. This also means that if water manages to seep somewhere inside you through your mouth or nose, it will do so with such force that it’ll destroy everything in its path. Drowning is inevitable, and no Apneist can be saved in such case, even if experienced help quickly intervenes.

At great depths, nitrogen becomes narcotic and leads to what is called nitrogen narcosis. This kind of intoxication from staying in great depths for too long is the same as when you drink too much. In other words, you lose total control of your body and mind, and you become unaware of potential dangers. Acting like that underwater can kill you, as the slightest mistake will have incredible consequences. In my personal training, I mix apnea in variable weight and other constant weight dives, where I dive only with the force of my arms and legs.

Today, my team and I decide to put the weight to 118 m. I know I can go down 115 m, but we want to push a little, as it’s part of training. Once down, I’ll have no choice but to go back on my own. I also know there will be a small parachute and an oxygen tank hooked to the sled, but neither will be for me. The bottle empties very slowly and inflates the balloon. Both serve only to return equipment back to the surface. It’s easier for us to work like that rather than starting a counterweight system.

If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water?

I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material.

I begin my descent. I pass my midterm diver. Very soon, it gets dark. I do not have glasses because they would serve me for nothing in this environment. So I stand, with my eyes closed. I’m relaxed and sinking slowly in the water like I’m used to. I feel the pressure now, but I also suddenly feel the sledge slowing. Then it stops, softly. Usually it stops dead. When I realize that something is wrong, I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material. It is almost as if moving sands are closing in on me at 112 meters below the surface. It is actually a mixture of clay and silt, a mound a few meters higher than the sonar onboard the boat. It wasn’t identified even though it stood in the stack axis of the descent of my sledge. It’s nobody’s fault; sonar is not so precise.

In no time, I understand what’s happening to me. I’m stuck. I cannot get my feet outside the box, and I know there’s no exit door. I simply do not have enough oxygen to both work my way out of this with strength and go up as I have expected, swimming, with my hands and fins. If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stopped, stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water? I’m dying; that’s it. Today is the day. In 15 seconds, I will have consumed all the remaining air I was keeping for my ascent. I am also a few seconds away from being caught by nitrogen narcosis. I will go crazy right before dying.

“Did I become a vegetable?”

Suddenly, I have an idea. The parachute. Yes! I trigger the opening of the small air valve, which then rushes into the parachute. It’s working but it’s slow and long. So I wait, very still, with my eyes closed. I have no other choice. I try to relax. Everything at 112 m is multiplied by 10. One consumed oxygen molecule at the surface is equal to 10 or 12 molecules consumed at that kind of depth. One second is equivalent to 10 seconds. Time and life are both very cruel at the bottom of an ocean. I am now barely conscious. Finally, I remember feeling the chute tearing me away from my trap like a champagne cork. The ascent back to the surface, back to life, is way too long. When I reach the surface, I have strangely not entirely lost consciousness, but my body no longer responds to my brain. Did I become a vegetable? My team, frightened, retrieves and saves me. If I had not been so well-trained, I would not have survived this scary adventure. Instead of the planned 2 minutes and 40 seconds that I went down under water for, I stayed 3 minutes and 50 seconds. In the boat, I gradually recover and quickly regain all my abilities.

Pierre Frolla reascending to the surface, following the guideline with the sled and parachute attached to it.

A few years later, I’m on a movie set doing 60-m free diving over and over all day long, and an air bubble is created in my brain on one of these repetitive dives. But instead of being redirected into my lungs, it remains stuck in my head. When ascending, inevitably, this tiny compressed air bubble suddenly decompresses and its size gets multiplied by six. I immediately lose consciousness. Later, I wake up in a hyperbaric chamber. I stay there for eight and a half hours. But when I wake up in that box, I cannot feel my body. I’m unable to move. For hours, I do not know if I will stay quadriplegic or not. This awakening in the box is one of my worst-ever memories of free diving. I do not understand what is happening to me. It takes me 30 minutes to remember that I was free diving and to deduce that I certainly had a bad accident.

Apnea is an extreme sport. I’ll remember it always. Yesterday I dived to 113 meters. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Photos by Franck Seguin

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