Tag Archives: Yosemite

5 Ways Backpacking Prepared Me for Startups

When our kids were young, my wife and I did family trips into the Yosemite high country for a lot of summers. I call it backpacking but for most of these trips we rented a burro to carry the gear since the kids were so little, so only two of us, me and the burro, actually carried packs. You see some pictures of us here. These are all from the 1980s. We started that decade with three kids, ended it with five.

Looking back on that, and building a business, here’s how starting and growing a business is a lot like backpacking:

1. It’s mostly about the people

I love the high Sierra and mountains in general and I can understand, on the bad days, how some people turn to the mountains for peace and solitude. Not us. It was about family vacations. It was about being together with our kids. It was always a lot of work, too: get up, breakfast, pack the burro, hike, unpack, pitch the tent, dinner … but it was work we did together.

That’s a lot like starting a company. Ideally, you gather the right people around and work together on something you like. Or something you believe in. It’s work, for sure, but it ought to be more than that. And it works a lot better with the right people.

2. You compromise, improvise, and make do

Try putting everything seven people need on the back of one dad and a burro. Not easy. You settle for fewer clothes, stuff you can use for various purposes (jackets become pillows), less food (and way less tasty), a one-portable-stove kitchen, no sink (cold hands in the creek), no mattress, and so on.

Not hard to figure how that’s like starting a company. Right?

3. You have to plan very well

To make this high-country stuff work you really have to plan the route, meal-by-meal food including snacks, what you need to stay warm on freezing nights and to be comfortable during the hot hikes. Good luck if you forget the can opener for those canned tuna lunches, or moleskin for blisters, or salt and pepper. Do you have enough fuel for that super light stove? Rubber bands to repair tent problems? Rope to tie food up so bears don’t get it?

And then there’s the business plan: product, market, team, milestones, steps, objectives, startup costs, financing, sales, cash flow… absolutely essential.

And that is despite the next point.

4. You also have to revise plans quickly

We had bears eat our food overnight. We had late snowfall so we couldn’t get over the pass. We had an unexpected freeze, an unusually late in the season mosquito problem, a burro, stung on its ass by a bee, kicking all our stuff off its back, and I-don’t-remember-how-many other reasons to change plans mid-trip.

The time the bears got our food (and yes, we had it tied up, but these were professional-thief bears, the George Clooney and Brad Pitt of beardom) we had to change from a six-day to a three-day route and have breakfast for lunch and dinner (the bears didn’t get to our breakfasts bag).

And in business, bears are always either eating your food or are about to, and passes are constantly threatened with snow. You just can’t obsess about the plan. Having a plan makes changing it possible. And without a plan, there’s no starting point, just chaos, guessing, and hoping.

5. You don’t get downhill without some uphill

In backpacking, you plan your route carefully. Downhill is easier than uphill, and occasionally you can manipulate a bit, like when we’d take the 50-mile bus ride from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, so we had a 27-mile mostly-downhill trail back. Even then, you have to go up some hills.

That’s hard. Walking uphill, pack on your back, 10,000 feet elevation, you have to focus on taking just one step at a time, get patient, and keep going. You keep your objective — the top of the hill — in view, and that’s motivating. But the work is one step at a time.

And at the end of the day, you’ve done the uphill and the downhill, you settle back to the tasks of pitching tents and spreading sleeping bags and making dinner. With another good day behind you.

And of course, in business as well, you need the motivation of the long-term goals, but you really do it one step at a time. One day, one year, one problem at a time.

Yosemite and America’s Best Idea

I’m a bit off my normal thought patterns today, waking up in a generic freeway-exit hotel in the California Central Valley, headed for Yosemite National Park with my youngest daughter. Below Half Dome

Yosemite means a lot to me. My dad took my brothers and me there many times when we were growing up in the San Francisco area. As a teenager I went backpacking into the Yosemite high country every summer. Later on, my wife and I took our kids up into the high country every summer. That first picture is me with our three oldest in 1980, on the shoulder below Half Dome.

I’m very much looking forward to the Ken Burns series on National Parks starting this month on PBS. He calls it “America’s Best Idea.” I second that. I’ve lived in Mexico and Austria as well as the U.S., and I’ve traveled to dozens of countries, but I’ve never seen anything like our own national park system. It’s a great privilege to be able to hold the polluting effects of civilization at bay in some of these great parks. Poor Mexico, my country-in-law, has tried hard but is just economically unable to hold back the tide, even though it has some natural beauties that truly deserve it. Too bad. Let’s be grateful for what we have. The website for the Ken Burns series says tell your story; and this is mine.

Little Yosemite Valley

The second picture here is our family plus pack burro  on the far side of the river campsite at Little Yosemite Valley. That was in 1988. They used to rent pack burros in Yosemite for use by families and groups going out into the high country. We’d rent a burro for $15 per day and relieve ourselves of actually packing the stuff on our backs, which made it possible for a family to make a 4-5 day trip up into the mountains. My wife made those high-country trips into great family vacations. And we were always broke, so the $15 a day lodging cost was attractive. They don’t do that at Yosemite any more, because of problems like insurance, and people not respecting the implied privilege. And that’s too bad.

I’m particularly excited today because I’ve missed Yosemite since we moved to Oregon 17 years ago.  I do get into the Oregon Cascades a lot, but I’ve missed Yosemite and I’m anxious to visit again.

This last photo, taken above Nevada Falls in 1980, is of our three oldest children, now 37, 35, and 33 years old. I can’t say that I would be looking forward to backpacking tonight (we have a hotel room reserved) but I am very glad we were able to do it when we did. And very happy to visit again, later today.
Above Nevada Falls

Photo credits: first one by my wife Evangelina Berry, second by some teenage boy who was talking up our teenage daughters at the time, third one by me.