The outdoor adventure world is a lot like golf.
A few years ago I decided to develop a better relationship with my father-in-law. He’s a top-notch golfer and I thought taking up the sport would give us something to talk about.
There were obstacles. Cost, for one. You can find second-hand clubs at any garage sale but using quality tools adds enjoyment to the sport. Costs also include specific clothing, accessories, and green fees. The public course nearest me charges seventy-five dollars for eighteen holes. Private courses are even worse, with initiation fees, forced use of caddies, minimum dining requirements, and yearly dues.
Golf has its own language, one that needs one-on-one explanation. Not the terminology—you can learn that anywhere. I’m talking about the subtle stuff: how to interact with your fellow golfers. The unwritten rules.
I felt awkward, out of place, and under-equipped. I was surrounded by people who knew more than I did, owned better gear, and spent all their time swapping golf stories instead of having more inclusive conversations. I realized I wasn’t having fun and never would.
Does that sound like an experience you’ve had in the outdoor adventure world? If so, you aren’t alone.
This should not be the case.
The greatest thing about the outdoors is it’s expansiveness, both physically and metaphorically. Our natural spaces should be the proving grounds of equality, the very opposite of golf. A golf course is enclosed. It has boundaries and a price tag intentionally designed to limit the people who use it. Golf courses are the playgrounds of privilege—huge swaths of open space set aside for the private use of people who can afford to play.
Total cost of this campsite plus the cast iron skillet: fifteen dollars. Fifteen bucks won’t get you very far on a golf course.
I think most of us do not want our chosen outdoor sport to mirror the worst aspects of golf.
Even a moderately priced “good” mountain bike will cost five-thousand dollars or more.
Walk into any cycling store and ask for help and watch as the employees try to keep contempt from flickering across their faces. “Used gear? I dunno, try Craigslist man. I sell new gear. Good rides in the area? Download an app, dude, I’m here to sell you a bike, not be your babysitter.”
The steel frame Raleigh Kodiak pictured here was purchased from Craigslist at a great value—but only because a lifelong cyclist invested time and energy into helping me choose a quality piece of used gear.
How about backpacking? As the sport becomes increasingly focused on ultra-lightweight gear, more and more average folks are getting priced out of quality equipment by white-collar backpackers who can afford cottage industry toys. Then there’s the social stratification of backpacking. Long distance backpackers are better than weekenders. Triple Crowners are more badass than thru-hikers. Off-trail expedition-style hikers—now those guys really have it figured out.
This pack, purchased at Wal-Mart, is perfect for a day hike. In certain kinds of outdoor circles it would be cause for embarrassment.
Skiing, hunting, surfing, fishing, climbing: all have isolated, cliquish cultures with increasingly expensive entry barriers.
So why does this matter?
A few reasons spring to mind. Those who spend time outside are happier. Folks from diverse backgrounds enjoying the outdoors together is good for the soul of our country. People ought to be able to recreate in amazing public places with the least amount of barriers possible.
Maybe the most pressing point? Climate change and the increasing destruction of our natural resources.
People struggle to care about abstract concepts. Climate change is not abstract. But it can feel that way, and the sheer scale and timeframe of it make it difficult to comprehend. Getting more people outside and enjoying themselves is the only way our country is ever going to come together on this issue before it’s too late. We have to create investment.
Golfers do not have the responsibility of mowing the greens. Someone else does it for them. We don’t have the same luxury when it comes to our outdoor resources.
So in the interest of stewardship, what can we do about the snobbery problem?
We in the outdoor media world need to better understand our country. On a recent trip with other outdoor writers, the Midwest was spoken of as a wasteland empty of both outdoor adventure opportunities and outdoor loving people. Both assumptions are false. The industry needs to be writing about Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio just as much as it writes about Colorado, California, and Washington.
Outdoor adventures abound across the entire country, not just in popular mountainous areas. This woman is on a winter hike in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just outside of Akron, Ohio.
Additionally, those of us who write about gear can focus more on equipment that is reasonably priced but still effective. We also need to recalibrate what we view as “reasonably priced”. Gear guides should not cater only to those who can afford to drop ten thousand dollars at a time.
Instead of yelling at a stranger for dropping into your line, spend a few hours teaching her how to catch a wave. Irritated by a lack of trail etiquette? Host a group ride and teach. Explain the language, the culture, the unwritten rules. De-clique your clique and create an easier entry point. A bonus: spending a few days introducing someone to the fundamentals will only improve your own skills.
These climbers are taking a moment to help a beginner read a route in Hueco Tanks State Park, outside of El Paso, Texas.
Many of us upgrade our gear every few years, not because the old stuff was broken or worn out but because technology or design has improved our options. Instead of trying to recoup the cost by selling online, put your privilege to work by donating it to someone who needs it. How will you identify such a person? See the above point.
The Zaskar GT 26” pictured here is a sweet mountain bike. 26” wheels are no longer in fashion, but this ride has been a fantastic entry point into the sport. It was given to me for free.
Many outdoor adventure aficionados have an instinctive dislike for hunters and vice versa. But we have some major things in common: enjoyment of the outdoors, love of gear, and commitment to resource stewardship. Let’s start leveraging these common goals to affect real change in public policy. In today’s political climate it feels almost hopelessly naive to believe that such a thing is possible. But I choose to do this. You can too.
In talking over these ideas with some acquaintances, someone said, “This is all great as long as it doesn’t get more tourists in the area.”
Nods all around.
A common thought. The trails are too crowded. The parks are filled with trash. Our cathedrals are overrun by barbarians. I understand the worry, but none of the problems that crowds bring are insurmountable. The above steps can go a long way. Talking to each other. Explaining stewardship principles instead of picking fights or muttering under our breaths. Sharing in the wonder as humans, rather than dividing ourselves into tribes.
Those of us who love to play in the outdoors do not own it. But it is ours to steward. If we don’t, no one will.
The world is not a golf course.
This camping trip began like any good adventure - a few friends talking about how badly they wanted to get outdoors, and then finally setting a hard date and making it happen! I was stoked to plan this trip with my brother-in-law and my 12-year-old nephew, both of whom love the outdoors and camping. Some of my favorite trips have been with people I love, so I couldn’t wait to make this one happen. They said they were open to anything, and since we both live close I decided Mckinney Falls would be a fantastic park to show them. We made our plans, put the date on the calendar, and I made the reservations online. To book this campsite which had water and electricity, it was $20 for one night.
View from inside our tent
We arrived at the park around 3 pm on a Friday afternoon and were met with a small crowd. It’s hard to believe because of how beautiful it is, but Mckinney Falls is just thirty minutes from Austin - so it gets quite a bit of traffic in the summer and on weekends. We began our journey inside the park by checking in with the rangers and grabbing a few small items from the store. When we booked online a month prior we got one of the last campsites available, #79 in the Big Cedar camping area. We thanked the rangers inside and made our way to the campsite.
Map of the park
As we pulled into the campsite I was excited - it was secluded in a corner, had a nice tent pad away from where you park, and overall it just felt very cozy. For anyone looking for an awesome campsite at Mckinney Falls, I highly recommend #79 in the Big Cedar camping area. We set up our old school 8-man tent, the same one my family used when I was younger, which I thought was a cool homage. Since this site had electricity, we were able to hook up two box fans as well, creating the closest thing to AC when camping in the heat. I don’t normally camp this way, but since it’s August in Texas and the electricity was there, we had to take advantage! We relaxed in the cool tent for a bit as we made plans and showed each other gear we had brought, and then we loaded up and headed out to explore. We first made our way to the lower falls area, which was barely flowing, but still a sight to see. A trickle of water split through the rock and splattered into the pool below, marking the deepest point in the water. Person after person jumped from this point, including my brave nephew. We hung out here for a while and then headed to the left side of the upper falls.
View of the upper falls
After exploring around for a while we were all pretty tired, and it was getting late, so we headed back to the campsite to make dinner. We fired up our stoves and quickly whipped up a delicious dinner of corn, mashed potatoes, and some veggie sausage. The combination of the corn and mashed potatoes really hit the spot after a long day of work and then hiking around in the heat. After dinner, we cleaned our cooking gear and began preparing for bed. We tweaked our fan setup so we had the ultimate airflow, and I even plugged in a little USB fan that I was able to run off a power bank all night. Again, I do not normally camp with this kind of luxury, but we had electricity and I had some new gear and wanted to test it out. We all slept like babies, and surprisingly all ended up in our sleeping bags by the time morning came. Our fan setup was really that good!
We slept in and slowly woke up, enjoying the still-cool tent, and then began preparing breakfast. We made plans to head to the upper falls, and then packed our backpacks and hit the trail. As we arrived at the parking area, we realized it was packed, typical for a Saturday in August. We found parking spots and made our way down to the falls, met by a barrage of people. We stayed for a few minutes snapping some photos but quickly decided the lower falls would be less crowded and better for a swim. We made our way to the lower falls and were met with a half empty parking lot. We hiked down to the falls and were stoked to see only 15-20 people in the entire area. If you head to Mckinney Falls on a weekend (or anytime really) and want to enjoy a less crowded swimming area, I highly recommend the lower falls.
Awesome patterns in the lower falls area
After swimming for quite a while we all agreed it was time for some food, and since we had to be out of our campsite soon it would probably be best to start packing up. We made our way back to the campsite, packed up our gear and belongings, and made sure to pick up all of our trash. We did one last walk around the campsite to be sure we weren’t forgetting anything or leaving trash, and then we hit the road heading our separate ways. Before we parted we were already throwing around ideas for our next camping trip, which we agreed needs to happen soon. Until the next adventure - take care, and thanks for reading!
For more info on Mckinney Falls check the official Texas State Parks page
To make reservations for any Texas State Park or to find a park near you, use the Texas State Park Online Reservation System.
If you are interested in the Texas Parks Pass check the Parks Pass Info Page, or ask one of the rangers next time you visit a state park. If you are going to be camping with multiple people for multiple days throughout the year, a parks pass is absolutely worth it!
Eastern Tennessee exists in a climate most favorably described as “moist”. If it isn’t raining in the summer it might as well be. The air is saturated with humidity, the forest undergrowth constantly dripping with moisture.
To Bob Marshall, this made it the perfect place to practice fire starting.
My grandfather was an intellectual outdoorsman. He believed that skills should be practiced under adverse conditions to make them easier when needed. He also believed in rites of passage.
That’s how I found myself spending rainy days hunched over kindling in the damp little patch of woods behind my grandparent’s house in Chattanooga. My grandfather’s ultimate test, the skill that had to be mastered before he would take me on my first long backpacking trip, was to start a fire.
With one match. No accelerant or store-bought kindling allowed.
In the rain.
People who mostly adventure in the mountain west don’t really understand how difficult this can be. There are places in this country where you can start a fire simply by speaking harshly to a handful of sticks. I once saw a woman in Colorado get a blaze going by mounding some leaves under a log and singing “Disco Inferno,” in a pleasing soprano.
This is not the case in Eastern Tennessee. In the rainy season of the southeast, starting a fire requires expert knowledge of natural kindling sources, a scientific understanding of thermodynamics, and an architect's attention to stick placement.
My grandfather would build a fire next to my dripping teepee of twigs. He usually had a cheerful blaze going within a few minutes while I labored on in sodden frustration.
“You can’t outfox the fox,” he’d say with a grin, warming his hands over the flames before stepping over to give me a few pointers. What followed was a mix of hard skills and personal philosophy. The most important of the latter: a life well lived in the outdoors is one of infectious joy.
My grandfather and I sharing a breakfast on one of our innumerable camping trips.
Many people believe they are the smartest person in the room. My grandfather usually was the smartest person in the room. He loved building things, creating things, and puzzling over problems. He had a passion for the outdoors and he applied his prodigious intellect towards maximum fun in the woods.
He was also a trickster, especially in the mountains. Something about the smell of woodsmoke seemed to bring out the imp in him.
My grandfather’s tricks were subtle. Every backpacker knows to look for heavy stones hidden deep in his pack by traveling companions (if you do not know to look out for this...chances are you have hauled some stones up a mountain). My grandfather was not above this trick, but he preferred jokes with a little more artistry. He played the long game, and he didn’t mind if you never caught on as long as he amused himself.
For instance: he was an ace at telling time in the backcountry.
He would squint at the sky, hold up his left arm, grunt thoughtfully, and use his fingers to measure the distance between sun and horizon. Then he would say something like, “3:26...roughly.”
His accuracy was astounding, always within ten minutes or so.
No one ever realized he was looking at the watch on his left wrist. I only found out years after he was gone. My father clued me in. It took Dad a long time to figure it out too, well into his late teenage years. The theatricality of the performance sold the trick, coupled with the fact that he truly did possesses an astounding degree of outdoor skills.
You can’t outfox the fox.
Another of my grandfather’s tricks was just as subtle. On uphill climbs when we stopped for water, he was always quick to offer his own bottle, so my brother and I didn’t have to dig ours out of our packs.
“I’ve already got mine out,” he would say. “Here, have a drink.”
At the top of the mountain, my grandfather would trade bottles with us since my brother and I had drunk all his water. He would carry ours downhill.
It was two decades later that I realized the truth: he was ounce shaving. He let us drink his water to lighten his load going up, then took our water (that we hauled up the mountain!) for the return journey.
You can’t outfox the fox.
My grandfather and I on a fishing trip in Tennessee. If I remember correctly, we ate this fish. I probably had to build the fire.
It took some time, but I eventually learned to start a fire with one match in the rain. Though we had dozens of adventures in the woods together, I never did go on that long backpacking trip with my grandfather. In my early teens, he was diagnosed with Hep-C. The disease was merciless. By the time I turned nineteen he was dead.
Seven years later I completed a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You better believe that I utilized my grandfather’s tricks time and again on the trail and in countless adventures since. I trust you will do the same. But remember to play the long game.
I never had a problem getting a fire started on the Appalachian Trail. All that training. I spent many nights watching other people fail though. Most people don’t really know how to do it.
There are plenty of opportunities for building one’s sense of humor on the Appalachian Trail.
I could give you the hard skills, but nowadays you can just look them up for yourself. The important thing is attitude and repetition. If you want to practice both, I know a good spot on Lookout Mountain, in the clouds above the Tennessee River Valley.
Wait for a rainy day. It won’t take long.
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are hotbeds for independent innovation; unencumbered by marketing departments or stockholders, developers are free to launch wild ideas into a community that is receptive. Some currently successful outdoor products owe their rise to stardom to crowdfunding platforms, while others fail to reach their funding goal, and wither away.
I will occasionally peruse these campaigns and highlight the ones that I feel have merit, are fascinating, or just plain wacky here on Upventur. These products may be the start of an equipment revolution, or they may sputter out to the status of campfire jokes. Or maybe, they will inspire you to tinker during your next outdoor adventure.
Help Get 100,000 Kids Climbing: TOMS and So iLL Collaboration
Professional climber Kevin Jorgenson, of Dawn Wall fame, is spearheading a non-profit called 1Climb. 1Climb’s manifesto is to provide kids the opportunity to try climbing by funding construction of climbing walls inside of Boys & Girls clubs in the United States.
Famously charitable lifestyle brand TOMS and edgy climbing brand So iLL are partnering to help fund 1Climb through a collection of climbing related products on Indiegogo. Perks start at $39 with rewards of campaign specific, color-matched chalk bags, casual shoes and high-performance climbing shoes. Between 25% to 50% of contributed funds will funnel into 1Climb.
The 1Climb / TOMS / So iLL campaign has surpassed its funding goal by over 250% and as of this writing, seems to have growing momentum that will carry through until the end date of September 14th.
Why Didn’t We Think of That: The Air Pack
Ultralight rucksacks or “summit packs” usually have zero suspension and padding, serving primarily as a way to carry a smaller portion of the main backpack’s load. In an urban travel setting, these simple packs can live compressed in your suitcase, to be furled out for light duty use. The lack of comfort and support is an understood compromise for the low weight and minimal space requirements.
The 33 liter, 300 gram Air Pack adds an air inflatable back panel and shoulder straps, adding stability and comfort without a lot of weight or loss of compressibility. When inflated, the back panel and shoulder straps look and function similar to camping air mattresses Air mattresses can puncture in the field, and carrying that logic to the Air Pack is a legitimate cause for concern. But the Air Pack can be repaired just like an air mattress and carries a lifetime warranty. What is odd is the availability waterproof and non-waterproof versions of the Air Pack. Although not designed for heavy-duty, backcountry use, for urban adventures and day hikes, the use of air for both weight distribution and cushioning seems like an ingenious solution.
And the public concurs; the Air Pack campaign has three weeks remaining, the $15,000 funding goal has been eclipsed, with committed pledges sitting at $105,000 at the time of writing. Also, at the time of writing, pledges starting at $79 will include an Air Pack.
The Long Shot: Tent+ Raft = Traft
Packrafting is enjoying a rise in popularity; the ability to carry a fully capable boat in a backpack is opening up distance and terrain that before was impossible. But adding even lightweight pack rafts is a substantial increase in weight to dry land carries. Enter the Traft. Combining a tent with a pack raft logically could eliminate some weight and bulk. Traft claims that their raft, tent, and sleeping pad weigh under twelve pounds.
The tent portion of the Traft can be deployed on the raft for water or land use, and can also be fully detached. The campaign is offering two sizes of one-person Trafts and an “Extreme” version (claimed to handle class IV and V rapids) of each that adds a storage compartment and knee straps.
The campaign also highlights a carbon fiber enhanced fabric, unleashed if the Traft hits an incredibly lofty fundraising goal of $425,000.
Traft needs a Hail Mary to make a go; they have less than a month left in the campaign and still have $47,000 to go. At the time of writing, pledges starting at $770 will include a full Traft.
The Proven Concept: Zenbivy Light Bed
A year ago, the Zenbivy Bed hybrid sleeping bag launched on Kickstarter, the unique two-piece design introducing a system that allows a wide range of temperature adjustment and movement while sleeping. The Zenbivy Bed anchors a sleeping pad to a cover and mummy hood, and different configurations of the top quilt transform the system on a continuum from mummy bag to free quilt. Side sleepers, restless sleepers an those looking for the one-bag quiver have hailed the Zenbivy Bed as a savior.
Zenbivy returns to crowdfunding, this time on Indiegogo, and with the Light Bed. As the name suggests, this is a 20% lighter version with the same EN Limit rating of 23°F as the original bed, in the three-season version. A three-season + version will also be available, with a 10°F EN Limit rating. The claimed weight is one pound, thirteen ounces for the three season, two pounds, 6 ounces for the three+, with much of the weight loss stemming from a zipperless design (which also expands quilt attachment options) and a slightly higher fill power water resistant down.
The Zenbivy Light Bed campaign will go live on Indiegogo on September 13th, with bed pricing set at $359.
Nicholas Stribling working on Dig Dug v4 during a late night climb. Photo credit: Mia Alfonso
Tucked away in the Ozarks and about 15 minutes outside of Jasper, Arkansas there exists a paradise for climbers. A paradise where the psych is high, and the smell of the mountain air in the morning greets you like a long-lost friend. If you’ve seen Reel Rock 10 and are familiar with the epic battle between the team of Nik Berry and Mason Earle and the great Alex Honnold during 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell then you know where this paradise is; Horseshoe Canyon Ranch.
HCR is a great place to get out and experience adventure, there is so much more to do out at the ranch. They offer horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, hiking, zip lining, skeet shooting, .22 target shooting, archery, and fishing. There truly is something for everyone but for me that adventure is climbing.
Over this past spring break, I was able to head up to HCR with some other University of North Texas climbers for three straight days of climbing. At the ranch there is over 500 routes and something for every climber, from bouldering to sport climbing, and even trad climbing. Trad climbing, also known as traditional climbing, is when the climber will place temporary gear in the cracks of the wall they are climbing in order to create an anchor point to clip their rope to it as they climb.
Mia Alfonso making the clip on Lavender Eye 5.12a. Photo credit: Avery Dufilho
While I was there, we spent a little bit of time bouldering but we mostly sport climbed. The goal for the trip was to send—when one completes a route, shorthand for ascend—at least one 5.11 route. During day two I found one that I thought would be the one to go down; Sonny Jim 5.11a. On my second attempt I was able to sick the crux move, the hardest move on the climb, which is a real height dependent move, and finish the route only taking one fall. After multiple attempts to finish the route, and a lot more falling, I had to call it quits and head back to camp.
The campsite is located on a hill top that looks over the valley. Each campsite has its own fire pit, picnic table, and plenty of space to set up your tent. There is also one main bathroom at the campsite that has hot water and even showers for when you’re feeling particularly nasty. As far as camps go, this was one of the nicer ones.
That night we decided to head down the mountain into Jasper for dinner at the famous Ozark Café. The Ozark Café is arguably the most popular destination for anyone visiting HCR and Jasper. The café was opened in 1909 and is the second oldest restaurant in Arkansas. The food there is made fresh to order and they have something for everyone, but the burgers are where it's at. The servers are always friendly and our server was able to take care of our whole group of hungry climbers as well as all the other climbers coming down from HCR looking for a hot meal.
Austin Sivoravong setting up camp. Photo credit: Mia Alfonso
On the morning of day three I gave the route another go, but still could not link it all together, that’s when I decided to turn my attention to another route Horseshoes and Hand grenades 5.11a. Even though I cruised through most of the crux I got turned around and fell while trying to get to the better holds. With light running out, destroyed skin, and a long hike back to camp I decided to call it and save these routes for later. In all, the trip was bittersweet but I was happy with the progress I made sport climbing, being that I primarily stick to bouldering. On the other hand, it’s always disappointing to not meet your goals on a climbing trip.
Masthead Image-Mia Alfonso crossing the bridge back to camp. Photo Credit: Avery Dufilho
Outside of East Side Bar in Denton, there are people throwing bean bags into wooden boards in a game known as cornhole. It is 11 am on a Saturday, and the Texas heat is in full force. Closer to the outside entrance of the bar, on a table, there is a sled, a helmet and shoes. The owner stands close-by shaking hands, posing for photographs and trying to raise money. Some people may be confused as to why there is a sled used for an ice sport on the deck of a Texas bar, but there is a pretty good reason. Her name is Kellie Delka, and she wants to compete in the Olympics.
After she graduated from the University of North Texas in 2011, she saw a post on her Facebook feed about a local UNT football legend, Johnny Quinn. He played for the Mean Green back in the early aughts, and after a few stints with some NFL teams, he left the game. He resurfaced in 2012 when he made the U.S. Men’s Bobsled team for the Sochi Winter Olympics. After seeing that post, Delka went to Lake Placid in upstate New York to check out Bobsledding, but she ended up staying for three months to do skeleton.
“I was like ‘I'll give this a go and then I ended up doing skeleton. I wasn't quite big enough for bobsled at that time and then I was like yep, s [skeleton] is my thing,” Delka says. “I've always wanted to go to the games and this was my way.”
Delka is in the process of qualifying for the upcoming 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in the skeleton discipline. Skeleton is an individual and thrilling high-speed sport where the racer, on top a small sled, goes at speeds up 80 mph and experiencing four Gs of force down an ice track. Racers compete by putting the best times going down an icy track one at a time.
“It would be like if you're on a roller coaster with no seat belt. It's exhilarating; I’m not too scared, and that's probably why I love it,” says Delka. “I’ve been black and blue on my whole side like for months. I’ve been just beat up because, I mean, when you think about it, you'll hit an ice wall going 60 miles an hour, and you're wearing just a tiny speed suit.”
While she was a student at UNT she was cheering on the Mean Green Eagles as a cheerleader for two years and was part of the track and field team for four years as a pole vaulter. Delka says she’s always been active and that she loved being outside when she was a kid, she even has a scuba certification. Before Delka even heard of skeleton she graduated with a B.S. in Kinesiology, which she says, helped her understand her body better.
“My degree is going to help me tremendously because I understand it [her body] scientifically and,” says Delka, “It's a good baseline, but I feel like I've learned just from my hands on experience through track and looking at all the training I've done.” Training with other Olympians has helped her a great deal in getting better at the sport and knowing how to train.
Skeleton training can be grueling—on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays she wakes up early to. Then she moves on to working on her sprints, which requires, “either pushing a sled or pulling a sled, inclined sprints, downhill sprints and regular sprints,” says Delka. All of this is before lunch.
Once she has lunch, it is back to working out, but this time she hits the weights. She says it is all about finding the right balance—too strong and it will lower you speed, so she finds that middle ground between track and weight lifting because muscle is not always your best friend.
“I have to find the balance because I have been at the point where I've been too muscle-bound where I feel like I'm a turtle in peanut butter because I'm so strong, but it's going nowhere,” says Delka. “I'm really strong, but I'm also really quick, so it's a happy balance.”
That training, although hard, can also be expensive with professional sleds costing thousands of dollars. While the training can be all consuming, the stress of financing can be overwhelming especially when the Olympic trials are only a short time away. Delka doesn’t have a job, and she doesn’t consider skeleton her job either, but as much as she loves the sport she needs money to fund her dream. Up to know, her parents have supported her dream, but with plane trips and gear—sled, helmet, and body—it can get to be too much, which is why today she is at East Side on a Saturday morning.
She knew she needed to cover her expenses, so she reached out to Mark Miller, a member of the UNT Alumni Association, and he set up the event—a cornhole tournament and raffle. Miller is a passionate supporter of UNT athletics in the Denton community and helped Delka set up a GoFundMe page just a few months ago. “At this level of trying to qualify, the Olympic Committee [USOC] for her, so we’re just a bunch of people that decided, ‘hey, you know, this is a great kid, and she needs some help,'” Miller says. “It’s just a bunch of local folks trying to help out a local kid.”
The United States Olympic Committee funds athletes only after they have qualified, but unlike other nations, the USOC is privately, and not federally, funded. Once an athlete qualifies, the USOC will pay for airfare, lodging, and food. The USOC may give them a stipend, but it varies by sport, with athletes in more popular spots receiving more money. Some athletes are not paid at all, and many fund themselves like Delka, with a GoFundMe page and her parent’s support.
But earlier in the day, before the cornhole tournament, she gave a brief speech all in the name of supporting her dream.
Qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics for skeleton all depends on the amount of points a racer accumulate during the international 2017-2018 season. The event will have 50 racers from all over the world, and only six from the U.S.—three men and three women. The U.S. team will be named on Jan. 15 2018.
She says her first try at the skeleton sled was on Oct. 21, 2011, known to most as Halloween. Ever since that All Hallows Eve, she has been putting in the work and is trying her hardest to qualify, but she is not doing it for fame or money, although she would not mind being on a cereal box.
Her goal right now is to qualify for the games and to be respected by her peers. She wants to be known as someone who was a a persistent person who worked hard—she wants future generations to know of her hard work and workhorse attitude when it comes to training. “Everybody knows, if they'll give me ten runs, I will take ten runs. I am out there all the time because I just love this sport,” says Delka. When a racer goes down the track that equals one run, so doing 10 runs is physically challenging.
When she is not doing weights, pulling a sled or doing ten runs in a row she likes to stay at home with her parents and her dogs, she says, because she is a bit of a homebody. She loves to be outdoors too, whether it is stand up paddling at the lake or boogie boarding, she prefers to remain active. Delka sees her friends, and still goes out occasionally but she says it is a weird transition being back home during the off-season.
“During the season, I am literally living in the same room, or literally same bed as my best friends like for six months, and when you get home you're like, ‘oh, I'm so lonely,’” she says.
But right now, she does not look very lonely with 40 friends and Denton locals sipping on craft beer and throwing around bean bags. People come by and ask what’s going on before joining in on the festivities; she is just happy that people showed up.
“Mark put everything together, which is awesome and did a really good job, so I'm just hoping people come out and have fun and see what happens,” she says. “That's all I can hope for—I’ll take a dollar, it's better than .”
Keep checking back at upventur for more on Kellie and her Olympic dreams, or to find out about our other athletes. Visit the site to check out the best outdoor content and to see what adventure you may embark on soon.