Newsletter Challenge, v. 10
Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.
The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.
My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.
For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!
“Llama Packing the San Juans,” May 29
@ https://salsacycles.com/stories/llama_packing_the_san_juans by Brett Davis / @salsacycles
–Grey typeface: Brett.
—Normal typeface: me.
Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 11 -> 9.
–word count: 1350 -> 1180
–median sentence length: 21 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 16 -> 9.3.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 57% -> 39%
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.Erich Fromm
Some say that there is nothing new left to do, that those before us have done it all. Others state that this is the age of discovery, and that with our current state of technology and the availability of more leisure time, barriers and deep-rooted beliefs can be broken. Both camps are probably right in some aspect. I believe it really comes down to one’s attitude on the matter.
Is there anything new under the sun? Absolutely. In fact, I think we’re in the midst of another age of discovery: with the current state of technology and expansive leisure time, the world of adventure continues to grow. To find something new simply takes some creativity.
Personally, I fall on the side that the “age of firsts” is not over, it just requires some creativity—thinking outside of the norm. In this golden age of bikepacking, I struggle with giving step-by-step directions to every route that I plan and attempt. I have a hard time following someone else’s GPX route, knowing that if I dig a little deeper and stare at a map for a little bit longer, an idea will come forth that will inspire me to look beyond the box that we inadvertently draw around ourselves when we follow in others’ footsteps. This past summer’s adventure was a prime example of what can be experienced when we think for ourselves and stray away from what has already been done and published.
For me, a key feature of creativity is risk, which is why I think we’re in the golden age of bikepacking: with reliable bikes and imperfect cellphone technology, there’s still room for serendipity. When I sit down to plan a trip, I resist the impulse to provide step-by-step directions to every section of the route. I’ll put up even more resistance if I have access to someone else’s GPX route. If I’m patient, though, and I simply stare at the map a little longer, I know that I’ll find the inspiration to look beyond the box we impose upon ourselves by following the footsteps of others. This past summer, my comrades on wheels and I decided to steer clear of what’s come before, rely on our own wits and, as a result, find a novel adventure under the (Colorado) sun.
For years now, I have had an idea percolating in the deep recesses of my adventure mind. Living in the picturesque mountain town of Durango, Colorado, I am lucky to have access to one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges, the San Juans. Encompassing more than 17,000 square miles, the range is a playground for all mountain enthusiasts. I have hiked, climbed, skied, kayaked, and biked much of the range. For most, an exploration of the range begins in the towns of Durango, Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Ouray, or Silverton. The scenic byways of 550 and 160 provide quick and easy access to high alpine lakes, trout streams, rocky summits, and deep gorges. Additionally, because of the bisection of the range from the Durango-Silverton railway and the presence of the famed Colorado Trail, a north-to-south (or vice versa) traverse of the area is common. Few ever think of crossing the range from the other cardinal points of east and west.
For years now, an idea has percolated deep in the recesses of my adventure mind. As a resident of Durango, Colorado, I am lucky to have immediate access to one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges: the San Juans. It encompasses more than 17,000 square miles, and it’s a playground for a variety of mountain enthusiasts. I have hiked, climbed, skied, kayaked, and biked much of the range. You can start your own San Juan adventure in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Ouray, or Silverton. The scenic byways of US Routes 550 and 160 provide easy access to high alpine lakes, trout streams, rocky summits, and deep gorges. With the bisection of the range by the Durango-Silverton railway and the famed Colorado Trail allow a north-south (or vice versa) traverse of the range. Few folks, though, ever cross the range heading east or west.
The wall behind my office desk is covered by a map of the entire San Juan Mountain Range. Every day the first thing I see when I open the door is the San Juans sprawling across 64 square feet of space behind my chair. Throughout my workday I find myself swiveling my chair around to stare and dream. What is in that drainage? What is that trail like? Do I have the skill to climb that peak? From these mind wanderings, the idea embedded itself in my consciousness…what about traversing the range utilizing human-powered means from west to east, beginning with a climb of its western most prominent peak, Lone Cone (12,618’) and finishing with an ascent of Bennett Peak (13,209’), the tallest peak on the southeast side of the range? Between the two peaks lies 260 miles of some of the lower 48’s most beautiful and rugged terrain. What did those miles look like? What would I see? What would I experience?
A map of the entire San Juan Mountain Range covers the wall behind my office desk. The first thing I see when I open that door is a 64 sf representation of the San Juans. Throughout my workday, I pause, swivel my chair around, and wonder: what is in that drainage? What is that trail like? Do I have what it takes to climb that peak? From these daydreams a question arose: what about biking the range from west to east? Such a ride might begin with an ascent ofLone Cone (12,618’), its western most prominent peak, and finish with an ascent of Bennett Peak (13,209’), the tallest peak on the southeast side of the range. Between the two peaks lies 260 miles of some of the lower 48’s most beautiful and rugged terrain. What did those miles look like? What would I see? How might it change me?
That is the charm of a map. It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible. It has the magic of anticipation without the toil and sweat of realization. The greatest romance ever written pales before the possibilities of adventure that lie in the faint blue trails from sea to sea. The perfect journey is never finished, the goal is always just across the next river, round the shoulder of the next mountain. There is always one more track to follow, one more mirage to explore. Achievement is the price which the wanderer pays for the right to venture.Rosita Forbes
Upon sharing my idea of the ramble with the usual suspects, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Jon Bailey, they both watched eagerly as my fingers traced a route from peak to peak across the entirety of the range. I could tell from their eyes and body language that they were both in—no hesitations or questions asked. This type of journey appealed to their adventure values of creativity, off the beaten path, human powered, some suffering, and relatively inexpensive. This trip would meet all criteria and would be extra affordable given that it would take place in our own backyard.
One evening, I brought comrades Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Jon Bailey into my office and traced my finger across the route, from peak to peak. Their eyes bulged with glee — and that was it. They were both in, no questions asked. This journey appealed to their desires for creativity, to be on human-powered vehicles (and off the beaten path), affordability, and moderate suffering.
Another draw for each of us in not following another’s footsteps, tire tracks, etc., is the planning process to create such adventures. Utilizing various maps of the region, Google Earth, and CalTopo.com, I spent hours looking at prospective four-wheel drive roads, trails, and waterways to build a compelling route—something that was plausible and inspiring without being contrived. After each session of following lines across a computer screen or paper map, my mind would drift off in a state of curiosity and wanting to immerse myself into the actual landscape depicted by the maps.
All three of us were also thrilled with the prospect of a maiden voyage. As far as I could tell, we would be following neither footsteps nor tire tracks on this adventure. With the help of various printed maps, Google Earth, and CalTopo.com, I spent hours assembling a plausible and inspiring route along four-wheel drive roads, trails, and waterways. When I wrapped up a session with the maps or online, my mind took flight, and I could imagine myself on my bike, deep in the actual landscape.
A map is not a journey.Phyllis A. Whitney
On a beautiful late-July afternoon, the three of us were shuttled with mountain bikes and other associated gear to the Devil’s Chair trailhead of Lone Cone to begin our journey. Standing as a sentry to the western flank of the San Juans, Lone Cone is probably one of the most-viewed peaks in the range. Those driving anywhere in the Four Corners region of the southwest can’t miss its volcano-like stature on the horizon. Despite its visible notoriety, few people aside from locals climb to its summit. During our shuttle drive, the peak was surrounded by the heavy blue clouds of the monsoon season. Given that the mountain was being hit by lightning from every angle, an early evening summit attempt didn’t seem to be in the cards for us. However, once we arrived at the deserted trailhead, the skies had lightened and the race was on to start our ramble.
In late July, on sunny afternoon, the three of us — and all our gear — shuttled our way to the Devil’s Chair trailhead of Lone Cone to start our journey. Lone Cone serves as a sentry to the western flank of the San Juans, and it’s one of the most iconic peaks in the range. If you’ve ever explored the Four Corners region, you may recall its volcano-like stature on the horizon. Despite Lone Cone’s high profile, only the locals climb to its summit. During our shuttle drive, the heavy blue clouds of the monsoon season gathered around its peak. Given the lightning strikes piercing Lone Cone from every angle, an early evening summit attempt looked impossible. Once we arrived at the deserted trailhead, the skies brightened and our ramble commenced.
The following morning, we found ourselves prepping for the first of two bike segments on the trip. Given the nature of the mountainous terrain, we decided to ride full-suspension bikes with minimal bikepacking gear. Our first three days of riding were almost entirely on singletrack with a few miles of gravel road connectors, so we didn’t want to be burdened by too much equipment or compromise the feel of the trail by riding a hardtail. I wanted to shred on my new Spearfish and enjoy all of its capabilities as an efficient and playful trail bike.
The next morning, we prepared for the first of the two bike segments of the trip. Our first three days of riding were almost entirely on single track, so we wanted to pack light and really feel the trail. We opted for full-suspension bikes and minimal bikepacking gear. I wanted to shred on my new Spearfish and savor its capacities as a responsive and playful trail bike.
Soon after snapping the obligatory group shot, we found ourselves ripping down a ribbon of singletrack that none of us had ever ridden. Though it was late July, the forest was still lush from one of the whitest winters we had experienced in recent years. The normally dry creeks were still flowing from bank to bank, providing ample opportunities to cool off with mad high-speed crossings.
The first segment of riding flew by with the routines of our daily lives quickly falling by the wayside, replaced by the hypnotic metronome of a consistent pedal cadence; the pitter patter of afternoon rains falling on a jacket hood; and the laughter of three men enjoying each other’s company. Life was simple again, and its stresses melted away with each mile.
Soon after snapping the obligatory group shot, we went ripping down a ribbon of singletrack that none of us had ever ridden. The forest remained lushly green from one of the whitest winters in recent years. Creeks still flowed from bank to bank, and they delivered ample opportunities to cool off by way of our nearly unhinged, high-speed crossings.
In that first segment of the ride, the frictions of everyday life gave way to the hypnotic metronome of a consistent pedal cadence, the patter of the afternoon rain on the hoods of our jackets, and the episodic laughter of three men enjoying each other’s company. Life is always better on the trail.
After nearly 100 miles in two and a half days, we descended down a high alpine talus field and into the bustling mountain town of Silverton, CO. We were quickly welcomed back into the front country by clouds of exhaust from every conceivable type of ATV and OHV zooming by us as we rode the town’s lone strip of pavement down main street. Though Silverton is one of my favorite towns during the winter months as a sleepy backcountry skier’s paradise, it is anything but that during the summer. The warmer months attract a more motorized crowd who flock from all across the country to utilize engine-powered transports to explore the trails snaking through the surrounding high peaks and long-abandoned mining communities. Needless to say, all three of us were hoping for a quick resupply and transition to the next segment of our journey.
After logging nearly 100 miles in two and a half days, we descended down a high alpine talus field and into the bustling town of Silverton, CO. Our exit from back country to front country was remarkably rude: clouds of exhaust from every conceivable type of ATV and OHV wrapped around us as we rode Main Street into town. Silverton is one of my favorite towns during the winter months. It’s a sleepy backcountry skier’s paradise. In the summer, though, it’s a combustible nightmare. The warmer months attract a well-motorized crowd from across the country to explore at maximum volume the trails snaking through the surrounding high peaks and abandoned mining outposts. We hastily re-upped our supplies and rode quickly into the next segment of our journey.
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.Howard Zahniser
Those familiar with the San Juan Mountain Range know that in its heart lies a wilderness area of stunning beauty. The Weminuche Wilderness is the largest designated wilderness in the state of Colorado, encompassing nearly 500,000 acres. Within its boundaries you’ll find some of the state’s most rugged and steep terrain. As many may know, motorized or mechanical vehicles (i.e. a simple bicycle) are not permitted in a wilderness designated area. One can easily bypass the Weminuche by following four-wheel drive tracks to the north of Silverton or by pavement to the far south near Durango.
At the heart of the San Juan Mountain Range lies a wilderness of stunning beauty. The Weminuche Wilderness covers nearly 500,000 acres. It’s the largest designated wilderness area in Colorado. Within its boundaries you’ll find some of the state’s most rugged terrain. As you may know, motorized or mechanical vehicles (i.e. a simple bicycle) are not permitted in a wilderness designated area. To bypass the Weminuche, then, you can follow either the four-wheel drive tracks to the north of Silverton or the pavement to the far south near Durango.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.Erich Fromm
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And that’s a wrap. If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.