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Outdoor Nation Merrell Delegate: Mike Defenbaugh

Merrell Delegate: Mike Defenbaugh

I'm into the outdoors... ok so that's an understatement. I'm REALLY into the outdoors. I love getting back to the natural wonders that surround us everyday, and I love sharing those times, places, and feelings that com along with epic outdoor adventures. So, maybe it's not a big surprise that I was chosen by Merrell to go to Outdoor Nation's Minneapolis Summit in July of 2011 (it was a pleasant surprise for me!). It was a huge honor to be chosen as well as receive a bunch of great Merrell gear; not to mention having all my travel arrangements taken care of by, who else but, the good folks at Merrell! Now there's an opening act, I'm told I get free gear and a flight to MN! Hard to follow, right? Nope, Outdoor Nation blew me away with a whole weekend which entwined outdoor fun with youth's concerns and actions to be taken in getting youth (as well as all people) outdoors. All in all, if I had to put a word on it, “epic” weekend. Here's how it went down for me...

First we should note that I'm not a big fan of flying on big commercial planes... until recently parachutes were not allowed and I never know who is flying the huge sardine tube at 30,000 feet. I have no problem jumping out of planes, love it in fact, but my irrational fear of big commercial airlines remains. Even with that, I sucked it up when Merrell said they'd book my flight from Milwaukee, WI to Minneapolis, MN (no need to be rude). I arrived at the airport, calm, mostly; the flight went off without a hitch, at least I assume so since I took a nap. My friend Shane was supposed to pick me up at the airport, but since he had to work I took the bus on over to the University. It was pouring cats and dogs out, but being a good hiker I was geared up and outfitted with some of Merrell's best gear (thanks again yall) and dried quickly once in the U.

The first moments you meet new friends are usually the most exciting, but considering the rain most people's spirits weren't as high as they could be. None-the-less we sat together as discussed who had sent us (our sponsors) and what we hoped the weekend would be. As more of the delegates arrived we all sat down for a quick run-down of the weekend and what was to come. After a delicious lunch we got to work by answering questions and giving input on what was an outsiders rights, responsibilities, and the biggest issues keeping people from getting outside. We all had some dinner and checked into our dorms where we met our roomies. Michael Dalheim and I are still planning a peak bagging weekend in Colorado, if that speaks to how quickly and easily we became friends. Later, before heading to bed, the New Wilderness Project gave a performance and showed us what the outdoors meant to them. It was inspiring almost as much as it was genuine, a heartfelt performance, a sharing of love with those who understand the feeling. That night, we spent our last couple hours getting to know each other and playing outside before finally hitting the hay.

The next day, we had an early breakfast to get ready for the day's activities. We brainstormed ideas and solutions to the issues we had talked about the night before and focused our thoughts on key issues. Lots to consider and a great time of “what if's” assuming anything and everything was possible! After a light lunch we all were sent back to the dorms to get ready for the day's “activity”. Canoeing! Yes, we spent the day with Wilderness Outfitters canoeing down the mighty Mississippi River. Traveling through the lock and dam system we floated, well... some floated, and some of us raced! Darn right, a good old fashioned showdown of shear brute strength and stamina, friendly competition of course! We had worked up a pretty sizable appetite by the end of our journey, so Outdoor Nation hooked us up with catering from Famous Dave's BBQ joint! And, as if that wasn't enough, two of the gentleman who had been canoeing with us the whole time revealed themselves to be Cedar Wright and Juan Martinez, a well known climber and an outdoor community leader! We all sat 'round as Cedar and Juan wowed us with their tales of adventures, stories of their lives, and inspiring words of wisdom to the youth of the outdoor community (or Outdoor Nation!). What a day, in my book, you can't beat it. That night as we all gathered back at the dorms we all shared our stories with each other and became a family. Some of us even shared drinks at the local hootch house. I remember very clearly the feeling of comfort as I laid down to rest that night, and of course the impending hangover the next day...

The next day a miracle occurred, I felt awesome! Good thing too since we sat down to hash out our plans for the possible grant money we could receive. Our main question was about what was stopping people from getting back outdoors and how we would inspire the next generation to get the fun outdoors! Through our large group and small group work we hammered out our proposals to send off to the heads of Outdoor Nation for final review. After all was said and done we had completed some monumental work, met new friends (and family), and gained perspective on who else loves the world out there. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life and I'm proud to say I'll be going back again. I guess you could say that since Merrell geared me up, Outdoor Nation educated me, and the delegates inspired me... I feel, more than ever, that I can say I'm ready for anything.

When your soul wanders, your mind is lost, and your world is crashing down on you, see your refuge in the spaces between spaces; let nature help you see what's really important. May your journey be joyful, may the weather be fair, and if we lose the way, let us all take care. I'll see you on the trail, cheers!

1.) Canoeing down the Mississippi River and meeting Cedar Wright and Juan Martinez!

2.) Meeting friends I'll never forget and becoming part of the Outdoor Nation family.

3.) I had been looking to meet more like-minded people who cherished our green spaces and do my part for them as well as the next generation of outsiders. I'd tell my friends to apply because Merrell totally took care of me from the clothes I was wearing to arranging my travel plans, not to mention sponsoring one of the coolest events I've ever been a part of!

4.) Since I left the Summit I've been working with other members on our partnership with Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center's “Teen Adventure Challenge Day”; I've devoted so much more of my time to helping everyone around me get the fun outdoors!

5.) I'm an adventure guide, so I spend a lot of time hiking, paddling, camping (especially backpacking), and more recently climbing!

6.) You don't know it yet, but you want to be a part of this movement. GTFO, I'll see yall on the trail with all of the outdoor nation!


If you are interested in becoming a Merrell Delegate, apply now at http://www.outdoornation.org/2012merrellregistration