The outdoor industry is aspirational. It thrives on selling the idea of “living the dream” though a myriad of athletes and otherwise passionate dreamers that, to the rest of us, seem to be achieving the unachievable.
Some athletes are fluid and natural in this environment. They eagerly pitch their latest adventures to companies with a smooth sophistication that attracts dollars and gear like hippies to mountain towns. Others dread the thought. Whether it’s humility, shyness, or the awkward reality of asking for money to just be yourself, the ask can seem a contrived and arduous experience.
From my perspective on the business side of things, Chad Kellogg fit squarely into the latter category. He made the pilgrimage to the Outdoor Retailer Trade shows in Salt Lake City, UT out of pure necessity; a necessity made tolerable by the knowledge that he would be staying with and enjoying friends along the way, and the hope that his next trip into the mountains would go.
A few years ago, while Chad was plying the aisles of the show, seeking sponsorship for his Everest speed attempts, I was trolling those same aisles as a photographer, and we both were couch surfing at the home of mutual friends. When our host, Andreas, mentioned that Chad needed a ride back to Seattle, I easily offered to have him along, eager to share expenses and conversation on the road. The offer, however, took on a decidedly Chad-like air when, after a long day on the tradeshow floor and a late dinner reservation, Chad told me that he was more than ready to escape Salt Lake and start driving immediately. And in true Chad style, we’d do it in a single push. I actually got a little psyched.
We got on I-15 North at about 11 PM. I was ready for the drive to be a lot more of what I’d known of Chad to-date – quiet. Aside from his comparatively gregarious slide show presentations, my experience with Chad was limited to group settings where he was admittedly introverted. Even at Andreas’ house, away from the show, he was more likely to be found on the porch in meditation, or quietly orbiting a group conversation than participating in one.
In the car however, Chad was on fire. When I mentioned my surprise at this new unexpected disposition, he told me about his tipping point. “Any more than six people and I just shut down, “ he said. Apparently, while one-on-one in a car, he made up for lost time.
We made it into eastern Oregon, just before dawn, when we both relented to the weight of our eyelids and the call of a roadside powernap. He hadn’t stopped talking the entire time.
In the preceding hours I’d gotten the unabridged version of his previous decade and more. It was Chad unfiltered. Laura, Elbrus, Alaska, Joe P., his cancer, recovery, freak internet stalker, religion, training regimen, new soul mate and his latest liquid diet that he’d been obsessing over…The topics and their depth went on and on. His delivery was, at times, as fired-up as the death metal soundtrack that he enjoyed, and then as pensive and deep as his Buddhist beliefs when talking about the loss and turmoil of the previous few years. This juxtaposition was yet another layer of mystery added to the enigma that was Chad Kellogg.
We finished the drive after sunrise, some coffee and Chad’s secret weapon for long hauls–Copenhagen snuff. Later I’d help connect him with MSR for gear and sponsorship, and he’d help me out in the photo studio for a day on purely personal work, taking the shots here in this post. That bit was something I’m sure Chad did not for him, but eagerly for a friend.
That’s how I’ll remember Chad. Though we were not super-tight by any stretch, I had gotten a glimpse into the crystalline complexities of Chad’s inner workings on that drive to Seattle. Through his stories, Chad hid nothing. He’d comfortably shared his most private moments with a new acquaintance. His intensity was searing, devotion unwavering, honesty endearing and his stoke unrelenting. He lived that way, he climbed that way and he’ll live on that way forever in my mind.
My heart goes out to Chad’s family, Jens, Mandy (we never met, but his words said it all) and all of Chad’s closest friends and partners as you deal with this immeasurable loss.
We’ll miss you brother.