Come and play with six local outdoor enthusiasts.
THE BACKCOUNTRY CAMPER
OUTSIDER GURU | BRIAN LUTHER
Trekking from out of the woods and onto Fruitville Road, Brian Luther can be found in his boots on the retail floor of Environeers, helping outdoorsy customers pick out suitable equipment and/or outfitting them for their next adventure. He also runs Ripple Adventures travel company, which coordinates backpacking hiking trips to the rugged parts of Florida, including Ocala National Forest and camping along the Suwannee River. “Better bring your hammock when we hit Everglades because there isn’t a dry spot to set up a camp!” The travel company also organizes out-of-state bucket list trips, including a spring and fall trip to complete the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and taking you out West to the Rockies, Sierras and Cascades. “I’m here to allow people to push their boundaries, stretch outside their comfort zones to enable greater personal growth,” he says. “It just happens that my office is the great outdoors.” How did Luther find himself guiding groups through backcountry experiences, you might ask? “It was 1995 and I was the ‘victim’ in a mock scenario teaching new backpackers, like myself at the time, how to deal with blisters. I was lying on my belly, looking back over my shoulder at the instructor and the rest of the group circled around my blistered heel. It was then that I realized that this instructor was getting paid to teach this. Her classroom was this mountaintop, her office view was 360 degrees of pure beauty and her position was what I wanted,” shares Luther. After asking the instructor what he needed to do to follow her path, Luther would spend the next 25 years calibrating a compass in the sticks. “I get to bring people into their ‘first time I ever…’ experience,” he says. “Playing an integral part of someone’s personal growth is a monumental achievement. Countless times I have witnessed that exact moment when the door to the mind has been blown open and the person is left awestruck. Smiles become temporarily cemented into place.” Being an experiential wilderness educator—whether it is with himself, his three-year-old daughter and wife, or as a professional with clients on trail or in the mountains—Luther loves everything outside, far from state roads or cell reception. Getting immersed and lost in nature, he says, “is where I am supposed to be and that is what makes me happy.”— B. MATTIE Tour Guide and Founder of Ripple Adventures, 5317 Fruitville Rd., Ste. 223, Sarasota, rippleadventures.com, email@example.com
Favorite Spots to Hike
It is hard to beat the Italian Dolomites. Small day pack, exquisite mountain scenery, bed to call home at night, relatively easy hiking, Italian food and wine. Did I mention the mountain scenery?
Another truly unbelievable trip is the Fakahatchee Strand, two hours south of here. Nothing like it anywhere else on the planet.
Just about anywhere out West. But nothing beats any time in the outside world. Even if it is in Red Bug Slough, Circus Hammock or Myakka, you are getting outside where nature exists.
Fitness + Training Tips
The only way to get in shape for doing what you want to do is to do what you are desiring to do. Wear your pack with weight and gradually add to increase your total pack weight. Eventually, build yourself up to carry eight to 12 pounds more than you plan to when you hit the trail. It will then be lighter in weight. The best place to train: Celery Fields hill. Do not just hike the pathways; you have to hike up and down the sides of the hill. Best time: early morning for sunrises, less heat and hearing hungry growls from the Big Cat Habitat right next door.
Hands down, I believe that getting some initial knowledge from a local, area or field guide is the safest, smartest way to start your learning process. Once you have the hard skills down, then you can begin to establish a rhythm that you can test yourself in other conditions. Here in Florida, we are blessed with lots of sun and warmth. But what will you be like when it is less than desirable conditions? Practice makes perfect, and you cannot be perfect if you haven’t hiked in nasty, inhospitable, unpredictable weather. Take up a few courses to get yourself educated and acclimated before heading out. Ripple Adventures offers level I and II classes in Orienteering to help you become adept at land navigation, using a compass and other bearing fundamentals that will teach you how to navigate in nature and force your foot travel to the next level. Knotty Time teaches you the basics of tying knots and hitches, as well as how to keep your tent or tarp held down tightly. And Backpacking 101/201 covers everything from what you would need to have in your pack to experiential education on the finest ways to make the outside more on your side.
Nourishment + Snackage
I am a foodie when on the trail, as well as when at home. I try to spend my money in localized, mom-and-pop shops. I love the dehydrated cheese bites from Moon Cheese, Sweetwood Jerky and Good to Go food packs are excellent for when I need a quick grab-and-go meal. I also make my own organic, gluten-free dehydrated meals from scratch. Nothing can make a wet, cold and dreary day camping any better than a fulfilling meal. Also, Instant coffee. Go with a bag of your favorite bean and try it backcountry style. Ripple Adventure’s Coffee in the Field class teaches hikers how to make a morning brew off the grid.
Way too much individual attention is needed for gear and clothing choices that getting a proper fit in both is paramount to having a great experience. This is where shopping online is lacking. There’s no better place than Environeers right here in our own backyard. Getting a personal hands-on touch from experienced sales staff is crucial before the beginning of your trip. We spend the time to properly fit you into a backpack, show you how to set up a tent and explain how to use a water filter.
Personally, the brands I wear and carry are: Smartwool, Salewa, Mountain Hardwear, Cascade Designs, Arc’teryx, Osprey and Granite Gear.
Osprey Aura AG 65 Backpack , KEEN Targhee III Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort Insoles, Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp , Leki Legend Micro Carbon Trekking Pole, Nemo Aurora 2P & Footprint Tent , Marmot Never Winter Sleeping Bag. Environeers Adventure Outfitters, 5373 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota, 941-371-6208, environeers.com, @environeersSRQ