Author Archives: Pete Witucki

Running of the Tortugas

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Brad: Can you write a review while you’re on your trip to the Galapagos?
Pete: Definitely! Can I expense the trip then?
Brad: No. But feel free to keep the shoes.

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As a behavior ecology & evolution major, the Galapagos had long been on my list of places to visit. Known around the world as the place that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the Galapagos is home to animals and plants unlike those anywhere else in the world. The ancestors of the unique birds, reptiles, and plants made their way to the remote archipelago by happenstance – getting blown off-course by a strong wind or floating the 1000km on a natural raft.

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Race Report: 2011 USSSA Snowshoe National Championships

Snowshoes are like those tennis racket things, right? You RUN in those?!

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Two weekends ago I raced in the United States Snowshoe Association’s National Snowshoe Championships in Cable, Wisconsin.

Driving up to Wisconsin’s Northwoods is always a welcome break from Chicago city life, but I have to say: the bare ground did not inspire great feats of snowshoe racing! Even in Cable, host to the Birkiebeiner just two weeks earlier, snow cover on the race course showed plenty of thin spots. However, we woke up on race day to four inches of fresh snow and more falling. New snow and the moderate temperature made for perfect conditions with a backdrop suited for a national championship showdown!

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Chicago Trail Series #2: Race Report

#Montrail demo shoes coming back in! Muddy day at @ChiTrailSeries Trail Challenge 8k!

What better way to celebrate June 5th: National Trails Day than with the second race in the 2010 Chicago Trail Series (CTS)?

The rain was gracious enough to hold off the prior evening all the way through race day registration and packet pickup. This was key to getting the 160+ participants out of bed and over to Cook County’s Deer Park Forest Preserve early Saturday morning. Just as critical was the downpour that started about five minutes before the gun – what better way to enjoy the trails than soaking wet and with plenty of mud? Continue reading

Got Rainfly?

Recently spotted at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

The Bus: Your Other Set of Wheels

We use Gmail here at Pemba Serves.

It is actually pretty great for small businesses, and seems to be gaining traction. (Word to the wise, you really need to get your own domain name; @gmail.com probably isn’t the best way to go.)

Anyway, because it is free/inexpensive, we do have those ticker-tape ads shoot across the top panel. Honestly, most of the time I don’t even notice they are there, and when I do it’s usually for some mountaineering guide service or links to vendors and retailers in the outdoor industry.

One advertisement did catch my eye today, for: yourotherwheels.com – the Southeast Wisconsin Transit System. I suppose we have been talking too much about #carfreereps, and Google’s search algorithms are catching on! I spent some time on their site and it is a great relief that more and more people are starting to seriously consider transportation alternatives. Bus-commuter John shares his reasons for riding the Ozaukee County Express in a short video:

Saves me gas money, parking money. And then it saves me time. I enjoy reading the newspaper and that’s the time I have to do that… there are people working on computers, on their iPods. I have an opportunity to do things that otherwise I’d be sitting behind the steering wheel driving. Actually I view the people who ride the bus everyday as personal heros of mine.

Nice, John. You’re my personal hero too.

Examining the data: #CarFreeReps (Part II)

In #CarFreeReps (Part I), we explored our motivation for working towards a car-free (or at least a car-lite) future. In a nutshell, it’s good for the environment, it’s important to our customers, and it might possibly help us pick up cute girls/boys.

But we’re a business. If we’re going to make a serious commitment to a car-free future it certainly cannot prove to be bad for business or we’ll be out on the street. If we’re going to convince anyone else to join us, we will have to demonstrate that this can be good for business! Here’s a case study:

In early October 2009, Brad (our principle representative) was heading to Chicago to attend a national planning meeting for one of our vendors. Our main office in Madison, Wisconsin isn’t too far away and there are a number of travel options: automobile is generally the default, but it isn’t unusual for business travelers to fly, intercity bus service is very direct, I have made the trip by bicycle (not the most practical mode, granted!), and we’re working on high-speed rail (maybe next time).

Brad decided to give the intercity bus a go. A typical Chicago trip would include visiting accounts across the region, but in this case he was traveling to sit in a conference room for a couple days – there wasn’t going to be much need for a car once he arrived. Traveling by plane over such a short distance seemed a bit extravagant. Not to be outdone by my Chicago-Madison cycling adventure, Brad brought his folding bike along for the ride and used it to solve transit’s “last mile conundrum,” referring to the challenge of mobility between the start/finish of trips and mass-transit hubs. (Think the folding bike is dorky? It could be worse!)

Ready for adventures in Downtown Chicago, outside of Union Station.

The trip was a success, and aside from some gentle ribbing for arriving on this unusual looking contraption, the bike-bus-bike solution went off without a hitch. But how did it compare to the other options: car and plane? Let’s examine the data:

Direct Expenses

The direct costs of travel is an obvious first measure, and the roundtrip expenses represented here make a compelling case for intercity bus travel:

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Car expenses calculated using GSA personal vehicle reimbursement schedule, 2009: www.gsa.gov/mileage

Furthermore, there are a number of indirect costs not reflected in this chart. Parking at Chicago’s Hampton Inn is $25 a day ($75 for the trip). Neither the bus nor the plane consider travel to and from the destination. A taxi from O’Hare Airport to Chicago’s Loop is $40, one-way. The bus station was just 1.5 miles from the hotel, so the folding bike proved an economical and enjoyable solution!

Productivity

Productivity is an important metric to consider. Between wifi hotspots and 3G-enabled devices, the geography of “the office” is changing; with some discipline we are able to work effectively from almost anywhere now. A couple years ago, we’d have to look at this chart and conclude that driving is the best way to get to Chicago; flying and intercity bus just consume too much precious time. However, we can now break out the productive time from each transportation option, and the bus is looking even more attractive:

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Travel time assumes neither traffic congestion nor airport delays - generous assumptions in Chicagoland

I’ve defined productive time as time on-line (3G on the bus) or with the laptop open (on the plane). Seasoned road-warriors may contest the lack of productive time in a car; granted mobile phones can help get some business done on the road, but in my experience these are low-value conversations, immediate follow-up is impossible, and it is increasingly illegal. Further, some time-management experts suggest uninterrupted blocks of time (focused work, such as on an intercity bus) can be far more productive than multitasking in the office.

(Note we could rework our expenses chart to include the lost opportunities from this ‘wasted time.’ The boss’s time is valued at $100/hr – that’s his opportunity cost, not salary. This would add about $200 to the cost of traveling by bus and $400 to the cost of plane and automobile travel. The intercity bus is looking even better.)

CO2 Emissions

Barack Obama has pledged to create a carbon market to incorporate some of the costs of climate change into the costs of doing business. Until then, putting a dollar value on this externality is almost impossible, but as a company we have decided that certain goals are worth pursuing. Our business and our passions are in the outdoors, and climate change is an existential threat to the health of ecosystems and of our business. Minimizing our CO2 footprint is a top priority. Air travel, especially short trips, are particularly deleterious. Studies have found intercity bus to be among the least-worst options, and our analysis of this case study supports this:

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Uses vehicle emission data from Native Energy (www.nativeenergy.com), a carbon offset organization promoted within the Outdoor Industry by Outdoor Retailer and Canoecopia.

(For the record, we are leery of carbon-credit/carbon-trading schemes; purchasing carbon credits in the first-class lounge is akin to buying indulgences from the Catholic Church in 1500. It’s better than nothing, but no substitute for meaningful lifestyle changes.)

So in conclusion, for this trip, intercity bus was the right decision – for the environment, for our values, and for our bottom line. Sometime that’s not going to be the case, but we need to keep an open mind about taking the bus or train, and keep following the metrics to see when it makes economic sense to hop on the bike or bus. We’re also going to keep the conversation going. As we speak, our colleague Bryan is riding from La Crosse, WI to Minneapolis, MN to attend Midwest Mountaineering’s Winter Expo; visit him at the Expo or follow his journey on Twitter.

Click through here for a one-page summary of this case study, including the charts. Post it in the break room and start thinking outside the car.

Interested in going car-free? All-aboard!

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Three Chicagoland shops, all on the train line. 11/16/09 #carfreereps

Starting the discussion: #CarFreeReps (Part I)

As manufacturer representatives in the outdoor industry, one important part of our job is to spend time in our retailers shops: supporting their business, training their staff on the proper use of our equipment, and how to sell it to their customers. As individuals and as a business concerned about the environmental, health, and national security problems caused by our automobile-centric culture, we have taken many steps to reduce our car use in our personal lives.

Most of us bicycle, walk, or carpool to the office – and those of us who work out of our homes have a head start! This is an important step; I am convinced that meaningful changes have to start with small-but-committed changes in routine, and the daily commute is a great place to explore alternative transportation.

However, it is hard not to notice that for us, with our jobs, the daily commute is just the little toe of our carbon footprint; our seasonal roadtrips through the upper Midwest and biannual flights to national tradeshows and national sales meetings are our biggest source of emissions. But these are job requirements, and as a small business trying to maximize efficiency while conserving time and money, perhaps we’ve done enough?

This short video produced by the Outdoor Alliance (a coalition of groups working for public access to and environmental protection of America’s rivers, trails, mountains, and crags) reminds us why we care:

1) We are these climbers, hikers, skiers, and paddlers – I’d like to keep enjoying my snowmelt Western rivers.

2) Our customers are also these people – we sell harnesses, jackets, tents, and boots – it would be great if there is somewhere for our customers to use them.

3) It’s an issue of culture. Improving the way we conduct business is part of Pemba Serves’ culture. Environmental conservation, including alternative transportation, is increasingly part of our retailers’ cultures – it’s our job is to support this. Finally, the Outdoor Industry is uniquely positioned to start changing the mainstream culture – if we can’t make it here, we’re in trouble!

So what does it mean for a rep to go car-free? We have lots of ideas about what it could mean in 5 or 10 years, but here’s what it means for us, right now:

1) Our cars are still parked in the driveway. We’re not totally car-free, that’s just the ideal. Small steps, remember? Many of us are single car households, with partners sharing our car-lite values. When we do need an extra car, car-sharing programs like Madison’s Community Car and Chicago’s I-GO are always available.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

Brad rocks out Milwaukee clinics, car-lite.

2) We all live or work within 3 miles of a customer. I just moved to Chicago; I have six accounts within three miles from home. And it is substantially faster to bike to all of them. These are easy. There are an additional 10 accounts within 25 miles. This trip is longer by bike, and not all are on bike-friendly routes, but most are on ‘L’ or Metra train lines.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

One of many Chicago shops within biking distance for Pete.

3) We’ve been able to make a couple of bigger trips this year on intercity bus and Amtrak. When we’re traveling longer distances to attend a meeting or support a specific event, we don’t need a car once we’re there. Intercity bus and train turn out to have many advantages; we’ll explore some of the data in Part II.

Brads intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

Brad's intercity, car-free. Bus+Bike

4) Getting out of the car isn’t just about saving the environment… I’m sure every sales rep, retail employee, and manufacturer sales manager in the outdoor industry has has this conversation with a cute boy/girl at a party:

CUTE GIRL: “So tell me, what do you do for a living?”

ME: “Oh, I’m a sales rep/salesperson/etc in the outdoor recreation industry. We sell mountaineering, skiing, kayaking, and camping equipment.”

CUTE GIRL: “Wow, that is so cool! You must get to go on some amazing trips! You know, for ‘product testing’ and stuff? Tell me about your last adventure!”

ME: “Well, umm… there was this trip to Utah a couple months ago, but it’s not what you think…”

For me, creating space in my work life to get outside and use our gear – even if just to ride across town in Gore-Tex waterproof goodness – makes me better at my job and feel better about my life. And most of all, I have a better response for the cute girl at the party:

ME: “Remember that record snow storm last winter? Well, I had this really important meeting on the other side of town, and all of the bridges were closed, and ….”

Pete skis to work, 3/08.

Pete skis to work, post-snowstorm 3/08.

Join the conversation on Twitter, just tag your posts with the hashtag: #carfreereps. And check in next week for Part II where we’ll examine some of the other benefits of going car-free or car-lite. We are a business after all; we’ll be talking time and money.

Until then, ride on.

An Ode to Friday

There’s nothing like Friday…

Some Fridays, when Janice is in a particularly chipper mood, she is known to do the “LEKI dance.”




But as they say, “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” Or in today’s case, my birthday plant. You see, we were enjoying the helicopter toys Mr. Canoelover gave us, when I sent one a little too hard, a little to close to my poor Aloe vera, slicing off at least four of its leaves. We keep finding pieces scattered around the office… Lesson learned.

Ecocities: Cities Can Save the Earth

(originally posted at the Urban Wilderness Institute)

Could it be that the root causes of our environmental crises are linked to the biggest things we build – cities?

So argues Richard Register, founder of SF Bay Area’s Urban Ecology, author of Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature, and activist urban planner, writing in a recent Foreign Policy in Focus brief. Our automobile dependence has many direct ecological and social costs, but the most insidious consequence is how cars have reshaped our cities over the last 100 years. Register writes: “Many of us caught in this infrastructure find it extremely difficult to get around in anything but the car. The distances are just too great for bicycles, the densities just too low to allow efficient, affordable transit.”

The challenges are significant, but Register has reason for optimism:

We can change our cities. In fact, our cities have already changed. Portland has frequent transit that’s free in the downtown area, and has designated a “urban growth boundary” to limit the expansion of the city’s urban area and preserve nearby farmland and other open spaces and a thriving and very dense new residential and “mixed-use” center in the Pearl District. The rooftops in Tel Aviv, Israel and dozens of Chinese cities sparkle with solar hot-water panels. Copenhagen’s pedestrian street, the Støget, has been growing steadily since 1962 and now stretches more than two miles.

But we can do more, much more, to redesign our cities for pedestrians and bicyclists, taking up very small areas of land in more compact development. Taller buildings with rooftop gardens and solar greenhouses can be linked by pedestrian connections between rooftops and terraces above ground level, making city centers intimately accessible to people on foot. As we add population and ecological architecture in pedestrian/transit centers, we can gradually eliminate the unsustainable suburbs.

We’ll need to start rebuilding our cities to incorporate Register’s ecocity concepts – pedestrian/transit-oriented infrastructure, replacing sprawl development with nature/agriculture, and integrating renewable energy systems – if we are to meet the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, and dwindling (cheap) fossil fuels. Rethinking our cities as places that both humans and non-human nature can call home is a place to start; cities that are friendly for pedestrians and cyclists are likely to welcome trees, restored streams, and urban wildlife as well.

Read the whole article at Foreign Policy in Focus, and learn more about the ecocity at Ecocity Builders.

Climbing Gears

courtesy of: Madsen Cycles

Happy Weekend.