Category Archives: Bryan

Don’t Play Climbing Helmet Roulette

Chicago area climber Justin Berry being littered out after a block of quartzite dislodged, smashing into his forehead and knee

I’ve written 3 different versions of a post for Pemba Serves about helmets and the outdoors.  Each one prior was full of stories that I had of how a helmet saved my life, or that of someone else that I know – like the time my long-time climbing partner Jay knocked loose a fist-sized chunk of granite from 70’ that knocked me flat, or Justin’s aid-climbing accident that had him littered out, or tales of my various bike wrecks that had me in stitches – not the funny kind of stitches.

But really, pictures and videos speak more than words. Let’s face it, if you participate in sports that carry an inherent risk – like biking, skiing, climbing…not wearing a helmet is playing Russian Roulette. The riskier the sport, the more bullets in the gun. I was going to put the end scene from The Deer Hunter in here, but you get the idea without Christopher Walken explaining it to you.

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Classic Pemba Serves

It’s summer time! If you’re not outside on adventures or maxxed out doing Spring 2012 previews maybe you’re inside watching reruns. Am I right?

Here are some of Pemba Serves’ classic posts from Brad, Bryan, Janice, Pete and Steve to keep you occupied and to get us back to work!

Lessons of Xegar
Brad Werntz

“We spent ten days in Xegar. Every day, we watched it rain, waiting. Prior to our sojourn in Xegar, we spent ten days crossing Tibet on muddy roads, over landslides, through floods. We expected our gear to be waiting for us in Xegar, as it was sent from Beijing before us. Instead, we waited in Xegar for our gear, for ten days.”


Rock Climbing Risk
Bryan Kuhn

“There are old climbers, and there are bold climbers, but few old, bold climbers. I don’t know who said this, I’ve heard it attributed to dozens of climbers, and I tend to think of it a general understanding of the sport and what to expect as you age into it.”


Our Chicks ROCK!
Janice Ellefson

“Rock Climbing? Yeah I’d thought about it – A LOT. Brad and Vera and Boulders are just a stone’s throw away. Steve, my coworker here at PEMBA, is OBSESSED. Between these three, I have climbing power-houses all around me and yet I had not taken the plunge. I had never climbed before, except for a few stints at Boulders. Well, suddenly an opportunity came my way that I couldn’t pass up!”


So…sea kayaking doesn’t suck
Pete Witucki

“Without debating if a six-hour drive to Lake Superior is a ‘local recreation area,’ I have discovered that not only does sea kayaking not suck – I could actually see myself getting into this.”


Son of the Irish
Steve Schultz

“I learned more about climbing, trying hard and so much else that afternoon climbing with this mystery man. He took me around the Buttermilks showing me classics, must do’s, what not to do’s and future projects for me. He insisted that I needed a tour and that he was the man to do it. Off we went.”

PSA to Midwest Outdoor Shops – Get Outside!

Get outside! I know I find it harder to get outdoors and exercise this time of year – it gets a little frustrating, but I manage to make time when I’m at home. The only problem is that I’m hyperactive and when I’m not at home, I’m trapped in a little metal, wheeled box all day! Its a special kind of torture for someone with my attention span – especially some of these highways we have in the Midwest. Driving with someone else, i.e. the “Road Trip”, is completely different – there is some amount of contact, human interaction, which reduces the explosion of hyperactivity that occurs when I get OUT of the driver’s seat and actually get to see people. But, alas, being Field Rep means a fair amount of solo windshield time.

So – as a public service announcement: Please excuse and be patient with my hyperactivity. I try not to get carried away, but I can be a bit spastic and wound up when I’ve had to sit still for more than a few minutes, and actually get to interact with people…

You folks are the only people I get to hang out with during the day! I have a few thousand songs on my iPod, and have almost every NPR station in the Midwest preset into my radio. I don’t text or email or surf when I’m driving – I’m a 10-and-2, always ready kind of driver – so by the time I show up at your shop door, I’m probably way under-stimulated.

If you could remind me to slow down, breathe, maybe take a jog around the parking lot, it’d help us both out. Slowing my brain down to something other than “Ludicrous Speed” is a challenge I’m accustomed to, but my concentration lapses from time to time – particularly when I’m happy and excited to see people…I like working with all of you, and I realize I can be a handful and a lot to process at once. I try to slow down, but sometimes I need a reminder to take a deep breath.

No, decaf won’t help. Surprisingly enough, I don’t drink caffeine after noon. You’d never guess it, though…

Rock Climbing Risk

Photo: Erik Sundberg

There are old climbers, and there are bold climbers, but few old, bold climbers.

I don’t know who said this, I’ve heard it attributed to dozens of climbers, and I tend to think of it a general understanding of the sport and what to expect as you age into it.

Granted, I’m not as old as many of the far more proficient and accomplished climbers out there, but kids who were born when I learned how to climb are now driving cars.  Its a struggle of mine, against this aging thing, but that’s a different article for a different time – and I don’t find it terribly appropriate to talk about aging when I’m the younger of many colleagues.

This is about behavior.  Not necessarily ethics – one thing that Harrison Ford and I both share is a dislike for Dr. Hannaford’s teaching of the subject – but more along the lines of what I’ll call usual conduct.

Its easy to forget that the sports we participate in carry an inherent risk.  These things we do, for fun, are dangerous.  People get killed, seriously injured, maimed, and crippled for life – and we accept these things as de rigueur.  Why?

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They’re the first to come and the last to leave

by: Bryan Kuhn | Pemba Serves Field Rep

Thank you.

Really it’s a simple phrase, and we do use it often – but there are times when the simple mention doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve been on the vendor side at #ORShow before. Winter shows, summer shows, an SIA and a couple buy group shows for measure. I’ve seen first hand all the hassle, stress, and impossible tasks involved with getting a show to run smoothly in that 20×20 island. I’ve had crates delivered 2 hours before the clean floor deadline, mystery power outages the morning of opening, a 15 hour Vegas to Salt Lake redeye flight from hell, and put in those 18 hour days back to back to back because there are only 2 of you for a brand at the show.

On the representative side of things, an Outdoor Retailer event is actually pretty painless. We come in, go to our sales meetings, go to the show, give support in booths, meet with our retailers, partners, and friends, and then we leave. We guzzle free coffee, eat free lunches, and drink free beer.

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Pemba Serves Michigan Ice Fest Report

photos: Bryan Kuhn / Erik Sundberg

A lot of people had a lot of fun last weekend… Michigan Ice Fest happens every year with the tremendous effort of Downwind Sports, and after 20-something years (depending on whose version you get) Munising gets virtually overrun the first weekend in February with ice climbers both new and veteran.

Kayland, Scarpa, and LaSportiva all sent boots this year, Mountain Hardwear had plenty of apparel to go around, and we brought our own Petzl demo gear to add to the assortment of Black Diamond crampons and tools. The word from Bill Thompson every year: “Send more crampons, please!” This year was especially thin, but no one really complained – sure a few grumbles were heard here and there – Bill quieted all that down with an “Email our gear sponsors!” comment.

Downwind Sports routinely runs out of boots and crampons for classes and demo. People who have never climbed ice before – in some instances have never climbed before – can just show up, pay their “Fest Toll” of a whopping $25 (if they don’t have gear, add $15). If you want to get all-day professional instruction from a world-class climber? Costs you $99 ($35 for the kids’ class) – your gear is included. If you don’t want the instruction? Hope you can get up early for the demo gear distribution – if not or you strike out, come by the Curtains and be patient.

Its cheap to stay, cheap to eat – Sydney’s hosts the Fest in a room upstairs, the food’s good and drinks are plentiful – and very reasonable to attend. No wonder why over 480 people dropped in.
Flying into Marquette, MI late on a Thursday night in February was about as exotic as my life could get. I’m a climber from Colorado and heard there was ice here, in the cold and windswept upper peninsula. Not just normal ice of course, ice that had drawn climbers to the region for a festival running into its 26th year. Really???

Here’s what Ben Clark, a Mountain Hardwear sponsored alpinist thought:

For all the promise of cold, it was the warmth of the locals that made the trip so worthwhile. Heading out to Sand Point on Friday with Rep Bryan Kuhn and his friends, I was treated to thunker swings in a savory pillar of steep waterfall ice. We shared it with several locals, looking to experience the privacy that makes ice climbing so cherished in this region about to be inundated by weekend festivities. I was psyched to be there and happy to be surrounded by such nice people.

The weekend went really well and the festival had many attendees. The enthusiasm and commitment that it takes to learn ice climbing seemed to be innate qualities of the beginners who showed up for the clinics I would get to teach. Swinging, kicking and then finally smoothing out into climbing and hooking, the learning curve matched the motivation and it was clear that ice climbers were born both days. That is a real victory for climbing, to see all ages and body types learning about this activity that was once the realm of frozen high altitude alpinists.

That is the type of celebration of spirit any ice festival could learn from and that will have the hidden routes of grand island beckoning me like a siren for years to come. Most importantly I feel like I made friends and met new partners, what more could you ask for? Oh yea, there was free beer too.

Were you at the Michigan Ice Fest this year? Tell us about your experience!

Car Lite Reps

“If you’re going to be a climber in the Midwest, you’re going to have to like driving.”

Really, you can substitute almost any outdoor activity in that piece of advice I once received.  True, there is a plethora of things to do in the Midwest, and most you can do from right out your back door.  But in winter, things like downhill skiing, ice climbing, kiteboarding…you need to be somewhere specific.

And for the time being, it means driving.  Sometimes, location-challenged folk will cruise 8, 10, 12 hours just for 36 hours of a weekend on a hill or a frozen waterfall.

Much of the same is part of the rep-world – we have to drive to get places.  Simple fact. As much as #carfreereps is a step in the right direction, a necessary shift in how we look at doing business, how we see ourselves as part of the bigger, greater picture – there are some pretty significant challenges in making it a reality in one of the largest territories to cover.  Certainly, every representative in every territory faces the challenge of getting himself or herself to an account, a remote account – where the dollars earned in commissions are equal to or less than the dollars spent in getting there.  We have a large, diverse nation – with a lot of rural space between major metropolitan areas.  Rural space that is only crossed by a couple lanes of asphalt or concrete.

I’m out in the field, which unfortunately means more driving than not.  I’m the black sheep of Pemba Serves.  In all that time on the road, all that time behind the wheel, I see millions of cars every season on the interstates and back roads.  One thing in common, everywhere I go: all those cars are largely occupied by one person.  One driver, that’s it.

I’ll be amazed if, in my own lifetime, we see rail and public transit similar to Japan, Germany – really ANY industrialized nation – on a grand scale.  The sad truth of the matter is that it will take more than petitions and lobbying to make it happen – it will mean a cultural shift.

We’re due that change.  There is a lot of political talk out there, some angry people, and on both sides some irrational thinking. But it boils down to one dichotomy: Self vs. Other; living with daily concern about the well-being of the general population versus being concerned only with what affects oneself.

For some reason, we’ve been allowed and more often than not, encouraged, to be selfish.  Its been embedded in our brains since day one.  If you want an interesting group exercise, have your whole team refrain from using the words I or Me for an entire day.

Most of the time, people are all going to the same places.  Chances are, if you’re cruising on I-35 southbound, south of Albert Lea, MN, you’re going to Des Moines; once you get west of Rochester MN on I-90, you’re going to Sioux Falls or Rapid City.  I know, I’m part of the problem too.

Millions of cars, all occupied by a single driver.  It is lunacy, if you think about it…the idea of the solo driver going to the same place as thousands of other solo drivers runs contrary to everything that we have ingrained over eons of human existence.  For the whole of human existence, aside from the last hundred years, we’ve relied on each other to get where we collectively need to go.  The introduction of rail travel didn’t wipe out that concept – people were just fine with stepping into a train car and sitting down with a group of citizens.  People talked to each other, shared news along the way, and interacted.

Now…we interact by sending text messages and Tweeting while we sit in little metal, pollutant spewing, resource sucking coffins.  By ourselves.

As sales representatives/consultants/evangelists/whatever-we’re-called-this-week, we HAVE to drive.  Some of the best areas for recreation (and our customers) are pretty far off the rail travel and Greyhound – what’s left of it – circuit.  We have no high-speed rail from Minneapolis to Chicago yet (please, write your congressperson and representative and tell them to use the existing Empire Builder corridor!) Time is money, and time spent en route is wasted time – when there is no plane or train or bus to get there.  The quickest and least expensive way to get somewhere is to drive there, alone.

How do we break this cycle?  How do we go from 40,000 miles a year to #carfreereps?  Cold turkey is one way to quit.  Sell the car, and use exclusively public transit, a bicycle, or fly.  Sadly, that will underserve a sizable amount of our customers, the people we’re in business for.

#Carlitereps is the Nicorette gum for the professional.  Minimizing the wheel time to when it is completely necessary, ride-sharing to regional events, using common sense in planning clinic trips and times.  In a perfect world, everyone’s schedules would line up, and everything could get done quickly, easily, without any down-time.  Using the car when you NEED it, not when its only more convenient.  Yes, it will take more time.  Yes, it will cost a few dollars more.  No, not all of your customers will care that you’re trying your best to do your part for the social and ecological environment – many good ideas were unpopular at one time or another.  Like the automobile.  People will get used to #carlitereps eventually, and maybe by then things will have changed for the better and we’ll be looking more at what’s best for everyone, not just for ourselves.

Until then, we’re going to need to drive.  It’s a sad fact of the business we’re in and the world we live in.  But we don’t have to drive everywhere.  Use the trains, use the busses, and maybe exploit a loop in your schedule to take a few days and ride a bike to an event or account.  If Pete can ride his bike from Chicago to Madison and back over a long weekend, you can suck it up and sit on a train for a few hours.

#Carfreereps is the ultimate goal.  But going #carlitereps is the way to get there.  You’re not doing it for some smug self-satisfaction, not for some greenwash marketing, and not for more money.  You’re going to do it because it’s the Right. Thing. To. Do.

Photos: Midwest Mountaineering | 2009 Winter Expo

Things are really getting interesting


Photos: ORA | Spring 2009