At Seattle Backpackers Magazine, we’re always looking for leaders in the outdoors who can inspire us through their experiences. We sat down with Gregg Treinish, founder of the nonprofit Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, to get his take on what moves him in outdoor stewardship. Check out this piece to get inspired by his adventures.
National Geographic named Gregg an Emerging Explorer in 2013, and Adventurer of the Year in 2008 for the first-ever completion of a 7,800-mile, 22-month hike of the Andes Mountain Range. Currently, he is the Executive Director of ASC, which mobilizes outdoor enthusiasts to collect environmental data, driving conservation worldwide.
What is your personal mission?
My mission is to find every way I can to help protect the areas where I like to play. I stopped my base desire to do something bigger and harder, and now focus my efforts on how I can make a difference protecting these places.
In A MoveShake Story, you mentioned how the outdoors provided an outlet for you growing up, harnessing your energy? Can you expand on that a little more?
When I was 16, I went on a trip to British Columbia, and I have this distinct memory of sitting on top of a ridge looking out over Chef’s Hat Lake. It was one of the first times in my life that I just felt normal. I had struggled my whole life with authority and pushing boundaries everywhere I could. I didn’t know it at the time, but nature – the woods and mountains – really fueled a shift to direct my energy into areas I think are positive and good for the world.
As a result of the trips you’ve taken, how has your mindset evolved?
When I started on the Appalachian Trail (AT), it was about discovery and understanding myself in a way that I never did before. That helped me to start and propelled me to continue. I found myself on the trail and realized I wanted to be outside and make a difference in the outdoors, and I’ve done that ever since.
In the Andes, my skills and resolve were tested daily. I was sick for more than nine months, and I learned skills that I’ve applied to the rest of my life. It wasn’t so much about my skills as an outdoorsman, it was more about finding skills I can apply to the rest of my life such as persistence, resolve and never giving up. I’ve applied that courage to start and never give up to ASC, to my relationships and to the rest of my life.
How have your perceptions changed as a result of what you’ve experienced?
From the Andes, to Mongolia, to Africa and all over world, I’ve realized that people are good. They care about others and the world. Obviously, there are challenges people face that make them make choices that are not necessarily inline with benefiting the world, and I’ve gained an understanding that it comes from their circumstances. All it takes is access to good information and understanding to get through to people.
On the Andes hike, what events left lasting impressions on you?
Certainly the near-death or challenging experiences that I didn’t know if I would ever get out of. The resilience I gained from those events allowed me to thrive in my current work. When there are obstacles in my way, I can navigate through them with creativity and persistence.
And the interactions with people, the constant good nature, treating me as family – as any stranger should ever treat anybody – really reinforced my belief that people are good. There were countless experiences in the Andes that led me to believe that people are good.
One particular instance on the AT was a moment when I had been out there for three months and collapsed in exhaustion and frustration. I picked up a rock and threw it at a tree. I felt like the lowest person on earth for being out on such a selfish endeavor, pursuing this experience that was really benefiting no one other than myself. That was the defining moment for me. Right there, I committed myself to be in the outdoors and make a positive impact and difference. I didn’t know whether it would be for kids, the environment, or people, but I knew I had to do something beyond myself.
After the Andes trip, you formed ASC. Can you describe the work ASC does?
ASC identifies conservation needs around the world and deploys outdoor capable volunteers to those conservation efforts to give them a boost. We know that scientific data is hard and expensive to get, and a lot of people don’t have the skills to get to the places to collect the data in order to make better decisions. So ASC is about putting people that have those skills in the places where they can get the data scientists need to make better decisions.
For those who are unable to participate in the more intensive ASC trips, but are interested in helping, how can they best do that?
Going to the website and reading about our current opportunities is easiest. In the Pacific Northwest, there are roadkill projects for cyclists and runners, ocean water collection for kayakers and other ocean goers and a pika project in the Cascades. Before you start on a project, there is some training that happens over Skype and other online tools we’ve developed, because the integrity of the data is paramount. We really believe in quality vs. quantity of data, so there are screenings and protocols that take place, and then we can get people out there.
For those who are hearing about your travels for the first time, what do you hope they take away from your experiences?
The first is that you can make a difference. People are constantly looking for ways to get involved, and I believe I’ve created a solid way to do that. The second is that it doesn’t have to be far away to make a difference. People need to believe in themselves and in their ability to create change in the world. That’s the only way things are going to get done on this planet. My hope is that you’ll take my example of having an idea and following through with it, so you can go out and make changes in the world anyway you want to.
Here’s Gregg’s film, A MoveShake Story:
To learn more about how Gregg connects adventurers to scientists, check out this video from Clif Bar featuring professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones’s trip to the Himalaya:
As a final takeaway, here’s a quote by Gregg from A MoveShake Story: “Anybody can make the difference that they wish they could. I think the only thing that stops people from being who they want to be is fear. And if you can overcome that fear and you can believe in yourself and believe in the world and believe in the way things should be… For 3 seconds… that’s all it takes. And you start and you get there, and the rest kinda just falls into place. That’s the best advice I have is to have that courage.”