This is a repost from my article “Why I Wander“
It’s always been a dream of mine to host a different kind of conference. When I think of conferences, I imagine people crammed into a room with their attention split between the presentation and their social feed. I’ve had enough of the typical keynote speech and networking happy hours. I crave something more and a deeper connection with my peers.
Back to 1994 I was 13 years old and in the boy scouts, and I enjoyed every second of it (#noshame). I loved being outdoors, hiking and camping outside. We learned all sorts of awesome things, like how to start a fire and orienteering. When I accepted the wilderness survival badge from my scout master I was SUPER proud of it. To be honest, I still am.
I grew up in the Florida Keys and for the most part we stayed in our region for all of our camping adventures. However, one year our troop finally decided instead of doing the usual camping trips we were going to do the grandaddy of boy scout hikes — Philmont.
Philmont Scout Ranch is 220 square miles of paths in the Rocky Mountains. A place a young boy like myself only dreams of. I was lucky enough to just squeak by on the age requirements and was allowed to go as the youngest scout in our expedition.
That’s me on the far left, about to tackle the mountains!This was the first time I had ever seen mountains, let alone hiked at such a high altitude. I remember very vividly getting to an opening on a mountainside and seeing as far east as my eyes would let me. The sense of inspiration and wonder that hit me in that moment is almost indescribable. While I don’t remember everything from that trip, that experience has stuck with me ever since.
</outdoor activities> I was lucky. I was one of the last generations to grow up without the “luxury” of having 24/7 access to the internet. I knew the value of playing outdoors and using my imagination. After high school though, the internet took control. I became obsessed with programming and everything that came with it and didn’t go hiking again for many years. I had done a few camp outs with some friends but those were more like: “hey let’s get a tent, a ton of beer and go crazy” type events than really connecting with nature.
Return to Nature Finally in 2011, I had the chance to start hiking again. I purchased all new gear (which was a HUGE change from what I had in ’94) and set out on a hike in the Appalachian mountains. As soon as we started, I felt invigorated. I experienced those same feelings of inspiration and awe that I had all those years before. I was disconnected from all the tweets, emails, and Facebook posts that I had become so focused on. Nature was all around me and I had clarity.
When I came back to work I found myself recharged, more than ever before. No conference or event that I had gone to for work had left me with such a feeling. I began to think that I should invite more of my industry friends to come and disconnect with me while hiking. I wanted to be able to walk with friends and peers and talk about whatever comes to mind. You have a lot of time to think and chat while just walking on the trail to your next destination.
Kicking the Tires and Lighting the Fires This fall I will be leading a group of designers and developers through the Appalachian trail. Together, we’ll share stories of success and failure as we hike through the wilderness. I wanted to create something completely different with Wander Camp, I wanted to make a conference where people are genuinely disconnected from technology and focused on one another.
There really couldn’t be a better time to launch Wander Camp. Right now everyone is suffering from conference fatigue but still wants to connect. We’re by no means the first conference to remove ourselves from a building and focus on recreation, but we are one of the first to really take our attendees out onto a trail and remove ourselves from all society.
That’s the benefit of Wander Camp. You (while on the trail at least) won’t have access to the internet, you won’t have a nice roof to sleep under or all the cookies and coffee you can consume. We’re going back to the basics. If you’re open to it, if you’ll join us, you will discover more about yourself than you could in any conference room. We’ll have discussions and talks but it will require your participation.
I can’t wait for Wander Camp this year.
Join us. Seek your own inspiration, as we Wander where the wifi is weak.