By Hannah Truby
This story originally featured in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here
It would seem that John Fayhee is first and foremost an outdoorsman, followed closely by a writer. Many of those with an affinity for the outdoors might likely see the two linked. Whether in words or in pictures, it’s difficult not to document the natural world and one's love for it in some way – even if only for oneself.
John has written for publications across the West and over the years. A former editor in the magazine’s lineage, John was the first to resurrect the Mountain Gazette in 2000. He then sold the magazine in 2005.
“I was never put on the planet to be a business owner,” John confesses to me. “And I don't think I was especially good at it either. Hiking, beer, and writing are the three things I really know how to do.”
While John and his partners eventually sold the magazine, it was John’s vision that set the foundation for the free-formed and free-spirited publication we know today.
Along with “worthy successor”, contributor Dick Dorworth described John as “a mountain person searching for whatever it is that mountain people are searching for.”
If John is indeed what Dick says he is, I had to ask: what are mountain people searching for?
John says it’s what they don’t know they’re searching for, but end up finding anyway.
“It’s often that mountain people look for redefinition, and the West, mountain life, has always given people the opportunity to sort of redefine themselves. But I think that they're looking for familiar comforts, things that living in mountain towns challenge. And that’s a real fundamental change…
We can certainly argue the definition of a mountain person, but just because you live in the mountains doesn't make you a mountain person. Ultimately, mountain life teaches humility – a really important trait – and I think that’s what people end up finding.”
Having hiked the world over, the trails John traverses in his latest book are those he knows well, many of which lie within the parameters of his ‘own backyard’.
A Long Tangent: Musings from an Old Man & His Young Dog Hiking Every Day for a Year is John’s 13th book, in which he chronicles the 1,200 miles he and his pup hiked over 367 consecutive days.
Beyond this, it is also the story of an outdoorsman’s reclamation of the inoperable human condition that is getting older.
Fellow members of John’s generation might agree when he says getting older was never a part of the plan.
“Throughout the trends in outdoor literature, the overriding thing that I have noticed is that it's either youth dominated, or it's written by old people pretending to be young or lamenting that they're no longer young. And I’m a baby boomer, man. We were never ever supposed to get old!”
‘Old-wishing-for-youth’ is a trope John was careful to avoid in his book, and in doing so, he was able to own the fact that he is, in his own words, an old guy.
“When you've carried a pack as many miles as I've carried a pack, there’s that realization that you have a lot more miles behind you than ahead,” he says. “I really wanted to own the aches and pains, a serious thing, while still getting to be levitous.”
What other kinds of old man musings can you expect in the book? John says any thought that popped into his head during the year he spent hiking became fair game to include in the book.
“I’ve got a chapter on trail names, because I've given tons of hikers rides from town out to the trailhead, and all of them had trail handles, not of them introduced themselves as like Bill or Amy – it was Windwalker or some shit. I had one guy compliment my hiking stick, and that jogged my memory of my 40-something-year relationship with hiking sticks. Then I’ve got a chapter on the relationships that outdoors people have with their vehicles, sparked by a derisive comment about my shitheap of a Toyota 4Runner. I'm a daydreamer when I hike, which for the book’s purpose served me well.”
John also saves room to discuss the kinks and shortcomings of the outdoor industry, – and with years of experience under his belt, is equipped to do so.
Having loved it and written of it for decades, John has watched the outdoor industry evolve alongside himself. John calls to task the industry at large, and suggests it takes time to look in the mirror, the same way it demands of other industries. He says:
“We know the outdoor recreation industry is antagonistic toward the extractive industries – oil and gas and ranching and foresting. But we don't hold ourselves to the same standards that we ask those industries to hold themselves to. Not very many people are willing to write that. I hope I wrote it in such a way that it's more thought provoking than confrontational.”
“Not every chapter in there is gonna appeal to everybody, and I hope I didn’t preach,” John tells me. “I wish Ed Abby hadn't used that line, “If there’s anyone left to offend, I apologize”, because I’d steal it if I could, but that’s the way I feel here.”
After some time off, John’s adventures continue in what he hopes to be another piece where he will “play off the old man theme” as he hikes five iconic trails across the world.
A Long Tangent is available for purchase on Amazon and various bookshelves now.