July 18, 2023

Stories and Adventures that will inspire and move you with Mountain Life Media founder Todd Lawson [EP 393]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Rick Saez
Stories and Adventures that will inspire and move you with Mountain Life Media founder Todd Lawson [EP 393]
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Welcome to the Outdoor Biz Episode 393 with Todd Lawson. Todd Lawson believes in passion, diversity, and the search for freedom outside. He’s an avid world traveler, husband, brother, father, son, writer, photographer, creator, storyteller, mountain athlete, humanitarian, adventure-seeker, and lover of life and all its wonderful ways. Todd is the publisher, producer, and photo editor at Mountain Life Media, the Founder and CEO of RISE Outdoor Innovation Inc., and Co-Founder of the Rise and Sean Foundation. His first book, Inside the Belly of an Elephant, launches October 03, 2023. He lives in Whistler, British Columbia.

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Show Notes

What was the adventure or outdoor experience that sparked you to work in the Outdoor Biz?

Wow, that’s a good banger to start with. I guess for me, it was probably when I did my first travel, and I got my first taste of a real culture shock.

I flew from Darwin, Australia to East Timor, and that was back when it wasn’t its own country as part of Indonesia. And then that just kind of hit me hard, and it was just like so awesome and so amazingly invigorating all at the same time and a bit scary. And it was just like, I was like, you know, 21 years old and, but that planted the seed of travel, which has been with me for the rest of, you know, for the rest of my life so far.

And photography and storytelling, how did those come into your life?
Yeah, so I was kind of at a crux in my life where I wanted to change what I was doing. I used to be a golf professional. Actually, I was a member of the Canadian Professional Golf Association. It was great because it was kind of one of those sports that you don’t really, or careers that you don’t really associate with the outdoors necessarily, but it kind of totally is. You’re out there outside all the time. It kind of wasn’t doing enough for my soul. Always when I traveled, I took photographs, you know, I had a little point and shoot, and then someone was looking at my photos, and they’re like, oh, your, your photos are pretty good. They’re like, way better than the normal stuff that we see from someone’s travels or whatever. I was like, oh, thanks. And it kind of got the wheels spinning. So I enrolled in this program in Victoria, BC. It was called the Western Academy of Photography. It was like one of those 10-month intensive courses, and I was single at the time, and it was like, I’m a Pisces and apparently were creative. And before then, I didn’t really have, there was no creative outlet for me, aside from maybe golf or whatever. But then when I got into photography, that was just like, it, I was bit, I was in, I was shooting every single day and just like shooting, and that’s when we were like, this is back in early 2000, still Darkroom days. The dark room was open till midnight. We could go in there and just make our own prints and stuff. It was pretty cool. So I just let it go.
Your bio says you believe in passion, diversity, and the search for freedom outside. I’m most curious about freedom outside. Tell us what inspires you about freedom outside.

The freedom really comes from my brother, cuz he was such a, he wasn’t your typical traveler. Like he was the kind of guy that would get in the rickshaw and tell the driver to sit down, and he was gonna take the rickshaw for a while, and then he would take the dude out for lunch. So he was that kind of guy, and he was just, he really like, as cliche as it sounds, he really did live like full on. He lived each moment like it was his last almost, and he was just like one of those full-on guys. So that came over into me.

You are a busy guy, tell us about RISE Outdoor Innovation Inc.

That is another labor of love. Um, so one day, I was. On an annual paddle trip, a bunch of us, 20 plus, maybe 30 of us that year, uh, on a paddle trip down the Thompson River here. So we carry all our camping gear and have a great old time. And you know how it goes, you’re camping with your spouse, got the chores to do, and it was my chore to take down camp that day. So I had to deflate the mattresses, you kneel on it, and then you lay on it, and you fold it up, and then you roll it again, and you do that, and then you find the stuff sack.

If you can find the stuff sack and put it in there, then take the tent down. It was kind of raining, and I was a little bit hungover to be honest. And you know, you’re kind of swallowed in all these like mountains of fabric trying to stuff things in StuffSack. And I was like; there’s gotta be another way.

This idea was in my mind to create a better mouse trap. And this idea wouldn’t go away, so I started to act on it. I’m trying to bring the world the first rapid inflatable and inflatable outdoor sleep system with an integrated mattress. So everything is just taking away the hassle of setting up and taking down a tent. Because it takes approximately 18 to 30 minutes, depending on how well you even know your gear. To get the tent out, blow up the mattress, and get everything ready. Yeah. And I hope to, you know, it’s based on avalanche airbag technology.

Oh, interesting. So I’m gonna trademark the term ‘push-button-pitch‘. So you push a button, and it’s gonna inflate in a few seconds, minute, I dunno. So I’m deep in the prototyping stage right now, bootstrapping my own brand, trying to build the brand, just trying to build some community.

Let’s talk about the Rise and Sean Foundation. I love the outdoor field trips concept. What’s Rise and Sean?
Sean was my brother’s name. So when Christina and I came back from our first major trip to Latin America, There was an incredible outpouring of help from people who help you daily. And there’s no way in hell that you could, you know, pay everyone back or do something in return. So because my brother loved to travel and he loved kids. He didn’t have kids, but he loved kids, and he loved to like goof around with them when he was traveling. So we’re like, what can we do that would be educational but travel based? What we started back then was called the Sean Lawson Young Travelers Foundation, which is a bit of a mouthful.
So what we do is we take kids from developing nations on extended Outdoor, Educationally based field trips where we take between 10 and 30 kids. We take teachers sometimes, principals, cooks, and bus drivers and take them off on an adventure and a road trip within their own country so they can see what it is like to travel and learn from travel. What travel does to your mind, your heart, and your soul. We’ve done three of them now. They’re, they’re always such a, like, mind-blowing success from, from the minds of these kids.
Every kid has a, has a dream, right? Every kid should reserve the right to dream, have that dream, and be able to Dream. We just want to kind of fund and facilitate that and give them that spark to let ’em know that, you know, there is life beyond your village.
And Mountain Life Media, you produce and publish a lot of content. How did that get started?
I couldn’t be more grateful for what that’s provided to my life, just in general. But what we do, our whole motto and our tagline is connecting with people from all walks of life to the magic of the mountains. And mountain Life was started 20 years ago by my business partner Glenn Harris.

It’s been pretty cool to see what we’ve grown. We’ve been able to do this in the media landscape in Canada mainly. And, you know, in print, we’ve got a really successful formula in the sense that we have a regional model where we concentrate our entire distribution, editorial, stories, and photography into a hundred-kilometer region zone or radius. And it’s free. It’s been pretty cool to see what we’ve been able to do in the media landscape in Canada, mainly. We’ve grown, and we’ve prospered, and we’ve thrived, and we’ve gone through the ups and the downs and all that stuff.

But Our mountain lifers, as we call ’em, the people that pick up mountain life every time, we’re very lucky to have a 99% pickup rate. So because the magazine is free, we recycle any mags, and we just hold back 1% for marketing and mailouts and stuff like that. So, the demand is there, and it’s always been there, and the demand has been there for 20 years.

How about future Adventures? What exciting places are you going?

The thing that was the biggest pain in the ass about this trip was the logistics. We had to ship our bikes from Vancouver to Dublin we actually shipped them on the plane, and that was pretty cool. It was expensive, but they were like right there when we arrived kind of thing. So then when we came back, our end point on this journey was Portugal and Lisbon. So, again, we had to go through that same nightmare. It’s more expensive to ship things from Ireland to North America, so that was a more expensive bet. But they are almost in a container ship, and they’ll be here in hopefully sometime in July. They take a long time. But as, yeah, so as for the next trip, we’re like, well, we’re never doing that again. The nice thing about being in North America is that you can point your wheels south and pretty much go as far as you want.

Do you have any suggestions and/or advice for folks wanting to get into creative work?

My motto in life is, go for it. So I would just say, look for an internship somewhere that you can be exposed to something every single day. The beautiful thing about photography and digital photography now is that you can shoot as much as you want. There’s no like paying for film and developing like it was back in our day; it was like 20 bucks a roll or whatever. So you spend a lot of time editing behind the computer. I would just say find someone you want to mentor you and just like ask questions. Ask questions, ask as many questions as you can, and just act, just do. Just go out there and do it.

If you were able to hang a huge banner at the front of one of the tradeshows, what would it say?
Live it up. That’s our mountain life tagline. Don’t take life too seriously. Do what you wanna do. Do it well, share it with friends, and have a cold one after that.
Do you have any daily routines you have to keep your sanity and health, like meditation, exercise, walking the dog, etc?

It’s my 20 20 20 routine in the morning. So I’ll do 20 minutes of body weight exercises. Twenty minutes of yoga and 20 minutes of meditation. And then I also do 20 minutes of reading, so that happens before I even check my smartphone. I try to do that, it’s not every day, but that’s what I try. Like you said, that kind of keeps me focused, gets me ready and keeps me in shape, and keeps everything going.

Do you have any favorite books or books you give as gifts?

My favorite book of all time is called Jupiter’s Travels. That’s a book written by Ted Simon. He wasn’t the first to ride his motorcycle around the world, but he was probably the first to write a really good, serious book on it. And that was a big motivation. In my life and, to continue on with these, these big motorcycle epics cuz he went around the world.

What is your favorite outdoor gear purchase under $100?

I have two. One of them is like a Stanley one-click mug. So you just click the button and drink hot, cold beverages. It’s just like that thing has been with me for so many places.

And the second one is a duct-tape-wrapped Bic lighter. If I’m going away on a trip with six guys, six people, or ten people or whatever, I’ll buy 10 Bic lighters. And I’ll pop ’em all in a bunch of duct tape. So that if you ever need duct tape, you can have it. And you also have the lighter, which also helps you not lose your lighter so much. Cause it’s kinda got that grip on it,

Is there anything else you want to say or ask of our audience?
I would love your support in checking out my book, Inside the Belly of an Elephant. If you’re into the outdoors and outdoor life, check out Mountain Life Media, mountainlifemedia.ca, and @MountainLifeMedia on all the socials.