He had been hiking in nearby Platte Cove, he said, and he’d come across a group of kids in a swimming hole. Then he rounded a corner and saw a black bear. It was deep inside a river canyon, with limited escape routes.
“He wasn’t going up the hill, and I knew if he went down he was going to eat one of the kids,” Soter said. “The bear grunted and lay down, and I thought, ‘Cool, I didn’t think of that option.’”
The audience laughed. Attendance might have been small, but those gathered weren’t short on enthusiasm.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” organizer Angel Mathis told them. “I’m just glad to have the opportunity to get us all together.”
The opportunity was storytelling, and Mathis was the curator. The 2002 Bellarmine University BSN graduate is a Seattle nurse practitioner. But that career is on hiatus while she serves as “adventure instigator” and emcee for Boldly Went, a program in which she hosts events where people tell stories about their outdoor adventures, then shares the best of them in a weekly podcast of the same name.
Begun in January 2017, Boldly Went has already broadcast dozens of stories—none longer than 10 minutes—on hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, birding and bicycling, among other activities.
The name, Mathis said, came from a brainstorming session. “‘Boldly Went’ popped in, and that just captured what I was getting at: People who are telling their adventures and how they’ve bravely taken them on.”
Storytelling is, of course, an activity as old as people and is found all over the world. But apart from campfire ghost tales, the tradition has largely been supplanted in the modern world by movies, television, smart phones and other forms of technology-based entertainment.
It’s making a comeback, however. Twenty years ago in New York City, a group called The Moth formed. They started organizing storytelling events based around a new theme each week. The only rules: The stories couldn’t be scripted, and there was a time limit. The Moth began putting on events around the country, and started a podcast and then a radio show in 2009. It prompted many copycat events.
In Seattle, Mathis’ current home, there is also a long tradition of storytelling events. There’s Salon of Shame, where people read from their childhood journals; Story-Wallah, which focuses on the (Subcontinent) Indian community living in the Seattle area; and Ignite Seattle, a 20-year-old event, where participants have five minutes to share whatever they are passionate about with an audience.
Angel, 37, and her husband, Tim, are adventurers in their own right. They’ve traveled extensively around Latin America and taken part in ultramarathons, backpacking adventures and other trips throughout the United States. At the time of the Athens event, they were in the midst of a two-week kayaking journey down the Hudson River.
The two grew up together in the rural town of Camden, Ohio, population 2,000. By the time they finished high school, they were a couple. They both attended secondary school in Kentucky—she at Bellarmine, he at a college 90 minutes away. When she spent a semester in Perth, Australia, in 2001, Angel Mathis discovered her love for adventure.
“I got assigned to fly in airplanes with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, where I went and treated aboriginal communities,” she said. “I worked alongside a group of family doctors and nurses and provided primary care for them. It just opened my eyes to what was in the world, and how diverse the world is. It led me to seek a ton of other travel.”
After the couple graduated, and then married, at age 22, they spent some time in New Zealand, where Tim attended Bible school and considered a career as an Episcopal minister. In the end, he decided to pursue nursing instead. Eventually, the couple settled in Seattle, mainly for its proximity to mountains and the sea.
At age 30, they decided to start training for a triathlon. That led to an interest in running, bicycling and ultramarathons. One 100-mile race took them 26 hours to compete. Then they decided to run the popular trekking route Camino de Santiago in Spain. The 550-mile trip took them a month. In 2015, the couple hiked the entire 2,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail (made famous most recently in the book and movie Wild).
It was on a trip to Peru that Angel Mathis first got the idea to host a storytelling event. At the time, she was listening to a guide tell a story about his life in the mountains, and she thought how great it would be to share it with others. She was no stranger to event planning. In 2015, with no prior experience, she had produced and hosted a one-evening event called Grit and Grace. The idea was to honor four accomplished outdoorswomen from Seattle. The honorees ranged from the first person to successfully ski to the North Pole to a 62-year-old woman who was running at least one marathon every month, and who had run one on every continent, including Antarctica. Mathis hired out a 270-seat theater for the evening, gave each woman 20 minutes to speak, and sold out the show.
She held her first Boldly Went event on Jan. 31, 2017, drawing 70 people. Some subsequent events have attracted more than 100. She’s held events in such outdoor towns as Portland and Bend, Oregon; as well as in British Columbia and in Calgary, Canada. In addition to the events and the podcast, Boldly Went is working to create a network of local people in various outdoor communities who are willing to lead hikes and other activities. Revenue comes from a booking fee from people who use the network; podcast sponsorships; and event attendance.
Back in Athens in May, Will Soter relayed a second story, about a 4-year-old on a camping trip who confronted a bear in the middle of the night. At the time, the kids were in their tents. Soter saw the bear going into their food bag. He was inclined to let animal have its way, but the 4-year-old wasn’t so generous. He jumped out of his tent, brandishing a hatchet, Soter said, and yelled: “Go back to the zoo, bear—that’s our food!”
The bear left.
The next speaker was Darryl McGrath, an Albany, N.Y., journalist and author of the book Flight Paths, which documents the saving of endangered bird species in New York.
Tim Mathis relayed his own tale of woe, which had occ-urred only two days earlier at the start of the couple’s Hudson River kayaking trip. They had been on the water for maybe an hour when they decided to paddle to shore for their first break. Then a barge piloted by, and the wake created a wave that sent Tim’s foldable plastic boat careening into a nearby tree.
“You hear people talk about the sound of bone breaking. That’s what it sounded like to me,” he recalled. “So four miles in, we were contemplating the end of this trip.”
Fortunately, Tim Mathis was able to repair the crack with a heavy application of clear strapping tape. Their voyage continued unabated. And a new Boldly Went story was born.
When it was over, Angel Mathis declared the event a success. A month later, she was back in Seattle, planning new Boldly Went events around the Northwest. She’s given herself a year to make the program profitable, and has a vision of electing others to generate franchise versions of the event around the country.
“I get inspired by stories,” she said. “I feel like they’re important and need to be shared.”
By Alan Wechsler
You can find the Boldly Went podcast on iTunes, GooglePlay or boldlywentadventures.com. Visit
the website to contact Angel Mathis about creating your own storytelling event, joining the Boldly
Went network, or booking an outdoor adventure.