The previous two weeks saw me get frightened by a snake, stumble as a backpacker, get stuck in a boat, and finally have a close encounter with a black bear.  The bear meeting the night before, followed by the bear meeting this morning, left me drained and fatigued. Not a good state of mind and body to be in for the most important day of the entire trip.

A month before, I was exchanging messages with web designer Joshua Hatcher about the new A Taste For The Woods website. Hatch is a sparkplug of ideas, and he came up with surprises for me.

“Neil, you ever have publicity photos taken?”

“No, I’ve never.”

“You will now.”

And so, bleary eyed and jumpy from my night of the bears, I drove to Marilla Reservoir for a photo shoot with Hatch and his intern Ivy. Fortunately Marilla continued to provide cheap therapy, and I relaxed as I walked among the old growth pines and on the covered bridge.

The photos turned out well. I’m notably critical of my appearance, and despite my throwing on the only clean clothes I had for the shoot I look reasonably put together, and more importantly outdoor-oriented. The photos are for not only publicity on A Taste For The Woods, but any other purposes I might need, such as author photos or PR for public appearances. This is a typical image from the shoot, showing me at home amid Marilla’s pines.

Afterward Hatch treated his intern and his client to lunch in downtown Bradford. Having eaten, he dropped off Ivy and returned to work with me on the website you are reading now. I understand little of web design, but I know good design when I see it, and I was fascinated seeing A Taste For The Woods come into being under Hatch’s fingers.

A taste of A Taste For The Woods

Finally, after a couple of hours of work, both designer and client were happy. We had dinner, and then it was to Open Arms Community Church for the website launch. You see, I had a speech to give.

The subject of a speech at the website launch was discussed a month before I came to Bradford.

“Neil, have you ever done any public speaking?”

“Never as an adult.”

“Well, you are now.”

And so for the first time in three decades I began to prepare a speech. Back in high school we had five or ten minutes to fill. Hatch booked me for an hour. Five or ten minutes isn’t difficult – its basically a verbal version of the old five paragraph essay. An hour is another matter. Also, as a former stutterer I would have to memorize large sections of my text so I could avoid possibly embarrassing myself by losing verbal control.

The bear incident and the stress of the trip had me very worn down by the time I had to walk up to the podium. I felt insufficiently rehearsed and low on energy. Also, earlier that week Justin Willoughby, who was going to introduce me, had been contacted by NBC’s Today to appear on the show on Friday. An NBC producer was on the way to Bradford and might walk into the room at any moment. While I wasn’t auditioning for her, potentially having a television professional in the didn’t help my nerves. Nor was being introduced by someone who’d lost 600 pounds. Justin was a hard act to follow.

Finally it was time. Justin introduced me, and I rose from my chair and walked up to the podium. Suddenly my nerves disappeared.  I felt calm. I knew as I turned and faced the small audience that I was seeing my dream germinate here, now. I spoke with passion, MY passion. I told the story of a man who had a second chance at life, and was determined to live it. A formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors who wants everyone to experience the joy he finds in the natural world.

Video feed

I went through my examples of ordinary people finding ways to participate despite challenges: Michael, who climbs mountains in a wheelchair, Beverly remaining fit at 72, Adam hiking the Appalachian Trail with MS. I described the gatekeepers who turn away people, and how we are going to fight them. Finally I took questions and told stories, including how I met the bear.

The fifty minute speech is posted to our YouTube channel. Its not perfect; I should have removed my baseball cap, and I ramble a bit. Someone told me I need Toastmasters. I won’t argue. However, I got my message out, and presented my vision for A Taste For The Woods – the outdoors is for everyone, and everyone participates as they can. And this website, backed by my writing and my in real life efforts, will work to make a difference.

After the speech was over I hung out with Hatch and Justin at the church. The next day we would part on our journeys – Hatch and Justin to New York City and Today, while I would head towards home. For now, I went home with Hatch, as I was his guest tonight. We stayed up late into the night talking about the evening, and I helped with a project he was working on.