It’s been a good year for writing and photography awards, which means I have some new certificates and plaques to figure out what to do with. The biggest plaque came from the Society of American Travel Writer’s Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards (three times fast!), the most prestigious in the industry. The SATW were kind enough to give me a bronze award for their 2012 Grand Award — Travel Journalist of the Year. Gray-haired people seem to appreciate this one the most, since they actually know who Lowell Thomas was (in short: the man). Though I submitted skiing, paddling, and non-sporty stories as part of my year’s work, the judges seemed to most appreciate my off-the-beaten path cycling adventures. Here’s what they had to say:
Bronze: Aaron Teasdale, freelance writer
The bike riding adventures of the Teasdale family make for big time reading in a series of remarkable stories about cycling through Montana, Canada and remote regions of Vietnam. Family outdoor vacations can make for dull copy, but not so with Aaron Teasdale. He knows how to spice up things with exciting encounters and detailed observations. In “Father Knows Quest,” Teasdale comes upon a grizzly bear while riding with his 11- and 7-year-old sons on a special-rigged three-seat mountain bike. “I grab the brake levers of our rolling 200-pound behemoth and, in a motion practiced countless times, whip bear spray out of my pack’s side pocket the instant my feet hit the ground. As the boys would later revel in telling friends and family members, ‘Then dad said the S-word!’” Well, it turns out that the grizzly was actually a small cub. However, Teasdale holds the tension as he looks around in near panic for the cub’s mother. It’s a heart-pounding narrative that is both concise and visual and you will want to read from start to finish. In “Flathead by Bike (with kids),” readers join Teasdale on another adventure, this time in “the last uninhabited major valley in southern British Columbia.” He describes the beauty of vast landscapes and the unromantic annoyances of traversing through wilderness. “We collapse into our sleeping bags that night, our bodies heavy with fatigue. Dense constellations of mosquito bites speckle our limbs. The wet trail has also left our shoes soaked, and my feet smell like rotting fish.” Lovers of air-conditioned hotel rooms, restaurants and museum tours may find it hard to go cycling in the great outdoors. But be warned — the wonderful storytelling narratives of Aaron Teasdale may entice you to do just that. For great writing, Teasdale bikes his way to the bronze in this year’s Grand Award category.
It was nice to be recognized by the judges, even though my work may be unconventional for a travel writer. (I’m not exactly reviewing the best places to drink wine in Paris.) Kind of an awkwardly titled award though. I’m not actually the Travel Journalist of the Year, just the bronze one. It’s been called the Pulitzer of travel writing, so it's a quasi-big deal as far as these things go. But still — bronze. So I was almost the Travel Journalist of the Year. Which is something. Fortunately, I’ll probably never actually tell anybody in person, so after this moment I no longer have to think about how to explain it.
The Outdoor Writer’s Association of America was also duped into, er, gracious enough to bestow me with eight different 2012 Excellence in Craft Awards for various stories and photographs. My stories on riding Switzerland’s new nation-spanning mountain bike route for Adventure Cyclist, pedaling and pushing through B.C.’s remote Flathead Valley with my family for British Columbia magazine, and once again dragging my family through a toothy wilderness on bicycles, this time Montana’s Swan Valley for Headwall magazine, all won awards for best stories in print. My story from this site, “What the Mountains Give,” won an award for best adventure story on a blog, and my piece for Adventure Journal on Whitefish, Montana, won the OWAA’s highest honor, the President’s Choice Award (another plaque!). If you’re headed to Whitefish or Glacier National Park, that piece is worth a look. It’s got lots of advice for quality ways to endanger yourself and have fun in the howling boonies up here.
Thanks SATW and OWAA! And thanks to Adventure Cyclist, British Columbia, Headwall, and Adventure Journal, as well as my editors Mike Deme, Jane Nahirny and Jenny Manzer, Amy Linn and Matt Gibson, Michael Frank and Steve Casimiro, and Paul Rauber and Steve Hawk, for the deft editorial touch and for providing the outlets for my work!
One of the best thing about winning writing awards is getting all the plaques and stuff. Then when I’m creatively stuck on a story and decide that I’m well on my way to penning the biggest steaming pile of crap ever written, I can glance over at my little tower of gleaming plaques and awards (that someday I’ll actually figure out what to do with) and say to myself, Look Aaron, you won these awards, you can’t have actual steaming crap flowing from your pen, you must be a good writer, or at least a not terrible writer. And then I finish my story brimming with new, plaque-fueled confidence. It’s a good deal.
In closing, I’m going to pretend this is like a televised ceremony and dedicate all of these awards to my Mom. Not only would it be very difficult to be here without her, but I owe so much of my inquisitiveness, open-minded worldview, and creative life path to her. With her vigorous intellect and quietly adventurous spirit, she showed me a world without borders — and gave me the freedom to explore it. I’ll be forever grateful, and I’m so glad she could see at least some of my career success before she left us.
Here's a look at the story I wrote and shot for British Columbia magazine that does not live online...