Celebrate the Great Outdoors!

By Eva M June 30, 2017

As Great Outdoors Month comes to an end, the members of the CTS Software team have been reflecting on the kinds of things they like to do outside (especially in the summer, when the central Atlantic waters are warm, and our eastern mountains are cool and green.) We’re a bunch of outdoorsy people!

Particularly, we want to highlight the accomplishments of Jesse Ellis and Bryan Foster, who exemplify what it means to get outside and seize the day. They’ve got inspirational stories to tell!

Jesse, our lead technical trainer, undertook the Appalachian Trail in 2015, when he found himself at a time of transition. “I’d always wanted to do the AT, and I got to a point where I could take 6 months off and do it.” Jesse said.

Jesse Ellis found the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine to include some of the most spectacular scenery along the Appalachian Trail.

He took the Georgia-to-Maine approach, and learned some valuable lessons right off the bat. Having only taken iodine tablets with him for water purification, he found that they didn’t always work completely, and spent the first couple of weeks sick and increasingly dehydrated. “That was pretty brutal,” he said. “The first place I stopped, I got a Sawyer squeeze filter, which probably saved my life.”

One memory that sticks with him the most was on a section of trail in New Jersey, where came upon a hiker who had set his backpack to the side of the main trail while he went up to view a lookout tower. When the hiker came down, he found himself squaring off with a black bear who had the backpack in its mouth. “He’d been hitchhiking around for a couple of years, so everything he owned was in that pack,” Jesse said. “He finally hit the bear in the face with a stick and got his stuff back. I wasn’t getting close to it, and just went in the other direction.”

Only about 25 percent of people who start a thru-hike of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail complete it. Here, Jesse celebrates becoming a 2000 Miler, and is nearly at the finish line!

The generosity of strangers—what through-hikers call “trail magic”—is also an enduring memory for Jesse. When he was nearing the end of the trail, his backpack gave out (he admits to erring on the side of overpacking for his journey.) “Some people picked me up, drove me 45 miles to get a new pack, took me to their house, fed me dinner, and let me take a shower,” he said. “Going into the towns was really awesome.”

After 171 days on the trail, Jesse reached Mt. Katahdin in southern Maine.

Though he’s settled down for the last couple of years with CTS, Jesse isn’t done traveling and would like to tackle some of the west coast’s Pacific Crest Trail (“to see some different areas and different scenery”) and the Camino de Santiago in Italy.

Bryan, our lead developer and CTO, approached his epic journey on two wheels. As a wanderlust-stricken twentysomething in 2006, he found himself in an enviable position: with a remote job he could take anywhere there was an internet connection, and an itch to pick up and go.

“I was training for an Ironman, and every time I went on a bike ride, I would always end up back at home,” Bryan said. “I wanted to go, and keep on going. I wanted to end each day in a new and exciting place.”

Bryan crosses the Continental Divide in Colorado, towing his trusty BOB trailer.

After setting out from Portland, Bryan sometimes rode with small groups for sections, and sometimes went his own way and pace. As he wound his way down the coast and into the middle of the continent, Bryan met people like his buddy Holland.

“I asked the group I was with at the time if anyone wanted to join me at a music festival, and Holland was the only one who took me up on it,” Bryan said, acknowledging that he “wasn’t really sure about this strange guy” who was so gung-ho to come along. “After a few days riding together, we became best friends and had a wonderful couple of weeks,” Bryan said. “Now we’re friends for life.”

He and Holland headed to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, one of Bryan’s bucket list items, inadvertently participating in the festival’s Bluegrass by Bike challenge, and earned royal treatment.

Bryan, Holland, and their new friends at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

“We were instant VIPs,” Bryan said. “We also got really lucky with tickets, and ended up in one of the swankiest camps, had awesome food, free beer, and totally lived it up.” He recalls that during the entire trip, hospitality was never far away. “I’d be literally in the middle of nowhere, and somebody would show up and say, ‘I saw you on the side of the road—want a place to stay tonight?”

One of Bryan’s favorite memory snapshots was a night he and Holland spent camping in a remote valley at the base of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks. With long-range mountain views after one of the trip’s hardest days of riding, “that night epitomized the entire trip. Drinking beer by the campfire, playing guitar, chilling out in the middle of nowhere.”

Taking a load off is easy in a postcard setting.

It wasn’t all campfires and sing-alongs, though. Bryan recalls the grueling Rocky Mountain passes, where he towed 100+ pounds of equipment in his little bike trailer, “going 3 miles per hour straight up a mountain for 4 hours at a time.”

And there was the one time in Idaho when he was caught in a hailstorm after one of these exhausting climbs and frantically took shelter in the cab of some roadside construction equipment. “The conditions were still pretty epic when I descended, but I was so eager to be done with the day that I just slid down the mountain as fast as I could.”

Regardless, Bryan would do the entire 4-month, 5,000-mile journey all over again. “I realized I could get hit by a car tomorrow and I should seize the day,” he said. He’s got aspirations to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to Mexico, and goes on smaller adventures whenever he gets the chance.

We’re quite proud of Jesse and Bryan and their accomplishments, and collectively grateful for all the chances and resources we all have to get out and explore. Whether you’re near a national park, state forest, city park, or just have a relaxing backyard, do yourself a favor and get out there. It’s a big world!