Alumni Interview: Christopher Keyes ’92

The Outside editor on Type Two Fun at Catlin Gabel, and why he still wants to name every plant he sees

Interview by Ken DuBois

Were you interested in outdoor adventures while at Catlin Gabel?
Yes. Catlin is really where I grew my love for the outdoors. The head of the Middle School at the time, Roy Parker, took my friend and I up Mt. Hood—I think it was between eighth grade and ninth grade—and that was a seminal experience for me. I thought it was the most incredible, fun, exciting, slightly dangerous thing that I’ve ever done, and I wanted more of that.

That was before we had an Outdoor Education Program.
There was a little bit of an outdoor program, it was just sort of nascent at the time. There was another teacher, Wendy May, who did a lot of outdoor education trips, and I also did an eight-day trip in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Robin Schauffler. I think that was in eighth grade. That was another incredible experience for me.

Eights days in the wilderness—that’s a major trip.
Oh, absolutely. I had never carried a backpack and travelled that way before. I still have vivid, vivid memories of a lightening storm, experiencing that in a tent with another friend of mine, and vivid memories of all the organization that went into that. It was an eye-opening experience for me. It was something I knew nothing about.

Did you do the Cape Arago trip? 
Yes, as a senior. I was one of the counselors. 

So you were learning what it means to be truly miserable. 
Absolutely. Yeah, the common expression at the magazine now is “Type Two Fun.” That means you’re miserable at the time, but you look back on it very fondly. So that kind of characterizes almost all adventure sports.

You went on to study environmental science policy at Duke. Was that an interest you developed at Catlin Gabel?
That was absolutely at Catlin, and that was one hundred percent Dave Corkran. He just had an incredible passion for environmentalism, and would tell the most engaging stories about growing up and seeing old growth forests that had been destroyed in his lifetime. And encouraging all of us to be better stewards of the land. He had an elective my senior year, environmental studies, and that was probably my favorite class at Catlin. He was just an incredibly engaging teacher and very inspiring. 

You were combining those studies with actual outdoor experience. 
One of my favorite things about that class is that we would go into the forest between the Lower School and the soccer field. And we had to learn to identify all the plants in there. I loved that. To this day I like to be able to know about my surroundings because of that. I don’t like to go on a hike and not know what the plants and animals are around there. I like to be able to name that stuff.

Are you trying to express some of those early influences through your magazine?
Without question. With Outside the whole goal of the publication is to inspire people to live a more active lifestyle, and experience an adventurous lifestyle. And the readership we attract is fundamentally going to be pretty receptive to that message of environmentalism and wanting to protect those places. So it’s definitely a sort of advocacy journalism that we practice, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily reaching the audience that really needs to hear it.  

It’s an enormous audience in any case. With the print and digital versions of Outside combined, you may have as many as seven million readers. Is that correct?
Yeah. You’re scaring me.