June 2018 - ATHLETE PROFILE
By Jennifer Ferriss
I met Tyler in February at the Saratoga Springs Public Library before his presentation, 7,000 Miles to a Wilderness Ethic. I was unable to attend the program that evening because I had to work, but I talked to attendees as they poured out of the community room, and they were impressed. Tyler captivated the packed audience with stories about completing his thru-hikes, through photographs and an entertaining retelling of the quest, sparking several with wanderlust and others of recollections of their youthful adventures. Despite being on the wrong side of the doors that evening, the booming voice of Tyler seeped into the library for all of us to hear a muffled version of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.”
Occupation: Outdoor Educator with Adirondack Mountain Club
Primary Sport: Long-distance hiking
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Tyler’s love of the wilderness began in Old Forge, with the woods and waterways right out his front door. Like any local kid, he enjoyed fishing, mountain biking, and worked at a marina. Continuing a 25-year-old family tradition, parents Tom and Pam Socash, would bring Tyler and his younger siblings, Nikki, Trey and Eric for a weeklong camping trip in the Adirondacks. The early immersions into wildness were formative in his initial connection with the water, woods, and the wildlife in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. A desire to share his personal connection with the public lands through exposure, education and stewardship grew in his youth. After earning a master’s degree in school counseling, his life circled back to his love of hiking and the outdoors.
His parents may have planted the seed, but Joe Bogardus, an accomplished hiker from Keene, served as a mentor for Tyler’s endurance endeavors. Tyler and Joe hiked throughout the Adirondack High Peaks together, culminating with a 46er finish atop Mount Colden. The whole Socash family was present for this seminal moment, and Tyler’s adventures were just getting started. The day after completing his degree at the University of Rochester, Tyler embarked on the 7,000-mile thru-hiking journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, and the Appalachian Trail. This adventure led to his speaker series around the region, and our first encounter.
Many long-distance hikers find themselves at a crossroads in their life, whether at the end of an educational milestone like Tyler or being between jobs, retiring or embarking on an emotional or spiritual journey. Thru-hikers need to have discipline and be willing to make sacrifices. Saying goodbye to friends and family and saving up money are the less-glamorous aspects of preparing for the adventure of a lifetime; practical preparedness, is an element not be overlooked. Tyler was able to test his gear and stamina by completing the Northville-Placid Trail, the Firetower Challenge, and the 90-Miler Classic canoe race. Thru-hiking will challenge you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – sometimes all at once! Tyler did his best to plan and prepare himself for success.
Even though he started his thru-hike solo, he joined many hikers, and formed “trail families” along the way. Hiking with an eclectic mix of individuals from different backgrounds and sharing the same walk in the woods turned out to be the social experience Tyler was looking for when he was feeling alone. “It’s important to have an immersion experience where you surround yourself with people from different countries, with different backgrounds, and different beliefs,” Tyler reflected. “These people will challenge you to become the best possible version of yourself, even if you can’t process it at the time.” After finishing the Appalachian Trail, Tyler’s goal to educate the public about wildness was urgently pursued.
The yearlong immersion into wilderness inspired Tyler to defend rare wildlife habitats in the Adirondack Park. He was hired as the Outdoor Skills Coordinator at the Adirondack Mountain Club, where he works on instilling a wilderness ethic in recreationalists, and promotes the tenets of Leave No Trace in each course that he instructs. He joined the Adirondack Wilderness Advocates as an activist, to promote the intangibles of wildness, and to generate interest in the Adirondack Park’s remaining remote areas. Additionally, in an effort to meld humor with conservation efforts, with his friends Matt Baer, Wade Bastian and Jeremy Utz, he has co-created and serves as co-host to the Foot Stuff Podcast – which spotlights outdoor adventure, antics, and activism around the country.
Tyler’s activism is outspoken, but aligns well with his values to be authentic, make a difference and be compassionate. Since 1894, the Adirondack Forest Preserve lands have been protected from logging, sale, lease and development by the “forever wild” clause of the NYS Constitution. Through education, grass roots efforts and advocacy for the preserve, Tyler tries to gain voter support to prevent the human scars that are created by mining and development. “Rare wilderness areas within our country, totaling less than 3% of the contiguous United States, need passionate defenders like you and me.”
Recently the Boreas Ponds Tract has captivated Tyler and he has hiked in five times. The tract includes New York’s largest high-elevation wetland complex. It’s the size of Manhattan, but unlike Manhattan, it’s currently remote, void of public roads, and it provides a rare silent soundscape. Wildlife abounds in the tract, with denizens such as moose, black bear, loons, marten, snowshoe hare, red-tailed hawks, pileated woodpeckers, great blue herons, American woodcocks, brook trout, and the threatened Bicknell’s thrush calling it home. “The tract is one of the last remaining vestiges of wildness in the entire northeast, underscoring its wild significance,” Tyler added.
In protest of the controversial use of the Boreas Pond Wilderness area, on November 15, 2017, Tyler walked 47 miles in less than 24 hours from Blue Ridge Road on the southern border of the Boreas Ponds Tract to Ray Brook, and delivered a powerful statement to the Adirondack Park Agency. His point: if you can walk across the High Peaks landscape, the largest remaining wilderness in the northeast, in less than a day, then how much more wildness are we willing to sacrifice in the name of more roads? Tyler says, “It would be a shame to bargain away rare remoteness for more motorized use.”
He left 1,882 more signed petitions on the APA’s desk, which he carried the entire way on the journey. In February 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract. The APA voted 8-1 in February to split the tract between two classifications: motor-free Wilderness and the less-restrictive Wild Forest. There also is a small Primitive Area near the foot of Boreas Ponds. In Tyler’s opinion, this compromise is in contrast to “Forever Wild” by allowing motor vehicles into the park, when walking and leaving a lighter footprint is feasible. Moving forward from this decision, Tyler is looking to provide public input, and through letters and articles to promote the best plan to preserve the intangibles of wildness that he has come to cherish: silence, solitude and remoteness. Roads after all, are everywhere; that final 1% of Adirondack wildness is not.
Tyler still has hope and will continue to educate New Yorkers and visitors on the value in protecting this pristine wildlife habitat, which in turn adds charm to the Adirondack Park and brings tourism here. Through the Adirondack Mountain Club, he will teach a course on thru-hiking where “students” will hike the Northville-Placid Trail, and learn the basics – how to pack gear and what to bring. In April he did his first TEDx Talk at the University of Rochester, titled Tyler Socash: Torch of Preservation. It will be available to watch on YouTube in the course of the year.
By the end of June, Tyler will have completed his quest to hike the Northeast 111 peaks over 4,000 feet, which includes the Adirondack 46, Hunter and Slide in the Catskills, as well as the some of the highest peaks in the east: Washington, Jefferson and Adams in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. This challenge began in 2006 and will finish on Camel’s Hump in Vermont, the highest undeveloped peak in the Green Mountains. Although one of the easier mountains to climb in the challenge, it overlooks home by offering views of the Adirondack High Peaks across the Champlain Valley where Tyler can once again enjoy the intangibles of the wilderness.
Jennifer Ferriss (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Saratoga Springs leads an active outdoor lifestyle and is always in search of a new adventure. Now that the weather’s warmed up, she commutes to her librarian gig on her 1980s Japanese Bianchi, with a backpack that carries more than meets the eye.