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Explorer Spotlight: Greg Balkin

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Name: Greg Balkin | Age: 24 | Location: Santa Barbara, CA

What’s your day job?
Wedding photographer (brightwoodphotography.com). I like shooting photos of outdoorsy people getting married.

What are your favorite things to do outside?
I love keeping it simple, so I'm going to go with hiking and snapping photos along the way. I've recently been getting into trail running, so that's been super fun too.

What first drew you to the outdoors?
I grew up in woodsy Connecticut, but I don't think I really started exploring until I came out to California for college and started taking trips to Joshua Tree and short overnight trips.

What’s your favorite hometown adventure? ...and, almost as important, where’s your favorite spot to get a beer after?
I've been running the Jesusita Trail in Santa Barbara a lot recently, but that's not much of an adventure. If that doesn't count, then heading up to Big Sur for the weekend has got to be top of the list. Favorite place to grab a beer afterwards - Lucky Penny.

What’s your essential gear that never gets left at home?
Camera + a few choice lenses, my orange Patagonia Nano Puff, and boots. I've of course got my sleeping bag and tent along for the ride, but those don't necessarily come with me everywhere I go.

What’s your favorite trail snack?
I've been loving those little Justin's peanut butter packets recently. I always try to bring the hazelnut chocolate and honey peanut butter.

Any go-to soundtracks when you’re hitting the road?
A buddy of mine has a playlist on Spotify called The Wild Life that I've been stoked on for all road trips. As far as specifics go, "As We Ran" by The National Parks and Of Monsters and Men's entire soundtrack.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened while you were adventuring? And/or, the funniest?
Scariest thing - getting caught in a major thunderstorm above 10,000ft last summer on the John Muir Trail. It was the first storm we came across and I HATE being outside for thunderstorms. We were greeted with about an hour of hail, bright flashes, and rumbling thunder. It sucked. Funniest - a few years ago in New Zealand, we all climbed up a small waterfall to a pool that formed at the top. Pretty sure it was glacier runoff because the water was freezing. I hesitated to go in after everyone jumped in screaming, but my friend kindly came up next to me, grabbed on tight, and fell into the water holding me. I thought my heart was going to stop, but apparently I was making these faces that everyone still laughs about.

Who’s your number one adventure partner-in-crime? Who inspires you?
Adventure partner-in-crime - My girlfriend, Samantha. A few people who inspire me - Bob Goff, Jeremy + Ash Parsons, Nirav Patel, Bradley Castaneda, and my friends who are alongside me in life.

What are your top destinations for adventure travel?
I think it's always going to be New Zealand for me. I lived there back in 2010 and visited again in 2013, so it's got a big piece of my heart. It's such a beautiful with so much to offer and I feel that no matter how many times I go back, I'll discover something new.

What’s on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?
Internationally, I've been dying to visit Iceland and Patagonia. In the states, I'd love to hike the Lost Coast and Wonderland trails this year. And Glacier National Park.

Show us your most memorable photo, and tell us about it!
This is tough. I honestly don't think I have a "most memorable photo" out of everything I've taken, but I'll share one that I recently found and it's been stuck in my mind (see above). This was taken back in 2010 while I was studying in New Zealand. It was the first leg of our spring break and we were on our way to hike the Routeburn Trail, but we stopped for a day hike beforehand. I can't remember the trail for the life of me, but it kicked the shit out of us. Approach hike during a full moon through cows and sheep, then straight uphill the next morning. It felt like I was walking an eternity uphill until we hit the pass a handful of hours later. As we were coming back down the trail, we hit this lookout spot just as the sun was starting to set. It lit up the entire valley and the river with glaciers clinging onto mountain tops in the background. I still think this was some of the best light I've ever been able to capture. Oddly enough, I forgot about this photo until I was browsing through some old hard drives as previous trips I'd taken over the years. This one just stopped me dead in my tracks and quickly became a new favorite.

And last but not least…What’s your personal motto?
This isn't as much of a motto as it is something I heard from two photographers (The Parsons) in 2013. They said "The worst thing in life is not realizing how lucky we are and to not be aware that we have an ending. The best thing is you know you're dying and you have the opportunity to take every advantage of that." I don't know why, but that's stuck with me ever since I heard it.

And here's a few photos from my recent hike up Mount St. Helens.

Check out more of Greg's adventures here.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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