“So, Jill, do you have a lover?”

“…..No….”

This is the conversation that sticks in my mind as representative of the last week, as I write this on the plane home from Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. My outdoor industry family is ingrained into my life to the point at which they care about whether I’m being appropriately sexually serviced by the partner of my choice. It’s sweet, really. The asker of this question evidently has an introduction she wants to make, which naturally means I simply must go heli skiing halfway across the planet so that my dear friend can introduce me to her other dear friend in hopes that sparks will fly and the answer to that question will change. To that I say….okay!

Regardless of whether that actually happens, I always leave OR with the sense that there are people all over the planet I connect with as a part of the outdoor industry, which is why I keep coming back to the show. It’s a sentiment I keep hearing from others who make the pilgrimage, and though some of you might be signing on to the blog to read about the cool gear I saw at the show, I’m afraid you might be disappointed by this post. Talking about the gear will come, I’m sure, but first I have to finish recapping the people.

Walking through the show floor is an exercise in hugs, shouted greetings, business card exchanges, random encounters, and big smiles. What makes you feel more welcome than a huge grin and open arms charging at you from down the hall? If you’re not in the outdoors industry, chances are you don’t start your business meetings with big hugs, but that’s how we roll at OR. I’m kind of a reserved person so four years ago I wouldn’t have ever booked a work trip and looked forward to the hugs, but it’s a perk of OR that I’m not about to give up.

Sometimes you recognize a person right away, like when Paige Boucher (who I weirdly and spastically introduced to Bret Wydysh as Paige Brady – short circuit, likely caused by a late night at the Franti concert, but quickly corrected – regardless, I apologize to both Paiges. Sorry. What the hell…?) and I ran into each other in the halls, other times it sneaks up on you: while waiting around for a friend to meet me, I spotted an attendee with great pants, and stared at them for a minute, idly wondering what kind they were. The wearer also had on a great shirt (Earthtec Boxelder Hoodie) as well and the clothing so distracted me that I didn’t realize at first that the wearer was none other than Amy Jurries from TheGearcaster.com. Big hugs ensued, naturally.

Sara Lingafelter and I found ourselves with the hurricane eyes of our schedules miraculously aligned, and we spent an unheard of forty minutes chatting, strolling, and introducing each other around at the show. If you’re lucky enough to be in Sara’s circles, you know how great this is because, as she puts it, “some people I won’t say anything bad about, but others make me want to say nice things about them.” I think I speak for most OR attendees when I say that Sara’s endorsement really does mean something, as does her friendship (and hugs). If Sara thinks I’m legit, I must be doing something right, and I’m saying that as a reflection on Sara’s character rather than mine.

My biggest failing at this show was not saying hello to Brendan Leonard, whom I saw standing at a booth, talking (we’ve never met in real life but believe me, he’s unmistakeable). I didn’t want to interrupt his conversation (I’m reserved, remember) and I figured we’d run into each other later, but we didn’t . So, Brendan, huge virtual hug and apology for my reticence though do wish to point out that I was only trying to be polite and not interrupt you.

See? I don’t even know that guy yet and I fully intend to hug the hell out of him next time I see him. And the vibe doesn’t stop there; at one point I needed a ticket to a party. A stranger handed me one. I needed a ride to the airport in the middle of the day today; one of my clients dropped everything and took me there. I hadn’t brought enough changes of clothes; Kelsey at Five Ten handed me a t-shirt. And don’t even think for a second that if you want a beer you won’t immediately have one put in your hand – that almost goes without saying. At OR you’ll get lattes in the morning from Royal Robbins, energy food throughout the day from Clif and Honey Stinger (I don’t even try to pretend I’m not basically making lunch out of their samples) and others, much-needed afternoon-downswing Red Bull from Arc’Teryx (thanks Josh!), and beer and cocktails at happy hour from just about everyone. If you’ve never seen Michael Franti and Spearhead in concert and you’re in the back of the concert hall but want to be front row center, outdoor industry peeps will not only let you through but they will actively help you move through the crowd to the front, to be eventually enveloped in a big, sweaty Michael Franti hug.

As for me I’m happy to do my part; to make introductions between friends and contacts and walk someone over to someone else with whom there might be some mutual benefit to a connection. Sure, this is a business, but there’s no reason why it can’t operate on the cooperation model rather than in pure competition style. No one can be good at everything and we can’t have it all, so we might as well help others have a piece of it.

It’s not normal, this industry. And for that, we’re lucky.