‘Foot Stuff’ podcasters aim for humor and preservation
By Gillian Scott
They’ve talked about bigfoot and quicksand, John Brown and the moon landing, national parks and national trails. In wide-ranging discussions punctuated with raucous laughter and frequent profanity, the Foot Stuff Podcast crew delves deep into wilderness issues.
The podcast, created by four friends devoted to outdoor activities and the preservation of wild spaces, offers “adventure, antics and activism” in every episode.
Tyler Socash, one of the hosts, said he and three friends started the podcast in 2017, after the state purchased the Boreas Ponds lands. Various parties—the state, towns, environmental organizations and individuals—were discussing how the land should be classified and used.
“I was advocating for the wild land protections of the Boreas Ponds Tract, at the time New York State’s newest acquisition to the New York State Forest Preserve,” Socash said.
He pitched the Boreas Ponds discussion as a story to Dirt Bag Diaries, a nationally known outdoor podcast. The show interviewed him about the issue, but ended up passing on the story. Determined to have the story told, Socash considered his options.
“I had the audacity to imagine doing it myself,” he said. Socash had no technical experience in creating a podcast, but he did have access to a variety of outdoor voices—friends and co-workers who are active outdoors.
Fueled by friendship
The four founders—Socash, Matt Baer, Wade Bastian and Jeremy Utz—met when they were all employed by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). Each has since moved on to a new position—Baer works at The Mountaineer outdoors store and Old Mountain Coffee Co. in Keene Valley; Bastian was most recently the backcountry caretaker at the Raquette Falls Outpost; and Utz works in nutrition services at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake; while Socash is now the education program coordinator at ADK.
Socash said the foursome’s friendship has kept the podcast going for more than three years and 100 episodes.
“I think at our core what we’ve had since the beginning is a resolute friendship that is authentic, and keeps us coming back to record again and again,” he said. “And it’s not just the friendship. It’s for love of the place that we live in, for the outdoor world in which we recreate and enjoy.”
Though members of the podcast team have lived and traveled outside New York, the Adirondack Park drew them back.
“There’s one thing that the Adirondack Park offers that you simply cannot replicate, east of Denver,” Socash said. “And what that is, is small communities with access to wild, unbroken wilderness areas. … And for me, having those outdoor recreational opportunities was so important for not just my livelihood, but for my own personal recreational pursuits.”
The podcast begins each week with “foot stuff,” or tales of the recent outdoor adventures the team and any podcast guests had. Then they talk about outdoors news from around the country. Finally, the podcast takes a “deep dive,” exploring a topic—such as lightning strikes or current events—in greater detail.
“There are always sporadic witticisms,” Socash said. “We have more than enough tangential banter, and probably dated pop cultural references. It keeps the spontaneity of the podcast alive and vibrant.”
The mix of topics and the heavy use of humor is deliberate. The crew’s outdoors adventures make them relatable, Socash said, while the look at news issues and deep dives provide an educational component.
“None of us are professional comedians,” he said. “Certainly none of us are journalists. But we do try our best to meld the two worlds together to give people topics that they can relate to and understand.”
Focus on preservation
Though a desire to protect the Boreas Ponds helped launch the Foot Stuff Podcast, the crew’s commitment to preservation reaches beyond the Adirondack Park. The year the podcast was launched was also the year Bears Ears National Monument was being reduced by 85% and that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was being reduced by 50%.
“We took the activism role to heart. We wanted to promote the preservation of places like Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Adirondacks,” Socash said. “It was all spurring us into positive action by telling news in an enlightening and humorous way.”
The team has also launched a drive to get listeners to follow Leave No Trace principles—specifically, by picking up trash in outdoor spaces—which has gained an enthusiastic following.
Under the Keep it Wild project, the podcast sends T-shirts to individuals who pick up a “brave” amount of trash and then take a photo of themselves with it and either email the photo to the podcast or tag the podcast on social media. Baer said that so far, the crew has handed out more than 100 shirts and reached people as far away as Australia.
“I’ve had individuals meet me on the summit of Wright Peak, Algonquin and Mount Marcy, while I’ve been stewarding … where people openly admit to now picking up garbage along the trail because they’ve tuned in to Foot Stuff Podcasts,” Socash said. “And for that we’re incredibly grateful and inspired.”
They’ve also heard from listeners appreciative of the education they received from the show—one recent listener, for instance, told Baer he wouldn’t have known to bring microspikes on a hike if he hadn’t heard the podcast.
Like many, the podcast team has made changes to adapt to the pandemic. They attempted to record episodes over Zoom to maintain social distance and found it just didn’t work well. Guests to the show have always appeared in person, not on the phone or in a recorded segment, adding to the spontaneity of discussions.
“They don’t have their own segment per se,” Socash said. “They’re involved with the whole production there. And they have a nickname, they come in, they join in in the banter, they tell about their foot stuff. And then generally they have a topic that they’re talking about in the deep dive section.”
To maintain that dynamic, the podcast was recorded outdoors for much of the year, moving indoors to a space that allows for social distancing only late in the fall.
The outdoor adventures that feed the foot stuff portion of the podcast have changed as well. With the High Peaks crowded with new hikers, the podcast crew has adjusted when and where they recreate, turning to less popular trails … or off trails altogether through bushwhacks.
“I’ve explored a lot of new places that I’ve kind of had on my list for so long that I just haven’t gotten to before, like some of the lower peaks and the backcountry lakes,” Baer said. “I’ve seen places that are within a 10- to 15-minute drive of here that I’ve never been to before, just because I’ve had the time and the opportunity.”
An episode of the podcast discussed recreating locally, and encouraged people to explore hidden gems near their homes.
“We tried to lead by example, through that episode, and still to this day, we continuously monitor the traveling guidelines so that we’re recreating responsibly during this difficult pandemic,” Socash said. “And there is a hidden upside, which is exploring places that you haven’t been to yet and seeing new parts of the world near home.”