Behind the Scenes with Peter Frick-Wright and Robbie Carver

How did you two meet? What's the origin story of the Outside Podcast ?

PFW : When we were both struggling magazine writers, we had the same mentor, Tom Bissell. He invited both of us to a reading in Portland. Over drinks afterwards, Robbie and I realized that we had both written the same article for different magazines, and decided we should probably be friends. After a few misadventures while mountain biking together, we started collaborating and editing each other's writing. Tom recently told me that he’d thought about introducing us before, but hesitated because he knew we would either love each other like brothers, or hate each other like only brothers can. Most days it’s the former.

In terms of creating the Outside Podcast , it was a lot of really good timing. We had already made an outdoor-focused show called 30 Minutes West & had gotten a grant from PRX to make a STEM story. A few months later I did a print piece for Outside and really liked working with the people there. Since Sarah Koenig and the team at Serial had recently "invented" podcasting, I knew a lot of magazines were looking at moving into audio, and I pitched a show. When I sat down to talk with Outside 's digital editor, he told me the magazine already had some stuff in the works, but it wasn’t the long form narrative stuff that I love and that Outside is known for. I pitched this series, we got Outside on the phone with PRX, and we figured out a pilot series.

What audiences are you hoping to reach? Outdoorsy people? Where do you imagine that your listeners are while listening?

PFW: Outdoorsy people might relate a little better, but we’re trying really hard to make the stories appeal to indoorsy people, too. These are just stories with one foot in the natural world. You don’t have to be a person who goes heli-skiing on the weekends. As for where people listen - I heard Outside’s editor-in-chief listened to this piece while on a snowy trail run by himself in the woods. Given that this story involves a guy nearly freezing to death by himself in the woods, I can’t decide whether that’s a really good, or a really bad place to listen.

This is an audio adaptation of a classic essay by Peter Stark. How did you choose this essay to start off your series? And what about the essay and its writing lent it to the audio treatment?

RBC: When we first started, we asked Outside to send us their favorite survival stories from the magazine. What better way to start this show than to illustrate how an audio story could expand on a print piece? Stark’s story was a perfect example: the scenes were so strong and it had the kind of science angle that we were looking for. Even better, Stark’s somewhat risky decision to use the second person actually played in our favor - it sounds like he's speaking directly to the listener.

There were points in listening to this piece that I was either shivering, or repulsed. How did you go about creating the sound of hypothermia so viscerally?

RBC: Pete conveniently left this question totally blank, which forces me to re-live some trauma. As we made a list of the sounds we needed, Pete wondered aloud would we could find to intentionally freeze themselves. I volunteered. It seemed easiest, and was a fun way to get my voice into the piece. So, we went skiing on Mount Hood, and I sat shirtless, buried in snow, while a comfortably bundled Pete held a mic and waited long enough for me to get convincingly cold. We then acted out various parts of the story like the ski crash and the feelings of intense heat. It worked great, not that I’d recommend it.

With those sounds in hand, we went into the studio with Crystal Ligari to narrate the piece, and we all spent a long time figuring out exactly the right tone and pacing so that her voice got colder and more distant as things got worse for the protagonist—me. Then we worked with Jonathan Hirsch, to do the same thing with the music. We really wanted the music to feel like it was reacting to the story, ebbing and flowing with the character’s experience, getting musically colder as he got colder and syncing intimately with his decline.

PFW: I should note that, as I’m writing this, our fourth episode also requires a kind of adventure in hypothermia. I have volunteered for it despite the fact that Robbie has already demonstrated his prowess.

Why did you choose a woman to narrate the essay?

PFW: The biggest reason is that I really like Crystal’s voice. We also needed someone who could nail the subtle emotional transitions we were after as our hero freezes and comes back to life.

RC: Also, the essay is happening to “you” - and there’s a good chance that some of our listeners are women, so we didn’t want to make the story entirely male-voiced. The hope was that having a female narrator would help women in the audience experience this story more viscerally.

This first season is all about survival stories. What kind of stories do you want to tell next?

PFW: Sasquatch stories. We do so much reporting in the woods, we’re uniquely positioned to land the first exclusive interview. Which I guess is my way of saying that these survival stories have been pretty heavy. I’d like to mix in some lighter stuff. "The Science of Waterfights," maybe. Or "The Science of Eating Cheese That’s Been in my Backpack for Four Days and Looks All Sweaty but it’s Probably OK, Right?" Actually, now that I think about it, that one might fall under the “survival” umbrella.

Have either of you experienced any near-death moments in the outdoors?

RBC: We have both had plenty of adventures that fall into the "not the smartest thing we've ever done" category, many of them together, but nothing that we could call near-death. We've gotten close to the line a couple of times, but in that way that's fun to talk about over beers after, rather than something truly frightening.

PFW: I had a moose jump over my canoe, once. It's a long story.