Wild Ideas Worth Living

Trail Sisters with Gina Lucrezi

Episode Summary

After not seeing many female runners out on the trail, Gina Lucrezi built Trail Sisters to build community and diversify the sport.

Episode Notes

When Gina Lucrezi fell in love with trail running in her 20s, she didn't see many other women out on the trail. Gina craved a community of female runners that she could connect with, so she decided to create Trail Sisters, a national organization that supports and inspires women to get into trail running. Now, Trail Sisters has over 130 chapters across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. By starting this group, Gina has opened up a new world for herself and thousands of other women.

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Episode Transcription

Gina Lucrezi: Nothing's guaranteed in life. I don't know how long I'll be here. So, I'm like, "What can I do to help make this place, what can I do to help make it better?" If it's working my tail off to get as many people out in the trail as possible so they have a better opportunity at wellbeing or health or finding friends or whatever it is they're looking for, then heck, I want to do it.

Shelby Stanger: Gina Lucrezi fell in love with trail running in her early 20s, but she didn't see many other women out on the trail. Gina was missing a sisterhood of female runners she could connect with on and off the trails. That's why she founded Trail Sisters. They're a national organization that supports and inspires women to get into trail running. With over 130 chapters across the US, Canada and Europe, Gina created the community she was hoping to find in trail running. This group creates bonds, teaches valuable skills, and never leaves a woman behind. I'm Shelby Stanger. And this is Wild Ideas Worth Living.

Shelby Stanger: As a kid, Gina had a little too much energy. So much, her mom was always telling her to take a run around the block. One lap quickly became two, which led to successful high school and college running careers for Gina. In college, she was a 10-time All-American and she won the Division III national championships for the indoor mile. Once Gina graduated, she wanted to explore a different side of the sport, a side that wasn't just a loop of racing and winning. That's when she discovered trail running and it opened up a whole new world for herself and thousands of other women. Gina's passion for the sport is amazing, especially considering that when she first started running, she actually hated it.

Shelby Stanger: Gina Lucrezi, welcome to Wild Ideas Worth Living.

Gina Lucrezi: Oh, well, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Shelby Stanger: I want to talk for about running. No one really likes running when they start, right? Is that how you started?

Gina Lucrezi: Yeah, and I didn't like it either. So, I started, I mean, the short version of it really is because I happened to... Well, as a field hockey player, we had to run the mile as a time trial. And I always did really well on our little mile time trial. And so I told my mom, my mom was like, "You could do track and field. You should train. You should do this." And I was like, "I don't want to," I kind of loathed the idea like, "Who would like to run laps in general?"

Gina Lucrezi: So, I grew up in this little development and it was about a mile around the development. My mom was giving me heck one day, because I also was diagnosed with ADD when I was a little kid. And so I always had tons of energy. So, she's like, I'll give you $5 if you go run around the block, which was essentially the mile loop. And I came back and a little while longer and had run two miles, because I wanted the $10 versus five. And so she was a little blown away that I just was like, "Oh, I'm going to just go for it." I disliked running. But then I realized, "Oh, I might be able to do this." So, it slowly turned into this, I don't know, I'd say it was like a love-hate relationship.

Shelby Stanger: No, I like that. I think what's really interesting is I was born with, I think, an excess amount of energy and if not burned, it sometimes was like a little destructive, whether you have a diagnosis or just a lot of energy, it's a great activity to do if you have an abundance of energy.

Gina Lucrezi: Oh totally. I mean just... Well, it helped with that, just the output and feeling tired later on, which was good. But I mean, obviously there's so many great things about running. Just the... I don't know, I get my best ideas sometimes when I'm out in the trail or out on the road or whatever.

Shelby Stanger: When did you start liking it?

Gina Lucrezi: It's going to sound probably crappy, but it's honest, when I started to win. I happened to have, I don't know, it's a lot of hard work, but there's probably some talent involved and I didn't like it at first, I would go to field hockey practice and then I would go to track and field or cross country practice in the same season. And it was quite a lot, but what made it more fun is then when I get to race day, I actually would do quite well. And I was like, "Oh, okay, this is kind of fun. I don't know too many people don't enjoy doing well." Whenever you succeed in something you can't tell me you're not excited about it for the most part.

Gina Lucrezi: So, in high school I guess is when it really started to come through, probably junior, senior year. So, my senior year, it was me and another girl on our women's team. So, we didn't even have enough people to actually have a team finish, but I won every race except for districts and states my senior year and set course records on all of them, except for districts and states, and she'd come in the top five. So, it was just us doing our thing. And then I realized that there's probably more to this for me. So maybe I should develop it more and put more energy and effort into it to see where my two legs could take me.

Shelby Stanger: First of all, winning is fun, absolutely, it's super fun. I totally remember that. And there's something about cross country and running where you don't have to depend on anybody but yourself. And so, when you win, it's all you. Having that feeling of satisfaction is pretty powerful. So, you excelled in cross country and outdoor track and indoor track, but you have like a record or something for the indoor track mile in college. What was your time? Can I ask?

Gina Lucrezi: Oh gosh, I think my fastest time indoor I don't remember. I think it was probably in the 4:30s for the 1,500, not the mile. So, I don't know what that would convert to. So, we go back and forth between the mile-

Shelby Stanger: No, that's pretty fast.

Gina Lucrezi: So, between cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track, I'd done the steeple, I'd done the 5K, the 15 or the mile was my sweet spot, that was my favorite. And then obviously the cross country. But when I realized, "Well, I have the ability to run, this is great." There was different things that were exciting about it, and one of them happened to be the success, and it's addictive in that sense. You start to do well, and then if you don't do well, you wonder why or what went wrong. And so then you could just keep striving for it.

Gina Lucrezi: I kind of feel like that was a catalyst for me taking me where I am today. And whether I realized it or not, I was going down this rabbit hole, wasn't a bad rabbit hole, but it's now taken me to 38 years of life and I'm still in the world of running, but I never would have thought this is where I'd be at, I'd still be doing it or talking about it or anything when I was in ninth grade loving field hockey. So, it's just really interesting in that side of things I guess.

Shelby Stanger: Team sports can be a great segue into getting into running. I mean, you have no choice but to run around the track in a lot of these sports, and then you just get fast. What did you learn from competing in college, especially in events like the indoor 1,500 or mile that you took to your life and still use today?

Gina Lucrezi: Well, I guess the biggest thing, and what's interesting about the indoor track is so it's like it's 200-meters long, so it's half the size of an outdoor track. So, you're doing a lot more laps. So, you have a lot more turns on your leg, which is kind of interesting. But anyway, that aside, just for those that might not know the difference between indoor and outdoor. Everybody can see you on an outdoor track, but it's bigger, but inside you feel like all eyes are on you.

Gina Lucrezi: So, one thing I learned was kind of like, hey, you got to get in your own little zone and you can't be afraid of anything, if you want something, you just have to go after it. And I think everybody gets a little self-conscious in one way or another. And just building up the confidence like, well, you got to go out there today and just do the best you can, and everybody can see either your success or your misstep or whatever it is.

Gina Lucrezi: So, I think something I've taken away from... If you'd say indoor track specifically, or that, but even in a more general statement was just, I don't know, you have to take the bet on yourself to give it your all. And can't worry about the outcome. If it's something you want, go for it, if you don't succeed at it, that's okay. But you're finding different limits or you're finding maybe hiccups along the way that you can work on and then excel past. But you can't be afraid to go for it. I didn't know what I was capable of. And I just figured, "Well, I won't know unless I put it all out there," and I did, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, but I've probably taken that with me.

Shelby Stanger: Tell me a little bit about how you made the shift from racing to trail running, which is what you do today and it's become your life's work.

Gina Lucrezi: Yeah. So, I had graduated college, I wanted to continue, I went to this D3 school, which was great, but I'd seen what all these women were doing at larger programs. And I was like, "What if I had that coaching?" Or, "What if I had accessibility to those resources and things like that?" Because I would say it's quite different.

Gina Lucrezi: So, it's like, "What else am I capable of?" So I always wondered. And so I kind of continued after school running and running. And then I realized, I'm like, "Okay, I'm never going to be a Shalane Flanagan." I'm like, "It's a fun dream." But it's like, I probably can't get there. But I'm really curious as to what else there is in the different aspects of running.

Gina Lucrezi: And I know this one woman who is very into the trail arena and she's like, "You're a speedy little kid out of college. You should get into the trail running world," and thought it would be funny. I was like, "Well, hey, I was a tomboy growing up. I used to climb trees and play with G.I. Joes." So, the trails were always somewhat of an appeal, but I never really thought about running on them until I was approached like, "Hey, there's a lot going on in this whole world." So, I was like, "All right, let's give this a shot."

Gina Lucrezi: And I went for my first trail run in Colorado Springs up this one trail called Section 16. And it was quite hard. And the woman I was running with was older than me by, I don't know, 25 plus years, maybe. I don't know. I don't want to... Maybe a little older. She should probably kick my butt if I'm wrong on that.

Gina Lucrezi: But anyway, she took me at the trail I was doing great, and then, all of a sudden, she just, here she comes right past me as I'm dying to go up this hill, because I'm running it as though I'd run on the road at the track with the stride that's larger than what you do used for a little pitter-patter stride for going up a trail. So, I remember being like, "Oh man," being like, "How this woman just kicked my butt up this trail?" When I was this person in the track world that could do all kinds of things. And so it piqued my interest. And then outside of that, it was so nice just to get off of the road. Because that can be so mundane, looking at the same stuff all the time, and just having the opportunity to explore and see places that a large majority of people will never see.

Shelby Stanger: Finding the trail shifted Gina's entire life and relationship to running. She even pivoted her career path to follow this new passion. While she originally got her degree in TV and film, Gina decided to go back to school to get her master's in sports management. After she graduated, she worked for the local REI and she was able to try a bunch of different outdoor sports. For the next 10 years, she worked for various outdoor and athletic brands, including the trail running shoe company inov-8.

Shelby Stanger: She's been on both the business and the athletic side of trail running. And she realized the sport was missing more women representation, not just on the trail, but also in marketing and promotion. That's why Gina decided to take a leap and started Trail Sisters.

Shelby Stanger: You started this awesome organization called Trail Sisters. So, you work in the outdoor industry and then eventually you leap and your wild idea is to start Trail Sisters. What is Trail Sisters? When did you start it and how? And I have more questions, but keep going.

Gina Lucrezi: All the things. So, I started Trail Sisters April 11th of 2016, our mission or the mission of it was to grow women's participation and opportunity in trail running, but doing it through education, inspiration and empowerment. It started as just simply an online journal. I had asked seven close friends if they'd be willing to write some articles just pertaining to those three foundations, whether it was the educational, inspirational or empowering, anything they really wanted to, as long as always talking about the outdoor world, specifically trail running.

Gina Lucrezi: And I posted, I think, one per week for a month or so, or a couple months, I should say, then I had women, write to me on my little Squarespace site like, "I have a story, can I be a contributor?" And I was like, "Sure." So, now it's a crowdsourced platform and the importance of that and why I love it so much is because not any one person, A, knows it all, but we all have different experiences and different ideas. And we come from different places, different backgrounds.

Gina Lucrezi: What was so cool about that is once this audience grew, you have such this broad spectrum of perspective and even the way people type, people speak, the tone and pitch granted you can't hear that through words on a screen, but sometimes you can see that come through. So, anybody that's reading, maybe one article doesn't resonate with somebody, but maybe it resonates with somebody else. It's not just, "Hey, we only bring on professional writers that have done this for X amount of time," really respect what they do and we do have some of that, but we also have the first-time blogger that's like, "I've never done anything like this before, but I really want to share my story."

Gina Lucrezi: So, and Trail Sisters, obviously, there's no payroll thing, these are all contributed, I would never charge anybody to read somebody else's work. I'm just thrilled that people want to share their stories, or their tips and tricks, or their backgrounds, or whatever it is to really help the mission of growing that opportunity and participation in the sport.

Gina Lucrezi: There's so many people that are intimidated or have some barrier to entry, but maybe hearing from somebody else that's going through the exact same thing, that might be the opening of the door for that reader to then get outside and give it a go. So, when I started it, it was to fill that void and being like, "Hey, let's try to change this mindset a little bit."

Gina Lucrezi: So, the best way I knew how to do that was to... Because I had TV, film background, I understood media and sports management. I just could put things together. And I was like, "Well, an online journal is probably the best outlet using all these different voices." And hopefully we can start to push that and next thing I knew I'm like, "Oh wow, now it's my full-time job." But I didn't start it with the intention to be doing this today. I love it. I'm glad that's where it's at. And the community's really what has carried it to the point that it is. I'm just kind of the person that got it started. I'm one cog in a big wheel of what Trail Sisters is. Everybody on that wheel plays a role.

Shelby Stanger: You can hear it on the way Gina talks about Trail Sisters, that the power behind the organization is all about the community. Gina may have been the one who started the organization, but it's since become something much bigger than her. It's become a resource for women to learn and a way for women to connect online and in real life. There are chapters all over the world that organize meetups and group runs and Trail Sisters even gives grants to help women runners with childcare, gear and even coaching.

Shelby Stanger: By creating Trail Sisters, Gina created the exact resource and community she was missing when she started trail running herself. When we come back, Gina talks about the lessons she's learned from her Trail Sisters, and she gives us a taste of the Trail Sister Retreats, they sound super fun.

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Shelby Stanger: With 10 years of experience in the outdoor and trail running industry, it's not surprising that Gina build her own successful business in that field. Trails Sisters may have started as an online journal back in 2016, but today it's so much more. It began with a small online fan base, but now there are thousands of people who actually go out running on the trails together every day. Gina never imagined that it would become what it is and she's learned a ton from her community along the way. So, you start Trail Sisters in 2016, how did you grow it? And what had been some learnings that you've taken from growing an organization like this?

Gina Lucrezi: Yeah. Again, I didn't know where it was going to go. We started it as the journal, then I was like, "Well, hey, let's do retreats where we could run together and do workshops." So, education is one of our foundations, which is a huge piece to it. And then the aspect of camaraderie. And so, women would write in asking like, "Well, how do I find trail sisters to run with? Are there meetups?" And I'm like, "Yeah, what the heck am I thinking? Of course we should have this, we're a digital community, but we should be an in-person community."

Gina Lucrezi: Then we put together essentially our local group program and it's actually now closer to 130 groups and I have some more waiting to be opened up. There's a little bit of a process and it's all volunteer-based. The people that lead these groups are the heart and soul of what Trail Sisters is. They're like-minded in the mission. And all I ask is that there are a few rules I ask them to follow, which is to be welcoming to anyone that identifies as a woman. And then also there are no drop runs where you can run for a little bit or hike, but you all kind of regroup wherever it makes sense.

Gina Lucrezi: But these are social events to strengthen friendships, to help share with technique, learn where there's trails in your area. They're not made for hardcore practices. If you want to do that, you should do your own thing. This is really to bring people together, but by doing a no-drop system, it doesn't allow anybody to get left behind or get left. It helps resolve any of those fears of like, "I don't want to get lost. I don't want to hold anybody back." Well, if we're all waiting for each other anyway, and we're chatting and getting to know each other, it's much more than just getting out to go run. It's thanks to those volunteer leaders that have written in and say, "Hey, I want to start this here. How do I do it?" And I work with them and we have a communities platform, so they can do all of their communication there, set their events there.

Gina Lucrezi: Some of these groups also have Instagram accounts and Facebook accounts just to help grow that awareness. And there's no fee to join any of this. This is all free. Again, I don't like barriers. I think there's enough barriers out there in life that already keep us from a lot. So, it's all about just trying to get as many people together and sharing the goodness as possible.

Shelby Stanger: What's been the most rewarding part of starting this organization? I mean, you must get to meet so many different types of cool people.

Gina Lucrezi: I mean, I guess what makes me smile and keeps me going is when I receive a note or I hear a story about how Trail Sisters, in some way, shape or form, has added to their life, or has helped put them on a better path, or they met their best friend because they went to a local group run and now they found a bestie or they never thought that they could be a trail runner, but they went to a group run, and they realized that the age of 52 like, "Hey, I can get into this. I can take my time. There's people here that are doing it that I never thought would be. And if they can, I can." Just all kinds of things like that.

Gina Lucrezi: So, nothing's guaranteed in life. I don't know how long I'll be here. So, I'm like, "What can I do to help make this place, even if it's changing one person's life a little bit, what can I do to help make it better?" So, if it's working my tail off to get as many people out in the trail as possible so they have a better opportunity at wellbeing or health or finding friends or whatever it is they're looking for, then heck, I want to do it. So, I don't know, that kind of motivates me and stuff like that, but that's mushy-gushy weirdness maybe, but I don't know. It's-

Shelby Stanger: That's the good stuff, man. You know who I am? I'm probably the cheesiest person in the world. I love that stuff. That's the real raw nuggets that we love. I mean, when you live wildly, you live with your heart and you're vulnerable and we all just want to be healthier and have more love, and fun, and friends, and some shenanigans, because that's important too.

Gina Lucrezi: Of course.

Shelby Stanger: So, you guys do retreats, what's a Trail Sisters Retreat like? What goes on?

Gina Lucrezi: So, we usually have about 22 participants or retreaters, so we do a run or hike each day. I call them adventures, because we're open to any ability. You don't need to have certain standards or be at a certain pace, no, we're here for everybody, we'll learn together. We do an adventure each day and then we also do five different workshops or exercises. One of those actually includes a self-defense class, which is pretty cool. But we do a wilderness awareness class as well. And then we have a PT come in to talk about strengthening an injury prevention. We have yoga class. So, we fill the time with that. I have everything catered. We do go out Saturday night down to Pearl Street in Boulder. These are all held in Boulder, Colorado.

Gina Lucrezi: So, we'll take them out on the town for the Saturday night. So, that's fun. People get all loosey-goosey that night with the margaritas. So, it's a good time. One year, on one of the retreats, they had Pearl Street shut down and one of our retreaters, she was having a blast and there's a guy just with this little microphone, guitar and his little amp just singing horribly actually. But she went out and started dancing, because it was in the middle of the street just to liven it up. And next thing you know, there was people coming from all over, because there's all these restaurants lining the road, because it was closed.

Gina Lucrezi: People are getting up out of their chairs from the restaurants and whatever they come out and there's all these people dancing and singing to his awful music, but it was hilarious. And everybody from the retreat is having a good time just dancing in the street. But things are pretty mellow for the most part. There's a lot of side conversations and chitchat when we're not doing adventures or with the workshops, but we try to... Obviously, we want it to be a fun women's weekend out.

Shelby Stanger: I'd definitely be there for the margaritas and the dancing.

Gina Lucrezi: Oh yeah. I got to have some libations.

Shelby Stanger: In addition to running retreats and building a close-knit community, Trail Sisters also host races. This past September, they held their first race, the Women's Trail Half Marathon in Buena Vista, Colorado. They're also the directors of the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile coming this spring. Directing races, managing online forums, organizing retreats, it's all a ton of work, and running Trail Sisters has become Gina's and her husband's full-time job. How do you fund it? I mean, it's free to other people, but you have work to do, so you have to figure out a way to support it. And that's always a tricky thing when you're pursuing a wild idea, it's like, how do you get it funded?

Gina Lucrezi: Totally. It's funny, that's a big question, because we get asked that from all kinds of people like, "How are you doing this?" Because we don't charge a subscription thing and I never, again, that's another barrier to entry for especially content and education. I'm like, "No, no, no, no, no. I want people to be able to learn. So they can empower themselves and be out there and enjoy what it is that they're doing." Then they grow that, because they bring their friends out, because they're having fun, so anyway, silly to put a price on something like that.

Gina Lucrezi: But the main way we do keep ourselves afloat is by, believe it or not, we sell a decent amount of merch in terms of like trucker hats and T-shirts. And we actually, along with all the other crap that we do, we have a printing press in our garage. So, my husband has a six station, six color screen printing press. We have a hat press and a vinyl cutter. So, we make a lot of the stuff ourselves that we can get more profit off of that versus working with a middle man business, which not trying to be mean to the middle man, but at the same time, this is our job and it's just the two of us. So, we got to do what we got to do.

Gina Lucrezi: Our retreats, that helps out. The team kits, those are also other ways that help us. We have patrons as well that, if people want to help us out with a donation, that's awesome, that it does make a difference. The other kind of bucket that really helps us out is also our partnerships. Hoka has been a great partner with us this entire year and I'm looking forward to hopefully doing more with them in the future as well.

Gina Lucrezi: But they've really been a big supporter of our local groups and helping us with creating different opportunities that we can provide for them. We started this whole new section called our Resource Center, we have these courses. Right now, we have courses all about gear. People will go into a store, and they'll be looking around, "Hey, I need a new pair of shoes." Then you have the store rep come out and they might talk about, "Well, here's this, that and the other thing." And to them, it's simple knowledge of, "What this shoe does, and what's a differential?" "It's a zero drop here, it's five drop, blah, blah, blah." But the person on the other end might have no idea what they're talking about.

Gina Lucrezi: So, my goal, by providing these free courses, is to help educate people. So, when they go into the store, for instance, they're like, "Okay." So, when this guy says it's a five mil drop, they understand what that actually means. I've heard women say like, "Hey, I've gone in. I had no idea. I left with nothing." Or, "I got so embarrassed. I just picked one. It ended up being the wrong one. And then I couldn't don't return. Because I wore it too much that they couldn't take it back."

Gina Lucrezi: We also do grants and that's all fueled by our brand partners as well. We don't make anything off of that. The money that comes in from our brand partners goes right back out. In fact, we're probably idiots, because we don't have a nonprofit setup for that. So, we probably pay the difference on the money coming through us to go back out. But it's really important to us how can we create more opportunities for people and help them financially within those as well. Because not everybody has the ability to access everything or purchase all the gear maybe that's needed. So yeah, that's kind of it in a nutshell, it's nothing crazy.

Shelby Stanger: Any advice on starting a movement like Trail Sisters? It's a big deal. You have a lot of branches. You deal with a lot of people. What are a couple pieces of advice for people who want to live wildly, want to live on their own terms, and maybe they want to start an organization that helps people do what they enjoy doing and gets more of them involved?

Gina Lucrezi: Well, simple do it, just do it. Like I said, when we started, like you can't be afraid to get out there and do it. There's obviously women in sport, but I thought we needed more representation of it. So, I was like, it might be stupid, but I'm really passionate about this and the only way to make a difference is to take action. So, I was like, "Well, I'll put myself out there, see if people want to help me out." And sure enough, it worked out. I can't say every time it works out, but you never know unless you try.

Gina Lucrezi: So, I encourage anybody that wants to see change or wants to make a difference in some way is to actually go out and do it, because nothing, it doesn't just happen automatically. You need to want to be a leader, even if it sounds scary or even if you're unsure of yourself, you'll figure it out as you move along. I still don't know a lot, but I'm figuring it out as I go.

Gina Lucrezi: And the best part about it is other people see your intentions, or my intentions were simply just grow participation, opportunity, this wasn't supposed to be a job. It turned into a job. Trail Sisters is doing, I think, as well as it is because we created a community and wanted to help others. And when people see that I'm not trying to take from them, I'm trying to give to them, and people want to help you, because they like what you're doing, and what you're about.

Gina Lucrezi: So, give it a shot, even if it doesn't work out, you'll learn a lot from that. And then you go back and do it again. Don't be afraid to be a leader and just have faith that people will support you. If you're aiming for the right thing, there's always somebody else that will want to be out there with you to help you out. So, my tagline all the time is take a bet on yourself. We don't do that enough. So, I'd encourage everybody to take that bet on themselves.

Shelby Stanger: When Gina bet on herself, she created a movement that's made a difference in so many women's lives. It's not always easy to take risks and to try something new, we think about what could go wrong or how we could mess up. But a lot can go right if just believe in our own abilities. You can try that sport or finish that race or even create that community. Thank you so much to Gina Lucrezi for coming on the show. I can't wait to see how Trail Sisters continues to grow in the future. I really actually want to go to one of those fun retreats and go dancing and drink wine and go running.

Shelby Stanger: I personally think you have tons of big things ahead of you. You can follow Gina and all of her adventures, @ginalucrezi, that's G-I-N-A L-U-C-R-E-Z-I, you can also follow Trail Sisters, @trail_sisters on Instagram. If you want to run in one of their upcoming races or also join a retreat, you can also check out trailsisters.net/events.

Shelby Stanger: Wild Ideas Worth Living is part of the REI podcast network. It's hosted by me, Shelby Stanger, written and edited by Annie Fassler and Sylvia Thomas, and produced by Chelsea Davis. Our executive producers are Paolo Mottola and Joe Crosby. As always, we appreciate when you follow this show, when you rate it and when you review it wherever you listen. And remember, some of the best adventures happen when you follow your wildest ideas.