Growing up in the Pacific Northwest gave Kaj Bune an early love for the wilderness. He cut his teeth on kayaking trips with his father and continues to seek out family adventure in the backcountry. His entire professional career has been in the outdoor industry working for brands like Helly Hansen, Outdoor Research and now Exped. Bune blends adventure with a passion for photography and mindfulness. This is a guy who can get his hands dirty, then write Haiku. Get him talking about nature and it doesn’t take long for him to get deep.
RootsRated: Why do you feel compelled to be outdoors?
Kaj Bune : Ah, yes, the question that lies at the heart of outdoor adventure: why? George Mallory (of Everest fame) famously answered that question with the line "Because it's there." But this has never been a very satisfying answer for me. I'm not sure I've figured out an ultimate answer, but along the way I've come to some understandings that are too long and touchy-feely for our culture. "Because it's there" is a much better sound bite. But you know, I wonder if George Mallory might actually have been referring to the human heart, not Mount Everest. "Because it's there—in my heart," or something like that. Maybe that's what he meant.
For me, there are three main reasons I'm compelled to go into the outdoors: friendship, to be in nature, and to be in the moment.
It's easy to convince ourselves that we are the most important things in the universe, especially when we are surrounded by technology and concrete and we're sitting on the couch. It's another thing altogether to be confronted by the full magnificence of the natural world. It is humbling and exhilarating at the same time, and going outside almost guarantees that our sense of wonder will be renewed.
The other thing, perhaps the best thing, about going on adventures is the camaraderie and friendships that are created and enhanced. Although I like to go on solo trips occasionally, I much prefer to go with good friends and family. To share the feelings of awe and wonder, and to experience the flow and the challenges with good friends is priceless. After literally putting my life in someone's hands (on belay or roped up on a glacier, etc.) a very strong bond is created.
RR: What is your favorite mode of adventure?
Kaj Bune : I realized long ago I couldn’t pick one. One day I'd answer backcountry skiing and the next it would be alpine mountaineering and on another day I'd say canoe or kayak. But I can say that my favorite circumstance is one of uncertainty.
My definition of adventure is doing something for which the outcome is unknown. I like the feeling of not knowing the route or where the campsite will be or what obstacles will be in the way. That is my favorite mode—heart racing a little bit.
RR: Have you had any interesting wildlife encounters?
Kaj Bune : Oh, man! Too many to count. Being followed for several days by the rarely glimpsed glacier bear (sometimes called a blue bear) was memorable. Paddling in the Pacific Northwest regularly serves up the possibility of encounters with marine life. We were fishing in canoes one afternoon and a grey whale was feeding nearby. It vocalized at one point and the sound carried through the boats and reverberated in our heads. We didn't realize right away that it was the whale. The whole experience had a mysterious quality and it sounded to me like a cloaked space ship had flown just over our heads! It only takes one of these moments to turn a person into a lifelong searcher for similar experiences.
RR: The adventure life isn’t just for solo twenty-something men. Kids love the woods, right?
Kaj Bune : Well, you used the all-important word that ties adventure and family together: love. When we've put these two great loves together, amazing things happen. In 2007, our regular paddling group of three families made a very special trip along the central coast of BC. For two weeks we paddled along the wild outer coast and had one of my favorite adventures. At the time my son was 8 years old and my dad was 77. We've done many things as a family but for me the paddle trips are the gems.
RR: How has working at EXPED influenced you?
Kaj Bune : It has shown me how valuable a true and clear focus on innovation and quality can be. At the heart of Exped are the owners, Heidi and Andi Brun, who have had an enormously positive influence on me. After over 30 years in the outdoor industry I'm probably a candidate for becoming an old curmudgeon, but Andi and Heidi help keep me aligned with true north, by example. They are very special, caring and honest people and have not lost their enthusiasm for work or play, and this is reflected in their company.
RR: What’s the story behind the photo of the plane?
Kaj Bune : It was St. Elias Range in Alaska. The pilot landed on the glacier, but the surface was thigh deep slush. Took us an hour or so to get him turned around so he could fly off down glacier. As he got in the plane he said "I'm not landing here again so I'll pick you up somewhere else. I'll check with you in a week." So we climbed and skied Mt. Bear and then he picked us up and moved us to another peak, Mt. Bona, for more adventure.
RR: What advice would you give RootsRated readers?
Kaj Bune : We can see endless photos and read detailed reports of places we'd like to visit, but to me what matters is that we walk out our door and do it, whatever it is. There’s no substitute for actually walking the path and feeling the wind on your face and smelling those alpine trees. Go outside. Now.