Don Rogers: How to make a life
June 21, 2018
A long-time colleague from Vail mentions a writer he met while covering the Winter Olympics.
She lives around the lake somewhere, Truckee maybe. Freelances for Outside, The New York Times, ESPN, NPR, if I'm remembering right. The elites.
Outside! I worshiped Outside in the '80s when David Quammen and Tim Cahill's columns led each issue. The magazine inspired me, and I sent the first thing I wrote for publication to them, notching my first rejection. At least a sliver of this reverence still holds, though they went too slick for me by the '90s.
During conversations, I often email myself names and book titles I don't want to forget. I do this at mixers, lunches, over beer, over coffee, hanging out with friends, at company meetings.
I'm going through old emails weeks after one of these meetings in Denver and I find the subject line, "Megan Michelson."
Nothing else. Just "Megan Michelson." So I google. Worked for Outside, Skiing, freesking editor for ESPN.com, freelancing now for all the top outdoor publications, making ends meet from Tahoe City.
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"Ed Stoner suggested …" I email, with blah blah blah about him meeting her at the Winter Games and how I know Ed.
Fine. She'll meet me. But she didn't go to the Olympics, and who's this Ed Stoner?
She doesn't know Ed. I should but don't yet know her mother, Evans Phelps, former mayor and councilwoman of Nevada City, or her sister, Erin Thiem, owner of the Outside Inn and the Inn Town Campground.
Turns out Megan grew up in Nevada City and discovered her love for journalism in sixth-grade shadowing a Union reporter. Her first reporting job was with the Tahoe World in Tahoe City. Outside took her in as an intern, and her career rolled out from there.
She moved back to Tahoe City five years ago. Today she freelances, is raising two youngsters, and with her husband started a co-working space called Tahoe Mill Collective at the corner of Highway 89 and the road to Alpine Meadows, her home ski hill since childhood.
I read that she raced at age 6 and won the World Telemark Freeskiing Championships in Alaska in 2008, crazy cliff hucking stuff, like big wave surfing, think Mavericks.
I don't have to tell you how terrifically she writes. You can see for yourself at MeganMichelson.com. I happened upon a piece about ultra-marathon Nordic skiers seeing how far they could ski uphill in 24 hours. I'm finally reading a distance running classic, "Born to Run," my son used in his senior project in anthropology, so this piece caught my eye.
I see she's got a good feel for detail and storytelling. But far more poignant are pieces for Outside she wrote about surviving an infamous avalanche at Stevens Pass, Washington, and about her stepdad killed in a shooting when she was 13. Life has dealt its blows as well as bestowed gifts. These stories lift into "wow" territory.
The woman I meet at Crest Café, looking up from my Sierra Sun at a questioning "Don?" is friendly, lean and strong-looking, and very, very blue-eyed. That's what I notice first, then the smile.
Then back to the eyes, those windows. Keen, missing nothing. Mom eyes, I call 'em. My wife has them, too. They arrived as the babies became toddlers and then never left. And more, too, here's a reporter with a natural state of unsettling alertness. Friendly, but not given over, attentive.
I catch myself talking too much, what I tend to do to others, and think about this self-consciously even as I can't stop prattling. Didn't start till near 30, by happy accident in Quincy, learned to type while trying to figure out this journalism thing on the fly, and on, and on. It hits me that our experiences are so different: beach vs. mountains; I didn't start snowboarding until my 40s; I blew through my physical walls contesting fire, she ice; community newsprint vs. global gloss. My grandkids are only a year younger than her toddler children.
A familiar awkwardness with someone I admire has taken hold, and I think this has always been the best part of the job, meeting people who show us what is possible. Especially in a kindred art, and she was on staff and now writes regularly for one of the godhead publications that inspired me to try this work.
"Did you ever figure out …" she starts in a lull. No, I never did. And she's a blank at my second guess, too. But someone, sometime will ask how it went. No need to rack my brain now.
Anyway, this is a win-win. I've made a friendly new contact, gold. And somewhere around the lake, there's another writer I need to meet. Ed will tell me when I see him next.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.