Episode 113 – The Mountains Weren’t Enough for Marine Dan Sidles
Outside Magazine recently published an in-depth feature by Brian Mockenhaupt (Army Veteran) about a former Marine who struggled with PTSD and depression, and, despite finding a community in the outdoors, died by suicide in 2016. In this week’s podcast, we discuss this story with the author.
JJ Pinter: 00:02 Hey everyone, this is JJ. I want to be the host for today’s podcast, and before we jump into the podcast, I wanted to start with a quick message. This week is a conversation with author Brian Mockenhaupt. He wrote an article about a friend of his and renamed Dan Seidel’s for outside magazine. Last month, Dan tragically died by suicide and we wanted to begin this podcast by letting our listeners know that well, that’s not the focus of this conversation at all. We talk about the backstory. We talked about the challenges in writing and we talk about the story and how it came about, how important this story is, what he learned, etc. It is a part of the discussion team to be. We want to spread a message of hope. It’s a tough topic for most of us, but the truth is we can all benefit from open, honest conversations about suicide. Just one conversation, just one engagement can change someone’s life. In reality, there is a reason for hope. Well, dan’s life ended tragically. He and his story inspired hope and Brian personally and hopefully in the hundreds of thousands of people who read the article in outside magazine, and there’s hope for every single person who’s listening to this regardless of your situation. By learning more about the realities of suicide, veterans and civilians can come together to help make our communities more suicide safe. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the national suicide prevention line toll free from anywhere in the United States. One, 800, two, seven, three, eight, five, five, three to the veteran’s crisis line, press one. All that being said, I think this turned out to be an incredibly interesting conversation with a very talented journalist and it’s about an incredibly powerful piece of writing. I hope to take time and listen to it all and I hope you share With those around you. Thanks. without further ado, here’s this week’s podcast.
Intro: 01:58 This is the eagle nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. We have inspiring guests to have real conversations about things that you care about.
JJ Pinter: 02:10 Hey everyone. This is JJ Pinter. Welcome back to another episode of the eagle nation podcast, and I am here with a really special guest. His name is Brian Mockenhaupt and this is going to be a unique version of the podcast. I’ve not done one like this before, but brian is a freelance writer who has just written a incredibly powerful piece for one of my favorite magazines outside magazine about a marine named dan sidles, and I can’t recommend this enough and we’re going to spend some time talking about the piece that he wrote, but we’re not going to regurgitate the piece. We’re gonna dIve into some of the ancillary stories and the story behind the piece and so I’m really excited to spend some time talking to brian today. Brian’s an army vet as well, and believe it or not, lives in the state of Indiana and just like me, which is another nice connection we have. So brian, thanks so much for joining us today.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 03:10 Thanks. It’s a real pleasure to be on the show. Before we start,
JJ Pinter: 03:14 you’re an army vet, correct?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 03:15 Yes.
JJ Pinter: 03:16 What did you do? Where did you serve? When were you in?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 03:21 I served from 2002 until late in 2005. Um, I was with 10th mountain division, was with a to 14 infantry, so it was 11 bravo. I deployed twice to Iraq once for about five months at the beginning of the war was up in the north and then for a year in 2004 and 2005 to western baghdad.
JJ Pinter: 03:44 And you are now a, a freelance journalist and some people throw that term around pretty loosely. You’re a legit freelance journalist and have written for some very big name publications that, that everybody would have, would have heard of. I would love it if you would share us the story of how you got into writing and maybe prior to this piece, some of the places that you spent some time.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 04:13 Sure. well, going back a ways. I studied journalism in college, went to northwestern and I worked for newspapers for a few years afterwards. I worked out in providence at a daily newspaper for about three years. Then I worked in Cambodia for two years at a english language newspaper called the Cambodia daily. I ended up moving to Korea for a couple of months and it’s in Korea that I enlisted, you know, the, the recruiter in Korea, there’s not many people who joined the regular army in Korea. So he shared space with the special forces recruiters of which there were two or three. So he was actually in their office because a lot more people try to join special forces while they’re in Korea instead of the regular army. So it’s mostly know the random person like me who walks into the office or army brats, I suppose we’ll go through them.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 05:03 So I joined the army and then when I got out I went back into writing and that’s when I started doing freelance writing. And so I took some of my experiences in the army and is a way to thought maybe bridge that gap with the public’s, understand, understanding what they see about the military and sort of use my experiences in the army to better inform my writing and possibly to give the public aside, have to present side of the military that they might’ve not have been quite as familiar with. So in the beginning I, I, I did a lot of writing about some military and about veterans when I went back to Iraq a couple times and then went to Afghanistan several times to embed, to embed with troops, to write stories, right stories from there. And over the years I’ve written for a range of my publications are in for esquire and the atlantic readers digest a lot of that being about to mail train about veterans and I still write about the military, but I’ve written more in recent years about the outdoors, the environment about adventure sports. And this story has sort of brought the two of those together.
JJ Pinter: 06:10 Before we dive into talking a little bit about the story itself. I have to say the third paragraph of this story is, I don’t know, it’s one of the most powerful couple of sentences that I think I’ve ever seen slung together. And I don’t want to steal the story, but I do want to read the third paragraph before we dive in because it caught me completely off guard and was Just like a bit of a gut punch. And I think set up the fact that this was something I really needed to spend my time reading the rest of it, so I’m going to. I’m going to read this really quickly, says his older sister still lives in the area and I stopped by her house to pick him up. I have daniel ready for you. Amy gallier house said, and she handed me a small folgers coffee container with strips and duct tape securing the plastic lid.
JJ Pinter: 07:03 The weight surprised me heavier than I imagined and earn decorated with an american flag, held the rest of his ashes. It sat on a living room shelf next to a picture of saddles and a large frame that displayed a folded flag and his metals from the marines. Brian, when I first read that, I was completely caught off guard and I thought maybe like the sexes were were wrong when you said him verse at the top of it. But what a way to start a story. And I think maybe that’s a little bit of foreshadowing as to how powerful this is.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 07:36 It was, I mean, this story, it stayed with me for awhile and I really struggled with how best to tell it. I knew dan over the years. I had a friendship with him and after he passed away, I knew that I wanted to write about his life, about what had happened to him, about how he had gotten to that point. And as I sat down to write about it, that seemed like it seemed like the right place to start. There’s a million ways that you can start a store and there’s a million ways that you can tell a story. But when I was leaving, when I was driving away from amy’s house after stopping by and talking with her about dan and picking up some of his remains, I had a long drive. I was living in Arizona at the time. And dan sat beside me. The folgers container was beside me on the seat and, uh, had a lot of conversations and just talk out loud and was sort of processing the real strangeness, the intimacy of that experience with him.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 08:35 But just the strangeness of that moment with amy. But also all of that time to come have never imagining being in that position of spending time in that way with someone that I had spent time with on trails on mountains. That’s been a lot of time talking to about his life where he had come from, what the war had been like, forum the time afterwards. And so I think being able to bring readers into that in that way, I thought it might be a good place to start and also to let them know that there was never going to be a question about what happened. It wasn’t going to be a surprise or a slow reveal or will he or won’t he make it. It wasn’t that kind of story. It was that no, he didn’t. And so often these storIes about not just veterans suicide, suicide in general, but particularly the veterans suicide.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 09:34 It’s after the fact exploration and it’s dealt with in, you know, in a lot of ways, in a cursory way when you hear the statistics. But I think with this story in a once in a while, it’s really worthwhile to dig into it and say, but what was it? Who was this person? And I think to even to get close to doing that effectively, you really have to be willing and able to deeply explore all these facets of someone’s life because we’re, we’re incredibly complex people and it’s not one thing often that creates dire circumstances for us. There can be those things that might send us over the edge, but to try to start, you knoW, conversation drawing about the vast complexity of it was trying to dig into the vast complexity of this one person.
JJ Pinter: 10:31 So dan is a marine corps veteran who, who Died by suicide. and what I don’t want to do is to kind of just rehash your piece here because I really, I want people to read it, but I want to go into a couple of maybe deep dive conversations about part of it. Would you mind sharing, I mean, so you, you knew dan personally. Would you mind sharing how you met him and how you became friends?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 10:57 Sure. So this started long before, I guess this story really started in 2009. I had gone to Afghanistan for outside magazine to write a story about mountain warfare now is up in kunar province in the hindu kush on the pakistani border with an infantry platoon that spent their days running patrols up and down the side of the mountain, loaded down with gear, with ammunition, with body armor, really engaged in this lopsided kind of cat and mouse with the taliban who typically travel pretty light and fast and they were struggling with just the train. Do you stay on a trail wHere you could get ambushed or do you go off trail and risk falling off a mountain? So I wrote that story and afterwards someone had gotten in touch with me who worked with erik weihenmayer who was the first blind person to summit mount everest and they were planning a trip to Nepal for the 10 year anniversary of this mount everest expedition.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 11:55 And they wanted to climb another mountain, but they didn’t want to just do sort of a trip with just these friends getting back together. The climate on the mountain. They thought they might reach out and do it with some veterans, so they ended up linking up with 11 wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and they did a week of training out in Colorado on how to travel on glaciers, how to work crampons, use ice axe work on a rope team. Then they went to Nepal for two and a half weeks to hike up into the khumBu valley to climb mount loba shay, which is a 20,000 foot mountain, so I went along with them and wrote a story for outside and dan was one of the veterans on the trip and someone that I was sort of instantly drawn to as a lot of people were when they met dan.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 12:40 He’s incredibly charismatic, very, very funny person, great storyteller, but also he was really deeply insightful about his life, honest about his life, things he had been through in a great judge of character and had some really would have great insights into other other people. So I spent a lot of time when we would walk up the trail and you go, no, a couple of miles every day to slowly acclimatizes. You’re again, innovation, which was a great way to spend time as a journalist. It’s really an incredible privilege because you don’t have to dive right into asking these kind of deeper probing questions about people that that can just come in good time. It was sort of reveal itself and unfold at a more natural pace. You could spend time in silence. You could dive deep into personal things or just talk about, talk about yourselves or just what the weather’s like or whatever you’re seeing.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 13:40 Or they could then go off and talk with some of the other veterans on the trip. But I kept coming back to dan again and again just because he had such a rich and rich and compelling story. So he ended up being one of the people who is prominently featured in this first outside story that I wrote and that was about the process of climbing the mountain and how some of these veterans had gotten there and what they hope to get out of it and looked at the potential for the outdoors and the mountains. To be a way for people to come home from war. To find comradery again, to challenge themselves physically, to have conversations with fellow veterans that they might not be able to or willing to have with other people in their lives. After that I kept up with dan and I was able to climb with him a couple more times and spend some more time with them. So how,
JJ Pinter: 14:36 as in your story danza kind of a kid from Iowa and you’re talking about detasseling corn and all of these things. As someone who grew up in Michigan and sounded very familiar to me, how did he. It seemed like he was a pretty experienced mountaineer at some point. How did that start?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 14:56 It started for him the same way it started for me when we went to that training in Colorado. That was the first time for both of us that we had worn crampons or been on ice and clipped into a rope. So that really gave me entry into that world as well. Then, you know, he grew up playing sports. He water skied, he rode atvs, he wakeboarded. He liked being really physical. He liked adrenaline based things, but some of those things, they just lost their luster form a little bit when he got out of the marines and he was searching for what’s next, what kind of gets me going, what excites me, where do I find some escape and some fun and his I believe is a social worker who was working with at the va in phoenix had heard about this client, said, hey, do you want to climb a mountain?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 15:46 And paul, and he said, yeah, that sounds great. He really took to it and have all the people who are on that first trip, you know, some of them had already been involved in the outdoors and for them it was a way to deepen their experiences and their skill sets and have this really great time being around other veterans climate in Nepal. Some people didn’t go on to do a lot of other things in the mountains, but then he really seemed like someone who is going to get a lot out of the experience and for awhile he did. So he went onto do a semester at the national outdoor leadership school, sort of a outdoor educator semester preparing people to have jobs as guides or working with outdoor programs and he climbed in south America. I climbed, I climbed a mountain with them and in Russia he climbed across the west. He spent a little while guiding on denali and so that was the opening for them was that Nepal trip and he really deeply embraced it. But you know, in the end that that alone, clearly it wasn’t enough for him.
JJ Pinter: 16:54 It seems like veterans, but even beyond veterans, I hear more and more about the wilderness and the outdoors being used as kind of a treatment or healing mechanism, you know, moving forward. But I think one of the things that I took away from your piece is that, that is, well, it can be useful that in some senses can, can be kind of a partial solution, if that makes sense. And I’m interested to know how you think the trajectory could have been a little bit different in this scenario because it seems like, you know, he was doing a lot of the right things after, after he got out of the marine corps and staying. I mean some of the things that we know are really good and healthy, like staying physically fit and exercising. That’s something that we know is important and being around other people so that you’re not lonely. That’s something that we know is I’m doing something where you’re still teaching or serving or helping other people. Like those are. That’s something that we know is, is important. Have you thought about it from that perspective?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 17:57 Active at all? Brian? Yeah. And these programs, you know, I think there’s a lot of value and worth in these programs and it’s not to discount them in any way. I think for most people these programs alone often or not enough, and you know, I’ve written over the years a lot about posttraumatic stress and one of the things it was always really compelling to me was trying to better understand how you know to people who might be involved in the same incident can be affected in vastly different ways. It’s not just that inciting incident, you know, it’s genetically, it’s their upbringing. It’s there can be there sort of spiritual beliefs, can be their support network, can be how they process and they had people to talk things through afterwards. What came after that. If there are follow on traumas. So in that same way that you have people who might be engaged in the outdoors as a way to sort of reengage with others or as a way to to kind of get some perspective and peace and healing in their life.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 19:10 But it really depends on what they’re doing. In addition to that in other parts of, in other parts of their life. And with dan, one of my big takeaways for this story and something that I didn’t really understand until I worked on this story, and I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot of people who even had worked in this space with veterans and with treating trauma who don’t may fully understand, are given enough weight to the impact of childhood experiences. And I talk with some, some really smart people. The process of reporting the story. One of them is Bruce Perry, who is really renowned psychiatrist who works with child trauma. He’s also, I believe he has a phd in neurobiology, but he had started working with Vietnam veterans and this was back in the, I think in 1980 when ptsd had just had just entered sort of the dsm lexicon.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 20:12 And he told me that working with the Vietnam vets, that the guys who had been, you know, and he was working on combat trauma with a vets, is that often it was harder to deal with some other issues from childhood than it was to deal with the trauma from combat. And he said with a lot of his combat vets, he spent more time talking about their childhoods. Then talking about combat and dan had a rough childhood and he was very open about this. He didn’t get a lot of love at home. He felt neglected. He was talked down to kind of verbally and emotionally abused at these really formative years in. For him going into the marine corps was his chance for a new life as it is for a lot of people. You know, there’s a lot of people joined the military. I will say they didn’t have a great home life where they didn’t see a lot of opportunity and possibility for themselves and they go off and join the military and they have a sense of purpose there in this sort of a galitary in situation where as long as they work hard and have their conscientious now drive that they’re rewarded for that.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 21:20 But there’s also this. What can happen when if you are then in the situation of doing the job you’ve trained for in the military, you can potentially have these really explosive effects of trauma. Because if you’ve had to have been exposed to childhood trauma, it makes you more susceptible to negative effects of adult trauma.
JJ Pinter: 21:49 Brian, when did you realize that this was a story that you had to. Right?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 21:56 I think probably as soon as I found out that dan and killed himself.
JJ Pinter: 22:01 So you knew that you wanted to tell his story and what did you learn in the writing of this story and maybe about dan specifically, but maybe just in general, because I know you did a lot of background research. I know you did a lot of ancillary research to make this the like thorough and thoughtful as possible. Is there anything that really stood out to you that you learned during this process of writing this
Brian Mockenhaupt: 22:29 or. I think one of the big things were just talking about was the importance of childhood trauma and another thing. You know, I had a really hard time working on this story and there were some moments and I got pretty discouraged with it because I didn’t understand why after awhile while I was writing it, and by that I mean that it started to feel this voyeuristic because if you can’t add something to the conversation and it just became a than what for why retell the story of what happened to someone when it’s clear what the end was that they’re not going to find a way through and so we’re just going to dig deep and pull the pull on these scabs and sort of put his life under a microscope. And it wasn’t until I started to understand about the role of dance childhood in it, but also that dan wasn’t an outlier.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 23:29 I think when you write about something like this, knowing can be a stand in for everyone and you wouldn’t want them to be. You know, we’re all incredibly complex and nuance, but if you are going to spend a lot of time and use a lot of words to write about one person’s, they can be someone that no one else can relate to them and talk with people who knew dan and all of these people would say, yeah, he just see this comment and just couldn’t reach him and had burned these bridges and react kind of with, you know, a lot of volatility to people and for people who knew him from climbing and even some other veterans, he was pretty extreme and the way he would respond to things and people just couldn’t figure out how they might reach them and connect with them on, on a level where they might be able to change his course.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 24:20 And so it just started to seem like there’s this, this train barreling down and you can see what’s going to happen up a couple miles ahead of the bridges out. Train’s still going. You can divert it or stop it. But it was in talking with two of the doctors who had worked with them and with a couple veterans. I know I’d said, no, he’s, you know, these doctors said we’ve worked with hundreds of people like dan, so he was an outlier to certainly people in the civilian world. I looked at him and could make no sense of him and just said, wow, he’s way too much for me to handle and some capable in the outdoors communities and even sleep on the veteran community. But the doctor saw very definitely. I said, oh no, he was among the people who are at the tail end of the Bell curve, but also the people who really need this tailored time and helped intervention now.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 25:17 And I was talking with a veteran that I know who I was spending time climbing with and dan and find to talk about in this story. And he said, no, people think he was an outlier. It wasn’t. He could have been any one of us just. We had good support network and we’re able to get some of the help that we needed. But there’s people who saw a lot of themselves and dan. And so I think with those, after seeing that, then I realized like, okay, now I, I felt like I had something to say that it wasn’t just this, you know, kind of almost like cruel or voyeuristic exploration of dan’s life that in really digging into it could look at some things where it could have been different for him. And hearing his psychologist say that like, no, I feel like if I could have kept working with them, I think we could have given them hope.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 26:08 It could have turned out differently. Thought, okay, that’s it. Because so many other people thought, I just feel like there’s nothing that could have been different. It was just headed this way because then that’s just a really unsatisfying answer for dan and for anyone else who’s in that situation, you don’t want to leave. Like, okay, it was just inevitable and there’s nothing we could do. It was just going to go that way. And I didn’t want to believe that was true. But for a long time I didn’t. I couldn’t find what the alternative was. And it is not about finding answers, of course. But here’s want, I know the answers possible and so my hope with this story that you know, people can look at it and whether someone is in that situation or they’re involved in policy or different kinds of programs or have a loved one that they just haven’t been able to reach, that it’s possible that there are ways to get through to people and for them to find a way through.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 27:03 But it’s hard, you know, you just look at all the people who try to work with dan and all these different programs as a part of whether is know the va or use different outdoors programs. Lot of people put a lot of time and attention into trying to help him. That’s just one person. So you talked about, you know, 20 veterans a day and this is just one of those stories known as I mentioned the story. It’s not like curing a disease that if you figure out, but in hundreds of millions of dollars in all this time into joining a form of cancer that can be used for a lot of other people. But boy, with transitioning and suicide, it’s a. It’s such an individually tailored issue.
JJ Pinter: 27:52 Brian, you might not even know how many, if you had to estimate, how many hours would you say that you worked on this piece? I mean it’s, I can’t even in reading it and in talking to you, I can’t even fathom how much time you must have put into it.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 28:07 Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know because I guess I’d have to divide up into, you know, time of course with spending time with people actually out on reporting trips and talking to people. Then the tIme transcribing interviews and sitting at my desk and you know, with my fingers on the keyboard, but this is one of those stories. Certainly I think that there are probably many, many more hours where I was doing many other things. Whereas cooking where I was just sitting and staring at the wall where I was out for a jog and it was just sort of constantly just sort of constantly in the back of my mind. And it really was since, since dan passed away, because, you know, I talked about this a little bit in the story, but he and I had, I guess he, he caught a falling out and this was a couple of years before he died.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 29:01 I sent him a text I was going to be in Colorado where he was living and asked we want to hang out. And he sent back a pretty terse text telling me, you know, I’m pretty plain language now. I don’t wanna I don’t want to hang out with you. And I thought, fine, because dan could be saying can be difficult to deal with at times. And there’s a lot of other people had that experience, but I spend a lot of time afterwards while he was still alive and after he had died. certainly spent a lot of time thinking, you know, I wish I had just not had that reaction, which was kind of it fine. If you’re going to be that way then. All right. I didn’t respond to them, but that was the last interaction that we had had. And afterwards I spent a lot of time wishing the night I dealt with that differently.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 29:48 At some point later I just sent him a note, said, hey, are, you know, resilient to and really would like to hopefully sometime we can do some climbing again or something and you know, dan and I weren’t great friends but we spent several times together on climbing trips and you know, a little bit of time hanging out socially. And I thought really, you know, kind of enjoyed each other’s company. But that was with me I think through the writing process too, as it was a lot of other people I think spent a lot of time thinking about dan and thinking what if anything could have been different. And so I think that was something that was also a driving factor. When you asked at what point I decided thought about needing to write the story. When I mentioned soon after he died, because I had this, there are unanswered questions for me as well because I had some involvement in this story because it was.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 30:44 He was on this Nepal trip and would have been on it regardless of my presence there, but writing about the story, put him sort of out into the public sphere a little bit and there was a documentary that was made on the trip as well and that documentary, I think it gave dan some connections into the outdoor world, different people who are involved in some of these programs, but he also came to regret his role, his involvement in the docUmentary and in the story. So there were some questions there for me as well as a journalist, so all of that was playing in my head iS I was working on the piece and as I said, whether it was working out or not, but it, it consumed me for many, many months and really that sort of being paralyzed with wanting to come to some understanding myself but then also be able to find something worthwhile. They cOuld at least give others hopefully a deeper understanding of some of these issues and may move the conversation forward a little bit. So yeah, it was a. It was almost, I guess, kind of haunting for a long time.
JJ Pinter: 31:50 No, I wanted to ask one more question that I want to maybe transition into a couple. You know, maybe take a different direction and think about some of the. Think about maybe some different in some fond memories of dan. Normally this is a long piece, you know, and typically when, or at least when I think about pieces that are affiliated with magazines, they’re, they’re a little bit more condensed. Just from a writing perspective. There’s a lot of content here. Did you have any challenges or struggles in trying to not have it be too long, knowing that you know, you, there are some certain amount of readers who are not going to finish it, kind of given the word count or just saying no, there’s a story here that I need to tell and it’s going to be however long it’s going to be. You know, I’m revealing that I don’t know anything about this world of of writing, but I am an avid reader and so I was just wondering if maybe that was a consideration as you were working your way through this, especially given that it’s going to be featured in an outside magazine.
JJ Pinter: 32:52 Yeah, certainly a, you’ve hit on
Brian Mockenhaupt: 32:56 a common issue for, especially for freelance writers, you know, I have relationships with different magazines, but they have outside as an issue every month and they have a lot of content that they need to fit into the magazine and a lot of things are competing for space and this is
JJ Pinter: 33:13 of imagined, these conversations where it’s like, hey, brian loved the story. Loved the idea of bring it back to me at 600 words.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 33:19 Right. That’s always the dreaded. That’s always the dreaded thing as a writer because you have these stories that you really care about and you’re passionate about and they say, okay, well here’s what we have space for and this is even by the standards of a long feature story. This is An incredibly long feature story and I think in magazines and magazines these days, some of which, because of ads, no, some magazines are shrinking and how many pages they had in some magazines are disappearing and so space is at such a premium and I think this story, It’s, I think it’s at 12,000 words long. Most of the long stories for magazines I’ve written 8,000 words is a really long magazine story, so was really fortunate to have a good relationship with the editor of outside chris kai’s who recognized the importance of the story, the power of the subject material.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 34:22 He knew dan and he knew from editing the first story that I wrote in 2011, how compelling dan’s story was. That being said, I don’t think he was expecting a story that was near this long. I think he probably figured that I would file a story to them that was, you know, maybe seven or 8,000 yards and rice amanda draft and he mentioned. He said, well, you know, the, the length is, you know, something we’re going to have to consider it and look at. And I knew it would be, but I honestly, of course, I’m the writer. I’m so close to the material. Of course I’m going to be making that argument. I know it needs to be really long. It needs to be at this length, but I do think that the topic of suicide, of veteran suicide and the topic of suicide, there’s been very little good deep dives into this that had been done.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 35:15 I think it’s kind of a taboo topic. Um, I think one of the other reasons is most often you’re kind of walking the cart backwards. You’re saying, okay, here’s the end result. How did it get here? And you’re talking with people who knew the person, what happened? How did they grow up? All these different things, you know, with dan, between my interviews with them for the outside story, other time I’d spent with him and the interviews for the documentary, there were hours and hours of this really intimate, insightful reflection on his part about his life and about his time in combat about his struggles with some of these issues. And so I think putting the two of those together about talking with other people and then having dan’s in his own words, his voice, talking about some of these things and then framing it in this wider context of what it says about therapy, what it says about outdoor programs, what it says about our understanding of trauma.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 36:15 I think I was able to bring it together in a way that it told a powerful story. And fortunately thank you know that is something that chris said, okay, this is an anomaly. We don’t normally do this, but I think it’s worth it to, you know, once in a while it’s worth it. just say. Because when you, when a magazine runs a story that long, they’re making a statement because as you say that a lot of people don’t have the time and don’t want to spend that long with a story. And so it’s saying, no, maybe this is something that’s worth it for you to spend a lot of time reading this. And I know that there’s a lot of people that this is not. This is not their kind of story. And it might start and say like, I just, you know, I just can’t get into this and that’s, that’s fine.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 36:58 I don’t think there’s stories that, oh, this is something everyone should read. But I think there are a lot of people that may resonate with and people are also beyond outsides readers, you know, is it gets shared around and there might be people who don’t pick up outside magazine and through it being shared through a friend and it gets to them. And I think that’s where I hope that there’s some potential power in the story when it’s read by veterans when it’s read by family members who say there is someone in my life and before this. And I’ve gotten some of these notes from people since the story came out, has been really, you know, deeply encouraging that it was worthwhile to do the story and to spend the time on it. Say I didn’t understand this. I didn’t understand them until I read this.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 37:47 And I saw so many similarities and it’s given me a new way of looking or a new way of trying to engage with this person. And similarly, I would hope that people who work on treating veterans or just people in the mental health care community in general, we’ll look at some of this and then we’ll just maybe spur more conversation with the syndrome to some colleagues and say, hmm, this is worth taking a look at it as a way to engage the people who are at that end of the bell curve. You know, they’re on the taIl, but he just can’t work on treating the people in the middle. Like, yeah, you get maybe the most bang for your buck because then quinn first and treatments and like, hey thanks. It sort of helped me get back on my feet. But it’s the, you know, I think in many ways as, as a country we’re judged by those hard, you know, because in dan’s case, yes he had a hard childhood, but have you had gone on and done something else in his life?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 38:43 He might’ve had a very fulfilling adulthood, but war wasn’t the only cause. But hIm going off on behalf of the country and doing that, that definitely set a lot of things in motion in his life. So I think those are the things that we order. The people who put on the uniform, you’re going to do that. If you’re going to have such a small percentage going off and enacting foreign policy on the behalf of everyone else who’s here at home, then need to figure out how to give them at least a better shot at having a good and fulfilling life afterwards. Yeah. Brian, let’s close out here with some maybe some fond memories of dan. you know, this isn’t outside magazine, so what types? You’ve talked about climbing a couple times and that can be a pretty generic term. WhaT specific things that he liked to do outside?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 39:42 Was he a. Was he a rock climber or did he like the boulder? Did he like to alpine climb? Like what hike? Like what was he into? What was he good at? Dan was strong. He Was, I mean he. He was a beast. he was incredibly physically imposing. He lost. I like the box. Had spent a lot of time at the boxing gym and spend time lifting weights. I always really enjoyed pushing himself. He enjoyed, I think some of the adrenaline and endorphins. He just, he liked and he needed it. He just liked the challenge of being out there and so when he was living in boulder, he would go up in the flat irons which are these enormous tilted slabs of sandstone and he would go up those everyday, sometimes a couple times a day and he could climb them without a rope and I think he liked that one because you can climb it.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 40:36 There’s one of the routes on the first flat iron that most people climb with the rope just because there’s very little margin for error. If you’re a decent climber, you probably won’t slip it. If you do, it could quite easily kill you or hurt you very, very badly. But dan was pretty confident in his abilities after he had been climbing for awhile and he liked the rush of that. A lot of being up there and that there wasn’t room for mistakes and he could do it alone. He didn’t have to have a client partner and he could go up from kind of zone out and zone out in the best way of putting aside other stresses. What comes next in your day, what came before and just focus that sort of very sharp focus on paying attention to what you’re doing because you have to be in a good clear headspace to be doing that.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 41:23 So he would do That a lot of, you know, and spend some time in the climbing gym. He had ice climb down in array. You did that for several couple of years. He did that a few times a year. And then hE did mountaineering. I climbed with him oN mount elbrus in 2012. And that trip was we, we were uh, we were perhaps a little bit unprepared for an unprepared for that trip. We did not have a reason to have a guide. The route is marked with one’s probably should’ve in retrospect, should have out a guide, but we went with another group that had a guide and we were climbing along with them. And you start at one in the morning, but the weather was pretty foul and quickly turned into kind of a white out and there was one in our group who had gotten sick.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 42:08 There were five of us climbing and so several of us turned around and go down with him, but dan was feeling pretty strong that day. I say you should go on. And he was with a russian woman who had climbed on elvis before. And so they continued on and eventually there was a russian guide in two chinese climbers. One of the chinese climbers had gotten sick and so they turned around. but russian woman said, well, I’ve done this once before. And even though it was in almost like white out conditions, they continued on and the rest of us we made our way through a long day, got a little bit off trail and we eventually got back. But nan was already down waiting for us having already submitted. And he was. They made it to the thought they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see the summit. It was just sort of a mark telling them that they were at the highest point of europe.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 42:57 Then they got there and kind of turned around to my back down and he was down there waiting for us, you know, but that was kind of dan. He just loved the challenge and he could just, he could just hammer it out. It was just a tough, tough dude. Brian. So, so last thing, what is, I want to end with something that’s going to make you smile. What is the time that you spent with, with dan that when you think back at it that made you laugh or was something that you’ll look back on very fondly before we kind of close this thing out? Oh my gosh. Spend so much time laughing at him. Time him telling stories from childhood and it was one of the first times that I just remember doubling over in laughter. It’s just the animated way that he would tell a story and we’re walking up, walking up the trail in Nepal, hiking up to it.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 43:47 No, go a few miles every day and say to t house that night and go a little higher the next day and we’re walking up the trail. There was a couple of us listen to dan tells stories from boot camp and then he would get this laugh and I think in the story, describe one of his high school friends describing it as a little girl getting lift lik to death by puppies. And so dan Would be telling a story and then he’d stop and just this kinda he, he just have to lose himself in his own laughter laughing at his story for awhile. But he just was telling this story about this kid who the drill instructors had taken a uh, an unfortunate like in and they made him stand in front of a mirror one night for like half an hour. It is pointed at the mirror saying unplanted himself insane.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 44:33 I’m not crazy. And then pointing at the mirror saying, your crazy. I’m not crazy. You’re crazy. I’m not crazy or crazier in dan just had this maniacal look in his face. He was just laughing. Stand in the middle of this trail in Nepal. She was going on and on. Just laughing to the point that he was having a hard time breathing and has doubled over with laughter. Just listening to him. I’m not crazy. You’re crazy. I’m not crazy. You’re crazy. So yeah, the drill instructors made him stand there for half an hour doing that and dan just had the best time retelling a story. But you know, I think it said a lot about dan that he also, I think fed on the laughter of others of just watching us and just our joy, us having tears in our eyes, listening to him recount these stories that he knew that he just had that ability to sort of flip this switch within people you know.
Brian Mockenhaupt: 45:25 And Michael Brown who directed the documentary high ground that was made about the Nepal climb. He was close with dan for a while too, and he had told me something that I mentioned the story that said something about how when dan would laugh with you or smile at you were you were, you were sort of inside on the joke with him. It was the best feeling in the world. He was that kind of person, you know, whether he was sharing something intimate and personal with you, you know, something heartfelt about life or just laughing if you were with him, sharing and laughter. It was great. It was just one of those people that made you feel good, you know, and made you enjoy living. And you know, ultimately I think that’s one of the things that made it so hard was it in the end, he was in a place where he felt like that wasn’t enough, that he didn’t have enough to give other people that he wasn’t getting enough from other people and from and from the world around them. but, but those moments when those moments when he was laughing and he was making me laugh, lizard is joy.
JJ Pinter: 46:37 Well, brian, I think that’s probably a good spot to stop on this. UH, I wanted to say thanks for having this conversation with me. It’s not lost on me. That was probably not an easy one to have on your end. We are going to put the link to the digital version of this on outside outline, in the show notes, so if you’re listening to this I would. I would ask you to go read the story. IT’s really powerful. It is this in the print version of outside magazine as well?
Brian Mockenhaupt: 47:07 It is. It was in the issue that’s not on the newsstands anymore. I think the next months out on the newsstands already, but it was in the october. There was in the october issue of the magazine.
JJ Pinter: 47:18 I would definitely encourage you to not only go to pick up the article, read it, share it if you, if you feel so inclined and you’ll check out some more. Brian stuff. He’s a. He’s a phenomenal. So
JJ Pinter: 47:30 brian, thanks so much for Joining me today. It’s been a really great conversation and I appreciate the work that you’re doing and hope and I’m excited that we get to share it with more people. Thank you, judge. I really enjoyed talking with you about this and just introducing more people to dan in life and in death. He’s someone who is really worth knowing.