When The Trail Ahead launched in 2021, it became one of my favourite podcasts. From the beautiful cover art by Shar Tuiasoa, to the friendship of the hosts, Faith E. Briggs and Addie Thompson, it brings conversations around activism in the USA’s outdoors recreation scene to a wide audience in an accessible way.
After a short hiatus, I was happy to see the show return earlier this year. I caught up with Faith and Addie to talk about where the idea for the show came from, how they’ve found podcasting and the shows that influenced them.
Pod Bible: Can you give us an introduction to yourselves and The Trail Ahead?
Faith: Addie and I met trail running. We were both living in Portland, Oregon at the time and friends introduced us and it was a pretty fast friendship. And we basically realised that we wanted to talk about serious things most of the time, and we started having all of these conversations around the intersection of race, environment, history, culture and the outdoors. So basically The Trail Ahead is an extension of that. Whether it’s narcissism or not, we thought that the conversations we were having should reach a larger audience and so we created a podcast to do that.
How much preparation do you do before episodes are recorded?
Addie: A lot of preparation! Well, a lot and a little. It’s funny, we’ve gone through a transformation over the past year. We used to be much more planned in our questions and we had, like, 30 questions to ask each guest and we really had a prescribed flow of the conversation and how we wanted it to go etc. And this new round of episodes, we’ve been trying to be much more conversational – or as conversational as possible with our guests. We do a lot of background research on them, but oftentimes we’re just writing down themes and things we want to touch on with them and going from there. We’ve had incredible episodes, we’ve recorded a few conversations in the past few weeks that have gone in a completely different direction than I would have initially thought. But if we kept our 30 questions, we might not have gone there. I think that what’s been really cool is we both prepare a lot for these conversations.
We also have a visual component to the podcast, which most people are surprised by – we make short one-minute films on each of our guests because we feel that not only does representation matter in the outdoors, but visual representation matters. One of our guests said that if you can see it, you can be it. So what we’re hoping is that folks listen in, and watch and are able to see themselves outside.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from doing the podcast so far?
Faith: I’m not sure if I can answer the biggest lesson that we’ve learned. I just go back to how lucky Addie and I feel, all the time with all of these guests that we get to speak with. Social media asks you to be really, really egotistical and you get kudos and likes for focusing on yourself. But I think the creation of a podcast was really all about amplifying other voices. So the big learning for me is how to shift the attention and how beneficial that is to everyone when it’s not about you and what you have to say, but it’s more about how you can – as one of our guests, José González says – share power with other people. That has been so mutually beneficial in all these ways. I don’t even think Addie and I have begun to quantify yet.
What do you think the secret is to being a good podcast interviewer?
Faith: I think like Addie said, not being tied to what you thought you were going to make or not being tied to the conversation you thought you were gonna have. I think our first season we had these questions and we felt we had to get through them and you can actually hear it. I think you can hear at some point we’re switching tones just to get to our next question versus really letting it be okay to talk about half the things you thought you were going to talk about. Or realising you’re not telling anyone’s whole life story just where they are now. I think that’s been huge for us in terms of shifting how we host and realising that you don’t have to check a bunch of boxes in the episode.
Addie: Absolutely. And I think you can hear it in the conversation, we’re both much more engaged in what we’re talking about and what they said. Initially I was so rigid and “okay great, they just answered this question” and then I would realise that I hadn’t even heard what the answer was because I was thinking about the next question. I’m so impressed with interviewers who are just so seamless in this when they do have a list that they’re going through.
Now hopefully there’s just more natural flow and hopefully that increases the ability for us to create a safe space for our guests. I absolutely thought we were telling people’s life stories, I thought that was the point. I was like okay, we have two hours, we need to cover everything about this person. That has been such an unlock to be able to let that go and to really come in with “what do you want to talk about today? What do you want to say to the world?” and then go from there.
Faith: And that’s specific to ours too. I think there are some people who you go to that podcast and you expect and want to hear those six answers, right? We both love, how am I forgetting your celebrity crush’s name suddenly?
Addie: Oh, Brett Goldstein!
Faith: Right? So listening to Brett Goldstein’s podcast – if a certain guest didn’t answer one of the specific movie questions he asked, I’d be like, “I’m sitting here and not knowing their answer” because I expect to hear these six questions answered. So it totally depends on the podcast. I think allowing for flow is really important for ours, but it just depends on how you’ve structured yours.
Were there any podcasts that inspired you before you were making yours?
Addie: So we’re both big fans of Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson who used to co-host How To Save A Planet with Alex Blumberg. Now she no longer hosts the podcast, but I listened to that every week and I was so excited when a new episode came out. When your favourite podcast comes out with the episodes, it’s like Christmas morning or something, it feels very exciting. Faith put me onto On Being.
Faith: Yeah, I’m like a long, long term On Being devotee. I think Krista Tippett is goals in so many ways and I just feel like that podcast has changed my life. I think the depth of those conversations was really important for us, just to say you can have really deeply important conversations via this medium. And then How To Save A Planet, the co-host structure – I think those two things really influenced our desire to do one, our belief in the medium and the way that we came together to do it.
If you could go back to before you started out and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Addie: I don’t even think it’s advice, it would just be read up and learn more about what the industry is, because I’ve been so fascinated to learn from folks like yourselves, Arielle [Nissenblatt], we work with a wonderful podcasting producer Ona Oghogho. There’s been so many people in our lives, who have helped us along the journey.
Faith: Jen Chein. I don’t know what we would’ve done without Jen, oh my gosh, explaining even “this is how you do an introduction” you know? Yeah, we definitely learned in time. I’m very grateful to those folks.
Is there a particular episode you’d like to highlight or you’re particularly proud of?
Faith: Oh man, I’ve been kind of loving Noël’s recently. Noël Russell we just did a couple of weeks ago and one of the things that she says is “contentment leads to confidence”. But she just talks a lot about being okay with yourself and not feeling like you have to do what everyone else is doing. Certainly we’ve heard things like this before, but the way she says it just makes it all feel so okay. I’ve loved that one. I think while we were editing it, we were obsessed while we’re having the conversation. And then the day it came out, I was like ‘play’ as if I haven’t heard it so many times. And I can be shy about telling the people that are closest to me in my life to listen to my podcast because it feels really silly to do. But even my partner I’ve been like, “have you listened yet? You need to listen to this episode. This is my podcast, you know?” Maybe this influenced me more than I realised. It was like reading Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s like a real feel good one.
Where can readers find out more about you?
You can find out more, listen to episodes and watch the mini videos on our website trailaheadpodcast.com, and you can follow the podcast on Instagram @trailahead_podcast. We’re @faithevebee and @adelinemthompson.