When a massive off-road vehicle weighing several tons and boasting a 10-Liter diesel engine rolls down the Prius-speckled streets of downtown Portland’s Pearl District, people can’t help but take a second look. Stopped at intersections, it rumbles and exhales heat waves from behind a mean-looking grill that rises above most pedestrians’ sternums. Whether they like it or not, it’s impossible for them not to appreciate the sheer awesomeness of the rig—the mountain bikes hanging from a rack on the trunk, the colorful kayaks sticking up from its roof like badass bows. Probably the last thing this mobile adventure goliath conjures in their minds is cancer, which is good, because Paul Kelly, the stocky shaved-head representative of First Descents who is behind the wheel, hasn’t driven halfway across the country to make people think about cancer. He’s done it to help them forget about it.
Headquartered in Denver, CO, First Descents is a non-profit organization that provides outdoor adventure therapy to young adults with cancer. The idea is that once in the wild where they will be forced to confront legitimate outdoor challenges, participants will have the opportunity to push their limits and face their fears, and through the experience, regain the confidence and self-efficacy lost to cancer. First Descents has over 40 programs in 10 states scheduled for 2012, during which the organization will enable over 600 participants to live their dream adventures. Kelly is in Portland on his own adventure, driving the organization’s new marketing campaign: First Descents Mobile.
“We literally just got the truck three weeks ago,” says Kelly, who stopped by The Clymb office to say hello before leaving for a paddling event in Hood River. “It’s been to Moab once with the founder but I’m the guinea pig.” Kelly is the first of several employees whose job descriptions now include driving the massive truck around the country on a promotional tour. Wending their ways from state to state, representatives from First Descents will promote their program at cancer treatment facilities such as oncology clinics and at recreation events, taking breaks from the road whenever possible to lead curious cancer fighters and survivors on mini adventures such as whitewater kayaking trips and rock climbs. But, as Kelly explains, the mobile unit offers just a taste of the true First Descents experience. Continue reading