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January 27, 2022

Peaks & Pedals founder Holly Priest is the new conscience of outdoor recreation | Tyler Merritt discusses his anti-racism videos and his Vegas upbringing | Media Sommelier: West Elm Caleb and the witch-hunt machine

I REALLY, REALLY want the Salomon Out Day 20+4 backpack at Peaks & Pedals Gear Exchange. This day pack retails new for $140, and the like-new one here is selling for only thirty bucks. It’s my size. And it’s the pretty, dark-teal Mediterranean color. But, I think, half the damn chest strap is missing! At the checkout, as I pay for a top and pair of running shoes, the store’s owner, Holly Priest, asks if I found everything I wanted, and I tell her about the pack.

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“It’s not broken,” she immediately replies. “I don’t sell broken gear.”

Priest fetches the pack from the rack, lifts a flap on the shoulder strap concealing a small plastic rail, and shows me how to clip the one-piece chest strap onto it. Voila! A perfectly intact, like-new pack. Not satisfied with this victory, she then has me put it on to check the fit. Her brow furrows. It’s sitting too high on my shoulders, tight around the waist. With my permission, she pulls on tabs, shimmies the hip belt, and shifts the bag into place. I leave the store 15 minutes later with not only a high-quality day pack, but also a personal fitting.

Such attention to detail can be seen everywhere at Peaks & Pedals, which opened last October in a strip mall near Craig Road and I-95. The store is arranged (and smells) more like a boutique designer store than a thrift shop. Everything is clean and tagged and placed on a shelf or rack in its respective section: biking, camping, hiking, paddling, or snow sports — plus general recreational clothing. Inventory is cataloged and updated on Peaks & Pedals’ website, where items can be bought and held for pick-up or ordered for delivery.

“I was initially drawn to Holly’s intelligence,” Priest’s life partner, Ryan Meier, says. “She’s a very intelligent woman, and I like that. But her creative side has come out in the store. … You see that when you walk in. It doesn’t look like a normal consignment store. Her store is beautifully set up.”

The interior is painted forest green and sandstone red. One wall of the clothing and footwear room in the back bears a mountain mural reflecting the company’s logo. For trying on shoes, there’s a comfy goldenrod couch that Priest brought in when she downsized from her Blue Diamond rental house to her cousin’s spare bedroom, one of many life changes heralded by the business’s launch.

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That’s the most interesting part of Peaks & Pedals — how it came to be. Born and raised in Northern Nevada to an outdoorsy family, Priest left college with a history degree and entered the dismal job market of the Great Recession. Convinced by her attorney-filled family that it was the right move, she came to Las Vegas to go to UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. She graduated with honors, clerked for District Court Judge Rob Bare, and went into a career as a commercial litigator.

“Real estate was my bailiwick,” Priest says. “I was good at big cases, the ‘Where in the title did it all go wrong?’ cases.”

And then, as we now say, COVID hit, and everything changed. Practicing law alone from her house, Priest started to have some mental health issues. She realized it was the people, her co-workers and clients, that she loved about her job, not the work itself.

“This sounds silly, but law is so adversarial,” she says. “It wears you down, getting emails from opposing counsel, the sniping that happens, having to be on the defensive all the time.”

An idea Priest had sublimated began to bubble to the surface. While traveling around the West, she’d shopped in many used outdoor clothing and equipment stores — Wonderland Gear Exchange in Seattle; Durango Outdoor Exchange in Colorado; Gear Hut in Reno; Snow, Mountain, River in Flagstaff. Why, she wondered, wasn’t there such a place in Las Vegas? During grad school, she’d had amazing adventures, coming to cherish the valley as a place where you could mountain bike all year, go hiking in the morning, and swimming at Lake Mead in the afternoon. There had to be a market for used recreational goods.

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Sitting on the porch of Cottonwood Station restaurant in Blue Diamond with a close mountain biker friend, she brought up the idea. By the end of dinner, they had a name and logo. She started collecting merchandise at thrift stores and yard sales.

“Eventually, it flipped to, Wow! This is actually happening,” Priest says. She attended the Outdoor Retailer conference, learning about industry trends (competition from Amazon, and the pandemic explosion of outdoor recreation). She hired her friend and former McGhie’s Ski, Bike, and Board technician Nick Dru as her manager. She got advice from owners of the shops she’d visited in other cities. She shopped for a point-of-sale system that would do everything — consignment, delivery, online sales. With her legal background, normally daunting tasks such as setting up an LLC and negotiating a lease, were a piece of cake.

Still, launching a unique business in an untested market from the ground up is a lot of work. With her background, Priest could have opted for many easier second careers. Why go to all this trouble?

“I’m passionate about this,” she says. By “this” she means building community in outdoor recreation, teaching responsible outdoors behavior, and — perhaps most important — promoting sustainability.

Peaks & Pedals uses paper tags attached to merchandise with twine. They don’t give receipts or bags unless asked (and then, it’s a reused paper bag). They use post-consumer recycled products in the lavatory and repurpose boxes to ship products.

And a portion of proceeds from donated items goes to four outdoor-oriented nonprofits. One is Get Outdoors Nevada, which appreciates Peaks & Pedals' commitment to community engagement. “They’ve participated in a couple of our cleanup events,” Get Outdoors Nevada Executive Director Rachel Bergren says. “At the heart of it, our missions are aligned. We both want to encourage, support, and equip folks to get outside and enjoy all Nevada has to offer in the outdoors. … Outdoor gear can be expensive and a barrier to that. The idea of having a business that’s providing gear at a reduced cost to regular retail, as well as upcycling, is cool from a sustainability perspective.”

Cool, yes. But … profitable? Priest says she’s not worried. She’s doing something she loves, and it’s much less stressful than practicing law. She’d like to have a bit bigger store eventually, maybe a second one in Henderson.

“But,” she adds, “I don’t have grandiose goals. I want to make a simple living. I want the store to be around in 25 years. And the lake (Mead). I want a place where my friends drop by at the end of the day and have a beer. If I wanted to make a lot of money, I would’ve kept doing law.”

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TYLER MERRITT IS an actor, musician, comedian, and activist who became well-known for his viral social media videos, “Before You Call the Cops” and “Walking While Black,” which have a combined 16 million views. A Las Vegas native, Merritt attended Jim Bridger Middle School, Rancho High School, and the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. Last year, he released an autobiography, I Take My Coffee Black, and it offers his reflections on politics, race, and culture. Tyler recently spoke with Christopher Alvarez-Aguilar on KNPR’s State of Nevada, from which this interview is adapted.

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Last year, you held a book signing at The Writer ’s Block, and you told a story of how, while out walking in Nashville, you passed by a white woman in a parked car, and you made every possible choice to not appear threatening to her as you passed by. But you also said you no longer want to do that — to cater to the white man’s view of you as potentially threatening. How did you come to that conclusion?
I’ll tell you, man, there’s this weird line of realizing that you as a Black man can be a threat to some people. I’m six-foot-two, a pretty big dude with dreadlocks. I understand just the general fear that people can feel whether they have any kind of racial biases or anything like that just generally from size. But there’s also this feeling that you have to be able to be who you are in this world. You have to be able to walk tall and proud as the man of color or woman of color that you are. And that’s a constant struggle, especially in a time period where men and women of color are being killed at a high rate, oftentimes just for existing. My hope is that we can come beyond some of the things that tend to shift us away from people that are different than us, and begin to dive into the beauty of who we are.

You live in Tennessee now, but you grew up in Las Vegas. Tell us a little about that.

I couldn't tell the story of who I was as a person without bringing up Las Vegas, man. That place is my stomping grounds. My parents still live there. One of the reasons I was so emotional during my visit to the Writer's Block is that we were right down the street from the Las Vegas Academy, which I attended in its very first year when it was created in 1994. There’s such a diversity and a richness to that city, and you don’t realize it until you step away from that place we think is just the crazy desert. I talked about this in the book: Like, I've always obviously known I was Black. But I didn't realize my Blackness was a problem until I went and visited another state. When I went to another state, it suddenly occurred to me, oh, wait a minute, this thing that is 100 percent who I am is a problem for some people? In Las Vegas, it never occurred to me. In elementary school, I had friends of all different colors, shapes, sizes! Let me be very clear. It’s not that we didn't see color. That wasn't it. It was the opposite. We saw it. We needed it, and we respected it.

You went to Jim Bridger Middle School here, and that ’s right beside Donna Street in North Las Vegas. That street used to be infamous because of its gang activity. How was it growing up as a Black boy in an already tough neighborhood, even in a diverse place like Las Vegas?
Bro, that was the DSC, the Donna Street Crips! I can still do the hand signals. (Laughs.) I remember what it was like to be at Jim Bridger and getting my gold chain snatched in junior high by somebody who was a member of DSC — like a little kid, man, because he had his brothers and whatnot to back him up. So with that being said, there was always this environment that a lot of people who were not Black didn’t understand. Let me be clear about that. It’s not that they didn’t recognize that there was gang activity taking place at Jim Bridger. It’s just I don’t know if they understood that as a Black person, even in junior high, a gang threat, especially from a Black gang … you felt like they were coming for you. Not like they were coming to find you to beat you up. But you had to kind of pick your side, like, am I going to be a part of this gang-infested community, which on some levels validates my Blackness? Or am I going to walk in a different way and try to lay out a path or a different future? This was some of the pressure that I experienced just in high school, living there.

How did discovering art and attending the Las Vegas Academy influence you?
There is a value for talent in the Black community, whatever that may be — that might be in sports, that might be in art. There’s just this unspoken rule of if there’s talent in your community, you protect that. If you are a gang member, and you got that kid over there who’s on the basketball court who looks to be a star, you protect that individual because you know they’re going to go on and represent the place from which you came.

I went to Rancho and discovered theater there. And as soon as I got into the theater world, suddenly, I realized that I could go into this room, create stories, and create a whole other life for people when the lights go up. And that changed my perspective on what I could be and who I could be. And then finally going to the academy. I got there, and I was suddenly surrounded by kids who had dreams, kids who wanted to do things that were bigger than just right there in their environment. That was probably the place where I began to go, “How can I leave an imprint on the world?” Not just here in Las Vegas, but how can I leave an imprint on the world, because the kids that I’m surrounded by now — their art, it’s causing them to dream, it’s causing them to do bigger things. It’s causing them to want to do something significant. And I really do believe that art has that kind of power, especially in the Black community.

In your book, you talk about proximity as a tool for fighting racism. What do you mean by that?
It’s simple, man. People tend to fear things that they don’t know. And there’s good reasons for that. I'm afraid of spiders, and no one will ever convince me that that is not a valid fear. They are little mini-Satans that crawl all over the world, and they shouldn't be here. I can't believe that God created beautiful Black me, and he also created a spider!

People come to me all the time and say, “I love what you're doing. I’m learning from your videos, I’m learning from your book, but what can I actively do?” To me, the cure for racism is stepping beyond who you are, and beginning to surround yourself with individuals that are different than you. When you begin to evaluate what your community looks like, it begins to show some of these biases that you may not have known you had, and that's vice versa. It's really easy, especially nowadays, to associate a certain type of person with hate, a certain political party with hate, all based on what we think we know versus what we actually know. And most of the time, we don’t know these things, because we don’t have proximity to them. And that's what I try to encourage with everybody I come in contact with: You need to extend yourself out to get to know somebody else.

After that experience you had with the woman in the car, do you feel safe walking out at night? Or even during the day?
Safe is relative, right? Look, I was held up at gunpoint by two Black dudes like my first two years living here in Nashville. I think we all have this internal radar trying to figure out like, should I be here right now? But then there’s this weird thing that people of color experience where there’s just nothing that we can do to sway people’s fear of who we are.

My experience of getting pulled over as a Black man — and listen, I know this because I know this. When I get pulled over, I see the lights behind me — and here in Nashville they're blue — as soon as I see them, I roll down my window. I don’t even keep my registration in my glove compartment, and keep it kind of on the side in my car. I pull out my registration, I put it on my lap. I pull out my driver's license, put it on my lap as well. I turn down my radio, I make sure that my hands are at ten and two —  and this is before I even pull over, bro. This is preparing. And then as soon as I pull over on the side of the road, there’s no additional action. That’s when I finally feel like, okay, please come and approach my car. I turn on all of my internal lights. I make it as bright as I possibly can. And so when that individual, whoever it is, male or female, walks up to me, I am doing everything I possibly can to say, “I am a safe place for you.” Now I know some people might go, "That’s what I do, because I respect the police force.” Yeah, the difference is you're thinking, “Hm, I hope I don’t get a ticket.” And I'm thinking, “I hope I don't die.”

You ’re 45 years old. After decades of civil rights activism, are things getting better?
Do I think it's getting better? I do not have the privilege to not have hope. For me as a Black person, I have to believe that one day, my children and their children are going to be able to walk into an environment where their skin is not only not an issue, but it’s treasured. I have to believe that once my mother and father pass away, they’ll be able to think to themselves, “I put my child out in the world to make a difference into this place.” You know, they grew up in Utah and Alabama, where they had segregated drinking fountains, segregated movie theaters. So they’ve seen things move forward. They couldn’t do that without continuing to have hope.

I posted one thing one time that just simply said, "Normalize not lynching Black people.” It had tons of online commentary on it. Look, if you go and chase down a Black person, if three people go and chase down a black person, shoot him, leave him laying in the middle of the street, you should probably go to prison. And I as a Black person should not have to sit on the edge of my seat, wondering if people are going to have to pay the price for murdering Black people in the middle of the day in 2020. So do I have hope? You better believe it, bro. I have hope because I do not have the privilege not to.

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1. Sure am glad I did a little lite lockdown for the month of January — at the very least, I was able to do some poignant reunion-bingeing with my poor, neglected Netflix queue that had been languishing morosely in its black mirror. Caught Don’t Look Up. Definitely recommend! Not necessarily for its piercing satire of the various insidious species of willful, viral ignorance blossoming in the digital age, ignorance deep and durable enough to deny the existence of a planet-smashing comet — though that part was certainly sharp and well-done. Instead, what particularly pleased and interested me was how it captured a certain textural feature of the augmented (demented?) reality we all live in now: the eerily vertiginous, instantaneously self-consuming, almost physical momentum that internet virality has. To me, the film captured in a very truthy way the speed and violent appetite of online discourse, how — to butcher a phrase — pop eats itself eating itself while eating itself. The film is dizzyingly au courant!

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2. This resonated afresh when I read the complicated tale of West Elm Caleb, a real-life story of the bottomless voracity of virality. Long story, but: Basically, West Elm Caleb was a guy on the Hinge app who simultaneously dated numerous women in the NYC area, pretending real romantic interest in each of them but ultimately turning out to be a kind of creepy, lying, possibly sexual-harassing fuckboy — to pluck an old-timey phrase from the befogged past, a player, if you will. Comparing notes, the women found out about his stacked duplicity, began blasting him on TikTok in earnest feminist solidarity, but it soon snowballed into a mob of ragey Medeas who doxxed and harassed West Elm Caleb — all to the deafening cha-ching of countless clicks, shares, and likes that drive millions in revenue. And now, of course, on top of that there’s the sprung-up meta construct of the commentary class in its own brainy froth adding another electron shell to this quantum craziness. Indeed, there are West Elm Caleb phenom vivisections galore out there — all garlanded with miles upon miles of dismissive, post-woke, void-shouting comments — but the best and most succinct might be from Kylie Cheung in Jezebel: “Perhaps the most harrowing lesson of this saga is that capitalism and insidious social media algorithms can extract profit and clout from nearly every situation,” she writes, “even the once-private disappointments of our dating and sex lives.” We all knew that social media is a dangerous enabler of rage; now we’re realizing that it needs its borderless rage in order to exist. Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day puts it better, tho: “TikTok built a witch hunt machine and doesn’t really give a shit what people do with it.”

3. The burny flavor of online rage-frenzy is enough to make me long for the good old-fashioned taste of irony. Remember irony? That attitudinal posture that peaked in the ’90s, that retiring, resigning smirk at life, that kinder, gentler 7-Eleven disposable nihilism? Honestly, I can’t remember the clever transition I was going for here, but it entailed a facile “age of ironing” joke with a link to this article about the very real, very unironic, sport of extreme ironing. I don’t know what to think of it, but will probably post a dismissive comment on the article later, tbh.

4. One thing you can ’t dismiss, however, is NFTs — because, geezus, their existence will forever be kept infuriatingly alive and aloft on the tireless choral moans of a million cloned tech bro shyster acolytes who attest to an exclusive understanding of its most recondite holy mysteries. You can read a zillion articles explaining what NFTs are and aren’t, but the most elegant, concise, and witty takedown I’ve come across recently is from none other than electronic music icon Brian Eno in this mercifully brief interview. What I particularly admire is Eno’s unwillingness to accept the decoupling of monetary systems from, you know, societal consequence and human morality: “I’ve been approached several times to ‘make an NFT,’” he says. “So far nothing has convinced me that there is anything worth making in that arena. ‘Worth making’ for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account. If I had primarily wanted to make money I would have had a different career as a different kind of person. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be an artist.”

5. Lest you leave this installment of Media Sommelier feeling blitzed, benumbed, and enervated by exotic technologies and casual acts of stupid inhumanity, let us observe and note that we as a civilization are making progress toward a more inclusive, just, and rad world, and here is proof: Decades ago, skateboarding was deemed a criminal urban pastime; today, Olympic skateboard Lizzie Armanto is on the cover of a calculus textbook. Andrew Kiraly

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Photos and art: Spirit Mountain cholla: Scott Lien; Jennifer Stehlin: TKTK

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