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Since sharing the news of Adventure 16‘s closing, Outside Business Journal has received dozens of messages from former employees, longtime customers, and admirers in the outdoor industry. It’s clear that A16 had a wide reach and touched so many lives during its nearly six decades in business. It’s truly the end of an era and one of the greatest outdoor shops to exist. Here are just a few of the memories.
Stories for the A16 archives
O’Keeffe worked for Adventure 16 from 1983 to 1997. He is founder and president of O’Keeffe Consulting, and has held roles at Patagonia, Lowe Alpine Systems, and more.
“I met Mic Mead in spring of 1978, when I joined the Black Ice start-up founded by A16 and Granite Stairway principals and Bill Simon. Five years later, I joined A16 proper as a store manager in Tarzana when Steve Meyers asked, ‘We’re going to shut this store down, but you can manage it for $14,000 a year.’ Why not.
“A couple years later, Mic shook up the company by creating a working model of robust participatory management. Mind you, Mic was no Che Guevara of business, but he sincerely believed in us, he let us try stuff, we failed sometimes, and succeeded often, and we built a unique company. Dozens of us were the beneficiaries of Mic’s leadership largesse, and I am happy to count myself in those numbers.”
Hukari worked for Adventure 16 from 1987 to 2000. She went on to work for Sierra Designs, Smith Sport Optics, and as a freelancer.
“In 1987, as owner/founder Mic Mead was weighing the need for an executive assistant, an English major with an unimpressive resume, freshly relocated from Oregon, was job hunting. The bewildering land of 10-lane freeways and polite rejections had just about worn me down. I landed an interview in the coziest office I’d ever seen, a rustic log cabin smack in the middle of the Mission Gorge sales floor. Mic said there was no job description; he reckoned he was looking for ‘someone to read my mind.’ I naïvely presumed ‘I could probably do that.’
“Thus San Diego, and Adventure 16, became my home for nearly 14 years, where I enjoyed the most valuable working relationships of my life. Mic’s progressive notions of creating a vision, establishing values, communicating them as clearly as possible, finding good people to execute the mission and staying out of their way attracted a remarkable assemblage. John D. carried on that legacy with his own imprint. When I left in 2000, my business card said ‘VP of Human Resources, Training and Outreach,’ but more important than the titles and opportunities I’d been given were the deep friendships that remain, the bonds with incredible people who are among the smartest I’ve ever known.”
Trimmer worked for Adventure 16 from 1995 to 2000. He is the national sales manager at LifeStraw, and has held roles at Mammut, Mountain Hardwear, and The North Face.
“Adventure freaking 16! I walked into the doors of the Costa Mesa store in 1995 and knew instantly I wanted to work there. The people and vibe were kind, welcoming, and genuine. It really was a family; we were all fast friends who played outdoors when not at work together. I learned the art and science of selling—in the spirit of service and solving customers problems. The Outings program offered me amazing skills and memories as I developed into a lead instructor. I met my amazing wife when she visited from another store; we’ve built a beautiful family together.”
Haroutunian worked for Adventure 16 from 1985 to 1999. He is the president and founder of Kenji Consults, and has held roles at Access Fund, California Outdoor Recreation Partners, and as the Outdoor Retailer show director.
“I made a list of all the different things I learned at A16 in 14 years: Managing people, managing stores, managing a facility, hiring, firing, leadership, coaching, merchandising, neighborhood relations, rep relations, what it means to be an industry, rock climbing, diversity training, teaching, guiding, accreditation standards, communication, humility, fitness, accountability, filmmaking, recreation geography of SoCal, industry publications, athlete relations. Sure my parents and my family taught me a lot. But when it came to a career, it all came from A16…This little employee-owned company holds the top status in where I learned to be a good worker, a good manager, a creative problem solver, an ethical business leader. All those things I learned there more than anywhere else.”
Secrest worked for Adventure 16 from 1996 to 2004. He went on to work as a buyer at Sea To Summit and is now the international sales manager in Western Australia.
“I have so much to be thankful for my years at A16! To me it can all be summed up by the A16 policy ‘make a friend’… Any organization that places such value in long term relationships has their head and heart in the right place. I have taken this idea with everywhere I have been these past 20-plus years and it has always served. Even better, I have taken away life long friends, unforgettable outdoor experiences and the realization that my career path would be in the outdoor industrial. All my love and thanks to everyone at A16!”
Crise worked for Adventure 16 from 2017 to 2019. She is a seasonal ranger with the National Park Service.
“My mom started her 16 years with Adventure 16 the same week I started kindergarten and my aunt worked there for 18 years, so it was really special to be part of the team after literally growing up in the store. I loved working with so many driven and passionate people—both the customers and my coworkers alike. We will still ‘Keep it Wild!'”
Peery worked for Adventure 16 from 2000 to 2001. He is a consultant and guide on the Green River in Utah, and has held roles at Skratch Labs, Evolv, and Columbia.
“Being from the Pacific Northwest, the first time I heard of Adventure 16 was when I was directed there by a sales person at a SoCal REI location. Walking through the front door of A16 LA, I was looking for a part for my Dana Design Terraplane. What I found was more than just the part for my pack. I found a new job and an amazing community.
“Shortly after that, I was on the sales floor of that same location wearing a green apron, learning about Phil Oren, pack fitting, etc. Like so many other A16ers, I went on to work in the outdoor space for years afterward as a rep, sales manager, marketer, and business development guy. I would never have had the authenticity and insight I did without my time working there. Many of my former co-workers are still a part of my life, and the experiences we had together back in the day will be with me forever.”
Lowry-Mendoza worked for Adventure 16 in 1985. She went on to work in the parks and recreation field.
“I was fortunate to have worked in the Mission Valley, San Diego, store as a cashier in 1985 when I was a college student. I learned so much in my time there, but mostly how this small business cared about their employees. Everyone was supportive—the owner, managers, and coworkers—and it made for a fun place to work. I had a blast learning how to cross county ski while working there and even went snow camping! I have never worked for a business like this again and I will always remember the store and the good people that worked there. In this picture, I was asked to model this parka. The photo was taken in Mission Trails Park.”
Elgo worked in Adventure 16’s art department from 1996 to 1998. He is a graphic designer.
“One of my favorite recollections—other than hearing our customers stomping on the boot fit ramp above my desk at the Mission Valley location,—were two simple words on John D.’s screensaver. I saw them every time I walked by his office when it displayed.
“Those two words were, ‘What’s Next?’ He was always thinking forward on how to further the mission of Adventure 16, as a resource, a community, and a workplace. I’ve carried that internally for the many years in my career path, and it’s a good mantra.”
Schlesinger served on Adventure 16’s board of directors from 2008 to 2015. He co-founded Eagle Creek and is currently a marketing consultant in China.
“Adventure 16 was the Queen Bee of SoCal’s outdoor industry. It attracted a swarm of talented outdoor enthusiast protecting the hive, learning their craft, and went on to help build an industry. What initially attracted everyone was the young and vibrant concept of working in the outdoor industry—the wholistic thought of building a career while making and selling great outdoor gear. The hive attracted like-minded enthusiasts feeling special and being special. They fostered a concept, they formed a community, they developed a market. They were rock stars in their own right.
“In the protracted later years, Adventure 16 was held together strictly by John Mead’s humanity. He cared deeply about A16, backpacking, his employees, and the community of A16 alums who spread their craft throughout the outdoor industry. The A16 specialty concept became as weathered as Mic’s original cabin, which still stands in the San Diego store. Time marched on, the winds of change blew hard, and Mic’s cabin became a lonely place which was hard to find a use for.
“This is no time for ‘coulda shoulda’s.’ It’s a time for reflection on a great place that cradled our careers and helped us be the people we all turned out to be.”
Miller worked for Adventure 16 from 1988 to 1990. He is a soil scientist in natural resource conservation.
“I remember John Long coming by to access the gear repair shop to work on his kayaking rig and other projects. He would hang out for hours while we chatted, listened to music, while working in the parking lot behind the shop. I got my first exposure to climbing and backpacking while supporting their outings program as the guide assistant (water boy) and later just tagging along with the other employees on local adventures that opened my eyes to a new world outside of the city. I sold a tent to Chevy Chase and learned everything I needed to know about selling Mountain House meals, Patagonia clothing, and Wild Country Friends. Many of my life experiences built from that first job.”
Saez worked for Adventure 16 from 1984 to 1986. He is the founder of The Outdoor Biz Podcast.
“I’m not sure if I remember this exactly or if we’ve embellished it a bit, but Mike Wallenfels and I had a fun adventure at SIA show in Vegas one year.
“Plan A: We hatched a unique plan to bivvy on the roof of the Hilton on our first night in Vegas because we didn’t have rooms and because we always try to incorporate adventure and fun into our escapades. We figured it would be relatively quiet, with spectacular views and we’d get a good night’s sleep. What could go wrong? We arrived at the Hilton, hefted packs onto our backs, and proceeded to make our way to the roof. Our plan was to take the elevators as high as we could go then find some random stairwell to the top. I don’t recall all the ways we tried to get on the roof, but I do remember being stymied at every turn, finally getting run out of the hotel by security.
“Plan B: After getting run out of the Hilton, we planned to find a quiet golf course to park on and get some sleep. I can’t recall the exact golf course, but I believe it was the Stardust Country Club, which is now The Las Vegas National. We threw our bags on the ground and crashed, only to be woken up around 5 a.m. with the sprinklers raining down on us!
“Thus began many years of fun and adventures at trade shows around the world!”
Miller worked for Adventure 16 from 1996 to 1998. He is the co-founder and CEO at TouRig, and has held roles as a sales rep and hardgoods buyer.
“Landing aimlessly in Los Angeles during the fall of 1996 after a summer in Yosemite Valley and following up on the words of a fellow climber I met in Camp 4, I contacted Kenji Haroutunian for a job at the West LA store. The interview was quite amazing. We talked about the routes climbed during the summer, the type of gear on my rack, and what kind of music I was into. Not sure which answer sealed the deal, but I somehow found myself immersed in a culture that would define the next two decades of my life.
“From climbing trips in Joshua Tree and ski trips in the Sierra to the relentless parties at the legendary A16 ‘Barry House,’ my life was defined and curated within the magical muse of the Adventure 16 family. Strong friendships that are still bonded today, a chance encounter that turned into a 20-plus year relationship with my current wife and the everlasting memories that are forever forged into my mind, Adventure 16 will always be family.”
Sorby worked for Adventure 16 starting in 1989. She is currently on a nine-month leave of absence from Polar Latitudes as an Antarctic operator to fulfill a project called Hearts in the Ice.
“Sitting here in the Arctic at a remote trappers cabin, 78 degrees north, temps negative 12 degrees Celsius, wind gusting, snow sizzling, my heart warmed as images of amazing humans I have come to call friends flash vividly. John D. at the helm—one of my favorite people on the planet.
“The family we call ‘A16’ in its purest form is the definition of love, friendship, defined work ethics, fun, laughter, adventure, and yes, tears. Tears because we have lost a few of our own, some lives transformed, marriages, breakups—the authentic life stuff. Holy Moly you can’t make this stuff up!
“The photo I share is from the A16 wholesale catalog, A16 bomber hat,-76’c/90’South. I was working as outreach director at the time…It speaks to me of the tremendous support and encouragement I have received over the years. Gratitude runs deep. Time to put on my navy A16 apron, which made it all the way up here, to whip up a batch of homemade soup.”
Merten worked for Adventure 16 from 1998 to 1999. He is a disaster recovery specialist for the Coast Guard.
“In the just under two years I worked for A16, I learned about the gear I loved and the climbers I idolized. It started a career path that has allowed me to explore the arctic and become a disaster recovery specialist for the Coast Guard. Out of the million memories, the one that sticks out the most is one day when working the floor, Dan Ducey, the Metolius rep at the time, came in and informed us that Dan Osman had died in Yosemite. I’ve never felt so connected to a community as I was at that moment.”
Cohen worked for Adventure 16 from about 2005 to 2009. She is the founder of Baleen, and has held roles at Patagonia and as a lecturer. She and her husband, Chris, another A16 alumni, are pictured above on their wedding day, surrounded by the Adventure 16 Solana Beach crew circa 2008.
“Adventure 16 was the best of many worlds for me. It was a frat house full of climbing, backpacking, and drinking adventures. It was also an educational experience into the world of outdoor gear, mountain safety, and most importantly—properly fitting boots! And personally, for me it was the introduction to an industry I’ve called home since joining A16, nearly 15 years ago—nine of which were spent at Patagonia.
“When I interviewed at Patagonia, a question was asked about what I looked for in a workplace. My answer was that it came down to leadership and I that I wanted to work for someone who wasn’t afraid to lead and get dirty at the same time. It was a sincere honor to work for John Mead, who as the owner, was also the one we called when the bathroom needed fixing or the store needed remodeling. I am forever grateful for the family I found at A16. Here we all are at our wedding. And I will always continue to help people fix their boots along the trail, I just wish I could still send them back to A16 to get properly fitted.”
Sara and AJ Vega
Sara and AJ Vega worked for Adventure 16’s West LA store from 2014 to 2015. They now live in the Canadian Rockies.
Sara Vega said, “I would have worked there longer, however, a move across the country cut my time all too short. To me, A16 was far more than just a job. It’s hard to describe the camaraderie and respect that all the staff had for one another. It is something I’ve never experienced elsewhere in a work environment. We were not simply retail sales associates, we were highly-trained adventure outfitters who could prepare our guests for trips all around the world. Whether they were heading to Mt. Baldy, Antarctica, or Kilimanjaro, we knew how to prepare them safely for their outdoor pursuits with the best outdoor gear on the market.
“It is at A16 that I met my now-husband, AJ. As co-workers at A16, we shared a passion for outdoor adventure and helping others. We got married June 8, 2019, and recently moved to Calgary, Alberta, where we frequently adventure in the Canadian Rockies. However, the knowledge, skills, and friends we gained during our time as A16 staff are never far from our hearts and minds. Maybe it was the people, maybe it was the history, maybe it was the incense that made the store always smell like a campfire. Whatever it was, we will never forget the magic that was Adventure 16.”
Hodgson worked for Adventure 16 from 1983 to 1988. He is currently traveling the world as a travel writer and photographer for HITravelTales.com. He has also held roles at Western Mountaineering and as owner of SNEWS.
“A single visit and I knew Adventure 16 was where I needed to be. With a pregnant wife questioning my sanity, and her’s for being married to me, I said yes to a part-time rental check in job. It wasn’t long before I was working full-time on the floor and imagining that the store needed someone—not me—to run a more formal outings program. I said as much to then-company president Stephen Meyers. He simply smiled at me over his desk and stated, ‘Great idea…you make it happen.’ Stunned, I backed out of the office and in a fit of panic, Wilderness Outings was launched. I came up with the name Wild Horizons originally, but the company decided they liked that name for its new retail venture in Horton Plaza in San Diego.
“…Like many other Adventure 16 alums spread across the globe, I can honestly say I am as successful as I am in large part because of A16. It was an unusual company in the way it nurtured and enabled its staff to grow their own ideas and, when those ideas become too big for the A16 orchard, took great pride in encouraging each alum go off to plant his or her own garden. The store A16 may be gone from the retail landscape, but its legacy of deep friendships and as an extended family for so many in and outside of the outdoor industry will live on, forever.”
Self worked for Adventure 16 from 1980 to 1991. She is the director of the Jeff Lowe Mountain Foundation and the Adaptable Man.
“I grew up camping, backpacking, cycling, running and canoeing. In 1973, my high school boyfriend bought me my first down sleeping bag from Mic Mead at Adventure 16. I started rock climbing in college and worked as a Wilderness Instructor for Boojum Institute and Outward Bound. In 1979, after graduating from San Diego State University, I outfitted myself at A16 and traveled the south pacific, spending a year in New Zealand and Australia after island hopping. In 1980, my Mom had a stroke and I flew home to help my parents. I got a job at my favorite shop, Adventure 16 in San Diego.
“Over the next 11 years A16 became my family as I went from sales person, to floor manager, to Outings Instructor, to Store Manager in West Los Angeles, to Vice President of Retail Operations managing 6 stores and managers and our Wilderness Outings program…A16 changed my life in the most profound ways, where I grew up as an outdoorswoman, businesswoman, leader, mentor, and climbing and backpacking instructor. I traveled all over the world climbing, backpacking, and river running. I learned to trust my instincts, to fight for what was right, to encourage people to communicate honestly and openly, to problem solve together, and to find solutions that could move us all forward. My experiences at A16 are with me every day and many of my dearest friends to this day came from my years at A16. We were all so very lucky to have been part of such a special community at such a special time and to have continued that community to the present!”
Wallenfels worked for Adventure 16 from 1984 to 1993. He is the SVP of global sales at Helen of Troy, parent company of Hydro Flask and OXO. He went on to work at Sierra Designs and helped found Mountain Hardwear.
“I first pulled up to Adventure 16 on my Honda moped to ask about a job in the fall of 1984. I already knew the manager of the San Diego store from leading trips at an San Diego State University outdoor recreation class. I was dead-set against working retail, but the manager told me he was looking to replace his assistant manager, Michael Hodgson, who was leaving to open a new A16 store. Wow, a real salary, surrounded by the best outdoor gear, amazing people, and I would get to lead outdoor classes as a climbing instructor.
“I met some of my closest lifelong friends and my bride, who managed their Solana Bach store. In 1987 (at all of 24 years old), I took the opportunity to become retail buyer working for Geoff O’Keeffe. What could be better than buying all technical equipment, technical apparel, boots, and accessories for the best outdoor retailer in the USA? Not much!
“I worked closely with reps, met luminaries like Yvon Chouinard and Royal Robbins, and bought products from start-up brands like Dana Design. I connected with retailers like Summit Hut, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, and Hudson Trail Outfitters to share experiences and that group eventually formed Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.”
McGuire worked for Adventure 16 for five years. He is the director of sales, North America for Eagle Creek, and has held roles at KEEN, JanSport, and Nike.
“Adventure 16 will always represent a magical time in my life. I had never camped, backpacked, or spent a day in my life outdoors until I was a senior at San Diego State in 1983. As part of a class assignment I needed to write a journal about an outdoor experience. I remember looking through the yellow pages—no Google back then—to find a place to rent gear for my first outdoor adventure—climbing Mt Whitney. Adventure 16 in Mission Valley was discovered.
“Walking into the Mission Valley store was a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment for me. I recall opening the door, walking in, and immediately smelling the campfire incense, hearing bird and cricket sounds, and then discovering the cabin and having an old dog (Rozie) greet me. Gray Standard, Mark Passmore, Lee Devaney, and Jeff Detweiler became immediate heros. I would learn my trade there for five years and still live and work by those standards set during my time at A16.”