The Quintessential Backcountry Expedition Road Trip Playlist – National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education

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You’ve probably passed us on the highway. We’re the weirdos with heads bobbing, playing air guitar and dashboard keyboard, shouting lyrics at the windshield, grinning from ear to ear on our way to the places that make us happy — the backcountry places where people go to play, challenge themselves, and connect with wilderness .

Once while sitting at a dead stop in a traffic jam, a woman hand-crank motioned me to roll down my window. She leaned out her window asked what I was listening to that made me ignore our current, static lack of movement.

Jack Drag! That was my shouted response over the Indie Pop music blaring from my speakers.

Music moves us, literally and figuratively; it becomes the soundtrack of our lives that most of us only realize when we look back decades later.

Working in the outdoor education sector of the outdoor industry means traveling. Sometimes you find yourself on a desert highway, traveling alone to meet your group, gas pedal depressed deep into the car’s carpet, speakers distorting because they can’t handle the volume. You stare out the window into the beautiful brown and green landscape, listening to your favorite band as the lead singer’s voice cracks through the air like a peal of thunder. And then you smile, knowing that at the end of the road you’ll be taking people into wild places.

Other times you find yourself crammed into a 15-passenger van sharing DJ responsibilities with a crew of independent thinkers who need tunes to survive the traffic jams on a random stretch of I-95. By some cosmic good fortune, you finally stumble on the right tune, and the van hums with satisfaction and the voices of the nomadic band of singers.

Even when the machinery to play our favorite tunes is absent, the music lingers. Being tossed upside down in a kayak, we rely on the melodies we cherish to hit our roll. Flying down a mountain bike trail, hitting the fluid lines of off camber and bermed corners, the music is playing in our DNA. 

The earth has music for those who listen.

~ from “The Magic of Sound” by Reginald Holmes

Loud and fast, soft and slow, music is a constant compass and companion. We truly need it and crave it when it’s missing. Music is a force that connects — even when we’re divided on artist and genre. Music is a timeline and the tapestry of our collective stories. When the music stops, we’re in trouble.

That being said, I talked the crew at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education into making me a road trip playlist to accompany you to the wild place you dream of. It’s listed below in no sense of order. Individual songs are in quotation marks; album titles are in italics.

Enjoy!

Stephen Mullaney, NCOAE Director of School Partnerships & Staff Development

  • Motorhead: “Heroes” (by David Bowie)
  • Melenas: Ahora
  • Sleigh Bells: “Locust Laced” (“I Feel Like Dynamite”)
  • Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Pixies
  • Jack Drag: Dope Box

Todd Mullenix, NCOAE Director of EMS & Wilderness Medicine Education

  • Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds

Cameron “Cam” Francisco, NCOAE Associate Director of Outdoor Education

  • Cobra Man: “Powered Up”
  • Bob Dylan: “Price of Love (Going Up)”
  • Ween: “Beacon Light”
  • Dire Straits: “Once Upon a Time in the West”
  • Butthole Surfers: “P.S.Y.”
  • Iron Maiden: “Hallowed Be Thy Name”
  • Run the Jewels: “Close Your Eyes”
  • Dave Rawlings Machine: Friend of a Friend
  • Anderson Paak: Oxnard
  • Black Flag: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”

Allie Hilbruner, NCOAE Director of Admissions and Office Administration

  • Zac Bryan featuring The War and Treaty: “Hey Driver”
  • alt-J: “Breezeblocks”
  • Lumineers: “Sleep on the Floor”

Wes Hawkins, NCOAE, Director of Course Management and Logistics

  • Tom Petty
  • Gregory Alan Isakov

Zac Adair, NCOAE Co-founder & Executive Director

  • Sublime
  • Bob Dylan
  • Slightly Stoopid
  • Pepper
  • Bob Marley
  • Willie Nelson
  • Groundation
  • Allman Brothers
  • Widespread Panic
  • Dave Matthews

Liz Shirley, NCOAE Director of Outdoor Education

  • Amy Ray: If It All Goes South
  • Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman (her debut album) is my favorite, but I love them all.
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops: All their albums are great. I especially like “Cornbread and Butter Beans” when traveling through the mountains.
  • Che Apalache: “Rearrange My Heart”
  • Charlie Parr: “Jubilee”
  • Highlands: “Middle Kids”
  • Brandy Clark: “Northwest” and “Buried”
  • Feist: “I Feel It All”
  • Ann Reed: “Heroes”
  • Arigon Starr (an indigenous artist from Oklahoma): “Red Road” is great travel song.
  • Pigeon Pit: Feather River Canyon Blues
  • Trampled by Turtles: Duluth (a favorite for travel)
  • Jon Batiste: We Are
  • Old Crow Medicine Show: Old Crow Medicine Show (definitely their best album for travel) and Paint the Town (which I’ve been listening to recently).
  • Brandi Carlile: “Dreams”
  • Jennifer Knapp: Set Me Free and “Neosho” (a good travel song)
  • Miley Cyrus: “Flowers”
  • Gabe Lee: “Drink the River”
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter: “River”
  • Indigo Girls: Let Me In (a favorite for travel, but I like most of their albums)

We’re always looking for great travel, outdoor adventure, and extreme sports albums and songs, so post a comment below that includes what you like to listen to when you’re heading to your favorite destination or rocking your beloved adventure-based activities.

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About the Author: Stephen Mullaney is the Director of School Partnerships at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). He has worked domestically and internationally with schools, organizations and wilderness programs. His classrooms have ranged from dilapidated trailers at overcrowded, underfunded schools to the Himalayan mountains and everything imaginable in between. His past students include gang members/prisoners, education majors, college and university professors, and pioneers in the field of outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Stephen’s philosophy is to focus on the development of positive working and learning environments. He brings more than a quarter of a century of education experience and understanding of human nature to any organization, whether it is an education institution or a private company. His writing has appeared in adventure sports/education journals, magazines and on the web. Stephen prefers to arrive by bicycle and sit in the dirt.

About the Author:
Stephen Mullaney is the Director of School Partnerships at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). He has worked domestically and internationally with schools, organizations, and wilderness programs. His classrooms have ranged from dilapidated trailers at overcrowded, underfunded schools to the Himalayan mountains and everything imaginable in between. His past students include gang members/prisoners, education majors, college and university professors, and pioneers in the field out outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Stephen’s philosophy is to focus on the development of positive working and learning environments. He brings more than a quarter of a century of education experience and understanding of human nature to any organization, whether it is an education institution or a private company. His writing has appeared in adventure sports/education journals, magazines and on the web. Stephen prefers to arrive by bicycle and sit in the dirt.

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