On any given weekend the West Bank is crawling with college kids and music-hungry hipsters. But this weekend the Outdoor Adventure Expo hopes to lure nature-craving adventurists to the area. Outdoor emporium Midwest Mountaineering is throwing its 56th biannual event aimed at seasoned wilderness warriors and would-be campers, kayakers and canoers alike.
“The main mission of our Outdoor Adventure Expo is to get people excited about getting outdoors,” said owner Rod Johnson.
The event features more than 100 presentations on everything from fly fishing to gourmet camp cooking — some held in University of Minnesota buildings and others in big-top tents behind the outward-bound boutique (yes, there’s a beer tent). Getting people crazy about climbing or turned on to trekking might be the No. 1 objective, but for the already outdoor-enthused it’s also a chance to grab some discounted gear or connect with fellow nature nerds.
Johnson was bitten by the outdoors bug (isn’t there a spray for that?) after cutting college short and netting a two-year degree. Though no longer a student, he joined the Minnesota Rovers club in 1970 and took trips to Wyoming’s Gannett Peak and Devils Tower, and the Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona.
“I was just kind of knocking around and finally I had enough time to go out and have some fun,” he recalled.
Dismayed by the lack of a decent in-town outfitter, Johnson contacted dealers and began selling gear out of his kitchen. The following spring, he and his girlfriend at the time embarked for a trip around the world on a shoestring budget. The couple broke up in Mexico.
“I got lonesome and decided I should come home and do something with my life,” Johnson said.
When he returned to Minnesota in 1971, the then 22-year-old opened Midwest Mountaineering in downtown Minneapolis before relocating to the West Bank five years later. Johnson threw his first Outdoor Adventure Expo 23 years ago at the State Fairgrounds and he says the event has since grown twentyfold. With decades of his own outdoor tales, some of which he’ll share this weekend, the 63-year-old has a passion for preaching the outdoor gospel and the expo is his homegrown pulpit.
“It’s really fun to get other people that excited about doing what you’ve really enjoyed, so they actually go out and do it themselves,” he said.
Outdoor Adventure Expo
When: Fri.-Sun. Where: Midwest Mountaineering, 309 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. Info: www.outdooradventureexpo.com.