John Paul Tedesco, better known as “Jeep” by his online followers, shares his bushcraft skills, DIY gear, outdoor adventure, and passion for the natural world on his YouTube channel, Econo Challenge.
He believes humankind has lost its connection to the planet and points out how important the natural world is for our continued survival. He hopes his channel will bring a little of that connection back into our lives.
With his love for DIY gear, it’s no surprise that John has created some pretty cool stuff. You can find some of his creations at AmazingWildernessProducts. You can also find him on Facebook and Instagram.
I’m going to start by asking you: what do you think people interested in you would be most fascinated to hear first?
Jeep: When I tell strangers that I like to spend my free weekends and vacations wandering around completely wild places with a backpack full of supplies, a map, a compass, and a desire to see what is out there, my most frequently asked question is:
None of us were born ready, so what or who set you on this outdoor adventures path?
J: My father. He took our family camping every summer from the time I was born. My appreciation for the natural world really started while spending time with him on camping trips.
In junior high school, I joined “The Outers Club”. This is a club organized by two teachers passionate about getting students outside enjoying activities like hiking, camping, paddling, snowshoeing, cycling, and other muscle-powered adventures.
The climax of each school year was a 4-day hiking adventure in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
How do you normally go about your trips? Would you rather go alone, with one other person, or even as an adventuring party?
J: I enjoy traveling alone and in small groups. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
When I travel alone, I enjoy the freedom to explore at my own pace. Spending hours, and even days, without saying a word and just listening to nature is refreshing.
When I camp with more than three or four people, my enjoyment begins to drop.
What’s the most common thought that motives you when you’re feeling particularly down during a difficult trail, workout, or sports session?
What one person can do, another can do!
Speaking of difficult trails, would you tell us about your most unpleasant, difficult, or scary moment on the trail.
J: We took a bush plane flight to a crownland lake near Cochrane Ontario. This was the most remote hike we had ever attempted.
While in the air, we spotted an abandoned fire tower. We quickly decided it would be the focus of our week-long adventure. After spending two days hiking, following a compass bearing and bushwhacking, we located the tower.
It took real effort to reach it, and I was not surprised someone decided to try and climb it. I have a healthy fear of falling which keeps my feet firmly on the ground. But after some time, everyone in our little group was enjoying the view from the top of the tower – except me.
With a chorus of encouragement raining down from above, I summoned all my courage and decide to climb up as far as I dare – “what one person can do another can do,” right?
Halfway up the ladder to the top, my mind overwhelmed my muscles and I froze, unable to move. My fear of falling swirled with thoughts about the age and condition of the tower, how much weight it could support, how long it would take for help to arrive and all this caused all my energy to suddenly vanish.
All I could do was hold onto the ladder and shake. Nobody could help me. It was either find the strength to get control and start moving again, or I was going to fall off. Worst feeling I have ever felt during a hike.
That must have been one intense adventure, but now for happier moments. Do you have any fabulously special moments that stand out to you while out on an adventure?
J: Once I looked up from a blueberry bush to see a small deer only meters away. I wanted to stand up because my legs needed to stretch, but I also did not want to scare away the deer ending this special moment. The deer was looking my way but it was not moving.
After I figured I had absorbed as much as I could from this encounter, I slowly stood up. The deer remained still and watching me.
After a moment, it resumed eating the grass growing next to the blueberry patch, and seemed to ignore me. It was then that I looked around and realized I was surrounded by six or seven more deer only meters away.
The herd had silently moved into my area while I was distracted collecting and eating delicious berries. Suddenly one of them made a snorting sound, and they all began moving briskly out of sight.
Encounters like these are rare for me and make up the bulk of my special moment stories.
Here’s a tough one: give us an UNcommon reason why people should visit your favorite place:
J: A much younger, naive version of myself believed I could find places in nature that have not been altered or influenced by human activity.
Later in life, I learned how natives were manipulating their surroundings long before Europeans took over. What I believed was a rare example of old growth forest in Ontario turned out to be an area that had been clear cut once in the late 1800s.
A forest fire helped the area avoid a second harvest in the early 1900s, and the area was eventually given the designation of Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), core protection zone by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
I don’t think many of the visitors to the area know about the designation or how rare truly wild mature mixed wood forests have become.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned on your first big adventure?
J: My first big adventure was a four-day wilderness hike.
The most important lesson I learned was to be prepared.
It is not fun to sleep in wet clothes inside a wet sleeping bag because your tent blew down during a thunderstorm and you discovered the fabric was not waterproof anymore.
There are a lot of people who wander into the woods ill-equipped and end up suffering for it. What is your No. 1 tip for staying safe out there?
The more knowledge you carry with you, the less gear you need.
J: I meet people who have traveled deep into the wilderness with little knowledge and no gear. Day hikers, ATV or snow machine riders are often in this group. They do not realize how screwed they would be if the machine they used breaks down for example.
My advice is to have a backup plan for yourself just in case conditions change unexpectedly.
Speaking of ill-equipped hikers, what do you see travelers often doing on a trip that could really grind you to a stop?
J: People who rely on other people who have planned and prepared to help them when they get into trouble, whether they realize it or not.
We recommend always being prepared as well, it’s so much easier (not to mention safer) to get informed, after all. We’ve got several hiking items checklists ourselves!
Sorry for the cliché question, but if you could hike anywhere in the world, where would you go?
J: New Zealand seems like a wonderful place to explore on foot.
Tell us a little about your next big adventure.
J: Our next big adventure is the Econo Challenge. This year, it will be a 10-day trip exploring some crown land wilderness by canoe.
Top three outdoors activities you’ve practiced and love – go!
- Making fire using primitive skills.
- Collecting wild edibles
- Tracking animals to shoot with my camera.
When you hear people say things like, “I wish I could do what you do” what do you tell them?
Jeep: What one person can do, another can do!
Don’t forget to check out Jeep’s YouTube to find out more about him and his mission.
Carley is a teacher and nature nerd with a passion for helping people get outside. Apart from teaching, she leads nature programs and outdoor trips for people of all ages. Carley also manages her own YouTube channel, The Last Grownup in the Woods. Before becoming a teacher, Carley worked as a fisheries technician and backcountry park ranger.