Simon Donato Wants to Change the Way We Explore
Runner, reality TV star, and oatmeal entrepreneur Simon Donato wants you to get outside and explore in a completely new and unusual way.
Simon Donato has just moved to a thousand-acre farm in rural Quebec, Canada. It’s an expansive piece of property, with plenty of room to roam, including a glimmering lake, dense trees, and hundreds of acres of rich soil ready to be cultivated.
Donato, who previously lived in Canmore, Alberta, is used to wide-open spaces with freedom to wander. A veteran ultrarunner and adventure racer, he’s logged hundreds of miles on his feet through rugged terrain all over the planet. But his plan for this plot of earth is a little different.
“I want to turn it into a training base,” says Donato, 39, who has the lean-framed, scruffy-faced look of a guy who spends most of his time outside. “I want to connect athletes to researchers to educate them on what they need to know. And I want to teach people necessary skill sets, like rope work, paddling, and navigation.”
You could call his vision the ultimate adventure training camp, a place where regular folks like you or me can show up and be transformed into super-fit, knowledgeable wilderness explorers. But, the camp isn’t ready yet. Someday soon, Donato hopes.
But, first, some background: In 2008, Donato, who got his Ph.D. in geology, started a program called Adventure Science, a volunteer organization that combines elite endurance athletes with scientists to lead humanitarian projects and field research into some of the most hard-to-reach corners of the world.
Through Adventure Science, he’s trekked into California’s Sierra Nevada range to hunt for missing airplanes, climbed into caves in Madagascar to spot dinosaur tracks, and searched Oman for deserted villages. He essentially goes where nobody else is capable of going, all for the sake of scientific discovery—and yes, a little adventure, too.
“The goal has always been to go to places that are hard to access and explore, record the data, then share it with the world,” Donato says.
The Oman expedition, which he just returned from in May, involved Adventure Science team members traveling to Oman’s Musandam Peninsula to seek out ancient archaeological sites and the endangered Arabian leopard. The crew got dropped off by boat, then spent a week hiking with all of their gear and food on their backs, closely surveying 30-plus miles of steep, mountainous terrain.
“There were no roads, no water,” says Donato. “These sites are basically unknown to Western researchers, so we went to observe and record.”
Of course, Donato, who has a partnership with Merrell, needs a dependable pair of shoes for such missions.
“For me, footwear has always been about simplicity. I’ve never done well with complicated, heavily engineered shoes,” he says. “I look for shoes that are simple, light, fit me well, and most importantly, dry quickly.”
You never know when he’ll need to stomp through riverbeds, climb slippery rock towers, or dip into dark caves. In Oman, Donato wore Merrell’s Moab GORE-TEX Mid Boot, which he says gave him the resilience, stability, and peace of mind he needed while way out in the middle of nowhere.
In recent years, Donato has taken his adventurous spirit to mainstream audiences. He stars, alongside his friend Paul Trebilcock, in the TV show “Boundless” on the Esquire Network, which recently wrapped up its third season and follows Donato, Trebilcock, and other characters as they compete in uniquely challenging adventure races around the world. This season’s episodes included a three-day cross-country ski race across Greenland, a 100-mile run through a Chilean desert, and a 24-hour mountain bike race in Arizona.
“The most memorable races are the most remote ones,” Donato says.
(And that’s not all Donato does. An avid oatmeal eater to fuel up for big outdoor adventures, Donato founded his own oatmeal company, called Stoked Oats, in 2011. His superfood-packed oats can now be found in over a thousand stores across Canada.)
But back to that dream of an adventure training camp on his new farm in Quebec. You see, Donato isn’t content just exploring unseen corners of the globe with his own eyes and feet. Nope. He wants to show them to you and me, too. He wants to bring the rest of us in on his dazzling secret: There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t been charted. And now is the time to explore it.
Says Donato, “I want to open Adventure Science up to not just the elite athletes but the weekend warrior who wants to get out there and do something different but just needs a little bit of guidance.”
images by Luis Moreira