An Interview With Karen Thorien
The word “Influencer” gets thrown around a lot on the interwebs, but in the case of Kalen Thorien, influenced we are. All it takes is a scroll through her Instagram to quickly get the itch to call in sick for the next week and get a start on living. We were fortunate to have her join us on the first leg of our 2017 Endless Summer trip as we took the scenic route up to Northern California for “Sierra Stake Out”. She rode with us, camped, shared stories of her travels and at the end, in Kalen fashion, took off on yet another adventure. With a life consisting of constant exploration, it only makes sense that when we contacted her about doing an interview, she happened to be riding motorcycles through Australia with skiing in Japan next on the agenda.
First of all, why are you in Australia?
I was feeling so inspired by Men at Work that I had to see for myself why the hell they wrote that song. Every year I like to do a trip before ski season someplace warm so I can absorb all the heat and bottle it while I freeze my ass off in the snow. Obviously it had to involve motorcycles and Melbourne seemed like a great start. There are a ton of roads to ride outside of the city, including the legendary Great Ocean Road. Harley-Australia was nice enough to set me up with a bike, so off I went!
Secondly, ranch or Italian?
Who said I even eat salads?
What do you consider yourself? Professional adventurer? Ski bum? Nomad? Or “D” All of the above?
I don’t even know anymore. Professional Can’t Sit Still Person
Where is home base? Did you grow up there?
Technically it’s Salt Lake for like the 5 days out of the year I’m there. I grew up in Germany actually, family moved there when I was two. Then we moved to Idaho when I was a teenager which was a mind fuck at first, but ended being a blessing. That’s where my love of the outdoors really took off.
What is a typical day for you? Or is there a typical day?
Consistency is not my strong suit. When I’m home it’s usually going to the gym or exercise somewhere, then writing emails that usually start with “sorry on my delay I was out of service”, then I put off doing important shit and go ride my FXR for awhile. Eventually meet my friends at the pub and put down some Coors Lights, talk shit, and then go to bed.
Was there ever a time you had a normal 9-5 lifestyle. What caused you to change that?
Honestly there really hasn’t been. All my jobs were to work with my lifestyle meaning odd hours and typically seasonal. The closest I came to normalcy was being a wildland firefighter. I had a fucking retirement plan and actually convinced myself this is what I would do for the rest of my life. Two years later that ended…
What was Kalen Thorien like before the life of adventure?
Bit of a square. I was in orchestra, volleyball, 4.0 GPA, wanted to go to an ivy league school. Big job in the city, all that. Then I smoked pot for the first time, listened to Led Zeppelin, and shit took a big turn. That’s when I discovered skiing and well, the rest is history.
Tell us about your girls, Francis & Blue.
My babes!! Best partners a girl can have. So Francis is my 1986 HJ60 Land Cruiser. HJ is the diesel series they didn’t sell in the states. I was lucky enough to buy her off a Canadian in Salt Lake who had brought it down. She’s been the ultimate rig. Never has left me stranded and can rally the shit out of her off-road. We’ve seen a lot together.
Blue is my 1993 Harley FXR and the love of my life (sorry Francis). I bought her two years ago off the original owner with 10k on it. The next summer we put down 25,000 miles together and even ventured down into the heart of Mexico. This summer I was a bad parent and didn’t do her cams in time which resulted in the motor blowing up. Blessing in disguise though because now she’s running a S&S V111 which is SO much better than that fucking Evo ever was. We’re planning to go overseas next year and ride the whole west coast of Norway and more.
When and what gave you the itch to start riding?
I’ve loved cars and anything that goes fast since I was a little kid. That was my Dad’s doing. Harley’s were always my favorite bikes and I was riding on the back of one for like the millionth time and looked at the back of this dudes head and was like, “Alright, this is bullshit, I need to be on the front of this thing”. I was finally at a place in my life where I could afford one so I started scouring the internet and came across the FXR. It was perfect. I called the guy and next day Francis and I grabbed a UHaul and drove out to Denver. Best part was I had no fucking clue how to ride it. The owner asked if I wanted to test it out but I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t know how, so I made an excuse that I had to get back asap. It sat in my garage for a week until I finally grew the balls to ride it. We spent countless hours in parking lots and backroads. After a week I did my first canyon ride. Made it to the top with my buddy and I was so proud of myself. He turned to me and said “Ya, you’re riding like a bitch”. Hearing that definitely got my blood boiling so the way down I went twice as fast. To this day I still thank him for saying that because it pushed me as a rider. A month later I took my first road trip, solo, down to Southern Utah and from then on out every chance I get, I’m on my bike.
How much planning goes into your adventures? Do you just get up and go or take time to figure things out?
It depends on the trip, but a lot of times I just say “Fuck it” and go. A lot of winging it in my life. But more serious trips I do dedicate time to, especially if it’s for my sponsors or a client. When I did my off-trail solo high traverse of the Sierra, I spent six months pouring over topo maps, planning routes, food cashes, how to document it, permits, etc… it was exhausting but necessary because 18 days on your own in the wilderness, it’s ideal to not fuck up.
What’s the longest you ever been off the grid for? (Miles / Days)
Longest was almost a month spent on the edge of the Greenland ice cap filming a ski movie with Salomon. It was amazing being gone that long, especially because I was dating a dude I wasn’t that into anymore so I had a great excuse not to talk to him.
Do you ever think about going back to a normal lifestyle?
I imagine your bucket list is shorter than most. What’s left on it?
My bucket list is huge, I have a serious case of FOMO for life. But top of the list right now is to take a break from skiing in a few years and ride around the world hitting every continent, with the exception of Antarctica obviously.
Any inspiring words or advice to us who live vicariously through you and want to pull the trigger on a life of adventure?
Best advice is to quit debating it and just say “Fuck It”. Regardless of how things shake out, something positive always comes from trying.
Who inspires you?
Hunter S. Thompson
Be honest. How was traveling with us nerds? Does our coffee suck?
I love traveling with you nerds. You guys embody the spirit of the open road and have such a great sense of adventure. Hooligans and philosophers wrapped into one. Seriously, you guys are become my big brothers and I love it. Best family a girl could have, and your coffee is ok? At least you drink coffee. People who don’t drink coffee can’t be trusted.