I’ve been fighting a nagging feeling lately.
It started a couple of weeks ago when Padre and I took a quick jaunt up the Inner Basin of Humpreys. It was a fine trail.
And the colors were great.
But we had to head home early for a birthday party, so we didn’t get a chance to summit. No one will want to read about a trip where we don’t summit, I thought.
Then last weekend Curry and I took a morning down the Haunted Canyon Trail in the Eastern Supes.
It was also a fine trail.
Switching between big views on the hillsides,
and impossibly dense canyon bottoms.
We even saw a very Halloween-y cactus.
By mid morning we were on our way back. We even got to see the afternoon football games.
So, two weeks, two nice trails, two sets of good views, and two great hiking partners. Sounds like a couple good trips. Yet, for some reason I skipped writing a Humphreys post and really struggled with this one. Despite all the success LP has had this year, something about it just didn’t seem right. Our hikes just didn’t seem cool enough to write a post about.
And that my friends, is a problem.
Let’s set the table: I am an outdoors fanatic. I hike at least twice a week. I write a hiking blog. This is my most favorite thing. I have literally never met a human being who spends more time outdoors than I do.
Earlier this morning, I headed over to one of the interweb’s best outdoors sites, Adventure Journal, as I do almost every day. Here’s a quick (not at all random) sampling of their headlines:
- 10 Common Missteps of Avalanche Pros
- What It’s Like to Swim 82 Miles in 56 Hours Straight
- The Abernathy’s were the original Free-Range Children
- Lessons of Love on the Road
- Living on the Road in a 25-foot Office
Reading them I had a single thought: These are not for me. Chances are they are not for you either.
See, even though I hike a lot, in all the most important ways I am also like you. I am not an avalanche pro. I will never swim 56 hours straight. My office is a crowded lab, not a crowded camper. I pay my bills through a 9-5, get out on the weekends whenever I can, and try to steal a few hours here or there hiking the local mountain preserves. I worry about how to make my city kid toddler love the outdoors. I spend weeks planning overnight trips just to see them get canceled by a work emergency. We know what we are doing, you and I, we aren’t beginners, but we have trouble finding time to do it. We are weekend warriors.
Together we make up the vast majority of the hours hiked, links clicked, gear bought, and permits acquired. I have no data to back it up, but I would bet my life that if you totaled up all the miles hiked this year within 15 miles of a trailhead and compared that to all the miles hiked more than 15 miles from a trailhead that it wouldn’t even be close, the within-15 group would win in a landslide. That’s because at its core the American outdoor experience is the weekend warrior’s experience: normal people going outside as much as they can for relatively short periods of time. Yet, when you surf the internet there is little for us. Beginners? Sure. Obsessives? Yes. But not us.
Which begs the next question: is this a problem? Obviously, Adventure Journal is a solid site (my lunch break would be incredibly boring without you guys!), and aspirational writing is incredibly important in its own right. Yet, I think the answer is yes for two reasons, one philosophical, and one functional.
First, philosophical: These little hikes, these little weekend adventures that we look down our noses at, are done by people. People have stories. The fear of the first timer, the single cold night by a campfire after a 100 hour work week, the old hiker who wonders how long they can keep doing this, the horror of watching work emails pile up as you re-enter cell coverage, these are core experiences we all share. Ignoring these things and only focusing on the biggest, the baddest, and the best not only leaves incredibly fertile storytelling ground bare. It is also being dishonest to what the outdoors are for almost everyone.
Second, functional: The United States is looking less and less like the stereotypical old-white-male-hiker. This is unquestionably a good thing. Diversity is empowering and anyone who would tell you otherwise is flat out wrong. However, the outdoors are still dominated by (old) white (male) people. Combined with the fact that protecting natural resources requires constant, vigilant action, and that constant, vigilant action requires lots of people, this is a problem. As the proportion of old white guys in this country continues to decline we are going to have to attract new people, different people to the outdoors. This requires us to lower the barriers to entry. Some of this is easy (EDITOR’S NOTE: For the love of God, will someone please make a pair of women’s hiking pants that actually fit women?), and some of it is harder. If the way we talk about the outdoors seems off putting to me, a white guy with a hiking blog, I am 100% sure it is very off putting to the people who we are going to need to join us moving forward.
So what to do? Honestly I have no idea. “Our best,” seems like a good answer, but it always is. In the meantime, while we bloggers, writers, and editors try to get this all figured out, just do us a favor: keep going outside.
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.