Monday, March 10, 2008


Let's face it, the media tends to portray things the way they think things should be, regardless of the facts. Whether it's an outdoor reality show rife with macho attitudes, or a climbing film that portrays climbers as super competitive bastards, there's usually a tiny shred of truth surrounded by a mess of hyperbole, written by someone with no real experience in outdoor activities.

The film Vertical Limit comes to mind, it's one of the worst films about mountaineering I've ever seen, where climbers are portrayed as macho jocks with little judgment, fueled only by their own arrogance. It is that type of thing that has likely encouraged some of the winter fatalities on Mt. Washington, where the occasional lads with little brain and zero judgment head up to climb the mountain, in the worst conditions (we call them Guinness Conditions, where you should be in the valley drinking your Guinness), because they saw that movie star do it. The typical trip to the woods or the river simply is not that big of a deal for someone with reasonable competence and judgment, but they won't be making many movies about that kind of experience.

Of course the dollar likely rules some of the media's story extreme selections, as nightly news stories on crazy, dangerous outdoor activities sell more ads than a portrait of a quiet guy or gal who merely walked the Long Trail.

I've also written that over the last twenty years, the motivation of folks who go into the wilds are different from why I started going outdoors. We went for the wild locations, the critters, the sunsets, and the camaraderie. They go to the woods today for that outdoor gymnasium or merely because they thinks it's cool. Unfortunately for our cocky Gen X outdoorsman, today people a just aren't that impressed. More often, the average citizen is merely shocked if they hear you're headed to the wilds. My friend Mark was greeted with horrified stares of disbelief when he discussed the trip that we planned and took to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge several years back.

There have been a number of blog posts, here, here, and here, that comment on the recent Wildebeat podcast that looks at the notion of the media scaring us out of going to wild places or even encountering wild critters.

On the podcast, long distance hiker Andrew Skurka comments:
The thing that probably bothers me most is the media's portrayal of the outdoors and extreme outdoor adventures is the epic component, that danger factor... And the media constantly reinforcing the image of the outdoors being this wild scary place that's full of grizzly bears and rattlesnakes, I think ...that's really where I get concerned. And even some of the television programs that are on this week will present the outdoors to you in a way that's very dramatic, and dangerous, and in order to be out here need all these survival skills, and that's just not the case. For most people, their outdoor experience is very calm, and safe and fun and that sort of thing.
It occurs to me that maybe this is just one vicious circle--as people become more detached from the natural world, the media just gives them what they want to hear. And the more the media reports that normal outdoor activities in wild places are more attuned to an extreme expedition to the remotest places on earth, the more alien the natural world becomes to the average Joe.

The cure? Get your butt outside in the woods, to the wild. We're planning a two trips to the wilds of Maine this spring and summer to do just that. Of course, that's the individual approach. Changing the attitude of society will take a long effort, and the media will be pulled along kicking and screaming.

A lot more could be said on this topic, and we'll continue to explore it. And thanks to Trout Underground for getting me rolling with these thoughts.