Why Outdoor People and the Outdoor Industry are so Important:
Playing in the outdoors has always meant a lot to me. Those of us of “a certain age” remember fondly messing about in woods, fields, by streams or on beaches. If we did not have access to rural areas then we found territories of our own in wastelands, alleys or on streets. The main thing was that we spent a lot of time outside. In my teens I graduated to mountain adventures. Rock climbing gave my life focus and shaped the way I used my time. It informed me about people, places, situations and life in general. It taught me who and how to trust. It taught me how to look after myself. It taught me about the world.
One of the biggest lessons the outdoors taught me was to accept a situation for what it is. There is no point pretending things are rosy when they are not. If we are on top of a mountain in high avalanche conditions then we need to navigate in such a way that we neither cross over or under a slope that is steep enough to slide. If rock on a cliff is loose then we need to climb in a way that does not bring it down, and be cognizant of where it will fall if we do. If a storm is brewing we need to find shelter. If we are injured we need to find a way of looking after ourselves and extracting ourselves to a place where we can receive help. When we look at a particularly nasty rapid, we do not dwell on what ifs, nor are we deluded as to the consequences, we look for the way through. We assess the options available to us and then we commit to one. Sometimes it is not the best option. Sometimes we amend our plans. Sometimes catastrophe occurs. It is very rare though that we refuse to believe the reality or are paralyzed into inaction. This gritty realism is born from an evolution of experiences. What I particularly enjoy when I am in a room full of outdoor people is that this is true for all of us. Whether we think the same about religion or politics, we have common ground and a shared understanding. Standing at the top of that mountain or rapid there may be as many opinions to the best route as there are people. Discussions may be heated. We will though debate until we find some kind of consensus because we recognize that we need each other to be as safe as possible in this situation.
Another thing it taught me is to be both kind and not to suffer fools. When I see someone who is obviously not making the best decisions (lets be honest we have all been there) my job is to gently guide them to evolving their practice. If there are consequences I am not going to let them lead or make decisions unless I know they are doing it right. However, I will encourage them to learn from direct experience if it accelerates their growth and does not lead to disaster. Often, I will do this even if I am going to suffer some discomfort. The thing is, if that person is not going to learn, then it is amazing how quickly they are ejected from my inner circle of outdoor partners.
So why is this important?
When I look at the current political arena I am horrified. It is full of deceit, duplicity and delusion. As outdoor people we are able to see through this. What is more we are sufficiently brave to stand beneath a cliff and not only see the way, we are ready and prepared to tackle it.
We cannot deny climate change and social inequity, these are the big rapids of our time. This is not like Scott’s Arctic expedition where we have to listen to a fool of a leader and follow him. When so many people cannot see the reality of the situation we can be lighthouses. We know the rocks are there and we can be beacons providing safe passage for all passing ships.
The beautiful thing is that this is already happening. Let me give you three examples.
I have always loved Patagonia as a company. Based on their experiences they have a strong set of values and are highly committed to them. All decisions are based on these values and they take the time and energy to share their practices and the reasons for them. They also encourage others to contemplate their vision and act similarly. When Outdoor Retailer moved from Salt Lake City to Denver it was a clear sign that the industry is mobilizing to bring environmental protection to the forefront of political discussion. For me this is a direct response to all the legwork that visionary companies like Patagonia have been doing for decades. This industry is a beacon in a world full of reefs and rocky shores and a political system which like Captain Robert Scott is so full of arrogance and avarice it cannot see or prepare for the inevitable consequences of following our current route. So thank you Patagonia for diligently showing us the way and thank you to all the other companies who are realizing their import and acting on it.
Something that happened to me recently highlighted another area where this industry is so amazing. After using a G3 ski binding for 4 years one of the risers broke. I am a heavy user and I tend to break things after a while. I was completely blown away when G3 chose not to fix the riser but replace both heel pieces of my bindings. Not only that they replaced them with a newer and burlier model. I was actually even happier because they were not new parts. The fact that our industry has an incredible practice of standing behind their product and repairing and repurposing materials fills me with joy. G3 is not alone in this practice, however I challenge you to find another industry that is as committed to their warranty as ours. The outdoor industry looks to do the right thing.
The United States Pole Company was started by an old student, ski athlete and ex CoastGuard Andy Liebner. What I love about Andy’s vision is that he wants his products to put food on the tables of his compatriots. Consequently, he builds and sources everything in the US. This is no small task and certainly makes his life significantly harder however it aligns with his beliefs. Again, this is a large trait of outdoor practitioners. We have been led to a belief system that was defined by our experience not a dogma that was passed down for generations. We then use these beliefs as a compass. Because we exercise this process regularly, we are good at it.
So the challenge is, how are you going to be a beacon? How are you going to use this skill that is somewhat rare these days and share it? How are you going to encourage others to do the same? And please, in the same way that you can see your way down a rapid or up a cliff see how important you are. You are needed.