To be a human in the wild

“Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, I was too poor to afford the most expensive name gear. I did have a great back pack (Lowe Alpine Contour), but a cheap tent, Walmart ground pad, and low end hiking clothes, etc. Several times on the trail, I would meet people and outfitters who would judge me on my apparel/gear. It was like the trail had become a country club and I was not welcome or good enough to be a member. I feel now, the same way I felt then. If you love the outdoors, hiking and camping, then you belong.”

/u/mein_liebchen on Reddit

It’s not Martin Luther King. It’s not Ghandi. But my goodness did this dude put it perfectly. To provide some context, people have been incessantly bitching about the movie Wild and the resultant flood of backpackers. This guy was fed up with the elitism from a portion of the hiking community.

I’ve dealt with snobbery with every adventure I’ve planned and written about it many times. The curmudgeons down in Florida continually questioned my competence and preparation for my kayaking trip to the Dry Tortugas, hardly ever giving me the benefit of the doubt. It was a constant interrogation and an exhausting one that just before the trip I needed to close myself off from. This question-stifling arrogance is absolutely the worst part of the whole elitism that’s certainly not unique to kayaking or hiking.

I blame the inexperience of the recent flood of backpackers out in California partly on human arrogance, but I mostly see it as a failure of the backpacking community to be inclusive and encourage questioning. No one should ever be condemned for saying “I saw Wild and want to hike the PCT”.

In 2009 I felt the brunt of this elitism when looking for help at a local outfitter before my AT hike. It didn’t make me want to hike the AT any less; it just made me not want to ask questions. Fortunately the next time I came in, a very helpful man shared his wisdom with me, recommended several books, and I went out on the AT with a light pack and safely and comfortably traversed the 100 mile wilderness with no regrets. However, I very easily could have shied away and gone in with no knowledge or experience.

If you want to hike the PCT because you say the movie “Wild” and thought it looked like a cool trip, go for it! It’s a great adventure that will take tons of preparation and planning but I think anyone who wants can do it and encourage anyone who is interested to try it. The survival of wilderness areas mostly depends on people using them so I’m not upset if more people want to hike. Selfish grinches and grumps have been trying to keep the beauty and freedom of the backcountry secret forever. If you want to go backpacking or kayaking and have never done it, please don’t ever hesitate to shoot me any questions you may have. I love talking about this stuff, but I will say, I have a tremendous tendency toward simplicity.

“It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

-Cheryl Strayed


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