Romancing the Trail
The Risks and Responsibilities of Writing about the Outdoors
My post on Wednesday was originally intended to provide information about long distance trails - specifically the Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail - as an introduction for those unfamiliar to long-distance hiking, but a post just vomiting facts and metrics is no fun. Hence, the post on Wednesday turned into a passionate romanticization of long-distance trails.
But as much as I wax poetic about the outdoors, I also feel a bit of guilt: I wonder if romanticizing the outdoors does it a disservice - that I am dismissing the dangers of the wilderness, downplaying the difficulty of the trail, or even encouraging others to find these beautiful spaces and disrespect or even defile them - intentionally or not - with cairns, graffiti, trash, or even just a proliferation of tourists with selfie sticks. An influx of people chasing selfies in exotic places for the sake of social media likes frequently brings up the debate regarding sharing the location of scenic spots - do you share the secret and risk it being overrun, or do you risk being a snob and keep your favorite places hidden?
I can see both sides of the argument: I want to protect and preserve my favorite wild places and keep them remote and special, but I also want to include others and introduce them to the joys of the outdoors so that they too can advocate for its protection. I want to believe that by talking about these places then I'm imparting in would-be adventurers a reverence for the land before they head out the door. Maybe they can see an example of how to care for and protect these spaces and how to feel confident that these spaces are in fact for them regardless of appearance, background, or creed.
It's my belief that people who post about the outdoors have a responsibility: to welcome and encourage people into the outdoors, but to do so in a manner that educates those new adventurers to be responsible, safe, and sustainable. We have an obligation to be genuine about the experience - to portray what is beautiful and what is ugly, to describe the ecstasy with the pain. In the crux of outdoors adventures there is the human experience: our own emotions, struggles, and triumphs. The outdoors may be the setting in which we feel alive - completely and deeply alive - or vulnerable to the void, staring into a dark night sky glittering with a breathtaking number of stars or looking out over a world that suddenly appears so small - and everyone has a right to explore those depths within themselves and the world with care for others and in a way that protects the setting for future pilgrims.
The outdoors is not an exclusive club, and it's not a place to squander. It is a place for all of us as long as we tread with care.