Get Outside, Just Not Around Me

mwgangI spent the last couple weeks driving around listening to the audio version of Ed Abbey’s classic The Monkeywrench Gang. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as the guy reading it, Michael Kramer, did a fantastic job. But it didn’t help my growing surliness — likely a symptom of age and a faltering tolerance for bullshit as much as anything else — as it relates to sharing the wilds with other people. And that is stretching the term “wilds” so thin it’s practically invisible. My last rant on this subject turned into something of a false alarm, but it doesn’t change the fact that this time of year more and more people are using my beloved river access site, and making a mess of it. Cigarette butts, random garbage, etc. Hell, even their mere presence can irritate me, even though I’m not so myopic as to not understand they have every bit as much a right to be there as I do. A couple twitter friends and I were discussing something similar last week. I had mentioned I feel it is a failing on my part that I’ve not yet visited the Grand Canyon. My friend Jeff, aka The Southwest Dude, weighed in with some suggestions for areas of the park that were a little less traveled, information I find critical. I pointed out then, as I have been saying for over a year now based on my last visit to Yellowstone National Park, that one of the greatest things about our national parks is that they are so accessible to everyone. At the same time, one of the worst things about our national parks is that they are so accessible to everyone.
selfie-stick-1I recognize that it sounds like I’m some kind of outdoor snob. I suspect I probably am. I thought about this a lot last May, when work took me to the Bay Area, and I ventured into the Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. This is a beautiful cathedral of magnificent trees, regularly overrun with people. There are signs all over requesting visitors be quiet, all of which are ignored, at least they were when I was there. I also saw for the first time in person the much maligned “selfie stick.” This guy was walking around, his camera on the end of this thing, pointed at himself, filming his progress through the park. Not filming what he was seeing, the camera was directed at himself. It was bizarre. I followed him for about 10 minutes or so, somewhat dumbstruck, just to see what he would do. He just kind of buzzed around, making like he was looking at stuff, but mostly just looking into the camera, moving its angle around, etc. Then I realized how monitoring his actions were spoiling my experience, so I just paused and let him go on about his business while I refocused on my own enjoyment of the area.

There is no right way or wrong way to experience the outdoors (unless you’re a litterer, of course), so I know I need to lighten up. Just because I can’t get enough time outside, and get depressed and quite angry with myself when I don’t make more time for it, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be just a casual experience for others. I don’t understand people who don’t like the outdoors, but that’s their prerogative. I should be pleased to see people out and enjoying themselves, because getting out in it is the only way to build a connection that inspires action to protect it.

Sometimes it’s just hard to share.

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Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

10 thoughts on “Get Outside, Just Not Around Me”

  1. I suspect quite a few people can relate to how you feel, I know I can. When we visit Glacier NP we recognize that in order to be relatively alone we need to hike longer, more secluded trails while we’re there. While growing up and going camping with my dad every weekend, his goal was always to camp by ourselves. As to the guy with the gopro (camera on a stick), perhaps he was capturing the beauty of the forest for friends and relatives. Those gopros have a wonderful wide angle lens. Don’t get me wrong, I give into anger and frustration when I see aholes littering or acting obnoxiously.

    1. Gopros are nice – I want one. This guy was using a cell phone though. I thought he might be filming for others too, and perhaps he was, but I spent a bit of time close enough to see, and what he was filming was his own face. Who knows. Damn kids these days.

  2. I love getting out in the wild, or at least frontcountry wild, but it irks the daylights out of me when others are there. I am old and cantankerous and getting to be proud of it..

  3. There is a problem with trying to combine a kinetic experience with an observational one. For the latter go off trail, move slowly, observe closely or even sit for a while and see what happens. B

  4. Just finished a visit to Glacier while on our exhausting tour of Montana. While a great experience, incredible sights, and a few choice trails, it was too crowded. My husband correctly observed that next time we will get off the Going To The Sun and see the other 90% of the park. Most of which is wonderfully inconvenient for the drive through crowd.
    Part of the problem is sheer numbers, number of people wanting to have the outside experience, and quantity of easily accessed places. Your solution is to find a balance between experiencing solitude and experiencing nature. Being from Montana you naturally assume the two overlap significantly. But for most of the world is isn’t so. There, that is my curmudgeonly contribution.

    1. Indeed, Molly. Nice thing too about Montana is one isn’t necessarily forced to go to a National Park to get somewhere reasonably wild.

  5. Thankfully, most national parks have a few places that only a few folks go–generally places requiring effort to get into (some of the canyons in Zion or the other trails into Grand Canyon not at Phantom Ranch… I should download Monkeywrench Gang on audible–I been thinking I need to reread it and listening to it would be a good way of using drive/gym time.

    1. I started regularly listening to audio books about a year ago and have come to enjoy it quite a bit. Both fiction and nonfiction. The only downside is it has really reduced my music listening, but that was on the decline anyway.

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