The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 127: Scared Indoors, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

They came, they saw, they almost bought it. Are these the kind of stories that inspire you to get into the wilderness? This week on The WildeBeat; Scared Indoors, part 2.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one twenty seven, made possible our members.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: A surprising number Americans seem to think that any venture outside is an experience fraught with great personal risk. Could mass media's treatment of wilderness adventures be partly at fault for this? Fitz Cahall produces the popular Internet cast, the Dirtbag Diaries.

FITZ CAHALL: I think that certainly somehow in the mainstream American media, there is a tendency to grab onto the really heavy, tragic, stories. ...For instance, what jumps to mind is the three climbers that were lost on Mount Hood two Christmases ago. And... when you cover that in that way with that sort of, let's send all our T.V. reporters to ask, why, why did this happen. I think that yeah, you maybe turn people off to it, because's taken out of context. And it seems like a huge waste, and it arguably is a huge waste to loose your life to mountaineering, but certainly I don't think that the people up there, you know, would believe that all was for nought, or they never should have set foot in the mountains because this would lead them to there. I mean, thousands of people climb that mountain every year. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people climb it, and they have really powerful experiences... So going and covering it like this sensational, what a tragic loss of life this was such a waste, this was terrible, it's telling only half the story. So I think in that regard it is somewhat irresponsible by the mainstream media, not to sort of present both sides of that story, that you know, people choose to take risks, people choose to be outdoors... but most of the time it's safe to be outside.

TOM MANGAN: I have to tell you that from a news person's perspective the news media can be blamed for pretty much everything because the news media is not really in the business of being totally balanced.

STEVE: Tom Mangan called-in this comment in response to the first part of this story. Tom is a newspaper editor, and on his free time he blogs about hiking at Two Heel Drive dot com.

TOM MANGAN: The truth is the only way a hiker gets his name in the paper is when he dies traumatically, stupidly, wastefully, or otherwise fully. But the problem with the blame the media argument is that it can be applied to pretty much everything, because the media deal in sensation. You know, conflict, absurdity, pathos, voyeurism, because sensation drives eyeballs, and eyeballs keep media people in rent and hiking shoes. There's never been anything remotely newsworthy about the hundred and fifty hikes I returned home safely from, so anyway, while it's true that a harrowing adventure tale scare people away, these tales always attract people as well. We had a gold rush despite tales of gunfights, wild indians, and grizzly bears.

STEVE: Thinking that sensational stories would attract people to the outdoors, Scott Graham wrote a book entitled, Extreme Kids.

SCOTT GRAHAM: The subtitle of the book describes it best, and that is, "How to connect with your children through today's extreme, and not so extreme outdoor sports." Essentially the book is a way of talking to people about the importance of getting their kids outdoors, and enjoying all of the outdoors has to offer... The book works to offer examples to parents of families who are tackling these sorts of outdoor sports that younger children especially can do that seem extreme to those younger kids but in fact are really safe and really fun to do with parents and kids together.

EMILY WHITE: In the early planning stages of this book, Scott Graham, and our whole office were very excited about this, what seemed like growing movement, of extreme sports coverage.

STEVE: Emily White is a marketing and publicity specialist for Wilderness Press Books.

EMILY WHITE: So we thought this was something to be excited about, and we thought other families would be excited about it too. And so we went with this idea of, you know, putting this word, extreme, on the front cover, and making it Extreme Kids. But then when it came out we realized that rather than resonating with parents, the word, extreme, coupled with images of kids rock climbing, or kayaking, actually wound up really intimidating parents. So never mind that the book also covered day hiking, llama trekking, things that I think most reasonable parents would think are quite safe. The only word that parents seemed to focus on when they saw that cover was the word, extreme. And this was feedback that came from outdoors stores, and also from general books stores. So it was quite a broad spectrum of parents who had that reaction.

ANDREW SKURKA: I think the more that people know about what they're getting into, the more comfortable they become with it.

STEVE: Andrew Skurka is an athlete sponsored by outdoor equipment manufacturer Go Lite. By age twenty six, he'd completed two hikes of close to seven thousand miles each.

ANDREW SKURKA: Part of the problem with the outdoors ...and declining involvement is because it's becoming a unknown thing. They don't know enough about it, they don't have the backcountry skills they don't know the area very well. So I think if people get to know about these places, it's easier for them to get in there... You're definitely afraid of the unknown, and if we can make that unknown not so unknown then we'll be much better off.

STEVE: What's the most common fear that people've known fairly well before you set out on these adventures, when you get back to them now, what's the most common fear they express to you about getting out there themselves?

ANDREW SKURKA: The most common fear depends on the demographic groups, so when I present before school kids, it's usually sleeping on the ground and bugs and, you know, like grizzly bears and things that kind of our imagination and some of that dirt and grit and that sort of thing. With older groups, particularly women, it's all safety issues. I constantly get asked by mothers, "how did you check-in," like, "what was your check-in system? What would happen if you broke your leg out there?"

STEVE: I asked Ryan Jordan, the founder and publisher of Backpacking Light Magazine, how he thinks media should combat the scary, extreme messages we get about the outdoors.

RYAN JORDAN: As media we're in a unique and privileged position to influence the mass market, but the bottom line is if you don't have somebody who actually takes an interest in teaching and training you, and takes you by the hand and you show interest in them and you go out and do it, you're not going to impress that philosophy on very many people... It comes right down to take your kids outside, take a cousin outside, take a nephew or a niece outside and show them how to do it... I personally don't want to hear about the most extreme adventures all the time. I am training my son to be a backpacker, and we're backpacking as a family, and I want to connect with other families who are learning and doing this as they go as well, so that I can have those experiences with my own family.

STEVE: The mainstream mass media does present some radical, risky outdoor adventures as if they're normal. And they do tend to highlight the most tragic and sensational stories about the predicaments only a few people get themselves into. And in that way they're just doing their job, getting your attention. But we think the most important news is the story that doesn't get told often enough. And that is, that most people who spend time outdoors never experience a newsworthy calamity; they just have a good time.

FITZ CAHALL: I don't think you're ever going to be passionate about the environment unless you have a real, real, powerful connection to wild places. I just don't think you can be, until you've actually gone out there and experienced it and seen how beautiful, and how wild, and how terrifying, and also how humbling and peaceful some of the wild places can be.

STEVE: The story we want to tell is that getting into the wilderness is good for you physically, emotionally, and many would even say spiritually. There are a lot of not-so-extreme ways to do it that are no more dangerous than anything else you'd do in town. So don't think what you hear in the mainstream media is normal; it's weird, that's why it's news. So as I've said before, don't try this at home, try it out there!

STEVE: What scary stories of outdoor trauma, or extreme examples of outdoor sports have given you the urge to stay in? We'd like you to share your comments with us and your fellow listeners. And we always want to hear any other comments you have about our show. You can call our toll-free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find links to more information about our guests, more comments from listeners like you, and an extended combined version of both parts of this show, on our web site.

STEVE: WildeBeat members can download extended bonus interviews with Andrew Skurka and Ryan Jordan from our WildeBeat Insider's web pages. And please check our web site for other benefits of being a WildeBeat member.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one twenty seven. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- more skiing.

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