The personal answer is that I need a real time-out every other year or so, as I am thoroughly fed up with the pace and mindset of our modern world, our high-performance society, geared up for competition, with its mantra of "more". And Canada’s North, The True North, the Back of Beyond, is just the right place for a serious retreat. A place of profound silence, where people are outnumbered a thousand to one by musk oxen and caribou. A place where the loon's call sets the benchmark by which all others are measured. A wail capable of stopping the flow of time, as all of nature pauses to listen. A place to tote around less, to be content with less. And conveniently, after one or two years, I have forgotten most of the horrors too: inflicted by black flies and mosquitoes, the curse of the North. Moreover: I enjoy seeing the one or the other place with my own eyes. To see how drab the Dismal Lakes, how bleak the Barren Lands really are.
Or, with J. B. Tyrrell's words:
A crowd of people in a city wearies me beyond endurance, and though the northern life is very lonely, there are none but the powers of Nature to struggle against. (Nastawgan: The Canadian North by Canoe & Snowshoe, 1985, by Hodgins and Hobbs, ISBN-13: 978-0969078333)
Or, to quote William Noah:
In the Inuit way of living, you have to associate with the land, mountains, hills, and even the sky. Otherwise, you will get really frustrated and you won’t really know what is wrong with you. That is the way to be peaceful, to create a rest in your mind. The town cannot relax you. The people cannot give you peace. But when you are out there, you come back refreshed. (Qamanittuaq: Drawings By Baker Lake Artists: Where the River Widens - ISBN 13: 9780920810576)
Robert W. Service gave a more concise answer in his poem "The Spell of the Yukon":
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.
Lesser-known, less famous, but just as poetic: "I often feel the need to go camping in the woods. It irons the wrinkles out of my soul." As published in the article “Sigurd Olson - Mister Voyageur” in Che-Mun outfit 69, summer 1992. Wisdom from the mother of Omond Solandt (1909-1993), one of the original members of “The Voyageurs” around Eric Morse.
Interestingly, it is the deep silence, especially towards the end of the canoe season, that has me under its spell these days. More than any visual grandeur. If this prioritization amazes you (as it did me), then perhaps you haven't heard of Gordon Hempton (as I hadn't until recently). Howsoever, this view delights me to the present day, many years later: Why - 360 degrees. It is in such places, such hours, or using the words of Isabelle Eberhardt: "There are hours outside of time, moments of grace, in which some landscapes reveal themselves to us and we intuitively discover their soul."
To others, the Northland holds a spiritual dimension. I remember Robert Perkins saying in his film (Into the Great Solitude), "If this were my mission, I had felt very close to God", as he mused about Father Buliard on Mission Island (Garry Lake). Likewise, a friend expressed a similar sentiment: “I am not a religious person but I have often said to Kate that travelling to places like the Barren Lands is probably as close as I get to a spiritual experience.” (Rose Macaulay's blue-domer?)
Jacques Rousseau, in turn, advised:
Never ask the explorer, still shrouded in distant solitudes, to tell his fondest memories.
You would not understand, perhaps, if he said: "It's the wind blowing through the valley, the moon perched between two spruce trees, the waterfall hissing, the gurgle of the brook, the shrill cry of the hawk to the cliff above its nest, the nostalgic singing of the finch, the lapping of the wave on the boat, the small Eskimo who smiled at his mother in the hood of the anorak, the find of a pebble on the beach that tells the story of the land or, on the slope, a plant that nobody has ever seen, an insignificant, unnamed grass which adds a link to human knowledge."
These are great adventures.
Jacques Rousseau, in: Toundra, 1950.
Max Finkelstein gave his answer to the question in his book "Canoeing a Continent":
Before heading farther west, let's eddy out for a few moments and ponder this question: Why the Heck do we do this?
Why do some people undertake long canoe journeys. Everyone who undertakes a long voyage, no matter what the means of transportation, shares similar challenges and rewards. There is the mixture of thrill, fear and excitement of entering the unknown.
This is as true for the modern canoeist equipped with maps and Geographic Positioning Systems (GPSs), as it was for Mackenzie, although the uncertainties Mackenzie faced would seem overwhelmingly daunting to us mollycoddled modern explorers. All explorers and adventurers also share, I believe, a selfish, egotistical desire to experience places and feelings that most other people don’t, either through choice or circumstance. They (and I’m chagrined to say that I include myself in this group) see themselves as apart from most others. Not superior, but different, and a little bit privileged. Speaking for myself, I feel that I have experienced through my canoe trips beauty and feelings of well-being that have been so complete, so satisfying, that I have felt close to God. This gives me a strong sense of self, of accomplishment, meaning, purpose, identity, and, yes, it makes me feel just a little bit above the crowd. But I also know that others achieve these same feelings through others activities and passions. Canoeing is just my route to the same place.
There’s more. The biggest part of any adventure is, as the famous epithet says, not the destination, but the journey. To be a truly satisfying journey, it MUST involve physical discomfort, deprivation, extreme exertion, and elements of DANGER (real or imagined). That is why driving to the top of a mountain doesn’t pack the same sense of satisfaction as climbing there. A road takes away all the key elements of adventure — danger (although it could be argued that driving is the most dangerous activity we undertake, but we all share this danger, so that negates its value), physical exertion, deprivation, and hardship. Although the same beautiful view is there at the mountaintop, the value of the view is diminished if we drive there. The thrill is gone, at least for me, for Mackenzie, and for many others like us.
Big journeys are exclamation points in our mundane little lives. Completing them, or just surviving them, gives us memories we use to define, or redefine ourselves. I am a canoe tripper, a voyageur in training. I look back on my canoe journeys, and look forward to more, with happiness and not just a little bit of pride. The value of any canoe trip grows in proportion to the effort expended, the danger involved, the challenges overcome, and the deprivation endured. I’m not sure which of these is most important. It depends on the individual circumstances and the state of mind of the paddler. But if we were to take a survey of everyone who goes repeatedly on long canoe journeys, when the talk runs high in the local tavern, it focuses mainly on ... c’mon, reader, take a guess: The beauty of the northern sky at night, the terror of listening to a grizzly bear snuffle around your tent, the bone-wrenching weariness during a day of repeated portages, or the thrill and satisfaction of eating French fries, followed by apple pie (made with canned pie filling) and ice cream at a greasy spoon restaurant at the end of the trip. My bet would be on the last.
All canoe trippers thrive on deprivation. I am not a masochist. I don’t actually enjoy being wet and cold and weary. I don’t like putting on frozen shoes and gloves in the morning. I don’t like rationing my Mars bars, eating one-quarter of a Mars bar when my body craves a 12-pack. But a little deprivation makes the value of things we take for granted increase exponentially, which makes life a very thrilling, rich experience indeed. A hot cup of coffee, an entire Mars bar, a dry sleeping bag ... ecstasy. Kings and Queens could know no greater happiness. You just don’t know what’cha got ‘til you don’t have it.
I can’t resist telling you about an experience, one of those epiphanies of life, that happened to me many years ago, on my way home from a 75-day canoe trip in the western Arctic . I was on a flight from Inuvik to Yellowknife , back in the days when passengers were treated really well. The flight attendant (they called them stewardesses in those by-gone days) offered all the passengers complimentary coffee with liqueur, which she called “fancy coffee”, and a Mars bar. I was reveling in my good fortune, dipping the Mars bar in the coffee, and licking the melted chocolate, then taking a sip of coffee. Each sip and lick was bordering on orgasmic. Then, fingers firmly tapping on my shoulder broke into reverie. “Sir”, said the flight attendant impatiently, “you’ll have too put up your tray and finish your coffee”.
“Why”, I asked, blinking like someone had hit me in the nose.
“Because we’re landing in Yellowknife ”.
I looked around at the other passengers. Not a sign of coffee or Mars bars. Trays up. Seat belts fastened. I had been enjoying this treat for over an hour. If only we would relish all life has to offer us like that, how rich life would be. Perhaps that is the goal, and the motivation, of eastern mystics. To experience the joy in small, everyday things is a darn good reason to keep on going out into the wilderness. Not the only reason, but a darn good one.
Perhaps Sir William Logan, the founder of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1842 and one of Canada ’s most renowned scientists, best stated why people go on long canoe trips: “I have dined with lords and ladies, chatted with Queen Victoria , and have been formally received by the Emperor Napoleon III. Yet my most cherished memories come ... from a leaky tent, a bark canoe ... and the vast and mysterious wilderness of Canada .” Right on, Sir William, except for the bit about the leaky tent.
But let’s get back to those crazy mad fools who paddle across continents, for whatever reason. Mackenzie was the first European to reach the Pacific travelling overland by canoe and foot. He and his party hiked the last 215 miles) following a traditional native trading path over the Coast Ranges from the Fraser River . The path was established for the eulachan trade. Eulachan, or candlefish, is an oily fish that lives in the Pacific. The oil was a valuable trading item for oil-poor inland tribes. Today, we’d build a pipeline and pump the eulachan inland.
Mackenzie’s route to the Pacific was so difficult that it seems few followed it, especially his route over the Continental Divide. But we are a species driven to explore, and it wasn’t long before others were pushing their way to the Pacific. Their obvious motivation, like Mackenzie’s, was wealth, control and empire building. But in their hearts, they were explorers.
Che-Mun spring 2002
In an unexpected corner, I found a piece of literature that may provide additional clues as to the why. Written by Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), translated by Peter Bowles and published under the title: "The Oblivion Seekers" (ISBN-13: 978-0872860827):
A subject to which few intellectuals ever give a thought is the right to be a vagrant, the freedom to wander. Yet vagrancy is deliverance, and life on the open road is the essence of freedom. To have the courage to smash the chains with which modern life has weighted us (under the pretext that it was offering us more liberty), then to take up the symbolic stick and bundle and get out!
To the one who understands the value and the delectable flavor of solitary freedom (for no one is free who is not alone) leaving is the bravest and finest act of all.
An egotistical happiness, possibly. But for him who relishes the flavor, happiness.
To be alone, to be poor in needs, to be ignored, to be an outsider who is at home everywhere, and to walk, great and by oneself, toward the conquest of the world.
The healthy wayfarer sitting beside the road scanning the horizon open before him, is he not the absolute master of the earth, the waters, and even the sky? What housedweller can vie with him in power and wealth? His estate has no limits, his empire no law. No work bends him toward the ground, for the bounty and beauty of the earth are already his.
In our modern society the nomad is a pariah “of no fixed address.” By adding these few words to the name of anyone whose appearance they consider irregular, those who make and enforce the laws can decide a man’s fate.
To have a home, a family, a property or a public function, to have a definite means of livelihood and to be a useful cog in the social machine, all these things seem necessary, even indispensable, to the vast majority of men, including intellectuals, and including even those who think of themselves as wholly liberated. And yet such things are only a different form of the slavery that comes of contact with others, especially regulated and continued contact.
I have always listened with admiration, if not envy, to the declarations of citizens who tell how they have lived for twenty or thirty years in the same section of town, or even in the same house, and who have never been out of their native city.
Not to feel the torturing need to know and see for oneself what is there, beyond the mysterious blue wall of the horizon, not to find the arrangements of life monotonous and depressing, to look at the white road leading off into the unknown distance without feeling the imperious necessity of giving in to it and following it obediently across mountains and valleys! The cowardly belief that a man must stay in one place is too reminiscent of the unquestioning resignation of animals, beasts of burden stupefied by servitude and yet always willing to accept the slipping on of the harness.
There are limits to every domain, and laws to govern every organized power. But the vagrant owns the whole vast earth that ends only at the nonexistent horizon, and his empire is an intangible one, for his domination and enjoyment of it are things of the spirit.
Isabelle Eberhardt inspired a visitor of this website to mention "The Vagabond" by poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) which I am happily sharing here.
Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway night me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river --
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life for ever.
Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.
Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger;
White as meal the frosty field --
Warm the fireside haven --
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!
Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope, nor love,
Nor a friend to know me.
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.
Siegbert Warwitz, a German venture researcher, looked at the motives of adventurous people from a scientific point of view, “a new area that had hardly been explored by psychology”. There was “Sigmund Freud, who pathologized the phenomenon. He [Freud] said that the person willing to take risks needed treatment.” But that didn't convince Warwitz: “People take risks for very different reasons. The pursuit of greater security is an important one. That sounds paradoxical, but it isn't. You expose yourself to a situation that involves risks. If you master them, you gain sovereignty. With every experience like this, people evolve. That is the conscious or unconscious wish that lies behind ventures.” … “As a scientist, one naturally has to strive for objectivity. That is why my employees and I have asked thousands of people - both dare seekers and risk avoiders - methodically and accurately about their motives. And in doing so, the topic of personal growth emerged clearly among the daring. They want a better quality of life, more independence.” Warwitz continues to differentiate between reckless gamblers and the daring adventurer. The latter well prepared taking a calculated risk. The former risking head and neck for the thrill of it without reason. The difference between daring sports and high-risk sports (“people who throw themselves off rocks wearing wingsuits, for example”). … “Daring people approach their ventures responsibly and learn a lot to master them. For this reason, they have the potential to advance the world, for example as explorers or entrepreneurs.”
Das ursprüngliche Interview mit Warwitz.
Siegbert A. Warwitz on Wikipedia.
If this is all too theoretical, look at Ernestine Lyall and Eekeeluak Avalak, two Inuit youths returning from a personal growth building adventure, brimming with self-confidence, personally grown taller: The Ayalik Impact
And the contribution such an initiative can make:
Cambridge Bay wrestler wins 1st ever medal — gold — for Nunavut at Canada Summer Games
A sustained one:
Male Athlete of the Year 2020.
After this (incomplete) composition of motifs, concluding with a look at personal growth, let's take a look at the opposite extreme, when personal growth becomes a rampant ulcer, also known as grandstanding, showmanship, vanity fair. The ever increasing thirst for recognition and attention. The craving to be seen and heard in our noisy and congested world.
Here are some considerations about the matter, from a long and difficult-to-read essay, published in 1993 by architect, programmer, economist and philosopher Georg Franck:
The Economy of Attention
What is more pleasant than the benevolent notice other people take of us, what is more agreeable than their compassionate empathy? What inspires us more than addressing ears flushed with excitement, what captivates us more than exercising our own power of fascination? What is more thrilling than an entire hall of expectant eyes, what more overwhelming than applause surging up to us? What, lastly, equals the enchantment sparked off by the delighted attention we receive from those who profoundly delight ourselves? - Attention by other people is the most irresistible of drugs. To receive it outshines receiving any other kind of income. This is why glory surpasses power and why wealth is overshadowed by prominence. …
Today one becomes prominent through a standardised career. The first step consists of nothing but somehow finding one's way into the media. Since media presence is the initial requirement, it is best to make one's appearance in the form of a picture, or better, on television. The career has passed its first hurdle when the impression one gives is commented upon, if one's appearance is talked about. At this point, a mechanism is set in motion which is needed for the rise, if that is to be successful. For, the new entry must in turn benefit the medium, he or she must promise to increase its circulation figures or TV ratings. …
Nothing seems to attract attention more than the accumulation of attention income, nothing seems to stimulate the media more than this kind of capital, nothing appears to charge advertising space with a stronger power of attraction than displayed wealth of earned attention. The media would have to invent prominence if it did not exist already; they would have to create their candidates out of nothing if they were not recruitable already. …
Solely the fact that authors calculate in the currency of attention can explain their willingness to toil for the best expression of an idea in return for starvation wages. The ingeniousness of the publishing trade's business idea lies in splitting up the returns in terms of financial and attention currency. The production conditions of our literary culture are such that the publisher gets the money and the author gets the attention. …
A mass medium must not be delicate in its choice of means in catching attention. By contrast, an author working for attention wages cannot avoid being delicate in this respect: only attention earned for something one personally identifies with counts as personal income. This is why the desire for attention is so closely linked with that for self-fulfilment. However, what furthers self-fulfilment, rarely moves the masses. One will only move them by closely observing what the general public wants to read, listen to, or watch. Their desire for sensation must be satisfied, catchy tunes must be put on the air, pictures must be touched up to strike the eye. Producing something for this observed taste indeed also requires creative minds. …
If the offer meets the general taste, if enough money and attention are spent on keeping people in line, then the medium acquires an additional quality also for those appearing in it. …
Vanity has little regard for social control. It prefers to engage in self-deception, even more so since that is not always distinguishable from self-fulfilling prophecy. If one succeeds in making others take one's self-overestimation for real esteem, then what we have is actually not a case of self-deception but one of successful speculation. And the business of gathering attention is always speculative. …
The media's supply keeps growing. What is thus expanding is not just their contribution to the national product, and their attention turnover. What is expanding is the aspect of reality especially produced to attract attention. For quite some time has it not been clear whether the reality extracted from pages and screens is not already dominating the directly perceived one. What is clear is that a major part of socially perceived reality is highly synthetic, as it is especially produced for use in the fight for attention. Of course people know about the pre-structured and fiction-permeated share in what the media present to them. But it would be naive to believe that it is all that easy to distinguish between fact and fiction. …
The complete essay translated by Silvia Plaza.
Der Originalartikel zum Download für 2 Euro.
Add an entire generation to Franck’s case history, 30 more years, another 2 billion people living on the planet. Add the rise of the World Wide Web, of social media, the seemingly unlimited possibility to plaster the world with look-at-me’s, preferably in real time. I pose, I post, therefore I am? Transfer this seemingly human need for attention to the world out of doors and you may understand Bob Henderson’s rant on superheroes, look-at-me, within the present day adventure narratives, about the literary follies in this field.
Excerpt from Bob Henderson’s article:
An example or two of writing within the landscape would be useful to further my argument. In 2019, some friends and I arrived at Thelon Bluffs, where there is a rapid. What follows would be my account of that moment in time at the Thelon Bluff rapid, were I to have kept a more detailed journal:
“A stand out spot on the river with a high steep bank on river left. We all hiked to the lookout with a light, loving breeze keeping the bugs down. One stayed on the shoreline to fish. We could see the rapid at the bend had some surprisingly big waves which were easily missed on the inside bend river right with about 100 feet of calm water. After the hike and with a big pike, we did an upstream ferry over to river right and followed the calm water, passed the big waves (two as I remember) on the outer bend and continued on. We’d have that fish downriver for lunch. I thought: “how wonderful to get this big vista over the land to the east and see that long view of the river corridor from which we’d come in the west.”
This is a simple description of a spirited joyous belonging quest narrative, common to your garden variety arctic river canoe tripper experience but seldom shared with the public.
Now, what follows is a passage from what can be called, “a wilderness superhero-look-at-me – you can’t do this” adventure narrative. (I’ve lifted this directly from the page – no embellishments from me.)
“Paddling through the rain, I approached the start of the whitewater in my canoe. They were deep rapids, free of visible rocks, but with big standing waves that could easily swamp a canoe. Naturally, I decided to canoe right through them. By this point I had a pretty fair idea of what the boat and I could handle. I allowed the main current to suck us down the centre toward the towering whitecapped waves. With my paddle I steered into them. The canoe rode over the crest of the first wave, becoming almost vertical as the bow soared into the open air. Then we plunged into the next wave, throwing frigid water in my face. I exhaled at the shock – there’s nothing like a bucket of ice-cold water smack in the face to wake you up. It was an exhilarating roller-coaster ride through these big rapids, the canoe flying up and down as I steered and paddled, with one eye on what lay immediately in front of me and the other on the best course farther ahead. When I’d passed through the last of the big waves, I glanced down and saw that my knees were submerged; a considerable amount of water had accumulated inside the canoe from the wild run. A pack of matches sat bobbing in the canoe. Fortunately, I had extras. I pivoted toward shore and paddled into a rocky area to unpack everything. Canoes can hold quite a lot of water before they sink, as I knew from past experiences fooling around with them in the rapids or big waves. Still, I figured it was prudent to dump out the water before continuing, especially since I knew I was nearing the Thelon’s dreaded giant lakes.”
As I see it, this Thelon Bluff exhilarating roller-coaster ride, canoe flying up and down encounter has three possible interpretations in reality. 1) The author [read: I’m not talking about the canoeist here] paddled the calm water on river right but thought it a good place for a big water embellishment. 2) The author got swept up unwittingly in the current and ran the rapid…sort of by mistake. Hence, the “naturally I decided to canoe right through them” save-face measure. 3) The author/canoeist can be taken at his word and intentionally ran those easily avoidable big waves on river left which I suggest is a foolish move for reasons almost all canoeists of northern waters will understand. I’ll likely never know which of these three actually happened, but I am certainly curious.
I highly recommend reading Henderson's long and inspiring essay. You will not only learn about the “love apple” during the Elizabethan Age:
Thoughts and admittedly a bit of a rant on the Wilderness Superhero “Look-at-Me” Adventure Narrative.
Let’s hear from Jacques Rousseau once again:
Superhuman feats, endless peril. No, that is not adventure.
Roaming along rivers, lakes, and forests that no outsider has
ever explored, stopping in the evening at the foot of a cataract
previously unseen by human eyes, watching the dance of
the Northern lights, moving through the immense wilderness
where one feels more at home than anywhere else, enchanted
by the call of the unknown, always on the lookout for the new,
the unexpected. Striving to increase human knowledge and,
just maybe, human happiness, that’s adventure.
Translated by Jérôme Rousseau and Madeleine Palmer. Found in: UNGAVA - Traversing Arctic Quebec with the Hide-Away Canoe Club. By Michael Peake, 2021.
After this excursion into the human psyche, let me close in the same personal manner I started this chapter with. Let’s look at the Holy Grail: FIRSTs, the desire to become the first man or woman, ever in history, on this planet, to achieve this or that (objective firsts). A curse that is most certainly driven by the desire to become immortal. Something, for which some people are even willing to risk their head and neck. But what a hair-raising idea: to put one's own real life at stake in order to be remembered for all(?) times. What a folly to transpose our everyday rat race to the great outdoors.
Subcategories of firsts can be titled with Place, Speed and Distance. With place being the most sought after, such as the first (wo)man on Mt. Everest. But, in a finite world, the number of objective firsts (of place) diminishes as time goes by. Or in other words: the remaining options are becoming more insane, dangerous or pointless each year. The yearning for objective firsts is neither wholesome nor sustainable. Ultimately there are only a few firsts left: the very wacky ones, like carrying a fridge, for the first time ever, across the Rocky Mountains. Or you make up your own world's first like the Third Order Island "expedition". Or the particularly agonizing ones, for those who are gladly willing to sacrifice their lives in exchange for attention. Objective firsts are a surefire recipe for disaster and doom to me, especially these days with the "easier" firsts already being ticked off.
The more benign siblings of first’s of place are speed and distance. Either to cover a certain track in the shortest possible time (Heather A. "fastest known time (FKT)" for various hiking trails), or to cover hitherto unheard-of distances in one go (George M. "the longest walk", or Don S. "the longest canoe journey"). But who is to envy, who is to pity? Someone who, without attracting attention, simply paddles from Yellowknife to Chantrey Inlet in 100+ days, allowing himself two seasons to get there? Or someone with a craving for attention, rushing through in record time, in 35 days (FKT syndrome?), in order to sell his feat to the media, to receive attention? Is it a hiker, setting out with back-breaking 49 kilograms, on a quest for another first (namely without resupply), on a regular long-distance hiking trail, to make it into the local news at home? Or someone who simply focused on being out and about (unnoticed), with the least amount of distraction by pain and agony, taking a lightweight (10 kg) backpack for that purpose? Is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records really the beatific goal, or more a sign of one' s shortcomings, a pathetic display?
Here are my personal stances on such firsts, as I look at it:
Place: Each of my journeys has always been a (subjective) first, a destination I have never been to before, and may not return to again. The Back River, for example, my 12th trip north of sixty in 20 years, was ample "first" for me, despite the many dozens who had been on that journey before me. I dipped my paddle a number of times into waters beyond my comfort zone. Or, in other words: subjective firsts don't have to be dull; they are inexhaustible in number and adaptable in terms of demands. The latter making for a longer life. And even if I were to return; I could only retrace the route, but could never repeat the journey. Each journey is unique. And beyond, all too often, a number of would-be firsts fail to recognize the millennia-long existence of indigenous people, from bygone times. Or, in the words of George Whalley from the early 1960s: “Fifty or sixty years ago, a man travelling by canoe and on foot in the North-West Territories could be certain of very little except that wherever he went others had been before.”
Speed: Is FKT (fastestknowntime.com) really a desirable benchmark - out there? What a misguided concept, how disrespectful to the land. Think Slow Food vs Fast Food. Whenever I go for a day hike into the foothills of the Alps, I try to return home as late as possible, to make the most of the day. Likewise on a multiday trip to the far reaches of Canada: I try to stretch things out for as long as possible. More time out of doors means more accomplished in life (to me). Stop to smell the roses! Why go to great lengths to get there in the first place, only to leave as soon as possible?
Distance: Are titles like "the farthest hiked (wo)man on earth" really a worthwhile goal in life? What about the dark figure, the known unknowns? The ones who are out there for sure, but to whom kilometers mean nothing and therefore don't talk about it. Do kilometers at the end of the day, the end of a trip, and the end of one’s life really matter? Wouldn't we be better off counting other things? Like the number of days spent out of doors or the sunsets enjoyed?
A superhero might say that I will never make the headlines with my approach. Good! By default, I try to keep my name out of the news. Neither as a hero nor as a reason for a rescue operation do I want to make the headlines.
Please don't take me for a hypocrite. Of course it pleases me when my name is brought up, this website is referenced or my book is kindly reviewed. Assuming anything else seems silly to me, and would be unworldly. You will also find a selfie or two on this website. Although we are all unique, we are yet very much alike, as human beings. What sets a person seeking bliss apart from a vagabond, from an adventurer, from an explorer, from a superhero-look-at-me, is the different portfolio of the various character traits, the underlying motives of his conduct. A wholesome blend is what matters. "The dose makes the poison." (Paracelsus 1493-1541). In overdose, when personal growth spins out of hand and turns into showmanship, when things become destructive, sinister and futile, it is time to examine and question oneself in order to take corrective action, if necessary, to bring matters back into balance. This can indeed be stressful. A feat that a number of today's (would-be) superheroes are apparently not willing or able to achieve (see Henderson’s article).
I believe that somewhere in the course of our evolution, our western world took the wrong path. That we have lost a good number of wholesome bearings, eventually doing harm to ourselves and to the generations to come by providing poor examples, false messages. Is it wise to apply the Olympic ideas of higher, faster, and stronger to recreational sports out of doors? To (mis)use wilderness as a sparring partner, something to conquer? Wouldn't it be better to think of nature as a therapeutic partner? To "iron out the wrinkles in our souls", as Omond Solandt's mother wisely used to say? Again, who is to envy, who is to pity? Let’s hope that the (current) silliness is a passing fad. The sad climax of this craving for recognition, this immoderate "look-at-me", has now even been given a name: Killfie. Or to name but one casualty: Nathy Odinson.
How much blame does the observing (Facebook) community carry here?
To achieve a change, we, as an audience, as buyers of books, spectators and the like are driving that bus. What we pay (attention) for, is what we get – in the future to come. Our demand creates the book titles, the videos, the selfies of tomorrow. Each purchase, each "like" is a vote, and makes it apparent whom and what we are paying attention to. An entire industry, many people, are listening to that very closely and will deliver accordingly. Do we really want an Olympic competition out of doors or do we want to reconcile with nature? It is our choice, to either vote for book titles like “Alone against the North” by Adam Shoalts or “True North” by Elliott Merrick; to vote for alleged exploits, or acknowledged poetry. I believe the latter would do us all much better in the long run, learning to focus on things that really matter. And that is certainly not miles or heroic deeds. Time, days spent out of doors is what counts, the more the better. It is our say. No changes will bring more of the same. This is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Let’s stop worshiping false (war?)idols. Poets became immortal too. They simply used their brains instead of brawn.