Inside the Salt Palace, looking out

If it bothered any of the 30,000 people buying, selling, and otherwise attending the gigantic Outdoor Retailer Summer Market earlier this month, they weren’t saying.

“It” being the following incongruity:

orsm_2012We were in a convention center (the Salt Palace), manically focused on how best to accessorize our time outside with the perfect packs, pants, pads, and peanut butter patties.

I’m sure outdoorsmen like Wendell Berry, the late Margaret Murie and Edward Abbey, would have grimaced and winced at the scene.

Especially since one of the big themes of this year’s extravaganza was how we can bring more stuff with us. Advances in technology are making it easier to bring our mobile devices (otherwise known as electronic leashes) with us and keep them constantly charged. You can now charge your phone while you cook a meal or hike, thanks to Practical Power and Sole Power.

And stuff is constantly getting lighter, more technical, more packable and stylish. Tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear all weigh just a few pounds each. Clothing is thin, thermal, quick-drying and hip.

Theoretically, all this excellent stuff will make it easier for more people to spend more time in the wilderness. Despite my cynicism, I was happy to see so many folks interested in getting out, even if it involved the feverish acquisition of gear. Yet, I’m reminded of the hilarious Get the Gear sketch from Portlandia.

A scene from Portlandia

A scene from PortlandiaPortlandia.

It seems any of us have gotten so distant from the wilderness, we don’t know how to get back there. Literally and figuratively.

And when we do, it’s uncomfortable. Not just because the terrain is steep and ground is hard to sleep on. It’s unsettling to our plugged-in habits and psyche. If you can’t hike without contemplating your next facebook status update or instagram selfie, you know what I mean.

Not too ironically, there are plenty of people, websites, books, and forums to help us with the notion of unplugging, getting away, and gaining perspective. My recent favs are The Minimalists and BrainPickings. Both offer lots of links to other recommended reading. Both stress the importance of contemplation and figuring things out for your own wants and needs. Of course, individualism and intuition are funny things to consider with the world wide web

Call me conflicted, since I do like a lighter load, decent gear, and often need to stay in touch.

The main thing, I’m learning, is to not worry about perfect gear, perfect weather, perfect timing, or perfect pictures. Just get out and, like you would with a sweater, shed the trappings of stuff and connectivity.


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