Faux Outdoorsiness


Early summer sunset over the Cascades

I am flipping through the Sundance catalog in a speedy staccato of magazine pages while sipping a cup of coffee. I don’t want to look at the pile of bills I’ve also retrieved from the mailbox, so instead I glance through the expensive litany of stylized offerings. A person could spend a lot of money to make herself and her home look rugged and outdoorsy. Mountain towns across the west are splattered with distressed barn wood siding and reclaimed flooring. Roofs are pre-rusted and copper gutters are pre-patinaed. Leather jackets and jeans come pre-faded now, rubbed soft by machines instead of greasy palms and cans of Copenhagen. I pick up another catalog full of Carhartt look-alikes (about three times as expensive as the originals). These, too, come pre-softened, complete with fake creases and a tool pocket just the right size for an iPhone.

I am not fooled. This faux outdoorsiness is not the same as the real thing. We want to feel rugged. But not live rugged. We just want to glimpse it from the comfort of our 700 thread-count sheets, not sleep on the ground with the dirt and the mosquitoes.

Camping in the Himalayas

Even as I write this, knowing that the sun will soon fade behind the gunmetal clouds of a PNW winter, I worry that I haven’t slept enough nights on the ground. I haven’t, yet, walked enough trail miles or surfed enough waves or flown enough bush miles. More nights than not this summer, I’ve slept in a comfortable bed. Not once has my puffy jacket saved my life, or have I drank water tinged with iodine. What’s next? Fake Carhartts?

I suppose, I could say I’ve challenged myself in other ways. Not every hike has to turn into an epic. Sometimes you make it home. I could remind myself that I’m not traveling away from my core so much as expanding it. I’m working on a new book; John and I flew to remote places in the Beaver; I rafted the Salmon River; I hiked miles and miles in the Cascades; I spoke to large groups about taking risks and getting through hardship just 15 minutes at a time; we’re saving up for that surf trip to Indonesia next month. This summer was more than just a chance to work-in those old canvas pants. It was an indoor-outdoor kind of summer. Sort of like that polyester carpet from the 70s.

But something inside me yearns for one more cool night under the stars with my hands wrapped around my faded Outward Bound coffee mug. I long to watch the sunset over jagged peaks and crawl into my sleeping bag knowing that I’ve done all that I can do–for the day, for the evening, and in the world. The weekend weather looks good for one more backpacking trip, and my down jacket could use another duct-tape patch or two.

Puffy jackets and coffee mugs

The catalog I have in my hands shows a pretty woman in a red dress and what look like very old cowboy boots that she found in her grandfather’s barn. Except they’re $450. She leans against a faded wood door hanging slightly off its hinges.  I have to admit. The dress is nice. It would be perfect for my friend’s outside wedding coming up in a few weeks. It would project that perfect mix of mountain girl and gauzy femme that my husband claims is my “style”.

By ordering from the catalog I could avoid a trip to the mall. Instead I could drag my husband out for one last night out under the stars.

I pick up the phone and dial the number at the bottom of the page, press my finger against the style number and wait to be connected.

7 responses »

  1. Haha. Great post. The contest between a sense of adventure and the desire for creature comforts does change for us over the years. As we plan our travels to Guatemala’s Mayan Ruins, the jungle lodge in Tikal won out over the camping trip to Ceibal. I injured my back a few months ago, and my body is telling me that it needs interim-rustic. A little more cash and a few more years, and I’ll be ready to wear some faux-stressed cowboy boots to a cushy hotel, or my back deck…but will they look as cute on me when I’m 60? 🙂

    • The jungle lodge and the Mayan Ruins sounds like a great adventure. I had back surgery almost 25 years ago now, and while it didn’t bother me for many of those, now I have some osteoarthritis going on. It gets better as my body warms up, but I hear you. Enjoy the lodge.

  2. Your post made me smile. Yes, the Sundance catalog is fauxnee outdoors. I read online that their clothes often don’t fit real bodies cuz the styling for photographs is, um, very creative. I hope your dress works out! I wonder about myself being fauxnee outdoors too. I mean, I don’t live in Alaska, I ski at resorts not the backcountry, etc. Imposter syndrome spilling over from my professional to recreational life? Whatev. I don’t want to bag on myself, I just want to be real about my capabilities.

    • Thanks Vicki. In my opinion, you don’t have to live in Alaska to be outdoorsy. Nor do you have to earn every turn. When I was younger, being an outdoorsy gal wasn’t seen as very glamourous or fashionable. Now that it’s fashionable (at least in the Sundance catalog for non-human bodies), we are quick to parse it out between the “right” and “wrong” kind of outdoorsiness. Others suspect that we aren’t outdoorsy enough if we aren’t pushing the limits. It comes down to this: do you feel comfortable outdoors, in nature, on the beach, beside a river, or in the mountains? Would you rather be there than in a coffee shop downtown? Then you’re probably outdoorsy enough. And certainly way more than the Sundance catalog models.

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