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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


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Climbers

May 10, 2018

Courtney Sanders: The Bigger Issue

Following recent events, Courtney Sanders reflects upon wider issues in the outdoor industry.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

To keep following this, and all other Outdoor Journal stories, make sure you sign up to our newsletter and follow us across all social platforms – www.outdoorjournal.com/signup. If you missed our initial coverage of the incident, you can find it here, and read about the response from the industry here.

TOJ: Have you ever experienced or been aware of any level of harassment from within the outdoor adventure industry?

CS: Like any other industry, the outdoor adventure industry is not immune to harassment. I have personally been a victim of bullying on several occasions, and by more than one person (many more) in this industry. Social media in particular, provides an environment that enables bullying and harassment. For example, having a public profile allows for anyone, including many people whom I don’t know, to comment or send derogatory and demeaning messages. In addition, there are several public “comedy” accounts made with the purpose of mocking, teasing, or slandering public figures. Aside from the public realm of social media, private accounts may be made with the same purpose, and give a false sense of security that the negative content won’t be exposed. This leads to situations like the one our community is currently witnessing online.

TOJ: What is your assessment as to how all parties have behaved over the course of the last few days?

CS: I think that it is important to first and foremost say that any form of bullying or harassment is unacceptable. This particular incident involved a very sensitive topic in the outdoor industry and amongst top-level athletes, body image. Body shaming has very dangerous repercussions, including lasting issues like body image dysmorphia and eating disorders. This is totally unacceptable behavior, and shocking that a professional athlete would be the instigator in this type of bullying.

The initial reactions in this situation were very emotional and stemmed from previous insecurities and frustrations. Because social media was the main method of communication as this unfolded, it’s important to recognize the pressures that professional athletes experience when under the scrutiny of thousands of viewers. Any online content is subject to criticism, both personally and professionally.

Joe posted hurtful and inflammatory content on a private Instagram account, which assumingly, he never thought would reach the subjects of his posts. I don’t think Joe was acting maliciously, but his humor crossed a line into an unacceptable and offensive place which he admitted in his public apology. Simply, he was being disrespectful and unprofessional. This was not a singular offense, and after a long-term accumulation, Sasha, myself, and others decided that it was time to speak out.

I believe that major industry companies such as Black Diamond and La Sportiva acted in their own best interests, which likely includes preserving company image and morality, when deciding to end relations with Joe. Personally, I think that there is room for improvement on all sides, and the potential for those companies to address bullying and harassment with the help of Joe could have been a huge learning experience. Perhaps a larger and more constructive conversation could be started by working together, rather than terminating the athlete and ending the dialogue.

TOJ: Are these events an indication of a wider problem within the outdoor industry? Do we need to have an open and serious conversation?

CS: Events like this definitely indicate that there is much to be improved upon in the outdoor industry, but I don’t believe that this industry is isolated in that respect. Currently in the U.S., there is societal unrest and intolerance concerning harassment and discrimination. Making the world a better place for everyone to live in is not an easy task, and when leveling the playing field, those who are used to advantage will not all quietly back down.

It is a tumultuous time to live in this country, and also fantastic to see such social progression. The outdoor industry is of course profit-driven, and this makes it harder for companies to take political or social stances on topics due to fear of public backlash or loss of sales. While this is understandable to an extent, we need leaders and major influencers to open the conversation and stand up between right and wrong, including talking about bullying and harassment. This is a large problem even outside of the social media and athlete realm, it reaches into the workplace and into the heart of our community- the outdoors.

This industry could set the example by being an accepting and welcoming community which benefits all members. Our greatest resource is access to the outdoors, why not use this to inspire and include everyone?

TOJ: Can you also address the overall lack of diversity in outdoors, and the gender gap in the US as above, vs rest of the world? Keeping in mind that US media, culture and conversation often drives what happens elsewhere in the world too.

CS: In many ways, the outdoor industry is taking steps to address the lack of diversity within its communities. One of my favorite resources is Diversify Outdoors, which is a coalition of influencers aimed at promoting diversity within this industry (https://www.diversifyoutdoors.com).

While progress is being made, it is very important to recognize that there is so much more to be done. One of the building blocks in contributing to this movement is education. Many people are not aware of the extent of issues such as lack of diversity or the gender gap within this industry. By educating members of our communities on ways to raise awareness and address these problems, we are already taking the first steps in creating a better environment.

I can’t speak for other outdoor communities across the world, but I recognize that the U.S. in many ways sets an international precedent. I believe that addressing these issues starts with us, and I am working on ways to use my platform and my voice to make the outdoors and our communities a better place for everyone.

Featured Image Credit: Alex Kahn

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Adventure Travel

Jul 04, 2018

Become the Bear! Tackling Middle Aged Life the Bear Grylls Way.

This story originally featured in a print issue of the Outdoor Journal.

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WRITTEN BY

Jamie East

You can subscribe here.

Bear Grylls is probably one of the most famous adventure celebrities in the world. Aside from all his adventures, Bear also shares his survival skills with anyone ready to pay for it. One such chap was our middle-aged writer Jamie East, who usually preferred watching other people take risks from the safe distance of his television. Until he decided to go out there himself and get dirty.

Well, there’s something liberating about jumping into a freezing, fast-flowing river with all your clothes on. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, you told yourself you’d do all the time once you were big enough and your parents couldn’t tell you off. Yet staying on the precipice at age 39, all I can think of is, “Is this jumper dry-clean only?”

This is what life does to you. It sucks the adventure from you quicker than a Dyson in a bag of sawdust. Before you know it, you’d rather sleep than live, drive than hike, sink into the sofa than swim.

I suppose this could be classified as bare survival. You exist but don’t live, and I’ve decided enough is enough. What would the 12-year-old Jamie, who got sent home from school for falling down a ravine he thought he could clear in one leap, say to me if he could see the 39-year-old me? “Man up!” probably. “Your clothes are stupid?” most definitely.

Bear Grylls is the man we all aspire to be. Hard as nails on a mountain ledge, soft as grease at home with his kids. The fire in his heart burns brighter than Krypton being destroyed, and he’s harder than a 60-foot working model of optimus Prime made from diamonds. He also embraces the outlook on life we all wish we had time for had those damned IsAs, smart phones and creamy pasta sauces not gotten in the way. Thankfully for those of us with a terminal case of lazy-itis, we can see how the other half live over at the Bear Grylls survival Academy from the bleak Scottish Highlands or the luscious surrey forests in England. Run by Grylls and his team of ex-paratroopers, the survival Academy is an ideal introduction into a world of skills and endurance we think we’ll never need. Be honest; how many of us truly believe that there will come a time when we will be skewering a rat for dinner or navigating a 23,000-acre highland with only the stars to help? But these are skills that used to be second nature to us humans. If there weren’t people like Grylls to show us the way, there are a lot of people around the world who wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of the time their car broke down in the Australian outback, or when they had to make a snow cave that provided those few vital hours of warmth on a mountaintop. Whether we like it or not, the knowledge could prove life-saving.

A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.
A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.

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The Academy offers several options tailored to your needs. You can opt for a 24-hour experience in Surrey either alone or with a family member older than 10. Although only 10 minutes from the motorway, such is the Surrey countryside that you could be in Montana for all you’d know. The dense forest makes for a real wilderness experience. The deep rivers you’ll be crossing, the rabbits you’ll be gutting, the trees you’ll be stripping to make shelter, and the ravines you’ll be shimmying across really do give you a feeling of being alive. A 20-minute run is considered a “big thing” in my house, so spending days in the real outdoors felt invigorating. I felt alive!

I’m not an all-rounder though. I found some of the requisite skills completely beyond me, navigating by starlight was one. My brain is just not wired to untangle that kind of data.

I used to think I could point out the north star in a heartbeat. Nope. The north star isn’t the brightest one. Nuts.

“The North Star is, in fact, the one perpendicular to blah de blah de blah babble babble wibble waffle.” That’s how that sentence sounded coming from the instructor’s mouth: just a stream of nonsense about ploughs and bears. It doesn’t look like a plough. If it looked like a plough, I’m pretty sure even I could find it. But it doesn’t. It looks like a slightly wavy line of stars that is buried among 200 billion other stars. It makes finding a needle in a haystack look like finding an elephant in an eggcup, so if I’m stuck anywhere in the world (and I mean anywhere: La Rinconanda, the Kerguelen Islands or just past the BP garage near my house) without Google maps or a TomTom, you may as well kiss this writer’s sorry ass goodbye, because I’ll wither away in a puddle of my own dehydrated tears.

Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.
Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.

But there are things that must have been festering in my subconscious all these years, like a coiled snake ready to unleash, on an unsuspecting world. For instance, I could light a fire that is neither at the end of a cigarette nor underneath a pile of half-frozen burgers. I mean a real fire created by nothing but flint and dried bark. It’s a panic-inducing task, and I’m not ashamed to say it took me nearly 40 minutes. As my instructor, Scott, told me, it’s all in the timing. Put on too much too soon and you’re buggered. Too little too late and, yup, you’re buggered.

Instructions for making a fire without matches or anything a sane human would have within arm’s reach
You need the slightest feathers of bark piled up like Candyfoss. You need your spark. Mine was from the flint on my Rambo knife. The very second that spark takes hold of one of your bark feathers, blow very gently. If all goes well, that will turn into a largish smoldering lump of smoke. If it doesn’t, go back to the beginning. You now need to start throwing on more feathers of bark, a fraction larger than the one before, before moving onto dried-out twigs no thicker than a hair on a baby’s ear. Eight hours later, you have a fire that could singe your eyebrows from 183 m. Well done!
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse - a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse – a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.

So, if ever I do go missing near the BP garage by my house, just look for the massive fire right next to the petrol station. Well, I may need to think that through a bit more.

The Scottish Highlands course that is offered is similar to this, apart from a few key points. It goes on for five days and takes place in one of the most remote places in Britain. It’ll probably pour down with ice-cold rain for the entire trip, and you’ll have to eat rat and cross a river in your underpants. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Spending time with this team baked common sense into my brain. The lessons easily transform into mundane, everyday life. The buzz phrase of the trip is “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” out in the highlands, this means, “If you don’t prepare well, you will likely starve and die.” At home, this translates to, “Use a tape measure, or your shelf won’t be even.” The sentiment is still the same. Don’t judge me.

You should know what you’re getting into, of course. This is a Bear Grylls branded experience, after all (and all the equipment says as much). You won’t be expected to drink your own body fluids, squeeze drops of moisture out of elephant dung, or decapitate a rattlesnake with the sole of your boot, but you will feel as though you could if you were the last man on Earth. I did eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river, set traps and eat rabbit I skinned with my own bare hands. And do you know what?

I’ve never felt more alive or more connected with the world I selfishly pillage on a daily basis. I’m not alone, either.

People the world over have sought out the Grylls way of life. Upon his return to the US, my fellow survivor Caleb said “my hands are shredded, my nose is stuffed, my throat is raspy and my body is tanked, but I am alive now more than ever. It was everything I hoped for: an empowering learning experience.

Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.
Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After the aching had subsided, and the clothes were washed, the niggling feeling that I was approximately 3 percent more of a man than I was before I began, just wouldn’t leave me. It still hasn’t.

I didn’t imagine that sleeping rough, eating worms and swimming in rivers could possibly have this much of an effect on my psyche, but it really has. I’m not saying I could rescue someone hanging off a cliff, or survive in the jungle for more than a couple of hours. But if you get the chance, breathe in the air, sharpen that stick and venture out into the big, wide world. Just remember to take a compass with you. I swear those stars are out to get you.

Photos by Discovery Channel, Jamie East & The Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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