The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

The story of a young man’s speed hiking the 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail has raised some environmentalist eyebrows, albeit only slightly. He was racing from California’s border with Mexico to Washington state’s with Canada.

The cause was a good one — to raise money for the families of cancer patients. And it wasn’t like he was making noise and pollution.

So where is the problem or, to downplay it a bit, the mild concern?

John de Graaf, a quality-of-life activist who noted the Seattle Times story on his Facebook page, explained it to me with careful words: “The idea of hiking fast certainly doesn’t bother me. It’s the location that is worrisome.”

And the timing seems right for such a conversation. Sept. 3 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Since its signing by President Lyndon Johnson, the law has set aside 110 million acres for the highest level of federal protection. Motorized equipment and mechanical transport are banned, though visitors may fish, camp and hunt where permitted.

Nowhere in the list of do-nots is speed hiking. Still.

Competitive sports do seem odd in areas designated to allow humans the most direct experience with primeval nature. “We need to have some sacred places in society where people can retreat from all of that,” is how de Graaf puts it.

Let’s face it. The speed hiker’s feat could have been performed on the side of a highway.

De Graaf heads a Seattle-based group called Take Back Your Time. It studies the link between overconsumption and Americans’ lack of free time — and seeks to change our harried way of life.

To de Graaf, speed-up, overwork, obsessive competition, inadequate vacation time and letting markets dictate our values all belong in one package. They have led to weaker social connections, impaired health and growing unhappiness amid the material plenty.

Wilderness, if one experiences it directly and on its own rhythm, serves as an antidote to stresses of the daily hustle. The wilderness is a mystical place — “almost a revelation,” de Graaf says. It’s the wildlife, the flowers, the quiet. “You miss those things when you’re going by 50 miles a day.”

And with trail racing gaining attention, others will follow. Witness the brisk sales in specialized trail-running shoes and “fastpacking” gear to make the stops as brief as possible.

One must admire the strength, endurance and dedication of these racers. Superb fitness is a requirement for covering a trail encompassing both Mojave Desert oven and the Forester Pass, 13,153 feet up. South of Yosemite National Park are stretches of 200 miles or more without a single road crossing. One can also appreciate that speed hikers are environmentalists, in their own way.

That said, I’ve walked trails where we had to step aside to let racers whiz by. No big deal, though there’s something highly impersonal about these encounters. Slower hominids tend to acknowledge each other’s existence and delight in the natural splendor.

But again, nothing environmentally horrible going on here. So no one is calling for speed limits on hiking wilderness trails. Rather, it’s to reflect on why we passed a law a half-century ago to set them aside.

And that again leads to the question: What goes missing when the objective of hiking a wilderness trail is not to mate with nature but to get through it in the shortest time possible?

Wild country reminds humans of the “bigger-than-we-are.” It puts petty worries about wrinkles and mortgage payments in perspective. And it helps us push the “pause” button on the busyness that devours so many of our allotted hours on earth. That’s the point.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: EncMstr via Wikimedia Commons

Want more environmental news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Honwt vww

If we were to lose the bees, as now seems increasingly likely, humanity would collapse after four years. They pollinate about a third of our food. But if the insects were to disappear altogether, then even more than our food supply and quality of life would be affected. Entire ecosystems and inevitably civilization itself would collapse. Even now an enormous proportion of world insect species are endangered. Without them half of all birds would disappear and our world would become unrecognizable, a world we would not want to inhabit.

Keep reading... Show less

Donald Trump

Youtube Screenshot

This Tuesday, October 4 is the official release date for New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s new book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America. Excerpts from the book have been widely reported, and one of the anecdotes being reported by Axios involves Trump’s desire to display the Superman logo when he was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland in October 2020.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}