Something that I’ve struggled with a great deal is the balance between why I do the adventures I do, and the exposure of them. The two are often times at odds with each other, yet I obviously contribute to or at least enable that exposure myself (here I am, posting on my blog).
A large part of that relates to personal exposure, which I’ve posted about before. But with events like Barkley and The Spine Race, which are in part so incredible and challenging because of their remoteness and sense of isolation, the topic has broader implications. I’ve always viewed it as a bit of a double edged sword, but I’ve never really been able to convince myself which side of that sword is sharper.
I dealt with this issue a bit during The Spine Race, and now as I slowly but surely do my race report. There was a documentary crew there, separate from the excellent race coverage, and I felt I had a camera on me for some fairly long stretches that would have otherwise been spent in complete blissful solitude (where I would also be free to scream whatever I wanted to at myself).
Someone who has wrestled with this issue for far longer is Gary Cantrell, AKA lazarus lake, the creator of the Barkley Marathons. Recently, laz penned the message below to a small group who have strong connections to or involvement in the race. I asked his permission to post it here, to which he gladly agreed.
This is a 100% copy / paste without any editing (you can tell how much he cares about the topic, as he even bothered to use capitalization). Some of the very media he’s referring to might portray him a bit as a sadistic, crazy man, but behind that facade there are few people out there who are more thoughtful, clever, and insightful.
Media at Barkley – by Lazarus Lake
I know that many of you would rather we did not have media. For myself, I would rather go back to the days when we came into the park, and ran our race under the cover of anonymity. Once in a while another park visitor would talk to us, and find out what was going on, and scratch their head in puzzlement.
But, I remember other times. I remember 50 years ago, when there was no park. When we parked our vehicles in a field, and walked into the mountains to camp where we pleased, and pretty well do as we pleased. Back then Frozen Head was one of a myriad of places we could backpack in the back country, and be fairly certain we would never see another soul.
I remember when we came and found a trailer with park rangers. And thought it sad that our freedom to enjoy the wilderness was slowly being diminished.
But, today I look around. And all those places we used to be able to go… If they are not a park, they are gone. Wilderness is a vanishing commodity in today’s world. Few people value it, but many covet the resources that could be obtained by destroying it.
Of course, there are still those of us who value the wilderness. Thousands hunger for the chance to set aside their electronics; to strap on their pack and forge out into the wilderness to survive by their skill and determination, To test themselves against the mountains,
Thousands hunger, but there is only room left for a few. For all those thousands, there are millions who have forgotten the call of the wild. Who live their lives without the dream, or even the willingness, to pit their human self against the challenges of being alone in the wilderness.
If the wilderness that remains is to survive, it needs a constituency. It needs people to see that it has some value, beyond the raw materials that could be extracted from it. Not just the tens of us who are able to find that experience at frozen head. Not just the few thousands of us who hunger for that experience. But we need for some of those millions who will never dream that dream to catch a glimpse of the magic of it. A magic that even those who have passed beyond hungering to taste it can still be stirred by vicarious experience.
The media has a purpose here. They carry that message to those who will never dream to be here. Many will read, or hear of what transpires in this place. And it will stir something in their soul. Because man was meant to test himself against great challenges. He was meant to strive, and fail, and rise to strive again. And the wilderness calls to something in our soul.
Your great and valiant odyssey into the wilderness; your failures and rare successes; they capture the imagination of people who are not a part of the constituency of wilderness. People who might see nothing out there but another few truckloads of coal, or another few subdivisions worth of lumber. Every one who finds some part of their soul that responds to this great adventure, their eyes are opened to a little bit of the magic. They become a part of the constituency of wild places. And growing that constituency has never been more important. What wilderness we have left could disappear in the twinkling of an eye.
And so I do mot see the media as an imposition. Perhaps theirs is the most important job that happens on this special weekend. If we can share with them, and get them to see how special this place is; how those who come here are made whole by stripping down to the bare essentials, and leaving the comfort zone; then they can convey this message to those who will never dream of being here. Man needs the wilderness. Even those who are too far removed to ever be willing to experience it for themselves, they are inspired by it, even if it is just through the recounting of the deeds of those who are there.
So I ask you to be patient. Those who come, not to run, but to share the stories of those who do, can carry the message of what is valuable here to thousands. Sometimes to millions. The message that there is something more “out there” than ore, and coal, and gas, and board feet of timber. Only 40 people a year get to have the experience firsthand. We owe it to the wilderness to share with those who cannot be here. We are not just runners. We are spokesmen for wild places.
Thank you for listening.