Hiking and social context

Hiking and social context part 1: from high technology to nature

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We live in an age in which we seek comfort in terms of everyday life, we try to reduce stress at all costs. This is part of the progress: getting more and doing less. Living comfortably is the keyword. But it seems that humans who have reached this ideal are not yet satisfied.

It’s a race. A race to inactivity, to automation. We can hop on the car to travel 500 meters and shop at the grocery store rather than cycling or just walking to do so. We put all our efforts, we work hard to have less to do.

Yet the opposite trend emerges and grows more and more. The ones we call eco-citizens multiply. « The word eco-citizenship is a portemanteau word combining “eco” (short for ecology) and « citizenship ». It means each of us is entitled to rights as a citizen but has also duties towards our natural environment and biodiversity» (from EKOPEDIA).

It is common to consider eco-citizens as people from middle to upper class – or a hipster. Why a middle class or upper class person would be more concerned about the environment and practices related to nature than another? It seems that the more technologically advanced we are, the more we will reject the system in which we live, and in this context, we are looking for some kind of escape. A return to origins, to a simple life, without frills. As though we were already tired of our advanced civilization. It is amusing to see how it is common to hear outdoor people saying things like “It’s great not having a phone for a week,” or “it is really relaxing to live without all these unnecessary gadgets” I am not criticizing , I also say that kind of things. But these same people, which means me as well,  enjoy a higher quality of life than the average in the World.

The paradox: the more a population is advanced in terms of comfort in its lifestyle and quality of life, the more the same population tends to seek a simple life connected to nature.

This is quite a nice paradox actually. It tends to highlight the fact that advanced technologie is maybe not the answer to our search of happiness.

I recently read an article about a guy who made ​​his fortune through a start-up. He ended overnight with more money than he could ever spend. He started by buying a house, pricy cars, and full of expensive and unnecessary things. After a few years he realized the futility of it all and sold everything, including his villa to live a spartan life in a tiny appartment.

The advanced technology and comfort in our lives allow us to have access to nature. It is the opposite of the paradox stated above. But it remains a paradox. It seems that our quality of life allows us somehow to turn to the more contemplative things: Nature.

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Hiking and social context part 2: Hiking, the “white man sport”

It is a fact that the population of hikers lies in western countries rather than in the Third World. The hiker is typically a white person between 25 and 60 years old, with money. Why is this the case? One can find several reasons for this. Are they good? I doubt it.

Time is expensive.
First, hiking takes time. When in a critical financial situation, it is difficult to give priority to a leisure activity like hiking. Wages not earned while hiking is a big issue.

Access to nature can be difficult, but not always.
Hiking involves either physical proximity with nature, or a trip to get into nature. The word “nature” has a wide range of significance, it can be used for very different things: a forest, a park, a national park, mountain, sea shore, etc.. Hiking in a beautiful environment is of course much more interesting than hiking along the highway. But access to nature is possible in many situations. I live in Stockholm. I decided to live in Sweden because I fell in love with the local nature. I consider myself privileged. With a regular public transportation card, I can go in several “wild” places around the city. I understand that this is quite exceptional and that is not the case in all cities, especially in capitals. But I think if you have the desire to do so, access to nature is not a real problem either.

Money.
Hiking gear is horribly expensive. To get fully equiped is not within the reach of everyone. Money can be a problem. But hiking does not necessarily mean lots of gear. Comfy shoes should enough, the aim being to walk after all. There is a kind of snobbery about hiking equipment: having the right brand, the right technology etc.. I am the first to spend big bucks in my hiking gear. But the essence of the practice is very simple: walk. The problem of money for equipment arises for multi-day hikes, but not for a day hike.

Education and Culture.
This is the question I am asking myself: Is hiking a practice linked to a culture “of the North”?
I had the idea for this post after seeing a presentation of an expedition on Kick-starter: a team of black Americans will attempt to climb Denali and thus be the first team of black climbers to reach the summit of Denali. I found it both amazing and sad. Amazing because it’s obviously a project worth encouraging for several reasons included in this article. But also sad because I realized that never before a team of black climbers had reached this summit. I also asked myself “Do I know any black mountaineer? ” No. We are not talking Jamaicans who intend to bobsleigh (Cool Runnings is such a geat movie), but Americans who are defined by the color of their skin – not even by their social class, and do not have this kind of sport, or rarely. It seems that the color of your skin determines a lot in your life, including your activities during your spare time.

So why hiking is a white man sport? The question remains open.

More cultural diversity in the outdoors would be nice. How to encourage it? by sharing experiences, making others feeling like doing the same, teaching others.

Access to nature is a big issue: it means beeing more concerned about our planet.

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