Why the Wilderness?

In keeping with our plan to publish something new at least once a week, one of our owners, Dylan, wants to weigh in on why we do what we do. Outfitting is a very tough and seldom very profitable business. Sure your office is beautiful, but to do it well, owners and staff have to be working for something more than money....

Hi, I am Dylan and I am sure that the video you see above these words isn't exactly what you thought you would find on a site dedicated to exploring the outdoors and running commercial tours. But I do get questions about why we do what we do. We talk a bit about that in an interview and some video of one of our tours in an upcoming TV show called Sacred Water, and of course when that video is available, we will share it here. But I promise, a Lindsay Stirling video has context here. Watch it and listen in detail to the lyrics specifically. Listen twice if you need to, I'll wait.

So when faced with two choices of fairly equal merit, take the one that is actually happening, not the one that you have fixated upon for no other reason than that is what you have fixated upon
Do not fixate on your 'goals'. Goals are inventions of the human mind and, unlike sea conditions or other geographical realities, can be changed in an instant.
Rick Page, Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever

Some of you who know me, or have had friendly chats with me on one of our tours might know that I plan one day to sell the house and cars, all the trappings of modern life and take this show to the high seas in a few years. I read books like the one quoted above to pass the time and stop me from going too stir crazy over the wait till I can sail away and see it all. This post is inspired by the interesting cross-roads I saw over the last week as I reflected on the interview, read that quote, heard those lyrics for the first time on the same day I read the quote, and thought about some of the terrible crap I heard on the news that night. Basically the sum of this calculation is that while we live in the information or communication age, as a society we have never been worse at being informed and communicating clearly.

You see it all starts with my background and that of my partner Craig. We both have long histories working with youth and keeping track of that which we see around us. I grew up in a high adventure Boy Scout Troop which I then became an adult volunteer leader, and eventual a council officer and committee member and many other roles over the past 24 years. Craig has been a youth minister, activities coordinator and director of a youth based non-profit for most of that time as well and we both agree that there is a marked change in the youth we have worked with over this time. The ability for them to relate and communicate among themselves as well as with leadership such as ourselves is different. Different isn't necessarily bad, but it does seem to be less effective. I see a parallel in the adult world with what seems to be greater dissidence in political discourse, relationships of those adults I know and associate with, and in most other manner of society's interactions.

Technology is a self contradicting reality

We like information, it makes us feel safe. We like to believe we can calculate the risk, changed the variables, and make sure we are in control at all times. It's a basic survival tactic. If you know how to make food, you never have to worry about finding it by chance in some bush. All the technology we have created in our society is about spreading information and controlling those variables, but what happens when you start getting generations of people growing up with no context as to why the information is needed? If we never see the natural world except through the perfectly controllable media of our electronic screens, it becomes a sort of fiction and we begin to believe our fantasy of total control. I believe this is leads to a broken understanding nature. And here I don't just mean nature as in the wild places out there, but nature as in all the physical reality around us. Human nature, physics, life, the universe and everything.

Basically what I am saying is that technology has reached a point where it creates alternate realities. This isn't simply hypothetical projection in to the future, but verifiable today. Just look through the web and see. Investors spend millions based on tweets and blogs by CEOs. Conspiracy sites generate evidence to support whatever hypothesis they wish to promote and journalism sites then spread that evidence as part of their reporting on an event. Politicians do as they have always done slinging mud to garner votes, only now they have millions of images, out of context quotes and sound bites to use and their opponent has to respond because they can no longer deny they were there or said those things. Sure none of these events may jive with the physical world. Is a company's product or service any more or less useful because the CEO said something stupid/amazing? No, but the comment has a real and measurable effect just the same. This then is the digital reality. The physical reality doesn't always agree: hence, multiple realities.

If I disagree with you on a concept in a chat room, should that have any different effect on you than if I disagree with you sitting at a coffee shop face to face? Yet otherwise good kids commit terrible cyber bully acts. Friendships that ran well for years die because of Facebook disagreements. Why? Two different realities have different rules and priorities and I believe we don't know how to consolidate them or live in two places at once. I believe this because as we spend more and more time in the digital reality, (How many times have you checked your phone today? Hell, you are reading this in the digital reality right now!) the more we realize something is missing. It makes us more aggressive because we get scared when we are aware that we don't have all the information. Why are people afraid of the dark? They know there is something missing there, but they don't know what. The digital reality is planned, designed, and controlled but the missing element is nature. Face to face, I see your nature, it does not scare me with its absence, and I adjust my argument to compensate because I have all the information. But my information technology keeps your nature hidden from me and I am less informed because of it. The technology just created a new reality promising unlimited information while stripping an essential piece of information out of the reality it created.

Purpose in this madness

My point is that nature is important to our understanding of a thing, and understanding is a basic principle of what it means to be human in the physical reality. The digital reality can have many good uses too, but it will never be a fully rewarding reality to us as natural beings too. We need that nature to complete us and we need to learn and grow as a society, to recognize that we no longer live in a single reality. I think this is the point that Mr. Page is making in the passage the quotes come from. In that section of his book, he talks further about what he means, how goals can lead people to make bad choices because they feel compelled to follow through on those goals regardless of the reality around them. In your mind you have a certain variation of the digital reality in that you can imagine anything at all, even if the physical reality wouldn't support it.

And this is where South by Southwest comes in. I don't mean this in some dramatic we will save the world sort of way. No, it's just two guys' small attempt to use what they have to help those that they can. As our society spends more time, money and effort in the digital reality, it's important that as natural beings, we still make time to build first hand experience in the physical reality too. In another interesting twist of self contradiction, the futuristic technology we use to access the digital reality is far better at showing us the past than it is the future. Comments are archived, old arguments, memes and documents are constantly re-hashed in ever changing forms. People argue over those changes through time. Meanwhile, the 'primitive' experiences we provide - roughing it in camp, paddling rivers, lakes and waterways in thousand year old boat designs - provides a better practice and understanding of the future.

As I sit here writing this in the evening after back to back trips on the river, I think about the coming weather, it is the future I am learning about. While it was hot out and I had to sweat while working, I watched the clouds. I heard the cicadas. I felt the pressure and humidity change. I had far more information than the digital reality could provide me and I felt relaxed, at ease, because I know what the future holds. Tomorrow it will rain. And even if I am wrong, I am comfortable knowing that at least I will be prepared for a change rather than blind-sided by it. And this kind of education, this self realization is something that is hard or impossible to find without the natural element. Craig and I founded South by Southwest to help those seeking such experience to get back to nature. To feel the power, beauty, and serenity first hand. Recognizing that we can't be in control the whole time, but that we are strong enough to change with the situation and still get where we are going is a valuable skill to practice.

I am not so crass or cliched as to pretend we have a monopoly on this either. You can go walk in your neighborhood park. You can plan your expedition around South America entirely without us. You don't need South by Southwest to practice the natural side of your being. We are a resource if you need us. And we want to help you get out there because we believe it is important. Modern society has wasted many natural resources - rivers, lakes, wild spaces - for any number of reasons good or bad. We believe it is our responsibility to help protect the wild places because we need some nature in our lives to remain happy, healthy, and help all of us maintain our perspective in the multiple realities we have today. Part of that protection is exposure and practice in the natural world as we become better partners and friends, better people when we explore and come to understand our nature.

Altering goals to reflect what is actually happening in your life right now while safely getting where you want to go is a skill that the rivers, trails and sea teach very well. The digital reality is a nice place to visit for sure, but make no mistake, nature has always been our real home. Despite our desire to control, we need a little nature in our lives. Our expressions even reflect it - I just wanted to type 'to stay grounded' at the end of that sentence. Wild typically proceeds the the word free, when we choose to describe the ultimate expression of limitlessness - she was wild and free. When you want to be free too, getting out in the wild is a great way to do it and we are a resource to help you find your way. And make no mistake, something wild IS calling you home.

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