If you are a regular reader you have undoubtedly notice our new writer, Marie, who has taken the proverbial ball and run fast and far with it. Reading her reviews, I hearken back to the days in which I was an eager participant in the outdoor industry way of life.
I grew up an outdoor kid on an island on the edge of the vast Pacific, with consistent bad weather, endless wilderness, and not a lot to do indoors. I spent most of my days playing in the woods that surrounded our house; anything from climbing trees to exploring the area and, on the days when it snowed, crawling around on my hands and knees playing a proprietary game I called, with my typical practicality and straightforwardness, “Horse in a Blizzard.”I didn’t have “outdoorsy” parents in the way one would think of it now; they didn’t push us to do prescribed outdoor activities, nor do they “train” for anything. It was a low-key outdoors upbringing. If I wanted to go outside, I was allowed to go outside, and I rarely had to come home before I was done being outside.
We went outdoors a lot. We went fishing and hiking and to the beaches of our island home to observe tide pools, climb rocks, and run our hands over the million-year-old fossils that could be found on the beaches. We had cookouts and day trips and generally just explored the outdoors as our whims took us. We certainly never aspired to substantial goals or tick lists, unless you count catching fish as a tick list item – but hey, we had to eat. We left the island before I hit my teen years, but when I did, I was still an outdoors kid. I rode horses, hiked, camped, went canoeing, and never thought there was more to it than being outside and enjoying the natural world; just being seemed to be the point. At one point in high school I thought I would enjoy cross country running, but found that “cross country” just meant running circles on the hamster-wheel trail systems that dot our city, and I lost interest almost immediately. When I learned to ski, we skiied just for fun at the resort. I never felt compelled to join a team or get a coach. Skiing was just another way to be outside for fun. I didn’t ride bikes all that much aside from a few trips here and there that felt like a novelty.
Fast forward to my thirties and I discovered this whole thing called the “outdoors industry.” I leapt in with abandon, hoping to find others of similar bents and environmental mindsets. I started this web site in an attempt to influence the dire state of the women’s gear market, and in that I think that I and others with the same mission have succeeded in many ways (though there are many improvements yet to make, so keep on keeping on, feminist gear bloggers). I became an avid mountain biker, dabbled deeply into trail and mountain running (though I eschewed any sort of race or competition), and tried to participate in the industry as we know it, thinking it would be a sort of home for me.
Instead, I soon became turned off by the whole thing. Sure, going to big trade shows was fun a time or two, and I liked trying all the gear and meeting cool new people. But I quickly began to wonder what the point was. A new backpack is always a good time but there doesn’t seem to be significant enough innovation in any product line at all from year to year to warrant the waste-fest that is Outdoor Retailer and the constant, if I may borrow from Marie, New! This! Season! PR barrages. I’ve long ridiculed the “Gear of the Show” title bestowed by bloggers and magazine gear reviewers on gear they simply handled once in a climate controlled convention center in Salt Lake City. It’s meaningless at best and pandering at worst.
And pandering, I’m sick of, whenever I see it. I’m sick of being greenwashed and I’m sick of industry fake-environmental stunts.
I’m skeptical of an industry that uses environmentalism to sell more and more products and to try to create more consumers to use their products.
The outdoors is really taking a pounding from all these new feet out there, and I’m not certain that’s a good thing. The new, overhyped, overblown, incessant emphasis on everything “extreme” which feeds the goal of “getting more people outside” is not creating thoughtful outdoorspeople who understand how to move quietly and softly through our natural world, nor would they even think of doing so. They don’t seek understanding from the natural world the way industry hero John Muir did. They’ve no idea how to relate to the wilderness, they’re just concerned about moving through it as fast as possible. Being outside is enough, the industry assures them, you’re helping just by being there.
Well, you’re not.
There is a lot more to environmentalism than just showing up and buying a pair of shoes and a hydration vest, and I’m nurturing a spark of shame that this site may have ever offered tacit approval of consumerism.
I’m also weary of participating in sub-industries that have no respect for the female consumer. If you haven’t heard about the Interbike socks, do yourself a favor and just continue thinking that Interbike is a cesspool and you’ll be correct. On the heels of that disaster comes this from SIDI (yes, SIDI, you remember SIDI, the company that took me on a press trip which was great except for the fact that I was the only female writer there, prompting the cadre of young bikey types to assume I was the waitress at the meet-and-greet):
And this both sexist and pedo-ish post from Colnago featuring a shoeless model who looks approximately 13 years old (don’t read the comments, just don’t):
Before that was the attempted dismantling of the writing career of downhill mountain biker Amanda Batty, and prior to and after that the nonstop barrage of sexist and objectifying comments and ads, the incessant condescension and dismissiveness towards women athletes, consumers, and industry participants, and the never-ending ways in which the bike industry makes it oh-so-clear that it has absolutely no interest in respectfully wooing women customers.
I’ve found my interest in even riding bikes to be waning. I was just tired of participating in any meaningful way in an industry that made no secret of its contempt for my dollars.
I had been saving up for a number of years to have a substantial chunk of money to spend on outdoor pursuits. Had I had it just a short 3 years ago, I probably would have spent it on a top-tier mountain bike or two. Instead, I purchased a piece of equipment so obscure that it’s barely on the radar of the “outdoor industry.” I had to have it custom designed and built and it’s been a year-long project and a massive investment for a middle-class earner like myself. The reason I point out the large chunk of money involved is not to brag, but to point out that had I had this money at the apex of my interest in cycling, I would have injected it into the industry via the purchase of bikes. But I didn’t. I didn’t even consider it.
Instead I chose to put my money into something that divorces me even further from the bike industry. As the cost of my purchase mounted, I wondered to myself why I’d started down this road to an obscure sport I’d only dabbled in once before. Why had I dumped all of my money into something completely new to me? What was the appeal, I wondered? What was it that made me seek other sports and activities? Why was I losing interest in my much-loved mountain biking?
I realized with a shock that I had subconsciously sought out an outdoors activity as far from the madding crowd of teeming trail runners and spandexed racers (you do know that every time you buy Lycra, you support Koch Industries, right?), trade show madness, industry attention, and objectifying, dismissive male gazes as possible. I’d sought a means of travel that relatively few people have done, which had been introduced to me by friends who, while longtime prominent figures in the outdoors with careers spanning the past four decades or more, do not participate in the outdoor industry culture. These friends, whose wilderness travel achievements are nearly unparalleled, simply don’t promote themselves in the ways that have become synonymous with the outdoors industry – blogs, POV videos, sponsorships, endless self promotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them wear a prominent logo on anything, nor do they travel with the latest and greatest of every single piece of gear. They make their old stuff work until it literally disintegrates. I readily saw that for them, their trips were a lifestyle, not a stunt. I had been attracted to traveling in the wilderness by the same means because it still seemed possible to do so and not be caught up in the hype.
So, congratulations, bike industry, you’ve lost me, really lost me. You’ve lost my interest, my participation, and, most importantly to you, my dollars. You’ve made it abundantly clear time and time again that you don’t want me or my money and that you simply prefer to not have to consider women AT ALL. You just don’t want female consumers and it’s probably time you get your way.
I hope it works out for me. I hope I enjoy my new toy and my new activity. I hope that I can at times come back to this blog and write from a place of excitement and genuine interest, instead of one of industry exhaustion. I hope that I can influence the world to see female athletes and consumers in a positive light even as I pull back from the industry. I hope that industry participants get a serious grip on their addictions to consumerism, hype, and environmentally damaging outdoors activities. I hope that Marie’s enthusiasm can serve as a foil to my own jaded cynicism. Lastly, I hope that I someday find riding my bikes fun again, and that I never, ever have to be subjected to more ads similar to the above; the glaring evidence that most if not all of my work in this industry has been in vain.