Halfway into our family river hike through the Narrows in Zion National Park, an activity ominously described in all the guidebooks as “walking on wet bowling balls” — but so worth it, and so stunning! — the cloudless skies produced a sunbeam of thoughts:
1. Why? Why? Why? 2. If we turn around now, we still have to hike 4 miles on wet bowling balls to get back. 3. Maybe I’ll just die here. 4. No, dying in this much synthetic fabric would be too sad.
5. David Bowie.
Specifically, I pondered an interview he gave Terry Gross for NPR’s “Fresh Air” in the early 2000s, an exchange that periodically escapes the ol’ hippocampus, especially when I am standing in waist-deep water. In essence, Bowie said wearing jeans and a T-shirt is as much a costume as full Ziggy Stardust regalia. Everything we put on is artifice. “It is merely representation,” he said, and he was right.
Ah, but the outdoors people on their summer vacations will lie. The camping people will lie. The hiking and biking and kayaking and fishing and scalloping people will lie! They will claim they are NOT in costume, that they are simply dressing for function and utility. We humans are deliciously drunk on our little delusions.
Oh, sure, we spotted a few enlightened Zero Equipment types in the river, leaping around the rocks like Peter Pan with bare feet begging for infection. That’s another discussion! The majority of tourists hiking the Virgin River and surrounding Utah terrain were decked out in a mortgage payment’s worth of costume. The Outdoors Costume.
Now, let me be clear: The natural splendor was magnificent. I’m thankful for the hike, which left me humbled like a spiritual dormouse at the base of 1,500-foot sedimentary masterworks. We are all better for a challenge that removes us from the pool resort, even when we get passive-aggressive from low blood sugar around mile 3. I’m not denying the usefulness of the gear, either, without which I would have floated off downstream to establish camp in a slot canyon where I’d anthropomorphize a shoe for company.
I am just saying, we should be for real. Getting back to nature, while vital for our jaded, iPhone-soaked souls, is not an act of simplicity nor a rebellion against consumerism. I am so serious about this: The next time anyone gives me GUFF for packing too many shoes, purses, units of makeup or accessories, I will calmly blink and say, “Show me what is inside your North Face Base Camp Gear Box covered in graphic decals, you absolute Spartan.”
You, friends, are in full Nature Drag! No, no, let’s break it down. To get away from the trappings of modernity and reconnect with Mother Earth, one simply requires:
A breathable Gore-Tex jacket with a windproof, tri-layer construction; nylon soft-shell climbing pants with zip-off legs; a UPF 50+ duo dry shirt from another adventure locale so everyone knows this is NOT our first national park; a hiking backpack with a ladder of bungees, adjustable sternum straps and dual clip-front closures; a Nalgene water bottle with a sticker that says “GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY” and a mouth wide enough for dissolvable electrolyte tablets to replenish salt stores; AND/OR, a hydration backpack with a bite-grip drinking tube and a rubber bladder which we will fill with lodge water that tastes strangely metallic, but that’s OK because WE ARE GETTING BACK TO NATURE; a waterproof smartphone lanyard case, preferably one that floats; an oversized dry bag in a fanny-pack style because the water bladder is taking up our entire pack and we must keep the beef jerky DRY, otherwise it will rehydrate and return to BEEF; merino wool hiking socks with cooling panels engineered by Everest mountaineers; a floppy, wide-brimmed hat with an adjustable chin strap, a look no one has pulled off since “The Flying Nun”; a cluster of enamel destination pins, but not the same pins our hiking partner has, because that would be weird; polarized, multi-sport sunglasses with a rubber strap that will yank out our hair; an elastic-Spandex no-slip knotted hair tie; waterproof hiking boots with ankle support; unless we are going to get extremely wet, in which case we don’t want waterproof boots because the water will get trapped and turn our feet to soggy cinderblocks; in that case, a high-tread water shoe with toe-dome protection and drainage cages that call to mind Carol Anne’s haunted clown in “Poltergeist”; UNLESS we want to consider stealth-tread canyoneering boots with thermal neoprene wetsuit socks, which, of course, we do; a walking stick, not just any stick, but retractable fair-trade carbon and titanium trekking poles with wrist loops and rounded foot attachments to navigate mud and sand and even larger rounded foot attachments should we ever be so foolish as to hike, my God and stars above, through snow; lastly, the professional nature photography camera, which we meant to charge last night when we were busy distributing snacks with the right macros of fat, carbs and protein through a series of four different satchels held together with a phalanx of carabiners and quickdraws, draped lovingly beside our CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED YET CASUAL COSTUME IN A MIX OF EARTH TONES AND NEON SKITTLES HUES THAT SIGNALS OUR ONENESS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD, so now the camera battery is dead.
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