Points North: Winter Media Safari Finds Outdoor Adventurers

Patagonia
Patagonia

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Over the winter I explored the outdoors in media. In this era when many say America's love for the outdoors is fading, I wanted to find out what, if anything, was new and exciting. I was pleasantly surprised with my discoveries.

My exploration began with The Drake, a fly-fishing magazine I found in an outdoor shop in Grand Marais. I was attracted like a fish to a fly by the bright-colored trout artwork on the cover. The Drake ain't your Daddy's fly-fishing magazine. In addition to being an angler, the average reader appears to be young, male, literate and not impressed by authority. It says something about a magazine when the advertising is as fresh and fun as the content. I didn't learn much about fly-fishing reading The Drake, but I sure enjoyed the ride.

The magazine's companion website, drakemag.com, carries the bad-boys-go-fishing attitude to the Web. While I'm not much for blogs or other blather, the website contains the entries from The Drake's annual independent film contest. Suffice to say there are some young fly-fishers out there who are as handy with vid cam as they are with a fly rod.

One of my favorites was a music video, Little Miss Cutthroat, about a man, a river and the girl--make that fish--of his dreams. The scenes of the pair, man and fish, walking arm and fin down the streets of Jackson Hole are corny but cute. But the best video I found was The Dank, five minutes of hardcore dry fly porn. Created by the two young guys who comprise Beattie Productions, it is a compilation of footage of bugs, rising trout and fishermen with a good song in the background that really is the next best thing to a day on a Montana river. When it comes to fly-fishing, the boys at Beattie Productions get it.

From fly-fishing my media explorations led to thrill-seeking outdoor activities. Someone sent me an incredible video of base-jumping in the mountains of Norway. This is clearly not an activity for the faint of heart. Wearing what is called a wing suit, as well as a parachute, you jump from an airplane or a mountaintop, spread your arms and soar. When you are nearing the ground, you pull the chute and float down. The folks in the video were either breathtakingly daring or stark raving crazy, depending upon your point of view. They were gliding along within inches of rocky cliffs and swooping down on bystanders who were gathered at a scenic pullout along a mountain road. Although I have a strong aversion to heights, it was hard not to be drawn to these men and women who fly.

Keeping with the mountain theme, I also stumbled across a mountaintop skiing video filmed in Alaska and the Rockies. While they are not wearing parachutes, these skiers were essentially launching from snow-covered cliffs. In one scene, the skier was triggering an avalanche that was roaring down the mountain in his wake. Others made astounding jumps off snow-covered cliffs to land in deep powder below. Again, not something I plan to attempt anytime soon, but just watching others do it is a joy.

My next discovery was made via Netflix. On a whim, I ordered a film called “180° South, Conquerors of the Useless,” which we enjoyed enough to watch twice. The story is compelling. In the 1960s, Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins and a couple of friends loaded a VW van with surfboards and climbing gear and drove from southern California all the way to Patagonia, the wild, mountainous southern tip of South America. Both men say the journey changed their lives. Chouninard, who built and sold mountaineering equipment, went on the found the clothing company Patagonia and become active in environmental causes. Tompkins, who co-founded The North Face and ESPRIT clothing companies, eventually moved to Patagonia and became the world’s largest private landowner, conserving over two million acres of wild land in Chile and Argentina.

In the film, Jeff Johnson, a surfing and climbing bum, sets out to recreate their epic trip. Instead of driving, he goes south on a sailboat, which runs into trouble offshore in the Pacific and limps into Easter Island for repairs. While on the island, Johnson meets a surfer girl who joins him on his quest. Eventually, they reach Chile, and after surfing their way down the coast, meet up with Chouinard, Tompkins and some other adventurers to surf and climb at the wildest place left in the world. There is more to the story and a great soundtrack to boot, but you can watch the movie, too. This I can say—it rekindled my spirit of adventure.

Finally, my explorations took me back in time, via YouTube, where I found a northward journey not so different than the Patagonia trips. In the spring of 1947, legendary flyfisherman Lee Wulff bought a floatplane, took a month’s worth of flying lessons and then flew north from New York to Nova Scotia, from there crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the island of Newfoundland. Establishing a base near what appears to be present day Gros Morne National Park, Wulff flew north to explore the salmon rivers of the then-roadless Northern Peninsula. What he discovered there was a fly-fishing paradise for Atlantic salmon and trophy brook trout. The fishing footage is outstanding, even by today’s standards, but especially so when Wulff mentions that much of the film was shot by his 10-year-old son.

I’ve fly-fished for salmon on the Northern Peninsula, although today you can drive there. While I have yet to wade the rivers of Patagonia, I’ve long intended to do so and hopefully will someday. But my media explorations, while a great tonic for cabin fever, weren’t all about my dreams of adventure. What I wanted to learn was if the spirit of adventure that was alive in Lee Wulff’s day still exists among outdoor enthusiasts. I am pleased to report that it does.

Airdate: March 25, 2011

Photo courtesy of Davidlohr Bueso via Flickr.

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