The Right/Wrong Way
There’s nothing that my dad and I love more than hitting the road on a Friday afternoon and not showing our faces in town again until late Sunday night. More often than not, we don’t even have a destination in mind when we leave. Just a direction. South today. East last week. Should we go past Nephi or duck out Spanish Fork? We’ll decide on the way.
Our freedom in this regard is afforded by our mode of travel: we’re amateur overlanders. Our truck has a rooftop tent, a tow winch, a shovel and axe, a shell full of assorted camping gear, and even a mini fridge. The idea is that once we leave the house, we’re totally self-sufficient and can travel for as long as we like-- pretty much wherever we like. We leave no more evidence of our presence than an empty campfire ring and some tire tracks in mud. The hardcore overlanders will travel for weeks or months at a time, exploring the most obscure roads in the world, but our work schedules mean that we’re satisfied with just a few days on the highways of Utah.
Over the years we’ve developed a catalog of our favorite roads and places, our well-worn atlas full of little notes and scribbles. Upper Stillwater is at the top of our list. The Energy Loop is great for a day trip. We’re always down for Byway 12 if we’ve got the time. Like I said, there’s nothing we love more than heading out and getting lost.
Well, maybe one thing.
We do love sneering at glampers. As we climb up mountains searching for a campsite, we’ll see six or so twenty-five-foot trailers all pulled into a circle so that they’re practically a city in the mountains. We’ll roll our eyes at their big, puffed-out sections, knowing there are couches and kitchens and TV’s inside. We’ll share a smile over how beautiful the land is just past where their coaches could possibly get. Silly glampers. They’re hardly in the wilderness at all!
“Surely, we are the superior adventurers,” we say to ourselves from inside our air-conditioned truck, classic rock playing from our Bluetooth stereo system, cold water bottles from the fridge in our hands. “After all, we sleep in a tent at night.”
Cue the sneering of the backpacker who walks all day and sleeps beneath a tarp.
There are countless ways to enjoy the great outdoors, and it seems that every one of those ways comes with an opinion of how not to enjoy the great outdoors. Overlanders sneer at glampers. Backpackers roll their eyes at day hikers. Dog walkers and mountain bikers couldn’t be expected to get along. And don’t even get me started on the snowboarders versus the skiers.
The truth is, it can be kind of fun to develop these sorts of rivalries. Feeling superior to someone else can make us feel better about ourselves, even if it’s just a playful superiority. In fact, I might even go as far as to say there are only two things all outdoorsmen have in common, and one of those things is a light disdain for some other type of outdoorsman.
The other thing we all have in common, of course, is love of the land. At the end of the day, we all make the choice to leave our homes and venture off into places that are a little more wild, a little less predictable, a fair bit more beautiful. Whether we’re hiking, biking, camping, glamping, overlanding, backpacking, skiing, snowboarding, horse-back riding, dog walking, kayaking, or something else, the main point is that we’re out in nature. We love the land for the sake of the land, and we want nothing more than to be there for a little while and know that it’s safe when we’re gone.
The problem is, the land isn’t always safe when we’re gone. For all the ways there are to enjoy nature, there are twice as many to exploit in. Public lands in Utah in particular have faced an onslaught of opposition in recent years. Whether it’s the shrinking of national monuments, or the opening of public lands to private interests, or the attempted water grabs that will further parch our desert, there are a dozen different fronts to be fighting on.
We can’t possibly begin to fight those fronts if we’re busy fighting each other. As fun as a few friendly rivalries can be, they must stay friendly rivalries and not become real political ones. The moment we take our eyes off the land to glare at each other it’ll be gone, bought up and developed right under our noses. We may disagree on just how best to enjoy the land, but we can all agree that the land still needs to be there for it to be enjoyed.
So I may sneer at the glampers as I drive past them on the mountain, but I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them when that mountains comes under threat.
Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll sit around a campfire together and compare notes on fridges.
Rachel Cockayne is a recent graduate of the University of Utah English Department. She has a fascination for stories, the land we live on, and how we tell stories about the land we live on. She currently lives in Salt Lake City and enjoys frequent excursions along the highways and byways of Utah.