The Loudness War

A group of younger hikers, maybe in their mid- to late-twenties (I am now at the age where, despite my relative youth, I am acutely aware of other fully-grown adults who are transparently younger than myself), asked an older gentleman in the parking lot for some beta about the campsite they had penciled in for their first night. It’s a few minutes after six in the evening. Would they be able to make it there before dark? It’s about six miles, right? Is there water there? Did he hike that direction?

They wouldn’t make it there before dark—one could, and probably would, argue that neither did I—but the man’s explanation of his hike amused me. He had hiked ‘the full loop’, which full loop I do not know, amounting to some twenty-four miles and a very long day. “It’s a training thing I’m doing.” I don’t know what the guy was training for, but I wish I had asked him. At what point is going for a hike all day, twenty-four miles through a beautiful forest, not the thing itself?

My dog Reef walks through filtered evening light along a wooded trail.

I am an avid reader of Bedrock & Paradox, the long-running outdoor and quasi-outdoor blog authored by Dave Chenault, for a number of reasons. Chief amongst them are his considerations of outdoor recreation in America; setting aside the abundance of nuance and lack of egocentrism he brings to the topic, it’s simply interesting (and perhaps relieving) to read an “amateur” blog that engages with the outdoors not just as a sports arena but also as a political, economic and cultural phenomena.

Recently, in “The new rules for nature”, he touches on a Thing I’ve been chewing on for a couple of years now:

  1. Subtle is sexy

    Here I think a phallocentric metaphor is entirely appropriate: our preferences in scenery and in activities for an Outdoor Trip have become quite the same as wanting big tits and a six pack in our romantic partners. The fantastic may have its birth in reality, but the exceptional should not define everyday reality when imaging so thoroughly disguises both the rarity and the labor inherent in such things.

Dave Chenault, from

I am fortunate to live in a place with outstanding access to more than a lifetime’s worth of outdoor recreation and doubly (triply? quin…tuply? a number seems insufficient in its descriptive power here) lucky to enjoy a host of privileges that allow me to easily take advantage of said access.

My dog Reef walks through filtered evening light along a wooded trail.
And yet I find myself dreaming of ranges requiring drives measured in days rather than hours. Which doesn’t exactly violate Dave’s call to find “inspiration in the subtle, ideally closer to home” because wistfully dreaming of mountains unseen seems to lend them the weight they deserve rather than to dilute them by virtue of Too Much Good Stuff. But what could be accomplished locally with that energy? What creative ways of enjoying places close and small could be discovered and exercised if sufficient attention was directed? Fairly rich coming from someone who just drove less than an hour to backpack in gold medal forests, I realize. By most accounts describing the Columbia River Gorge “subtle” is fairly absurd, but I think the point stands, and there are far less glamorous lands around Portland that are ripe for my own personal exploration.

By making the most of what’s at our fingertips as opposed to chasing The Next Big Thing, we can reduce the stress on overburdened lands, nurture a more balanced set of expectations for what experiences outdoor recreation can provide, and practice seeing better instead of seeing more. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, because lemons are delicious.

A stand of trees burned in the 2017 Gorge wildfire amongst dense green undergrowth.

Healthy trees grow along a steep slope on the other side of a clearing.

A stand of trees, scorched several feet up from the ground but still living, line a soft loamy trail.

My dog Reef stands and stares at me from below a stand of large trees, scorched some ten feet up from the ground.

A small waterfall flows several stories down a mossy cliff into a thickly overgrown streambed.

A soft trail winds its way through sword ferns as the last light of the evening fades.

My fondness for Friday evening backpacking often leaves me briskly walking towards camp in the final trickles of twilight. The resultant headlamp-illuminated tent pitching and dinner boiling is not my favorite, but there is a delightful intrigue to hurriedly moving through sword ferns cast in the silvery low tide of the sun.


My Hanchor Marl backpack.

This was the first time I used my new Hachor Marl backpack and I was extremely impressed. The craftsmanship is impeccable and I think the increased functionality versus many of the more stripped-down UL framed backpacks is easily worth the (significant) weight penalty. It’s going to be the perfect counterbalance to a light and fast frameless bag.

Reef waits for me once again, up the trail that leads straight ahead for as far as the eye can see, steadily climbing.

Completely healthy trees, beyond the edges of the 2017 Gorge fire, shroud a partially overgrown trail.

A wide open view from a peak shows wispy clouds hovering over a smallish lake surrounded by thick forest.

A closeup shot of bear grass bloom.

Mt. Hood rises in the distance, framed by contrails in the sky and thick forest in the foreground.

Dappled sunlight illuminates a lightly used trail through more forest.

Reef winds his way through the same lightly used trail.

The flat peak of Mt. Adams rises in the distance, barely peeking over a hillside covered with forest and thick formations of white puffy clouds.

Reef smiles, or rather pants, for a portrait amidst some bear grass. He's wearing his red harness with saddlebags.

Reef was an absolute champ on this trip. It really seems like as long as the temperatures are cool he has a pretty endless motor. I still need to experiment with the Ruffwear cooling vest that attaches to his harness; hopefully it extends his comfort into some warmer days.


Reef walks along the trail in the distance, maybe 100 feet away, through a stand of burned and dead trees. Some green undergrowth is growing out of the ground.

A wide shot of small mountains in the Gorge, showing the path of the 2017 Gorge fire. There are stripes of burned and living trees.

Dead and charred trees stand amongst thick, green spring growth.

Reef runs through a patch of wildflowers growing amongst dead and scorched trees.

:) :) :) :) :)


Bright yellow wildflowers grow along a steep hillside covered in dead trees.

Reef and smiles while looking back up the creek drainage we have almost completed our descent of. The background is a hillside littered with multicolored wildflowers blowing in the wind.

A final look back into the creek drainage we've returned from. Patches of dead trees are interspersed with large swaths of healthy forest.