Well, my boots were waterproof. On a day like this, an appreciation for the term ‘temperate rainforest’ is eclipsed by the threat of getting flushed out by it, as if the landscape itself is ready for the summer season of tourists to be over. Here in Juneau, Alaska, coastal precipitation is essentially funneled by the steep mountains that surround it, providing the ideal conditions for water to revert the manicured trails back to their wild state. Needless to say, my hiking plans were thwarted. So, while the wilderness reclaims itself, I’m finally sitting down to write this blog post that’s been rolling around in my brain for the past two months.
I’d say the beginning of my ‘getting to know’ this landscape was when we left Oregon at the beginning of August, heading for British Columbia’s coast mountains. For mountain bikers, hikers, and kayakers alike, the entire Pacific Northwest is a giant playground. And I was almost too busy ‘playing’ to notice the circumstances that often provide for this recreational haven.
An article published in the most recent Tongass National Forest Visitor Guide I stumbled across put it this way: “Recreation requires a specific set of overlapping resources.” For example, most of the amazing mountain bike trails we've been exploring have been built within second-growth actively logged forests. I was alluding to this paradox in a recent Instagram post after a challenging bike ride in the Caren Range of BC’s Sunshine Coast, where logged patches of land stand out among scattered tracts of some of the last remaining old growth forests in the area. The terrain is rugged, foreboding, and the challenge of even just pedaling over the logging roads gave me an amazing appreciation for the energy it took to create them in the first place (especially before modern logging practices). The view from the top was stunning, and the opportunity to experience it was possible because we had access to it, access that was provided by the extraction of timber resources.
In the United States Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is "recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Biking in BC, I’d found myself wondering how to argue for the designation and preservation of wilderness areas for humanity’s sake. Beyond aesthetics, these areas contain resources that could be used, while still providing recreational opportunity.
Fast-forward a few weeks and I'm on the bridge of the Celebrity Infinity, providing commentary as we approach the 400-foot frozen face of the Hubbard Glacier for the last time of the ship's Southeast Alaska sailing season. During a pause in my narration, the friendly pilot onboard shared with me his appreciation for Alaska, a place where he was often in the presence of things bigger and more powerful than himself. Just a few moments later, I was back on the microphone, excitedly announcing the dramatic calving of enough ice from the face at once, that water was thrown into the air higher than the glacier itself followed by a wave we could feel roll under the ship (even after the wave had traveled the one mile distance between us and Hubbard).
It was in that moment, as an honored visitor witnessing the power of glacial forces, when I realized the importance of wilderness itself as being among those 'overlapping resources' required to recreate. We need resources not just to provide the opportunity to explore outdoors, but to humble us too. Today in Juneau, I was humbled in a different way ... a less welcome visitor this time, but still in the presence of something greater (and more persistent) than myself.
Recreation has become a means by which we connect with the planet we live on and all of the natural resources it contains. Why do so many of us need to recreate to connect? Maybe it's because we have few other direct connections to them. In most of the western world, we are relatively disconnected with the resources that support our lifestyles. Whether it's through mountain biking, scenic cruising, or something in between, getting outside to enjoy the environments from which these resources are sourced (pun intended) reconnects us to them.
But no matter how we choose to recreate, the connections are what we make of them. Being conscious of the overlapping resources necessary to support these activities is the first step, but that awareness should also include reflecting on the value of these recreational opportunities in our lives. By learning from these experiences, we can then support efforts to conserve the resources that make them possible, so that future generations can also fulfill their resource needs. There are many different ways to recreate, each requiring its own unique set of 'overlapping resources.' How we make that recreation sustainable is up to us.