No, we are not talking about dirtbags here. In the outdoors, as in life, you will encounter personalities that rub you the wrong way, offend you, repel you, and even cause you to reconsider every life choice you’ve ever made. It’s time to meet the worst people in the outdoor world.
Many years ago, as a sneaky teenager flirting with the prospect of shoplifting, I slipped through the carved wooden doors of Mountain Chalet, the mountaineering shop in my hometown. There, a taut and tanned employee spent hours helping me select the internal frame backpack on which I’d spend a year’s worth of babysitting earnings.
I was indecisive, so she showed me pack after pack. She demonstrated how to adjust the straps. She even added and removed sand bags so I could feel how different packs distributed weight. As she buzzed around, I noticed a shiny Petzl headlamp left on the counter, tags still on. I couldn’t afford both the pack and the light, but I wanted both. It wasn’t even a decision; I simply knew I’d steal the headlamp, and I monitored it throughout my pack-fitting endeavor hoping no one would put it back where it belonged, with the other pricey headlamps under lock and key.
But between fastening that hip belt on my tenth pack and ringing up my purchase an hour later, I made a better choice. Crime was not in my future. Instead, I wanted to be just like the woman who helped me, a muscled and confident part-time Outward Bound instructor who had regaled me with tales of skiing Pikes Peak, sea kayaking in Baja and cooking a Thanksgiving turkey in a pit dug way out in the Utah desert.
This was circa 1990, and that kind, expansive woman lured me into what would become a very long and persevering relationship with outdoor adventures. Since then, I’ve met many an intrepid, inspiring explorer. But in the past 26 years I have also met multitudes of people who, frankly, were annoying as hell. Unlike that guardian angel who inadvertently kept me out of juvie, there are people who gravitate to the outdoors who are selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed. Douchebags. A-holes. Worse. We bet you know a few. If not, here are some of the ones we find most offensive.
Before going to college, I took a semester off and landed a scholarship for a Colorado Outward Bound School backcountry ski and mountaineering course. For 12 days in January, we skied and camped in the Collegiate Mountains near Leadville, and I discovered I loved skinning uphill. I also learned I had a paralyzing fear of exposure. Despite gravity’s steadfast ability to keep my body earth-bound, I entertained visions of plummeting off mountainsides, even when there were no nearby cliffs to tumble from. This fear manifested in shaking legs and tearful eyes, short breaths, and a proliferation of snot, all of which came on in force the day we skied to the top of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak at 14,439 feet. The instructor who was stuck with me clearly thought he got the short end of the stick when I stopped mid skin and refused to advance.
“This isn’t even steep!” he exclaimed. I stifled a sob and shuffled forward, dizzy with doubt. “Seriously,” he continued, “I did harder climbs when I was nine.” I whimpered. “You realize you’re not mountaineer quality, right?” I asked if we had to reach the summit. Jaw clenched, he nodded. Under his breath, but loud enough so I could hear, he whispered he was so sick of this shit. Then he said out loud, “One more month. That’s all that’s standing between me and Everest.” We made the summit and I even skied down. He was the first true asshole I met in the outdoors, but definitely not the last.
Several years ago my husband and I skied out the gate into the backcountry abutting Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. We followed tracks south to the top of a popular canyon called Four Pines. While we contemplated our options for descending, a group skied up with enough duct tape on their ski poles to hold a life raft together. When they lifted their goggles, the raccoon tans on their faces were so severe it led to a singular conclusion: These men and women skied all day, every day. They eyed us up and down and then boldly asked, “You from around here?”
“No, we’re from Boulder.”
Eye rolls. Then one of them pulled out a phone and dialed a number. “Yo,” she said into the receiver. “In-bounds is over. Meet us on Four Pines. OB is where it’s at.” She paused and glared at us before continuing her conversation. “At least until all the tourons ski it out.”
Last winter, I invited a friend to a fancy, high-priced ski resort for a day on the slopes—my treat. Actually, that’s somewhat disingenuous. I was reporting a story, and the resort PR folks gave me an extra ticket (at my request) so I could bring a friend, which would add color to my piece. So when I say I treated her to a day of skiing, that’s true, but I didn’t pay actual money for her ticket. So maybe I shouldn’t be bothered that she asked me to pay for parking. And for gas money. And she didn’t offer to buy me a beer or lunch or anything to say, hey, thanks for saving me $180 on a day pass. Note to readers: Always offer to buy a beer for the person getting you a discount or pro deal or anything free (even if it didn’t cost them money but came through professional contacts). If they don’t drink, chocolate goes a long way.
If he’s child-free and single, it’s the many days he’s logged climbing/camping/mountain biking/living in his truck/surfing in Mexico/surfing in Oregon/driving Canada’s Icefields Parkway/riding Moab/climbing Half Dome/being a raft guide/poaching the wilderness on his mountain bike/boating the Grand Canyon/being fearless and lackadaisical and free—certainly much more free than you, you putz. If he’s got kids, it’s that he’s booked every campsite every weekend from now through three months from now, and that his kid hiked four miles to a remote backcountry campsite without complaint, and that junior can already ski the back bowls and he’s still in kindergarten! This person forgot (or never knew) that there is too much of a good thing, especially when talking about his own awesomeness.
The Social Media Maven
Who cares how #blessed you are when you #exploremore and #getoutside? Doing #SUPyoga at #sunrise doesn’t make you more #blissed than me. Especially when I see it on your Insta/Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat feed within minutes of said #accomplishment. Instead it’s like #OMFG.
The Rearview Mirror Looker
Mention mountain biking in Crested Butte, and most people exclaim how rad the 401 trail is. Let them have Schofield Pass. The real goods are out of Crested Butte South, up the Cement Creek Drainage, where a 20-plus-mile loop known as Reno/Bear/Flagg/Deadman rewards three quad-burning, multi-mile climbs with as many single track descents. They’re long and flow through meadows of wildflowers, aspen groves, and oasis-like creek crossings. This is supreme mountain bike riding, except for when it’s not. And the conditions are not superlative after heavy storms when pounding rain leaves big divots in the trail, or after the motocross folks tear up the trails, leaving a thick layer of dust where there once was tacky dirt.
It’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation, the same trail, two polar opposite experiences. Which means you may end up riding it with someone who starts off raving about the flow, the climbs, only to emerge dusty, bloodied (from falling into the trail ruts), and complaining about how—seriously—this was so amazing last season. “Honestly,” she’ll whine, “you should have ridden it then. It was so rad. You’re really missing out now.”
And, if I’m being completely honest, that pain in the ass whiner might actually be me.