Yesterday Kyle and I went and saw the second night of films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Olympia Film Society’s Capitol Theater. Seeing as how we would love to continue our outdoor adventuring but are instead moving to Seattle to have “real” jobs, going to see these films was a bit like torture. The film festival itself hosts film makers from all over the world who are making short and feature-length films about everything outdoors, from river conservation to high alpine skiing. After the festival the show goes on the road, selecting a variety of films for showings around the world. What we saw last night was incredible, awe-inspiring, scary, and deeply moving.
The showing opened with a short piece about a forest fire. Once it had finished raging the trees glittered with embers and the ground was covered in ash until it begins to snow, blanketing the ground with feet upon feet of fresh powder. Two skiers, who make weaving in and out of smoking trees and jumping off cliffs look easy, glide down the mountain sending flurries of snow and sparks up around them. The show ended with a film made by a troop of mountain bikers who traveled to New Zealand to ride the crests of mountains and visit bike parks where they performed crazy stunt after stunt. In between were amazing films about white water river kayaking in Vera Cruz; the trials and tribulations of Olympic athlete Lindsey Van and her fellow female competitors; one of the best female bold climbers in the world; an extreme base jumper who flies using a wingsuit and takes you on his one minute ride; a poem about the most endangered and hardworking river in our country, the Colorado River; ultramarathoners, ice miners, skiing in Dubai and so much more… and I sat grinning like an idiot throughout the entire thing.
One of the incredible things that you see in many of these videos is people using other devices like kayaks, bikes, skis, and wingsuits to do things that humans could never do otherwise. You see them using these things like they are an extension of their body. The mountain bikers have the most incredible control over their bike and an amazing awareness of where the bike is. They will do tricks where their body pretty much leaves the bike completely but then, just like that, they snap back to it, their feet finding the peddles with such sureness. Or the group of guys in their kayaks, who can maneuver their kayaks as if they’d been born with them, with such skill and dexterity. But the most amazing off all was, by far, the wingsuit. Ever since I was a little kid I have been dreaming of flying, haven’t we all? That is why this incredible video almost brought me to tears, to see someone flying, to hear him talk about it and how natural it feels, to see the joy on his face… suddenly you realize, maybe your dream isn’t so impossible. But would you have the balls to do it?
That was another thing that struck me during the movies, how much everything simultaneously scared and excited me. I am still struggling with the fact that I am the farthest thing from being an adrenaline junky; I don’t even like breaking rules if I can help it. But what attracts me to the activities that I was seeing on-screen is that many of them are possibilities foreign to the human experience and they allow you to go places and see things that would be otherwise impossible. They are also skills that, if you are good at them, can make you a living whilst being outside. Some of the things I saw last night I have never had a chance to do. I have never tried mountain biking, white water kayaking, flying, and I’ve climbed inside a lot and am pretty good, but never outside. I want to try them all and some little part of me is holding out hope that one of them will just click for me. I wonder if desire alone could diminish my fears.
Of course, there are things I like to do that don’t involve huge risks, or at least I don’t see them as huge risks. Obviously I know I love to hike, but how many people really get paid to hike? You don’t get paid to hike unless you are an athlete, meaning you hike something the fastest, or you do something that has never been done. But in a world where things are being done faster and bigger and crazier I wonder if a little bit of the experience gets lost.
I thought about this a lot on the AT. We would be enjoying a sandy spot on a beach, stopping for the day on a whim because of a view, or staying at a hostel an extra night because of good company and I would think about the people who set records for hiking the AT. The don’t get to do any of that. They just sprint down the trail, trying not to break a leg, getting it done so they can be the fastest and get paid by companies who want their brand associated with the “best”. But why is the fastest the best when we are talking about something like hiking? Wouldn’t the best be the person who really takes their time to enjoy a hike? Think about what hiking is and why it’s enjoyable. It is an escape from the speed of normal life, from societal stressors and obligations; it is permission to live simply and think flexibly… most people go on day hikes to slow down, not to speed up. I wonder if companies will ever see the virtues in slowing down and decide to pay those people instead…
All the films we watched moved me in different ways and they led me to think about all these things. I hope some day that I can carve a niche for myself in an outdoor world full of athletes and badasses, adrenaline addicts and risk takers, and inspire those who are a little more comfortable with their feet on the ground but, like me, still hope to do big things and have huge experiences.