Camping – not

by • January 20, 2014 • 61 NorthComments (0)1700

REI’s latest craze a sad statement on American recreationalists

SEATTLE – The star holiday attraction of 2103 at the REI mothership here was a pop-up travel trailer. Little could say more about the state of outdoor recreation in America today or about Americans themselves.

Almost every store visitor who pulled back the big, double doors with their signature ice-ax handles and walked into the atrium of the colossus of outdoor retail paused to stick their head into the $16,750, Cricket trailer with the bike and kayak racks on its roof. More than a few of the old and rapidly graying backpacker generation ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed.’

The Cricket Pop-up Trailer is the newest excuse for camping, and the latest example of Americans gone soft.

The Cricket Pop-up Trailer is the newest excuse for camping, and the latest example of Americans gone soft.

Granted, this was a “space-age” trailer, or “mobile home” as it was pitched: Think Daniel Boone marries Luke Skywalker (this being Washington state and all) and they go to live as Yuppies in the United States circa 2013.

As the Cricket Trailer Story revealed, its designer worked “at NASA on the International Space Station.

“He works on the ‘habitation module’ (NASA-speak for the place where astronauts eat, sleep, bathe, relax – their home away from home). He is a ‘space’ architect – mission accomplished. But he wants to design things that will actually get built in his lifetime. He returns to Earth.”

The rest of the Cricket story is an exercise in predictability. The designer gets married. He has children. He wants “to go on adventures and share his love of camping with his children. However, the annual kindergarten campout demonstrated that camping with small children in a tent was not what he (or rather, his wife) had hoped.”

Indeed, it was his wife’s fault. When the realities of evolution become difficult or complicated to explain, blame the womenfolk.

Isn’t it about time we all face a certain reality here?

Somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Generation X and whatever letter was hung on the group that followed, there emerged the Comfort Nation bigger than any of them. Not that the Greatest Generation didn’t strive for comfort. They did.

The problem was they lacked the technological resources. My father’s generation went to “hunting camp,” a shack in the woods, not because of a fondness for shacks, but because nobody had a motorhome with a heated toilet and running water for showers.

Looking back now, the first motorhome buyers were little more than the “early adapters,” as they say.  The Cricket website (that is a “place” that now “exists” electronically in the tubes if you’ve just come to civilization from 30 years in the Brooks Range and picked up this made-in-Alaska publication for the first time) actually pays homage to the motorhome or “recreational vehicle” as some call it.

“Leave the passé living-room-on-wheels R.V. paradigm behind and step into the future,” it says. “Your Cricket is the perfect antidote to rising fuel costs and the decreased towing capabilities of next-gen vehicles because it allows you to use the vehicle you already own.

“With a single-touch roof latch that opens in seconds, Cricket removes the tricky setup associated with most pop-ups, making it easy to use for all ages and abilities. Dual entry doors make loading and unloading a breeze and increases ‘on the go’ access to your spacious interior. Whether setting up camp, taking a quick pit-stop, or looking for your favorite tool, Cricket keeps all you need seconds away.”

Upon gazing at the big, swing-up, trailer-wide rear door, I immediately thought: “Whoa, snowmachine trailer!” Before, of course, I realized it was wrong to be thinking such thoughts while at REI, a self-proclaimed “green” company.

It is one thing, you see, to hook a trailer to your car and drive hundreds of miles from this Pacific Northwest megapolis into the mountains just for the joy of camping in the wilderness. You sort of have to do that if you want to get away, right? Given the state of American railroads, you can’t really take one to the wilderness like Nick Adams in “Big Two-Hearted River,” the classic Ernest Hemingway story about fishing in Michigan.

No, to get to the wilderness today, you must drive because America is a society built around the automobile and a hugely urban society at that because, let’s face it, today’s cities are where the greatest comfort lives. But, if you want to live in that city with all its comfort, and still maintain a clean conscience about what that means for the world all around, there are rules, although they do seem to be shifting.

A trailer, which required god-only-knows how much energy to build, that can be pulled by a hybrid car, which has Li-Ion batteries we’re not really sure how to recycle, towed hundreds of miles to the edge of the wilderness for a weekend camping trip is now apparently OK, but I’m guessing it will be sometime before REI puts a gas-burning snowmachine on the showroom floor to show people how they can really get into the wilderness once they arrive on the edge of it.

If you’re a real Alaskan, though, you’ve probably figured this out already one way or the other. You either already own that snowmachine, or you’ve joined the fat-tire bike craze and are taking advantage of the snowmachine trails that now create a whole new transportation network across large parts of the state in winter.

Just think of yourself as an early adapter. The rest of the world will catch up.

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