Thursday, December 01, 2005

Contrived

The phrase jump the shark has probably jumped the shark by now, but it still applies to the latest achievement of Ted "Cave Dog" Keizer. Cave Dog is an extraordinary ultrahiker who owns the speed records for hiking the Colorado fourteeners, New Hampshire's White Mountains, New York's High Peaks in the Adirondacks, the Long Trail and others. He's a certified bad-ass. That's why, to me, his latest just seems a bit...contrived.

On Monday, Keizer finished his quest to hike 50 kilometers in 50 states (plus D.C.) in less than 100 days. He ended up doing it in 75. Two signs that this is a new sort of venture for the Cave Dog: 1. The Duofold Hike 50 Challenge, as it became known, got real-money sponsorship, and 2. The hikes were filmed for a TV special on the Outdoor Life Network.

Look, this was an incredible effort, and it's pretty cool that Keizer was emulating the late, great wilderness pioneer Bob Marshall, who apparently had a lifetime goal of doing 30-mile dayhikes in every state. But to me there are two classes of objectives in the outdoors: Natural and unnatural. Natural objectives include logical, coherent goals based on real-world topography, like climbing new routes on all the 8,000-meter peaks or skiing the Colorado fourteeners in a single winter. Unnatural goals are contrived, often to attract sponsorship money, in ways that depend on non-topographic factors such as state borders or personal characteristics like nationality or disability—goals like climbing the high points of the 50 states or becoming the first left-handed person to free the Nose or the first American to climb anything. The latter are great personal achievements and rightfully should be celebrated by the individual and her friends and family. But they don't belong in the record books. Cave Dog's 50 hikes in 50 states must have been a wonderful experience for him, and they may make for good TV, but I hope he'll apply his drive and talent to a more compelling objective next time out.

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