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Carbon Fiber versus Carbon Neutral: The meaning of our stuff, action shooting, and hot chicken 

click to enlarge Aisles and aisles of stuff at Outdoor Retailer
  • Aisles and aisles of stuff at Outdoor Retailer
Aisles and aisles of stuff at Outdoor RetailerOn Stuff

As outdoor lovers, most of us try to tread lightly on our planet. We Leave No Trace, we join Blue Sky, we ride to work, we recycle. But we also love our gear: our full-suspension mountain bikes with disc brakes, our biomechanically designed running shoes, our lightweight carbon fiber paddles. Cool stuff.

George Carlin, the satirical comedian who passed away in June, had a famous routine on stuff (Google him to find the YouTube video of his five-minute sketch). He made fun of how attached we are to, and possibly bogged down we are by, our possessions.

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard at storyofstuff.com takes a harder line on manufacturing and the evils of Stuff in our consumption-based socioeconomy.

So, how do we align our environmental ethos with our desire for techy new gear?

Manufacturers in the outdoor industry are faced with an especially ironic challenge. They are in business to build products that enable people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, but the manufacturing of those products ultimately consumes finite resources.
I spent this past week in Salt Lake City walking the aisles of Outdoor Retailer, the be-all trade show for the outdoor industry. Longtime Source contributor Bob Woodward is an outdoor industry veteran who feels that the industry has gone astray. "My era was the zero MBAs, zero PR people, zero hype era," Woodward says. An adventure racing friend of mine has this to say about being in the outdoors: "The only thing worse than being cold and wet in the dark is being cold, wet and LOST in the dark." I appreciate the good old days too, but Woody's era was also without Gore-Tex, LED headlights or GPS. In my opinion, technology and innovation continue to enhance our comfort, safety and enjoyment in the outdoors.


There is no getting away from it: the outdoor industry makes Stuff. It's also the industry that has led the way in terms of environmentally conscious business practices that are just now being adopted by mainstream industries. Patagonia is a 40-plus-year-old company that has been a role model for all of corporate America in its green efforts. Just about every product at Outdoor Retailer these days is carbon neutral, BPA-free, and made from organic hemp or free-range alpaca.

Now, you must understand that I'm a Gear Girl. I've made my living as an engineer and product developer for companies such as Nike and Salomon. I teach classes at OSU-Cascades and the Concordia University Graduate School of Management on Innovation and Product Development. There is little I appreciate more than a thoughtfully designed thing that solves a problem or meets a need in an elegantly simple way.

My rebuttal, as a product developer, to those who see manufacturers as an evil empire, is that we are all consumers to one degree or another. Products that are well designed and made serve a purpose and stand the test of time. I have a 19-year-old Thermarest, a 21-year-old no-suspension Marin mountain bike that I painted to look like a cow and use as my around-town cruiser, a pair of 22-year-old Fischer Crown cross country skis, and a 26-year-old Silca floor pump. (OK, before you start doing the math, I got the floor pump when I was in college.) That's great Stuff.

I'm curious to hear from readers your opinions about outdoor Stuff. In some future columns, I'll further discuss favorite Stuff, green Stuff and, of course, hot new Stuff coming out in 2009 that you can't live without.

CAPTURE THOSE MOMENTS

By the way, Woodward, one of the featured photographers in the new book Sports Photography: How to Capture Action and Emotion by Peter Skinner, will be conducting a two-day sports photography class September 13-14. "The idea," he says, "is to give photographers the basic tools to make better action shots. The course will be short on technobabble and long on shooting." ( I wonder if you've got a digital camera, Woody!)

Contact Bob at woody@bendcable.com for details.

FLAMING CHICKEN

Looking for a new challenge in Central Oregon? Bend's newest unique racing option is the Flaming Chicken Adventure Race (www.flamingchickenar.com) on August 23. This race, with six and 12-hour options, will take you over 20-40 miles of singletrack mountain biking trails and fire roads, and another 10-15 miles of running/trekking on foot, as you find checkpoints that have been scattered all over the terrain. The preceding day, Cathy Sassin, world-class adventure racer and fitness and nutrition expert, will present Adventure Racing 101, a workshop for all registered racers.

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