The most effective outdoors lengthy reads of 2020

“Utah wanted all tourists. Then it got her. “

(Photos: Arches, PhotoQuest / Getty; People: Philippe Beyer / EyeEm / Getty. Art: Petra Zeiler.)

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that in 2020 we published a report on overcrowding that didn’t make a single mention of viral loads, the effectiveness of masks, or the ethics of large human gatherings. Mark Sundeen’s January report examining how Utah’s five legendary national parks fell victim to the state’s ingenious marketing efforts to attract tourists now seems like a relic from another time. But one day the pandemic will be in our rear view, and when it does, the biggest problem adventure travel has faced in the recent past is – how do we keep the world’s most desirable travel destinations from being loved to death? – destined to dominate the future. – Chris Keyes, editor

“Everything on ‘Naked and Afraid’ is real – and I’ve lived it”

It is a suffering for fame, a chance to face nature and win.(Photo: Quittenberg)

I was intrigued by Blair Braverman’s behind-the-scenes look at her time on the popular reality series Naked and Afraid. Braverman, a writer and long-distance dog musher who lives in Wisconsin, was thrown out of her comfort zone when the show spent her in the South African desert for three weeks surviving completely naked with just a pile of firewood and a few tools. Surrounded by elephants, hyenas, and poisonous snakes, she encountered a host of life-threatening dangers and developed an unlikely friendship with fellow survivor Gary Golding, one of the more colorful characters on the series. Your lively, engaging account of the experience was one of our favorite features of the year. It tied me to the end. —Sophie Murguia, editorial assistant

“What’s wrong with Jeb’s brain?”

Corliss at Skydive Perris in Southern California(Photo: Stephanie Mei-Ling)

Athletes are often very bad at talking about themselves and their work. In the profiles of sports figures, you can often feel how the author tries to make an interesting story out of boring material. This profile of the legendary BASE jumper Jeb Corliss is exactly the opposite of that. For one, Corliss is an incredible storyteller who never shies away from gruesome details (“Then I see a severed leg on the ground”) and honest deliberation when describing his life from the tallest buildings, waterfalls, cliffs and bridges in the world jumps. In addition, at 44, he is well past the peak of his career and at a time in his life when he can think about what motivates him to keep doing staggeringly dangerous performances. Add to this the lyrical writing of Daniel Duane, one of the greatest chroniclers of nature and its characters, and you’ll read the best profiles Outside has published in a long time. – Luke Whelan, senior research editor

“We’re here to see the big damn thing”

The strange experience of sitting at the crossroads of many losses at once has been vividly summed up in this piece by Robert Moore. (It’s not online yet, but you can find it in an issue of our December 2020 issue that’s out on newsstands right now.) There is a cosmic loss when Moor and his husband travel to the Great Barrier Reef that is soon to be a victim becomes our changing climate. They are also surviving the global trauma of the early stages of the pandemic. Ultimately, Moor experiences a personal, intimate tragedy after his partner has a major health scare. This year has offered more opportunities to grieve and reflect on what it means to be a person in the world (and how to be a good person and what matters) than I know how to think thoughtfully. Moor’s expansive, hopeful essay provided a little directional light. – Abbbie Barronian, Associate Fitness Editor

“No one out there can hear you scream”

Graham in July 2020(Photo: Kennedi Carter)

This summer, the outdoor industry wrestled alongside the rest of the country with our own internalized structural racism. We often claim (or perhaps pretend) that nature is free and just – a place for everyone, where the greatest dangers are lightning strikes, bears, and other acts of God. But wherever people go, we take our human problems with us. For many black people outdoors, one of the greatest dangers they face in our public lands is other people. White people. After writing for us for the first time back in 2018 what it’s like to be a black man outdoors, Latria Graham received dozens of messages from readers sharing their own experiences and asking for advice on where and how to enjoy the outdoors without being threatened. Her response, shaped by her own experiences and the horrific acts of racial violence against black Americans in recent years, is both heartbreaking and encouraging. – Karen Larsen, assistant to the equipment editor

“The True Story of the White Island Eruption”

It should be a routine six-hour tour, including the highlight: a short hike into the island's otherworldly caldera.  Then the volcano exploded.(Image: Jason Holley)

This Alex Perry story has all the makings of a fictional disaster film: strong characters, heroism, and unspeakable tragedies. Except, of course, that the incident is real. Through careful reporting, Perry guides us through the devastating 2019 volcanic eruption on a tiny but heavily tourist island off New Zealand that resulted in 22 deaths. You can’t look away from the action as it unfolds, but it is the impact on the surrounding island community that stays with you. – Will Taylor, Gear Director

When New Zealand’s Whakaari / White Island erupted, The media quickly asked why tourists were initially allowed there. And after reading that the volcano has been the most active in the country since 1978, so was I. However, the story of Alex Perry shows that at a time when the media and readers often resort to quick decisions, a beautifully written and carefully studied long-form piece can remind us that at the center of any tragedy is often a very human story driven by good ones Intentions. Perry did the same in his 2019 “Outside” post about John Allen Chau, a young American missionary who was killed trying to “save” a remote Sentinelese tribe in the Andaman Islands. As a writer, he has the uncanny ability to conjure up the small, seemingly insignificant details that together tell a story so rich and intimate that one wonders how he gets into the minds of characters he has never met . – Erin Riley, Senior Tour Guide

“Meet the Woman Who Teaches the Psychology of Survival”

Wilderness professionals are increasingly focusing on the psychological effects of traumatic events outdoors.(Photo: Menno Boermans / Cavan)

One of my favorite features that we released this year was Emily Sohn’s profile of Kate Baecher, a pioneer in wilderness psychology. I was shocked to learn that her work and research – preparing adventurers and extreme sports enthusiasts for their forays into mental emergencies – is very rare. Many people who go on serious expeditions experience trauma along the way, be it ordinary fear and restlessness or the horror of watching someone die. Baecher’s efforts are vital, and this story made me optimistic that the way people outdoors discuss and approach mental health is potentially about to change. —Molly Mirhashem, assistant digital editor

“We’re quitting our jobs to build a cabin – everything went wrong”

Bryan Schatz on the cabin he built with Patrick (Pat) Hutchison in the Cascade Mountains in Washington in 2018(Photo: Patrick Hutchison)

Who hasn’t dreamed of it? A friend and I talk dreamily about the small piece of land we will buy together in the mountains and build a yurt. It doesn’t matter that I couldn’t pick a miter saw from a list. But read Bryan Schatz and Patrick Hutchison’s hilarious account of what actually happens when two friends (who don’t know what the hell they’re doing) try to build a rustic cabin in the woods and you’ll remember why you probably do should depend on that day job. At a time when we are all overwhelmed with ambitious #cabinporn, this story is a fun, refreshing dose of reality and the perfect length to spend a week on the couch. – Gloria Liu, feature editor

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