The myth of #outsideisfree, and recognising privilege
Although I hold up my calloused climber hands and confess that I often use the hashtag #outsideisfree on my Instagram pictures, more and more I’m learning that this couldn’t be further from reality. Studying in Bristol, anyone can cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge and find themselves mountain biking through Leigh Woods, or #wildswimming in Abbott’s Pool, or climbing in quarries of years gone by. However to truly live an outdoors lifestyle and to participate in it regularly is a privilege, and one we must recognize.
On a basic level, the gear keeps getting lighter, more effective and more expensive, a lot of which I suppose I could live without. However, when I want to run and cycle and climb and hike and ski, it takes the cost of multiple helmets to cover my own safety, let alone a Garmin or a GriGri (I mean, seriously?!). What is more, when the rest of the crowd is all wearing the newest Patagonia fleece or Mountain Equipment waterproof, who can judge the people in the ASS library for all repping the same North Face puffa, hoop earring and Macbook combo and wanting to fit in?
Some people might say “anyone can go into the woods and camp for the night”. However, this requires either a tent, sleeping bag, or bivvy bag up to the job, as well as the knowledge of local areas and the means to get there. Owning a car, let alone running it and parking it, costs a fortune in the Bristol area; a trusty steed or public transport will only get you so far. Anyone can bivvy in a forest, but it takes knowledge to do it regularly and safely. Equally, I certainly wouldn’t have the confidence in my own map reading skills or ability to read the environment and the weather without my Mountain Leader training, which was £280 for the course itself, plus the transport, accommodation and food for the week. Of course, like a lot of UBESters, I was lucky to grow up in the countryside, and in my case about 10 metres from an RSPB nature reserve. However, again, this relies on my parents being able to afford a house in the middle of nowhere, in an AONB 10 minutes from the sea, as opposed to the middle of concrete and traffic, which doesn’t exactly inspire you to be outside, no matter how #free it is.
The biggest cost of the outdoors is leisure time. As a student, I have a flexible schedule which allows me to take the morning off to explore places when they’re at their best; during the day when no-one else is there. This is a
privilege not afforded to most people with a 9-5 job, a looming reality for many of us as University Road runs out of tarmac. I like to think that everyone has the chance to go for a wander on a Sunday, but with the multi-faceted pressures of ‘real life’ (long live the student bubble!), I fear it’s not always the case. Many people spend their weekends doing a family shop as they don’t have time during the week, or looking after children, or elderly or disabled relatives. I often take it for granted that leisure time is not free, even a UBES weekend away creeps into Friday afternoon and makes Monday mornings knackering. What is more, to have the opportunity to go on even a UBES trip requires a minimum of £60 upfront cost (membership, plus trip), as well as suitable clothes, shoes, rucksack, and cash for Spoons on the Sunday. This isn’t to say that UBES trips aren’t ridiculously reasonable for what you get during them; the trip fees and membership are very well used, and the University’s hardship fund can help cover the cost of a trip (apply here). However, to live the outdoors lifestyle and mix in its “in-crowd” often requires money or the confidence that comes with it in order to participate.
So this blogpost is me un-hashtagging outside is free. I acknowledge my privilege and the luck I have to enjoy the outdoors on such a regular basis. Long live UBES trips, which go a long way to make a weekend in the mountains more accessible to many. The next time you step out of your car in the Ogwen Cottage car park , pull on your brand-new belay jacket at the base of the crag or indeed reach for the ‘#’ on your phone, remember how lucky you are to have the freedom to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors.