Well, I survived the 2008 Winter Outdoor Retailer trade show. 'Survived' is the key word here. The sheer amount of stuff that is unloaded, polished, set up and hocked at these things is both astounding and depressing. I took photos, but I'm not sure if I can publish them here because I was officially a member of the press when I took them (you never know where the lawyers are sniffing around). In description, I'd say that on the whole it looked like an REI on steroids under harsh fluorescent lighting and with a serious lack of bathrooms.
However, I will admit that the first day was fun. I got to see my old friends from Lander, and even some from Eugene, and I managed to score a couple of interviews that I wasn't sure if I would get or not. I ran around with my press pass, camera, recorder, pen and paper and was thrilled when someone wanted to talk to me, and equally annoyed when they didn't. At times, this was my view of the show:
While there my boss had me working on two stories that were both environmental pieces. I found myself researching the environmental practices of companies and trying to weed out who was green, and who was just selling green. From what I could tell, almost all companies are doing at least something to reduce their carbon footprint, and that is reassuring. I worked the floor, networked, interviewed those who would cooperate and collected photos and audio where I could.
But by the second day the junk food, bright lights, loud sales reps, lack of sleep and lack of real beer had put me in a decidedly dark mood. It was a struggle just to walk through the show, let alone show enthusiasm at my appointments. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there, which was odd for me. I'd been really excited about coming to the show, seeing all my old friends and previewing all the latest and greatest gear. New shoes! New socks! New backpacks! Oh boy! Does it really get any better than that? But by the afternoon of the second day I found myself sitting on the floor with my back against the wall and calling my cynical, non-traditional, nature-loving friend, Kelly, to at least attempt to shake me from my funk. It didn't work. I grabbed another triple latte and headed back into the show.
I wandered into the booth of a small yoga mat company that seemed to be the real deal. Their product is eco-friendly, made in the USA and when you buy a mat they plant a tree. I was interviewing the owner, a former EPA lawyer turned yoga mat guru about his all natural, real rubber mats when he said something that struck me. "Well, you know what the best product for the planet is, right? No product at all." And right then, in that brief statement, I knew what my problem was. In all of the clothes, shoes, skis, bags, jewelry, food, tents, hats and ropes there was no nature. There were colors called "sage green" and "granite gray" but there was no sage, no stone, no soil. None of what I love was there, just stuff. Not that all gear is bad--you do have to wear something when you go outside. But what motivates me, what charges me, just wasn't there. Gear, as it turns out, is not what inspires me. And suddenly I was very lonely for the forests, rivers, beaches and mountains of my home. It was a homesickness that could best be described as thirst. I even missed the relentless Oregon rain.
Outside a warm front is pushing through. The snow-melt that is running down the street will turn to ice by morning, and sidewalks will be buried once more. Things are changing again. Not much, but it's enough to cause a stir. It's enough to know that things will be different.