Broken: 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School
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All in, AMBC maintains more than miles of trail. The rate of trail building and maintenance has been staggering. Grey cliffs rise above the blue-green water as swimmers splash in the shallow end near a small beach.
We cruise a mile or so of greenway sandwiched between the Tennessee River and fields of tall grass maintained by the Wildlife Management Area. During fall and winter, hunters will spend the day in those fields with their rifles looking for waterfowl moving along the broad Tennessee. The trail drops quickly through a thick stand of skinny hardwoods, the trees forming a narrow corridor on either side of the singletrack.
The elevation changes are quick and frequent and rarely long enough to justify switching gears, so you stand and hammer the little hills, quickly getting into a paper-boy rhythm. The whole thing makes me feel like a kid again. Kellogg and most of the members of AMBC have been riding this loop for years, long before it was legal. Back then they called it the Dirty South because there were fences to hop and No Trespassing signs lining large swaths of would-be developed land. Fortunately for mountain bikers, Knoxville is a boomtown that never went boom.
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Photo Credit: Derek Deluzio. The land belongs to Brian Hann, one of the masterminds of the Urban Wilderness system. Years ago, he built 6 miles of trail in the woods surrounding his working farm and was desperate for people to ride it with him. Connecting his private trail to other trails through surrounding farms, neighborhoods and parks seemed like the natural evolution. This is the way it goes in Knoxville. They are, above all, selling the allure of the great outdoors, offering their customers technically advanced gear for going off into the wilds with a friend or two.
Or, if you prefer, alone: the cover of the winter Patagonia catalogue features a man on a motorbike — carrying a pair of skis under one arm — smiling at a squirrel as it crosses the road. Both companies understand that the appeal of endurance sports has something to do with acquiring kit that boasts the most advanced technology. For genuine adventure, their marketing implies, you need top-quality gear.
And top-quality gear designed to withstand the harshest conditions and last a lifetime does not come cheap. Both companies also understand that the largest market for their products is not explorers stocking up for Arctic expeditions. The real money comes from selling products designed for hardcore outdoor adventure to urban customers who lead relatively unadventurous lives. For the most part, people wear North Face and Patagonia gear while doing everyday things: cycling, shopping, walking the dog.
Patagonia is smaller, but growing more rapidly. The flagship jackets for both companies are the product of decades of technological refinement to make them increasingly warm, durable, and light. Both jackets are fit for a mountaineering expedition, but are each more likely to be bought to keep warm while taking the kids to the park. Neither company regards the other as a rival — at least not publicly. But aside from the fact they sell the same kind of stuff to the same kind of customers urban, affluent , the two companies have quite a bit of shared history.
Both men started out making their own specialist equipment; both went on to found companies selling outdoor wear; both felt distinctly uncomfortable doing office jobs, and still more uncomfortable running companies. But North Face and Patagonia are both wrestling with a more consequential paradox, one that is central to contemporary consumerism: we want to feel morally good about the things we buy.
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And both companies have been phenomenally successful because they have crafted an image that is about more than just being ethical and environmentally friendly, but about nature, adventure, exploration — ideas more grandiose than simply selling you a jacket, taking your money and trying not to harm the earth too much along the way.
But the paradox is that by presenting themselves this way, they are selling a lot more jackets. You might call this the authenticity problem. And for all their similarities, the two companies are taking radically different approaches to solving it. D oug Tompkins and Yvon Choiunar d were the kind of outcast adolescents who found a home in the great outdoors.
Both men became passionate about climbing and surfing in the American west in the middle of the last century. Both The North Face and Patagonia have their roots in exploring the sort of remote places about which guidebooks had not been written. In those days, getting back to uncorrupted nature and reading Thoreau by the campfire slotted in well with the nascent counterculture.
Tompkins opened the first The North Face retail store selling mountaineering equipment in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco in At first, he created and forged reusable steel pitons that were hammered into rock faces and then removed. Then, to help preserve climbing routes from disfigurement, Chouinard changed to aluminium chocks that could be wedged in by hand and did not leave a trace behind. Early in their friendship, a white-water kayaking trip together in California ended with Chouinard getting 15 stitches in his face.
Chouinard had also branched out from mountaineering equipment. He had begun to import climbing wear, for sale, and in , founded a new company named Patagonia. One of his earliest employees was Kris McDivitt, a downhill ski-racer. They married in , a union of sorts between the two companies. Together the couple eventually bought 2. The challenge of taking the moral high ground while still making and selling things is something that Rick Ridgeway also thinks about a great deal.
Populating the world with more stuff that will eventually get thrown away is bad for the planet; the popularising of outdoor culture of all sorts is bad for specific places of natural beauty, which risk being overrun with people; and finally — and most difficult — the entire ethos of growth and profit and consumption is unsustainable for humanity and the health of the planet.
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Jill Dumain, the director of environment strategy, who has been at Patagonia for more than 27 years, can easily list all the ways the company is trying to do the right thing, among them the decision, in the s, to use only organic cotton, and in to switch to torture-free goose down. The North Face made the same move in It has tried to replace as many of its synthetic materials as possible with recycled ones, although finding recycled zippers and buttons has been a struggle.
Socially, it is committed to fair trade in its supply chain, in the mills and sewing factories it works with. This has led to the company splitting up with suppliers who were not willing or able to make the changes it demanded. These are the sorts of problems that Patagonia has chosen to explore to an almost obsessive degree. Over time, Chouinard and Ridgeway matured into their roles as aging renegades: they appear as delightfully cranky old friends in a documentary, Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless , which follows a young writer and photographer as he attempts to retrace their now-legendary trip from California to Chile.
Their adventures continued into December of , when Chouinard, Ridgeway, Tompkins, and three other friends went on a seemingly gentle five-day kayaking trip to southern Chile. Ridgeway, who is 67, and Tompkins, 72, shared a kayak and it capsized in heavy waves in 4C water. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.
Return to Book Page. Averill Goodreads Author. Sarah James is an experienced ESL, reading, and English teacher who goes to work in a failing middle school. This novel, based on a true story, focuses on her personal and spiritual growth as a result of her relationships with students, colleagues, and administrators.
Sarah is pressed to confront her core motivation as a do-gooder. Ultimately, if we are what we do, who are we when we fail? What Sarah discovers about herself, her students and her faith, rocks her world, and frees her to move on. The themes of this book transcend education. Anyone who works hard, tries to make a difference, and struggles daily to keep it together will find in Sarah James a kindred spirit.
Ann C. She lives with her dear husband, brave dog, kitty cat, and a flock of happy chickens in the foothills of the Berkshires. Get A Copy.
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