Not long after I graduated from college in the mid-1990s, I got a job as a cashier at Midwest Mountaineering, a popular outdoors store in Minneapolis. The best thing about it (apart from the employee discount) was getting to read Outside magazine when business got slow.
In those days Outside’s pages were filled with writers I loved: Jon Krakauer, Tim Cahill, David Quammen. Around that same time, the magazine came out with its first anthology: “Out of the Noösphere.” It was filled with classic stories from the previous two decades. I read my copy until it fell apart.
Since then, Outside has come out with a few other collections, all filled with great stories. This year it published another: “Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine,” an assortment of “misadventures.” These include everything from working the “groover” (toilet boat) on a Grand Canyon raft, to canoeing the Mississippi River in a 57-foot flood, to an immersion in the strange world of competitive water sliding.
Most of the stories in “Out There” date from the 2000s, which got me thinking about how writing on the outdoors has changed over the years. After all, the genre is one of our great traditions, dating back to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and others. Yet for much of the 20th century, the writing was dominated by muscular prose, sarcastically described by Cahill, Outside’s co-founder, as “ ‘Man’s Adventure,’ ‘Adventures for Men’ and ‘Man’s Testicles.’ ” In a recent interview, he said the goal in founding the magazine was simply to write, “stories about the outdoors that were literate. That’s all.”