Preface: This column is set against the background of an expedition we went on in 2010.
My friend Rico recently wrote an article regarding Over-Heroes- those people you encounter in life that are dying to be a hero, even when their services aren’t rendered. That got me thinking about another type of unsung backcountry enigma: the Anti-Hero.
You know the type. They willingly offer their asinine two-cents on how stupid/crazy/destructive the activity you’re performing or are about to perform is. Some sort of statement of credibility usually follows their condescending message. For example:
Anti-Hero “You’re going to ski the Devil’s Grundle (eyes rolling), I’ve long lined so many carcasses out of there.”
The Anti-Hero is a difficult thing to deal with in the backcountry setting because, unlike the Over-Hero who is more of a nuisance, the Anti-Hero could be preventing you from getting in way over your head….or, he or she could just be a jackass. Statements are particularly difficult to evaluate when they are coming from a figure of authority (ranger, guide, patroller, etc.)
We had such an Anti-Hero situation when planning our source-to-sea expedition in Alaska’s Brooks Range. The idea of the trip was to fly into a remote region in Alaska’s Brooks Range with skiing and rafting gear, ski a bunch of peaks at the headwaters of a river, and then raft all the way to the ocean- hence, “source to sea.” It’s incredibly difficult to get beta on the area, so we were trying to contact anybody we could. We spoke with one Park Ranger who seemed pretty knowledgeable- he knew the area, seemed experienced, and spoke like he knew what he was talking about. We explained our mission, time frame, and credentials. Then, the Anti-Hero came out.
“I strongly, strongly advise against going on this trip,” said the ranger. He explained that our trip was essentially a suicide mission- and if he could physically stop us he would. Even as we mentioned pushing back the trip to wait for better conditions, he insisted that we find another place to go.
What do you do in this situation? One of the only people that you can get information from is telling you it’s a suicide mission. Well, we did what you’d expect: we looked for more information. Our only other source was our pilot, who understood our credentials and assured us we’d be fine- but then again he has a vested interest in us going.
In the end, we postponed the trip by about a week and a half- trying to balance the beta that we got. As we flew deep into the Brooks Range all uncertainty faded- the pilot was right and the Park Ranger was full of s*&t. And, in many ways, the Ranger had screwed us because we now faced longer approaches, less snow, and, overall, a lot more work.
I’m not trying to say I have a problem with people looking out for my safety. The Anti-Hero problem comes from people, particularly when they’re in an authoritative position, providing information that is subjective, rather than objective, and based on their 30-second impression of you.
So how do you deal with the Anti-Hero? Collect as much info as possible before you go- from legitimate sources. This gives you some ammo against the Anti-Hero, and can help you determine if the person really knows what they’re talking about or if he or she is a Kook. If you can counter the anti-hero’s arguments with something that lets the person know you’ve done you’re homework, you might get some good information out of them…or they might continue to be a jackass. Either way, you can defuse the Anti-Hero situation- turning it into something useful, or just write it off as another badass in the backcountry.