Tour de France was a few weeks ago, and Leadville 100 was last weekend. So all I did in between was scour the internet for cycling news, get stoked, then go out and ride. It’s a thrill each time because while I will never be Rebecca Rusch, I just really really love this shit.
Something that really bugs me, though? Is how often these breath-taking feats of physicality are framed in the violent imagery of conquest.
For example, there’s Lance not conquering Mt. Ventoux, and “Lance conquers Leadville”. It’s common imagery in climbing too. This wikilink talks about conquering and assaulting the “seemingly invulnerable and formidable” Mt. Guiting-Guiting. Two years ago, my excitement over the Pinays who summitted Sagarmatha (woot!) was diluted by the headline “Palace lauds three Filipina Everest conquerors.” That women can be conquerors too counts as progress, I guess. Plus the subtitle “shows women are equal and sometimes better than men” was a nice touch. And just as a bonus, that last article also touts the three Pinoy mountaineers who, the previous year, had “made history by conquering Everest.”
Good lord. Chomolungma and Guiting-Guiting will be here long after we’re gone. They’ll always have the last laugh.
Part of it is lazy writing. But the conquest imagery also shows how such attitudes towards the natural world remain deeply ingrained. Colonialist discourse is steeped in the need to tame and control, to make the unfamiliar natural world comprehensible and useful to the colonizer. That natural world includes forests, mountains, bodies of water. And people. Especially women.
How goddamn sad is it that the main relationships that we develop with nature are determined by conquest and the mass extraction of resources?
To me, this is what it means to be outdoors:
It doesn’t happen all the time, but there’s that tantalizing promise of joy that, for me, is hard to find anywhere else. There’s no conquest here, only optimism and being alive.