December 11, 2004

Wilderness for the wealthy?

I got a new NOLS catalog in the mail today. Something about the pictures in that thing make very happy. No matter what else I'm doing or where I am, the catalog reminds me that the world's a stunningly beautiful place. And fun. Cold and wet, too, but that only adds to the sense of adventure.

The NOLS catalog has gotten more luxurious. It's thick enough now to need a squared-off binding; and it's printed entirely on glossy magazine paper. When I took my last NOLS course in the late '90s, the catalog was folded over with staples and printed on lighter-weight paper. The tuition has gone up, too. The Yukon Backpacking course is just a hair under three thousand dollars. The Semester in the Rockies costs around $9500. The Semester in New Zealand? $11,136.

There are scholarships available for students who can't drop that kind of cash, but I'm sure they're not easy enough to get. Many non-wealthy people are probably lucky just to hear of NOLS. Most students probably begin their NOLS adventures with a trip to the career office at schools like Bowdoin or Pomona. I wonder how many of the seductive catalogs are readily available at the local community college? I hate to think that wilderness adventures should be a perquisite of wealth. The earth, you see, belongs to all of us, but sometimes it seems that you need to be a millionaire to see it in the rough.
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EDIT: a reader phones in to point out that the Boy Scouts get people into the wilderness for a lot less money than NOLS does. Good point. But there are still differences: the Scouts are for kids. What's a 30-year-old of limited means to do?

Posted by Carey at December 11, 2004 08:01 PM
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