Sunday, October 21, 2012

180° South

I was bored on a Sunday afternoon last spring when I stumbled across a movie on Netflix that piqued my interest.

The title was 180° South, and the summary read, "The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia."

I knew that Yvon Chouinard was the founder of outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia, and that Patagonia itself was a remote and wild region at the very tip of South America. But I didn't know anything about Jeff Johnson, Doug Tompkins, or any epic journeys.

As you have probably figured out by now, something that says "epic journey" is right up my alley, so of course I decided  to watch it.

Jeff Johnson is a man who has made his life outdoors, working odd jobs, "doing whatever it took to pay for the next big trip." Ten years before this film, he watched "Mountain of Storms," Doug and Yvon's account of their 1968 journey. He knew then that Patagonia was a place that he was going to have to visit.

Did I mention that Doug is also the founder of The North Face? When these two friends and traveling companions finally decided to "grow up" they both founded multi-million dollar outfitting companies.

Fast forward to present day. Jeff has found a stable job and is beginning to settle down. But there is still Patagonia. He could easily take his two weeks and fly down, but that would defeat the purpose. He decides that if he is ever going to make such a trip, now is the time.

Jeff finds a ride, in exchange for his labor, on a sailboat named the Sea Bear that is traveling from California to the captain's native Chile. The trip is going well and Jeff is finally starting to adjust to sea travel when disaster strikes. During his watch, the mainmast is ripped from the hull and snapped like a twig.

Lacking enough fuel to motor all the way to mainland Chile, they head for Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) the most remote island in the world and home to the famous stone heads (moai).

I don't want to give away too many spoilers so I'll summarize the rest, but Jeff meets a native girl, Makohe, and she accompanies him for the rest of the journey.

Jeff finally makes it to Patagonia where he meets up with Doug and Yvon who are in the midst of the largest private conservation effort ever undertaken.

Yvon agrees to join Jeff and two of his friends who have flown down to accompany him in his mission to find waves and eventually climb a mountain called Corcovado.

From here the film takes on a different role as it transitions from being purely an adventure epic to a progressive pro-conservation film. Chile, in the midst of an incredible industrialization, is used as an example of what is happening to our world, and why we must try to reverse what we have already done.

It is said that we cannot take a step back, but what if, as Yvon says, "The solution to a lot of the world's problems may be to turn around and take a forward step."

180° South has received criticism for being too preachy and that Doug and Yvon are simply self-centered millionaires who are preserving all of this land as their own personal playground. However, I didn't see it that way. Sure there are some parts that seem a bit treehugger-ish, but its true that we are losing our wild places and if something isn't done, they may eventually be lost forever.

What I took away from the film was allure of open spaces, of the epic trip, of the wild. Jeff Johnson did something that most of us can only dream about. I hope that one day I'll be able to take a few months and just go. Watching Jeff on his journey inspires, and myself, to get out and go.

"Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all...but we were just going for it." -Yvon Chouinard

Watch the trailer and learn more about the movie here

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