The Escapists explores quest for authentic living

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The reasons people seem to be fleeing the city for island life is the subject of a fascinating new podcast called The Escapists, produced on Salt Spring by Bradley Damsgaard and Adrian Mack.

The new-ish community members are media professionals who first worked together on The Nerve magazine in Vancouver, which Damsgaard founded and where Mack served as film editor before moving on to The Georgia Straight.

Damsgaard went on to work for social media management firm Hootsuite and currently runs his own consulting agency, Republic Digital. Mack transitioned his position with The Straight into a remote one when he and his family moved to Salt Spring a few years ago. After Damsgaard and his partner made their own escape from Vancouver in May 2019, the two friends started meeting regularly to talk about doing some sort of project together. They had also started bumping into more city friends in Ganges and realized there was an interesting phenomenon taking place.

“It occurred to Brad and I that something was happening and that there was a growing interest in leaving the city and trying to live a quote-unquote more authentic life,” Mack said.

The Escapists explores people’s reasons for leaving the city and the often surprising reality of living in a rural community, with Mack serving as chief interviewer and Damsgaard as cohost and producer. They ground their discussions with guests in their own experiences as urbanites who are “at the bottom end of a very very steep learning curve” when it comes to things like septic systems, chainsaws and decentralized government.

“I’m really at sea out here; I’m very lost at this way of life, but I’m enchanted by it,” Mack said. “And I’m very convinced that urban life, especially now, is going to become much more difficult and much less gratifying for people.”

“I see what we’re doing as having many different audiences,” Damsgaard said. “For someone who’s thinking about what we’re doing we want to dispel the myths or bring the truth about the hard realities.”

Rather than being a warning against leaving the city, Damsgaard explained the podcast could be useful for those who want to escape but have been making excuses about why they can’t, by showing how others have done it and made it work. It’s also aimed at people who have recently made the move, to help them adjust.

“It’s building a community of escapists but also talking to the fringe who are closet escapists, maybe,” Damsgaard said.

Episodes are around an hour long and have a conversational format. Season one’s five episodes feature interviews that were done in pre-pandemic times. The very first subject was Chris Arnett, who moved to the island in the 1980s despite a successful music career in Vancouver. (Mack now plays drums in Arnett’s band Salt Spring Underground.) His story was so fascinating it warranted two episodes. Season two will have a slightly different tone as subjects will be speaking post COVID-19, which has served to underline why city living may not be the best choice.

Common to the first season’s subjects is the fact most have kept their jobs in Vancouver but found a way to do the work remotely or to commute less frequently. Work has come up as a common theme in the podcast and is one of the difficulties in making a move. As Damsgaard points out, island-based jobs may not be high-paying and may be only seasonal, so people often need to have several different streams of income. Work based off-island also has drawbacks, though.

“Having your financial ties to the city is something you will have to deal with eventually,”  Mack said. “It’s the thing that might get you out of the city, because we can work remotely now. But especially in a post-COVID-19 world, I think it becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly that you need to re-establish your financial security here rather than there … I expect that will come up more in future episodes and I think it was always the subtext of the first season.”

So far the focus has been on people who came to Salt Spring from Vancouver because that is who and what the producers know. Going forward they would like to expand their subject base to other islands and into northern areas like the territories.

The Escapists podcast can be found at escapists.ca, where listeners can hear the full first season and choose to subscribe. It’s also available to download from platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.

The team is looking for new interview suggestions and feedback on what they’ve done so far — both good and bad. Emails can be sent to escapistforlife@gmail.com.

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