If you get outdoors fairly regularly or find yourself dreaming about going places, you probably understand why I write this column and why I'm on the trail or on the road every chance I get.
Over the last three years I've been asked "Why?" a surprising number of times. Of course it's easy enough to say, "It's fun" or "I enjoy it," but that isn't necessarily a satisfactory answer. Is it more than that? Is it more than just a way of passing time? I think about this a lot and I am convinced that it is. For me, being in the outdoors serves four important purposes.
First of all, this world is a beautiful place. Humans can make some pretty amazing things, but rarely do they exceed the majesty of the mountains, the oceans, the valleys and the deserts at the last light of evening, under fresh snow, during the spring bloom, or under the full moon. You can interpret this beauty in a variety of ways, but it's hard to deny that there's something very special about it.
Secondly, and more concretely, the outdoors is a great place to learn patience, skills, the value of time, and the beauty of being able to begin a multi-step process and carry it through to successful completion. As a high school teacher I'm often struck by how this generation of students can be so dependent on technology that many come to expect that everything should be effortless and instantaneous. The truly valuable things in life -- skills and character -- aren't effortless or instantaneous.
Hiking to a destination, making a challenging trek to the top of a mountain or a great fishing hole, finding your way without a trail -- none of these things are easy. They often take hours of sweat, hard work, and heavy breathing in the hot sun. But they all have rewards and they help to reinforce the patience and determination that develop skills and character.
There's nothing like the feel of the ice cold water of a mountain swimming hole, the sight and sound of a summer thunderstorm, the taste of a hearty meal cooked over a campfire at the end of an exciting day, the tug of a big wild fish on the line, and sharing all of these things with the people you care about. I appreciate these things because they're beautiful, but also because they require work to accomplish. It's not a passive act like staring at a screen. I've been more amazed, more thoughtful, more thankful, more challenged, more appreciative of friends and family, and yes, even more scared on a few occasions in the outdoors than I've ever been while staring at a TV screen. The latter, however, has usually been my fault, though I've learned important lessons from those experiences as well.
Thirdly, the outdoors is also a great place to build ties of family and friendship. In the safety and comfort of home, schedules, and routines, it's entirely possible to go for days without saying or thinking about anything meaningful. Want to really get to know someone? Get out in the outdoors and face a challenge together. Even cooking and enjoying a meal together and sitting around the campfire telling stories and kicking around ideas can lead to stronger ties. Many of the best conversations I've ever had have been around campfires and on long hikes. With fewer distractions, we find things to think and talk about that draw us closer together and make us better people.
Fourthly, I can't forget to mention health. Although some find it easy to exercise regularly, the majority who would like to be healthier find it hard to keep up a routine. Whether it's the summer heat, getting up earlier, finding the energy after work, or buckling down to jogging on a machine while staring at a wall, there's always plenty of excuses. Having a partner or group definitely helps. Being able to exercise in the outdoors can also make exercise more appealing. Even if you're only hiking or doing some other outdoor activity occasionally, it can provide some additional motivation to add workouts during the week so you'll be better prepared for the "big event" on the weekend.
Finally, and I wouldn't count this as a reason because nobody ought to do something simply because it is cheap, outdoor activities can be remarkably inexpensive. For the cost of taking your family out to dinner and a movie you could also spend the entire weekend camping, hiking, swimming, and enjoying each other's company around the campfire. For a small group of friends who split the costs of gas, food, and campsite fees, it's also a good deal. The affordability isn't a reason in and of itself, but it doesn't hurt, does it?
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.