Some people return to the same favorite destinations for much-anticipated and fondly remembered vacations.
Others, myself included, get a thrill out of exploring new places. In a state like California, it is simply impossible to exhaust all of the outdoor recreation opportunities in a single lifetime.
Whether you return to a favorite place or seek new adventures is simply a matter of personal preference. Traditions are an important part of life for most people. Although I love to explore new places, I also have valued traditions that are some of the best parts of each year.
One of these is the annual snowshoe trip. It started four years ago when some of my backpacking buddies were trying to figure out a way to backpack in the wintertime. Snowshoes would make it possible to travel over the snow, but our previous experiences with snow camping had bordered on miserable. Winter nights are long and cold in the mountains.
The plan came together when I found rental cabins in the Eldorado National Forest that are only accessible by snowshoe, cross-country ski, or snowmobile during the winter. Our first trip to the small cabin on the top of 6,686 foot Robbs Peak was a blast. Other than having propane lights, propane heat, and two small rooms, it was just like backpacking.
Three miles from a road, we had solitude, wilderness beauty, good food, warm beds, and a memorable time relaxing in the cabin and exploring the surrounding area.
We had such a good time that we repeated it again the next year, this time pushing ourselves six miles through fresh snow to reach a more remote cabin in a beautiful meadow near the Desolation Wilderness. By the end of that trip we were hooked and the snowshoe trip had become a much-anticipated annual tradition.
The following year we snowshoed in Oregon. We change a few things each year -- adding to the traditions and inviting additional friends we think will enjoy the adventure.
No matter whether snowshoeing becomes one of your traditions, having traditions is important. I enjoy the outdoors because I love the beauty of the wilderness and the adventures I find there. More importantly, though, the outdoors can provide some of the best opportunities for families and friends to enjoy time together. The unexpected surprises, wonders, and challenges you find in wild places often bring out the best in people and form lasting bonds. It doesn't matter so much what you do or where you do it. What matters is who you do it with and that you actually get out and do it.
Of all the things for which I am thankful, true friendships fall pretty high on the list. People don't often complain about having too many friends. Far too many people have hundreds of acquaintances on Facebook without having anyone they trust and enjoy to the point where one of the greatest thrills in life is setting out on an adventure together in the most beautiful places on earth.
True friends make us better people and make our lives richer. The outdoors can be one of the best places to get away from daily distractions and develop meaningful relationships with friends and family.
I'm writing this as we drive back from this year's snowshoe trip to a cabin in Idaho. It's hard to imagine a better way to have rung in the new year than by exploring a beautiful part of the Rockies with four of my best buddies. We picked Idaho this year so that a buddy who now lives there could join us.
At night, the sub-zero temperatures froze moisture in the air. Walking around outside after dark, the frozen crystals made the air sparkle. Beneath them, the light brought the snow to life. It flashed as if it had been salted with tiny diamonds. Far above, the deep black of the night sky was highlighted by larger diamonds.
The Warm Springs Guard Station -- a restored 1930's ranger station -- provided the perfect place to warm up around a wood stove, eat delicious food, play cards, and laugh over funny stories from this trip and all the ones over the past few years.
Money may not buy happiness, but for $40 a night it sure can provide a great place in the middle of nowhere for good buddies to enjoy some of the best things in life.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org