Six years ago, I started writing this weekly column, not knowing where it would take me.
During that time, I’ve visited unforgettable places, met many interesting people and had enough adventures with family and friends to provide for a lifetime of storytelling and good memories. I still don’t count myself as an expert in many areas – I’m just a guy who likes to enjoy the outdoors and share those experiences with other people. I’m also convinced I’m a better person (and so are the people who have joined me) because of these adventures.
Thinking back on those six years – my first column appeared on June 13, 2009 – there are a couple of columns that stand out to me as favorites. In celebration of that anniversary, I’m reprinting a slightly updated version of one of them. I think it’s appropriate, as it captures most of what I enjoy about the outdoors and because summer is one of the best times of the year to get outside and go exploring. Perhaps it will give you inspiration to plan a trip:
Over the past five years, I’ve been asked, “Why do you go on these trips?” 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 am convinced it is. For me, being in the outdoors serves four important purposes:
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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, oceans, valleys and deserts at the last light of evening, under fresh snow, during the spring bloom or under the light of the full moon.
Second, 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. This is sad because 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 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 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.
Third, 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 anything meaningful.
Want to really get to know someone? Get 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 had have been around campfires and on long hikes. With fewer distractions, we find things to think and talk about that draw us closer and make us better people.
Fourth, I can’t forget to mention health.
Although some find it easy to exercise regularly, the majority who would like to be healthy find it hard to keep it up. 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 are 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 additional motivation to add a few 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 should do something simply because it’s 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 is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org