For the past two Black Fridays, REI has closed its doors and paid its 12,000+ employees to go outside. This year, the co-op invited the nation to join in by choosing to #OptOutside in order to reconnect with friends and family this Thanksgiving holiday. One REI employee took the notion a step further.
“So, call me crazy, but I have this idea: Why not #OptOutside every day until Black Friday?” And with one kick-off Facebook post, REI employee Kristen Evans did just that. We called her at her home in Las Vegas to get the details.
How did you start your 33-day project?
I wanted to show people that, whether you have an hour or two after work or an entire weekend off, there’s something for you do to outdoors. I started with a short hike up to Lone Mountain to take in the city lights.
Why did you decide to take this on?
I wanted to Opt Outside every day starting from when REI launched the campaign through Black Friday. I also wanted to do a different activity on each excursion, to get a better idea of all the outdoor recreation possibilities around Vegas, because there are so many.
Why is the message of #OptOutside important to you?
For me, I don’t feel right unless I’m outside. Being outside always makes me happier. If I don’t get outdoors enough, I’m antsy.
I love the whole #OptOutside idea. The outdoors is much more accessible than people think. You don’t have to put in a whole day or even half a day. It can be a short trip and that is more than enough.
You brought friends along. Was building community part of your goal?
I wanted to get as many people as I could outside. I had friends come out with me, I brought my family with me a few times during their visit, and I had a bunch of people visiting REI so I brought them out with me, too. And, of course, I got outside with my coworkers.
You featured your REI #OptOutside poster in many unique ways. How do you find photographic inspiration?
I do photography on the side. It was another challenge: How do you photograph the same poster over and over again but capture the landscape and activities, too?
What were the activities you did?
Hiking, walking, trail and road running, rock climbing, bouldering, road biking, mountain biking, slacklining and kayaking.
What was the shortest #OO trip?
The trip to the park to go slacklining. It was only 45 minutes before work.
A five-hour hike up to Griffith Peak. The weather was too inclement to do my whole goal that day, but hiking in the fog was so fun. Though the weather wasn’t the greatest, it gives you a different experience, it changes the surroundings. And it was so windy at the top of Griffith Peak that I went through two or three #OptOutside posters before I got the shot.
Was it a challenging project?
There were one or two days where I was comfortable on the couch and I didn’t want to get out there. The goal motivated me, however, to continue getting outside.
Who did you inspire?
I had friends, coworkers and customers who told me they were inspired to get outdoors by the project. It’s probably the best compliment I could get. If I could inspire one person, that would be more than enough, but to inspire multiple people is awesome.
What did you learn?
I learned just how much there is to do around Vegas. I thought I would run out of trails to hit and activities to try, but every day I’m still discovering new trails.
Plus, it’s given me a lot more energy. I only sleep four to five hours. I wake up at sunrise every day without an alarm.
Would you do it again?
I have such a long list of things to do that I’m expanding the project to 100 days. I’m excited to get out and do it. Today is day 45!
Kristen Evans has been an REI member since 2011, and an employee since July 2015. In May of 2016, she also joined the REI Outdoor School as an instructor and gets to teach some of her favorite classes, including Backcountry Skills, Map & Compass Navigation, and Outdoor Photography. Having worked out of both stores in the Las Vegas area, she now calls the Henderson, Nevada, store home. Her favorite outdoor activities include rock climbing, hiking, canyoneering and backpacking.