#OptOutside: The Stories Behind the Photos

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The true stories of unexpected, awe-filled, magical moments outdoors.

What happens when you take one day to #OptOutside? Is it possible to bring joy to ourselves and others, get a booty burning, make lifelong friends and restore faith in humanity in 24 hours? Yes, we believe it is. And we believe you can do it.

In their own words, 10 community members share the real moments behind the #OptOutside hashtag.


Faith E. Briggs: Leaving the Negative Behind

Director of Toughness at Columbia Sportswear Lifestyle

"Could I reach down deep inside myself? Pull out the gold? How glorious, this light in us We are a wonder How glorious, this light in us We are a wonder. " # Laura Mvula "People" # we are a wonder. in spite of. wow this song just rocked me. # I'm still reflecting on how best to talk about our time in Colombia, at one moment the indigenous leader I was able to interview from the Kogui community we visited asked me about the indigenous communities here in the US. i told him everything i could, both celebrating and speaking of the ways in which our country has broken promises. it's hard to constantly talk about our people (black, indigenous etc.) and have to talk about the tragic context that surrounds us. but i love the fact that we also get to talk about resilience and the flair with which we have always turned whatever we have into something wonderful. # @_cammcleod_ # • • • #indigenousknowledge #resilience #riseandshine #solidarity #kogui #colombia #lauramvula #thepeople #testedtough #traveldifferent #blessed #culture

A post shared by Faith E. Briggs (@faithevebee) on

Photo by Cam McLeod

"This picture is in Colombia, trekking in the Sierra Nevada. It was a six-day trek, the most I’d ever done.

"We were in an indigenous town; we aren't allowed to say the name because they don’t want visitors. We met with the leaders, or Mamos, of the Kogi community. They allowed us to go up their mountain because our intentions weren’t to change anything.

"One of the most impactful, powerful parts about this trek was as we got to different levels of vegetation along the trail, they would take us through different ceremonies.

"At one point they said: Take these leaves, think about all the negative things you are carrying, wipe down your legs and leave them on this rock. The big trees down here will purify the air, but don't bring that negative stuff up there.

"If we lived in a culture where we had these rituals where we said leave all that stuff behind, don’t bring that with you, we could really learn from that.

"Late in the trek I couldn’t keep up. I was with nine other people and they were all white males except for our guides. I was the least experienced. There were times I would get really down on myself. And I told myself: You said you weren’t bringing negative stuff up here. It's actually dishonoring the place, the people and yourself.

"If I hadn’t been exposed to their culture, I wouldn’t have had that response."


Sarah Herron: Unknown Canyon Depths

Founder of SheLift

Photo by Dylan Brown

“When I first met my boyfriend, Dylan, he proposed that we go on an extended camping trip to the San Rafael Swell in western Utah. I was immediately onboard, though he had no idea this was about to be my introduction to canyoneering, or desert camping in any fashion. I showed up for our first-date getaway beaming with excitement for the adventure, but terrified of the unknown.

“It was early spring and parts of the canyon were still filled with water, so we had to strip down to wade—planned by Dylan, I am sure. We were in it now. I couldn’t go back and I of course couldn’t show fear on my first adventure out with my new boyfriend.

“The water sent chills up my spine. It was cold, dirty and had bugs skating every which way. But watching Dylan charge through with no hesitation and camera in hand, I knew it’d be fine. Shoes slung over my shoulder, pants rolled up in my bag, I charged ahead. My feet feeling their way through the muck on the bottom of the pool, I inched along.

“As I came out the other side, Dylan had his camera aimed right at me! I tried to shy away, but there was no place to go! I smiled and engulfed in the moment, came to love the whole situation. I found a person inside that thrives for adventure, thrives being pushed to her limit, and wants to do whatever she can to #OptOutside.”


Sabrina Chong: Friendship from Instagram to Real Life

REI store employee, photographer and filmmaker

Couldn’t find a campsite, so we made one.

A post shared by Sabrina Chong (@sabriiina_c) on

“The outdoors has played a huge part in my life and mental health. The experiences, the people I’ve met, and the lessons I’ve learned outside.

“Recently, I had someone reach out to me who follows me on Instagram. She was getting together a bunch of people to go camping and she invited me.

“No one knew each other in person. At first, I was wondering if people would be weird. But it was so much fun. We came in as strangers and left super tight.

“It was a lot of waterfall hunting. We started in McCloud in Northern California, and we went to all the waterfalls there, down to Hatchet Creek. The girl that hosted everything said she had all the campgrounds figured out. But we drove to Tahoe pretty late and didn’t find the campground. We ended up just camping in an open, flat dirt road—that’s the story behind this picture.

“At least for me personally, getting outside has been a huge restoration in humanity. You meet all these really cool people that open up to you when you meet them on the trail. Get out there because it’s good."


James Barkman: Argentina via Alaska

REI member motorcycling and climbing from Alaska to Panama

Returned from the Great White Fright. Dry land never felt so good

A post shared by James Barkman (@jamesbarkman) on

"This image is on Mount Robson [in British Columbia]—which has a 10 percent successful summit rate. We had just climbed Denali and saw a weather window. We rode 1,000 miles [via motorcycle] to make it.

"We were kind of thrashed and the route we were taking was the Patterson Spur, an obscure climbing trail. You have to do a lot of route picking and making judgment calls when there aren't guidelines to follow. It was a moment of pressure when the weather window was closing and we didn’t know if we could make it.

"The image itself is walking this ridgeline along cornice. We couldn’t tell where they started. There were moments of visibility and then the clouds moved in and you couldn’t see the guy ahead of you. Then I looked down and could see 2,000 feet—we were walking on the cornice.

"It was a moment, an exhilarating adrenaline rush, when I realized I was walking on a thin roof 2,000 feet up.

"We summited and made it back down to basecamp safely."


Mirna Valerio: Saluting the Sun

Educator, writer and runner

“As children in 1980s Brooklyn, New York, my cousins, friends and I would take every opportunity we had to climb on things when we were outside, which was a lot. I was obsessed with Nadia Comaneci, so I pretended the street curbs were balance beams. I would try somersaults and arabesques, always leaning to one side and landing in the street or on the gritty sidewalk.

“We were so full of life. We had an energy that seemed endless. It wasn’t until I was an adult that that energy came back to me—that spirit of physical adventure and trust that my body could do, could endure, could hold me steady and strong—flexible, yet fierce.

“A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend in an all-women’s retreat in Boulder, Colorado. The morning of the second day we were together we all met at Eben G. Fine Park.

“The sun was positioned perfectly between the rocks, and I knew this spot would be perfect for a downward dog. I climbed up a few rocks and positioned myself for the pose that for me invokes power, peace and contentment with my body. I moved into the pose carefully so I wouldn’t lean to either side and fall, like I did time and time on that street curb in Brooklyn. After a few breaths, I felt the warmth of the sun on my entire body and moved into three-legged dog, elongating my body, calming any anxiety about meeting new people, and regaining a sense of strength and flexibility.

“I felt strong and connected to this incredible group of women, each with their own story and life, coming together to celebrate the uniqueness of what it is to be a woman in fitness. Our unspoken mission was to bring joy to ourselves and in that, bring joy to others.”


Ashlee Langholz: Five Volcanoes and a Whoopie Pie

Creative strategist and fieldworker

“This summer, we had this super loose plan to hike the five volcanoes in Washington, starting when we got a permit for Mount St. Helens. We already knew we were going to do Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak. Squeezing in Mount Adams and Mount Baker seemed doable.

“Mount Olympus wasn’t a volcano, but the project wouldn’t have happened without Mount Olympus.

“The first volcano we did was Mount St. Helens. The final little push to summit is steep. I was really, really winded. I had to count to 100 before I stopped to take a breath. I counted up from 50 and back down from 50, and at 1, I could take a break. My brain needed something to work on. We made it and we skied down and it was great.

“The following weekend we were planning on doing Mount Olympus—it’s 22 miles each way and 7,000 feet up. I almost bailed because of how hard Mount St. Helens was. I thought, ‘I should be in better shape to do Olympus. I’ll slow everyone down.’ But I came to terms with the fact that I could always try and always turn around if it was too hard.

“It was such a good trip. It was three days and 12 people. And it was a friend of mine’s birthday. A friend made little kazoos on carabiners and half of them broke. We didn’t summit because there wasn’t a snow bridge at the top. We got 100 feet away. The truth is, it didn’t matter. We had our whoopie pies at the turn around spot and sang happy birthday.

“I didn’t slow anyone down. And if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have done Rainier. I look at Mount Olympus with such gratitude now.

“Knowing that I almost didn’t do Mount Olympus because I had a hard time on a mountain before seems silly in retrospect. Think of all the things that we would miss out on if we let one hard thing keep us from what we want to do.”


Tania De La Cruz: From First Boots to Alaskan Backpacker

Arizona adventure guide

“I’m 24 years old. I am currently a day tour guide, taking people out for anything they can do within a day—mountain biking, hiking, rafting, kayaking. For the past year, I’ve gotten paid to play outside.

“This past summer I went backpacking in Alaska. It was crazy to see how much I had grown in the past year. I started hiking little mountains near my house. Then I was doing a three-week backpacking trip in The Last Frontier. It was a good thing to look back, and see how I’ve grown, how strong I felt carrying my pack for three weeks.

“It was the trip of a lifetime. It was something I thought I could never do. I went with two of my good friends from Arizona. We bought our first hiking boots together at REI in November 2015. From there, it’s amazing to see how much we’ve progressed. All of that has come out of that from opting outside.

“Challenge yourself to do that one thing you’d say: That can’t be me. Whatever you admire from afar, follow that and see where it takes you and what comes out of it. What surprised me most is that it’s contagious. People see you doing big things, and they want to do it too.”


Shanti Hodges: Booty Burning Hiking Mom

Community builder and founder of Hike it Baby

“It was a wet November and much colder than usual. My mommy hiker friends and I had all committed to hiking the entire Wildwood Trail, a 30-mile dirt trail that runs through Forest Park [in Portland, Oregon,] over the course of 30 days in November.

“On this particular day, we were planning to cover 4 miles of our 30-mile month-long goal, but somehow along the way our navigation was off and 4 became 5 and then eventually 6 miles. We had taken a wrong turn or missed a cutoff somewhere along the way and the rain started falling hard. At one point we were all slogging on in silence and somehow miraculously all of our babies sleeping through the rain and the cold. One of the women on our hike, Jessi, now refers to this picture and infamous slog as the “WET, WET, WET booty burner hike.” It was a get ‘er done moment that we can laugh about now.

“While it was a hard hike due to the elements and the fact that we were humping 20-30 pounds of baby and gear on our bodies, with every step, I remember how strong I felt that day. Every muscle in my body was working and wide awake.

“As we trudged up the final climb, a light mystical fog settled in over us creating an almost fairy-tale-like ending to our hike. It was only then that we paused for a second, looking around, smiling, high-fiving. The end was near.

“We were forever bonded from that one moment outside and to this day, even though that hike didn’t have an epic view, nor was it an exotic location with a huge cascading waterfall, it’s still one of my favorite memories hiking with friends. When I look at this picture I can still feel that stoke through seeing the expressions our faces. It reminds me about how coming together in nature helps make those memories even more special and are cemented forever in my vault of awesomeness outside.”


Spencer Josif: Brothers Who Climb Together…

REI Outdoor School instructor

“My brother and I both work for REI. We used to both work at the same store, but since I transitioned to the REI Outdoor School we can spend days off together. This photo is one of those days.

“This climbing area is a very exposed. No matter how you cut it, it’s going to be a long day. You’re hiking in, trying to climb as much as you can, and still have the energy to hike back out at the end of the day. I’ve wanted to do two climbs there for a long time. I wasn’t sure when I could, or who my climbing partner would be. I didn’t want to do things that were challenging without someone I could trust.

“What [my brother’s] holding onto is the very last hold of the very last climb of the day. It’s hard to put words to it. This climb is called Thin Ice. It’s a 5.10b, but it’s two really long pitches, almost a full 70-meter rope length. The first pitch is sustained and steep. The second pitch has this flair. It’s a total grunt. He was leading, and it was the hardest thing he had led in that style.

“Climbing is a really personal sport. You’re trying to stay in your own head. You can start to think of too many variables. You need to focus on the task at hand. It’s a physical and mental challenge. Overcoming a challenge and working toward a goal and accomplishing that goal—you get that rush, that moment that you can relive for years, and it’s as exciting as when it first happened.

“Opting outside doesn’t have to be one of those things where you go scare yourself or set huge goals; it’s getting out with your close friends and enjoying the day. Don’t set your expectations too high. If you need to set expectations, try to enjoy the day and have fun with one another.”


Caroline Gleich: The #OptOutside Instigator

Ski mountaineer and adventurer

“One of my all-time favorite #OptOutside adventures was a girl’s road trip with Brooke Froelich and her new baby, Huck, to Peekaboo Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Brooke was a new mom at the time, and she continues to impress me in how she merges motherhood and the outdoors.

“What I love about these types of experiences is that you become family with whomever you’re with. Being so remote, you depend on one another in a different type of way. I slept peacefully knowing Brooke and Huck were close by. After a good night’s rest, we woke up, chowed down on oatmeal and tea, and hiked into a slot canyon, all while taking care of tiny Huck (and stopping for Brooke to breastfeed along the way). Looking back, I love how we embraced each challenge without fear.

“Choosing to #OptOutside doesn’t always come easily to me. It takes a conscious effort. It’s much easier to press snooze, turn off the alarm, sleep in and stay inside all day. But one of the things I’m coming to realize in life is that I rarely remember the most comfortable moments. The memories that stick out to me are the places where I had to dig deep, where I was uncomfortable, or where I chose the more difficult route.

“I worry about a lot of things on a day-to-day basis. I worried about Brooke and Huck on our adventure, questioning whether or not we should be out there with some a small baby, and thinking that people would judge us for taking on too much risk. But then I remembered how hiking all day makes me feel. It gives me a break from the constant noise and bright lights of the city, and a way to feel normal and human again. Of course, there are risks with anything in life you chose. After thinking through all my worries, I’ve come to realize that the bigger risk is not taking your family and friends outside.

“My call to action for you this Black Friday is to be the instigator of outdoor adventure in your family. Plan a walk around the neighborhood, or find a local trail. Pack lunches, and enjoy the fresh air.”

This Black Friday, #OptOutside
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