Typically when someone asks me a question like this my response is a pretty generic 'because I love it' or 'I just love being outside'. While those sentiments are true, I feel like they leave me with a sense of disappointment in not being able to fully capture the reasons I choose to participate in activities that, on their surface, can be downright befuddling to people. I mean, why would you invest time off from work to carry a heavy pack far away from all the comforts of home, sleep on the ground, and deal with bugs and animals? When I think about the logistics and costs involved with a backpacking trip, kayak overnight, bikepacking adventure, or climbing a mountain it's no wonder some people think the whole idea is illogical. And yet, in spite of it all, we're out there putting one foot in front of the other to go find the most difficult place to poop we possible can (I joke about this, but I know several people who do not going backpacking for this very reason!).
All of that being said, we have here in this community a group of people who, for all our different outdoor activities, are bonded by a drive to get outside. What's your 'why'? What motivates you to keep going and getting outside? Can you help me answer this question in a way that adequately captures the essence of how awesome the outdoors is?
Here is a photo of me pushing two bikes up a huge hill on a bikepacking trip with my daughter. There was as much of this misery as there was actual riding so why do I look back on this trip with only fond memories?!
Not really a "bird watcher" but we went for a hike the other day and we had great fun identifying what turned out to be a Northern Flicker. The CornellLab Merlin app is an excellent resource. On the same hike there was an Elk herd...its a reserve so that was not surprising but we did see them...probably around 30 in several groups. And we also saw a Grey Whale pod feeding off the point, and abundance of wild flowers and a number of other birds, insects and mammals all doing their thing. We were first on the trail and didn't see anyone until we were a fair way into our return.
Very nice hike! Yes, Merlin is a great app for bird id. Northern Flickers are amazing, a well dressed bird 🙂
Freedom, lack of responsibility (other than to the planet, yourself, and your buddies), lack of people, sense of well being and piece, communing with nature/animals. When I'm backpacking, all I have to do that day is get from point A to point B and take care of my bodily needs. In principle I could go anywhere; my house is on your back. When kayaking, I am one with the water, playing in the waves, rolling from the dark back up to the light. I'm alive and free.
Having taken so many years off from being outdoors and getting back into it in my 50s, not only do I get a lot of questions about why I chose the activities I have, but also "why now"?
Second question first - the answer depends on how much sleep I've gotten and how gracious I am feeling at the time LOL. But, in truth, it boils down to "because that's how old I am right now" But the question is asked in a variety of attitudes. Often with admiration (your first backpacking rip at age 52?) but also with some well-meant-but-tone-deaf-condescension (aren't there safer things you can do?).
As for the first question, why these activities? I don't know if I can adequately articulate the reasons to those who don't share the same passion or who lack the inquisitive natures to genuinely want to listen and discover what makes a person happy. It goes back to the saying "if I have to explain, you wouldn't understand."
But that doesn't stop my from trying. 🙂
To this group of like-minded peeps, hiking has saved my life - it's helped me drop almost 100 pounds in two years, I am happiest when I walk in solitude among the trees and along the rivers. The forests and the mountains are my church where the divine (whatever energy that maybe) reveals itself if I am willing to look and listen.
To me being outdoors outside of cities just feels right. Now, don't take me wrong, I like living in cities and being able to take hot showers every day, eating at a good restaurant (i.e. take out nowadays), going to live concerts (pre-pandemic), etc. But in order to keep my being balanced, I need to spend at least a couple of weeks per year as far from cities and crowds as I can.
Nowadays my favorite activity is hiking and backpacking. Before having kids, I was very much into high altitude climbing, which had a lot of hiking, but also included some more difficult activities: carrying heavy loads for days at a time, relative danger, being exposed to extreme cold and lack of oxygen, etc. Still, I loved it, warts and all. An old climbing instructor, who was a professional mountaineer with decades of experience and a bit of a philosopher, had arrived at a very simple response when asked why he chose that activity: "I get to see beautiful places with my closest friends".
When I was climbing remote, difficult mountains and I was asked "why mountains?" I could only answer, "because they are out there", a challenge but also an invitation to a different kind of appreciation of nature, a beautiful and unforgiving environment where you can really feel how small and superfluous you are, so you cannot but go back to your life humbler and having learned something about yourself.
If the situation warrants, I will show them a photo or two that captures the beauty of someplace we have hiked or backpacked and say, "This is why we go." As the old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." If sharing a photo is not practical, I will try to describe some of the wonders we have experienced on a recent outing, whether that is a grand scenic landscape, a thundering waterfall, or a plethora of spring wildflowers.
Ok, longer answer.
I have been outside most of my life. I tried the management thing and inside work. I got out of both asap and back to working alone outside. I dont care for cities. Been to most of the biggies in the US, didnt lose anything there, dont need to go back. I live rural and my back yard is a good sized forested area that I own. I like it that way and worked for a long time to have it. Sometimes when I go camping I feel like Hagrid from Harry Potter when he told the lady in pink that he was away getting fresh air.
Skiing, kayaking, camping and comp shooting are all very similar in that they are a personal test of ability. The stuff I like to do really cant be affected by anyone else. Closing in on 57 y/o, 2 of 3 kids are out of college, financially ok, I have been able to do things that I really couldnt before. So now I can do more than work outside in a more serious manner. I dont know. Maybe it is smaller accomplishments that not everyone sees but I get to prove to me that I can do.
Skiing; I work out so I can still do black diamonds and if I cant, its my fault. I ski 2 knee braces now so no moguls. When it comes together and there is good separation and the legs are moving a lemniscate you feel it and the world is good. No real goals at this point. Except I want to ski into my 80's, so keeping up keeping form is paramount along with getting on the hill. (daughter1, son, wife participate)
Kayaking; I work out so that I can paddle correctly all day long and I like to cover some ground. If I do my half eskimo roll, that isnt on anyone else. When I have a good day or even a few hours where I took what the water gave me, made the boat do what I wanted, and still reached the point I wanted to be it is a good feeling. My goal is to learn the other half of the eskimo roll this summer. The UP half. (daughter 1-2, son, and wife participate)
Camping it isnt as much of a test of ability, as it is a reality check and a game to see how comfy I can be (and what kind of chow I can make, jambalaya over a pocket rocket ) with minimal gear. The pay off is relaxing. Goals have transitioned. I want to still be able to pack in and be comfy, but with retirement on the horizon, I have decided a camper is pretty cool. It also gives me a better jump off point for the next activity. (son is only non camper camper 🙂 )
Comp shooting. It is all about doing better than I did last time. I cuff up and toss a 5 or worse a berm, the odds of a good score just got a lot slimmer. When I read the wind right, keep form, have worked the core, strength, and stamina, and dont do anything foolish, I get to the end and can look a a good score that is better or close to my best. I made one of the goals and am master classed as of last weekend. I earned points towards a distinguished badge to and I never seriously thought that I would. I think that is now a goal. (daughter 1-2, son and wife all have competed)
And all of the activities have no need for a phone.....
@REI-JohnJThe reason that the memory of pushing the bike for your kid is the best is that being outdoors with your kid isnt about being outdoors. Its about being with your kid.