Tag Archives: outdoors

Many Ways to Get Outside

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As autumn approaches I cannot help but be concerned. With each passing year, there is greater and greater evidence that the lives we live in our present day culture are out of balance. Obesity rates continue to increase. Anxiety, stress, and similar mental health related concerns suddenly seem to be everywhere. Perhaps most alarmingly, opioid addiction has recently skyrocketed. It is now estimated that in the United States about 100 deaths per day can be attributed to opioids. Heck, even the fact that 90% of Americans consume caffeine, a far less risky drug, everyday is certainly a sign that something is off. For what reason are so many people dependent on caffeine, a stimulant, just to conduct a typical day’s activities?

The conclusion I have come to is that most of us spend too much time in the following three states..

  • Alone
  • Indoors
  • Seated

Many people spend most of their time in all three states. A lot of service sector jobs require that workers spend nearly all of their time at a desk, in front of a computer, alone. Outside of work, Americans now spend an average of about five hours per day watching TV, and are spending more and more time on their mobile devices. It’s no wonder 70% of the US population does not meet its daily recommended intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has but one natural source, the sun.

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Luckily, there are many ways to get outside! When many people think of the outdoors, they think about camping trips, long excursions into the wilderness, and other things that are far far away and require large amounts of time and planning. It is easy for those living in a major city to think of the outdoors as something only available during those special times, usually only several times a year, when their schedule permits.

However, it appears as if spending time outdoors is more important than many people realize. It may even be the answer to some of our society’s currently problems. This entry from MyWildEarth, a blog from the other side of the world that encourages adventure, outlines all of the health benefits, both physical and mental, of spending time outdoors.

In one weekend, I was able to identify several ways in which to get outside that do not require large amounts of time or advanced planning. And, as this photo suggests, these activities can be social as well.

A moderate difficulty 30-50 mile bike ride is an activity that can be fit into a weekend morning, and shared with others. For many, it does not require driving at all, just hop on a bike straight from home!

Many people are able to drive a short distance to somewhere that autumn is going to show its true beauty. The leaves on the trees here in Colorado turn a bit earlier than they do in most other places. In the coming weeks, there will be great weekends for viewing spectacular fall colors in the Upper Midwest, New England, and eventually places like the Mid-Atlantic, the Smoky Mountains and parts of the Southeast.

For those whose time is extremely limited, there are ways to get outside without even leaving the city or town in which one lives. Gardening is an outdoor activity that can be done on one’s property or in a community garden. As an added health bonus, the fresh vegetables can be used to produce fantastic meals that are both healthy and conducive to social events. Also, nearly everyone should have access to a local park a short distance from home. This will more important in the coming months, as the days get shorter, the weather less consistent, and the opportunities to get that vital time outdoors become more limited.

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I write about a lot of adventures on this blog. Each entry is not just a description about the places I go and things I do, but also a personal narrative.

I had a recent discussion with some good friends about the digital era, social media, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves online. To many, it feels as if people post about their adventures primarily in order to show off and seek attention. It is my hope that the narratives on this site make it about more than just that.

It is my hope that by sharing these stories with others, more are encouraged to seek activities that improve our health; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

We need to interact with others, and do so in a manner that is meaningful. Our bodies need movement, and they need sun. We also need time away from the digital world. Many did get that time during the summer, on trips, at summer camp, etc. Now that all the kids are back at school and the days are getting shorter, it is imperative that we look for opportunities to get outside. Luckily, even without traveling too far from home, there are a lot of wonderful options for all of us.

An After Work Hike to Royal Arch

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June is a month with tons of opportunities, if for no other reason than the amount of daylight many places in the Northern Hemisphere receive. The long days and late sunsets make a lot of activities possible for people who work traditional hours. It is only in and around this time of year that those working “normal working hours” (I want to make clear that I in no way advocate traditional working hours), have enough daylight for hikes, as we’ll as many other outdoor activities, on weekdays after work.

 

Royal Arch is a fairly strenuous three and a half mile (round trip) hike that originates at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. Located at the Southwest edge of town, these trails are very popular, and Chautauqua Park can be quite busy at certain times of year. Although a high number of people reach this trailhead by bike or on foot (this is Boulder after all), parking is quite limited. One should not expect to find a parking spot in the lot by the trailhead any time conditions are ideal for hiking. This includes both weekend days, as well as on weeknights like this one.

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For a unique experience, I arrived at the trailhead at roughly 6:45 P.M. This is later than I would recommend arriving for anyone that desires to hike this trail at a moderate pace and finish before it gets dark, even at this time of year.

At this time of the evening, shortly after starting the hike, the sun had already descended behind the mountains to the west. Alpenglow could still be seen, hitting the top of the long flat diagonal rocks that are often referred to as the “Flatirons”.

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Hiking mainly after 7 P.M. also put most of the hike in the shade, as the sun was already behind the mountain peaks to the west. This made the hike more comfortable, as the temperature was in the upper 80s, a normal level for this time of year, before the hike.

Most of the trail is fairly strenuous, with a consistent climb. This changes at Sentinel Pass, which is within about a half a mile of the end of the trail.

Many hikes are said to have “false summits”; places where the trail appears to be reaching a summit, which is usually the final destination of a hike. Sentinel Pass, in a way, is both a false summit and a real summit.

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It is actually a summit! However, it is not the end of the trail. The trail continues. There is a short but steep descent right after Sentinel Pass. The descent is followed by another steep uphill section, where, after another 15 minutes or so of hiking, Royal Arch is reached.

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It ended up taking me just under an hour to reach Royal Arch. For a hike of 1.7 miles with 1600’ of net vertical, and some areas that are quite strenuous, this is a relatively quick pace.

After resting and enjoying the view for a mere 10 minutes at the top, I was still barely able to make it back down to the trailhead before darkness fell upon the area.

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This is why I would recommend for most people to either arrive earlier (which shouldn’t be an issue for most work schedules), or bring a headlamp. Even in the week following the summer solstice, with some of the latest sunsets of the year, there are limitations to what can be done after working a typical 9-to-5-ish day.

One of life’s major challenges is making the most of whatever opportunities come our way. June, and its lengthy days, represents an opportunity to simply get outside more and get more exposure to sunshine.

For a variety of reasons it appears that the modern digital, sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on us. It feels as if every five to ten years, some new set of dietary recommendations come out. Either a new set of foods become the secret, magic ticket to a healthier life. Or, some different type of food suddenly becomes the new “boogeyman”, and is suddenly to blame for all these widespread health problems.

I am not a health expert. However, based on my observations and reasoning, it appears that many of our health problems are related to two things; many people being way too sedentary, and, primarily in the United States, some ridiculous portion sizes. There also appears to be some merit behind staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Our bodies were meant to move. It’s been shown that sitting for even a couple of hours at a time can actually lead to negative health impacts, including the supply of oxygen being cut off from our brains. The predominant form of employment in 2017 is still 7-10 hours per day sitting in front of a computer. This cannot possibly be good for our minds or our bodies.

There has also been countless articles published recently regarding the connection between happiness and exposure to sunshine. Not only were we not meant to spend well over half of our waking hours seated, we also were not meant to spend nearly as much time indoors.

In our current culture, it is really hard to avoid having to perform a lot of work that requires being seated in front of a computer. Heck, writing this, I am, in fact, seated in front of a computer. This does not mean we cannot seek out and take advantage of opportunities, whenever we can, to be outdoors, be in motion,  and/ or be social (separate topic), as much as we can.

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On the descent, I spent half the time talking to random people. The other half, I was lost in my own thoughts. I imagined myself in various scenarios, settings I could see myself in, places I would be, people I would talk to, etc. All the scenarios I imagined involved me encouraging others. I encouraged others to believe in themselves, to have confidence, to stand up to naysayers, and to make the most of their lives. Part of that involves taking part in activities that enrich our lives. So, I encourage everyone to take advantage of summer, particularly this first part of summer, and the opportunities it affords us by checking out places like Royal Arch for evening hikes.

 

Cool For the Summer

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People define the season of “summer” in various ways.  Astronomers first defined summer as the period of time from the Summer Solstice (roughly June 21st) through the Autumnal Equinox (roughly September 21st).  Later on, meteorologists developed the term “meteorological summer”, defined as the months of June, July, and August, to refer to the period of time when weather conditions (in the Northern Hemisphere) are typically most consistently warm.  Of course, if you are a kid, or a student of any kind, summer clearly runs from the last day of the Spring semester through the first day of the Fall semester.  In the United States, many individuals, particularly those in the working world, have arrived on a definition of “summer” as the period between Memorial Day Weekend (the last weekend in May) and Labor Day Weekend (the first weekend in September).  In fact, at one of my previous places of employment, “business casual” attire was permitted only during the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  No matter where you are in life, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere outside the tropics, summer is coming to an end.  Tonight’s (Labor Day) sunset, for many of us, feels like the last sunset of the summer.

I still remember an episode of Saved By the Bell where Zach Morris, the main character, calls in sick on one of the first school days of the year.  The entire cast of the show had spent a crazy summer in Hawaii.  It was so exhausting, so emotional, and so full of experiences and memories, that he just needed a day to decompress from everything that had gone on over the summer.  That is very much what this weekend felt like to me.  Although I did not set aside an entire day to do nothing but process events, nor did I physically take a day off from work, school, etc., I definitely dialed it down, and put off some things in order to recuperate and process everything.

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For me, 2015 is what I would consider an “Epic Summer”.

As life progresses, I have come to realize that different periods of our lives mean different things.  Some years, and some seasons in particular, are just more memorable than others.  This does not mean that the other years and seasons are pointless.  It is just easier to remember and ponder the significance of certain periods.  History books specifically point to the year 1776, when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, as a memorable year.  During the previous centuries, an emerging class known as the Burghers were gradually moving society away from Feudalism and towards Free Markets, creating many of the ideals that lead to the revolution.  There are many specific years between 1250 and 1776 that were not memorable, but still important in creating the world of 1776, as well as the world of today.

My life has a series of summers (five total including this one) I would consider “Epic”.  I consider a summer to be “Epic” if it meets several basic criterea.  First, it has to be memorable.  This obviously means experiences that are out of the ordinary.

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Second, in order for a time period, or an event to be considered “Epic”, it has to be one that I consider positive, and enjoyable.  After all, dealing with cancer, a major injury, or depression is memorable.  But, I would not think of it as “Epic”.

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Finally, I believe an “Epic” time period must also be productive rather than destructive.  After all, someone may go on a binge, or a rampage of some kind, and find it memorable, as well as enjoyable.  But, the experience may have been detrimental to their future.  So, I try to think of “Epic Summers”, as only the ones I feel like I am better off for having experienced.

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The first four times I had what I would consider an “Epic Summer”, I did not realize it was happening until it was over.  I later realized that those four summers were time periods I’d think about much more frequently than other times in my life.  Sometime this Spring, I looked back at those summers, and realized that many of the conditions that created the other four Epic Summers in my life were also present this year, and, that the summer that was to come could very well end up being one that I remember for the same reasons.  Now that summer 2015 has come and gone, I can say that the following conditions are what leads to an Epic Summer.

  1.  They are exhausting

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You are doing a lot!  Otherwise, it would not really be Epic.

2.  They involve new experiences

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in College was “Epic” because I brought travel to a new level (for me) that summer.  Previously, my travel had primarily been weekend road trips in the area to places like Champaign, Bloomington, or Indianapolis.  That summer, an internship brought me to Oklahoma for several weeks and included many more experiences throughout that part of the country. This summer was my first major multi-day bicycle trip, and my first time backpacking.

3.  They involve some amount of planning

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For many types of adventures, logistics do need to be considered.  Where will we stay?  How will we coordinate activities?  I am not saying anyone can plan their way into an Epic Summer, nor am I saying that everything needs to be planned out.  In fact, some spontaneity is also needed.  But, many activities do need to be arranged ahead of time, particularly when they involve a significant number of people.

4.  They build on advancements we make as a person on both short and long time frames

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I would never have gotten to the point where I could complete a bike ride like the one I did in July had I not made steady progress as a cyclist over the years.  This includes the training and completion of my first century ride in Illinois back in 2011, another summer I consider Epic.  Prior to this summer, I worked on myself, trying to improve some of my habits and personality traits that I consider ineffective.  I made continuing to have new and interesting experiences one of my 2015 New Years goals at the start of the year.  The same goes for my first Epic Summer, the summer after my High School graduation.  That year, I took advantage of the maturity, and improvements in my self confidence that actually began to take place halfway through my Junior year.

5.  There is a mix of the familiar and the absurd

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In every Epic Summer I have had, there have ben some repeats.  Like in previous years here in Denver, I attended the USA Pro Challenge and saw the exciting finish of Colorado’s version of the Tour de France.  After attending that race, I witnessed a topless protest on my way to a Weird Al Yankovich concert- quite absurd.

6. There are old friend as well as new friends

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One thing about every time period I have ever considered an “Epic Summer”, is that it is partially about a feeling.  By that, I mean a feeling that my life is just flowing properly.  As a social person, that entails spending time with people that I have known for some time, and become comfortable with, but also continuing to expand my network and make new friends.  In each of my Epic Summers, I have had some sort of influx of new people, through work, organizations, or friends of friends in the months preceding the actual summer.

7.  They are not without conflict

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My first Epic Summer I was always in conflict with my parents.  This summer, I have had a lot of conflict at work.  It is hard to say why, but when you are out there in the world, and following your true moral compass, you are naturally going to have some people that do not appreciate that.

8.  They are often preceded by ruts

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I really do not know why this is, at least not in a logical manner, but every single epic summer I have ever had was preceded by some kind of rut.  This year, a rainy May in Denver combined with career stagnation actually bored me quite a bit.  It feels almost as if the rhythm of life is starting to hint at the need for a much more active period to come.

I come out of the summer of 2015 knowing much more about life, and much more about myself and my own desires than I did beforehand.  I have reached this state because of each and every one of the conditions listed above.  I am bummed that summer is over, but, when mentally healthy, a person can transition from one amazing experience to the next.  When I left college, I was sad, knowing that I had just had an amazing four year experience.  But, I avoided dwelling on it, which would have ruined the last few months of that experience.  Whatever comes next, in fall, may not be quite as amazing summer was.  But, all I can do is take these experiences, and the improvements I have made to myself as a result of them, and use them to help me going forward.