Get Out…Outside, That Is
During my early years in the outdoors, I spent nearly as much time and energy pursuing the perfect gear as I did chasing my outdoor ambitions and dream trips. These days, during my occasional shift at Eastern Mountain Sports, I’m amazed by the number of people who agonize over buying just the right pair of boots or the tent that seems as if it was tailor-made for them. These customers have done extensive research, read online reviews, and been in the store multiple times in their quest for the ideal sleeping bag, water bottle, ice axe, etc. In my opinion, they’re doing it all wrong.
My wife likes to joke that if she ever wins the lottery, she’s going to open up an outdoor store named Get Out. I love the line so much that I not only use it but also sometimes claim it as my own. While Get Out started as a joke, there is a simple truth buried in it. The fact is, we should be chasing experiences rather than the possessions that go along with them. For example, Ashley spent the summer chasing me and my very expensive mountain bike around the northeast on a second-hand bike who’s best days were a decade ago. Although the bike is a fossil, it proved reliable enough and provided an affordable gateway into a new sport—and, as an added bonus, left some money in the bank for a trip to the mountain biking of mecca of Moab in the fall.
My first “real” hike was a trip to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Looking back at my equipment from that day, I’m almost embarrassed at how woefully unprepared I was—if memory serves, I was outfitted with my high school backpack (maybe The North Face…very outdoorsy), Nike shoes, Adidas track pants, Abercrombie & Fitch khaki shorts, cotton long-sleeve and short-sleeve tees, and a fleece. Noticeably absent that day? A first-aid kit, a headlamp, anything Gore-tex, or any other high-tech materials for that matter. I can still remember suffering as I tried to keep pace with my friends up Katahdin’s flanks, and I wince when I think of how the day may have ended if one of us got hurt or if bad weather had rolled in. However, I still remember that trip fondly for the spark of passion for the outdoors it ignited in me.
Every Christmas, Ashley and I give my youngest sister a 3-pack of ski tickets to our local mountain. Not nearly the avid skier either of us is, my sister will make the trek to New Hampshire, shred the all of the blue square trails, and occasionally get peer-pressured to take her old snowboard, repurposed from EMS’s demo fleet, down a black diamond. At the end of the day—barring injury—she has had as much fun as anyone else on the mountain. And by giving her ski tickets, we’re not giving her something to stash away in a closet, but committing to do something fun together.
Along those lines, for my father’s seventieth birthday, our family opted to rent a house in Acadia for a long weekend, rather than everyone chipping in to throw him a big party or buy him an ostentatious gift. It was perfect…well, almost. The weather was great one day and bad the next two, and on the last day the water stopped working in the house—no showers, no coffee, and no flushing the toilet. Oh, and the traffic sucked on the way home. But fast forward a few months and when I think of the trip, I fondly remember the majority of my family hiking the notoriously steep and exposed Beehive Trail while my parents and I went the long way around and met them on the summit—a memory that I’m sure will remain vivid much longer than the glow of giving him a new iPhone or book would have.
I don’t want to make myself sound anti-consumerism or anti-gift. Full disclosure, I have a room…and closet…and shed…okay, an entire house filled with outdoor gear. Also, I love receiving a thoughtful present and am amazed by people who have the knack for giving great gifts. As I get older, however, I just think that having the “perfect” piece of gear or giving a “perfect” present isn’t as meaningful as watching a sunrise with my family or getting to spend an extra day on the slopes.
Now stop reading this and Get Out!