Snow-covered peaks poked out of the low cloud layer as the first rays of sun popped over the horizon. My cold breath came in short, quick bursts, the puffs of my physical efforts evaporating into the early morning air. I clicked my headlamp off, able to see beyond my 5-foot bubble of light for the first time that morning. Looking around, I could see the north face of Mt. Rainier, daunting and inspiring, dozens of brilliant mountains surrounded me, snow sparkling off their ridgelines and summits.
It was a perfect morning in the heart of the Cascade mountains in my home state of Washington. Nobody was around; I had the entire area to myself. But instead of feeling stoked about where I was and the pre-dawn adventure I had nabbed, I found myself feeling bored and underwhelmed. Was it because I had stepped foot here so many times before? Why was I yawning over the mountains that I once couldn’t get enough of? My boredom quickly turned to disappointment, then shame that I was feeling disappoint. In reality, I just felt burnt out.
Problem: Getting Bored of the Backcountry
When I moved to the Seattle area almost a decade ago, every trail was new and exciting. I backpacked in the Olympics, climbed in North Cascades National Park, and skied on Mt. Baker. Every weekend offered a new opportunity to explore, and I reveled in seeing new places. I became one with the mountains, valleys, trails, and coastlines of my adopted home state.
I ticked off many classic adventures and spent days and weeks sleeping and playing outside. As I became more experienced, the list of outdoor places I went grew longer, and it became harder and harder to find new spots to explore with my adventure partner and girlfriend. No, I don’t want to go there. I’m tired of making that drive. Haven’t we done that hike recently? I was somehow getting apathetic and restless in the places I once cherished so dearly, and would find excuses not to return.
I still wanted to enjoy these local trails. However, after years of exploration on them, they felt trite and repetitive. Somehow, I had to give them new life.
Go Farther Afield, Then Come Back
I’ve been lucky to be able to hike in Kyrgyzstan, Iceland, Chile, and Italy. I love exploring new terrain, not only because each place is so unique, but also because I get to come back home. Yes, I love seeing huge glaciers in the Tian Shan mountains of central Asia and soaking in hot springs on the Laugavegur trail in northern Europe. These opportunities not only bring me to remote new places, but also they give me a new outlook on the beauty that is right outside my back door. Visitors from far and wide come to Washington to see the mountains rising out of Puget Sound, hike up massive glaciers, and experience dense old-growth forests. I remember that what I have is amazing, and I start to see its splendor again.
It doesn’t take a flight abroad to learn to appreciate your roots, and it’s not always guaranteed that a trip will cure your at-home apathy. Although it’s possible that a dramatic setting change can inspire nostalgic gratitude for your usual scenery, it’s all about adjusting your mindset toward thankfulness for what you do have.
Tiny Feet, Tiny Eyes, New Perspective
My girlfriend became my wife, and next thing I knew, we had a kid. When Ari was just six weeks old, we took him backpacking to Waptus Lake in central Washington. I would have never come here in the past, thinking the trail too flat, too boring, and wishing I was pushing myself harder and hiking farther. After spending 40 days in the NICU as our son recovered from his premature birth, simply being anywhere outside as a family felt gratifying. Caring for such a fragile young human, keeping him warm and safe, was a new challenge and an adventure in itself. I started to embrace the new gear we had to bring on each trip, the logistics of tending to a baby on trails, and the thrill of sharing these places with a wide-eyed child.
A 3-Mile Backpacking Trip Can Feel Worlds Away
Last summer, now with two kids under 3 years old in tow, my wife and I decided to spend every weekend in July outdoors. Backpacking with extra diapers, snacks, outfit changes, and sleeping systems requires large packs and even stronger legs. We scaled back our expectations of what trails we could tackle and how far we could hike. We chose places where our kids wouldn’t have to sit in the saddle for too long, and trails that led us to safe campsites.
Instead of feeling disappointed by not skiing remote peaks or climbing sharp ridgelines, I felt content making shorter trips into the backcountry. Seeing my boys in the tent, bouncing off the walls with excitement, made me laugh harder than I ever did on past camping trips. Sharing a fishing rod with my sons, skipping rocks, and picking huckleberries in the wilderness made me appreciate the beauty of the place I once took for granted.
Less Time, Precious Time
After having kids, I started viewing my own backyard with new clarity and enjoyment. I no longer mind going to the same trail for what feels like the hundredth time or taking a drive that once felt repetitive, because I simply don’t have the time that I used to have to be outside in these gorgeous places. Now, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing outdoors: Because I have less time to spend among the trees, I appreciate any second I can get.
Just being with a friend in nature feels special. Feeling granite crystals between my fingers as I make my way up a rock climb feels incredible, and hiking on flat or even popular trails feels like a privilege. I’ll never take a day in the Cascades for granted again, and it only took me having two kids, traveling to remote countries, and countless days of frustration to get there.