Photo: Marcel Slootheer

Early on in my Outside 365 challenge, I read The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Her book essentially recaps all of the current research examing how the outdoors impacts our wellness and wholeness as human beings. If you’re at all interested in how the outdoors affects our well being—and hopefully you are if you’re reading this right now—I highly recommend giving this book a read.

The one problem that I have with most of the scientific research being conducted in this realm is that it all seems to operate along the same basic lines. All of the research essentially asks, “what is the minimum dose of nature that we can give people that will positively impact their well being?” The key differences between the various forms of research, as far as I can tell, are along the lines of what types of doses of nature to give people, and how the positive impact on their well being is measure. 

Some of the doses are merely exposure to green space and plants, whereas others are true immersive wilderness experiences. Some of the positive impacts are in mental and emotional health, whereas others relate to cognitive performance in work and school. And of course, the physical benefits are already largely taken for granted.

But as I read about all of this research, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “They’re asking the wrong question!”

The question shouldn’t be, “What’s the minimum amount of time that I need to pull myself away from my video game console in order to remain a well-rounded, mostly-functional human?” The question should be, “How do I inject the absolute maximum amount of time in the outdoors into my daily life?!”

Because the answers that the research is finding just… isn’t much exposure to nature in the grand scheme of things. The recommended dose varies depending on the type of exposure, but a few hours per week in a green space outdoors coupled with one weekend getaway to a natural area per month should do it for most people. At least, according to the research...

Perhaps “most people” is the important qualifier. You and I may not be most people. Shit, I can get that much nature in my life without even thinking about it. If I only spend 4-5 hours outside in a given week, I am NOT in a good place mentally or emotionally! Sometimes I feel like I need at least that amount of nature immersion on a daily basis in order to not go insane.

I’m happy that the scientists are gathering concrete data to show just how important living life outdoors is to our human flourishing, but it’s a conclusion that naturalist writers have known for centuries. So great, the science ways supports what we already knew to be true.


But we need to move beyond the science. We need to move beyond the empirically verified conclusions. Just checking a box and saying, “Hey, I hit my number of outdoor hours for the week,” misses the point entirely. 

We need to forge a new connection to nature. A new connection to the natural world. And it doesn’t happen by just meeting our minimum nature dosage.

(Note to head off angry messages: Of course this is how the scientific research is being run, because that's the only true way to measure these sorts of things empirically. Even as an English major, I understand that (sort of). But the point is that we need to take the scientific findings, say "thank you," and then proceed to move beyond the data.)

PS To keep up with my latest professional writing, check out my latest guidebooks published on FATMAP:

I took a break from being a contrarian. After I left Singletracks and wound down my Over a Beer column, for the past year and a half I washed my hands of controversial writing, save for a few passion pieces here and there.

I think the main reason I left persuasive writing behind is that I ran out of things that I gave enough fucks about to invest my blood, sweat, and tears as I committed that passion to a string of written words. See, writing about trails, for instance—or even gear, destinations, what have you—is relatively vanilla. You don’t need to care that much. You just need to care enough to do an excellent job, show up, and portray the experience in the most engaging way possible.

When it comes to persuasive writing, or opinion writing, or editorializing—however you choose to label it—I think that the writer just has to care. If they don’t care, that comes across as well, in a piece of vanilla shit that nobody wants to finish reading.

I think I may have stumbled on the next thing that I’m passionate about, the next thing that I think’s worth giving a fuck about enough to write about it: getting outside.

The irony comes on quick, as preaching about the beauty of the outdoors, the thirst for the wild places of the world that’s ingrained deep in our souls, seems like preaching to the choir. My clique already agrees with me heart and soul about our inherent need to escape the confines of civilization and experience the wild beauty of the wilderness.

And yet, this belief isn’t widespread in our civilization. On the contrary, if we look at how most of humanity lives, it’s chained to a desk in a cubicle in a high rise building in Tokyo, or New York, or London. It isn’t walking beneath the trees, soaking in the view from the mountain top, it’s chasing the dollars and cents in the checking account.

While my clique may already be in sync with me, the perception in the wider world needs to change if we’re to remain human. If we’re to remain healthy and whole.  

Actually, I don’t think I’m seeking to be a contrarian simply for the sake of arguing. Rather, the best label for what I seek to portray is passion, and expressing passion naturally irritates the people that believe the opposite. And for once, I’m ok with that.

So I’m going to spend some time beating this drum. Hopefully it doesn’t get too annoying or obnoxious, and instead, it serves to send a signal that we need this. We need to breathe deep of the fresh air, to embrace the risk of adventure and feel the fear of the unknown. So let’s go, and let’s do.

PS To keep up with my latest professional writing, check out my series of articles from my trip to Indonesia with Patrol Bikes:

I can’t believe it’s here! For years I had a goal stuck in the back of my mind, that for the life of me I couldn’t seem to actualize. That goal was to go outside and be active every day, for 365 days straight. I called it #Outside365.

I first wrote about this idea back in 2016. After having my 365-day streak derailed by two different surgeries and several other injuries, somehow I’ve made it. Today marks 365 continuous days of being active outside!

I’m sure I’ll have some better-formed thoughts for you soon, but in many ways reaching this milestone feels a bit anticlimactic. Yes, there were highs and lows, and plenty of crazy activities like purposely forcing myself to walk a mile at 3am to get to a train station in Stapleton before spending the next day and a half on airplanes on my way to Indonesia.

But completing the goal feels anti-climactic because, after a few months of exercising every single day, the decisions required go from a challenge ("when will I fit in my adventure today?") to a habit ("time for my evening mountain bike ride”) to a lifestyle where you no longer think about going outside… it’s just what you do whenever you have a free moment.

In fact, I’ve let the outside permeate my soul so deeply that after weeks of living in a camper, sleeping in a house or hotel feels strange and unnatural. Even sitting in a couch to relax seems like a weird choice, and I’d much prefer a hammock strung between two trees.

#outside365 has become a way of life, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon!

Undertaking a challenge to do something—anything—every day for 365 days straight means that you get to enjoy amazing opportunities that you may never have embraced before, but that at other times, you’ll need to buckle down and grunt out some truly difficult efforts. This maxim is no less true with the Outside 365 Challenge.

Some days, my daily time moving outside is spent walking along a beach in perfect weather—the waves crashing on the shore warm against my feet, the breeze cool against my face. And other times, I have to ask myself, “why am I doing this again?”

One of the latter took place on the morning of a travel day in which I was headed to warmer climes, but as I slapped my alarm into quietness at 5am, well before the sun arose, I looked out the window and realized that not only was it well before dawn, pitch black and cold, but Central Colorado had been consumed by a snowstorm.

I added extra layers and a thick pair of boots to my planned attire, strapped on my headlamp, and headed out into the depths of the early morning hours. 

With the snow whipping into my face, the light of my headlamp bounced back into my eyes, blinding me with light instead of darkness. The only thing I could see was the blank snow in front of me. As I walked a route that I’ve walked dozens of times during this challenge, I navigated the few curves in the road almost by feel, turning around at a place that I’d predetermined as one of my minimum destinations.

Thankfully on the return I had my tracks to follow, but I initially had planned to spend my walk sipping coffee and waking up for the day. Now, having one hand (sans glove) out of my pocket holding my coffee mug turned out to be the complete opposite of relaxing. Almost no part of this experience was redeemable. 

And yet.

And yet I was out walking in a snowstorm at 5am, and the absolute peace and quiet and utter solitude, even in my own neighborhood, was magnificent. Choosing to get out and move turned out to be well-worth it after all.

It always is.

Outside Day 173

Today was my first day of skiing in two years!! In addition to two surgeries, I’ve spent months and months in physical therapy and thousands of dollars on medical bills as I’ve prepared for today. 

Is it OK to be honest when our outdoor experiences aren’t actually amazing? Hope so, because here goes nuthin'.

While it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out in the mountains and the views from the Continental Divide were to die for, I can’t help but be terrified of adding a fourth or fifth year onto this absolute mess of ACL surgeries and subsequent recoveries. Despite wearing a brand new knee brace, I could still feel the weakness in my knee during every single turn I made. 

Was it just pain from my patellar tendon that’s still ornery a full year after the most recent surgery? Was it my ACL groaning under the strain? Ultimately, does it even matter what the root cause is?

It’s no exaggeration to say that downhill skiing has been one of the most important and defining aspects of my life, but when is enough enough? Do I keep working on strengthening, struggling slowly forward? Or do I raise the white flag?

If yesterday clarified one thing to me, it’s that I can easily head up into the high alpine and enjoy the beauty of the snowy mountains from the seat of my bike. We have so many different types of adventure available to us here in Colorado, that I don’t feel like I have to sacrifice what modicum of health I do have on the altar of powder skiing.

I don’t have any answers yet about what the future holds. But maybe it’s time to finally buy a snowboard.

Outside Day 163.

Fat biking in Fourmile. Photo: Scott Anderson

I have this problem where I unwittingly try to make everything I do more difficult for myself. This is evident even in my original Outside 365 Manifesto. In that manifesto, I created a well-defined rule for what it meant to get outside and be active. 

The more years that roll on, the more I become convinced that living life doesn’t have to consist of yearning for what you do not have and struggling to achieve it. Rather, living life well is more closely tied to doing the best that you can with the resources you have at your disposal.

Instead of setting my Outside 365 bar at one mile of walking, 30 minutes of biking, etc., I removed the bar entirely and simply said, “if I intentionally get outside and move, that is enough.” 

Early on in my challenge, many of my outside days didn’t even consist of taking the dog for a one-mile walk. It may have been eight tenths, a half a mile, or even on one or two days 0.4 miles—paltry in comparison to many other days where I’d spend hours in the saddle, covering dozens of miles of singletrack.

Along the way, here’s something I realized: even if I only walk a half a mile, that half a mile is infinitely better than nothing. There’s a common saying that “no matter how slow you’re going, you’re beating everyone on the couch.” Actually, I’d upgrade that statement to say you’re moving infinitely faster and infinitely further than the person on the couch. The rate of increase, of a half a mile compared to 0 miles, isn’t 50% of 1 mile or 100% of 0, no—it is infinitely better

Of course, that revelation isn’t groundbreaking or even original, but here’s the upshot: removing unnecessary rules, lowering my standards, and simply choosing to go outside and move my body has resulted in me actually succeeding in getting outside. While perhaps some days are still only 0.8 miles, others are 30 miles of mountain biking, two hours of paddleboarding, and so much more.

Sometimes if you lower your expectations, you end up accomplishing so much more than you’d ever have dreamed!

Outside day 143.

CDT on the way to Tank Seven. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Marcel Slootheer

Early on in the year it occurred to me that I was unlikely to meet my Outside 365 goal in 2018. Here’s one reason why: so often when we set goals like this one, goals where we seek to change our lives on an ongoing basis, we begin from ground zero. From a standing start, we intend to launch full-speed into our life change projects. 

In reality, that never works out quite the way I wish it would. Exploding off the starting blocks is a tactic for a sprint race, not for a marathon.

If there’s one skill you must learn to become a better-than-average mountain biker, it’s this: how to conserve momentum. Momentum is the key to riding a bike well. Carrying your momentum will take you up and over obstacles without requiring you to put in a lot—or any—work. Instead of looking at the steep upslope off in the distance as requiring a bunch of pedaling to climb up, if you can instead conserve your momentum from the previous downhill, you’ll sail straight up the next climb.

So before I started logging my Outside 365 days again—instead of sprinting off the starting blocks for a marathon race—I waited until I had a little momentum built up. At some point, I realized that I had inadvertently been active almost every day for a full month without even trying and in that moment, I realized I finally had the momentum required to launch back into this project.