Brendan Leonard, seasoned outdoorsman and author of the forthcoming book, The Art of Getting Lost, has done it all, give or take a bit. He mountain-bikes. He climbs sheer cliffs. He spent a month rafting through the Grand Canyon. And so on. But, surprisingly, for all his accomplishments and his many years spent out in the wilderness, Leonard doesn’t consider himself a top-level expert at any particular outdoor activity.
That’s kind of the point. You don’t have to be an expert to get out there and have an adventure, either. And you don’t need the fanciest gear, a wealth of free time, or, well, wealth.
“Maybe we don’t think we can take the time off of work, but getting outdoors really doesn’t need to take much time.”
When asked about the barriers people perceive as holding them back from getting out there and enjoying the wilderness, Leonard responds, “People think they have to have the skills to do something, that they shouldn’t just try it. But you can get out and do a day hike without much, just a water bottle and some general knowledge of the area so you don’t get lost. And there are guide services available for everything you want to do. You can rent a bike; you can get gear to test out something before you spend three or four thousand bucks on a full kit.”
“Maybe we don’t think we can take the time off of work, but getting outdoors really doesn’t need to take much time. We’re inefficient at life. We think, ‘Where did all my time go?’ but then you realize, ‘Oh, I spent two hours on social media, looking at my phone, just killing time,” he adds.
Brendan Leonard has been climbing, hiking, biking, and generally being out there since moving to Montana for graduate school at age 23. But you don’t need to spend 28 days rafting down the Colorado River or climbing granite cliffs or walls of sheer ice to enjoy nature, you “just have to make some time for your adventure,” Leonard urges. “We think we have to take two weeks off and make a big deal of something, but listen, you can go camping on a Wednesday night and not even miss work. You just go do it, head out in the afternoon, sleep in a tent, drive back early.” And, chances are, you’ll enjoy and remember that Wednesday a lot more than the one you spent scrolling through Reddit or Instagram.
“You’re never too old, you’re not too out of shape, you don’t need too much money.”
Time is perhaps the biggest perceived barrier to people getting out into the field, but the misconception that outdoor adventure is inaccessible is another issue. It was on a Monday when I spoke to Brendan Leonard, and at one point he says, “You’re never too old, you’re not too out of shape, you don’t need too much money — if you do some googling, you’ll find a clinic at an REI where guides can help you try something and provide the gear and all.”
As it happened, two days later I was out on a hike with REI. A gentleman named Gregory Kanter led our group, which included several other writers and some REI staff in from their West Coast headquarters, along with Karin DeYoung-Wood, the lead designer of the company’s brand new Wallace Lake collection. I relayed the spirit of the conversation from earlier in the week and was met with knowing nods from the REI folks. They’re there to get you out there, whether you want to climb, hike, bike, learn to read a map and use a compass, or finally go camping.
Now me? I have way too much hiking/camping/climbing/kayaking gear to justify. But you? As long as you show up to an REI clinic dressed in clothing, they’ll take care of you from there. Just go to their Classes and Events page, punch in your ZIP code, and see all the outdoor excellence at your fingertips. Near my home base, recent classes included an evening photography session, backpacking basics, learning the ropes of using climbing anchors, and practicing survival skills like navigation and cold weather safety. While most REI classes are affordable, many are actually free. So that’s one more barrier to outdoor adventure removed.
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