Giving Thanks to The Outdoors: What I'm Grateful For

There's some serious limit-testing going on in this shot!
Sometimes it’s easier to focus on what we don’t have, what's not going well, and what we haven't done than it is to think about what we do have, what is going well, and what we have accomplished.

I know I'm guilty of taking people, places, my health, and experiences for granted because I focus too much on what's missing.  I'm thankful for more than I could begin to summarize here, but a good many people, places, and experiences I hold dear are in some way also associated with playing outside.

And with ongoing threats to our public lands as well as the environment, it's as good a time as any to appreciate the outdoors a bit more!

I'm grateful for how many opportunities I've had to test my limits outdoors. Between rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, a brief stint in mountaineering, skiing, even hiking and backpacking, I've had more than my fair share of life-changing experiences outdoors.

I've been in situations where some of my fears and knowledge limitations are put to the test. These experiences would be impossible to recreate or have anywhere but outdoors, and the lessons have real-life implications. Through those experiences, I've learned things and grown in ways for which I'm forever grateful.

I'm grateful for how small and vulnerable I feel outdoors. Standing at the top of Tamarack Peak this summer with the wind whipping around me, a scree-covered slope and cliffs in front of me, a giant alpine meadow behind me, rain clouds speeding toward me, rugged peaks as far as I could see, and no sign of other human beings, all I could think about was how tiny I am. How in the grand scheme of things, I was as good as invisible in the landscape to everyone but myself and my hiking partner.

Feeling pretty darn vulnerable on top of Tamarack Peak, if you can't tell by my face! (PC: D. Herscovitch)

I felt the same way on every hike I did when I lived in Alaska, on my way up Mount Rainier, and on every backpacking trip that takes me a day's walk from help - small and vulnerable. That's without going to I love how that feels because in my relatively controlled everyday existence, I don't get to feel that. It's freeing, and terrifying, and impossible to feel in most other circumstances.

I'm grateful for how the beauty of the outdoors makes me feel. Staring at a mountain range in the distance and truly grasping your insignificance. Watching the sun set over a stunning alpine lake and seeing colors you didn't know existed. Crunching along the trail in autumn over leaves in every shade of red, yellow, and orange. Catching a glimpse of wildlife completely by chance.

Sometimes, standing there stunned and speechless is the best I can do. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

Waking up in the middle of the night, crawling out of the tent, and seeing the Milky Way and a million stars. Standing outside while snow blankets everything the eye can see. The beauty of nature and the outdoors calms me, centers me, and makes me feel whole, and that's really special.

I'm grateful for how being outdoors forces me to be present. When you're on a backpacking trip, life's generally distilled down to simple tasks like waking up, making food, breaking camp, walking a while, setting up camp, making food, and going to sleep. When you're hiking, it's glancing at maps, taking in the scenery, and putting one foot in front of the other until you get where you're going. When you're climbing, focusing on anything other than what you're doing can spell disaster.

Only having worry about putting one foot in front of the other until you get where you're going is one of the things I love most about backpacking.

Being outdoors forces me to be completely present and focused on the task at hand, and in the connected world we're a part of, sometimes that's a serious challenge. But when you're outdoors, out of range, and immersed in nature, being present is all you can do.

I'm grateful for how the outdoors makes it possible for me to connect with other people. When I moved to Philadelphia in 2007, I met like-minded people through a local outdoor club who kept me sane and helped me transition into a completely new environment. Columbia's #OmniTen program brought people together who might not have otherwise met, but who all had a passion for playing outside in common, and some of them have become my lifelong friends.

On this trip with Columbia Sportswear, I made friends I'll never forget in a place I'll never forget.
Experiences like telling stories around a campfire, sharing the trail on a tough hike, making mistakes in the wilderness and surviving them, even gathering on a trip because you've got a love for the outdoors in common have made it possible for me to meet some of the most incredible, inspiring friends I could ask for.

I'm sure there are many, many more things about the outdoors to be grateful for, and I'd love to hear what you most appreciate about the outdoors. Sound off in the comments!