An argument for the explorer

The Gillnetter’s Mila Barry brings her Outward Bound experience to everyday life


Mila Barry

View from the summit of South Sister mountain in Oregon

As summer draws to a close, we approach the season where life returns to business-as-usual. The onset of fall marks the time when we shift into work mode, spending more time inside and stationary than outside adventuring. It’s hard to fight this natural progression, but this September I have a new attitude about the autumn inclination to stay in. 

Over the summer I was lucky enough to attend an Outward Bound course. Outward Bound is a wilderness school dedicated to both the physical and emotional growth of its students. I spent ten days in the Oregon wilderness, totally disconnected from the amenities of modern life. We had no showers, no toilets, and no cell phones.  

And I have to say, it felt awesome.  

To be at the mercy of the elements is humbling. To feel the power of the earth is invigorating.  To know that you sleep beside mountains, which both predate your birth and will outlast your death, is unlike any feeling in the world.  And to know that you’re part of it all; that you too are alive and drawing air from the same sky helps foster an important connection to the natural world.  

With that in mind, I think it’s important to make time for the earth.  Are you really too busy to take that walk? To go for a late September ocean dip?  To appreciate the way the sun falls on the window beside your desk? I don’t think so.  But if you still need convincing, here’s five reasons to get outside this fall.

1. It helps you connect back to the earth

Sure, it sounds a little cheesy, but every single one of us came from the earth.  We rely on it for everything. Yet rarely do we appreciate all of the things it provides for us.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and forget that we too have roots planted in the ground.  The age of social media has encouraged the disconnection of people with the physical world. It’s refreshing to get back to it. And it’s not exactly like this is a great hardship for any of us.  It’s undeniable that the natural world is full of the most awe-inspiring landscapes one could hope to lay eyes on.  

2. It forces you to appreciate the people around you 

Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you looked at someone and saw them for who they are?  Not who they are to you, or what their skill set is, or how they look, but who they are as a person and what makes them that way.  Hiking with a group for ten days with no excuse to disengage may have been an extreme situation. But I learned more about those individuals in that short time than I know about many of the kids I’ve gone to school with for the past 11 years.   The self-reliance required to survive in nature helps bring out the true colors in people. It showcases their strengths and their weaknesses. The longs walks with nothing to do but talk give you insight into what makes people tick. Sometimes it is beautiful to see somebody candidly; simply observing who they are.  Spending time outside with people allows for that.   

3. Its liberating to disconnect from social media

As teenagers, we hear a lot of complaints from adults about what our “evil phones” do to us.  They are the all purpose scapegoat. Of course, this isn’t exactly the case, but there are some legitimate issues that stem from spending our lives online. I’m sure that all of us feel the pressure that social media puts on us.  Kids (and adults too) have to be constantly available. You get a Snapchat and you feel compelled to answer right away. The read receipts let your friend know you saw her text, so of course you’ve got to drop what you’re doing to shoot her a response.  We have developed a culture of instant gratification, and quite frankly, its exhausting. Suddenly, with no phone, there’s no pressure to be at the beck and call of whoever needs your attention. And without it, you’ll realize how much it distracts you. How much it consumes you and your time, and how it clouds your thoughts. 

4. It teaches you to deal with yourself

Above all else we use our phones to distract us from ourselves.  We have instant entertainment at our fingertips, from Netflix, Instagram, Youtube, to iBooks.  Our minds are constantly at work. When we get a break it’s a reflexive tendency to distract them with thoughtless pleasure.  This is not always bad, but it is a crutch. Try to remember the last time you sat quietly with yourself, the last time you were introspective.  During my trip, all the students participated in a solo activity. We slept out alone for one night. We had no human interaction for over 12 hours.  We were not allowed books, watches, or any other form of external entertainment. We only had a notebook to record our ponderings. So take five minutes to sit outside and do nothing.  Don’t interact with anyone, don’t listen to music, don’t even meditate. It feels foreign, right? To be alone with the silence of your mind is challenging, even though our minds are our most intimate feature.  One of the hardest parts of growing up is getting to know yourself. This challenge extends into adulthood. But making an effort is rewarding. And being in the woods facilitates self-examination. I promise, to know yourself is to be true to yourself.  Confidence will follow this naturally.  

5. It will make you feel better

This is by far the most simple argument.  IT FEELS GOOD TO BE OUTSIDE. I, like most of us, deal with everyday health issues.  But while in the woods, I dealt with none of them. I was up early everyday and in motion from dawn to dusk. But instead of feeling tired, I felt healthy; I felt strong.  I’m not trying to tell you that an afternoon stroll in Ravenswood will be your miracle cure. I’m telling you it will invigorate you. It will make your head clearer, and it will make you sleep better.  While I was away I filled whole notebooks with poems and ponderings. I rarely woke up in the night, even though I was basically sleeping on the ground. Humans were not made to live in the stuffy, stationary, stagnation that we do.  Humans were meant to climb mountains and take deep breaths. The feeling of strength and consciousness I felt in Oregon is not one that I expect to replicate taking a walk down Niles Beach. But it’s a feeling I can tap into each time I go outside, and I strive to find it there.  You can do this too.

So what are you waiting for?!!  Get off your computer and get out there.