9 Things that the Outdoors Taught Me in 2016

Hungry for experiences, here are the 9 things I learned from the outdoors in 2016.

This year, I was hungry. Hungry for experiences. No, not food, and no, not possessions, but rather I was hungry for memories and good times. I put my focus of this year into creating memories and stories that would last a lifetime, with less of a focus on money and material possessions. I started the year doing easy hikes and not really challenging myself or scaring myself. By the end of the year, I found myself in a wetsuit waist deep in a river full of ice and surrounded by snow on Mt. Hood. Throughout my journey of 2016, I have learned so much, of which I would like to share with you.


1. Experiences > Possessions

Most of us dream about having the big house, the nice cars, and tons of friends. This year however, I learned that it is the experiences in life that matter. When I think of rich, I no longer think of the nice cars and houses, but rather, I think of being mentally rich. Rich in experiences, rich in knowledge, and rich in stories. So much more can be said for the one who is full of experiences and stories rather than the one who sat in comfort their whole life and has no stories to show for it. Les Brown said it best: "No one gets out of the game alive. You either die in the bleachers, or on the field. So, you might as well play out on the field, and go for it." If money and experiences are put right next to each other, you can bet that I am taking the experiences and memories every time.


2. You meet some of the best people outdoors.

I started this year with a small handful of friends who enjoyed the outdoors, and at the end of the year I have a couple dozen great friends who I have met because of the outdoors. Whether it be from meeting another explorer you admire on Instagram, or randomly bumping into a University of Virginia student visiting the Pacific Northwest (not to mention one who is kayaking over a waterfall shown below), some of the best people I know to this date were met due to mutual passion for one thing: The Great Outdoors.


3. You strengthen your relationships with friends outdoors.

To expand on the previous idea, the outdoors will help you build your relationship with your friends. Just like nights turn into mornings, friends will turn in to family. It's hard to have a bad attitude when you are out exploring and doing what you really love, and having friends who feel the same as you is sure to build relationships. Many of my current best friends all started hanging out just on short day hikes, and sooner than you know it, you are on backpacking trips sleeping in the same tent with someone who was a stranger just a couple months ago. 


4. Pictures rarely do a place justice. Go see it for yourself.

As a photographer myself, I can not say this enough. Simply standing in the moment, you get a feeling that can not be duplicated on a screen. While it is nice to look at photography from beautiful places in the comfort of your home, nothing quite compares to the feeling of standing in the mist of a rushing waterfall or in the presence of a mountain right in front of you.


5. Some days, the wilderness welcomes you in, others, it screams to get out.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned this year was from many close calls. While I am fortunate enough to have made it out of the wilderness and back home from every one of my journeys with nothing more than cold feet, twisted ankles, and scratches, many of those who enter the wilderness are not. It is incredibly important to stay on top of weather forecasts and trail conditions, because the wilderness is unforgiving. Safety always comes first, any adventure can wait for another day.


6. Making the most of your days.

At the beginning of the year, I was still a senior in high school, who had school five days a week. Until graduation, even through 30 hours a week of work and full time school, I found time to go hiking and chase my passion outdoors. Almost any day I got out of class and didn't have work, I would drive up to the Columbia River Gorge with a buddy or two and hike as fast as I could and as high as I could and get the best sunset views around. I am incredibly fortunate to live less than an hour away from so many amazing hikes, and have friends who are willing to go on my spontaneous adventures. On days during the summer where I had no work or school, I was up at 3 or 4 AM and on the road to catch the 5:30 AM sunrise, and did not come home until 10 or 11 at night. It was days like these that made me feel like I was spending every last minute of each day that I could doing exciting things with my friends.


7. Sleep can come second.

As I stated above, I had many 20 hour days in the summer. I put sleep on the back burner and really pushed myself to do more. This was one of the best decisions I made. Did I show up to family dinners and friends houses looking incredibly tired? Yes. But did I have the best stories and richest experiences? Yes. Don't let your 8 hours of sleep a night slow you down every once in a while!


8. It is okay to step outside of the comfort zone.

Like I said in my intro, I started off the year doing very easy things that did not push me mentally or physically. Closing in on the end of the year now, I am willing to take any challenge and push my limits. Whether this be in a wetsuit in a freezing cold river, or an incredibly long and steep hike, you can count me in.


9. The cold is temporary, the memories and friends are forever.

So often I hear people say: "I don't want to do that because it is cold/hot/raining/long." Looking back on the year, I will be the first to admit a few things. I was cold on nearly every sunrise I caught and river I waded in, but I did not let that stop me. I have been so cold that I could not even hold my camera still enough to take a photo, but those are the moments that you generally forget quickly. The moments you remember are laughing with your friends, doing what you all love best. 


I would like to conclude this article by thanking all of my friends who taught me something this year. The photos included in this article include photos of some of my closest friends, many of which I met this year. Knowledge truly is priceless, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I have been involved in this year. So many times I have been on crazy expeditions that have resulted in cloudy skies, and it truly is amazing to have friends who still make it worth your while and laugh even when the conditions are poor.

I hope this article can serve as a source of inspiration for other people out there. As I stated before, I started the year as a senior in high school who was pursuing photography and graphic design. At the beginning of the year, I was so let down by my photography and felt as if it was going nowhere, but through amazing friends and other adventurers like me, I have created a work flow that I love. I am now a first year college student at Portland State University studying graphic design, who currently makes a living off of freelance photography. It is incredible the difference that a year can make. Don't let anything hold you back, and if 2016 was not your year, come back fighting to make 2017 one of the best of your life!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Austin JacksonExplorer

Photographer and adventurer living in Portland, Oregon. Contact: austinjamesjackson@hotmail.com