The mountains and the sea are beckoning. You’ve got a lawn to mow, the family’s visiting, and before you know it, summer could be gone. Here’s how to get those nights under the stars to make the summer awesome.
Master the Weekend
If outdoor sports have a key skill, it’s not the ability to pull yourself up an overhung 5.14, or roll a kayak in a class 5. Its something far more common, and far more difficult: the ability to master the weekend escape. If you’re like me, you’re drawn to dream destinations, and when those aren’t possible—which is most of the time—the one- or two-week trips to some wilderness location or outdoor paradise. But those long trips don’t occur but once or twice a season. That means most of my time in the mountains, rivers, or the sea, happen on plain ol’ weekends. And weekends can disappear in a jiffy.
Of course, writing this is simpler than it sounds. Schedules are notoriously changeable, and coordinating the schedules of a bunch of my friends for a “simple” weekend trip often feels like negotiating the Paris Accords with all the schedules, desires, pets, kids soccer games, and logistics involved. But the alternative—trying to throw something together at the last minute—seldom works.
Go Where the Going’s Good
Planning time and people may be more important than planning anything specific. Weather patterns are variable, so plans for the weekend may vary up to the moment of departure—but if you know you’re going somewhere and who you’re going with we can adjust. If it’s too stormy to kayak the coast, but mountain forecasts are good, go to end the mountains. Two of my friends are notorious for blocking out weekends (on my calendar and theirs) and making the call the night before whether they’re canoeing, skiing, hiking or kayaking. I’ve just learned to check my email Thursday night and then pack the appropriate gear.
Keep It Simple
Complex logistics kill weekends. The more your trips depend on permits, shuttle logistics, or sought-after camping reservations, the more likely they are to fall apart. Go where you can just load up your gear and go.
Organize Your Gear
And speaking of gear—keep it organized and ready to go. It’s entirely possible that you meant to patch your tent at the end of last season and haven’t done it yet. Or that you’re out of camping fuel. If you’re making the most of the sweet season, you’ll be pulling tents and bikes and skis and stoves off of shelves every week or so for four months or so. Keep it organized. The less time you spend managing your gear, the more places you can go.
Food planning can often become a black hole. The secret is to plan in advance and keep it simple. I dehydrate and seal leftovers in the freezer so I can simply grab a set of meals, add fresh ingredients, and go. Non-perishables, like oatmeal, coffee, freeze-dried meals, and other staples, simply live in a sealed tub, prepacked and ready to go—one trip to the fridge or the produce section is all it takes.
Bring the Kids
Kids’ soccer games getting in the way? Deflate the soccer ball, stuff it in a backpack, load up the kids, and head to an alpine meadow. It will help your kids love the outdoors, too. And the better you can train them to get their own stuff ready, the easier getting the whole family in the outdoors will be.
Rediscover the Back 40
But most of all, your weekend escapes are a chance to rediscover your local back 40. I’ve found stunning campsites within a 20-minute drive from my home, where I’d stopped for lunch many times, but turned out to be a spectacular spot to watch a moonrise or sunset. I remember how much fun I had as a kid camping in the backyard. Now my backyard is just a lot bigger.
Dream Big, Dream Early
None of this quick, local weekends stuff means you have to let go of that three-week epic trip. By all means, make it happen—but get to work on it early so you’ve got the lead time you need for all that planning. As I write these words, I’m packing my bag for a trip that got planned in November. It’s exciting, and it meshes fine with quick weekend jaunts.
But most of all, go. There will be Saturday mornings when you haven’t made plans, and you’re hemming and hawing about whether you should try and go somewhere or if you should yield to inertia, have a leisurely breakfast, and have a weekend of mowing the lawn or organizing your spare bedroom. I know my answer. It has nothing to do with the lawn.