Living in California, we are blessed with a multitude of climate zones and outdoor lands to explore with friends and family. Access to these open spaces has never been easier as most parks are less than a day’s drive away from Fremont. My life has been greatly enriched by pursuing outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and service projects. I have camped for over 25 nights in the wild, hiked over 20 miles with a 50lb backpack on in 125-degree heat on the Pacific Crest Trail, and participated in many initiatives to keep local parks clean. I believe that our generation is underutilizing the great outdoors and is missing out on important physical and mental benefits resulting from the appreciation and exploration of the natural world.
For one, getting outside means exercise, and there are so many possible combinations that make the outdoors a perfect playground for an active lifestyle and a place to achieve your goals in terms of physical fitness. Along with common activities like hiking and biking, there are pastimes for those who love the water, such as stand-up-paddleboarding and swimming. There are also activities for adrenaline junkies, for instance snowboarding and rock climbing.
Escaping outside to explore the outdoors can work wonders for a student’s mental health, according to a study published in July 2018 by Harvard Health Publishing. There is a sense of connectedness and appreciation cultivated through appreciating local wildlife and flora that change with the season. Some wildlife observable in the Bay Area are deer, foxes, and local birds, such as the majestic California Condor I observed at Pinnacles National Park, among other interesting species. Oak trees dot the golden hills ringing the bay and deep in some northern areas lie ancient redwood groves. There is also a social aspect to nature, as you can make lasting friendships with those who are passionate about the outdoors and connect through this shared interest. Being in nature provides a sense of peace and an escape from the stress brought on by daily schoolwork and expectations. Sometimes, even just one breath of pure, fresh air is enough to clear your mind and put the urgency of dates and deadlines to rest.
Now, you may be wondering where to start your outdoor journey. I would suggest either a visit to our city park Lake Elizabeth, or the Coyote Hills, Vargas Plateau and Mission Peak locations of the East Bay Regional Park system as excellent jumping-off points to your outdoor journey. National parks such as Pinnacles and Yosemite are not far off either and offer breathtaking natural scenery. All of these privileges do not come without responsibility, however, and it is our job to be responsible stewards and do our part to preserve the environment for others. A way to achieve this is to follow the principles of “Leave No Trace”, meaning that you must leave the natural environment the same or better than how you found it initially. So when you have some free time in the new year, consider spending it in the great outdoors. I promise you won’t regret it.