Our Most Unexpected Moments of Joy in the Outdoors

This article originally appeared on Outside

Ask Outside editors what brings them joy, and a few reliable standbys always pop up: dogs, running, surfing, skiing, traveling. But joy isn't necessarily predictable, either. So, we combed through our most hilarious, jaw-dropping, or painful outdoor memories to ask ourselves: why does nature make us happy? The answer is different for everyone, but here are seven surprising, unplanned moments of joy from our past adventures worth sharing.

Camino de Santiago, Spain: A Good Foot Soak

A few years ago, I thru-hiked the Camino de Santiago, a 600-plus mile, 33-day trek, across the French Pyrenees to the west coast of Spain. It sounds simple, but in reality, it tore my feet--soft and stagnant from a desk job--to shreds. 10 days in, sores gushing pus and blood dotted my arches, between my toes, and my heels. It was gross. And it hurt like hell. Threading blisters at night with a needle and string took the edge off, but I simply wasn't used to walking marathon distances everyday under a heavy pack. Then, on my birthday in early July, I hobbled across a bridge over a stream in La Rioja region. "Screw this," I thought. I climbed down to the water, huffed my pack, kicked off my shoes, peeled away my bloody socks, and parked my butt in that glorious, cold current. Two elderly Spanish ladies crossing the bridge gawked and laughed and pointed. But I didn't care. It was hands down the best birthday present, and I will never take healthy feet or chilly water for granted again. --Patty Hodapp, interim digital director, Outside

Moab, Utah: Arms Wide Open

A few years ago I drove from northeast Colorado to Moab, Utah to run and write about the Moab Half Marathon. My wife was on a business trip so I had to take my then four-year-old son. The drive went smoothly, but by the time we were winding down Highway 128 toward Moab both of us were tired after nine hours in a small car and so anxious to get there we weren’t really noticing the increasingly dramatic cliffs surrounding us as we descended into the Colorado River gorge. When my son insisted he needed to stop to answer the call of nature, it felt only like a delay. Before we got back into the car, however, he stood barefoot on the smooth red rock, looked across the river, and opened his arms wide. Suddenly I saw--that we didn’t need to rush to get somewhere, we were already somewhere stunningly beautiful. We just had to slow down, lift our heads, and look around. Later we hiked up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, and it was incredible. But the view, and the moment of joy, that I still remember most is of my son embracing the world and opening my eyes. --Jonathan Beverly, senior running editor, gear

Les Diablerets, Switzerland: A Spiritual Moment

A whoopsies--a big one. My fault, too. Plus the indescribable weight of a youthful dream and paralyzing possibilities. It was with that I hiked the vacant greens of Les Diablerets, in Switzerland. Rolling hills of tall grasses extended before me like a long exhale while horned cows grazed in and out of view. It was a picturesque mid summer day, the kind in which everything and absolutely nothing changes. In an open field, I unfolded a tinfoil cup and held it tight in my palm. Around me a light breeze circled and danced. Inside the cup, a list I'd made earlier that morning described my mistakes, my fears, the things that made me angry, sad, anxious, etc, and I lit a match. I closed my eyes. I was in search of something I'd seen in a movie or read in a book, something I'd felt but did not yet understand. I was in search of mysticism or divinity. The fire glowed softly, and I felt the pull at the center while Mother Earth did her slow waltz. --Delaney Miller, senior editor, Climbing

Manzanares el Real, Spain: Finding the Trail

One son was studying in Madrid for a semester; the other was still in high school. We parents and the younger one, Roy, flew for a visit during spring break. One day, we all took a bus north to Manzanares el Real, where a hike led up to the dome of the mountain above town. We scratched around the base, seeking the trail.

"Let's just start up," they all said. They are bowhunters and think bushwhacking is normal. I protested. "It’ll be an adventure," Ted said, and charged away.

Hours later the boulderfields and thickets had gotten denser and denser. My new light puffy was snagged full of thorns. We all separately struggled up, under, around and through the interlocked boulders. Roy, 25 feet up on a ramp, got stuck, saw a hold above and said he was going to lunge for it. I shouted no! He shouted something so awful to us I had to pretend not to hear it.

I kept working toward a shoulder where we thought the trail was, worried sick a rock would teeter onto one of us. A mountain rescue. In another country. Cold nightfall.

I heard my husband, Mike's, voice, and called, "Did you find it?" He said gruffly: "No." I crawled out to find all three standing on a smooth, wide gravel path, lined with round white marker stones, laughing. Joy, followed by wrath. --Alison Osius, senior editor, Outside

Wildcat Den State Park, Iowa: A Lucky Downpour

Two years ago, a gastroenterologist diagnosed me with food intolerances to gluten and dairy, and advised me to avoid both in order to live my healthiest life. But after a few months of faithfully adhering to the new dietary restrictions, I started treating her directive as a suggestion. Such folly was the source of my discomfort on the morning of my birthday last summer, when I wolfed down a frosting-laden pastry before a day of hiking with my boyfriend. The half hour drive to the state park was uncomfortable, but the minute I got out of the car, I knew I was in trouble. I wasn't sick, exactly--just riddled by the sort of stomach cramps that fill a person with deep regret. Because it was my birthday, my boyfriend refrained from laughing at me too much, and we set out into the woods. A mile in, like an angel singing from above, an unmistakable thunder rumbled. We'd only just decided to head back to the car when a torrential downpour, complete with quarter-sized hail, ensued. Running through the mud and becoming increasingly soaked, we cracked jokes over our bad luck and the Midwest’s infamously unpredictable weather. I forgot about my stomach ache, and knew it would be a birthday to remember. --Isabella Rosario, associate editor, Outside

Mount Hood, Oregon: Trusty Sandals

After a long hike dusty hike through Mount Hood, Oregon in August there was one thing I was looking forward to above everything else. Sure, a crisp beverage or an ice cream would have been nice, but the euphoric feeling of taking my hiking boots (which, I should mention, are exceptionally comfortable) off and sliding on my rubber Arizona Birkenstocks was enough to make me double the pace on the way back. There is something so simple, yet undeniably satisfying about seeing a subtle ring of dirt around the ankle as one exchanges a hefty boot for a rubber sandal that is unparalleled. I like to keep my hiking socks on with my sandal, especially as the evening cool creeps in (as it did in the late August air of Government Camp). Next time you’re out on a hike don’t think too hard about how to reward yourself after a hard day: the answer is probably sitting in the passenger seat of your car. --Jamie Aranoff, digital editor, Ski

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Parental Pride

When my three kids were young and we went hiking and backpacking, they routinely asked, "How much farther?" I routinely answered, "We're halfway." I said we were halfway regardless of where we actually were on the journey. Whether we had just left the trailhead or were minutes from our destination, the answer was always "halfway." I figured they would catch on eventually and be motivated to learn how to read a map. Mostly they were just frustrated, but it did nudge them toward paying a little more attention to our route.

Fast forward a few years. We were on a family backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. On our last light below the rim, we camped next to a friendly, older couple, and leapfrogged with them as we all hiked out the Bright Angel Trail the next day. The steep route was hard for everyone, young and old alike, and we frequently took rest breaks together. Toward the top, the canyon wall is so steep that it's hard to see the rim, and thus hard to know how close you are to the end. Our oldest son, Milo, was 9 years old, and had been tracking our progress; he didn’t have to ask to know we were near the top. We were resting on some trailside rocks when the older couple pulled up for a break as well. They were both carrying big packs and the gray-haired man put his down with a sigh. He wiped his brow and looked at us, asking no one in particular, “How much farther do you think?"

Milo didn't hesitate. "We're about halfway," he said, deadpan. The older hiker looked devastated. I should have felt bad for him. I should have told him not to worry, that it was just a family joke. But I couldn't say anything for a moment. I was too filled with the joy only a proud parent knows. --Dennis Lewon, director of content

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