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Coastal sunsets are a beautiful way to end a work day. Photo by Pacific North Wanderers.

Microadventures

Outdoor adventures aren’t just for weekends. Here’s how to get more trail time all week long | by Cassandra Overby

It was a gorgeous July evening. Several friends and I were perched on a real tablecloth at the top of Poo Poo Point, surrounded by the romantic glow of battery-operated candles, the dry tang of red wine fresh on our lips. We nibbled spicy Italian sausage and soft French cheese as the sun went down and the air turned cold. A hush came over our group as the last stunning rays of orange slid behind the Issaquah Alps and Lake Sammamish. Porch lights flickered on, house by house. It was one of those memories that you swear you’ll never forget. What made it better: Hours before, all of us had been at work. This wasn’t vacation. It wasn’t the weekend. It was Tuesday.
"You really don't need much to enjoy an after-work hike. It doesn't need to be a complicated affair, and it's okay to not have the newest, fanciest hiking gear. Find the few pieces that work for you and use those." —Erik Morgenstern

Chances are, adventure isn’t what comes to mind when you think about a typical Tuesday. What probably does are things like working late, sitting in traffic, fixing a quick dinner, watching TV, wishing it was the weekend and then doing it all over again the next day. And the next. And so on. But the truth— the honest truth—is that it doesn’t have to be like that. And that’s because, despite the chores and routines we insist on stuffing it with, the ordinary weeknight is actually quite extraordinary.


Trails near urban centers, like the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jon Lee.

Why?

For starters, each one contains 16 hours (typically, from 5pm to 9am) of untapped happiness potential. In a typical five-day work week, that's 80 hours—twice what the average person works in that same time period— that can be used for hiking, picnicking, sleeping outside and whatever else floats your boat. It’s also a magical time to get out on trail; popular paths that are packed with cars and people on the weekends tend to be all but deserted during the week, especially in the later hours after work. To top it all off, weeknights are just the right size to tackle your adventure bucket list. You know the one I’m talking about: the smaller adventures (what we’re going to call microadventures) close to home that are often scrapped in favor of more involved and more distant adventures on the weekend.

If you think weaving adventure into the fabric of your everyday life sounds wonderful—and daunting—don’t worry. You don’t need to get out every weeknight. Even embarking on one microadventure per week is enough to see results. And there are plenty of those: feeling more balanced, having something to look forward to during the week, and being physically and mentally stronger to tackle everything else in your busy life. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s time to harness the power of the weeknight to make your life more extraordinary. To help you get started, we recently sat down with our most active staff members and prolific trip reporters—the people who inspire us with how often they get out on trail—to understand just what it takes to create a life chock-full of microadventures. Here’s what they had to say.

Define Your Own Adventure

Not all microadventures are created equal, and the best one for you is the one that gets you excited. To some, a sweat-inducing weeknight hike sounds incredible. For others, the perfect microadventure might be a slow, delicious walk by a lake or a relaxing picnic in the back yard. It doesn't matter what kind of adventure you choose, as long as you choose whatever makes you happy.

"Do what energizes you. Go on a walk from your house. Don't buy into what other people consider an 'outdoor experience.' There will always be someone more extreme than you." —Meagan Mackenzie

Keep a List Handy

To increase your chances of getting outside, brainstorm a list of possible adventures in advance. These should be planned around your starting location so you can minimize travel time and maximize daylight. Building your list should be fun—get creative! WTA’s Hiking Guide and Hike Finder Map are great research tools. So are magazines, guidebooks and trip reports. Take notes on anything and everything that you think sounds interesting, do your research, and when you’re ready to go out, you’ll have no shortage of places to go.

Rattlesnake Ledge. Photo by Xiao Wang.

Schedule it in

Once you know what kind of adventures you’re up for, you can start estimating how much time you'll need to block off your calendar. The key is to choose specific times and dates. For most people, five hours is a good start. That includes enough time for a one-hour drive (each way) and a three-hour hike or other adventure. If you’re lucky enough to have a flexible schedule at work, try coming in early so you can leave early as well. Regardless of what and when you schedule, treat your microadventures like sacred events and prioritize them accordingly.

Don't be Afraid the Multitask

When it comes to getting outside during the week, combining your microadventures with other things on your to-do list, such as commuting or eating dinner, can open up hours of free time. If you are struggling to find time for weeknight fun, this is a great place to start.

"Don't have time just to hike? Try getting your workout while hiking or reconnecting with friends. Into photography? Do it while hiking. Bird watching? Do it while hiking. Hitory? Geology? Meteorology? Botany? Do it while hiking." —Erik Morgenstern

Be Comfortable Going Alone

Trying to coordinate busy schedules with your friends, family and co-workers—or even finding a dog-friendly trail—can be the most daunting part of planning a microadventure. Eliminate that stress by getting comfortable with adventuring alone; you’ll have more flexibility with how and when you get outside. If you’re nervous about hiking alone, ease into things with trails that are popular with the midday crowd. Local, city and regional parks are all great options.

After-work adventures can also be a great opportunity to spend quality time with the whole family. Photo by Christi Hardy.

Pack Your Gear in Advance

If you only remember one tip about microadventures, it should be to always have your gear packed and ready. What to include? Start with the Ten Essentials and all of the clothes—and shoes—you’ll need for your adventure. Since you’ll (hopefully) be getting out rain or shine, light or dark, be sure to include rain gear and a good head lamp. There will be some last-minute additions to your bag, like snacks and water, but covering the bases of everything you need—and including a checklist for the last-minute items—can mean the difference between bailing on an adventure and getting out for an awesome night.

Vary Your Trail Adventures

Vary your trail adventures. Want to stay motivated over the long term? Then don’t be afraid to mix things up by varying your trail experiences and adventures. There are all sorts of things you can play with: mileage, elevation, location. For a more drastic change, try a new activity. If you normally hike, sub in a bike ride. If you normally bike, borrow in-line skates for an evening. Another idea is to experience a trail you love in a completely different way by hiking it in the dark. By pushing your comfort zone and keeping your adventures fresh, there’s no telling where your weeknights will take you.

"Some of the coolest hiking experiences I've had have been hiking after dark." —Paul Kriloff

Once you’ve dreamed up and planned your microadventures, get out there and do them—whatever they are. Amble in a neighborhood park on a Monday; fire up your camp stove on a Wednesday; sleep in your own back yard every chance you get. Embrace just how extraordinary an ordinary Thursday can be—and use it to invent a new normal for yourself, one that focuses on the most important hours you’re given in a week. It won’t be long before you, too, will be at the top of Poo Poo Point on a Tuesday. I’ll see you there.

This article originally appeared in the May+June 2016 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.