The Great Outdoors

Tired of the same old summer picnic or volleyball game?
Here are some newfangled outdoor activities that promise never to bore.

July/August 2012

by Jodi Helmer

Time and again we’ve heard the same old complaint about getting on the treadmill or the stair machine at the gym: It just doesn’t hold interest. That’s not a formula for fitness success, an unacceptable scenario in a country where obesity is epidemic. Well, it’s summer now, which means it’s time to get out of the gym and experience what Mother Nature has to offer. That should be enticement enough for maintaining an ongoing fitness regimen. But if jogging around the same old outdoor track at the local high school is losing lustre, here are a few boredom-busting outdoor activities made just for you...


Armed with a GPS device and a sense of adventure, Barb Freda, 52, hiked along a railway trail and scoured the grounds of Fort Scaur in Bermuda, using GPS coordinates to search for a hidden cache. The high-tech treasure hunt was part of an outdoor activity known as geocaching.

“It was a fun new experience, a great way to break up a hike,” says Freda, an American recipe developer now living in Paget, Bermuda.

Using GPS coordinates recorded on websites like and, geocachers set out to find the caches, which can be hidden anywhere from urban parks and hiking trails to the middle of a lake.

The sport became popular in 2000 when the government made GPS coordinates available to the public. Today, reports there are 5 million geocachers and 1,729,892 active caches hidden in locations around the world.

“Geocaching is a great example of how we can use the technology we love to get outdoors,” says Fiona Danks, coauthor of Run Wild! Outdoor Games and Adventures (Frances Lincoln). “Instead of haranguing kids to go outside, find an activity, like geocaching, that appeals to them.”

Once a cache has been located, geocachers record their findings in the enclosed logbook, take the treasure (often coins or other low-value trinkets; the cache Freda found contained some old film canisters) and leave a new treasure for the next geocacher to find. Freda believes that the real treasure in a cache is the logbook filled with the names of all of the people who had reached that spot previously. “I loved seeing who had been there before me,” she says.

Caches are rated on a scale of one to five for the level of difficulty of the terrain hiked to find them. For a real workout, choose caches with a four- or five-star rating.

Animal Tracking

To celebrate her daughter’s tenth birthday, Jo Schofield organized a tracking party, leading a group of girls through the woods near her Oxfordshire, England, home in search of animal tracks.

“Animal tracking is a fun way of getting our children connected with the natural world,” explains Schofield, coauthor of Run Wild! “Spending time outside is key to improving our health and the health of our environment but it should be fun, too.”

Animal tracking is not hunting. Instead, trackers look for signs that animals have been in the area—tracks, scat and habitats—in the hopes of observing wildlife in its natural environment.
It’s easiest to track animals in the morning or the evening, and after rain or snowfall when their tracks are most visible, according to Schofield.

Animal tracking requires equal parts physical stamina and patience. While it’s possible to track rabbits, frogs, snails and other small animals in urban areas, most tracking is done in the wilderness, which often requires hiking through rugged terrain, scrambling over rocks and wandering
along riverbanks.

For those nervous about tracking wildlife solo, Schofield recommends a guided experience. Yellowstone National Park (, the Washington Trails Association ( and the Rocky Mountain Nature Association ( all offer guided programs that include animal tracking.

“It’s all about slowing down and opening [your] eyes to the world around [you],” she says. “Only then will [you] truly being to understand the natural world.”

Standup Paddling

In 2011, while writing an article about standup paddling (SUP), journalist Margaret Littman, 44, decided to do some hands-on research. She borrowed a board and a paddle, hit the water and fell in love with the sport.

“It is a literal different perspective, to be standing on water instead of sitting,” says Littman. “It makes you see things differently.”

This combination of surfing and kayaking is one of the fastest growing watersports in the world, says Ben Marcus, author of The Art of Stand Up Paddling (Falcon Guides).

Participants stand on fiberglass boards that resemble oversized surfboards and use a paddle to glide through the water. SUP can be done on lakes and rivers or on the ocean.

Since her first SUP experience, Littman has paddled in 12 states and participated in two races. In addition to developing a passion for the sport, the Nashville resident has developed some new muscles.

SUP “is relatively easy to learn, but you can always improve, so it never gets boring,” says Littman. “I can do it alone or with friends, in almost any water, either as a casual activity or as a real workout.”

Balancing on the board strengthens the legs and glutes, while the act of paddling builds arm muscles. Marcus believes that SUP engages almost every muscle in the body from the arches in your feet to the muscles in your neck. It’s also a dynamite core workout.

“When you do a stroke right you can feel it in your core,” says Marcus. SUP “does magical things to those core muscles that are hard to isolate otherwise. It’s an efficient, fun form of exercise.”

Tree Climbing

Scrambling up the trunk of an old oak tree and perching on its limbs is a childhood rite of passage. A growing number of outdoor schools want to recreate the sense of wonder found in the treetops by offering tree-climbing adventures.

Debbie Seppa, 44, began climbing trees six years ago when she met her husband, Jason, 40; the pair owns Pacific Tree Climbing Institute ( in Eugene, Oregon. The sport instantly became part of her active lifestyle. “I’m so addicted and climb anytime I can,” she says.

You can climb white oaks in Georgia, Ponderosa pines in Colorado and black walnut trees in Oregon. Some schools, such as Pacific Tree and Dancing with Trees in Alto, Georgia (, even offer overnight experiences, strapping climbers into hammocks to spend the night in the tree canopy.

Atlanta-based Tree Climbers International ( opened the nation’s first tree-climbing school in 1983. “It’s a great way to spend time outside and connect with nature or just hang out and enjoy the view,” says Patty Jenkins, co-founder and executive director.

Jenkins believes increasing environmental consciousness and awareness of the impacts of Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by journalist Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books), to explain a trend that children are spending less time in nature, have contributed to the popularity of tree climbing.

Unlike the daredevil climbs of the past, modern tree climbers use ropes, pulleys and harnesses to ensure a safe climb to the top. It’s still a workout to get there, though.

“To climb the tree, you push up with your legs and climb up the knot,” Jenkins explains. “For beginning climbers, it’s much more of a workout and, depending on your level of fitness, it can go from leisurely to intense.”

Seppa agrees. “It’s a full body workout that is so different than anything I’ve ever tried,” she says.

Night Hiking

On nights when there is a full moon, the trails at Yosemite National Park are crowded with hikers eager to experience the park in the dark.

“Nighttime in the park is really beautiful,” says Lisa Cesaro, spokesperson for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite (, the company that leads moonlit hikes in the California park. “It’s one of my favorite times to explore the park because the crowds are gone and it’s more quiet and calm.”

Hiking at night offers a different perspective. Even familiar terrain becomes a new experience by moonlight.

The opportunity to experience nocturnal wildlife is one of the reasons the guided night hikes at Yosemite National Park are so popular, according to Cesaro. At night, owls hoot from the trees, coyotes howl and wolves bay—moments that are impossible to experience when the sun is up.
Guided night hikes are often offered by national and state parks as well as nature centers. Sturdy shoes, a headlamp or flashlight and water are essential. The most important advice: Never leave the trail.

Hiking solo is also an option but preparation is key. Tell a ranger which trail you’re taking and what time you expect to return; pack a map, flashlight and plenty of water, and tuck a cell phone into your pocket so you can call for help if you’re lost or hurt.

“Most hikers opt for casual strolls, not strenuous hikes, at night because it’s harder to see where you’re going,” says Cesaro. “You’ll be amazed at how beautiful a trail looks by moonlight.”

Energy on the Go

Whether you are enjoying life in the great outdoors or engaged in weekend athletics, it’s crucial to keep your engine stoked with pure, fresh water—and with high-quality fuel.

Candy bars just won’t cut it. Excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates such as sugar causes a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash, leading to the kind of tired, draggy feeling that can make a chore out of what should be exhilarating activity. And while the bar format is the most portably convenient form of fuel, some low-grade energy bars are little better in terms of wholesome nutrition than their candy cousins.

Instead, look for a low-glycemic energy bar, one that won’t trap you on the blood sugar rollercoaster. Such bars use whole foods or whole-food concentrates to provide complex carbohydrate, the kind that supports steady energy production, and fiber. Some bars augment their fiber content with probiotics, friendly microbes that promote intestinal health, along with prebiotics such as FOS, which provide probiotic organisms with their preferred food.

Low-glycemic bars also contain protein to repair hard-working muscles. Good protein sources include whey powder, which supplies muscle-building branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and soaked brown rice, along with both fermented and unfermented soy.
Other ingredients augment a bar’s basic purpose of promoting long-lasting energy. Some offer an additional energy kick, such as the B-complex of vitamins, the amino acid L-carnitine, the micronutrient-rich blue-green algae spirulina and goji, a fruit used as an energy tonic in traditional Asian medicine. Others, including berries such as açai, cranberry and raspberry, contain antioxidants that fight the free radicals generated by exercise.

Bars may also include nutrients and herbs that help keep blood sugar on an even keel, including bitter melon, the spices cinnamon and fenugreek, and garcinia, which also helps
to inhibit fat formation.There is a whole world of activities for you to explore during the long days and warm nights of summer. Packing the proper fuel supplies can help you get the most of them.



If your idea of outdoor activity involves lacing up your trainers,
check out these books for ways to avoid injury and improve your
running with two eastern healing approaches.

The Runner’s Guide to Yoga

By Sage Rountree

VELO PRESS (, 222 PAGES, $19.95

What do running and yoga have in common? Both practices “involve using the mind, body and breath in unison to test—and often to surpass—the boundaries of what we think we can do,” says Sage Rountree, author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga: A Practical Approach to Building Strength & Flexibility for Better Running. Rountree, certified as both a running coach and a yoga teacher, concentrates on maintaining focus and balance as she provides yoga poses for the core and lower body, along with valuable advice on avoiding injury and routines to follow before, during and after a run. Clear, well-illustrated instructions make it easy to follow along even if you’re a stranger to the yoga mat.


Chi Marathon

By Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer


At some point many runners are tempted to test their mettle by running the 26-plus miles of a marathon, which explains why more than a half-million US marathon finishing times were recorded in 2010. But going the long distance requires smart training to avoid injuries and breakdowns. In Chi Marathon: The Breakthrough Natural Running Program for a Pain-Free Half Marathon and Marathon, noted running coach and former ultramarathoner Danny Dreyer focuses on what he and his co-author, wife Katherine, call ChiRunning; it emphasizes proper form by ditching the “push beyond pain” approach for one based on Tai Chi. The idea is to develop easy, efficient movement as the key for injury-free performance.


Natural First Aid

Living an active, outdoorsy life can provide thrills that an indoor existence can’t match, but has its hazards in the form of nicks, sprains and strains. Knowing basic first aid can help keep minor injuries from slowing you down.

Throw a bottle of tea tree oil into your backpack or sports bag; this broad-spectrum antibiotic provides first-line defense against infection in cuts or scrapes. Calendula, an ointment taken from the pot marigold, helps to cleanse wounds and prevent scarring. CoQ10 (now available as ubiquinol), best known as an energy supplement, has also been found to speed wound healing when taken internally, as does vitamin C.

Prompt attention to joint and muscle injuries can help reduce the risk of chronic problems. Sprains—stretching or tearing of the ligaments that hold bones together—and strains—injuries involving muscles or the tendons that hold muscles to bones—should be treated with RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. To avoid skin damage, always wrap ice or other cold sources in a thin towel before applying and apply for no more than 20 minutes at a time; allow the skin to warm up before reapplying. When using a compression bandage be sure to not wrap it too tightly; if the area throbs, rewrap more loosely. Consult a practitioner if pain or swelling doesn’t begin to ease within 48 hours.

Bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme extracted from pineapple stems, can help control swelling and bruising, as can grapeseed extract and homeopathic arnica (topical arnica cream may be applied to intact skin). Other powerful anti-inflammatories include boswellia, feverfew and ginger; juice fresh fruits and vegetables get even more fresh enzymes and micronutrients into your post-injury diet. Magnesium can help ease muscle cramps; also maintain adequate hydration (a dash of sea salt can supply trace minerals).


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