Dog with flowers over eyes
William Wegman
Dog with flowers over eyes
What makes us giddiest in the outdoors? (Photo: William Wegman)

How to Have More Fun Outside

We asked a bunch of great writers to bear down, focus, and tell us what makes them giddiest in the outdoors. Join them as they celebrate everything from diving off rocks to adventure flirting to … shivering in a bed between cold sheets? (Hey, don’t judge.) Plus: five scientifically proven ways to up the fun and improve your health.

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1. Flex Your Fun Muscle

By Mary Turner

After a series of challenging life events over the past few years, I forgot what fun is. That can happen as you get older, as work stress, health concerns, the loss of loved ones, and the effects of an ongoing pandemic pile up. Soon enough, your fun meter gets out of whack. Or disappears entirely. Recently, I decided to find mine again.

But first I needed to better understand what my idea of fun really is, because it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s climbing tall mountains and paddling big rapids; for others, it’s laughing around a fire pit with friends and a good IPA. I took an informal poll about fun on Facebook, and the answers ranged from surfing to Citi Biking to dancing and singing to just seeing friends in person again. (Surprising note: a disproportionate number of responders cited pickleball.)

The notion of what’s fun for me has changed throughout life. In college it leaned toward parties and nights out with friends. Later it became about adventure, like cycling across the U.S. Later still it involved travel, exploring other countries to find empty surf breaks and the coziest off-the-beaten-path cafés.

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I began reading medical studies about how fun is good for you, helping with everything from depression to the production of feel-good neurotransmitters. Along the way I discovered Michael Rucker, a psychologist and behavioral scientist who has a book coming out in June called The Fun Habit. Rucker explains on his website that fun, unlike happiness, is an action, something we can actually pursue. In other words, we can flex—and strengthen—our fun muscle. So I tried. This required practicing spontaneity (something I suck at) and setting aside an endless list of undone chores.

I sought out kids and animals first, because they seem to know instinctively how to have fun. For instance, the other day I came upon a steep icy patch on a trail. My immediate thought was, Don’t fall. The boy behind me, however, sped up and slid down it with glee. See what I mean?

To get in the same spirit, I played Ping-Pong with my ten-year-old friend Fiona, who served by hitting the ball against the wall, ricocheting it back onto the table. It was impossible to ruminate on my worries while she laughed hysterically as I ran all over the place trying to return her serve. Next I hiked with a friend and her corgi puppy—named Wally!—and felt pure joy watching him waddle his rear end down the trail like he owned it. One afternoon I acted like a tourist in my own town, visiting coffee shops and stores I’ve never made time to go to and connecting with business owners. My fun tank was filling up.

I talked over my quest with my partner, Dave, who always seems to be having fun. For him, that usually involves skiing and mountain biking. At our local ski hill, he often rides the chairlift with young kids, showing them where to find hidden chutes. They arrive at the bottom with ear-to-ear grins. Dave is also at the bike park a couple of times a week learning new tricks. “It’s so fun to get some flight time,” he says. “There’s nothing like it. It’s just magical.”

I’m a novice mountain biker, but one day I went in search of flight time with Dave. I hit a small jump and was in the air for, well, maybe three seconds—but I was in the air! It was fun. The most fun was seeing Dave’s ecstatic face when I landed safely.

The more I use my fun muscle, the stronger it gets. Next up: pickleball.

2. Take a Flying Leap

By Bruce Handy

Many of my happiest hours outside have been spent diving off rocks into lakes, or sometimes into oceans or quarries or swimming holes, but mostly lakes—and especially clear, cold, mountain lakes, since that’s what I, a child of Northern California, grew up with. Yes, there can be minor risks involved, and I confess I enjoy showing off a willingness to defy them. But give me a suitable rock and I will also happily dive—or jump—even if no one is around to appreciate my nerve, let alone my form. For me, the dive itself is joy. There’s the tension of standing on a precipice, the release of leaping, the exhilaration of feeling momentarily shaken loose from the earth, the simultaneous shock and relief of hitting water, the cool, wet embrace of knifing under the surface—a whole story arc in a split second. Nice views are often involved as well.

Diving off rocks is my one distinction as a sportsman. I’ve been in decent shape most of my life, but I’ve never been a particularly good athlete. I’m slow. I’m not very coordinated. I’m wobbly on skis and skates. Playing tennis or basketball, my mind wanders. (I run to stay fit, because running is a sport that nicely accommodates a wandering mind, even abets it.) But beyond the aforementioned willingness to do it in the first place, the only skill diving off a rock requires is, well, knowing how to dive.

And not being stupid, by which I mean I always check to make sure the water is deep enough to dive into and that there’s nothing dangerous below the surface. I limit my dives to about 20 feet. Between 20 and 30 feet, I’ll jump. Beyond 30, forget it. Years ago, on a hot July evening, a friend and I climbed a water tower in the middle of a reservoir—which we’d jumped off of during previous summers—assuming we knew what we were doing and not realizing until we got to the top that the water level was much lower this summer due to a drought, so the tower was much higher. Forty feet? I don’t know. Neither of us wanting to back down in front of the other, we jumped anyway. I hit the water at an awkward angle, slightly bent as if I was beginning to sit down—sort of a butt flop. On impact, I felt as if I had been pancaked, my sphincter suddenly adjacent to my mouth. It was a lesson.

So I am not trying to pretend I’m an Acapulco cliff diver. And at 63, I may be nearing the end of my rock-diving years. The summer before the pandemic, I returned for the first time in about 25 years to Fallen Leaf Lake in the Sierra Nevada, near Tahoe, where my family spent a week every ­summer when I was growing up. There’s a site on this glacial lake where a steep rock wall descends straight into the water, with some nice ledges about 20 feet high and just off a trail. Anyone would consider it a beautiful spot, but the Diving Rocks, as someone uncreatively named them, have a primal hold on my imagination, like a childhood home—an almost sacred site. I sometimes dream about them; in nightmares, I can’t reach them.

Returning after so long felt both familiar and strange, in part because I noticed that I was not clearing the boulders at water’s edge with as much margin for error as I remembered. I also realized that the scramble out of the water and back up to the top, a series of still familiar footholds and handholds that once was no big deal—aside from the time a friend sliced open his heel on a sharp granite ridge—was now kind of arduous. I can’t think of a starker measure of the aging process than doing something I still had muscle memory for but that I hadn’t attempted in a quarter century. So that was sobering. But rather than dwell on this, I chose to celebrate that I could still do it, and that I still wanted to.

Dog on rollerskates
(William Wegman)

3. Flirt Shamelessly

By Allison Braden

In eighth grade, my class took a much anticipated field trip to South Carolina’s Camp Greenville. There, under the auspices of our science teacher, my classmates and I explored a kind of chemistry he’d never taught. I shyly angled to hike near my favorite boy, the one who made the best jokes. We all—boys and girls!—spent the night in the same bunkhouse, pheromones infusing the dark as we told stories and swapped song recommendations. I experienced for the first time how an expedition can throw a group together in unexpected ways, and how the wild unwraps hidden layers in old friends. I’m still convinced flirting is one of the most electric parts of being outside.

Thirteen years later, in Futaleufú, a tiny town with world-class whitewater in Chilean Patagonia, I was negotiating a ­confusing path to an overlook, in search of condors, when I met a man doing the same. He wanted to tell me how to get to the summit, and I let him explain for too long, in endearing broken Spanish, before interjecting that I was from the States, too. He’d ridden a motorcycle solo from Denver, and we were soon talking about Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins’s legendary van trip along a similar route. His directions turned into a daylong conversation, and he asked if I wanted to joyride along the river on the back of his motorcycle. We rounded a bend and he suddenly slowed, a sly trick to get my hands off my knees and around his waist. There may have been condors gliding between the peaks overhead, but I never found out.

Sometimes it’s the magnetic sexiness of raw competence that lights the spark. Deep in North Carolina’s Linville Gorge last year, I rappelled a remote crag slick with rain. At the other end of my line was a guide who knew exactly what he was doing. He came close to check my figure-eight follow-through, his able hands delightfully near my hips. I was sporting the unsexiest getup imaginable: a helmet that rendered my head ­upsettingly oblong; heavy-duty rain gear—the kind built for deep-sea fishing, vivid yellow from head to toe; and a harness on top of it all. But out in the wild, it didn’t matter. That night I volunteered, perhaps too eagerly, to help him rig a tarp shelter in the gathering dusk. We traded notes on upcoming expeditions—his to climb in Red Rock Canyon, mine to kayak the Georgia coast. He tried to teach me a taut-line hitch, but I was too busy watching the weave of his fingers, wondering what it would be like to zip our sleeping bags together.

I didn’t find out. I didn’t need to. The fun is in the fizzy, frothy possibility, the grown-up version of a summer-camp crush that fades when the leaves go gold. Often it’s barely about the other person at all. It’s about finding a trust that lets you tiptoe to the knife-edge of the unknown. Or building a rare intimacy, the privilege of sharing in someone’s authentic self and letting them glimpse yours, too. The sidelong glances and lantern-light conversations are small parts of a bigger seduction: falling in love with everything life can be. The smoldering thrill always follows me home, soaked in my skin and hair like hickory smoke.

4. Dance in the Snow

By Bill Gifford

We all have our lists of things we dread: dental procedures, doing taxes, changing a flat, Disney. Skiing moguls—the bumps that form naturally on heavily trafficked slopes—has always ranked high for many skiers, myself included. They jack you around, jam your knees, and can send you sailing. I’ve been skiing since I was seven, but I didn’t face my fear of moguls until I was almost 40. It took another decade to realize that they can be fun.

Skiing creates moguls the way rivers carve landscapes. When Skier A turns left at a certain spot, and then Skier B turns right at about the same spot, they make a small pile of snow: a baby mogul. Other skiers push more snow onto that bump, and eventually it grows up into a big, dangerous, ugly, scary, nasty teenage mogul the size of a small igloo—one of many just like it. Sooner or later, that splendid powder slope turns into an intimidating obstacle course.

Yet the ski industry pretends moguls don’t exist. Ski movies portray people hucking cliffs, ripping sick pow lines, and spinning tricks in the terrain park. They’re almost never skiing moguls. You won’t see photos of gnarly bump fields on a mega-resort’s website. Instead, they tout their “corduroy,” flawlessly groomed blue runs for the multi-pass hordes.

And good luck finding a pair of skis that perform well in moguls: today’s planks are generally too wide, too stiff, and too shapely. Browsing my local ski swap last fall in search of a pair that might work in moguls, I was laughed out of the building.

“Why would you want to ski bumps?” the sales bro scoffed.

I dunno. Why does a runner want to run a marathon? I’m just saying, sometimes you have to make something fun when it normally might suck. Almost no one would enjoy running a marathon without training. Skiing moguls is kind of the same: it takes an investment of time to make them fun. The difference is that running a marathon is optional, while bumps are inevitable. Last winter, so many skiers piled into the Utah backcountry that moguls even appeared on a few very popular lines.

Bumps used to be my weakness, back when I was an East Coast–dwelling, ten-day-a-year skier. I could manage most ­terrain competently, but throw me into a mogul field and I’d come apart like a Real Housewife on her fourth tequila shot. After years of suffering, I finally signed up for a mogul lesson with a patient older instructor at Crested Butte. I won’t bore you with the details, but by day’s end he had given me the tools I needed to handle bumps confidently. The key: just keep going. The worst thing you can do is lean back or attempt to stop. If things start to go wrong, your only hope is to try and make another turn. Not bad life advice, either.

That lesson changed me as a skier. I make a point to hit at least one mogul run every day that I’m resort skiing. I’m a work in progress, at best, but I’m trying. The hidden upside: bump runs tend to be way less crowded than groomers, with high potential for chairlift hollas even if you eat it. (Not saying that’s happened; not saying it hasn’t.)

My sweet spot is an ungroomed intermediate-to-expert run, preferably low-angle, after lunch on a powder day. One of my best days last winter was spent chasing my girlfriend and her 14-year-old son down some bumped-up blue and black-diamond trails at Deer Valley. Although the resort was extremely busy, we had the fluffy moguls and the janky old chairlift that served them entirely to ourselves, run after run after run. For a few hours, we all felt like kids.

dog stretched around back of tree
(William Wegman)

5. Play Harder

By Alex Hutchinson

What we really wanted was our own personal island. We were 16 years old, six friends from a Toronto high school paddling and portaging through the vast and empty wilderness of Algonquin Park in southern Ontario—empty because it was early June, at the horrific confluence of black fly and mosquito seasons. We had an ambitious, bordering on delusional itinerary for our week in the woods, with grueling multi-mile portages and long days of paddling that sometimes ended after dark, for no reason other than that we were young and there was so much world to see. We cooked over an open fire and slept on the ground, raced across wind-chopped lakes—taunting each other by singing the jingle from a Frosted Flakes commercial: “Show ’em you’re a tiger, show ’em what you can do”—and lost a man overboard in a moose-ridden swamp.

Then, halfway through the trip, we found the perfect island. It was a rocky outcropping, perhaps a quarter-mile across, densely packed with pine trees. The area was small enough that it had only one place to camp, and we could hack through the bush to the opposite shore in about ten minutes. But it was big enough to feel like a private, self-contained kingdom, with forests and meadows, cliffs and gullies, streams and bogs. The lake around us was deep, its shores distant. I’m no longer sure what fantasy we were living—presumably some combination of Robinson Crusoe, Iwo Jima, and Lord of the Flies—but we decided to ditch our itinerary and spend two nights on the island, giving ourselves a full day to rule over it.

Camping at this place was already a sort of game, but at some point the next day, someone suggested a more formal enterprise: a round of three-on-three Capture the Flag. We had reached an age when such pastimes were already fading from our lives. The whole trip, which we had planned ourselves with no adult input, felt like a step away from schoolyard pursuits and into the real world. But on the island, the rules seemed different. Here there would be no artificial constraints: no borders, no pylons, no out-of-bounds zones. Nature itself would play defense for both teams, and it would also provide cover for our offense.

I don’t remember too many details about how the game played out, or even whether my team won. But I remember how I felt—the excitement of plotting a strategy with my teammates; the suspense about whether I’d be able to pick my way across a bog that my opponents had written off as an impassable barrier; the sheer delight of emerging from deep water after wading around the island’s rocky perimeter and realizing that I had outflanked the enemy. I also remember the burrs, bruises, and scrapes. We played for a couple of hours, then gradually petered out. My friend Mark remembers sneaking painfully through a patch of thorny bushes, only to find the rest of us already sitting around the campfire.

It’s hard to explain what made that particular game of Capture the Flag, among all the others that I played over the years, so memorable. Thirty years later, it’s still the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of fun in the backcountry. This wasn’t the hardest trip I’ve done, the remotest place I’ve been, or the most spectacular landscape I’ve seen. But for two hours, I was able to forget about checklists and bragging rights and civilization itself, and live entirely inside my fantasy. And that’s something I’ve tried to keep in mind in the years since then—that for someone like me, being in the ­backcountry is always a game, not a job or a compulsion or a contest.

6. Field-Test Your Fiancé

By Stephanie Joyce

I needed him to love it. And not only because there was no way to leave. The jet that had brought me and my boyfriend, Abe, to Adak, Alaska, had already departed on its thousand-mile journey back to Anchorage. The plane wouldn’t return for at least three days—maybe a week or more if there was bad weather. We were stuck in the Aleutian Islands, halfway to Russia, in a town with fewer than 200 residents. I was thrilled to be back in my home state, where everything is at the mercy of the elements. But going on vacation to an abandoned military base in a region nicknamed “the birthplace of the winds” isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.

Abe and I had only been dating for nine months, but it was serious—we had moved in together and gotten a dog. He had never been to Alaska though, which felt like a major omission in our relationship. People raise you, but so do places. Nowhere else but Alaska had ever felt like home to me. But I knew the state—especially its most remote corners—could be polarizing. Someone once told me they would rather go back to war than spend another day in Adak. They clearly did not share my appreciation for the island’s remoteness from the rest of the United States—both literally and culturally. I worried that Abe might not either. Despite spending most of his twenties in the West, he was still very much of his place, the suburbs of New York City.

We spent our first full day on the island exploring the remnants of Adak’s past life as a military installation, initially used for fighting the Japanese during World War II, then as a submarine surveillance station during the Cold War. We poked our heads into abandoned buildings full of equipment straight out of a 1980s Bond film and drove through eerie cul-de-sacs of empty homes being slowly dismantled by the relentless wind. It rained the entire time, hard, lending an extra layer of melancholy to the postapocalyptic scene. It was still raining the next day when I insisted we stick to our plan to hike six miles to a lake on the northwest side of the island to camp for several nights. Abe didn’t argue and pulled on his brand-new Xtratuf boots, purchased for the occasion. But two miles in, with both of us buried in the fog and sliding around in ­ankle-deep mud, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was reevaluating his commitment to our relationship. He looked miserable. Maybe I should have started with Juneau, I thought. Since I hadn’t done that, we trudged on, up over an invisible saddle and down a mountain covered in rain-slicked tundra grass.

When the rain finally stopped the next day, we emerged from the soggy tent to a subarctic paradise. The lake fed into a river that led out to the Bering Sea. Pink salmon crowded the inlet so thickly, we could have walked across their humped backs. The mountains we had slid down the day before glistened in the low sunlight. We rambled along the deserted black-sand beaches, assembling a kaleidoscopic collection of sea urchin shells. The next day we headed inland. At the top of the lake, we followed a stream cutting through the tundra around one bend and up the next. The water was so clear that we could see the spots on the Dolly Varden hanging out under the cut banks. When we reached an impassably steep waterfall, we turned around and headed back toward camp as a wispy layer of ground fog rolled in. Near the edge of the lake, a herd of two dozen caribou appeared a hundred yards in front of us, their breath mixing with the mist. Then, as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. I looked over at Abe, who was still looking at the spot where the caribou had been with an expression of awe on his face, and let out the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding.

dog poking head out of bushes
(William Wegman)

7. Learn How to Balance Fun and Ambition

By Ian Frazier

Fishing with my friend Mark and a guide on a summer day in B.C.—before COVID—we put in on the upside of a bridge over Connecticut’s Housatonic River. I have a memory of this kind of under-bridge place that goes back to my childhood. Near my house in Ohio, an abandoned railroad right-of-way ran through a brushy place along a small waterway called Tinker’s Creek. Stonemasons in the 19th century had built a little gem of an arched bridge over the creek. Below the bridge the water lay dark, deep, shady, and clear. A worm dropped into it would get a sunfish or a bluegill.

The under-bridge water on the Housatonic looked just like that water on Tinker’s Creek. I flipped an olive woolly bugger in there, far enough upstream that it sank in the part along the shore as we floated through. A smallmouth bass hit hard, took out line when it was on the reel, and fought until our guide netted it a good distance downstream. It was a solid 16-incher, caught on my first cast. I’ve had whole days, whole multiday trips, where I didn’t catch a fish that nice.

That quick success was my all-access pass for enjoying the rest of the day. When I’m fishing, I am not truly present until I catch a fish. Once I do, I’m free to notice things: the Canada goose feathers, curled like wood shavings, floating along on the current, or the water strider bugs zipping around the surface in the shallow places. Such pleasure, such calmness of soul!

After landing a good fish, I am magnanimity itself. I would remain in this frame of mind for about 90 minutes, or until (God forbid) Mark caught a fish bigger than mine. Ambition is the social challenge when you are fishing with friends: if you’re too driven, you’re a pain to be around, but if you’re not driven at all, and in fact couldn’t care less, the whole enterprise deflates. You must balance fun and ambition, and care passionately and dispassionately at the same time. Catching a good fish early on frees me ­temporarily from this internal struggle.

Sometimes Mark and I fish with two other angling friends, John and David. We go on the Delaware River, where it divides Pennsylvania from New Jersey. In the spring, the fish we’re catching (or not) are shad, which come in from the Atlantic and continue upstream to spawn. As usual, Mark and I are floating the river with a guide. John and David are in another boat with another guide. We’ve done this so many times that the trips blend together. The water is usually high and turbid, tumbling in currents that skid the boat this way and that. Mark is casting wildly; his weighted Clouser Minnow is ricocheting off my baseball cap and causing the guide to crouch in the middle of the boat with his arms crossed over his head.

Sometimes Mark catches more or better fish than I do. I am a good sport about it. I become silent, not to say sullen—out of respect. Once, Mark hooked the biggest fish of the day, and when he had it next to the boat, I reached for it, and somehow it broke off. Since then, Evan, the guide, has referred to me as Scissorhands. All four of us anglers are writers. Fifteen or so years ago, when I had to provide dust-jacket copy for one of my books, I wrote, “Ian Frazier is the greatest writer of this, or indeed of any, generation.” John celebrated my overstatement by having those words printed on a doormat for his house by the river. After Mark has a successful day of fishing (and I don’t), he will wipe his feet on this doormat more than is strictly necessary. I give him a look that conveys only sorrow. To see someone lose his sense of balance between competitiveness and good, companionable fun—it breaks my heart.

8. Appreciate Bad Weather

By Annette McGivney

My son Austin was 12 and didn’t know how to drive. I handed him the keys to the truck anyway. “If I get struck by lightning, just hike back to the road and find help,” I said. “But don’t worry, I won’t get struck by lightning.”

He looked at me, rolling his eyes. Why couldn’t he have a normal mother? Like, for instance, a mother who wanted to celebrate her birthday at a nice restaurant. Instead, here we were again, standing at the edge of a 9,000-foot-high meadow on northern Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, at the height of summer monsoon season.

My idea of a party is to celebrate in the middle of a storm, and my birthday ritual involves trekking up to find a lone ponderosa pine that holds a special place in my heart. This tree has thrived against all odds, too high and exposed for its own good. But it’s never been struck by lightning, unlike a gnarled aspen about 50 feet away from it that did get nailed.

On this July afternoon in 2010, with my son standing in the trees a mile distant, I sprinted up the steep meadow under a sky that was morphing from gray to black. Yes, I was the tallest thing around. And yes, as I got closer to the ponderosa, the hair on my arms started to tingle. Thunder boomed. God, this was fun. I high-fived the tree and ran down.

Although I have nothing against sunny, warm days in the mountains, there is something exhilarating about experiencing wild places in harsh weather. I grew up in East Texas, where, as far as I could tell, there were no seasons: it was either raining or not raining, with 98 percent humidity regardless. In the year after I moved to Arizona as a young adult in the 1990s, I experienced my first desert monsoon, my first mountain blizzard, and my first Grand Canyon flash flood (viewed safely from a high ledge). I had always loved the outdoors, but being in the middle of big weather deepened my awe of the natural world and my relationship to wild places.

Last winter, when the first real snowstorm hit Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, near my home, I scrambled to get out while it was still dumping. I headed to a forest that was familiar enough that I wouldn’t lose my way during the blizzard.

By the time I arrived at the trailhead, the snow was blowing sideways and not a single car was in the parking lot. As I wandered into the woods with snowshoes strapped to my pack, my plan was to stay out as long as I could stand the cold or until the weather started to clear.

In summer, when wildflowers fill the meadows and squirrels hang out on high branches, it seems like this forest is napping. But now, with snow from every direction whiting out a grove of ponderosas, the whole place was alive. The powder piled up fast, and soon I was wading more than walking. Sometimes the wind stopped, allowing a prayerful stillness among the trees. But then a gale would blast in to shake the bending pines and remind me how vulnerable we are. I was out here once when a snow-laden ponderosa snag, 50 feet tall, crashed down.

As the sun started to poke through the clouds, I decided to head back. Snot was frozen on my face, and snow clung to my hair. I had satisfied my craving to see what this forest did when humans were supposed to be indoors.

With the so-called good weather arriving, people were now skiing up from the trailhead. They had been waiting for this moment, when the snow stopped and they could lay down fresh tracks.

It was turning into a bluebird afternoon. And I was hungover after a morning of ­intoxicating happiness. The skiers looked at me funny as I passed. I refrained but wanted to tell them: “You guys missed out on a really good time.”

dog stretching legs over gap in nature
(William Wegman)

9. Cut Loose On a Waterslide

By Martin Fritz Huber

I was a freshman in college the first time I ever read Philip Larkin’s poem “High Windows,” and was struck by how it so achingly articulates what Larkin described as “the beauty of somewhere you’re not.” The “somewhere” is not a physical place so much as a utopian state of unencumbered youth, which the poem likens to “going down the long slide.” In my eyes, “High Windows” is the ultimate expression of what we now call FOMO.

Or maybe I just like the poem because I also like waterslides. It’s not a big leap for me to associate carefree joie de vivre with the sensation of whooshing through a fiberglass tunnel, or drifting over smoothed sandstone in a place like Arizona’s Slide Rock State Park—a perennial contender for best swimming hole in the U.S. Unlike more sophisticated kinds of recreation that actually require skill, waterslides allow you to surrender to gravity while relinquishing all self-consciousness. Nobody has ever looked cool doing this. Might as well enjoy the ride.

To be fair, my earliest slide memories had an element of menace. At a pool near my childhood home in Frankfurt, Germany, there was an urban legend that someone had once rigged the tube slide with razor blades. Rumor had it that the first person to go down one fine morning had bled out by the time they emerged. Back then I would graciously insist that my buddies take the first ride—because you never know. Eventually, I grew bolder. I remember the first time I went down one of those steep speed slides where you fold your arms across your chest. When I survived, all limbs attached, it felt like I had crossed a threshold into early manhood.

Part of my romantic career involved introducing others to the pleasures of the flume. I went to high school in Vienna and lived near a pool whose claim to fame was that it had the longest slide in the city’s vast network of public swimming facilities. In summer I would trespass in the middle of the night and attempt to lubricate the 330-foot descent with buckets of pool water. (They turn off the jets when the pool is closed, to save energy and, presumably, to discourage people like me.) Until well into my twenties, this was one of my go-to ideas for dates. ­Believe it or not, I am now married to one of my coconspirators.

How long has it been since you—yes, you—were on a waterslide? The correct answer is too long. I recommend you relinquish your inhibitions and venture out to your local water park. Life’s too short. Shame on you for thinking you might be too refined to enjoy a ride with a name like Humunga Kowabunga.

But I wouldn’t recommend actively trying to instill this passion in your kids. I recently tried to take my three-year-old down a ­spiraling chute. The drag from my brushed-polyester swimsuit, combined with the slide’s modest pitch, made for very slow going. The water from the jets was freezing cold, and my son, who I had nestled between my legs, wasn’t a fan. Of course, we got stuck. Other children, oblivious to the blockage, came flying down and smacked into my back.

Eventually, I was able to get us down by lowering my waistband just enough to reduce the friction. (Waterslide veterans know that descending bare-assed is the key to maximum velocity, but I try to avoid this method around children.) After we emerged from the pool, my son informed me that he had no desire to ever go down a waterslide again. That’s OK. He has the rest of his life to find out what he’s missing.

10. Take Your Kids Camping

By W. Ralph Eubanks

The hills in Mississippi’s Piney Woods glisten with a lush green, and they roll gently along the landscape, with occasional spots that mirror the prairie—if the prairie were filled with tall pines. Amid those hills, around 40 miles north of the Gulf Coast, sits the tiny hamlet of Fruitland Park. It was here where I spent two memorable summers in the early 1970s as a Boy Scout at Camp Tiak, working in the camp trading post and serving as the bugler, playing reveille every morning and taps as the sun set. Summers in southern Mississippi sweltered with an all-enveloping heat you could both see and feel, but I loved being outdoors, the independence of being away from family for six weeks, and living in a sagging pea-green tent atop a wooden platform.

Tiak is a Choctaw word meaning “tall pines,” and pine forest surrounds the wide and grassy clearings of the camp as well as the lake where I once struggled to learn to swim. Although these were the early days of integration—there were never more than three Black staffers—I felt safe and included at Tiak. I was never isolated. A few years back, when I stopped at Tiak for a visit, I realized that it was just a dowdy cluster of brown buildings from the 1950s. Still, the trees and the hills were like I remembered them. As I stood there in mid-December, I felt wrapped in the memory of Mississippi summer heat.

On a hot July day—20 years after my first summer at Camp Tiak—my first son was born in Washington, D.C. One thing I knew from my scouting days was that I wanted to pass on a love of the outdoors to my children. As I rocked him to sleep one night, I made a hushed promise: “I’m going to take you camping.” Before he turned a year old, that’s exactly what I did.

Planning that initial trip, I looked for spots close by where we could pitch a tent and I could take him on hikes in the denim-blue Gerry carrier we used. For reasons I can’t remember, I chose the Loft Mountain campground in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Maybe I selected this site for its nearby waterfall or its proximity to the Appalachian Trail, but when we arrived there for the first time, in July 1993, I was taken by how the mountains stretched out in the distance. I was a long way from the Piney Woods, but for some reason the looming mountains evoked the feel of the tall pines I’d left behind. It felt like a homecoming.

After setting up camp, I placed my son in his backpack and we hiked along the AT. ­Before we left the next morning, we hiked to a nearby waterfall. On the way back, I asked a random stranger to take our picture, to document the moment when I kept my promise to my son.

When my second son turned two, he became part of our annual trip. Each year we hiked the same trails, since we knew where to find the sweet wild blackberries we liked to pick and eat as we sauntered along. There were no agendas, no mileage schedule. Meals were simple. We just enjoyed being outdoors and together.

During every trip, I took photos of my sons in front of the campground marker. Occasionally, their sister came along as well, and in one of those pictures she is there beside the brown wooden sign with two arrows pointing toward the trail to the campground. In the entire collection of images, I watch my sons grow from boys into men, the last photo taken before my oldest left for college.

Like me, both of my sons became Eagle Scouts. Sadly, the legacy of scouting’s sex-abuse scandals has brought up complicated feelings about my time in the organization. But those summer campouts at Loft Mountain shine brighter than the ribboned medals I once wore. Like my summers spent among the tall pines of Mississippi, those campouts endure as my most beautiful eternal memories. They will never fade away.

dogs in a tent
(William Wegman)

11. Dive Into Cold Sheets

By Leath Tonino

Picture falling snow, late January, a Saturday night. You’re in Montana, Maine, Hokkaido, Kamchatka—somewhere north, somewhere nippy. Maybe you skied powder all day, mushed sled dogs, climbed frozen cascades. Certainly you’ve had a hoot, as much hearty fun as a mortal body can tolerate, and now, exhausted, wonderfully spent, you’re finally ready to turn in. Teeth are brushed, coffee prepped for the morning. It’s a relief, really, the tank at last emptied of endorphins, no thrills left to chase, no objectives remaining besides sleeping well, dreaming of tomorrow, resting in anticipation of good times to come. You strip down to undies, throw back the quilt, and slip

Jiminy Effing Cricket! Spasm. Halle-friggin-lujah! Freak out. Ring them bells, giddyup hoss, bow chicka wow wow, ayeee!

The iciest, shiveriest, gnarliest sheets in the history of bedding, that’s what you slip between, and that’s what slips a knife into your circuitry, thereby inducing 30-odd seconds (an estimate, space-time having imploded) of furious, desperate writhing. You are cackling, cringing, grimacing, grinning. You are screaming gleeful curses in the silence of your skull. You are weeping in solidarity with the skinny squirrels and little fragile chickadees of the world. You are trapped by cryogenic jaws of cotton, chewed to death by thread count. You are gasping for breath, painfully, exuberantly alive.

You are me.

And I am you, of course. And we are legion—a Holarctic species, a latitudinal tribe. Who doesn’t know this commonplace of winter? (Floridians, stop reading here and go fiddle with your A/C, a palm tree, whatever.) Indeed, few highs are so easily attained, so consistently available, so climatically free of charge, so hidden in plain sight. It might indicate that I’m a dull guy in need of new exciting hobbies, but honestly, almost nothing yanks the puppet strings of my body and makes me dance the Crazy Happy Dance like hyperborean sheets.

Those brief sessions of thrashing and squirming and grinding my molars and wishing for a rubber lacrosse mouth guard—they’ve added up over the years. Do the math: 30 seconds times seven nights a week times five months a year times just shy of four decades equals about 2,500 minutes, fortyish hours. BASE jumping is awesome, no doubt, but try logging fortyish hours of airtime. Ditto getting barreled by a wave. Ditto riding a bronco.

I won’t lie and say that the cellular bliss-torture of cold sheets—of tactilely engaging a severity that feels as if it’s going to obliterate me (or at least snap my spine)—is my absolute favorite variety of fun, but it is definitely in the neighborhood. More than anything, what I love are the rowdy wilds, the vivifying contact that backcountry travel engenders, the buckle-up intensity of alpine ridges, desert wastes, whipping ocean spray. To my mind, cold sheets are the outdoors sneaking indoors, an example of how raw nature rejects human compartmentalization and runs through everything. They are a micro version of the frigid windblast that hits me on the summit, the glacier’s sprawling immensity, the slush that fills my boot, the bomb cyclone, the epic elemental brrrrr. What they offer is the ancient adventurous fun of blood and bones and flesh and environment—a deep somatic fun, a fight-to-survive mammalian fun, a naked-ape fun.

Naked ape. Ah, there’s an idea.

Picture a Saturday night, late January, falling snow. You’re in Minnesota, Manitoba, the Lyngen Alps, the Gulf of Ob. Yawning, you strip down to undies, then think better of it: Let’s up the ante. Let’s do this. You are me. I am you.

We throw back the quilt.

Buck-ass, birthday-suit nude, we take the plunge.