Get Outside

photo credit Don Wilson

When Times Get Tough – Get Outdoors

Personal Thoughts & Memories on REI Membership

This year as I near 45 years of REI membership, I thought I’d share a very personal experience on how the outdoors and REI have played a key role in helping me through some difficult times in my life.

I come from an outdoor family. In fact, I can’t remember when I didn’t sleep in the dirt staring up at the stars (my family didn’t own a tent for years). For my family, the outdoors was always a happy place — a place of family bonding, adventure, discovery, and even joy. We went away a ton of weekends. My dad would come home from work on Friday and we’d load up our Chevy Greenbrier van and head out.

While my parents drove into the night, my brother and I would sleep in the built-in bed in the back along with our two dogs. Sometime after midnight they’d stop driving, we’d be woken up and transferred to sleeping bags on the ground outside. In the morning we’d wake up by a snow-fed stream in the Sierras, at a remote hot springs, or somewhere equally great and head out on a long hike. We never knew until we woke up where that would be. As we grew older, some of these outings turned into full-on backpacking trips into the Sierras. And in time, my brother & I set out on our own backpacking trips.

Grand Opening of the REI Berkeley Store, 1975

One of my key REI member experiences was at the 1975 grand opening sale of REI’s Berkeley California store — REI’s second store. A big deal! My parents had separated earlier that year and the whole family was having a difficult time. We were all trying to find our bearings in a world turned upside-down. My dad especially was struggling living on his own and seeing less of my brother and me. That summer, he’d planned a backpacking trip to the Sierras as a way for us to spend time together.

Of course, we were short on backpacking gear and after the divorce money was scarce. So one morning in 1975 my dad, brother and I all lined up for the REI Berkeley Store’s Grand Opening hoping to outfit the family on the cheap. REI delivered with grand opening deals, sales items and a bunch of solid gear at prices a family could afford (not so common in the 70’s). We came out a few hours later with backpacks, rain jackets, a backpacking tent (our first ever!) and other gear to make that backpacking trip possible. And yes, the trip that summer into the Yosemite backcountry was a memorable one!

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Adventure Alan and kids, Yosemite Backcountry Late 1990’s.

Some 20+ Years Later

Fast-forward 20+ years, and I found myself in a similar situation — separated from my wife, living on my own and missing my own kids something awful. I too was looking for a way to reconnect with my kids — for us to form a new relationship post separation. Remembering what my dad did, I planned a backpacking trip into the same area of Yosemite’s Backcountry with my own kids. And like my dad, I was also short on funds so went to my local REI store to economically outfit us for that trip. Not only could I find inexpensive and practical gear suitable for kids at REI, but the 10% member dividend was appreciated in those lean times.

When Times Get Tough – Head Outdoors!

Divorce is hard on everyone in a family — and you could substitute any manner of difficult times here — we’ve all had them! They hurt like crazy. They force us to adapt to a dramatically changed world. But at least in my experience, one of the best ways to start healing and find a positive path forward is to get outside. For me, the further into the backcountry the better. It’s a place for re-discovery, renewal, and healing. It’s in the outdoors, away from all the craziness of work, traffic, cities and suburbs, that I can find peace and serenity and know something of my true self. And in nature answers come to me — usually the most important answers come to the questions I didn’t know to ask.

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16 replies
  1. Mary Greer
    Mary Greer says:

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful insights Alan. And the reminder that being outside, but “in your body,” connecting with nature, provides exponential opportunities for “re-discovery, renewal, and healing.”
    ps: love the photo with you and your kids!

    Reply
  2. paul leavitt
    paul leavitt says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Good to know I’m not alone We all have hard times. For me it was the loss of a job after 25 years. I used walking then hiking then backpacking to loose over 100 lbs and create a healthy new man. It helped me find a new career and many new friends. More importantly saved my marriage. All the best
    Paul

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Amazing Paul. We should all aspire to make such significant changes when faced with adversity! Keep on trekking. Warmest, -alan & alan

      Reply
  3. William Lesko
    William Lesko says:

    Thanks for sharing Alan. Like you and many of us, I have gone through a recent divorce and have found strength and inspiration in the outdoors and well as it being an avenue to spend great time with my kids. In fact, you recently helped me plan logistics for my trip to Torres Del Paine last month (February) where I trekked the W with my 18 yo daughter. Thank you for continuing to share your passion and experiences and “paying it forward”!

    And with my REI dividend, I will be purchasing an ice axe and crampons for my daughter to use this spring/summer as we take a basic climbing course together!

    Will

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Oh my Will, but that is inspiring! Keep up the great work and have fun climbing with your daughter! Oh and stay tuned we may have the next right trip for you. All the best, -alan & alison

      Reply
  4. ALAN YORK
    ALAN YORK says:

    Alan!
    Great words. Health and recreation are the things you can control when life or the world seem out of control. Thanks for your contribution of templates and inspiration to make adventures more achievable to weekend warriors like me! The outdoors is the glue that keeps my world together : – ) Best Alan Y

    Reply
  5. Scratch
    Scratch says:

    Alan, we’re with you, and you’re right on. I joined REI at the Seattle store in 1972, and camped in the Sierra Nevadas for the next 45 years. Now I’m in Washington state. Pristine wilderness, as refuge for body, mind, and soul, is more important than ever.

    Reply
  6. Bob Dominguez
    Bob Dominguez says:

    Alan, thanks for sharing your family memories with us. The outdoors has been an important part of my life and has helped our family stay close. I enjoy reading the articles on your website, but I truly enjoyed reading this. Thanks again.
    Bob

    Reply
  7. ben smith
    ben smith says:

    Alan, thank you for your transparency about your own journey. Life can be difficult, and downright tough at times for all of us. I heartily agree with your sentiments about getting outside to get some perspective! There is nothing better then to get in the back country and allow nature to work its magic. I value greatly your website and the information you provide. Gods blessing upon you.

    Reply
  8. Jason Gray
    Jason Gray says:

    Alan,

    Thank you for sharing this. It is not easy sharing painful memories, even the ones you grow from and through. In silence and solitude our souls can heal and be grateful again.

    jason

    Reply

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