Five Reasons To Explore Your Own Backyard

February 29, 2016

This is a special guest post from our ambassador, Charlotte Austin.

My kayak bobbed gently as I lazily drifted through the dry hills of the Columbia River Gorge. The salmon were spawning, and their sleek silver bodies flashed beneath our boats. We waved at Native Americans sweating in their fishing boats, then re-applied zinc oxide to our already sunburned noses. It was late September 2015, and we were on our second annual kayaking expedition along the mighty Columbia River.

The trip was part of our multi-year goal: to kayak the entire length of the river, which twists and turns for more than 1,200 miles between British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. (Read about our 2014 expedition here.) I am a Seattle-based mountain guide and travel writer, and my work takes me around the world. I’ve led month-long expeditions in the Himalaya, climbed the tallest mountain in South America, and slept under the northern lights. But this project of kayaking the Columbia River is one of my favorite adventures, in large part because I get to explore the ecosystem that I call home. Over the years, this expedition has inspired me to encourage my fellow adventurers to spend more time exploring their own backyards. 

Five reasons to explore your own backyard: 

  • Transportation is low impact. There’s no flying, no lost baggage, no complicated airport transfers. You don’t have to deal with jet lag or days lost in transit, and your carbon emissions are kept to an absolute minimum. On the Columbia, for example, we carpool to the river, put our boats in the water, and let our biceps do the rest. Our BioLite CampStove meant that we didn’t even have to buy cooking fuel.
  • Local trips tend to have much more affordable budgets. While I’m used to leading expeditions with five-digit price tags, our Columbia River expedition has very limited costs: just food, transportation to and from the river, and our kayaking gear, most of which can be rented or borrowed. (I’ve been using a 20-year-old Necky kayak, for example.)
  • Timing is more flexible when you’re not booking international travel. If you’re flying, you often have to wait for a time when you can sneak away for a week or more, but when you’re planning local adventures, you can get a full-value experience in a single weekend.
  • You can share the experience with local friends. On the Columbia, for example, we’ve been able to invite different friends each year — and it’s been one of the highlights of each expedition.
  • You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. When you travel through your homeland, you can’t help but notice details that you would otherwise miss: the way the direction of the wind changes at dawn, the vibrant green of a newly budding leaf, the smell of an impending storm. Learning those details feels like weaving yourself into the landscape, one tiny stitch at a time. And later, when you’re driving to work or buying groceries or just watching the clouds move across the sky, you might just think of the time you slept out under that same sky and smile.

Read more about Charlotte’s adventures at; if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, check our her upcoming slideshow at Base Camp Brewing on March 1st. All photos are courtesy of