There are more than 600 million acres of land for us to freely enjoy. Deserts, forests, mountains, canyons and plains, but now they’re at risk of disappearing. What do the outdoors mean to you? Would you be ok with most of this land being off limits for you and generations after you to enjoy? I want to share a story with you, a story about a close friend’s personal experience with these lands and how the outdoors changed his life forever.
This short story has its beginnings in a valley that we all recognize and may also be the beginning of many people’s love for the outdoors, the valley of Yosemite. But for this particular friend it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. It was more of a way for him to feel rebellious and a chance to escape from the norm. To be 19 and embark on a nine-hour drive away from home; it was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, and once he came face to face with the majestic El Capitan, that fascination only grew. He never imagined the beauty and tranquility such a place could offer. He admired the roads, the scenery, and the “Big Rock” as they made their way through the valley, and onto their campsite. For a young kid that grew up in Echo Park, this was a complete and unfamiliar new planet. And for those of you who don’t know about Echo Park, California, let me tell you, it has undergone major reconstructive surgery over the past few years. In the early ‘90s, Echo Park became the epicenter for LAPD corruption and gang violence. A place where you wouldn’t dare walk alone at night, and constantly looked over your shoulder if you had to drive through these streets. Today it is a completely rejuvenated city with beautiful artistic murals and a music filled nightlife. As you can now imagine, the emotions and thoughts that must have been going through the mind of a young kid from Echo Park, captivated and completely unprepared for the beautiful experience, he vowed to return one day. As time went on, the realities of a growing teen began setting in, until a significant event during a construction job would change his life, as he knew it. While working with a skill saw during a framing job, the saw unfortunately caught a knot, jumped back into his hand and nearly amputated his left thumb. In complete shock and suffering from major blood loss, he was rushed to the hospital where he received multiple blood transfusions and endured an 8-hour surgery to try to save his thumb. After the endeavor, and with loss of mobility they were successful with the surgery, but little did he know, his personal battles were just beginning.
Things were changing rapidly, almost too fast to keep up. In between dealing with physical and unfortunate psychological therapy, things began to be too overwhelming. Being that young and inexperienced in dealing with the challenges that life places in front of him, after the accident and an unforeseen break up, depression began setting in. And along with the depression, the carelessness, pain medication abuse and alcohol consumption. Feeling down and believing that life was against him, he embarked in a careless way of life. The unconceivable idea that there was more to be grateful for in life, there was just no point. Then one night during this unfortunate ordeal, he found himself staring at a wall of DVD’s at the local movie rental place. He stared at one movie in particular, he doesn’t know exactly to this day what called his attention to that specific movie; maybe it was the colors of it, or the way that person expressively sat on top of that old bus, that title could definitely not go unnoticed though “Into The Wild”. He immediately fell in love with the movie and everything that it represented but most of all, he fell in love with the soundtrack. Being an Eddie Vedder fan, that album spoke to him. But once again, that didn’t exactly inspire his love for being outside as he describes it today. At this point the idea of being outdoors was more of a romantic idea that he would contemplate at times, until he came to a harsh and painful reality.
A close friend extended an invitation to go mountain biking one summer day, and thinking back to his childhood riding bikes around the neighborhood for hours on end, he quickly agreed. His initial thoughts were, how hard could it be? It’s just riding a bike through some hills. Well being 60lbs overweight, completely overconfident and with great disregard for the mountain he set out to the challenge. And to his great surprise, only a mile into the trail he was quickly reminded that he was in no shape or form ready to rise up to the challenge, and of course reminded of what he had for breakfast that morning. Not being able to continue he immediately came to a great realization and at that moment was put deep into perspective on his life, it was clearer than ever how far out of control his life had become. He had had enough of the self-pity, depression and low self-esteem and he knew that things had to change before it was too late. As he began spending more and more time outdoors amongst nature, he began to realize how much the pain and noise inside of his head became quieter and quieter. It began with small hikes, longer bike trips, and eventually turned into camping in new places. One thing that became more evident than ever was the fact that the anti-depression pills that were being prescribed over and over again simply made him lazy, scared and made him feel much worse about himself. The medication was doing more harm than good and it was clear that it was so much better to be outdoors, healing than to be taking those terrible pills. The only medicine that he needed was right there within his reach and it was completely free. As time went on, he met other people with similar and common interests, people that greeted him with open arms and an invaluable sense of acceptance. He eventually purchased a bike of his own, and slowly began to upgrade his outdoor gear to meet the outdoors with excitement. A new world had truly opened up, but along with a new world, a whole new appreciation for life. The sense of being reborn, a feeling that an infinite amount of medication could never provide, “I realized that these pills that the doctors were giving me were causing me more harm than anything else, making me lazy and feel worse about myself. And that the answer was there all along, nature provided all the healing that I needed, I stopped all the medication and I managed to get my life back under control, I finally found peace. And if I have to explain that peace to you, then you wouldn’t understand”.
Life is nothing without struggle; the undesired obstacles and challenges that are put in front of us are put there because that is exactly the lesson that we need to learn at that moment in time. As Jim Rohn once said, “Negative is normal, it’s not successful but it’s part of life, you must learn to handle the negative, don’t ignore it”. We will certainly be tested throughout our lives, but as long as we don’t live in the negative and don’t ignore it, then we will prevail. And now we must not ignore the current issues that reign over our public lands. We are dangerously close to losing the most valuable and meaningful thing to most of us. We must ask ourselves how much the outdoors mean to us, and think beyond our generation, we must consider 3 or 4 generations after ours. Would we want our great grandchildren to read about Yosemite in history books or would we want them to be able to see El Capitan for themselves? And after that we must ask ourselves, what can we do to help conserve our beloved lands? Over ten years later, his desire to return to Yosemite finally became a reality, when this close friend took me there for my first time. I guess you could say that this romantic relationship with the Yosemite Valley, that had started off as a rebellious act had now turned into a true love story, a love that saved his life. Lets not wait to hit rock bottom to realize how invaluable these lands really are to us.