DeFrates column: Friendships, favorite haunts better than any bucket list

Lindsay DeFrates
The Ante-Millennial

If you love the outdoors, it’s time to kick the bucket list and start recreating with a sense of place.

Americans, with our passion for individuality and living in the moment, love the bucket list. For some, it will be hard to say goodbye. After Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman buddy-comedied their way across the country together in the 2007 movie of the same name, we created and shared must-do-someday lists of places, activities, crafts, recipes, cars, road trips, movies and cheeses.

Pinterest fueled the flames, as did Instagram, giving everyone beautiful images of all the ways they weren’t living their best life right in the palm of their hands. If we couldn’t dash out the door right away to go live it, we put it on our bucket list, then shared the news excitedly whenever we were able to ‘check off’ an item or experience.

The problem is that bucket lists turn everything on them into a one-and-done consumable item that has little to no value after the experience is over. For pie-eating contests and bungee jumping, this makes sense. For National Forests, secret swimming holes, and soaring red cliffs, not so much. Visitors who never intend to return to a place, and who view land as only another consumable experience are the ones who do the most damage.

The bucket-list approach allows people to think that a two-day trip completely tapped out everything that this place had to offer. “Oh, I don’t want to go back to Canyonlands, we went there last summer, let’s try somewhere new.”

What if we treated people this way? “Oh, I already talked to her once, she was really nice, but I need to go meet the next person on my list.” People are complex and we know that deep friendships are where the joy in life truly lies. With old friends, you get to skip the small talk and be real with each other. Our approach to the outdoors should be the same.

When did it become such a bad thing to go back to places you already know you love? My family went to the same state park in Virginia every summer for one week for my entire life. I knew all the trails, beaches, beaver ponds and where to find the most shark teeth. Even as a teenager, seeing that park entrance sign always felt like coming home, and I was able to spend better time there because I already knew my way around. I still love that place, and I check up on it even though I’m now thousands of miles away.

Treating the land like an old friend completely shifts how we assign it value.

This is even more important if you travel with kids. Driving in the car for four hours every day during vacation so that they can stand at another overlook and be in a picture doesn’t mean nearly as much as pulling into a favorite campsite and dashing off to the spot where they know the rocks make a tiny waterfall in a muddy canyon.

We don’t just talk to a good friend once a year. We visit them as often as we can and check up on them while we’re not there. When we put the time in, which we don’t even realize we’re doing, the relationship becomes reciprocal. A friend is there for you when you need extra support or relief from a stressful situation, and you step up to help them when they need anything that you can give them within your unique abilities.

With old friends in the outdoors, we notice when that place is hurting, because we’ve seen what it looks like when it isn’t. We can support its healthy growth even from a distance, and advocate for it, whether through time, money, or platform, for its specific needs. Once we find some old friends in the outdoors, we’ll quickly lose the need to donate to enormous national non-profits, and will find ourselves connecting with organizations that are local, and doing the most good day to day.

Old friends don’t even have to be close for both parties to benefit from the relationship. Think how many long-distance friendships are maintained year after year despite hundreds or thousands of miles in between.

The idea of finding old friends in outdoor spaces does not exclude people whose backyards don’t border National Forest. Borrowing a line from the Girl Scouts, “Make new friends, but keep the old.” Someday, I do plan to take my children to see the ocean on a vacation, but you can bet we’ll still be going back to our favorite Western Slope campgrounds that year, too. The other great thing about having an old friend with the land, is that you know you’ll be welcomed back, no matter how fit you are, or whether you have the newest gear, or the best 4×4.

No matter what we think about our state and country’s lockdown, it has given us a moment to catch our breath, and the invaluable opportunity to consciously choose where our next steps will take us. It is time to stop looking for the next new vista to meet, and start looking forward to visiting with old friends.

Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at

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