I suppose I’m lucky in that my favourite hobby is one of the most inexpensive going.
Living life in the great outdoors is cheap, although like any hobby in life, there is a spectrum of intensity involved. How much time and energy do you commit daily, weekly, or yearly to your most precious activities? Usually, there is a relationship where more time invested in your hobby equates more money spent on it.
If you’re into video games, it’s unlikely you have just one game. If touching up your vehicle to make it sing and hum is your thing, then you know the costs that go with it. All of these costs are acceptable with a smile though, because it’s your favourite hobby.
The beauty of being an outdoor enthusiast is that the overhead cost is next to nothing. Expensive equipment and clothes are helpful for bigger expeditions, or just for their longevity. On a day-to-day basis however, all that is required is a trailhead and an expanse of public land to have an amazing time. That costs nothing except taxes, I suppose.
As summer slips away (who are we kidding — summer flew by at an impossible speed, again), we enter the beautiful slumber of fall. We find ourselves conversing around this time of year, exclaiming how we’re going to miss summer so much, until next year.
Then there is a transition where most people hop onto the same page, and we embrace fall for its outside time. The bugs begin to retreat, there is less humidity in the air, and gorgeous colours enter the scene.
The Bruce Trail and all of its associated side trails in Niagara-on-the-Lake are free. They are publicly accessible at any time of the year, and you can hit up this trail on foot, mountain bike, or with the dog, letting the scenery do the work for you.
There are great sections for families to visit, where kids will have plenty to explore with their eyes and their hands. Nature becomes their teacher in an instant, and just kind of guides their curiosity along.
Times spent along the Bruce Trail and other natural spots in NOTL have shown me great returns in regard to epic life stories. Some of the most profound and memorable experiences of my childhood and recent years have happened outdoors. By myself, with family, my friends, or the dog by my side.
Close calls and scary wipeouts, teenage-boy life chats at The Caves on the escarpment (thankfully those caves don’t echo forever), walks with my parents after coming home from school… the list goes on. All of these rich memories, experiences, and bonding moments were forged in nature and cost next to nothing.
Even just being outside with the people you enjoy sparks conversations and good feelings. This is why NOTL is full of local and visiting walkers. Day and night, there are always people strolling through our town. That in itself costs nothing at all, and is a valuable experience.
At the extreme end of enjoying the outdoors cheaply, I have a lot of strategies that get me by. Some you will find quirky.
Sometimes, I’ll van-camp, which involves removing the back seats out of a minivan, laying some patio cushions and blankets, and calling it an overnight stay.
I’ve driven to destination hikes and crashed in it, and I’ve even lived out of one with cameraman Dave Tebbutt for two weeks while filming a documentary in Florida. We likely saved $1,000, and we filled up the bank with endless outrageous stories of trying to survive in a van in Florida’s wetlands and rougher neighbourhoods.
Be ready for adventure. Keep your bike in the back of your truck or van. Keep that extra pair of running or hiking shoes on standby in your vehicle. Have a separate little backpack specifically for outings with kids, or by yourself, that is already prepacked with the essentials.
At the end of a long day, if there’s that one extra thing to do, then the idea of an adventure becomes less appealing.
So be prepared to make that improvised decision to go when you feel like it, soak up fall as it sets in, and maybe discover (or re-discover) a hobby that is essentially free.