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PREST: Are you wild enough to spend 1,000 hours outside this year?

New Year's challenge aims to get families thinking outside the house
Outdoor exploring
A young explorer checks out a hollow log on a rocky beach in West Vancouver.

No New Year’s resolutions for my family this year – you can pry the potato chips from our cold, dead hands – but we were given a sort of challenge for the year of 2021.

It’s a concept dreamed up by a mother in Michigan, sent to us by a conscientious relative who thought it sounded like a great idea for us. The challenge is called 1,000 Hours Outside, and the goal is, well ... just how it sounds. We are each to spend 1,000 hours outside over the calendar year. That sounds lovely! Unless you are good at math.

One thousand hours in one year translates to more than 40 full, 24-hour days. It translates to 164 minutes every day, which translates into just a few minutes shy of the entire runtime for the epic film Saving Private Ryan. Almost three hours. Every day. Outside. What do the soldiers say about their crazy mission to save Private Ryan? FUBAR.

The first few days of 2021 here in North Vancouver offered the perfect example of why this is such an outlandish idea. It poured rain, nearly non-stop. It was the kind of rain that hits you so hard that after simply walking to your car you feel like you’ve just finished a swim meet.

My boys and I did, however, spend massive amounts of time in those first two days of 2021 wandering around outside, tasting unusual plants, checking under rocks, cliff diving, hunting wild boars, finding rusty weapons, killing goblins. ... Oh, OK, that was the Zelda game we just got for Nintendo Switch, which is absolutely fabulous and another example of why it’s ludicrous to commit to spending 1,000 hours in the actual human real-life outdoors when you can spend thousands of hours on the couch moving your thumbs around slightly.

But that, I suppose, is what the challenge is all about. The woman who started it all picked the high bar of 1,000 hours outdoors because that number was similar to the average number of hours a child will spend watching a screen every year. In fact the screen time total far exceeds that for many people – it’s just passed noon as I write this and I’ve already clocked approximately 57 hours of screen time today.   

Anyway, after the first two days of the 1,000 hours challenge, our family had logged a grand total of zero hours. And zero minutes. Finally on the third day the sun came out for a minute and we found yet another lovely green space just minutes from our home that we’d never explored before. Living in the ridiculously beautiful natural world of the North Shore certainly helps with a challenge like this.

We also discovered another way to get the kids fired up about being outside. As we walked through the forest they played a real-life version of Zelda, spotting mushrooms and useful branches, gauging their food stores and sneaking up on those hard-to-find North Shore goblins for an air-bow ambush. 

No matter how we got there, we were finally on the board in the challenge. Through the first three days of 2021, we’d accumulated ... one hour!

OK, so this will be tough, but we’re not giving up. These winter months will take some effort, but it’ll be worth it. And as summer comes along we’ll rack up the hours during those beach trips and baseball games. Double header? Yes please! And how about camping? That will be day after day, all outside. We’re practically at 1,000 already!

And even if we don’t get there, getting outside more seems like a worthy effort for anyone in “These Trying Times.” This pandemic has cut us off from so much, it’s easy to forget that you can just walk outside and get free physical and mental therapy from the trees. Of course not everyone has the same access to outdoor spaces, and finding that greenery is a lot tougher for someone on a 33rd floor of a highrise than it is for a kid with a pool in their backyard. But whatever the effort needed, the payout seems more than worth it. 

I’m also counting on the ridiculously competitive nature of my children to kick in to get us to our goal.

We’re already on the way. Only 999 more hours to go!

Andy Prest is the sports editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly.