The Origins of My Outdoor Life

outdoor life

“Doesn’t your husband go winter camping with you?” asked a kindly stranger in Algonquin Park.

“Oh no,” I replied. “That’s not really his thing. He’s home with the dog.”

Truth is, I could insert almost any family member and outdoor activity into that first question and it would be the same conversation I’ve had with so many different people over the years. It’s usually followed by “so what happened to you?”

I don’t remember when I first fell in love with the outdoors and perhaps that’s the point. I didn’t need to fall in love. I was always outside as a kid, encouraged by my parents to get out and play. We spent  summer days swimming in local state parks like Taughannock, Buttermilk, and Treman. At least once a summer we would drive along the Seaway Trail up to Fair Haven Beach State Park to swim in sandy Lake Ontario (south side, dear Canadians). I used to get excited when I finally saw this sign out of the car window:


Girls Scouts continued my outdoor education and love affair, with weeks at camp. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses at camp as I recall. As a shy, introverted kid sharing a big prospector-type tent with three other girls, taking swim tests, and singing campy songs before meals meant a lot of togetherness and not a lot of downtime to just be. Nonetheless my summers at Comstock, Yaiewano, and Egypt Valley were memorable. The gypsy moth caterpillar infestation sounded like rain on the tent. I swam in always-chilly Cayuga and Owasco Lakes until my lips turned blue. I rode horses.

In college I had friends who taught me how to rock climb outdoors. Our Boston College (what I mean when I say ‘BC’, dear Canadians) crew team climbed Mount Monadnock as an off-the-water team building event. Friends and I hiked and camped in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire during the fall just before they closed the Kancamagus Highway. The forest put on its best clothes for us then, showing off its deep oranges, bright yellows, and brilliant reds. Even though I spent four years in college in Boston, I managed to escape the city regularly.

During my years in Boston but out of college, I met some people from a multisport adventure group and we spent more time in New Hampshire as well as Maine working through wilderness first aid courses, snowshoe hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and sailing. I always had friends who were up for a weekend hike as long as we weren’t in the middle of busy season at a public accounting firm.

So maybe the better question is how did I let the outdoors slip out of my life for so long? Like most things, once you’re out of the habit of doing something – whether it’s exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep – it’s too easy to stay out of the habit.

As my time in Boston wore down, unless I was training for a race I spent less and less time outdoors and more time at work. Advancing my career seemed more important, I suppose. By the time I moved to Toronto, I was falling out of the outdoors habit and my life in Toronto pretty well sealed the deal. I almost didn’t notice it was gone. I had a new country, new company, new friends, new EVERYTHING to occupy my mind. It took me seven years to really notice the gap in my life. Seven years! Once I noticed it, it came roaring back. It would not be ignored this time.

The career change has filled my life back up with all the things I’d forgotten I missed – fresh air, deep nature, animal sounds, stars – and added some extra skills to help me feel comfortable out there on my own. I have an outdoor life again. I will not let fear be the thing to keep the outdoors out of my life. I’ve been making up for lost time and advancing my career in a whole new way. I can’t wait to see where the great outdoors takes me next. (Thank you, dear Canadians!)

Up for discussion: How do you keep the outdoors present in your life?

Published by Kate Monahan

Travel happy. Outdoors professional. Writer. Photographer. Educator.

5 thoughts on “The Origins of My Outdoor Life

  1. I can relate to this. I spent a large part of my childhood outdoors, reading adventure stories and dreaming of the outdoor adventures I would do as an adult.

    But life became busy with university, moving a few times, launching a career, buying a home, having kids… those dreams were mostly not happening for over a decade.

    Now as the kids get older and work and home life routines become more efficient and less demanding I am finally getting back to living out those dreams! I’m now trying to find the balance where the outdoor activities relieve more stress than they can sometimes create. Self-supported tripping takes significant up front time and work with the planning and prep. A few day trips is sometimes less stressful than overnights. Still not sure where that balance is between the ratio of day trips and overnights.


  2. Yes, I did get out on a few paddling and hiking day trips plus a 4-day overnight trip in Northern Saskatchewan. It was the first time in almost 20 years that I made it back to the Canadian Shield in northern Saskatchewan. It was a glorious reunion. But I learned I definitely need a few more overnight trips to fine tune the tripping routines and gear!


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