“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?