There are a lot of posts out there that talk about why it’s important to spend time outdoors. It’s a natural remedy that offers a workout, lifts our spirits and helps us sleep better at night. It gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our constantly-connected world and take some time to be with ourselves and others. And it can come with beautiful views and show us parts of the worlds we might otherwise never see.
All of those are factors in why I love spending time outdoors, but I don’t need—and don’t want—to write a post with that same list. Yes, I’ve found that even a 30-minute mindfulness walk around your neighbourhood can be a meditative experience that provides an immense amount of relief and clarity. That’s exactly why I go for a walk every day. But that’s not why spending time outdoors matters to me.
Growing up, I wasn’t good at much. I learned how to read even before I could ride a bike (and I learned that at age 5). So I read a lot and rode my bike around the different neighbourhoods I grew up in. I also loved to swim. But I wasn’t good at anything else.
I attempted to play basketball for a couple years but was lucky if I could make 15% of my shots. I usually walked away from volleyball games with sprained fingers. I still don’t understand how I was part of a relay team in track and field but that was short-lived. Soccer and softball were laughable. And I hated literally every other sport we had to play in gym class. I wasn’t lazy. I just wasn’t good.
Something I’ve only accepted and started to work through this year is the fact that I am a recovering perfectionist. This has manifested differently in all areas of my life, but when you’re a kid and you’re not immediately good at any sport, it means you basically always feel like a failure. It was like walking around with a sandwich board hanging over me that read, “DON’T PICK ME” on the front and, “I SUCK” on the back.
So, when I was done being forced to play these games I was terrible at in gym class, I would walk away feeling like a failure and run to the worlds of the things I was good at. Reading books, riding my bike and swimming. By age 13, I was also good at partying, and being drunk and high was my favourite world of all.
The irony of being a perfectionist who is “good” at partying is that it will ultimately lead to some kind of failure. If you’re lucky, that failure will lead you back to a sober life. I got sober when I was 27 and, while my self-worth still isn’t exactly where I would like it to be, I know I’m better in this world than in the party world. I know because it’s the first world where I have truly felt like I could be myself—and I have the outdoors to thank for that.
I have always loved* being outside. As soon as I got my driver’s license, I took my little old Hyundai Excel on as many adventures as she could handle. When we needed more space, my girlfriends and I would fill up the back of my dad’s truck with gear and set out to explore Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. We would hike, bike, swim, skimboard (and bail). We would camp in places that didn’t have much water, not shower for 4 or 5 days, and come home covered in dirt. And I loved it.
*Note: There are still things I don’t love. Like the heat. I’m as pale as a ghost and burn easily. The hot sun and I are not friends. But you learn how to manage (or avoid) these things!
Still, I never considered myself particularly outdoorsy. Then I spent two years with a guy who hated the outdoors and who I essentially melted into and shaped myself into whoever he wanted me to be. Not long after we broke up, I started going hiking and camping more regularly again, but I did it for some of the wrong reasons: to prove something, to spend time with certain people and to party. (And I’ll never forgot how proud I used to be when I could wake up without a hangover and do a sunrise hike. Pretty cool, Cait.)
I started spending time outdoors for better reasons in 2011, when I was maxed out with nearly $30,000 of debt and was also at my heaviest weight. It was a free workout, and a free activity I could do with friends where we could take in some beautiful views together. Also, the workout + the fresh air helped me sleep better at night, which was a rarity during a time when I was so stressed out by my financial situation. These were all wins.
I was still drinking at the time, but I was also doing these other things to better myself—and it was only a matter of time before the two worlds couldn’t work well together. After taking control of my finances and my health, I decided to take control of my drinking and completely opt out. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Living in this world and seeing it through sober eyes is such a gift, but it has also come with its own challenges. I had wrapped up so much of my identity in being “good” at partying and being the girl everyone wanted to party with. Since I let go of that girl, I’ve been left with an odd-shaped hole inside me that I still can’t seem to fill up.
Some days, I genuinely don’t understand why people would want to invite me places. And I don’t usually like to talk about this but a huge reason I don’t date is because of one particular story I tell myself: I won’t find a guy who is comfortable dating a girl who doesn’t drink. (On the surface, I know that’s not true. But there is so much power in the stories we tell ourselves that I’ve let that one stop me from even trying to find him.)
Remember when I said my self-worth still isn’t where I want it to be? That’s one example of what I’m working through—and I am working through it. Being sober means I am finally able to acknowledge and voice these things, rather than numb myself. So, I know I’m better in this world than in the party world, because it’s the first world where I have truly felt like I could be myself—and I also have the outdoors to thank for that.
The outdoors is the one place where I’ve never felt like I had to measure up to anyone else. Let’s look at hiking as an example. I love hiking. I love it because it’s not a race. It doesn’t matter how fast you complete a hike or if you even complete it at all. And it doesn’t demand you have any skills, other than wanting to go, then putting one foot in front of the other, and picking yourself up if you slip or fall.
Hiking also doesn’t demand you look a certain way. You don’t need to keep up with trends or wear name brands or be a certain height or weight. Comfort and sensibility are the only two things to consider (along with how much food and water you want to pack). And you should just start by expecting to get dirty. Use your hands to get up and sit down to rest when you need to. The rocks, trees, stumps, and your friends are happy to help.
Along the way, you can appreciate the scenery and even the work that’s gone into creating and maintaining the trails you’re on. And if you make it to the viewpoint, amazing! Soak it all in. If you’re in a time where things feel hard or the world feels like a bad place, taking in that view has a way of putting things into perspective—the most important perspective being that you didn’t need to be “good” at anything to get there.
You don’t have to be an athlete to spend time outdoors. You just have to be a human who appreciates the world and wants to see more of it.
So yes, I think it’s important to spend time outdoors. It’s a natural remedy that offers a workout, lifts our spirits and helps us sleep better at night. It gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our constantly-connected world and take some time to be with ourselves and others. And it can come with beautiful views and show us parts of the worlds we might otherwise never see. But that’s not why spending time outdoors matters to me.
I love the outdoors because it’s the one place where I can truly be myself. My beautiful, messy, happy, sad, sober, uncoordinated and hilarious self.
PS – Some of my favourite people to follow on Instagram who also appreciate the outdoors are: Eric Johnson, Krystal Yee, Paul Jarvis, Ms. ONL, Chris Istace, Amanda Sandlin, the Unlikely Hikers account and Nicole Antoinette (who just started an 800-mile solo hike through Arizona!). From their accounts, I’m sure we could find even more amazing people to follow. :)