Why Spending Time Outdoors Matters to Me

Why Spending Time Outdoors Matters to Me

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 – This #atwildwoman image has been licensed from Amanda Sandlin. She also created my beautiful logo! To see more of her work, check out her shop and follow her on Instagram.

  • I used to put barriers up in my mind to block out causes of stress. After so many barriers, you create yourself a prison in your mind. I remember going for a walk because I had no more space for barriers and just feeling my mind and heart break free from them. That not having to put on a facade, in fact nature making you forget you have a facade, is what made me fall in love with outdoors. Although bring on the hot sun anytime for me!

  • Squamish is amazing when it comes to outdoor activities. For me I love the outdoor too but I love the social aspect part of being outside. Hanging out with friends at a crag, climbing, enjoying each other’s company, and enjoy the beauty of mother nature. Hard to beat that. :)

    • Being able to share the outdoors with others is definitely part of why I love it too! I only have a few friends who will always say “yes!” and come running, when I ask if they want to get outside. I treasure them and our time out there.

  • “… 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.”

    … Or the guy is not into short girls or tall girls or fat girls or skinny girls or poor girls or …. or …. or …

    Obviously, as you know Cait, the above are all false assumptions. Being happy with yourself when you look in the mirror is the first step. So don’t misjudge all guys, despite whatever issues that you might have encountered in the past with some guys who probably themselves had internal issues and were wrong for you.

    Being confident in yourself, having drive, having a sense of humour, having compassion and love, having maturity, having common sense, all these and other (internal) personality traits are more what most “genuine” guys look for in a girl.

    Oh, and being a girl who enjoys the simple things in life – like the great outdoors – works as well.

    Of course you first have to put yourself out there and look for such guys, despite whatever risks there might be, because such guys don’t always land on your front step unbidden. That’s the way life is, my friend.

    • THIS.

      I don’t drink (only because I HATE the taste), but I’m a huge extrovert and don’t need it to be open with other people. My husband doesn’t mind having a DD anytime he wants to drink!

      May I also note: I’m on my second marriage. Having my first husband leave for the other woman ended up being the most freeing experience. I was able to get over the “checklist” and any worries about impressions. The second time around my “checklist” included: 1. self-actualization, 2. good heart, 3. good sense of humor

      • Mine looks pretty similar, Lauren! The only thing I’d add is that I need someone who is strong enough to be with an equally strong/successful woman. I’ll never downplay myself again.

    • There’s certainly no lack of confidence about many of those things, Rob. The being a non-drinker part is sort of the last piece of the puzzle, and it’s based on some evidence (I’ve been on dates where guys have been weird/rude about it) and how I’ve felt dating social drinkers (would like to say I’m fine with it but I’d really rather date someone who doesn’t drink). I grew up in a house where the only alcohol was my own. My parents didn’t drink (after my dad quit) and I’d prefer to have a home that is the same. Anyway, all of that is to say I’m working on it, like I said in the post.

      • My ex husband was a non drinker and it was just fine that he didn’t drink and i did (nothing to do with why we’re apart now!). Alcohol is give or take for me and so not drinking or drinking wasn’t an issue for us. And i always had a driver – yay. So there are those guys out there and you’re moving in the right world to find them.

  • Somethings in life are just a matter of perspective or changing your perspective. You stated that since you let go of the party girl you have a hole that you can’t seem to fill up. When I read that line I though about an empty shelf that you leave empty so you always have space for something if you should need it. So maybe your ’empty’ space is never supposed to get filled up, maybe it allows you the opportunity to continue to grow, love and explore because you always have extra space at the ready. Why do we always need to fill everything up if something is full it can not add anything more? Thank you for being so brave to share your journey with us. Your courage and generousity are other things that you are good at.

  • I have told myself that same story about dating. And I also identify with the “catching up” I feel like I am doing with my self-worth after years of drinking. It’s surprising for old friends to hear that I never really liked drinking, but I didn’t. I was just taking what the world offered at the time. It was the easiest, most accessible and most acceptable thing to do. It had the easiest access to entry. I am so glad to be done with it, whether it makes dating harder or not. Great post.

    • I wish I could say it doesn’t make dating harder, but it at least adds an extra layer of friction. When people suggest you go for drinks (which is the #1 first date), the conversation begins – right at the start. And then it’s not just about whether or not someone likes you, but whether or not you can like them – and I’m super turned off by guys who still think it’s cool to get drunk (which is not all, but it’s certainly the norm). Anyway, I don’t want it to be an issue forever. Just a reality still, right now!

  • I find it so interesting the stories that we tell ourselves. They can influence our actions and our lives in ways we don’t even realize (yet). For me, my yoga mat is the place I can truly be myself, but only if I’m practising alone. My practice today was total garbage, nothing felt right and it didn’t leave me feeling any better. But, it was still ‘mine’. It was still a place I could show up for myself. Thanks for sharing, Cait!

  • I’ve found hiking and camping to be my happy place as well. It is my exercise, my meditation, my alone time.
    Every year my extended family on my mom’s side takes a week long camping trip together. Over the years most of the families have moved into trailers of some sort but my husband, daughter and I still tent. We love the feel of really living outside. We have bonfires, we hike, bike, swim, sleep when the sun does, play games, tell stories… it’s the best week of my year.
    Since our trip this August I have had a really hard time being content with non-camping life. I’m tired, crabby, restless yet lazy. I live a 10 minute drive away from one of our State’s biggest outdoor recreation areas where we can swim or kayak in the lakes, or hike the trails. When I manage to get there I get that feeling back. It’s so soothing. I’m trying to find ways to put more “camping” in my day to day life. Today in fact, I am leaving work and going straight to the trails to do a little solo hike. I’m so giddy I can hardly focus on the 2 more hours of work in front of me!

  • I love to be outdoors and especially near a body of water. Bonus points if it is moving water like a stream or waterfall. That sound instantly relaxes me and so much so that I use my sound machine to fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing called “Hidden Cove.” Gardening is another way I enjoy the outdoors. I was lucky enough to get space in a community garden this year and found planting and tending an herb garden to be very relaxing. The bonus is fresh herbs for cooking good healthy meals, tonight we are making whole wheat pita pizzas with my homemade pesto sauce and mushrooms.

    • I am the same with water, and especially love swimming in the outdoors. The funny thing is, like another commenter here, I find it hard to push myself to actually GO swimming. Same with being outdoors (which I love, once I’m there), having a shower (which I like, once I’m there), doing yoga (ditto), etc. I suspect it is about anxiety – that I’m afraid to “meet” myself and spend time with myself, because I might feel a rush of difficult feelings. But I’m working on it – oh, I am working on it. Best of luck to all, and thank you for sharing, Cait.

      • I relate to that on a very real level, Naomi. When my anxiety was at its peak this year, I was too scared to meditate or do yoga. I had to do guided ones with other people. And walk alone? That wasn’t an option. Then the dogs died and I couldn’t bring myself to hike anymore either. I was afraid that I would cry, and I did… but I will say, I would rather have cried on that first hike than never hiked again at all. <3

  • There’s something about hiking that just completely changes my brain chemistry. Being in the outdoors – without a schedule, without a ticking clock – just walking, looking, listening – it brings me so much peace. We’ve started to get out a lot more with our kids too and they are taking to it.

    Give me a trail by a river and I’ll be happy all day long.

    • I love hearing that your kids are taking to it, Chris! My friends have been taking their two kids (I call them my niece and nephew) their whole lives, and it’s so cool to watch them explore and gain confidence on the trails. Such a gift!

  • Walking outdoors is my single best remedie for stress relief. Expecting to be financially independendent shortly, my time spent outdoors will increase dramatically I expect.
    Beautiful pictures by Amanda!

  • My heart breaks for your little self. Sending her a world of love. And at the same time, I’m so grateful to you for explaining my early life to me!
    I recently spoke (listened) to a friend whose advice to me, completely off the subject of what I wanted to hear was, “He’s out there and he’s gonna heal your heart.” Picture those last three words in italics and passed to you.
    You’re doing such good work and you inspire me to remember it’s about the journey, not the destination.
    Much love and thanks.

  • I’d like to think there are a lot of great guys out there that don’t care about drinking. It would be a pretty sad commentary if there aren’t. I was never a big partier and actually raised my daughter in an alcohol free home because her dad had some addiction issues. It didn’t bother me because other family members didn’t drink as well and we all hung out together for holidays like Easter, Xmas etc so it was never weird for me & I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything because the family was like that. My daughter & I did have to leave eventually though. It wasn’t because of alcohol but her dad developed an addiction to painkiller pills that led to some criminal behavior and it wasn’t a safe place anymore for us. I still see him on the streets doing his thing 14 years later he did not change. Anyway, I’m sure in your future (do the cards say so?!) that you will naturally meet someone who doesn’t give it a second thought that you don’t drink and will be totally comfortable with that because he loves every aspect of you.

    • Thank you, Sharon – and thank you for sharing some of your story here. I’m sad to hear your ex hasn’t found his way back to a clean life, but am glad you and your daughter are on the right paths for you. <3

  • There are lots of great guys who don’t drink OR don’t mind if their partner doesn’t drink. I married one. His mom is a recovering alcoholic. He met me when I was a drunk mess and he was a great friend back then. It was only when I decided I liked sober better than miserable that our relationship got serious. Now we have three kids, we don’t drink, and we don’t miss it one bit. There is life after alcohol – as you are well aware. And it’s pretty freaking awesome :-)

  • And some of us who believe in a Creator believe that being outdoors is so amazing and recharging because it is a way to get closer to our Creator and see that he only intended good for us.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Keep up the good work, cause I know it’s work. <3

  • I love getting outside for a walk, especially with the dog. His happy curiosity and bouncy excitement make it even better. I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood with beautiful mountain views, fragrant wild flowers, and very little traffic. What boggles my mind is when I run into another person strolling along and yakking away on a cell phone!

    • I’ll admit, if I’m just walking around my neighbourhood, it’s sometimes nice to catch up with a friend on the phone. That’s also just the bad part of having friends who don’t live close by – you have to make that time! But I agree, walking with a dog is the best.

  • Wow. Just wow. I’m so thankful I started subscribing to your emails because this is a wonderful, honest post that I can really connect with and be inspired by. Thank you for your efforts.

  • Love, love, love this post, Cait. Never apologize for being real, for being you. In all your messy gloriousness (is too a word). Embracing all the pieces and parts that make you you is so fantastic.

  • Cait I think you have transformed into an incredibly good place for yourself over the past few years and it has been so wonderful following along on that journey. I as well feel that the outdoors has done so much for my perspective and well being that I feel lost without it. It asks nothing of us, does not judge us and we get out as much as we put into it.

    Thank-you so much for the shout-out and including me along such wonderful people like Amanda. Her artwork is beautiful and stunning.

    Have a terrific fall day wherever you are today.

  • I’m sorry that you’ve had past experiences that have led you to such negative scripts when it comes to certain things. I know at least for myself, having been a devoted reader for years now, I can see so much to admire in you! Your self-discipline in so many areas of your life has inspired us all, and we appreciate your candid honesty about those parts of your life that are a little more vulnerable, a little more broken—-because the rest of us feel them, too. You make me want to be braver about my own things I hesitate to share.

    Thank you for sharing why being out in nature means so much to you—it gave me a lot to think about!

  • Cait, this is a beautiful beautiful post. Thank you for being so vulnerable and trusting us enough to see us in you. Because I for one am definitely right beside you! Love and light to you xoxo

  • Beautiful post Cait. The outdoors was never my happy place. I related to what you said about books being your safe/happy place as a kid and feeling awkward about sports but for me I wasn’t good at swimming or walking and I didn’t have parents that exposed me to nature. So for me up until recently nature was very un-natural feeling and very scary (even in New Zealand where there is literally nothing that can kill you in nature). But last year I made friends with a guy from Canada who loves nature and before him I had another male friend who took me hiking and both of them helped me develop confidence and trust in nature and myself. This year is the first year that I’m having solo nature dates.

    I also wanted to say that I only checked out this post because of your email notification and I know what you mean about having a vulnerability hangover and feeling like this was “just too much” to put out there. I had that feeling about this post: https://issuemagazine.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/victory-shoes-by-michelle-bunt/

    I wrote this years ago (like 5 years ago) and I still have moments where I cringe and think that it is out there and people can read it. And yet it is me and it is true and being “seen” in a world that is often superficial is a beautiful thing.

    I love what you wrote and I love that you are going light when everything feels heavy. I hope that somewhere down the track in the process of chasing the light (while also not running from the heavy) you happen to bump into that guy who just adores you and couldn’t give one fig about the fact that you don’t do alcohol.

  • Cait, thank you for such a beautiful and touching post! I stopped drinking 5 1/2 years ago and have never regretted it. I was never a huge drinker, just a casual social drinker but I never enjoyed it because I didn’t feel like it was me. I didn’t like the feeling of the buzz, it made me feel not in complete control of my body (I know, control freak much?), My boyfriend currently doesn’t drink (legal reasons….completely different story!) and he loves how drama-free our life is. It always seems like when you take girls, add alcohol, there’s always some sort of drama or fighting or tears. I’m happy to not experience that anymore. I’m also vegan while he loves nothing more than eating meat wrapped in meat covered in cheese. However, this has not once been an issue for us. He doesn’t try to get me to eat meat, I don’t ask him to stop eating meat.

    Even though our lifestyles are completely different, our relationship is strong. Being country people living in Vancouver, we love to escape to the mountains whenever possible to just enjoy the beauty and peacefulness of nature. Instead of focusing on our differences, we embrace our shared passions.

    Don’t give up on yourself! There are plenty of guys out there who don’t drink. I also feel like sober is the new “cool” thing to do, more and more people are doing it. So you never know! :)

  • Hi Cait, have you read/listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Big Magic’?….. your beautiful/difficult story made me think you would appreciate this book. The audio is read by Elizabeth and she has the best audio voice I’ve ever experienced.

    Bernie x

  • Cait, I applaud you for sharing this. I, too, have been unable to find a man who does not imbibe. Heck, even most of my female friends drink. Like you, I feel put on the defensive about it, and go out of my way to make it a non-issue. When dating, it seems that men, at some point, rule me out because I generally do not drink. Perhaps it is simply a difference in lifestyle, and they see the incompatibility before I do. Perhaps there are deeper issues behind the drinking. Either way, despite my disappointment, I try to re-center myself by remembering that the drinking would cause problems in a long-term relationship. Cheers to never downplaying ourselves again. Looking forward to your book!

  • I love that trails can end as soon as they get too hard for you. You can turn around back the way you came. The forest will look different from this new perspective. You’ve lost nothing by acknowledging your limitations. Nature can be wonderful that way.

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