I still feel that I don’t fully belong in the “outdoorsy people” circles.
Who is an outdoorsy person, anyway? I have this thing stuck in my head of someone with seemingly limitless energy, zero pain or discomfort threshold, and boundless curiosity about the great outdoors.
She never calls it quits first. He understands all of the technical jargon. She strives just a little bit further — schemes to surmount obstacles or inclement conditions until squarely defeated. He hikes as though floating — runs, and runs for fun.
I am not this person. Therefore, my inner narrative goes, I don’t belong outside like “those” outdoorsy people. I’ll just be over here doing my modest thing, call me if you need me.
This is how I feel and how my thoughts often come up. But when I look at this with a critical eye, I tell myself: this is ridiculous. I am outside all the time. I am very active. I enjoy it, for the most part, and I absolutely seek it out as routine. I am an outdoorsy person, even if I don’t fit this definition I’ve concocted.
Still, there’s a reason I feel this way. And no, it’s not the fault of the folks I described: They’re out there doing their thing their own (inexhaustible, superhuman, confounding) way. Most of them live in Fairbanks. Good for them.
It comes from my own internalized notion of what it means to meaningfully be outside. Emphasis on meaningfully.
I fall into the trap of viewing being outdoors as something I earn. It’s something I deserve or don’t. I succeed or fail at it. Put another way, I am apt to look at being outside as a measure of my success or failure as a person, similar to how I am de facto encouraged to see my own productivity (or lack thereof) as a member of our society at large.
I imbue the great outdoors with a meaning similar to going to work to earn money to pay my bills: it’s the grind, and my paycheck (or my ability to endure outside) is commensurate with my skill level. Even worse or more worrisome, it’s not just my skill level — it’s my intrinsic value as a person. If I “fail” at being outside (read: if it’s seemingly harder for me than everyone else, if I feel winded quickly, if I pack it in early), it’s because there’s something shameful and flawed in me.
That got dark. But left unchecked, my brain can go there. I’ve had a lifetime of internalizing unspoken cultural norms and narratives, after all.
I write this while thinking about embarking on a new year, and how many people including me are likely making outdoor or fitness-related resolutions. It can feel lonely or vulnerable getting outside or into new routines for the first time. Compound that with feeling daunted by the “type of person” who is considered outdoorsy, or feeling judged, and it makes it all the harder to get into the great outdoors, where all that one does is seemingly visible to scrutiny.
I remember when I was first running being ashamed of my red face and jiggling body as I jogged along. I still have both, but by now I’m used to them. Running in public in spandex doesn’t faze me anymore, whereas in the beginning, I felt that all eyes must be on me as the pathetic imposter person.
The thing is, being outside doesn’t need to be competitive. It doesn’t even need to be elaborate, and it certainly doesn’t need to be painful. There are many (many) other ways to be outside, including and beyond my definition of how the “outdoors person” does it.
Heading into 2023, I’ve decided to double down on experiencing something you may have heard of: fun.
It’s so simple, but as an adult, elusive. I see kids chasing each other around a yard, whereas adults grudgingly lace up their shoes to go for a better-burn-off-that-beer run. Hiking up mountains is fun … kind of? It has a payoff, but the steps to get there are challenging and often uncomfortable (unless you meet the definition of the aforementioned outdoorsy person, of course. Respect). Kids show off their handstands in the pool; adults swim laps.
No, I’m not taking up sledding as my exclusive form of exercise. But I am working on both creating, chasing, and being fully into more fun outdoor activities.
Examples: fat tire and mountain biking, which are work for me, but also kind of like a human-powered roller coaster (with the secret weapon of awesome gearing, making it doable to scoot up hills before rolling briskly down the other side). Downhill skiing, which takes strength and endurance, sure, but is also exhilarating.
And, simply choosing ways to be or appreciate the outdoors. Maybe that’s hitting up the friend with a hot tub, or when the weather’s even a little warmer, bundling up to sit outdoors in a warming February/March sun. You know that first day. It’s dreamy and intoxicating.
Getting to experience the outdoors and our shared natural world is a right and privilege of all Alaskans, not something to be earned. There is no entry fee, no secret handshake, and no minimum bar for entry. There are as many interests and ways to be outside as there are people in our state, and my sincere hope for the coming year — for myself and for you — is that we each do our best to experience and enjoy those in whatever ways we want.
Here’s to having fun outside in 2023. Judgment-free, especially from ourselves.