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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
When I started my outdoor challenge — a resolution of sorts — in September 2017, almost 2,000 days ago, I was a different person than I am today. Or rather, I was the same person, but much more cautious, much more set in her ways, much less likely to try new things.
If you know me in person, you might be listening to this and thinking “wow, you’re pretty cautious now, so that must be crazy.” And if you’re my husband Luke, you might be thinking about how you wish I could be even more outdoor adventurous than I am now. Ill be honest, I can be pretty boring. I’m an introvert. I hate staying up past, say, 930 p.m. or going out after 7. I like to order the same thing off the menu at every restaurant, with a strong preference for visiting the same restaurant over and over again. I really like returning to places I’ve visited in the past because they are predictable.
But when it comes to things I do outside, something has changed since I started my outdoor habit. Whereas before I rarely took risks and bowed out of anything new outside, today I seek them out.
This year I received nordic ice skates as a Christmas gift, an outdoor toy I requested. Now, I’ve talked a lot about how I used to completely block myself from skiing, instead saying that I would never do that. .. and now I do it all the time and love it. But I had similar opinions about ice skating. Why in the world would ANYONE ice skate, I wondered, often allowed. Ice skating is basically walking on knives. Walking on knives is stupid.
I didn’t just wake up one day thinking that, by the way. Im from a beach in California, so the first time I ever encountered ice skating was living in Michigan for college for a few years. We went to a skating rink with a bunch of other students, most of them also from not-cold-places like Florida. One student fell. Another student skated over her hand. There was blood and an emergency room visit. I thought, well that’s just a predictable outcome to walking on knives. Count me out from now on.
And yet I not only now asked for Nordic skates as a gift, but I have every intention of taking them regularly to non-controlled rink environments, where ice could break and send you plunging into a very cold place in the wilderness, far away from anyone who can help you. Dream adventure? Skate on a glacier lake.
So you can see things have escalated.
I took my skates out for the first time this week, heading out to a frozen river of wild ice in the middle of a nature refuge, and a podcast fan messaged me to tell me how courageous I am. That took me very much by surprise because I do not consider myself courageous or brave by any stretch at all. I am Amy. I order the same thing at every restaurant. I am not courageous.
Or am I? Because when I step back and take the long view, what I see is someone who used to say “no” a lot, and today is willing to try new things and stretch herself into risks, so long as those risks are out in nature. Let’s be honest, there’s no capturing specifically what nature is going to do on any given day, you can guess and prepare, but you cannot fully predict. But by exposing myself to that day in and out, by getting comfortable with it in perfect 20 minute micro doses and by learning over the course of my habit that it’s going to be OK and I havent come close to dying yet, I’ve started to trust the process. I’ve started to learn that risk taking in nature can have rewards in the form of fun and feeling accomplished.
And so maybe, yes, I am brave in that way. But if that’s true it’s only because I’ve pressure-tested the system. I have learned at a pace that is good for me, one day at a time. I have come to understand the tools I have to make me feel safe in any given situation so that it’s accessible to me. In the case of my first visit to wild ice those tools looked like going with a friend who had been here before and wearing a helmet. They looked like having on plenty of layers and putting hand warmers in my mittens. They included trusting my physical strength that Ive tested before during a parade of other outdoor activities. They included knowing that it has always been fine before, so it will most likely be fine now.
This courage, if that’s what you want to call it, is available to you, too, through the simple act of heading outside daily. If you’re there to see how it will change your life, this is one of the ways you are likely to discover. No one has to make you do things you don’t want to do. You don’t have to do things that feel scary. But eventually, before you even know it’s happening, you’ll take incrementally larger risks that don’t really feel like risks at all. And you’ll understand that heading outside is always worth it.
You can see photos of my wild ice experience — and hopefully many more to come — on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. Share photos of your outdoor habit, too, with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.