It was a windy, cloudy June day when I first clapped eyes on Palmer, Alaska. After more than 15 days on the road, traveling by car from Clarksville, Tenn. to our newly chosen state and a home purchased sight unseen, I was ready to be out of the car. We pulled into the town square for a picnic across from the visitor center. There was no one else around, and no wonder — it was in the mid-50s and blowing cold. Or, at least, I thought it was cold then.
I was hardly dressed for this weather, wearing all of my layers with the heaviest two being a thin nike dry fit ¾ zip, and a black vest with faux fur collar that I had picked up at a thrift shop in Boise. I was not ready for the cold-to-me weather after the hot of the lower 48. Truly I wasn’t ready for anything.
If life in Clarksville and nearby Oak Grove Kentucky had taught me anything about the weather it was that I really hated wind. I walked into the visitor center in Palmer and nervously asked the clerk if it was always this windy here.
“That’s Palmer!” he said proudly. “The wind comes off the glacier.”
These were not the words I wanted to hear. Palmer and I were not getting off to a good start.
And then I slid into a post-move coma of sorts, overwhelmed from the change and having to meet new people in a new place. I’m an introvert, if you can believe it, and change is so, SO exhausting. But here we were.
Fast-forward six months to early December. We’d lived here for about 7 months. I went to a few outdoor festivals. I went on a few sort of worth remembering walks outside. I did a lot of inside CrossFit. I didn’t actually know anyone involved in the Palmer community. And then I saw a Facebook event posted for a Christmas parade. Luke was gone on some Army thing, and so I wrapped up the kids and drove downtown to find a little cheer.
Little did I know that would be just a tiny hint of what I would find when I started going outside. It was a window, really, into what I could gain by giving the outdoors and this community a try. Lights. People who clearly knew each other, respected and even liked each other. Small town, Hallmark movie holiday vibes. Hundreds of people braving the cold without blinking an eye, all-in for some merry-making.
And so the next summer when I started my first year outside, I knew that it had to include doing community events. After all, hadn’t I seen a hint of the joy that could bring at the holiday festival, known as Colony Christmas?
One of the very first outdoor things I did during my year was start attending our weekly community Monday evening walk/run, known as the Happy Run. That meant I met a core group of community-involved people right away, the types of folks you see on the street as you walk to the coffee shop, or in the aisle of the grocery store. They were connections of spending time outside.
I added every local outdoor festival to our calendar — guaranteed outdoor time to use for my goal. And right with them was the annual Colony Christmas event, which included the parade.
When that early December date rolled around, my family and I headed down to Palmer to experience the festivities, and what we found was nothing short of community magic. It is easily my favorite event of the year, which is really saying something because it includes some very cold weather, like yesterday’s 0 degrees and sometimes some of that Palmer wind which, yes, does feel like it comes off the glacier. The whole thing is like a holiday card: all the good cheer, lights, the warmth of friends, Christmas cookies, Santa Clause and everything that makes any community the place you want to be.
You’re wondering what this has to do with an outdoor diary, and I’m glad you asked. Because here’s the thing: this community has enriched my life in ways that I cannot even express. These people are my friends and neighbors. I am here for them. I know this community is here for me. They bring me joy and laughter and comfort and all of the good things. I don’t just love where I live, I ADORE it.
And that feeling? I ONLY have that because I chose to build a life spent around going outside. I never would’ve met any of these people had I not been looking for things to do outside.
Learning to love where you live is one of my favorite benefits of going outside, and it’s something our past podcast guest Melody Warnick talks about in her book “This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are,” and in our interview. We’ll be re-running that episode as one of our “best of” episodes soon.
Had it not been for my outdoor practice, I never would’ve spent an entire day at Colony Christmas this past weekend, laughing until my face hurt as my family and I competed in some of the most ridiculous game known to man, including a unison ski race on 2x4s called Smooshing had I not gone outside on purpose.
I never would’ve met Sebrena who operates so many community events as a labor of love, and she never would’ve asked me to help judge the parade this year, something that was so, SO fun.
In fact, my year outside also gave me Rachel, my best friend who literally chased me down during a few of those community runs and all but demanded we be friends. And I realized in church recently that in a way it gave me that community, too. It was because of my year outside that I met so many people in our local town, many of them fellow runners — and so when I walked in that church to see if we would like it, I felt an instant connection because I recognized so many familiar local faces.
And when the wind comes off the glacier? It’s experiencing it with these people in this place that makes it not only bearable, but kind of fun. All because I went outside.
If you need a little kick to get yourself out there, you should check out our Humans Outside 365 Challenge kits on HumansOutside.com. These kits were made by me just for you, and include a guide to getting out there and, depending on which kit you buy, a really cool finisher decal, finisher medal reward you for your year outside or a cozy and functional neck gaiter or buff, good for an amazing number of uses. Check it out on HumansOutside.com.
And of course you can see pictures of my recent outdoor time, including one of us doing that smooshing contest, on Facebook and Instagram at Humans Outside. Share yours, too, with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.