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Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
When I set out on my outdoor experiment of spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside, it was just for a year. I spent at least a few minutes outside every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day of 2017, and I had gotten just enough of a taste of it to know two things. First, whatever amount of time I was doing as a minimum, and I didn’t really have a minimum if we’re being honest, wasn’t enough. Next, I realized well before those initial 99 days were over that they were definitely not going to be enough. I wasn’t done going outside. I needed to do this every day.
And I was curious: what would happen if I spent a set amount of time outside every day? How would it change me? What would be better? What things that were supposed to get better according to various research wouldn’t change for me? What would I discover along the way?
Almost immediately I discovered a few things — such as I needed a better jacket if I wanted to be comfortable outside in Alaska in the winter. I discovered that kids’ attitude dramatically improved within moments of heading down the trail, even if they went literally kicking and screaming. I realized how much livelier my aging dog was after a leashes-off walk on some friendly empty trails.
But there were some bigger lessons there, too. And after I hit 1,300 days on March 23 and as I get ready to start shopping a book on the subject, I want to share some of them with you.
First, I learned I needed to have a plan to make getting outside fit into my busiest days. I needed to have an even better plan if I wanted to fit it into daylight hours of the days that were both busy and dark in the dead of Alaska winter. Part of that is simply what it takes to build any new habit. To make it stick and become second nature, you need to have a plan to get it in. 1,300 days in I find that I don’t have to have such a plan anymore, unless I am spending the day traveling or am away from home on some kind of business trip. Outside time simply happens without a second thought these days, even when the weather is bad. But to start with? I definitely needed a plan.
I learned a lot about intentionality. Even now that my outdoor habit is truly a habit, if I want to use my time to try new things, go new places or even get the most of it in the same place I always am, I have to choose to be intentional. Getting the most from my outdoor time really, truly is a choice. I have to choose or be intentional about focusing on nature and not thinking about work or other problems while I’m outside. I have to be intentional about unplugging while I head out. I have to work to get on a mountain instead of my easy-access backyard. I have to make an effort to make my outdoor time the best that it can be. But that intentionality pays off in the end, because my 1,300 days are full of stories of adventure and seeing things that I never would’ve pursued had it not been for my daily outdoor time.
My 1,300 days have taught me that while I initially feared that my time wouldn’t be valuable if I fell into what I considered a slump of doing the same path in the woods or even the same area of trails over and over again — I was wrong. Not only does actual scientific research show there’s a huge benefit to nearby nature, something I learned from an upcoming podcast guest, but the idea that any spot in nature is going to be too the same is lunacy. That’s the great thing about nature — it’s constantly changing. The only requirement is that you pay enough attention to notice.
My daily outdoor time has also given me countless gifts. Without it I would never have found how much I love running, I wouldn’t know my best friends, I wouldn’t have seen or experienced so much of Alaska, I wouldn’t have traveled and seen some of the amazing places outside of this state. I never would’ve tried new sports, or gone on glacier adventures. I wouldn’t have started freelancing for my local paper. And I definitely wouldn’t have started this podcast or be working on a book project. You, listener, are a gift of the outdoor experiment, too, and for that I am deeply grateful.
Here’s to another 1,300 days outside. Until next time, I’ll see you out there.