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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
I was trying to remember how I first heard about the weekly so-called Happy Run in my small town of Palmer, Alaska. Held every Monday at 6 p.m. rain, shine, snow or wind so strong the grit it blows feels like free microdermabrasion on your race, the Happy Run collects walkers and runners at sends them out on a designated course through town. After winding the distance of your choice, it ends at the alehouse where participants can score discounted pizza slices and join a free raffle. I am proud to report that my successful raffle wins provided a very expensive pair of winter boots that I’ve now worn for five years, and enough socks that I went a long time without buying any. But I digress.
I think I found out about the Happy Run through a flier taped up in the shoe store that helps organize the event. And it was at the very start of my outdoor habit streak back in 2017 that I decided showing up for that weekly community time where everyone revels or suffers equally in whatever the weather had in store, was a great way to add a little variety to my daily outdoor time. I could do the same exact walk with my dogs or sit on my porch every single day. But on Mondays at 6 p.m. I’d take an hour and do something different.
I kept that weekly appointment every Monday I was in town, which was most of them, until COVID happened and like so many other things the Happy Run went virtual for awhile. We added other things to our schedule on Monday evenings, and when it started back up we never made it back consistently.
But the friends I made there and lesson about community more than remain. That’s because something happens when you show up to outdoor things surrounded by humans you may or may not know — or likely will know soon.
Inspiration. Encouragement. Joy. Belonging.
I am a hard core introvert. I do not want to talk to people I do not know and while I can get in a mental and emotional place where it’s fun to meet new people, it’s work … and then I’m deeply exhausted.
And yet I still find that heading out into community is worth it. I love – LOVE – to people watch. I find it really uplifting to see other humans out having fun or experiencing the same things that are around me.
And so I’m not talking about doing stuff outside with other people, like hiking groups or whatever. That’s totally a thing, too, but when I talk about doing community stuff, I mean just in the presence of other people. I mean that the outdoors doesnt have to be where you are alone with your thoughts, or in a place where you are just passing people on the sidewalk. I mean putting yourself in a situation with on again, off again interactions with other humans — fairs, picnics, markets, events, festivals — and the seeing what happens. What conversations naturally take place? What new things will you encounter and try? What other events will you learn about?
I find other folks’ outdoor joy contagious. Watching people have fun or interact with each other gives me joy. Seeing the life they find by seeing people they know, even if it’s just a friendly hello, gives me life, and inspires me to make those connections too.
And outdoors is great for this because of the space. When Im inside at crowded community events I feel trapped, like the ceiling is too low and the air is too tight. But outside? I feel free.
Free to experience. Free to watch. Free to rest. And, maybe most importantly to me, free to leave when I’m done. That’s introvert stuff, for sure.
When you think about outdoor time, you might think about it in terms of nature walks or mountains or bird watching, or, you know NATURE. But thanks to adding these community events to my experiences is, I’ve expanded my concept of outside to include anything in open air. I’ve let the benefits of outdoor time include more than just taking in beauty or chasing the breeze.
I’ve let them expand to things like experiencing other’s joy and finding and feeling a sense of belonging. Because when you surround yourself with other humans, the building blocks of that word “community,” you start to feel like you’re a part of something bigger, like there are other people out there who appreciate the same things you do — a sunny day, the will to simply get out of your house, some live music, the breeze or the snow.
Those feelings make getting out among others worth it, even for this introvert.
This time of year offers many, MANY easy opportunities for outdoor events — and you can see pictures from my daily outdoor time at the ones we’ve been attending on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. I want to see your outdoor photos too, no matter where you’re taking them. Tag them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.