My relationship with The Great Outdoors has always been one of a begrudging nature. (Hehe “nature,” see what I did there?) I loathe bugs of all kinds, particularly moths. It is a known fact that silverfish are the spawn of Satan. And growing up, I was a total germaphobe, a strange trait for a seven year old. Stranger still when this carried through my years living in Colorado, one of the most outdoorsy, REI-inspired states. It was somewhat of a joke amongst family and friends that camping was not on my list of ideal weekend activities.
Maybe it’s the lack of running water, maybe it’s the absence of real toilets, I just could not comprehend how paying money to sleep on the ground was a worthwhile hobby when you could enjoy perfectly good s’mores in the comfort of your own home.
When a friend wanted to go camping for her birthday celebration one weekend, she had to practically beg a group of us to join her. Myself and a fellow reluctant outdoorslady were dubbed “Meredith Blake” after The Parent Trap character who screams at the sight of a gecko.
Before I moved out of state to go to college, I remember my mom—perhaps in an effort to keep me closer—asking: “But won’t you miss the mountains?”
I stubbornly replied “no,” saying I hardly took advantage of them anyway.
Oh how the tables have turned.
Turns out, people do find it surprising when you’re from Colorado and can’t ski beyond bunny slope levels.
Every time I came home, I began trying out these activities that everyone so strongly associated with my home state with and being outdoors in general. I loved being able to show friends around from out of town and share in their excitement as orange sunsets silhouetted the foothills.
Each new successful venture outside—running, rafting, climbing a Fourteener—I began to think as small repayments to Mother Nature as I’m sure she mumbled under my borrowed hiking boots again and again “I told you so.” I was the returned teen who hadn’t realized what I had until it was gone! Maybe I had taken this ~nature thing~ for granted!
These new feelings culminated in a test of authenticity when I learned about WWOOFing—an exchange program where anyone (and I mean anyone) can register to to work on farms around the world in exchange for room and board. My dad was in the room as a friend explained her plans to WWOOF. He exclaimed afterwards how that would never, not in a million years, be something I would try.
Now, I’m not one to do something for the sole purpose of proving a point, but I was stung by my own assumed limits. Suddenly, this thing I would never do found its way to the top of my Bucket List.
Flash forward to me, standing alone in the rain at a rural bus stop in southern France as I waited for stranger to pick me up who may or may not speak any English. Every fiber of my body vibrated with “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
Several days later I was picking cherries to make a pie, after having watered the greenhouse, fed the chickens, and re-potted countless mint plants. (That will likely be the most idyllic sentence I shall ever write). The family that hosted me could not have been kinder people.
There was another American there at the time, helping make the language barriers a bit softer. And wouldn’t you know it, we even had a “s’mores night” with French crackers and organic marshmallows.
I didn’t recognize this person that lived uninhibited for days: I wore no makeup and didn’t mind dirt under my nails or the spider that had a web directly beside my bed. I knew a full transformation had taken place when I stepped out of the trailer I slept in to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and squashed a slug in my bare feet. Entirely unfazed, I carried on to do my business in a bush, wiped the slug guts in the grass, and ambled back to bed.
WWOOFing turned out to be is one of the single greatest experiences I have ever had. And beyond the motivation to travel on a small budget, it was all because I’d challenged myself to do that thing people thought I would never do.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we should all thrust ourselves in strangers’ homes in an effort to “push ourselves.”
But there might be some benefit in reevaluating those ideas you’d dismissed for so long, simply because you were the “Meredith Blake” of your friends. Because you know what? Meredith Blake doesn’t wind up with Dennis Quaid, dancing to Natalie Cole as the credits roll.
So cheers to you, The Great Outdoors. May we have many more sweaty adventures together.
You can say “I told you so.”