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Becoming The Outdoor Adventure Kind by Cat Eckrode

Hi there! I’m Cat, and I am excited to be joining you for all the fun at Camp Midlife. I’ll be posting tips and insights to help you enjoy time in the outdoors. There are so many things I can’t wait to share! To kick us off, let me tell you a bit about myself and the roots of my passion for supporting others pursuing their outdoor adventure goals.

To my core, I believe everyone can and should enjoy the outdoors in ways that inspire and fulfill them. I also know – from personal experiences – that there are incredible rewards that come from time with nature. But first, I had to overcome some of the invisible hurdles that can keep a person from ever setting foot on a trail.

Indoorsy Type
Like many who grew up outside small towns, I spent a lot of time outside as a kid. I was often found tromping through fields, forests, and muddy creeks. I didn’t see this as being outdoorsy, though – this was just where the other kids & I went to play. Through my teen years I was rather bookish and more than happy classifying myself as a geek and a nerd. I loved science, art, and creativity; I dreamed of being a marine biologist or National Geographic photographer. I was convinced (by my own doubts and other people), however, that I would not have the physical capabilities for any job that involved field work. So adventures were experienced through countless novels, hours of video games, television & movies, and junk food fueled Dungeons & Dragons sessions. (Told you, I was – and still am! – a geek.)

Athletic exercise was on the opposite end of my spectrum of interests. Gym class was the worst. Last one picked for pretty much every activity, with participation avoided as much as possible. There was a very short stint about age 20 when I got into yoga and went to the gym regularly, but neither habit stuck. Work life found me in a sedentary role that started as just a job but somehow became a career path. By the time I hit my thirties, I’d developed asthma and severe seasonal allergies. I interpreted these as clear signals that I was not meant to be active. I was very firmly the “indoorsy type” and – for a long while – content with this identity.

Finding Wings
It turned out that bird watching was the inspiration I didn’t know I needed: several years ago, I was fortunate enough to move into a home with a fantastic yard that attracts a ton of birds. Drinking my coffee while watching flocks out the window fascinated me. Eventually, a feeder went up. I couldn’t identify many of the birds and purchased a field guide. I kept a species list, shared sightings online, and joined local birding groups. The more I learned, the more I wanted to see, which meant leaving my yard. Bird watching took me to local parks and woodlands. People started to come to me with the birds they’d seen so I could help identify them. (They still do.) It was great!

As I ventured further afield, I had to carry more: things like water, snacks, and camera gear. I had to read maps, plan routes, and rise early to get the best experiences. One day, it occurred to me that I was not just bird watching – I was hiking! There was a sense of something I was just starting to get a taste for. And the more I chased that feeling, the more I wanted it.

Invisible Hurdles
When I stumbled into hiking, it started a new obsession. Although I really wanted to enjoy it, I found myself running into these invisible hurdles which made me feel incapable, incompetent, and out of place outdoors. After all, I had spent most of my life convinced I was not athletic, and didn’t you have to be athletic to hike? Sometimes I would plan a hike, only to surrender to insecurity and stay under the covers until it was “too late” to go. That just made me feel even less capable.

One set of invisible hurdles came from knowing next to nothing about hiking. Sure, it starts easy – go to a trail, put one foot in front of the other. But what about gear? Techniques? Where are the “good” trails? Countless hours went into pouring through internet sites, reading books on related topics, and going through a lot of trial and error to gain experience. (Luckily I love learning nitty gritty details, and have a lot of tenacity.)

Another set of obstacles came from the best of intentions: friends and family questioned my new passion of wandering the wilderness. I had to answer a lot of “what-if” questions, and not just overcome my own self-doubts but also those of loved ones. It’s hard to say how many questions I’ve answered about crime rates, animal attacks, emergency evacuations, and just plain biting off more than people believed I could chew. It’s difficult to build confidence for an army of caring individuals in addition to developing it for yourself!

Unexpected Results
It’s well documented that time in nature is good for mental and physical health. I definitely enjoyed those expected benefits. “Athletic” has been redefined in my vocabulary; I am more fit than I have ever been. My body has proven time and again that it is, in fact, quite capable if I listen to and work with it.

It’s also great to disconnect from technology and spend time outdoors. There’s an amazing sense of discovery that comes from visiting wild places. Stress melts away while hiking and I always come back refreshed, even after some of the less successful adventures. (Those make great learning experiences and are tales for other posts.) And, for me, standing on mountain summits never fails to leave me amazed at our incredible world.

I didn’t realize it right away, but everything poured into hiking paid me back in unexpected ways: planning nurtures critical thinking, determining the best gear to carry and the most efficient paths to take. Researching different areas sparks curiosity about what waits to be seen. Time on trails encourages me to slow down and be more observant; these observations capture my imagination and feed my creativity. And the more time I spend on the trail, the more my confidence grows.

I no longer feel I don’t know what I’m doing, or that I don’t belong on the trail; instead I feel at home, and love encouraging others looking to start their own outdoor journeys. In future posts, I’ll be sharing some of favorite insights into trail-based adventuring. If you aren’t sure where to begin, but you know you want to get out there, send me a message. I’d love to hear from you!

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