In elementary school, I was the kid who was nobody’s pick for kickball teams.
In junior high gym class, the teacher always had me race against the fastest running girl “to motivate me to move.” In college, I dropped my bicycling class for bowling as I didn’t want a P.E. class to negatively affect my GPA.
Fast forward 15 years and I’m packing up my life in South Philadelphia and taking it to Denver, Colorado. Once unpacked, it became apparent that something was missing from my belongings—gear. As I quickly learned, one cannot live in Colorado without a garage full of gear.
So, I got new hiking boots at the flagship REI. I got new skis with a matching ski “outfit.” I got new shiny red snowshoes.
And then I had a realization. I actually had to use the gear. Crap.
I photographed wildlife while hiking easy trails. I skied Loveland’s green slopes while enjoying the scenery. I took a gentle bicycle ride on the trail near my house. All of these activities were outdoors, so I thought I had embraced the active Colorado lifestyle. Even my friends back home were aghast at the photos I was posting of myself in my gear. I really thought I had arrived.
But then I started to do these activities with other people.
A friend suggested a “nice little hike with some good views” one Saturday. The climb to the top of what turned out to be a seven-mile haul was grueling, sucking the breath—and the good mood—out of me. Then I went on a “nice little bike ride” on a trail from one mountain town to another. After an exhausting and leg busting ride one way, I ducked out of the round trip and hopped on the bus for the return.
As these kinds of situations happened over and over, I at least had the good sense to never participate in a group ski trip as I was beginning to fear for my life!
Finally, I waved the white flag and admitted that I couldn’t handle what I dubbed the “thoning” lifestyle. These Coloradans get up at sunrise for their marathons, triathalons, hike-a-thons, paddle-a-thons, ski-a-thons, bike-a-thons and any other kind of “thon” you can possible think of that takes the body to extreme circumstances. I couldn’t keep up. I was once again that loser kid in gym class.
I continued to enjoy my outdoor activities in my own way, until people started to question me.
A friend offered to give me ski lessons so I could advance to the blue slopes. After three days of lessons he threw his hands up and told me that I was right…I really was a green skier as “I just wasn’t enjoying myself on the blues.” But, isn’t a “green” skier still a skier?
I put it all out of my mind for a while until I started online dating. Do I say I ski? Do I say I hike? Do I say I bicycle? After all, this is Colorado and people take these things seriously here. I decided I’d include them because—to me—I was skiing, hiking and bicycling even though it was on green slopes and easy trails and gentle paths.
A few months ago, I got married—to someone I met online. My husband was drawn to my profile for a number of reasons. One reason was the fact that I listed outdoor activities—especially hiking—as pass times that I enjoy. Just recently he told me that, when we first met, I tricked him into thinking I was a hiker. I wasn’t really a hiker because I only liked short, gentle day hikes—“real” hikers traverse the backcountry setting up a tent after a long day hiking into the wilderness.
I am a green skier on and off the slopes. I prefer all of my outdoor activities on a “green” level. But, that doesn’t make me a fake hiker or a fake bicycler. I was honest with my husband when we first met, I told him I liked hiking. He didn’t bother to ask about my hiking style.
But, more importantly, there is no shame in the way I enjoy my outdoor activities.
As I’m taking a slow, gentle hike, I’m capturing photos that other people don’t as they hurry their way up the mountain. As I slowly ride my bike through my neighborhood to get to the bike trail, I’m seeing art and architecture that others are missing as they pedal hard and fast.
When I’m in nature, I take in the views, the environment, the wildlife—I don’t worry about pushing harder, pedaling faster, climbing higher. I want the feeling of the outdoors washing over me —not the adrenaline of black diamond skiing.
I am a mindful outdoor enthusiast. And I’m ok with that.
So who’s up for a gentle day hike this weekend?
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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Bryonie Wise