Ever since my family’s outdoor store closed I’ve been faced with a question. Now that the outdoors isn’t my job, why do I go into the outdoors? What makes me go paddling and complain about being sore the next day? Why do I go on backpacking trips during which I fight constipation, backache, and tempt large hairy mammals to come eat me…or shoot me depending on where I hike? For the longest time, the line between work and play was erased. Every trip became a chance to test new gear or to find a better way to sell a product. The only time I kayaked was either guiding people in hopes to show them some gear they’d like or running kayak demonstrations in the 100 degree summer heat. I became burned out and sick of doing it. Now that I don’t work in the industry anymore, I’ve been trying to find my reason WHY I went outside in the first place because I know that I love the outdoors, but I’ve forgotten why.
I pull into the lake house with my parents, siblings Mackenzie and Henry, and girlfriend Justine in tow. We’ve come to Lake Santeetlah to escape; Dad from his 60-70 hour weeks at work, me from my job as a tech at an IT company, and the rest from the impending school year. School for me this fall didn’t work out, and I was looking forward to being with Justine for almost a full week. Living an hour and a half away from my best friend is tough, so being with her for several days sounds great.
I’m in a weird mental state from an especially hectic week. Suffice to say as I pull into the drive Saturday night, I have an engagement ring in my pocket and a father‘s permission still echoing in my head. I’m not going to propose during the vacation; I’m waiting a few weeks to ask, maybe during a trip down to Charleston. It’s such a cliché to propose in the mountains I think, so typical of outdoors people and that’s just not who I am anymore. I can’t even come up with a reason to go kayaking other than it’s what I’ve always done.
Blinking rapidly to get the blurriness out of my eyes, I look at the clock and see that it’s 8am Sunday morning. All I can think is that this is so much better than waking up at 6am and rushing to be out the door by 8:30am. With a content sigh I think that maybe this is part of my reason why I go into the outdoors: to get away from all of my normal, busy, hectic life. Then I think about it a little more and realize that I can find the same thing in a hotel by the beach or any other kind of vacation. Frustrated, I sigh again before going to eat breakfast. Henry begs me to go swimming with him, so I pull on swim trunks and head outside. Half-heartedly, I jump off the dock and start swimming around with my siblings and fiancé-to-be. The water is cool, but not cold, and I’m enjoying just floating in a life jacket, not even putting forth the effort to tread water. Justine wants to go paddling because, since we went a few months ago, it’s her new favorite thing to do. Since we’ve been together, she’s gone from zero outdoor experience to wanting to go hiking and kayaking more and more. Mack and Justine take off in a tandem boat and the rest of us follow in other kayaks. Scooting along the shoreline, we find a rope swing tucked in a cove. After checking the landing, we swing again and again, dropping in the water. We laugh at not being able to throw the rope back to the people on shore, at my belly flops, and at the subtle grace my sister has for the rope swing.
At that rope swing, my reason why finally clicks. My reason for going outside is sharing the experience. Nobody shares story after story about their trips to Disneyland, but everyone who hikes, kayaks, and camps does. It’s boring to do something alone, and my trips in the outdoors have never been about personal accomplishment or completing some goal. I finally realize that my reason for going is to share it with the people I love. And with someone like Justine, who is completely new to the outdoors, I can get excited about something I’ve seen many times before because she’s seeing it for the first time. All that I can think of is how much she hasn’t seen and how much I want to share with her.
So that night under the moon, Justine and I took a tandem kayak and paddled to a dark secluded cove, and I asked her to be my kayaking partner for the rest of my life. Now I have a new reason to go paddling, and I’ll never have to go alone.