Last Saturday around noon, I was driving down the canyon after a weekend hike. It was a long one, covering 10 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and the canyon was littered with cars and people; some just getting started with their activities, others already packing up to go home. I felt a sense of gratitude and community for these strangers just like me; loving the outdoors, bringing their families into the mountains, and enjoying their weekends with their own version of church.
Then, something struck me.
There were folks out there hiking 20 miles, 5 miles, 1 mile. They were biking the trails, bouldering rock faces, catching fish, and admiring the wildflowers. They were looking for a roadside picnic spot, the perfect trees for their hammock, and a place for the kids to splash in the water. There were a few wedding parties taking photos, families going for a scenic drive, and dozens of runners and bikers cruising down the long canyon road.
Every single person I saw was enjoying nature, reaping the benefits, and reinforcing their healthy habits, just like I was. It didn’t matter what they were doing, how hard they were working, how many miles they covered. They were healthy people with healthy habits not because of what they had done, but simply because they SHOWED UP.
We were all nature people. Outdoor people. Going to church (however you define it) people. Each and every one of us on that glorious Saturday afternoon, no matter what we did while we were out there.
We all belonged. Just like you belong.
Rewind to the same weekend last year, when I drove all the way to the top of the canyon to walk a totally flat one-mile path around the lake at the pace my physical therapist calls, “walking a very old dog.” It took me 25 minutes with several stops to rest, and when I was done, I got back in my car and drove back down the canyon, exhausted with a pounding headache. My concussion symptoms were at their worst, and on that day, this short walk was all I could manage.
I was still a healthy person with healthy habits. I was still a nature person, an outdoor person, a mountain person. I was just as worthy of taking up space in the outdoors. I am always worthy.
I belonged then. Just like you belong now.
Eating your lunch outside, whether it’s in your office courtyard or a picnic table creekside, counts. Going for a walk, whether it’s once around the park or ten miles up a mountain, counts. Taking your kids to explore the woods or splash in the river counts. Reading your book by the lake counts. Driving a pretty road and stopping to admire the views counts. It doesn’t matter what you do when you’re out there. The point is, YOU’RE OUT THERE.
If you’re on a trail, you’re a hiker. If you’re on a bike, you’re a biker. If you’re running (no matter what speed), you’re a runner. If you’re taking photos, you’re a photographer. If you’re watching birds, you’re a naturalist. If you’re in the mountains, you’re an outdoorsperson. If you get outside, you’re a church-goer. This is your only criteria: YOU SHOWED UP.
The next time you want to reinforce the idea that you are a healthy person with healthy habits, worthy of taking up space in the outdoors, exactly as you are and exactly as you choose, just show up. Head to the beach, the mountain, the river, the park. Hit up a hiking trail, a picnic bench, a bike path, a walking path. And then do whatever you want, because what you do when you get there isn’t important.
Show up, claim your place with all the healthy people doing healthy outside things, and allow yourself to feel that same sense of gratitude and community. Receive it. Accept it. Own it.