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  • Writer's pictureElderberry 1

Getting Started

The first time I went on a real, honest-to-goodness hike I was in my twenties. I spent time outside as a kid, caught tadpoles in a pond in the park near our house, ate wild raspberries off of the bushes along the unofficial trail that ran down the hill to the public pool in the summer, rode (and fell off) my bicycle down the daredevil hills in the sprawling cemetery up the street, but my family wasn't "outdoorsy." We didn't go hiking or camping (outside of one very rainy, freezing but still bug-filled, utterly miserable attempt when I was about six). My only experience with The Outdoors was summer camp, convinced I was going to be dragged to the bottom of the lake by an unknown cryptid during swimming lessons and hopelessly stuck in a looping circle in the middle of the pond where another un-outdoorsy kid named Tabitha and I tried-- and failed-- to get the canoe we were in to head to shore.

I lived in large cities after that, places where the outdoors meant a long subway ride to a manicured lawn filled with other people looking to spend a little while touching grass. I rarely, if ever, thought about The Outdoors-- getting out of the city was such a hassle requiring planning and resources and it hadn't been a part of my life before so I didn't miss it. Besides, where would I go? What kinds of things would I need? Where would I start?

Late in my twenties I left the city and went to graduate school in a place that felt so remote it might as well have been the moon. It was a many-hour drive back to the city, to my friends, to the life and pace that had been so familiar. Grad school was stressful, and the remote place I found myself in had punishing weather and little to do other than study. So I studied.

One day a classmate mentioned going on a hike to see a nearby waterfall. I was curious-- maybe I could try hiking? I wasn't really sure if it was something I'd like, but I also thought I needed to do something other than study. But I also had no idea where to start. So I didn't.

Months later, I was leaving town, heading down to the city for a weekend with friends, and I noticed a sign on the road for a state park. I drove past it but it stuck in the back of my mind. A few weeks later I drove back out and followed the sign into the state park, pulled into the parking lot, and got out of my car, unsure what to do. There were signs, some of them said trails, so I walked tentatively in that direction. The signs didn't have any information other than the name of the trail-- nothing about length or elevation, where it might be going. Cautiously, I headed down a trail that went into the trees. I didn't run into any other people. I wondered if I'd get eaten by a bear. I wondered if I'd ever be found after being eaten by a bear. I was sure I heard bears in the trees. And after what felt like eons, the trail opened up into a beautiful gorge. I listened to the water rushing at the bottom of the gorge and smelled the fresh air and then hustled back down to my car before the bears got me. I think the entire round trip might have been three miles.

It was not a revelatory experience. I did not immediately become a hiker. I didn't go on another hike for months, and the next time I went I was tagging along on someone else's hike. The outdoors snuck up on me gradually. I did start hiking a bit more, then more regularly. I moved to another big city after graduate school where getting out into nature was, again, a huge hassle. I kept trying; trips were kind of haphazard, often kind of unsatisfying. But the outdoors kept calling, and gradually, kind of sneaking up on me, it became more and more of what I wanted to be doing, and what I found myself doing.

So how do you get started? You start. You turn on your blinker when you see the sign for a state park and you pull in.

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