My favorite professor in college was a man of stories.
He was the head of the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, and had a background of military service, psychotropic drugs, and a time he hitchhiked from Canada to, wait for it, Hawaii.
This professor shaped my college experience in so many ways, from how he lectured, to leading a class I was able to attend post-graduation on the Camino de Santiago. But his stories are what have always stuck with me the most–and in particular, how one becomes a storyteller.
We’ve all heard the quote, “We didn’t know we were making memories, we just thought we were having fun,” and this professor really helped me understand that. I often feel like, in my mid 30s, that I have yet to really have stories to tell…until I start telling them. And while my stories may never entertain class after class of college students, I like to think I am doing more than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for my adventures to begin.
So before I start thinking about 2019, I want to reflect on our adventures this year.
One of the most exciting things about 2018 was the way we spent our birthdays. We managed to visit four completely different terrains, and have four completely different trips for each of us; a vacation rental in the red rocks of Sedona, a bikepacking, primitive camping trip to the beach, frontcountry camping right on a lake, and cabin camping in the mountains.
We also moved, opening up an entire state’s worth of new trails. We visited two National Parks we’d never been to before, I went on a solo backpacking trip, had the opportunity to write about Tennessee trails for three different pages, had a photo featured on backpacker.com, and went on a couple of overnight trips with the kids without Billy.
So I thought that, going into 2019, I would make a list of the specific places I wanted to visit, in the interest of continuing to see, if not the world, at least the east coast. But I saw someone make a post recently asking for guides for making “hiking resolutions” for the next year, and it got me thinking…what would my advice be? I am a spontaneous person, and our adventures are rarely planned so far in advance. Life gets in the way, and trying to make concrete plans can trap you into missing opportunities as they arise.
So in the interest of living out stories, instead of a 2019 bucket list, here are some guidelines I think are good for anyone to keep in mind–to find adventure as it finds us, and make the most of every opportunity the new year might bring.
Moving to a new state has been great for getting out and finding new places to go, but has also made it clear how nice it is to have favorites. Whether you are in a situation like us where everything around you is new, or haven’t quite found The One yet, this goal is all about finding that one go-to trail that just feels “right,” no matter what season you hike it.
Our public lands need us. While visitation increases, funding for national public lands is continually at risk, creating a situation where our lands can’t support the foot traffic they bring in during the year. And the human impact currently generated during the shutdown is just proof of how important it is for us to practice Leave No Trace, and to leave our spaces better than we find them. So while it might seem counter-intuitive, seek out a National Park you’ve never been to before. Learn about it. Love it. And then advocate for it.
With Virginia’s three solid geographical regions–mountains, piedmont, and tidewater–we were lucky enough to camp in a variety of locations. But new terrain can just be a branch off from something you’re used to. Go to a higher or lower elevation. Seek out coniferous forests if you are used to hardwoods. If you’re not already signed up, visit thedyrt.com or download their app, and find a campsite near a geographical feature you’ve never experienced before, such as the dismalites (bioluminescent larvae) in Alabama, or camping on the rocky beaches of Maine. Chances are there’s something near you with a whole new experience worth exploring.
My love of winter hiking is well-documented, but there are more ways than just changing the seasons to revisit your favorite trails. Go in bad weather–rain or snow, hot or cold–just make sure you are dressed appropriately and your pack is full of any extra gear you need for the weather. Pick one trail and make it a weekly, monthly, or quarterly thing, and observe the way it changes from one visit to the next. Try a night hike, or a sunset or sunrise hike. Go alone, go with kids, or go with friends who haven’t been hiking before–whatever you are used to doing, just change it up, and see how you experience a place you know from a new perspective.
Look for programs like the 52 Hike Challenge, Hike it Baby’s Hike It Baby 30 months, or find a local hiking group and see what their goals are. Most of these groups have giveaways to show for your efforts like patches, stickers, or water bottles, and they help you network so participants can encourage each other, particularly when things like excessive rain, wildfires, or illness make getting outside hard. Incorporate these challenges into your personal goals for extra accountability!
This is my favorite goal for the year, because it is budget-friendly, work-friendly, and perfect for parents raising outdoors-y littles. Whatever your other outdoor goals, this is one that only needs your backyard or local park. It has the accountability factor of hiking challenges, can include other parents to make it social, and would go along great if you have any personal resolutions for less screen time. Exploring Nature with Children has weekly themes and activities to go along with them each week, or there are subscription boxes available that are outdoors-y themed as well if once a week is too ambitious a goal.
However you feel about the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, the earth will continue to tilt, and if you’re in the northern hemisphere, the lengthening of the days is reason enough to think about how to spend time outside (or ways to take advantage of the remaining daylight for our friends living out the last weeks of summer). And if you look at your outdoor resolutions as goals, getting your kids involved is only another organic learning opportunity.
I know I have a lot of places I want to see this year. I want to explore some of the Gulf Coast. I want to go out on multi-night backpacking trips with my kids. But mostly, I want to look back this time next year and know that I am walking out of 2019 with more stories to tell. Whether I realized I was making them or not.