Here at the Outdoor Book Club we know that every epic adventure starts with the basics: First, pack your best sword, making sure your horse is well-fed, brush up on your fire-breathing skills, and finally tell your over-protective family that a prince needs saving and you're the only one who can do it, so don't wait up.
Oh wait. Not that kind of epic adventure (though wouldn't hurt to imagine yourself in that scenario, because you are that hardcore, Lady Badass. There, that's your guided meditation for the day, go on now and create a whole amazing adventure for yourself in your head. I'll wait.)
Back? Good. So what's it going to take to inspire you to finally move out of your warm, comfortable existence and into something epic? For me, it always comes back to good writing. I suppose that's why I started this little adventure that I call the Outdoor Book Club. That somehow I can move you to let me take you on your own little adventure.
This morning as I was writing this post on how to plan an epic adventure, I decided I needed to steal a little genius from people who are way smarter than me. I have a Google doc where I keep of all my favorite quotes and poems, so I opened it up and started reading through my little curio cabinet of inspiration. And wow, it was filled with some of the most powerful reasons why epic adventures should be at the top of all our bucket lists. Some of the quotes are long, but I promise you, they're worth it. After reading them, you'll have no choice but to be put on the course of your own truly epic adventure.
Share the adventure with someone you love"Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?" - C. S. Lewis
Maybe this person is sitting across the living room from you right now, flipping through the channels (it's possible). Or maybe you met this person in the fourth grade, when you were both new to school and you didn't know anyone else and now you live a thousand miles apart and you just see each other's updates on Facebook. But even back then you shared an "inkling," and now is the time to reconnect and cash in on that. Or maybe you haven't even met them yet, and won't until you're both staring down the cliff of the same mountain. Whoever they are, rediscover that sidekick and head out on that adventure together.
Build the right vehicle
"I find myself wondering how many other memories are hidden from me in the recesses of my own brain; indeed my own brain will seem to be the last great terra incognita, and I will be filled with wonder at the prospect of someday discovering new worlds there. Imagine the lost continent of Atlantis and all the submerged islands of childhood right there waiting to be found. The inner space we have never adequately explored. The worlds within worlds within worlds. And the marvelous thing is that they are waiting for us. If we fail to discover them, it is only because we haven't yet built the right vehicle - spaceship or submarine or poem - which will take us to them... And the adventure is endless and inexhaustible. If I learn to build the right vehicle, then I can discover even more territories. And each new poem is a new vehicle, designed to delve a little deeper, or fly a little higher, than the one before." - Erica Jong
There is so much of both our inner and outer worlds that are just waiting - no dying - to be discovered and explored. Your couch isn't a spaceship, and your commute to the office isn't the path to new worlds. Find your terra incognita, and be filled with wonder, my friends. Build the right vehicle to get to that legendary awakening, whatever that means to you.
"It's called free will, Sherlock""The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
The truth is you've already heard this. That this is what it's like. That it's what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't? It's called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali - it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole.
So cry all you want, I won't tell anybody." - David Foster Wallace
God I love David Foster Wallace. He's the closet thing I've got to a patron saint. (Have you seen This is Water?) Squeeze through that keyhole, baby. And do it while chanting in Bengali and crying your eyes out. It wouldn't be an epic adventure otherwise.
"Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure.""One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast, a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." - Edward Abbey
I've spent much of my life as a reluctant enthusiast, a half-hearted fanatic. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But then one day you'll discover, as Anais Nin did, "when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." My day came this past February when I just couldn't stand another day sitting in my office chair, staring at the insipid, stained fabric of my cubicle wall, doing work that barely mattered to anyone. So I quit. I took my heart out of the safe deposit box and decided that some risks were worth taking, even if I eventually failed. And now here I am, encouraging you to enjoy this one wild and precious life while you can, even if it's only for one weekend or even week a year. It won't wait forever.
Speaking of forever...
Decide to be part of something bigger"In the moment of transition between life and death only one thing changes: you lose the momentum of the biochemical cycles that keep the machinery running. In the moment before death you are still composed of the same thousand trillion, trillion atoms as in the moment after death. As you degrade, your atoms become incorporated into new constellations: the leaf of a staghorn fern, a speckled snail-shell, a kernel of maize, a beetle's mandible, a waxen bloodroot, a ptarmigan's tail feather. But it turns out your thousand trillion, trillion atoms were not an accidental collection, each was labeled as composing you, and continues to be so wherever it goes. So you're not gone, you're simply taking on different forms.
Instead of your gestures being the raising of an eyebrow or a blown kiss, now a gesture might consist of a rising gnat, a waving wheat stalk and the inhaling lung of a breaching beluga whale. Your manner of expressing joy might become a seaweed sheet playing on a lapping wave, a pendulous funnel dancing from a cumulo-nimbus, a flapping grunion birthing, a glossy river-pebble gliding around an eddy. From your present clumped point of view this afterlife may sound unnervingly distributed, but in fact it is wonderful. You can't imagine the pleasure of stretching your redefined body across vast territories, ruffling your grasses and bending your pine branch and flexing an egret's wing while pushing a crab towards the surface through coruscating shafts of light."- David Eagleman
Don't wait until your machinery stops running to express joy. Take the opportunity to preview what your atoms and molecules will be up to a hundred thousand years from now, and get your butt out into the great wide open.
Then, do it again"Whatever it was that got you to this school, don’t let it go. Whatever kept you here, don’t let that go." - Robert Krulwich
So you went out and found your epic adventure, and it was...epic. Mythical. Apocryphal, even. Changed the way you love life and experience the world, in a million different ways you never could have predicted. Hold that in your heart and use it for good, my dear heroine. You've got more than one epic adventure in you, and I for one can't wait to see how they turn out.
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Here at the Outdoor Book Club we know that die-hard bibliophiles often have deep-seated anxiety about spending time in the woods (not to mention mountains, meadows, beaches and any other environment without a flushing toilet). Perhaps it's because most of us have spent our entire lives inside. (Who's read the book Room?) Even if we spent our childhoods riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts in the woods or attending summer camp, we haven't really become outdoorswomen. So as we grow into adults, we lose a critical connection to nature that's really hard to re-establish after so many years with a roof constantly over our heads.
But all is not lost. Research shows that nature is an eternal spring of healing for all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual ills. For example:
You're not as big a wimp as you think you are.
You're actually very capable of being the heroine in the book that you've always admired. Nature is perhaps the single best way to reconnect with your inner heroine, with those around you and to the wider world. We simply won't survive long without connection.
But what about all those bugs? And what if I have to pee?
Bugs and peeing in the woods aside, the best advice I can give you about loving the outdoors is to simply decide to take the risk (I can guarantee you it's all mental). Don't argue with yourself, don't try and make excuses, don't worry about if you're doing it right. Just move forward a little bit each time, and it will get easier.
But if you still need some tactics to help you learn to love the outdoors, here are some tips to help make it easier:
You don't need to travel far if you're just starting to learn how to enjoy the outdoors. Walking around the neighborhood is as good a place as any to begin. Or if you're feeling like you need to be the valedictorian of the outdoors (an urge I'm familiar with), find a local hiking trail near your house. Then move up to spending more time outdoors: longer hikes, a camp out in the backyard, and then find a local full-service campground. Each action, each moment you spend outside becomes a stepping stone towards being the wild woman and heroine of your own story that you've always wanted to be.
Bring a friend (and maybe that friend has four legs)
Even if you really enjoy your alone time, there might be times when you need someone else's company (as well as the extra motivation). Bringing your kid(s) along is a great way for the family to connect and create memories, and a there really isn't a better date idea than a long walk along a flowing river.
Read up on the ecosystem where you live.
This will help you better appreciate the natural environment around you. Find out what kind of trees are native to your geographic area and try to find them. Bring along a bird book and some binoculars (you can borrow them from your grandmother). Find out how your local waterways connect together - then toss a stick or flower into the stream, and imagine how it could conceivably end up in the ocean (a great opportunity to reflect on the connectiveness of the Universe).
Bring treats (chocolate works — just don't keep it in your pocket)
So does an artisinal sandwich with all your favorite condiments that no one else likes. Maybe even one of those little bottles of wine, if you want to go down that road (do I have to tell you not to get drunk while hiking/kayaking/bicycling? No? Good.).
Bring a book
Yes. Bring your life preserver, and after you put in a good 30-60 minutes exploring, pick a quiet place and start reading. Soon you'll associate being outside with a healthier sense of well-being, alone time and getting to read your book uninterrupted (now how often does that happen on the couch at home?).
Buy awesome hiking boots
Nothing like a special pair of shoes to get you motivated. I'm particularly fond of Keens for all types of activities. Make sure you find out how to buy hiking boots that make sense for you, depending on what kind of hiking you're planning on doing.
Ride a bike
The thing I love about riding a bike over walking or running is that you cover so much more ground. Plus it's about as close to flying as you'll get without actually leaving the earth or paying money for a plane ticket.
Meditating while outside is like super-charging your meditation practice. You can either meditate while hiking, or find a quiet spot away from any foot traffic, sit down in the leaves or sand, and disconnect from the chaos that is your every day life.
Finally: get over yourself
So you hate being outside. Time to take a serious look at why that is, when so much research shows that as human beings we're wired to be outside, and that according to the New York Times, trying new things is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy.
“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says C. Robert Cloninger, the psychiatrist who developed personality tests for measuring this trait.
Decide that all the stories you've told yourself about how much you hate bugs and sunburn and physical activities are just your ego trying to keep you from doing something awesome.
What are other ways you've found to get yourself or others outside? Share in the comments below.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe