Empowerment: The Allure of the Great Outdoors
They say all heartbreaks, no matter how devastating, can be cured by the sea; that nature is good for the soul; that time heals all wounds.
And I agree.
These days, I love to enjoy the outdoors with my daughter, my friends, and my mom. You might even say that being outside has become my prescription for overcoming almost any disappointment. I’m regularly drawn to Bar Harbor, Maine, where the crisp ocean air, and beautiful seaside vistas act as an antidote for my soul.
But it wasn’t always this way.
There was a time when I couldn’t even imagine spending an entire afternoon outdoors, much less an entire weekend; a time when camping or hiking, especially by myself, was way out of my wheelhouse.
You see, I grew up in a tiny town where cows literally outnumbered people and the daily grind of farm life overshadowed the possibility of exploration. It was the type of town where everyone secretly wanted to get away, but no one ever did. It was like we were stuck in a time warp.
A good 40 miles from the nearest shopping mall or McDonalds, our tiny farming community was the kind of place where most children grow up to take over their parent’s farm or small business. Few people go to college and even fewer move away. And I always imagined I’d be one of them.
But when I suddenly found myself in the final chapter of a ten-year relationship, jobless and moving back in with my parents, I finally let wanderlust take hold. I needed to relax. I needed a stiff cocktail.
I needed to transform my life.
So I packed my bag, my meager savings, and my crushed hopes and dreams into my tiny Toyota and headed anywhere but there.
I found myself driving north, to Maine. Even today, I don’t know why I chose it. I didn’t know anything about Maine, but I knew I needed to go somewhere.
One long road trip later and I found myself following a windy road onto Mt. Desert Island, then onward to a local KOA campground. For those who aren’t familiar with Kampgrounds of America (KOA), it’s like “Camping for Dummies” with hot showers, electric sites, and evening arts and crafts.
Sleeping alone, in a tent, as a young woman was a nerve wracking experience all by itself. There were no doors to lock or alarms to set, and although there were people all around, it set me on edge quite a bit. Every voice I heard was a would-be attacker, every footstep was someone headed my way, every twig cracking was the stuff of nightmares.
But I was determined to push the boundaries of my crumbling life. And that night in a crowded campground was the first baby step into taking back control.
Although I admit I may have needed a glass of wine or three to reduce my nerves and allow sleep to come, this night was the first in a series of events I like to call “The time I finally got my S#!t together”.
My point is, stepping out into the wilderness looks different for everyone. For me, it was the beginning of something much bigger. My adventures that week led me to a new identity. Years later I’ve become an avid camper, hiker and fisher-woman. I own a kick-ass pair of hiking boots and a plethora of tattered trail maps. I can’t remember the last time I camped for any length of time in a campground with paved roads and kiddie playgrounds, but I will always remember the first time I lay my head on my borrowed sleeping bag and breathed - really breathed – and felt stronger for it.