The outdoors are for all

Gray Hughes

There once was a time that I didn’t like to go outside.

This drove people crazy. As a child, if someone asked me if I wanted to go outside, I’d respond: “No, thank you,” and then go back to playing NHL ’99 on my N64 or watching cartoons.

As a young child, the only time I remembered liking to play outside was when I was at my one friend’s house, who had trenches built in his yard so we could pretend we were fighting in World War II.

Yes, like every kid I did go outside. I rode my bike in my neighborhood and played manhunt with my friends in the evening. I liked to go swimming, too. My family was fortunate that we had a pool at our house when I was growing up. But other than that, I much preferred staying inside and playing video games, watching TV or reading a book.

Something changed, though. I think it was my devotion to skiing that got me excited to be outside.

As I have written about before, I am an avid skier. It’s perhaps the thing that I do best in life. A big reason why I selected South Dakota to move to was because of its proximity to affordable skiing in Lead and world-class mountains in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

There’s just something about skiing — being outside, just me and a mountain and nature around me. I feel free when I ski. It might sound cliché, but I honestly feel close to God when I ski, knowing that one move can either propel me down the mountain even faster or send me to a hospital (which I’ve done just once).

Skiing is, by far, my favorite thing to do outside. But my interest in the outdoors evolved from more than that.

Hiking is now my second favorite thing to do (behind skiing). I like how it’s just me, the trail and whomever I am lucky to have with me. I’ve seen some beautiful sights on the trails here — breathtaking vistas, picturesque lakesides and the nearly claustrophobic feeling of trees closing in on me.

It’s through hiking, too, that I feel close to God. I don’t go to church, rather, I like to experience him through being outside, being near what he created. And, purposefully or not, many of my days outside are on Sundays. I’d imagine I get the same feeling many people get when they go to church when I simply take a moment to stand in awe of what’s around me when I’m in the woods — be it on a hiking trail or cutting through some glades when I am skiing.

Being outside calms me. As I have written before, I’m a pretty anxious and nervous person. When I’m outside, all of that melts away, and I feel a sense of calm that often escapes me.

But it’s not just outdoor recreation that made me who I am today. When I was a senior in high school in my AP English class, my teacher dedicated a month to the transcendentalists — mainly Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Reading essays such as “Nature” and “Walking” and the book “Walden” really did change my life and how I view nature.

In college, I studied the two writers extensively, dedicating a large portion of my senior thesis to their works. It’s through studying their writings that got me excited to go outside.

And it’s perhaps because of their writings and the sense of calm that I get when I’m outside why I am passionate about making the outdoors an enjoyable place for all.

I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist. I don’t drive a hybrid car, I eat meat regularly and you should see all the single-use plastic I have in my office. But there are some things I do that, one could argue, are the very same thing environmentalists do. I use reusable sandwich bags, I try to get as much produce locally as I can (be it through a farmer’s market or our garden), I compost and recycle and I support causes, groups and companies that are doing their part to be environmentally sustainable.

I do this all to ensure that our outdoors are as enjoyable as possible. Whether or not you believe in man-made climate change, what’s the harm in ensuring that our outdoors are as clean as possible? No one wants to swim in a polluted lake, river or ocean. No one wants to see or smell trash when on a hike. And no one wants to ski in a place where the air is filled with smog.

I do this all because I want my kids and grandkids to enjoy the outdoors like I have. I want them to be able to swim in the Atlantic Ocean or Chesapeake Bay like I have, hike the Black Hills like I have and ski all the places I’ve skied.

As someone who once hated being outside, I think the outdoors is a place for all. It’s up to us to make sure that happens — and continues.

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