I was not what most people would call “outdoorsy.” As a matter of fact, I actively avoided it. All that the great outdoors had to offer me were sunburns and bug bites, or so I thought.
My college roommate basically grew up camping. She adored everything outside. She even liked backpacking. She was convinced that I only held my antiquated impressions because I had never done outside “right,” but — to her credit — she respected my stance and did not push it. However, she did continue to shower me in stories of her adventures that seemed to borderline fantastical. These included photographs of isolated mountain views, rushing waterfalls, dark desert nights and trees. Lots and lots of trees. I became very interested, so when she invited me on a hike I decided to try something new.
Little did either of us know that we’d be hiking up a mountain. I can’t really call it climbing, as I didn’t actually use my hands to pull myself up, but holy cow, did it feel like climbing. My out-of-shape rear was not prepared for it as I half jogged up, wheezing all the way, in an attempt to keep up with her. It was one of my first outings with my new roommate where she was sharing a important part of her life with me. I couldn’t seem like a wimp. The funny part, I learned later, was that the hike wiped her out as well, but she didn’t want to scare me away.
Once I got over the initial shock of the upward ascent, I was able to look around me and was trapped in an awe that stays with me to this day. Everything was green, alive, and everywhere. The sun peaked out of the clouds to fall between the leaves, casting us in dappled sunlight. Fallen logs broke apart the surreal scene to remind us that the forest is alive, changing, new every time.
Then we were climbing again, and — even though it was hard — I kept my eyes up, willing to risk falling onto my face to be able to commit my surroundings to memory.
People crossed paths with us. Some with friends, some with lovers, some running laps around us with their dogs, all with smiles to give. I’m not sure I had or have to this day encountered as many friendly, helpful people in one place. We were all there for the same reason, and that reason was to step away and enjoy. Later I asked my roommate if that was normal. Apparently yes, it’s like that wherever you go.
I have only had a few experiences that have stuck with me with a strong sense of success, that I accomplished something. Getting home after that hike was one of those moments. My roommate pulled into the parking spot, we hadn’t said a word to each other on the drive home — we were far too exhausted — but she mustered enough brain power to ask me to think about how I felt about the experience. Not to give an answer, but to just think. I knew the answer right then. I felt good. I was tired and didn’t want to do it again right away, but I wanted to go back sometime soon. I felt so accomplished, I had actually survived that hike. I felt powerful and mystified, those images still running through my head. I wanted to see more. Never had I seen such beauty, or come across such a welcoming community, and I felt like I made my roommate — this person whose opinion I care greatly about — proud.
I can’t say that I regret not having experienced the outdoors before, because if I had I wouldn’t have this memory with my best friend, but I do find myself pining for it. All of the places I could have already seen! The communities I could have joined! All of the things I could have learned about myself… oh well, better late then never! - Toria Van Horst
Toria is in much better shape now that she has included hiking to her list of hobbies. She has also picked up camping and kayaking, and is eager to add even more outdoor activities to her list. This winter she is planning on taking to the slopes by skiing, but before that she is going to tackle this hike one more time.