There are so many ways to enjoy time outside. This is one of many unique stories we’re sharing as part of our effort to highlight the Limitless Sides to Outside.
Lots of my friends have experienced the great outdoors from a very young age. They tell me stories of riding dirt bikes through farm fields, or playing in creek beds looking for frogs, or going hunting with several generations of family. My relationship with the outdoors started very differently.
Growing up, my time outside meant not having to do homework. I could go play in the alley with my brothers, ride our bikes off the little ramps that the edges of driveways made, or play football in the streets near our New Jersey home. But no matter what activity I chose, I was always surrounded by cement and streets and cars. And noise, lots of noise.
That all changed for me when I moved to Iowa. People always asked then, “Why did you go from New Jersey to Iowa?!” as if I had committed a crime. Maybe you’re wondering, too. I was recruited to play baseball at a small college that way, and I’m glad I went. Iowa was different. Drive a few miles and you’re lucky if you hit a paved road. Little by little, I started getting introduced to other ways of enjoying the outdoors. I went hunting for the first time ever. I learned that people intentionally slept outside. I hopped on a squishy bicycle with thick, knobby tires and started ripping through the woods. I looked like a long, gangly spider trying to hang upside down on a bouldering wall. I found myself craving time outdoors more and more.
And so, I started riding my bicycle farther. I shot longer distances with my bow. I found joy in finding the perfect campsite. All my focus and desires became about getting outside.
On weekly catchups with my parents, they’d ask me, “Who are you?!” and lovingly tease me about my newfound hobbies. I was addicted.
But slowly, they started to change as well. My brothers would ask me to bring my bow when I visited home. My sister wondered if we could go camping one day. My dad planned a bikepacking trip. Even my mother was willing to lie down in my hammock! They had the same curiosity and awe that I had when I finally got to experience the outdoors.
It came to a pinnacle when my brother joined me on a hiking trip in the Southwest. We hit some of the major sights like Zion, Horseshoe Bend and Valley of Fire, but you know what he was blown away by? Everything. He was in awe of the mountains. He was in shock what kind of view we had after an hour hike. He became obsessed. Even before the trip ended, he began asking me about a backpacking trip—what it would take to go, what he needed to be prepared and how soon we could go on a trip! Ha! He was the first one to call me crazy when I said I was going camping, and now he was hooked.
For me, the outdoors has evolved. It’s less about me and more about others now. I vividly remember my first night seeing stars with no light pollution and pulling over on the side of the interstate just to soak in more of what I glimpsed through my moonroof. I will never forget getting to a tree stand before sunrise, and seeing the forest wake up around me as if it welcomed me as a part of it. I want everyone to share these feelings and epiphanies.
I’ve been told that I am a “broken Black man” because of what I enjoy and what I want others to enjoy. I want to tear down that stigma. Whether you grew up in the concrete jungle or actual jungle, the outdoors has something for everyone. There isn’t a color of skin that qualifies you to enjoy skiing. There isn’t a ZIP code you have to be from to enjoy rock climbing. You don’t have to be a third-generation hunter to enjoy archery. I am a completely different person thanks to being outside, and I hope the same becomes true for you, too.