My lifelong outdoors journey

Frangipani flower (Plumeria alba)

My first clear memories of loving the outdoors were at age 5. We were living in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa). Our home was surrounded by tropical fruit trees including a huge almond tree and Frangipani trees. Ever the early morning riser, I’d be outside climbing and playing princess in those trees. Friends would join and we’d spend hours in our imaginative world.

Photocred: Robin Shea Mcgee
ELWA Liberia Lagoon photocred: Robin Shea Mcgee
House Rock photcred: Robin Shea Mcgee

The African tropics allow for so much creative play. Our homes bordered a large rainforest. We’d take surfboards and explore the mangrove trees in the nearby lagoon next to the Atlantic Ocean. Who needed waterslides when we could dig large mountains of sand, cut a small path through and allow the ocean water to make HUGE tunnels for gliding through. There was a large rock we labeled “House Rock.” Each section of the rock was a room in our home, even providing a whirlpool.

16 year old Me near the Indian Ocean Mombasa, Kenya
Mombasa, Kenya

I spent my high school years in Kenya. As a junior at Rift Valley Academy, I traveled to the East African coastal town of Mombasa and learned to sail in the Indian Ocean. This skill came back to help me teach at Honey Rock Camp in the backwoods of Wisconsin for two summers in college. I think I can still remember starboard and port. I might have been hit a few times by the boom while teaching 9 year olds the basics of sailing.

Uhuru Peak 1994
Mt Kilimanjaro, Kenya circa 1994

As an 18 year old, I summited Mt Kilimanjaro for the first time. Woefully unprepared with training and clothing, we looked like marshmallows at Uhuru Peak. I was sick for most of that trek and vowed NEVER to repeat it. Funny how time wipes the memory. Last year, as a 44 year old I climbed that mountain again with Compassion International. This time I not only trained but had ALL the right gear. That trek was a highlight of my year and made me fall in love again with mountain climbing.

Mt Kilimanjaro , TZ 2019
Kebo Hut, Mt. Kilimanjaro, TZ
Gillman’s Point with my Dirty Girl Gaiters
The top of Africa. Uhuru Peak (Notice the change in sign from 1994 to 2019)

College years also brought Europe trekking for 2 months. Living out of a backpack, $20/day and hostel staying thickened my skin. Pre internet and cell phone days, I spent a lot of time in the old red booths calling my then boyfriend, Matt. Outdoor highlights of Europe included trekking parts of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. Ferry rides around Interlaken in Switzerland as well as a long nature walks in Utrecht, the Netherlands cemented my love for the old world of Europe.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands 1997
The Vatican 1997
Mont Blanc faded in the background thanks to film and poor photo storage

I took that love of nature with me to all the homes I lived in around the world. For the past 20 plus years, I’ve had the privilege of living in one of the best states for outdoor activities – Colorado. From the mesas of Grand Junction to the highest peaks near Leadville, I’ve put miles on my hiking shoes.

Hiking St Mary’s Falls, Colorado circa 2006
Trained so hard with my friend Pam Parker. We made it to the top in a record coldest Ascent on the books.

A friend, 20 years ago, introduced me to the Manitou Incline. This one mile vertical trek up Pikes Peak is a lung busting experience. I got into running with a group who’d meet at Wooglin’s Deli every Saturday. Those years were filled with marathon racing and the Pikes Peak Ascent. We added kids and backpacks, making the outdoors a space for our entire family.

Summit County, CO
Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

Family trips to Rocky Mountain National Park and Breckenridge have become favorite journeys for our children. Matt and I, for the past 8 years, have spent a week away hiking the trails of Colorado. We’ve met the best people while on mountain summits. Mountain goat sightings on Mt Quandary and snow packed trails through Aspen created wonder.

My daughter, Caroline, on Mt Quandary, CO

I love how John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist, author and mountaineer describes the impact nature can make for us.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that nature heals. Being outdoors is a living gift. When the four walls of a home start caving in, putting on a pair of shoes and opening the door, getting outside, creates calm and peace.

Ouray, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Step outside today. Find a new path to traverse or walk the old familiar one. Breath in the air and say thank you to our earth, for giving you such joy in existing with the trees, the flowers, the birds, the snow. Stop. Breath in. Breath out. Say thank you. Walk on.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

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