Feel, Just Feel

This article was originally published in the March 2017 edition of Lake Norman Currents.


Will a change (in scenery, latitude, longitude, elevation, etc.) really do us good?


To all the creatures of habit out there, to those who feel comfortable in the safety, security and predictability of their regimented day, to those who shun spontaneity, and to those who sit (willingly or otherwise) each day in their metal, four-wheeled internal combustion engine-powered machines pointed north or south depending on what hour the clock reads, I’m here to tell you a change, with a focus on the great outdoors, will do you good.


To begin, let’s agree that hearing the words “great outdoors” might call to mind a wide variety of feelings and emotions. Think that person, not you, who exudes amazement while standing on top of a mountain gazing over the horizon to the world below. Or that person, again, not you, standing peacefully alongside a bubbling brook which parallels an empty trail. And think about that person, surely not you, showing the fear and distress that comes with the certainty of you having to suck the venom from your buddy’s ankle after a poisonous snake latched on deep in the woods if you want to save his life.


Nature and the great outdoors? Perhaps, perhaps not.


Realizing that someone like me who spends most of his day hunched over a keyboard in an office lit by florescent light might not be the best person to give advice on getting outdoors, and to reignite my sense of wanderlust, I sat down for a simple chat with Lee and Ale Warden, co-owners of Brushy Mountain Outdoors in Mooresville. Having their huge white Simoyan, Aspen, sitting and howling alongside, was a bonus.


Lee and Ale live by the motto “Life is better outdoors,” and both were quick to point out that the outdoors, more than simply a physical location, is a feeling or approach to life that isn’t too far outside our reach.


“Getting outdoors, getting into nature, getting away from everything, resets me. It allows me to feel more alive,” Lee Warden explained to me when I asked him about what pulls him to explore and experience. “It’s just a different viewpoint, a different pace out there that we all need if we are to be able to put in perspective our everyday lives.”


“And what is special about the outdoors is that everyone experiences it differently,” Ale added. “If you are the competitive guy type, it can push you to get out of your comfort zone if you aren’t prepared, and if you are the goal-setting type, it can add a whole new dimension to how you feel accomplishment.”


I told Lee and Ale that I have been lured and tempted by the promise of the outdoors in two very different, yet related ways at various times of my life.


In the early seasons of the television show “Survivor,” I fantasized about lounging on a beach, eating tropical fruits and occasionally having to do some physical test of skill and gamesmanship while having only to endure the weird and wacky outbursts of a handful of folks wholly different than me for 30 days before flying home with a cool million. But when I learned about all the sleep deprivation and illnesses, plus the backstabbing and rice robbing that happens within tribes, not to mention all contest tie breakers coming down to having to start a fire without matches, I gave up on the dream. And I’m an Eagle Scout.


In the more modern sense, I told them I do still feel a pull to experience the outdoors – through hiking the Appalachian Trail, BASE jumping, kayaking a Class V rapid, catching a salmon, ice climbing northern Canada, wind suit flying, first descent snowboarding, fly fishing Montana, climbing Colorado’s 14-ers, big wave surfing the Pacific, kite-surfing the Caribbean, mountaineering Alaska’s Chugach mountains, wrestling a bear – but that pull has become tainted by things like age and responsibility, plus not having either long hair, a full beard or enough tattoos to help me blend in with the zebras of the African wildlands. So I’m happy enough to watch documentaries and read about these adventures in outdoor magazines.


“Getting outdoors doesn’t have to be a grand adventure,” Lee explained. “It doesn’t have to be the Rocky Mountains, for example. It could be the Pisgah National Forest, Grayson’s Highlands, Stone Mountain or even a day hike to Linville Gorge. It’s just about getting to experience more than you do in your everyday life.”


I then played devil’s advocate and suggested to Lee that I have done fairly well on my path of life never having had to use a tourniquet, saline tablets, a snake bite kit or even a hastily prepared first aid kit, and it’s not too often that I am dehydrated or have to reach painfully for a bottle of aloe vera after a long day on the trail.


“But where do you go and what do you do to feel free and alive?” he asked me. “Being on a trail or out in nature where you can’t see or feel anything else, I think, is necessary to creating that separation and freedom. When was the last time you stood somewhere, anywhere, in awe and feeling small at the sight in front of you?”


Great questions. Nature, I learned from Lee and Ale, has a way of making us all feel small and for that, I argue, we need to get out of town, get outdoors and feel, just feel.