Outdoor Guilt.

       “I should go for a walk, no that’s dumb, go for a quick hike… I wonder if I could summit something before sundown…. Shelby, it’s 5 in the evening. Jeez, you’re so lazy you haven’t done anything outside all weekend…I’m just so tired…wait a god damn minute! I skied for like 2 hours today and went to a cookout. I spent like 4 hours at the lake yesterday, I gardened, I went to Mule days!” 

     A million thoughts a millisecond is typically what my brain runs at. We won’t talk about my self-talk, I save that special for my therapist. But this, this thought process is one I have almost every day and have been wanting to write about for an eternity. 

 Outdoor Guilt. That’s what I have named it. 

     We’re told to get outside every day, challenge our fears, get uncomfortable, and do something worth writing home about! “An outdoor life is a life well lived”, thank you REI. 

     I’m not saying they’re wrong by any means, in fact, it’s something I’ve dedicated my life to spreading and inspiring others to do, but what happens when it becomes unhealthy? 

      The outdoor community on the outside can often seem unambitious, lazy, bummy, etc. I don’t blame others for seeing our small world that way, given most of us have upwards of 6 roommates, no health insurance, with little to no retirement plan. We don’t participate in the rat race, our breed wasn’t meant to and that can seem unsuccessful to the outside eye. 

     Now, if you are in the thick of it, whoa buddy you and I both know that could not be anything farther from the truth. There is this insane pace that we run at, objectives that are so intense you choke on just the thought of trying them. The expectation is to trail run during the week after work that way you can summit that 14’er on Saturday and still have a “lazy” crag day of climbing on Sunday…yeah. 

      Now, I understand I am speaking from my microcosm of the outdoor community. There are plenty of different ways to live a life outdoors, but this has been my experience from the beginning and if you’ve been here long enough know that my expectations and effort of anything are either 0 or 100 there is no in-between for this dirty footed gal. 

     My question; where the fuck does this guilt come from?! I’ve had enough conversations with fellow dirtbags to know I’m not alone. I think I’ve come up with a few possible answers. 

   1. Expectations over time. You start off going for a hike, it’s amazing you feel great, and you decide to pursue this life. You start backpacking, one overnight and you’re hooked. Backpacking is cool, but in trail running, you can cover the same mileage without the pack. Next thing you know you’re disappointing your parents by buying an old sprinter van with 200,000 miles on it, moving across the country to climb in Indian Creek in November, raft the Grand in February, peak bag summits in the summer, and you’re 28 and haven’t seen a doctor or dentist in 6 years. 

      It’s a slippery slope. Constantly trying to get more and it feels almost sacrilege to just go for a walk in the neighborhood when last weekend you did 20 miles. Guilt. 

 2. It’s always there. The outdoors isn’t going anywhere…I mean it actually is, which makes this point even more relevant, but stick with me here. The outdoors is not an event like a concert or a restaurant that has specific hours. I have had the undeniable privilege (that I intentionally and specifically worked my ass off towards) to live in breathtaking places. Places where I can get world-class hikes that lie in the heart of a place that inspired writers like Tolkien and John Muir just to name two. You would also feel like an ungrateful little brat if you ever said “ugh, but Yosemite is like a 45-minute drive AND we have to pay to get in… let’s just watch True Crime and make poutine for dinner”. Especially when you know in the back of your head that our beloved outdoor space is slowly slipping out of our hands.  

3. Burn Out!! Oh man, burnout in our world looks a lot different than the rat race. What do you do when you are burnt out from work and the thing that you would do to reset from the burnout is doing the thing you’re burnt out on. My favorite is when your burnout includes your body shutting down because you just did a job that requires more physical activity than 90% of the American population partakes in. This go-just-send-it attitude followed by a complete crash, it’s demoralizing. 

Honestly, I could only come up with three. 

    I have had to train myself to put down the anxiety that surrounds my lack of participation in the outdoors, especially the grandiose ones. I have had to train myself to re-see the outdoors. To remind myself that sitting on June Lake beach with my friends in the sun is still getting outside, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going for a walk in the neighborhood. Even more importantly, remind myself that there is nothing wrong with just staying home and eating poutine. 

      I’ve used the term “we” a lot. I know I can only write from my perspective, but I have found that I’m not alone in this outdoor guilt. The outdoors is an indescribable entity that more people have tried to make tangible than anything else in history. There is no reason we should feel guilty about anything that is special. Now go and spend some time on your porch singing back to the birds and let it all be free of guilt. 

Shelby Lynn 

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