Living on the Outside

Photo by Wendy Smith

All my life, I’ve considered myself an outdoors person. My family camped, fished, and hunted. My brothers and I would leave the house in daylight and return by dark covered in mud and scrapes after spending all day outside in the forests around our house. Even winters were spent outdoors sledding, making snowmen, forts, and having snowball fights. Even after my brothers moved away, I spent hours hiking and running in the forest by myself. At some point in my life, that part of me got buried as I moved from the forests to the deserts–where the outdoors were unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Eventually, I gave in to the couch-potato lifestyle of remaining indoors with the comfort of air conditioning, rarely spending time outside. That outdoors person got buried. Over and over again I tried to dig her out, but getting back to the outdoors grew more difficult–especially as my size grew bigger. I feared ridicule and disgusted stares.

In August, I attended an outdoor writers’ conference, and it was difficult being the only woman in the room not a size 9 or smaller. I don’t look like an outdoors person: I don’t have a deep tan or chiseled muscles; I don’t climb or hike for days; I don’t run; I’m not hardcore, which at times seems required to belong to a crowd like that, but I do walk, hike, observe wildlife, fish, camp, backpack, and try new outdoor adventures–even if it is more physically demanding for me than for the average person. In fact, a few weekends ago, I went river kayaking for the first time.

Photo by Carolyn Kaiser

I have to admit…I was scared…not of drowning or tipping over in the water…but of failing to keep up with my companions and of what other people would think about a large woman floating down a river in an inflatable kayak.

I imagined people staring and thinking that I didn’t belong there. I imagined people laughing or feeling embarrassed for me as I struggled to get in and out of my kayak. Of course, now that I did it, it was silly to be afraid. Yes, it was a bit embarrassing falling in the water several times while getting in and out of my kayak, but seriously, I was laughing so hard it didn’t matter what others thought.

Going down that river, facing my fears and tackling the bits of rough water without dumping my gear, calmed my mind and built my confidence. It taught me that what other people think of me really doesn’t matter. What matters is how I feel about myself, and I’m pretty proud of who I am, and eventually, if I keep moving, my body will fall in line with my demands.

For now, I am learning to block those negative voices in my head, and I am learning to be who I am even if I don’t look the part. No, I don’t have the ability to keep up with those women in that conference room…not yet…but what I do have is courage and blind determination to live my life being true to who I really am.

~ K