I had two options. Either choose to be upset that my plans to summit Mount Hood had become all but a dream...again. Or choose to be content with a different adventure. An adventure at home.
Stepping into the world of mountaineering is something I’ve dreamed of doing for quite some time, but never really found the courage or carved out the time to conquer it. After some significant life changes toward the end of 2019, I finally decided that 2020 was my year to conquer not only mountains, but begin to uncover and explore sides of myself that I had buried for so long.
My flights were booked, new AKU SuperAlp GXT boots were broken in and ready for crampons, all the YouTube videos on glacier techniques watched, training plan prepped, my experienced friends on board. And then…global pandemic.
Clearly the universe had different plans for me, as it's had for everyone. I grieved. It took a lot to remind myself that I should still take some time off work to rest. So I kept part of my vacation time and spent two days exploring nature preserves right in my backyard.
Southeastern Pennsylvania, Chester County in particular, is surprisingly packed with preserved green space – wide open fields, rolling hills, beautiful horse farms, pockets of old growth trees. Back in 1989, residents voted to raise $50 million to stop urban sprawl and protect the open space they loved so much. Today, more than 30% of Chester County’s land is protected as open space. The public green spaces and nature preserves have become part of the fabric of what makes the area what it is.
Not only does preserving green space bode well for the residents, it actually fuels the economy of the area. According to a county commissioner report, homes are more expensive when they are close to protected open space, it creates jobs, and attracts people to live there.
I could rattle off a list of maybe 20 places I could go within an hour’s drive. Because of this, many of these places are somewhat hidden – so you have a better opportunity to experience nature without the crowds. Even stretching into Delaware – you have a couple of really nice parks within close proximity.
I’ve never been a creature of habit – always striving to find new places and never wanting to go back to something I’ve already experienced before. But given the situation we faced, my inner self was calling for a change and the pandemic intensified that feeling.
I found myself drawn to walk in the same woods, protected on West Chester University’s campus, 4-5 times a week. It was an escape from the house, where we now work, sleep, eat, and play. I had started feeling comforted by the habit of walking the same trail. My senses heightened - noticing slight changes in trees, leaves, layers of sunlight at different times of the day, the varied songs of the common Wood Thrush.
I had the day off and I decided to take my usual walk in the local woods. But this time, I parked at a different entrance with the intention to walk the paved path - mainly because I just gave my dog, Turk, a bath the day before. Surprise, surprise - 30 seconds later Turk disappeared down a hidden trail. I turned the corner to see him fully submerged in a creek, deviously smiling at me. We ended up following that creek all the way down to this somewhat secret and magical bamboo forest. I quickly realized that my waterproof AKU boots were excellent for wading through ankle high water like this, without having to worry about my feet getting wet.
The bamboo forest seemed to be a little less touched by humans than the other trails. The thick bamboo stalks, some maybe four inches across, had clearly been left alone for quite a long time. I walked up on the bank and snuck through the forest looking up at their tall leaves, happy to have found this hidden gem.
Finding this bamboo forest, and a small new trail on the woods that I walk almost every day felt a bit exhilarating. I felt a small sense of adventure in the simple act of taking a different path in a familiar environment.
Every day in the same woods has offered a different perspective. A new leaf. A newly fallen branch in the path. An unfamiliar bird call. An untouched bamboo forest.
It wasn't the big, macro adventure I imagined, but it was a micro-adventure that I appreciated right in my own backyard. The quarantine allowed me the time and space I unknowingly needed to explore new spaces so close to home.
There are a lot of plans and dreams across the world that have been thwarted. But we can choose alternatives. We can choose to see the luminosity of what used to be considered dull. We can choose to come out the other side of this pandemic transformed in each of our own ways. Whatever you choose to do, do it in ways that serve yourself and serve others around you. Choose love over fear. Choose exploration over stagnancy. Choose to see your monotonous surroundings in new and different ways.
Adventure doesn’t have to be that big trip you were going to take across the country. It can be small. It can right in your backyard. And it can be on the same trails you walk every day. There is so much beauty in recognizing the small, seasonal evolutions of woods in which I am most familiar. I have found so much joy in creating a habit of walking in the same woods – a habit that I had always been reluctant to grasp – and I’m so glad I did.