“In the end, we conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~baba dioum
Blue skies, cool breeze, birds chirping, leaves softly blowing. I have always loved the outdoors. As a small child, I loved to be outside, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the leaves rustling, watching cloud animals form and our dog investigate the bugs and gardens. I learned to appreciate it even more when I was stuck inside the hospital for 16 days
during one particularly brutal chemo session and subsequent infection. After day 10, I freaked out on my oncologist, begging to be allowed outside for fresh air (he agreed). After that episode, I find myself needing fresh air after a few hours in air conditioning and appreciating the ability to be active outdoors.
Being active has always been my lifestyle, whether at the gym or outdoors. I like it best when I can incorporate nature with getting physical. Biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, walking, gardening (yes this is activity…all those squats!). Love it all. After cancer treatment ended, I really craved being outdoors. So I found opportunities to do just that.
My first foray into the School for Outdoor Leadership, Adventure & Recreation (aka, S.O.L.A.R.) were a few weekly hikes where I could causally meet some members and gauge my interest in learning more and meeting more people. I then attended one of the general membership meetings (held the first Tuesday of every month). Anyone is welcome at these meetings. The people I’d met on the hike greeted me at the meeting and introduced me to others. I was impressed enough with their offerings and friendliness that I became a member…and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
S.O.L.A.R. describes itself as a “loosely formed volunteer club made up of people who enjoy the outdoors.” While S.O.L.A.R. is a nonprofit member organization, has bylaws, low membership dues and an elected Steering Committee, it mostly serves as a forum for members to volunteer to run classes, host activities and organize trips. There is always a full calendar! There are fees for the classes and most trips/activities (usually reasonable). For me, and for most (all?) of the members, it’s an organization that offers an opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people sharing similar interests and have fun!
A few months into my membership, I registered for the spring backpacking class, which teaches an overview of outdoor camping and backpacking skills – from choosing hiking boots to choosing a tent to choosing clothing for the trail, basic navigational skills, food options, using a backpacking stove and water filter, hygiene on the trails and basic first aid in backcountry. It was a lot to take in but the class sessions were mingled with outdoor, hands-on activities and two weekend practicals where we all traipsed onto the trails to test our new skills. I found the class a lot of fun.
On my group’s hike out of the Huron Manistee National Forest during our second practical, I found myself agreeing to run for an elected position on the organization’s steering committee (I blamed it on caffeine withdrawal!). The following spring I became an instructor in the same backpacking class.
I’ve taken classes to learn important skills, such as land navigation, search and rescue, wilderness first aid and tying knots. I taught other women how to pee in the woods (yes I still hate doing it but it’s a reality), giggled despite freezing temps and played games on minimal sleep because an entire class looked to me for smiles and enthusiasm. I learned to ask for help carrying items when my backpack load became too much for my titanium knee and lost track of how many times I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. I also have served in several positions on the steering committee, helping make decisions for the future of the club and bring awareness to the greater public.
While I’m sure there are moments that I’m the girliest girl in the club (yep, I carry a small brush with me during trips), I’m also proud of the skills I’ve learned that allow me to hold my own with more outdoorsy men and women, the laughter that comes during even the most annoying situation (freezing temps and stuck on an island during a storm), the activities I’ve tried and leadership traits that improved through my involvement with the club.
S.O.L.A.R. is probably one of the few organizations that age, race, education and occupation doesn’t much matter. When you’re on the trails or floating down a river, no one cares whether you’re a teacher, business owner or engineer. (Although I suppose some of these occupations come in handy for how easily one learns a new skill or can explain that skill to another.) Since joining S.O.L.A.R., I’ve made many great friends. It is a great place to meet people you have at least one thing in common with (love of outdoors), and hopefully it will blossom into many things. While at first I categorized some as my “S.O.L.A.R.” friends, they have since simply become friends.
If you are looking for other great outdoor organizations, check out the variety of groups on Meetup.com. This online resource boasts hundreds of groups, not just focused on outdoors (dining, games, dog walking, singles, etc). Since my focus today is on being active outdoors, I’ll stick with that. Whether you are interested in kayaking or rock climbing or cycling or a group that does it all, you’ll find it on Meetup.com. Here are two other groups that I’m most familiar with:
Michigan Adventurers Club (aka, MAC)– I joined this group to meet new friends and check out their adventures (most of the members are in their 20s and 30s but it’s not exclusive). I’ve done that and more (Justin
and I met during a MAC yoga session!). I’m impressed with the wide variety of calendar listings – from local hikes to free intro to backpacking workshops to canoeing to backpacking trips, there is simply no excuse for sitting on your butt! MAC members are newbies and experienced; all are welcome. MAC organizers also coordinate “Meet & Greet” happy hour events at local bars/restaurants for members to socialize in a relaxed atmosphere. I’ve met some really great folks and enjoyed some fun outings with MAC. This group is free to join, but a $10 fee is due if you participate on overnight trips. You may encounter additional fees for various activities.
Michigan Camping, Hiking & Outdoor Meetup (MICHOM) – This group is focused on offering adventures for young adults in their 20s and 30s. I’ve only participated in a few of these outings but enjoyed each one. Very welcoming people. This group is $5 per year to join; you may encounter additional fees for various activities.
My activity level for these groups fluctuates, as I guess others’ does too, depending on life. I foresee myself involved in these groups for years to come, although I suppose I’ll “age out” of the MICHOM group eventually (no one disclose when that will be!).
I’ve joked that I could be busy almost every day if I participated in all the activities these groups offer….wishful thinking by me since ‘real life’ beckons too often. But in the meantime, these great groups offer opportunities to hang out with fun, outdoorsy, active people and experience many new adventures when I can. And since life is truly an adventure, it sounds like a sensible plan for me!