As I scanned the various landscapes that friends posted on social media for Earth Day, I reflected on how my own love for the outdoors developed. One name came to mind: Bob Kimmell.
Bob, or Mr. Kimmell as I called him growing up, lived across the street from my family. His daughter, Nancy, was a good friend, and he and his wife were close to my parents.
The summer before seventh grade, Bob invited me to go with his family on a week-long backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a brave move, adding a middle school girl to your ambitious outdoor adventure. Now that I’m a parent, I can particularly appreciate the audacity of the invite.
My parents were not outdoorsy. So, our family had no appropriate gear. I borrowed a green canvas Boy Scout backpack from my sister’s boyfriend, and my dad took me to Sports Chalet for some hiking boots. The pack was too large for my frame and the boots, worn only a few times before the hike. (Spoiler alert: blisters ensued.) You get the picture. I was NOT prepared.
Bob was not daunted. He prepared a packing list and helped me procure missing items. The night before our departure, he invited me over to prepare my pack. I stepped on a scale to determine how much weight I could carry. Excess items were discarded, and new items (a portion of the group’s food and water) were added.
Early the next morning, we departed. My parents waved from the driveway, coffee mugs in hand. We had no idea what I was getting in to or how it would change my life.
The trip was as magical. The trip was hard. We bathed in mountain lakes, counted our mosquito bites and soothed our aching feet around each evening’s campfire, and laughed about how bad we smelled after sweating in the same clothes day after day.
I was invited the next year as well.
Often, I’ve reflected on these trips and now realize that they shaped who I am in at least three important ways.
For one, they taught me how strong I am. Many (most) days on the trail, my mind told me I was done walking ... miles before we had reached our destination. But to my surprise, my legs kept moving. I learned to trust my body, and this has allowed me to take on physical challenges ever since. I don’t fear a tough hike or a daunting rope swing. More broadly, I know that I have the ability to push through difficult situations. Yes, I might shed a few tears, but I will keep on.
I also learned that there’s a time and place to care about how I look – and a time and place to care less. Needless to say, I didn’t look good on these trips. My face was sunburned, my hair was frizzy, and my clothes were dirty. And yet, the beauty of the surroundings and the pleasure of the company made any self-consciousness evaporate (which is remarkable for a 13-year-old). Today, I remain someone able to sacrifice the perfect blow out for a walk in the snow or a jump in the Puget Sound. How freeing.
Perhaps most significantly, it was on these trips that I discovered that nothing quiets me more than nature. More often than not, my mind races, and I struggle to stay present. Trees and rivers and night skies filled with stars provide the most trustworthy antidotes. This is why I spent a lot of time outside. This is why I love living in the Pacific Northwest. John Muir said it better: “And into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Lying in bed the other night, I thought about people who have had an outsized impact on my life and wondered whose lives I may have impacted in a deep way.
Mr. Kimmell, you make the short list. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.