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A Story For the Folks Who Never Thought They’d Be "Outdoorsy"

The journey from city girl to outdoors enthusiast was an unexpected one. But in the process, I found out who I really was.

By: Sheena Shahangian + Save to a List

I distinctly remember the nagging pit in my stomach when my husband Ed told me he got the job offer in Colorado. I was excited, yes. Thrilled, even. But that nagging pit wouldn't leave me alone. You see, I'd spent most of my life in the southeastern United States. We both had. Ed grew up with parents who'd take him hiking and camping regularly. I grew up in a suburb north of Atlanta, and mostly liked to spend my free time in cute coffee shops or driving down the freeway admiring the city lights. I didn't grow up in a particularly outdoorsy family, and frankly I was okay with that. I loved my upbringing, and didn't really think anything of the fact that I hadn't gone on backpacking trips or camped beneath the stars. My outdoors excursions typically involved playing random games in my friends' yards growing up. Perhaps making the tiny trek out into the woods behind my childhood home to build a fort or explore the creek. However, that was the extent of it. The wilderness, to be frank, scared me a little. 

I suppose part of that is the fact that, as a woman, I feel like I have to be hyper-aware of my surroundings. Hiking trails and wooded terrain seemed dangerous, and the risk never quite seemed worth the reward. There weren't many epic mountain views in Georgia (or so I thought), and many of the places where mountains did exist, I didn't always feel safe or comfortable traveling to. Which brings us back to Colorado. I was so excited for us to be moving to a place where people loved to be active, and where there was more of a culture of acceptance than I'd grown up to experience in Georgia. That culture played a huge part in us wanting to leave the southeast. 

But what I wasn't prepared for? The vast wilderness. The sweeping mountains. The rugged terrain. It's funny, I'm laughing a little just thinking about this, given how much of my time I spend in these outdoors spaces now. And given the fact that the wild terrain seems to be the reason most people choose to move out to Colorado in the first place. To this point, though, the only real, true "hiking" I'd done involved a hike we did in the Columbia River Gorge about a year prior, where I literally was crawling on all fours because I was terrified of the steep drop-offs on the trail. Needless to say, while I loved nature and cared deeply about the environment, "outdoorsy" wasn't a word I'd used to describe myself. Not by a long shot. The wilderness represented the unknown. The untamed. The unfiltered. I liked the organization and safety that came with carefully planned out city streets, with their timed crosswalks and shining glass windows. There was safety and solace in that. I thought I already knew my happy place, and it certainly did not include the unknown mountain world.

The year we moved to Colorado changed me, though. That year, we not only explored a state I'm so thankful to call home, but we also adventured to so many other incredible places in the mountain west. Like I said earlier, Ed grew up exploring the outdoors, and he wanted to make sure we fully immersed ourselves in the landscape of our new home. I obliged, not realizing what would happen when I felt my boots sinking into the earth with each step on the trails. Not recognizing the transformation that would happen when I'd experience what it was like to hike 10 miles and end up at a secluded alpine lake where we could soak up the sunrise in silence. Not believing that these landscapes that terrified me for the longest time would become the place I actually felt most at home.

From the red dirt deserts of Utah to the mesmerizing peaks of northwest Montana, we saw places that truly blew my mind and showed me that there was so much more to the outdoors than stretches of highways lined with endless miles of pine trees, like I'd grown accustomed to in Georgia. I saw what it was like to see for miles endlessly in every direction. I felt the scarcity of air in my lungs as I hiked at 12,000 feet. I experienced a sky full of stars, without the pollution of city lights obstructing the view (I couldn't believe I'd gone so long in life without doing that). I discovered that my favorite smell was quite possibly the smell of my clothes after I'd sat by a campfire for hours roasting marshmallows. I found myself craving early mornings on the trail, not a soul in sight, with my headlamp illuminating the path before me. I remember growing up in Georgia and never quite feeling like it was home. But within a few months of living in Colorado, I'd felt like I'd connected with a place that understood me. 

If you would have told me a few months before the move that I'd be wanting to spend every waking moment in the mountains, I would have laughed in your face. I remember when Ed was first interviewing for his job out here. I asked him to do me a favor and check out the local coffee shops. That was my priority. It's crazy to think how things have shifted. And while much has changed over the years since our move to Colorado, that's not really the point. The older I get, the more I realize how quick we are, as a society, to put people in a box. We define each other by what we like to do. How we spend our free time. What sports we've played. What places we've traveled to. I, too, was put in a box. I figured, hey, I'm the city type. That's what everyone expects of me. It's all I'll ever be, I suppose. There was confusion from people when I told people we were moving to Colorado. Why there? That doesn't seem like your vibe.

To be honest, I didn't really give it a second thought. I was the city girl, wasn't I? But over the course of a few months, after we'd begun exploring the trails and wandering through the Rocky Mountains, I started to realize that I couldn't care less about being in the city. It's funny how Denver is just about the last place I ever want to hang out now. I'd much rather be hanging out amongst the wildflowers in Crested Butte in the middle of the summer. Or watching the leaves change color from an overlook in Telluride. I still love a good coffee shop, don't get me wrong. But I'd be equally happy, if not more so, to drink it from outside my tent at one of my favorite campsites 30 minutes up a mountain pass near Buena Vista. 

It's pretty wild to me who we can become when people aren't making assumptions about who we already are. I think I had the benefit of moving to a place where I didn't know a soul. No preconceived notions about the things I liked or didn't like. It was a clean slate. But it's not so easy for everyone. Not everyone has a cross country move they can use to discover a whole new side of themselves. I was lucky in another sense, too. The people of Colorado embraced this city girl and turned her into someone who craved the mountains more than anything. They made a space that felt terrifying to me feel comfortable and safe, and that's a thing I'll forever be grateful for. I honestly don't know who I'd be without the Rocky Mountains. They truly feel like a part of my soul. 

Every step of the way, there was someone willing to share their love for the outdoors with me, the girl who knew nothing. And now I've been able to share that knowledge with others, too. It's this beautiful chain reaction. Every dumb question I ever had about the outdoors, there was someone who was willing to listen, without judgments, and teach. They didn't owe me anything, but they gave me everything. All of this to say, thank you. Thank you to every person out there who has taken the time to slow down and help the person who knows nothing about the outdoors. Thank you for explaining the difference between the different hiking boots in the store when you see someone struggling to figure out what makes each pair so special. Thank you to the people who pause on the trail to help a confused hiker who's not sure if they're going the right way, because they didn't know to download an offline map of the route. Thank you if you are, or have ever been, that person. You, quite literally, could be the reason someone like myself loves the outdoors. And I can tell you firsthand, that's not something they'll forget.

So when you're out on the trails next, just remember that there's probably some city girl somewhere in the mix. She likely doesn't know what she's doing, and there's a chance she's nervous and scared. But one day, that city girl could very well trade in her cute heels for a pair of waterproof boots. And, believe it or not, you might just have the power in helping that person not feel judged, but rather accepted, as they discover a part of themselves that they never thought they'd know.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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