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Writers Residency Spotlight: Erin McGrady

We're excited to have Erin join us for our inaugural Writers Residency for underrepresented storytellers!

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Name: Erin McGrady
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Where to find me: Portfolio | Blog | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter 

What’s your day job?
I’m a freelance photographer, writer, content creator, and Squarespace web designer. I work a lot of long hours and most weekends but I love what I do. 

What first drew you to the outdoors?
Fate drew me to the outdoors. Though I was born in South Korea, I was adopted when I was a baby. My parents, two of the most loving people I’ll ever know in this life, happened to live on a small farm in Maryland. They also happened to be outdoor people. We had goats, horses, steer, dogs, cats, a stream to splash in, and plenty of room to ramble ‘round, toss a football, ride bikes, or lay in the grass and watch the clouds. Being outdoors was a way of life and grass stained knees and dirty feet were the order of the day. 

I had my first formal introduction to the National Park system when I was eight. My grandparents took my siblings and me on an RV trip to Shenandoah National Park and I got my first taste of true adventure, trails, and hiking. I’ve been addicted to exploring ever since. 

What are your favorite things to do outside?
Running, either on roads or trails, surfing, riding bikes, walking dogs, sitting by a fire, and drinking a beer. Actually, if you throw in some pizza or ramen, that’s pretty much the perfect day for me.

What’s your favorite hometown adventure?
I like waking up super early, making some coffee, and going for a hike up at one of the nearby balds such as Max Patch or Black Balsam. You’ll get some gorgeous long-range views. It’s a pretty spot for taking photos. After getting my fill up in the mountains, I like to head into town, grab a bite to eat at either Gan Shan West, Wild Ginger, or 12 Bones BBQ, and then end the day with a pint at a local brewery (you’ll probably find me at Wicked Weed, Burial, or the Wedge).

What's on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?
I’m really itching to explore west of the Mississippi River again. There’s a ton of fun things to do in the southeast, we’re spoiled with lots of great outdoor spots, but I’d love to check out Mesa Verde National Park, Lake Mead, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Moab and then slowly make our way towards Salt Lake City and then further north towards Jackson, Wyoming. Of course, if you’re that far, you might as well keep trekking north to Montana and then west to the Pacific Northwest. And heck, once you’ve made it that far, you might as well go on into Canada! Haha, can you tell that I really miss being out on the road?

What advice would you give to someone who is new to the outdoors? 
Get that first trip under your belt. It doesn’t have to be in another country or even in another state. That first trip can be right in your own backyard at a nearby park. Finding the courage to get out there can be difficult to do alone so use the internet and social media to link up with others that share your interest. Then, as you find success with smaller trips and you gain skills, you can start to push yourself to explore alone or further from home.

Who are some writers/photographers/creators who are inspiring you right now?
Andia Winslow - actor, athlete, activist, artist, and adventurer Faith E. Briggs - producer, runner, creator Mosi Smith - ultrarunner and race director Caet Cash - funny, keep-it-real van life traveler and long-distance hiker Caroline Whatley - photographer, dreamer and doer, and my wife.

This has been a challenging year - how have you managed your physical and mental health? Any tips? 
The core of what keeps me balanced and healthy, both physically and mentally, is running. Five days a week I start out my day with a run. I’m not fast but I am consistent. I set my gear and my shoes out the night before so when the alarm goes off I just have to roll out of bed, get dressed, lace-up, and get out the door. I’ve been running for so long that’s it’s just a part of who I am. Rest days can be tough. I just don’t feel like myself unless I’ve put some miles in. 

Mentally, I’ve been keeping up with therapy. I talk to my therapist once every two to three weeks. Those check-ins help me with not only day-to-day things that come up as part of being in the world but also some of the more personal things such as being married to a woman and learning how to have healthy boundaries with people who don’t accept my relationship. The work isn’t easy. I almost always dread my sessions but they’re worth the effort because I constantly learn something new about myself.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the outdoor industry and why is it important to make the outdoors more inclusive? 
The outdoors have had such a positive impact on my life. Some of my most treasured memories are from time spent outside. Those experiences have helped me develop self-confidence, meet new people, deepen existing relationships, and boost my overall happiness. I think it should be a right to access the outdoors, not just a privilege. It’s super important to make the outdoors more inclusive so that everyone can reap the benefits of being out in nature. These experiences can be so powerful, so healing, so life-changing that they should not be kept for just a chosen few but open to anyone and everyone who wants to access them. 

Growing up, I rarely saw people that looked like me in ads, on tv, or in magazines. They were missing in my classrooms, on my sports teams, and in the woods. Slowly, I think that’s changing. And I’m glad about it. It’s a step in the right direction. When you start to see yourself represented, it has a positive impact. I want kids coming up in todays world to see other people that look like them doing things that they can then dream and do. 

What is the biggest challenge (or challenges) you’ve faced in the outdoors? 
The biggest challenge I’ve faced outdoors is to continue to show up in places where I don’t always feel safe. Sometimes it’s seeing a bunch of confederate flags right before arriving at a trailhead. Sometimes it’s a stare or a glare that lasts too long that’s meant to intimidate. Other times it’s more overt like words shouted at you from a car while you’re running or walking down the street. My wife and I are constantly assessing whether a situation is just awkward or whether it’s truly unsafe. It can be a tough call sometimes and in those instances we tend to err on the side of caution but it hasn’t stopped us from returning to the things we love to do outdoors.

What’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you? 
I lived in the Bahamas right after college and worked as an intern at a place called International Field Studies for about a year and a half. I learned to SCUBA dive, went on a couple week-long sailing charters, and made some of the best friends I’ll ever know in this life. 

What would your personal motto be?
Have camera, will travel.

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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