The Great Outdoors

It's been awhile since I posted here. Life was life, and I needed a break. Over the past few months, I have felt compelled to share again. I wasn't sure how, and tried a few avenues. First, I resurrected an old blog about quilting. Quilting is something I really enjoy doing; however, I just never seem to find my niche in blogging about it. Additionally, my quilting goes in spurts, which doesn't lend itself well to regular posts.

One thing that has been important to me over the past year has been finding ways to stay mentally and physically healthy. As I reflected on that this month, I realized that simple living is a really important part of that. I contemplated (even started) a blog on health and fitness, but after reading what is out there, realized that wasn't my message.

My message continues to be simple living. And simple living includes finding ways to stay mentally and physically healthy. In fact, I think simple living is a great contributor to staying mentally and physically healthy.

Thus, I'm writing again. My goal is to share ways that work for me in my journey towards simple living, and positive mental and physical health.

You've probably already noticed the title of this post - The Great Outdoors. I'm incredibly drawn to being outside. The sun, the sky, the colors, the sense of freedom and space. I find it peaceful, a stress reliever, and a source of enjoyment. This is nothing new for me, I have felt its pull all my life. During the summers of my youth, we spent weeks at a campground. Weeks that involved running around outside with friends, swimming in a pond, sunbathing on increasingly hot grass, reading in a hammock or lawn chair, biking country roads, walking to meet friends, running through a cornfield, sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows or just talking.

As we started our own family, we continued to go camping, although this time in a tent. If it wasn't raining too hard, we were outside biking, swimming and hiking. At home, we biked all over our neighborhood and on the nearby trail. We played in the backyard, went to the beach, drew sidewalk chalk pictures on the driveway. Our family vacations were planned around beaches.

As my corporate job has become more and more stressful and intense, I hunger more and more to be outside. Winter in Wisconsin is fickle. Cold, snow, deep freeze, then mild temps and repeat the cycle. I'm not a skier, but when there is snow, I'll happily snow shoe for a few hours.

Last fall, my husband and I were lamenting the fact that winter was coming and our usual exercise of running and biking outdoors would be severely curtailed. I'm a fair weather biker - sunny and over 55 degrees, and I'll bike outside. Anything colder and I am not having fun. My husband has had a couple of injuries running outside in the ice and snow, so he turns to the treadmill in the winter - no where near as enjoyable.

Our discussion was beginning to focus on moving to a warmer winter climate, which is not possible in the near future, when I came upon the idea of hiking. Hiking could be done in almost any weather from November through April. We are both at the same skill level. There are many trails near our house, and it's easy to find places to hike in the state and county parks. There are even 40 acres of woods in the middle of our subdivision. That is how a pair of hiking boots ended up under the Christmas tree for me.

Yes, it takes a deliberate step to get out of the house.  But throw a pair of hiking boots on and that's it. You can hike in so many parks and trails, that it isn't hard to find a place to hike. Our very first hike was about 20 minutes away on a trail that we had seen, but not been on. It turns out, it is part of the Ice Age Trail.

The Ice Age Trail weaves through Wisconsin and commemorates the unique landscape we have here courtesy of the retreating glaciers. In most areas, the glaciers left beautiful hills, valleys, dells, Eskers (below), Drumlins, lakes and streams. The topography of our state is really beautiful and a wonder to explore while hiking.

The weather was gray and overcast - no problem. Waterproof boots, layered clothing and we were off. The trail was slightly steep and winding up a hill, just enough of a challenge to keep from getting bored. The leaves were almost all off the trees, providing us with a rich tapestry to walk on. A few other people were out, but never in our way.

Since we knew we had to hike back to the car, we only went about 45 minutes out, but it was exhilarating! Working in an office all day, being outside is such a gift to me.

A few weeks later we picked up on the bottom part of that same segment of the trail and we were amazed to see this waterfall tucked in the hillside. OK, this is 20 minutes from our house, a house we lived in for 25 years, and we never knew about it!

Further along, the sun glinted off the the river that meandered along the trail. Or should I say, the trail meandered along the river. In one spot, a really unique bridge was built to cross the river - it almost looked like a fort.

We have since hiked five segments of the Ice Age trail, all within a half hour of our house. The landscape is rather brown, but there are treasures to find - cranes, scenic views, and of course waterfalls.

On a glorious sunny, 40 degree day in January, we found a short trail in a county park near our house that we had never been on. It was a little icy, but the beauty of the half frozen creek made up for it. We also made a quick side trip on the way to our land one weekend to visit a state park we hadn't been to before. The road into the park went right through the surrounding lakes providing for a neat surprise. The trail wasn't difficult, and we learned what Barrens are (level meadows with thin stands of trees and bushes). Each trail we have been on seems to have some geography and history lessons posted on signs along the way.

These adventures could be completely free if you already own hiking boots. I didn't, but I found a very reasonable pair during the pre-Christmas sales. They have made all the difference compared to hiking in tennis shoes, which I used to do. The ankle support gives me confidence and obviously helps prevent injuries. The weather proof bottoms have been invaluable as the last two trips have included a lot of slogging through mud.

The mental and physical aspects of this exercise are both a win win. My head clears out, my stress lessens, my body gets stronger and the fresh air fills my lungs. I can stop and slow down, I can speed up and make it more challenging. It is has tons of flexibility.

I'm hooked, I'm thrilled to find an outdoor exercise I can do almost year round, and most importantly, it is something I can do with friends and family members with simple ease. I already know one hiking friend out there in simple living land. Does anyone else like to hike the Great Outdoors?