I love being outside. But sometimes, it’s kind of hard to drag myself out the door and get started. I always feel better after I’ve spent some time hiking or backpacking or skiing. That’s why when I came to college, the ski team was such a big part of my self-regulation. We traveled together. We spent practice in the mountains going on long trail runs or gorgeous skis. We would wake up early and start the day with a jog and strength workout or get through a long week with core and yoga in the evenings. It’s was easy to be outside all the time when I just had to be ready to jump in Zima and spend the day hanging out with the team.
I admit that the constant schedule for an outdoor adventure was something I really missed when I packed my life into boxes and moved to Spain for a semester. It was wonderful in a different way, until it wasn’t. A year ago, the world stopped. As many people familiar with lockdowns can attest, being trapped inside a small apartment does something to you psychologically. The fact that I was isolated with a family I’d met only weeks before in a country I was still new to was really just fuel to the fire. After the first few days, I was daydreaming about going for runs through the city. Which would be fairly normal, except that I hate running. The itch to go outside, do anything outside, was becoming unbearable. There was a near-constant ache in my chest for the days of ski camps, where I’d wake up to the sounds of Ella’s laughter or the smell of coach’s oats and then spend the day outside, surrounded by snow and the gentle sound of skis in tracks. I was jonesing for the mountains. In fact, it was the first time in my life I’d ever been homesick.
So when I finally took the treacherous journey through three airports and a hotel to get back to Wyoming, I thought I would feel better. The mountains were there, right in my backyard. I could go on runs (or less torturous activities) to my heart’s content. But the switch had flipped. I couldn’t stand to leave the house. It was more than that initial hurdle to get dressed and drive to the trail. All I could think about was the family I left behind. As the days added up, I thought of my young host sister, who hadn’t left her apartment even for a walk in weeks. Is there a term for guilt about being able to go outside? As I paced my childhood home in some sort of sad solidarity, I only felt worse. But the idea of hiking a trail or just walking around the yard felt exhausting to me. The trauma of March knocked me down hard. I spent the spring trying just to sleep through the night and not gasp for breath every time I woke up and remembered the world was radically changed.
After 6 weeks, my host sister was finally allowed to go for walks outside. Still, the old version of me who spent hours every week in the mountains was nowhere to be found. When I moved back to Laramie for the summer, I was finally beginning to feel like myself again. I wasn’t living out of a suitcase. I slept in my own bed. And when I finally got settled, I woke up one June morning and drove to the mountains. When I reached the trailhead, there was my ski team.
For all those afternoons of Spanish lockdown where I daydreamed about adventures outside, I hadn’t actually been out in the mountains since I’d gotten home. But that summer morning, I remembered what it felt like to be a part of an outdoor community. There was the whole SUS team, smiling at me. There were Christi and Rachel, ready to hear all about the last few months of my life on our run. There were all the other skiers I’d missed.
I took a deep breath. The air smelled like pine and sunlight and home. And I started to run. Slowly, that March girl started to melt away into the woods.