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To the Ones Who Came Before

autumn leaves

Reflecting on the increased opportunities and access to the outdoors. 

“I wish I was 20 years younger because I might like to try some of the things you write about.” It’s the kind of comment that stops me in my tracks. My words catch in the back of my throat, and a breathlessness steals away any response I might have formed. 

It’s a phrase I’ve now heard several times from my grandma after she reads the latest issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors. Whether it’s a story about hiking the Appalachian Trail, working alongside maintenance crews to cut new paths, or cross-country skiing through a quiet winter landscape, she wants to try it all. Well, maybe not mountain biking or ice climbing. 

So why is there a part of me that feels a little guilty every time I hear that line? Because sometimes I forget how fortunate I am to be able to do the things I do. I live 30 minutes from a national park with some of the best hiking in the region. As the magazine’s travel editor, I have a job that encourages me to try new things, oftentimes providing the funds and gear needed to make those trips happen. I have the time and physical ability to go for a bike ride after work or plan a weekend paddle excursion. 

As I think about my current lifestyle, I am reminded of the incredible growth the outdoor recreation industry has seen between my grandmother’s generation and mine. In a relatively short period of time—really, a tiny blip on the geological time scale—opportunity has exploded, from the accessibility of information online and the variety of gear options, to the sheer number of trails being built in our region every year. 

“I wish I was 20 years younger because I might like to try some of the things you write about.” The hardest part is that I also wish my grandma was 20 years younger so I could take her to some of these places with me. I want to share these experiences because my grandparents helped nurture my love of the outdoors from a young age, even if “outdoorsy” looked a little different back then. 

It was my maternal grandma who took me on early morning beach walks just as the sun began to peek over the horizon to look for turtle tracks and nests while my paternal grandma instilled in me her love of gardens and a connection to something bigger than self. It was my paternal grandpa who carefully tended to the vines in order to build a maze for his grandchildren to wander through and my maternal grandpa who showed me what it means to be a part of a community.

I am where I am today because of the ones who came before me—the ones who built lives, worked jobs, and cared for families so that I can head into the mountains to find a sense of belonging in a world much bigger than I could ever hope to be. 

My thoughts then inevitably turn to the next generations, to the ones who will come after me. Will they too experience the peace and solitude of a cold winter’s day, or will snow in the Southeast be a distant memory? Will they have a chance to marvel at the melody that fills the air as hundreds of cicadas emerge from their 17-year hibernation, or will the choir fall silent as more habitats are destroyed in the name of profit and expansion? Will they stand on top of mountains, looking out at the vastness of life and want to share those moments with the ones they love the most?

For me, spending time outside has never been about reaching the highest peak, owning the latest gear, or logging personal bests. It’s about summer nights at the beach, sticking around long after the crowds have gone home and the sun has set. It’s swimming in the chilled pond my grandpa built, even when the fish come up to nibble on your fingers and your toes brush against the algae-covered bottom. It’s my grandma showing off the tree in her front yard because she knows how much I love red leaves in the fall. It’s about feeling like I’m a part of something. 

Cover photo by Ellen Kanzinger

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