Me being in places like this didn’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of people were and still are a part of my ongoing outdoors journey.
I got into an interesting online discussion where the question was asked, “Who was it that instilled in you a love of the outdoors?”
This is a great question, because I don’t think anything happens in a vacuum. No one just walks outside and says, “I think I’m going to be an outdoorsy person.” Something has to light that fire, and in most cases that fire is lit by someone your with. So here is my list of people who lit and stoked my love of the outdoors.
These two were there when I was a mere sprout, doing the little things that got me outside. This is the three of us after the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon.
Last week, I wrote about my (fading) fading dream of living the mountain life. A part of that dream was created in 1976 when my parents bought this amazing little cabin in the Rockies. So many formative adventures started here.
Easter at the family cabin in Colorado.
All of us really loved that place. It was our base camp for fishing, hiking, watching nature and launching outdoor dreams.
My sister Shiela, her friend Valerie and myself looking at doing a little fishing near the family cabin.
You can never underestimate how those small experiences outside can grow into wonderfully big expressions in adulthood. They are formative and significant. So parents, if you want your kids to love and respect the outdoors, turn ’em into little rippers now. My parents did, and all of their kids were better for it.
My brother-in-law, Mark
Mark and a nice gar. This dude can fish.
A born-and-bred Texan, Mark met my sister when they both lived in the Denver area. During his early 20s, he spent a lot of time feeding his love of fishing out in the Colorado high country, angling for trout in the streams and beaver ponds of the Rockies.
Shortly after they married, Mark was kind enough to take me fishing several times. We hit plenty of places in northern Colorado, out west near Eagle, and then south not far from Buena Vista and Tincup.
Thirteen-year-old me (awkward!) with a stringer full of fish Mark and I bagged near Eagle, Colo.
These were the trips where I learned to fish for trout, the reason why I almost never get skunked when I’m getting a hook wet in a trout stream. I learned how to fish, how to read a river, and how to appreciate how awesome the settings are for trout fishing. It’s no accident that most of the first mountains I hiked and climbed weren’t far from those old fishing holes. The first time I laid eyes on the incredible skyline of Mount Princeton, Mount Yale and Mount Antero was when the two of us were driving west in Mark’s little pickup, heading to where we’d camp and fish the next day.
My brother Mike
My brother Mike on the slopes of Wheeler Peak, N.M.
Mike was another guy who loved to fish, and some of my earliest memories of fishing were with him as we plied the waters of the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois, or on nearby farm ponds. We kept that fishing habit up for a long time, and what Mark started in me, Mike honed even further.
It’s so very Mike that Mark and I showed him the ropes of trout fishing, and later on, he was teaching me.
Later on, Mike grew a passion for hiking and climbing the Colorado 14ers, the mountains that rise to more than 14,000 feet in elevation. He inspired me to hike my first big mountain, Wheeler Peak, N.M., and was there with me on my first three 14ers in Colorado.
Mike and I on the summit of Mount Elbert, Colo.
A few years later, we brought our brother Steve into the 14er fold, with all of us tagging the summits of Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt.
Mike, me and Steve atop Quandary Peak, Colo.
Mike left us far too soon. He passed away in 2011 from cancer at the age of 47. In so many positive ways, however, his legacy lives on in his family and friends, things that go way beyond the mountains. But my little 14er obsession has its roots in hearing Mike talk about those early hikes up Mount Bierstadt, traversing the Sawtooth Ridge, and climbing Longs Peak.
My friend Johnny
Closer to home, my adventure bug got numerous feedings from my friend Johnny Hunter. We met through martial arts, and it was there that we discovered a shared love of hiking.
Johnny Hunter on the crags of Mount Mitchell, Okla.
I’d been to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma before, but really got to explore them with Johnny. We’ve tagged a bunch of peaks out there, anything from gentle hikes to airy, exposed, slabby climbs. Johnny is one of those guys with no fear of heights and is always up for adventure.
The two of us, with no real coaching from anyone, did our first snow climb together on Mount Shavano in Colorado. And he’s been there with me on other mountain ascents numerous times. Anytime the adventure siren calls, Johnny is game.
My Colorado mountain buddies
There are too many of them to name, as this circle has grown quite a bit over the years. But those who are consistently in the mix, and have been there during those critical times of growth, include friends Bill Wood, his sister Beth Ketel, Noel Johnson, Chuck Erle and David Bates.
Me, Beth and Bill atop Mount of the Holy Cross, Colo.
Clockwise from left, Chuck, David, me and Noel atop Mount Sneffels, Colo.
I’ve learned a ton from these folks, and I’m continual appreciation how they took me, a comparative noob, under their wing like I was an equal partner. That sort of humility and patience is a rare, beautiful thing you find much more commonly in hikers, climbers and mountaineers. Here’s hoping for more summits with this gang, and all of the other folks in Colorado I’ve met and hiked/climbed with since. You know who you are.
So there you have it. From my childhood to the present, these are the people who have created and sustained that love of the outdoors in me.
Do you have people like that in your lives? Feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear your stories…