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Jones: The importance of passing the love of outdoors to others

  • Some of these paddlers are students who just completed their first whitewater run on the Pemigewasset River in Bristol. Some are instructors. Some are just paddlers who happened to share a river. Courtesy of Beth Fisher

  • Two campers at the Vermont Outdoors Woman Fall Doe Camp learn how to set up a tent, a useful skill to have before you go backpacking. You can learn it yourself, but it’s easier if someone takes the time to teach and inspire you. TIM JONES / Courtesy

  • Most people don’t start hiking by doing the Appalachian Trail or Mount Washington. They start with an easy hike and someone more knowledgeable leading the way. TIM JONES / Courtesy



For the Monitor
Sunday, September 02, 2018

I’d like to ask you three quick questions: First what do like to do outdoors (hike, bike, climb, ski, paddle, camp, fish, surf, forage, etc.)?

Second, who first inspired you to do that sport and taught you what you needed to know to get started?

Third, how many people have you inspired and taught to love that sport?

I believe the secret to a happy, healthy life is getting outdoors and doing things. We evolved in the natural world and still need that connection to keep our bodies, minds, and spirits healthy and functioning at full capacity.

As important as it is to get outside and do things for ourselves, I also believe it’s just as important to pass our love of the outdoors to others. In most cases someone took the time to show us what we needed to know. The only real way to pay them back is to pay it forward by teaching someone else.

I can hear some of you objecting already that you aren’t good enough at the sport you love to be able to inspire or teach. Protest all you want, but I don’t buy it. If you love doing something, you are certainly capable of inspiring other people whether you are any good at it or not. Inspiring others is often just a matter off showing up and letting it be known that you’d welcome company.

In fact, it’s important in today’s world to make that personal connection and show people what you do and why. And it’s especially important that you not be terrific at it. Why? Because so many of the images you see on YouTube and the web in general focus and even on TV car commercials, focus on extreme accomplishments (I call them “outdoor porn”) not the stuff that ordinary people do for pleasure.

I just went on YouTube, for example, and searched for “hiking in NH.” Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it? But almost all of the videos posted are of the Appalachian Trail, Franconia Ridge, and Mount Washington – all hikes you need to work up to. Who’s going to do that as a first hike? And if they do, will they ever do a second hike? Probably not. What’s needed are people who will take others out on easy hikes where they can be successful and have fun.

It’s even more pronounced for sports that have a longer learning curve, like skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. If all you know about them are the images you’ve seen on screens, you think it’s all about hucking your body over steeps or hanging by your fingertips with 1,000 feet of empty air below. That’s outdoor porn. The reality is very different.

Let’s take whitewater kayaking, just as an example. I took up the sport late, didn’t get serious about it until my early 60s.

Other than some very good instructional videos, most of the images of whitewater kayaking are “extreme” which is not what I do or even want to do. While there are several great schools in New England and nothing beats professional instruction when you are starting out, what do you do after the lesson is over? Whitewater kayaking alone just isn’t smart or safe.

It’s very easy to find paddling partners if you are a great paddler, but much harder if you are just learning. Fortunately, I lucked into a connection with the New Hampshire and Boston AMC Paddling Committees. At that time they were offering Class II (easier) Whitewater trips almost every weekend, and I could paddle as much as I wanted. But then some of the trip leaders moved and trips close to me that I wanted to do got scarce.

So I stepped up, took the training to become a trip leader myself and have lead over a dozen trips this summer alone. That’s my way of bringing new people into the sport and paying it forward for the people who were there for me.

Recently, through the New Hampshire AMC, I took a four-day course to become a paddling instructor certified by the ACA (American Canoe Association). This past weekend along three volunteer instructors plus two safety boater spent two days on the Pemigewasset River teaching the basics of river paddling to eight students, Two of those students are coming paddling on the Androscoggin River this weekend. That’s paying it forward.

If it sounds like this is entirely selfless, it isn’t. I’ve gotten to be a much better paddler as a result of all this activity. Good for me, good for the people I teach and lead.

In two weeks, I will spend a weekend at Vermont Outdoors Woman Fall Doe Camp, teaching basic wilderness camping skills to give more women the opportunity to take to the woods confidently and safely. Just more paying it forward.

So, I come back to the three questions I asked you earlier:

What do like to do outdoors?

Who first inspired you to do that sport and taught you what you needed to know to get started?

How many people have you inspired and taught to love that sport?

Think about it. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com)