The Lifestyle by Elizabeth Todd ’19
College goes fast; get outside. Some form of that sentence ends all Outing Club emails, is on most posters, can be heard echoing throughout the OC barn and rolling off the lips of OC members and Key Staff alike. At first glance its just another way to mark yourself as member of our vaunted Outing Club but ask anyone, its more than just a slogan, a passing way to end an email. Those words are a lifestyle. They’re something you embrace, not because you want to associate with the current trendiness that is being outdoorsy right now, but because they’re true. College, and life, goes fast. Get outside. Unequivocally true.
I’ve been in Lexington for almost two full years now. Somehow, my time here has flown by and I find myself staring at the halfway point of my college career. I’m running out of time to fully embrace the things that make this area so special. So far I’ve learned that no amount of time spent outside is too much time, no amount of ripped callouses will stand the way of me sending a new route and no amount of stress should keep me from taking an hour off and heading to the parkway for another unreal landskein, Blue Ridge sunset.
I first arrived on campus as a frenetic, over-worked first-year who had forgotten about the freedom, self-confidence and peace of mind I used to get from spending time in nature. Growing up in Montana I had spent my summers wandering on horseback with nothing but my imagination and the mountains surrounding me as limitations on my adventures. When my family moved to Pennsylvania and then to New Jersey I forgot about the full feeling of wonderment that you get from time, space and silence. I still went back West when I could; spending parts of my summers sending it off the grid: backpacking and climbing my way through the Tetons, the Gros Ventres, and the Rockies while hoping between Montana and Wyoming. In those few precious weeks each summer I got an all too brief respite from the hectic pace that my life back in New Jersey was speeding by at.
Self-reliant and free from the constricting, always-present grasp of modern communication I would peak mountains for sunrise, stop to boulder on the side of the trail for hours, and burn a day fly-fishing in a crystal-clear high alpine lake just for the hell of it. Every time I conquered that last false ridge and hit the final pitch to the summit I became a little happier, a little more free and exponentially more confident in my ability to succeed as, and rely on, myself. At the same time, muscles burning, gasping for air, I had never been more miserable, more mortal, and yet more invincible. Even the bitter days spent on the trail being whipped by a frozen rain and a merciless wind were beautiful in their own twisted, persevering way. Long story short, the immeasurable benefits and lessons that I gained from unplugging my GPS and following map quadrants and star trails are the kind of things you never forget.
Unfortunately, those feelings fade with time and the longing to return to the mountains dulls from an unbearable roar to a subtle nagging in the back of your mind that spikes in the form of occasional melancholia and saudade. Once I got to Washington and Lee my wanderlust took a back seat as my involvement on campus grew, my studies intensified, and my free time shrunk to negligible windows filled with Netflix and social media. I was a shadow of the girl who stood on top of the Grand so triumphantly, ghosting through my daily routine with the purpose of executing it and just getting through another day. All too often I look around and see the same dazed expression on peoples face’s as they briskly walk to wherever they need to be with their head down, absorbed in their phone and, all of their worries. The turning point for me was having my second knee surgery last winter. After I was told that in order to continue to play soccer and to have a shot at long lasting mobility I would have to another knee surgery I was jostled out of the Washington and Lee bubble and back to reality. I wasn’t even twenty and I have having my second major surgery. I was spending my days going through the motions just to do what was expected from me; just to do what was expected from an average Washington and Lee student.
After that, I realized that I wanted to feel the wildness and uncontainable happiness that I used to experience while I was out on the trail. However, I was still a full time, stressed out, college student. Taking three weeks and dropping out of my own life wasn’t an option anymore. That’s where the Outing Club came in. I started signing up for OC trips, making time for the outdoors and spontaneously adventuring outside the constraints of the mold I was expected to conform to. I went white water rafting, I hiked Devils Marble yard frequently, I drove to the parkway as often as possible, I paddle boarded the Maury on full moons and sat on the colonnade on nice days. I got outside and I also got happier. I took a course to get my Wilderness First Responder Certification. I decided my life wouldn’t be the same without immersing myself in the outdoors again. I got an internship with the Nature Conservancy and moved to Idaho for the summer. I filled my time backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, fishing, floating the river and going on unforgettable adventures with good friends to places that gave me the opportunity to challenge myself. I’ve honestly never been happier.
This year I’m ashamed to say I fell back into same patterns. I was in season this fall and I was hurt, again. I spent my days just getting up, going to class, going to practices and games, doing homework, and then going to bed. I was miserable. After season I took up boxing, started climbing three nights a week at the OC barn and started hiking again. Now I spontaneously go to North Mountain or Cherry Ridge frequently. I take the time to go caving, to try a new route, or to just go mess around on the boulders at Indian Gap. I guess what I’m trying to say is the same thing that James Dick lives by: “Life goes by fast; get outside.” At Washington and Lee we spend so much time worrying about grades and studying that we forget to live. Don’t forget to live. Go outside, read a book on the colonnade. Become a member of the Outing Club and take advantage of the trips, the gear, and the amazing people you’ll meet through it. Every now and then it’s ok to take a breath and get the hell out of dodge. Go out into Rockbridge County, or wherever you live, and go explore the natural spaces and also yourself. You’ll be happier, I promise.
Every time you take another exit off the fast-track that is this crazy, overscheduled thing that we call life you’ll learn another lesson about yourself and find yourself a little bit more. My favorite way of looking at is that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find what you didn’t know you were looking for. Go get lost in the little things, go get lost in nature, just go get lost in something. Get your head out of the books and get it lost in clouds or in the view over the gorgeous undulations of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a bluebird day at Devil’s Marble Yard. You won’t regret it; in fact, the only thing you’ll regret is not doing it sooner. Get out there and give’r!
“Life goes by fast; get outside –James Dick” – Michael Scott
Liz Todd is a sophomore Geology and Environmental Studies double major. In her free time she enjoys hiking, climbing, and generally being on the trail. When she’s not outside she can be found at random concerts with friends, holding a sparkly sign at every women’s sporting event, or at LexCo with her trusty, American flag coffee mug.
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