This is a collection about the highs and lows of exploring new and familiar places. There is always something new to be found in the places we know best, and something a little bit like home in places we have never been.
Last week I visited North Dakota for the first time. At the gift shop in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, there were stickers and shirts that said "North Dakota-- save the best for last" because so many people who make a point to visit all 50 states only visit ND after every single other state. It was nothing like I thought and so familiar. There are so many places in the US that we write off as boring, or fly-over, or empty, or nothing.
But there is no place that is nothing.
North Dakota, like every other place I've been has a magic. There is energy in the land and the people and the wildlife. The sun sets and rises, casting its alpenglow on the buttes. The mosquitos eat you alive just to remind you that nothing is allowed to be perfect.
by Christine Reed
I put forty thousand miles on my car in the last year.
Driving back and forth across this country.
I've been to places that I know and love
and some new ones too.
I've hiked trails that my feet have trodden so many times, I never need a map.
And some that top many people's bucket lists.
Once in a lifetime kind of places.
I could scroll through the photos in my phone
And tell you, I hiked on the AT and the PCT.
The Tahoe Rim Trail and the Timberline Trail.
I've been to Seattle and Portland and Phoenix and Denver and Washington DC and St Pete Beach and Little Rock and St Louis and Lander and Rapid City and Roanoke.
But did I explore?
Did I experience?
Or did I just wrap my photo lasso around the place and give it away.
These last few years, places have changed
Because they've all started to feel the same
When you're always looking through a lens
The lens of a camera
The lens of your followers
The lens of people you don't know who consume your life like a product
I started sharing my adventures because hiking changed my life
I believe in the power of the outdoors
of new experience
of challenging oneself
of deep vulnerable connection
and speaking our truths
What difference does new or familiar make...
When you've forgotten how to be in a place at all?
When you're not really present?
When you're really only living online?
Find Christine on Instagram and TikTok @ruggedoutdoorswoman
Read her memoir Alone in Wonderland for a journey on the Wonderland Trail.
by Meaghan Martin
I remember growing up feeling as though I lived alone on an island. The way I envisioned it, my family lived and played together on the mainland, just out of my reach. None of them could understand me or help me feel at home. While they all experienced new things together, I felt incredibly isolated, staring at the same emotional surroundings every day that made up the barren landscape of my mind. It felt like a painful existence that I wouldn’t be able to escape. I never told anyone that I conceptualized my family this way, but I can distinctly recall thinking it.
After years adrift trying to find the emotional home I had been searching for as a child, I finally understood that the world was so much bigger than the tiny little rock I’d occupied. Once that realization took hold, I was a force to be reckoned with. I was drawn irresistibly to new places and experiences, the same way the moon tugged the ocean tides to and from the rocky crag of my imagined childhood island.
When I set off to thru-hike Vermont’s Long Trail, it was the first time I’d left home behind to do something that was completely for myself. I’d thought it would be close enough to the Maine and New Hampshire mountains that I hiked regularly to feel totally familiar. I was wrong.
The Long Trail was enchanting. Ferns stretched as tall as my hips, as the brown dirt path wound through them endlessly. I climbed countless rocky hills and mountains, hiked alongside beaver bogs, and tried not to lose my shoes in the mud. I was only sometimes reminded of the rugged New Hampshire peaks I was accustomed to. Vermont was rugged in its own way.
As I hiked north for 272 miles I watched as ghostpipe went through its entire life cycle, starting with pinkish pale nubs poking through the soil, then stretching upwards on translucent white stalks, then flowering, and then finally beginning to turn black with death. Bluebead lilies transformed from delicate yellow flowers into the berries of their namesake: berries that looked remarkably like a bright blue wooden bead that I imagined I could string onto a cord and wear around my neck.
I felt myself transform too. Before the Long Trail I’d only been on one backpacking trip. It was a three-day, two-night adventure that I’d chosen specifically as a shakedown of my gear and my abilities. While I enjoyed myself and learned lots of lessons that first weekend, my pack felt unbearably heavy and my pace too slow. When I set off solo on the Long Trail, I was not confident in my mind or body’s ability to complete the trek. One month (and countless tears) later, I reached the northern terminus as I touched the monument marking the Canadian border, and backpacking was all I could think about. Even before the completion of my first thru-hike, I’d already planned my second: a Numuu Poyo/John Muir Trail thru-hike the following summer with two friends.
That first adventure unlocked something in me. I was a lost soul being drawn towards the warmth of the flames, towards the thrill of new experiences dancing in front of me. I came to understand that the familiar felt both comforting and mundane, simple and not enough, and I was no longer content to stay in one place forever. I learned that, even more important to me than going to new places and experiencing new things, is sharing both the novel and the places that shaped me, with the people in my life who feel like home.
While there is excitement in chasing the adventures I never thought I’d get to have, there is also challenge. The “what if’s” swirl in my head and tear me apart. What if the sand runs out and I don’t get to share bucket list places with special people? What if I make the wrong choices? What if I can never accomplish the things that feel important to me?
The anxiety pushes me forward, like a motor, until I’m packing each hour full in order to squeeze every drop of life out of the day. I have become so focused on checking the boxes that I can’t be still and find joy in the everyday beauty, in the routine, in the familiar. The life I’d long ago planned for myself is no longer satisfying.
Instead, I seek better versions of myself everywhere I go. Each meticulously planned adventure somewhere new is an excavation, an attempt to dig deeper and get closer to the truth of who I really am. But instead of greater clarity, the churning of the dirt muddies the water, and I can never sit still long enough to let the sediment settle to the bottom again. How does someone who has always been taught to go at full throttle learn how to stop at “good enough?” What is it about the me that exists at home that tells me to keep digging, go further, push harder, and see more in the world, rather than be still and accept where I am right now? What, I wonder, am I trying to prove?
Meaghan is a backpacker and writer living in Maine with loved ones and pets. You can find her on Instagram and TikTok at @meaghan_adventures
The Familiar Friend
by Sierra Eberly
Mother Nature, my familiar friend
Dirt paths that lead the way
Water that quenches my soul
Air that fuels the fire
Some days she’s like your reflection
Like a good hair day when everything falls into place
She smiles back at you
Remember me? I’m strong and beautiful
I’m a powerful being, and nothing can stop me
Other days she’s like your ex with a vengeance
Intimidating and testing your convictions
Showing you her wrath
Puffing her chest with threats
I’m a powerful being, and nothing can stop me
I return to my favorite places
Sometimes for comfort, sometimes for closure
Well-known landscapes with subtle changes
Like a new wrinkle on your face showing the test of time
From these familiar places, I watch
sunsets that bring me to tears
thunderstorms that make me tremble
flora and fauna telling me stories
Mother Nature, my familiar friend
She protects me if I listen,
pushing me to my limits
and comforts me along my journey
You are a powerful being, thank you for showing me the way.
Sierra is a trail runner and backpacker who lives full-time in her campervan with her dog, Snow. She started her own copywriting business, Boondock Consulting, and when not working, she explores trails less traveled every chance she gets. You can find her on Instagram at @sierrastraverse and read her personal blog at www.sierrastraverse.com
by Marty Cowan
When I’ve been there and done that
It might only suffice for my ego -
Am I really so experienced?
That only masks my fear of the unknown.
Oh god, I don’t really know anything.
Each step in my trail shoes is always new
no matter how many times I return,
and with every second nature changes -
the petals, the grasses, the leaves, the insects,
the clouds, the sun, and the air.
And we, the human forest dwellers
change with every second,
our skin, our bones, our blood, and our breath.
The variances soak in,
each time, something new.
Marty Cowan is the author of Table To Trail a collection of plant-based recipes for day hikers. You can find her on Instagram @tabletotrail
Time out in the Familiar
by Belinda Arndt
I always crave new sites, sounds, and experiences. I don’t like staying long in places and despise doing the same thing repeatedly. There are too many places, things, people, and food to be not enjoyed. Something is thrilling about planning a trip to a new state or country. There is a high commitment to make sure you have everything you need. Learning about the said place. And learning what new version you will meet of yourself. Which honestly is my favorite thing when exploring new places.
I use exploring new places as escapism and to process my own life. But the universe taught me over the years that the familiar can feel as good as the unfamiliar. It can be a home. A home that I am actually excited to return. There are very few places in my life that I keep returning to, but when I can’t just jump on a plane to escape, I return to Rock Creek. Maybe it’s because it’s close to my apartment, or Rock Creek has this magnetic pull over me, especially on days I need to be pulled out of my life. The universe taught me how to heal myself on the local trails besides a plane.
Like a 5-year kid who needs a time out, I too need a time out. I call it “A nature time out.” These times outs allow me to breathe, process big feelings, and work out the million and one thoughts racing in my head. The more I moved my body, the more I stop the rushing thoughts I feel. At the end of the hike, my head and heart feel back to normal. The trail reminds me how I have my life together and am stronger than I think. Those voices of doubt, unknowing, and worries about how things will work out are just bullshit.
Rock Creek provides this sanctuary and comfort and eases me when I need it the most. These trails have seen the best and the worst of me, from seeing an old version of me crying on a random log because of heartbreak, the frustration of cluster fuckness of my mom’s health, or feeling not heard or seen by work.
Hiking with a friend who is pregnant with her first child and seeing how we both grew into the people we are now after ten years of friendship and listening to her express her joys and nervousness.
Or seeing the trees bare, then starting to bloom so much that the trail feels foreign to you because it, too, had a glow up.
Though I know the path of these trails like the back of my hand, each time I come here, it is always a little different, whether a tree has fallen or I am a different version of myself from the last time I was there. But the movement, the peace, seeking answers, and returning to myself is the same.
No thought or effort is needed except the willpower to get up and go.
Belinda Arndt is a solo traveler and adventurer based outside of Washington DC. Her tagline is "It's always an adventure with me!" Catch her adventures on her website WanderingBel.com which aims to build a community of solo travelers to share their travel stories. You can find her on instagram @wandering_bel and Facebook at Wandering Bel Blog
by Anne Whiting
This piece is an original song with music, available to listen on Youtube
It’s a new day It’s a new trail And I don’t know where it goes It’s a new path It’s a new quest I want to know where it goes Carry on Pioneer, carry on It’s a new year It’s a new hope I want to see this one through It’s a new climb It’s a new view I know I’ll see this one through Face the fear Be unafraid Step out And live unashamed Blaze the trail Mark the path Dream your dreams And laugh your laughs
Map your route Climb your climb Forsake your life For those behind Don’t forget You are known Love the truth You’re not alone
Anne Whiting has been creating adventure opportunities through trail guides since 2010. She publishes her guides on her blog and in book form. When not dreaming up new trails, she likes to play music with her band and dabble in digital art and website development. Follow Anne’s past and present adventures on Facebook, MeWe, Patreon, and Instagram @viewjunkieanne
A Sanctuary For the Mind
by Helena Guglielmino
Why did I choose familiar places? Because there is something special about returning. It grows a deeper connection, it helps you out like a friend when you come with your problems - you aren’t confused or overwhelmed with turning over the stones or gaping at the unaccustomed view of a new place. Though that does not mean that your familiar place comes with no glory or beauty.
I had two familiar places in my early twenties that were spectacularly gorgeous, both on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. One was a hike up a steep trail that looked down on the famously clear waters speckled with boulders. The other was a small cove on the lake, big enough for my blanket and my backpack and occasionally my dog. What I would have done without these places, I don’t know.
I would go to each week, if not each day, when I was going to school in Lake Tahoe. Each place absorbed a bit of the weight I would carry into them. The overwhelming school load partnered with the hardships of balancing three jobs and $12 to spend at Raley’s. But they carried even more weight for me. They carried the unbearable emotional weight of not feeling worthy enough to tap into the other environments I was faced with every day. The classrooms of people who talked with so much familiarity amongst themselves. The forced conversations that would make my palms sweat, my heart race, and my mind panic like a deer in headlights.
The familiar places, they give you that. They give you a place to go that helps bear the burden. They accept you, they bring you back to you. They’re a staple, unchanging, unmoving, dependable. You don’t have to guess what you will get or who you should be when you get there. They already know you. Without these two places to go in college, I’m not sure I would have gotten out of bed if we’re being honest.
Helena is a freelance writer, focused on environment and adventure. Find more work from her at www.storiesbyhelena.com
Finding the New in the Familiar
by Heidi Love
One of my favorite trails is the Art Loeb trail to Black Balsam Knob in North Carolina. The trail is easily accessible yet offers 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge in Pisgah National Forest.
I feel lucky that this trail was a part of my childhood and have visited it many times growing up with my family. The beauty draws me back time and time again now as an adult. What makes it such a delight is remembering the sights and sounds of the trail, which is short in length but magical to experience.
Under their low canopy, the beautiful balsam firs create a dark, contained world in contrast with the wide open expanse of the hilltop summit and sky.
I was always intrigued by the fire pit of charred black soot contained within a circle of rocks. As a child I was only familiar with car camping. The discovery of a campsite seemingly far from any available parking filled my imagination with wonder.
Heidi is a camper and hiker living with loved ones and pets in South Florida.
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