My love of the great outdoors began when I was a child.
Bike riding and fireflies in June, testing the ice on a minuscule pond in January. Sunday drives on rural lanes, picnics and hikes in the woods, hide-and-go seek in the corn fields. We didn’t fish and had one fairly miserable (according to my dad) camping trip, but other than that, my childhood was a string of outdoor adventures.
During the school year, mom would wake me up at five in the morning and we’d run past spring flowers, summer soybeans, falling leaves, and banks of snow. My brother and I brought home snakes and turtles, and there was always a shoe box or a plastic bin just the right size.
It was an idyllic Midwestern childhood, and it instilled a lifelong desire to be outside.
Yet somehow I’d forgotten, or didn’t realize how necessary fresh air and a walk in the woods are to my psyche. I’d get my fix in bursts: sixteen days of camping on a thirty-five day trip, for example. I didn’t make it a priority in my daily life.
Now I have.
One day I took a walk on the Prairie Trail, a 26.6 mile path that connects Kane County, Illinois, and Wisconsin through McHenry County. There’s an entrance about a quarter mile from my home, so you’d think I’d be out there every day, or at least a few times a week, yet that Friday was only the second or third time I’d stepped foot on it this year.
“This is ridiculous,” I thought. As much as I love being outside, and I couldn’t step away from the computer at least once a day?
I decided that day would be the first of a 30 Day Nature Challenge.
Every day, for the rest of the month, I would go outside. I wouldn’t just take a walk around the neighborhood (at least I have done that a few times). I would explore the abundance of prairies, woods, and fens in my county.
I’ve been following the McHenry County Conservation District‘s social media channels for awhile, so I knew there were plenty of places for hiking and biking. I put them in a spreadsheet, plotted the driving distance, and began checking them off, day by day.
Some days I was the only one out there. Others, I would see men and women walking dogs, children fishing, and once, a group of stand-up paddle boarders. I saw butterflies and dragon flies and killed dozens of mosquitoes. I walked 120 miles.
My clothes are looser and I feel physically better than I have in over a year.
My mind and my soul are also healthier. Happier.
I started to feel anxious and overwhelmed yesterday. That happens on a fairly regular basis, and my normal response would be to push through it.
Instead, I went for a hike.
As soon as I got in the car, my heart rate slowed and my mind eased. And that’s when I knew without a doubt that my thirty day challenge would be a lifetime commitment.
I’ve now realized that this is the first time I’ve made a consistent effort to claim my time. To carve out a portion of the day that’s just for me. To truly invest in my body and my soul.
And I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve seen returns on that investment.
In addition to the mental and physical benefits, it’s also been fun to explore my home. We moved to this county a little over a year ago, and until this challenge I didn’t realize there was a gorgeous nature preserve 2.3 miles away. Or that there were five more within six miles.
I drove through towns and villages and discovered the history of the region. (One unexpected find: a pit toilet’s roof made of terra cotta tiles from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.)
I’ve truly been a Local Tourist.
Today’s Day 12 and I’ll head out this afternoon for my fix. Tomorrow’s supposed to storm, so I’ll watch the radar and hope for a window.
If it’s raining, I’ll hike. If there’s lightning, I can skip a day.
I’ve got nineteen more conservation areas to visit, and I’ll also be riding the bike trails. McHenry County has a bike sharing program, so if I don’t feel like loading mine up on my car I can pick up one of theirs.
Each day I’m posting photos and videos of my adventures on my Instagram and Facebook stories. I’m hoping that you’ll be moved to try your own 30 Day Nature Challenge wherever you live. If you do, please let me know! I’d love to follow your journey and cheer you along.
Here’s to making health, both mental and physical, a priority. Here’s to getting outside.
Pin this to remind yourself to take your own 30 Day Nature Challenge!