Am I Outdoorsy Enough? When You Feel Like a Fake Adventurer.
July 5, 2023
It was a drizzly afternoon in London, weather which perfectly reflected the mood. My bestie and I were sloshing our way along overused muddy tracks in Epping Forest – a green stretch linking North East London to the Essex countryside. It is pretty and green, and full of birds and foxes – just what we needed at the time, but undoubtedly a long way from the nature either of us grew up with.
Kate was raised in the Scottish Highlands, the daughter of a mountaineering orthodontist. She spent her childhood following her dad and brother up European mountains – trad-climbing, ski-mountaineering, hut-to-hut summer hikes. Meanwhile, I was soaking up the South African sunshine with my own dad, setting up camp on deserted West Coast beaches, and chugging our way up the Table Mountain fire roads on our too-early Sunday morning mountain bike rides.
As some of the best friendships do, our paths crossed in an unlikely place. We were in our 20s working as river guides on multi-day trips down the Orange River, the natural border between South Africa and Namibia. I was having fun earning pocket money on my university breaks. Kate was visa hopping* in order to extend her time in South Africa.
Back in Cape Town, we bonded over other things (although what those things are exactly we couldn’t tell you. Many meaningful secrets were lost to the universe, having been exchanged on the patio at the tail end of a house party where the cheap South African box wine flowed).
After the Namibian chapter, we fell into “normal” adult lives for a while. Nine-to-five jobs, drinks after work, the occasional mission up the mountain to swim in the reservoir. Our friendship was tight but our outdoor lives diverged, with Kate prioritizing climbing trips and adventures that challenged her physical limits, while I stuck to shuffling around the mountain’s lower reaches at a pace and distance suitable for a badly behaved labrador prone to overheating (RIP Amber). In other words, short, slow jogs with lots of breaks for water, shade, and taking in the views (Amber loved a good view).
During this time something strange happened to me. On the occasions when I did join Kate in her outdoor pursuits – climbing Silvermine Crags where topping out (or “flopping out” as I heard it more accurately described) rewards you with a crazy-beautiful view over False Bay, or hiking trails I knew well with some of her more adventurous friends – the experience often left me feeling like an imposter.
For my whole life, I had taken it for granted that I was an “outdoorsy” person. So much so that I had never even bothered to think about it, let alone label myself. And suddenly, discovering this world of people who pushed themselves, set goals, and did impressive things – like climb big rocks in remote locations where the only thing between a glorious hit of adrenaline, and sudden death was a well-placed piece of trad gear – had me questioning my relationship with the outdoors. Not whether I loved being outside, but whether just “being” outside was enough. Reading my own words up to this point it seems ridiculous (even to me) that this was even a question. But there was a while there when I really did wonder if it would be lying to the world to call myself outdoorsy.
And then six years—and a surprisingly large number of Big Life Changes—later, Kate and I found ourselves sloshing through Epping Forest on a wet Saturday afternoon. Me post sudden-job-loss, Kate post sudden-boyfriend-loss (they broke up, he didn’t die). After seeking solace in deep meaningful conversation, we headed out to the one place we knew would make us both feel better. Half an hour into our wander, Kate sighed deeply and said out of the blue, “I feel so much more like myself when I’m outside.” Realizing that I knew exactly what she meant, it dawned on me that there is no such thing as an imposter when it comes to being outdoorsy.
Being in nature either makes you feel good or it doesn’t. And your level of technical skill or how fast or far you go out there has absolutely nothing to do with it. Whether you’re introducing your toddler to the birdlife in your local park, or pitching a tent at Everest Base Camp, the outdoors has a you-shaped space waiting to be filled. I remind myself of this fact when that familiar sense of self-doubt sneaks up on me. Although, luckily, these days it’s very rare that I need to.
*If you want to stay in South Africa over the 90-day allowance, it’s easier to leave the country and re-enter on a new visa granted at the border, than to apply for an extension.
If you experience adventure-related imposter syndrome, this piece might help:
Catherine is the Content Manager for the Adventure Hub. She grew up exploring the wide open wild places in South Africa. Now based in the UK, she walks, cycles and runs her way around the English countryside (at an exceptionally relaxed pace).