My Story + What is Outdoorsy Families
Have you ever wondered how to take your toddler canoeing? Do you want to get your kids biking trails with you? Maybe you’re looking for a community of like-minded parents who want to make the most of family outside time. Well, this is the spot for you! Welcome to Outdoorsy Families! The podcast dedicated to getting your family on their next adventure. Here you will find stories of families just like yours making outside time happen. We’ll cover the joyful, funny, messy, and sometimes challenging aspects of getting outside with kids. Along the way, I’ll also share helpful tips for different outdoor activities. I’m your host, Audrey Withycombe and I am so excited to have you join me on this big adventure!
Hi, I’m Audrey Withycombe and this is Outdoorsy Families and you’re listening to episode number one! I’ve been dreaming of starting this podcast for a little over a year now, and I am so happy that I am finally doing it! On today’s episode I will be sharing my personal story. I want this podcast to be a place where we can share our stories from the outdoors with our family, and I’ll be starting with my own story so you can get to know me better. I’ll be going through my childhood, and the experiences and places that instilled in me a love for the outdoors. Then I will share my adult years and introduction to motherhood. I will also explain what I believe being an outdoorsy family means. I know a lot of us can feel intimidated by the word “outdoorsy”. Maybe some image of a hunter trekking through the brush comes to mind, or you think of a thru hiker, carrying all they need on their back for weeks on end. These are the extreme ends of “outdoorsy” and I can assure you that there is space in the outdoors for you and your family, too!
If you are looking for more ideas on upping your outdoorsy game, please check out my website at outdoorsyfamilies.com and join my email list, where you’ll receive my free hiking journal PDF. Also, be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode!
I have always loved being outside. Some of my earliest memories are from trips my family took back in my home state of Oklahoma. I remember early canoe trips on the Illinois River, floating past bluffs along a meandering river while my sister and I sang “Just Around the River Bend.” When I was 8 years old my sister and I went to summer camp for the first time. It was an experience of excitement and joy. Being with other kids my age outside in nature, playing camp games and singing songs around the campfire as the sun set low against the hot Oklahoma sky. And it was a space that I would go to again and again, summer after summer. Where I first tried rock climbing and where I would mountain bike, leading the other campers and proving that girls can ride better than boys.
Sometime amongst those early years, my family moved from Tulsa, OK to the country. A slice of property along the Verdigris River outside the little town of Oologah, OK. My sister and I would spend our days running through the fields and swimming and paddling in the green muddy river. That freedom I had exploring the land around me inspired my love for the outdoors and is something I want to instill in my own children now.
As I grew, my adventures grew with me. My family started taking trips west. I first saw the mountains as a 14 year old in Angel Fire, NM. I told myself that when I was older I would move to the mountains. We took ski trips to Colorado and New Mexico, mountain biking and hiking trips to Moab, UT. We went canoeing and kayaking along Lake Superior and explored easily accessible lakes in the boundary waters. With each family adventure, my desire for more time outside grew stronger. The floodgates were open inside me for more solitude more adventures in unknown places, and more time spent sleeping under the stars.
In college, I continued to foster my love for the outdoors. I returned to that little summer camp that I loved so much to lead the mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping adventures for kids. I took backpacking trips with friends in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico, and climbed my first peak. When I studied abroad in Scotland, I went on my first solo hike. It was, admittedly, a terrifying experience as I walked through the Scottish highlands in a thick fog, with very little trail information. After a few miles, I turned around, retracing my steps out of the fog and into a tea shop. I did not want my first solo hike to result in me being lost in the highlands!
Shortly after studying abroad, I decided it was time to go west and applied to camps in the mountains. I was offered a job as the offsite coordinator at a summer camp in northern Idaho. There I would first meet my husband, Richie. We talked for hours the first night we met as we sat under the stars at a campfire by the beach. It would take another year before we began dating, but in him, I found my adventure partner for life. We explored distant pockets of Idaho and Montana together, hiking into remote hot springs and camping in national forest land. He taught me to be a much better skier and stirred in me a new passion for skiing. We whitewater rafted together, me often fearing for my life and asking myself what I was doing, careering down turbulent waters of the Salmon River in an inflatable boat!
When Richie asked me to be his wife we had just spent days soaking in hard-to-access hot springs, camping with just ourselves and our yellow lab, Bonnie. It would be a few more days before anyone else would know that we would be getting married. We celebrated with just one another, our sweet dog, and the outdoors, soaking in our secret as we soaked in the warm water.
A year after our wedding, we moved to Salt Lake City for new jobs. I was teaching elementary school, Richie was teaching outdoor experiential education and skiing. We had different schedules during the school year and I found myself without my adventure partner on my days off. So, I began solo hiking the Wasatch Mountain with my dog. Bonnie was always up for a good hike and soon she and I were hiking more miles than I’d even done. I quickly met other women and their dogs. I began climbing peaks and exploring new trails. I went on camping trips with other women and found a sense of accomplishment doing these things on my own. In the winters I learned the truly freeing experience of skiing deep, fluffy Wasatch powder and I increasingly pushed myself in the terrain I skied.
Around this time, Richie and I were also talking about starting a family. When talks lead to suddenly finding out I was pregnant, we were both excited and a little nervous. I was determined to continue hiking and getting outside. It was also at this time that I felt I was at my best skiing and was enjoying a pass to Solitude and Brighton. I decided to keep skiing during this early pregnancy but cut out the more technical terrain. As the weeks went on, and winter turned into spring, spring turned into summer, and summer into fall, the hikes got shorter, but I continued to get out. When a classic September snowstorm blustered into the mountains, Richie and I drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon to enjoy the early snowfall. Shortly after I began experiencing early labor. Our little boy, River, was born about 40 hours after that adventure into the early snow.
After River’s birth, Richie and I decided to keep the same work schedule we had been in for years. He was home with River during the weekdays and I was home with him during the weekends. His early months were filled with winter hikes with mom and cross country skiing with dad. But honestly, the opposite schedule was hard on Richie and me. We both wanted more time as a family, together. I missed River something intensely during the school days and it only became worse after spending the summer home with him. When Richie decided to change jobs to give us weekends together, our desire for more time together grew. I never thought I wanted to be a stay at home mom before I had kids, but once River was in daycare, all I wanted was to be with him more.
Despite loving our life in Salt Lake City before having kids, we suddenly felt a strong desire for a change. Being a country girl, I knew I wanted the same access to the outdoors for my kids as I had growing up. I knew River wasn’t going to get that living in a suburban house. I hated that I left the house before he woke up and only saw him for 3 waking hours during the weekdays. And Richie wanted to pursue a position at a camp that reflected his values. He decided to begin applying to camps across the country. When he received a job offer at a camp in Oklahoma, he accepted with trepidation. We were giving up so much of our lives to make this move – especially access to good hiking and skiing. But we were trading that life for having more time together as a family, and being closer to my family.
The camp in Oklahoma was not a good fit. Richie found out shortly after we arrived that there was a serious budget crisis. We were also very isolated, having to drive 45 minutes just to reach a decent grocery store. I now understand what it means to live in a food desert! We found out I was pregnant with our daughter, Hattie shortly after we arrived. Unlike my pregnancy with River, I didn’t hike as often and had overall a more difficult pregnancy. A lot of it was related to our location. There weren’t many trails that were maintained around us. Also, the humidity and heat were stifling. I did enjoy exploring camp with River, and we walk a trail along a creek each day. Although I was not hiking in the mountains this time around, I was outside every day. And I got to experience the outdoors through the eyes of my 1 ½ year old. His curiosity was infectious. Only being 2 hours away from my parents, I got to share the spaces that I explored on their property with him. We even took him rafting on the river that I had paddled so many times with the camp I went to as a kid.
When I was 28 weeks pregnant, we found out the camp we moved across the country for, and sold our house for, was closing. I honestly felt a bit panicked. Richie jumped into action looking for a new camp for our family, and had a few offers that he chose from. We decided to move to the northwoods in Minnesota. Our daughter joined our family just 2 ½ weeks after we moved! Winter followed soon after. I struggled that winter with all the adjustments our family was going through. It was bitterly cold, I had a newborn who just wanted to nurse all the time. My son was having a hard time adjusting to all the changes that rocked his world- the move and now a new baby sister was a lot for a 2 year old. I felt like I was doing him a disservice by staying inside so often and giving him more screen time than he was used to. It was a huge struggle to just get outside, let alone get two babies into their car seats and drive to town to form friendships. Fortunately, Richie made it a point to get River outside every day, even when I couldn’t.
Then the pandemic hit and everyone was staying home. With the pandemic came spring, and the slow steady thaw in the northwoods. I began to get outside more with our little ones, now that Hattie wasn’t a newborn who wanted to breastfeed around the clock. I started playing with River outside during her naps while Hattie slept on me in the carrier. That spring and summer we ran around camp, explored the trails near our house, swam in the lake daily, and caught dozens of fish off the docks. We were incredibly lucky to be quarantining at camp where the outdoors was so easily accessible. It was what I had been craving through that long, cold winter while we adjusted to our new lives in a new place. It was also what my son needed. More time outdoors helped him get back to himself. And Hattie also enjoyed being outside each day, playing in the grass, trying to eat dirt, or sleeping in the carrier. We took Hattie on her first camping trip. It went so well that we decided to take them on a canoe camping trip. Accessing a lake from the road, we paddled in with our babies and dog to a quiet, sunny campsite. Then Richie went back to the car, loaded our mountain of gear, and paddled it over to the campsite. We’ll work on how much gear we are bringing in this summer!
This fall and winter I knew I was not going to be inside as frequently as I was during our first winter in Minnesota. I understand that first winter in Minnesota was a huge adjustment for myself and for our little ones. I also give myself grace in how I handled it. Those early months of infancy can be overwhelming, even without a move, no family nearby, and bitterly cold weather. However, we were now into a good routine with getting outside time. As a family, we needed to get outside for our health and well-being. We got out nearly every day, typically twice a day for most of the winter. The exception being the 10 days where the temperature wasn’t above -15 degrees. How I made that daily outdoor happen, even when it was bitterly cold was to make it a set part of our daily routine. It became an expected part of the rhythm of the day during the summer, and I made it a point to continue that rhythm into the cooler months.
The outdoors has been a part of my life all the way back to my early memories. It’s been the basis of my closest friendships and is part of the foundation of my marriage. I have been fortunate to experience the beauty and awe of diverse regions in the United States and in different countries. Time outside has always been something that I hold dear. I want to foster this same love of the outdoors in my children. I also want to share memories with them outside and push them to try new things.
Being outside as a family, every day makes such a difference to our mood. It helps both our kids regulate their energy levels and their emotions. It allows them to tap into their imaginations in a way that I don’t see when playing inside. When we’re outside, my kids fight WAY less than they do inside. Also, how can a 1 and a 3 year old already be fighting? This baffles me daily! But when we’re outside they are more content in their relationship. The benefits of getting outside don’t just stop with the kids. As I’ve shared, I love being outside. I have all my life. I feel less stressed and more at ease when I get some time outside each day. This leads me to being a better mom and a better wife. Richie thrives on adrenaline-inducing outdoor experiences. Without them he becomes very pent up around the house, always encouraging rambunctious play that I’d rather have done outside! Basically, getting outside is good for the soul, and it’s good for anyone’s soul.
I wanted to make this podcast for a lot of different reasons. First of all, I love podcasts. I love listening to stories. This goes back as far as my early childhood memories of being outside. Some of my fondest memories in the car were spent listening to This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion. Basically, I’ve been hooked on podcasts since podcasts were only radio shows. As I’ve listened to podcasts over so many genres, and listened to amazing stories of the outdoors from very professional productions, I realized that I hadn’t found a space dedicated to sharing stories and adventures of the outdoors from a family perspective. This idea has been on my mind for over a year. Honestly, I’ve let self-doubt hold me back from starting this sooner. I’m not a professional journalist. I don’t know about audio, and I know the podcast isn’t going to sound like those professional podcasts with hired sound techs and producers. So I let that fear hold me back for quite some time. But this idea kept coming up over and over again. Finally, I decided to let go of my self-doubt and fear over creating the podcast, and just try. So here I am. Making a dream happen and putting it out there for the world to hear.
So what does being an outdoorsy family mean? I’ll admit I’ve already had people say to me “well yes, I love getting outside, but I’m not an outdoorsy person.” I get it. Being outdoorsy is a label that has connotations of big adventures. Personally, I am all for those big adventures in my life! I love nothing better than spending a week out in the woods, cut off from the world outside my little bubble in nature. I love the adrenaline-inducing moments when I drop into fresh, untracked powder or get into a good flow on a mountain biking trail. But big adventures don’t have to define what being outdoorsy is. Being outdoorsy for your family could be as simple as what most of my encounters with the outdoors look like most days. Getting outside and enjoying nature from the comfort of your home, a park, or a local trail. No gear required. No planning and prepping for a big road trip to remote locations. Those things are great, and I love when they happen, but being outdoorsy can simply be being outside. This is why I believe all families can be outdoorsy families. Simply getting outside a few times a week, as a family, and making that intentional time to get out is being outdoorsy. Whether you live in a city or a rural community, the outdoors is available and accessible to your family. Whether you are in the mountain west, the midwest, the South, or anywhere in between, the outdoors is available for your family. If you have a baby, toddler, school age kid, or even teenagers, you can get outside as a family. There is no right way to be outdoorsy, and there is no wrong way either!
That is what Outdoorsy Families is all about. Getting outside as a family and enjoying it! The podcast will share stories of families on all different adventure levels. From playing in your own backyard to climbing mountains with your kids. We will share stories of the transition from life before kids to motherhood. We’ll share how to make time for yourself outside. We’ll look at the challenges that can arise when you’re getting outside with kids. It is my hope that these stories will inspire you to create your own adventures and put any fears of getting outside with kids aside.
I hope that in hearing my story you will take time to reflect on your own relationship with the outdoors. What is your outdoorsy family story? Please share it with me on Instagram at outdoorsy.families. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast and if you are enjoying the podcast rate and review it! Thank you so much for joining me on this adventure. See you next time!
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