‘Guiding Hands’ – FIELDTRIP 007 with Gemina Garland-Lewis

There’s a picture in one of my mom’s old photo albums that I have a hard time taking my eyes away from. The year is 1987 and the place is Arches National Park. My mom is carrying me on her back, rounding a bend in the rock trail coming out of Delicate Arch. I forgive my mom the giant perm surrounding her face since it was the ‘80s, but am jealous of her teal puffy. The path looks quiet. I can tell it is cold because she is wearing thick gloves and I look like a marshmallow with a face poking out. The sun is low in the sky and the canyon walls are coming to life. The scene is familiar – I have walked this path since – but it looks like a different world. Although I am entranced by my mom’s hot pink sweatpants, what the scene really shows me is how I got my start in the outdoors.

Everyone has that person (or people) in their life that helped them get their start outside. For some, this may have been a friend, for others an outdoor adventure program, or – in this day and age – it may have been the person whose Instagram photos inspire you. For me, it was my parents, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this category. From before I could walk, I was a child of the outdoors. My parents would carry me in a backpack that looked particularly uncomfortable and bears little resemble to the versions I see parents donning on the trail these days (thanks, you guys!). We hiked, we camped, we sat around the fire, and we looked at the stars. I learned the hard way about ashes from the previous night’s fire still being hot enough to burn you. More importantly, I learned how to be comfortable with life outdoors and comfortable with myself in that life.

I won’t pretend that I went from this grinning young child in canyon country to the outdoor adventurer that I am today without a few glitches. The outdoors never stopped being a part of my life, but my enthusiasm for it went through some ups and downs in my teenage years. One summer in high school, my mom and I were exploring Yellowstone and the Tetons. In a moment she’ll never let me live down (and rightly so), I decided to stay in the car at Jenny Lake because “it all looked the same.” Even with my moments of teenage sass, my parents never stopped bringing me outside – something that, in retrospect, I’m hugely grateful for.

Fast forward and, for many years now, my parents have been some of my go-to adventure buddies. In the fall of 2010, my mom and I spent a month together on the road and on the trails, camping all over northern Arizona and southern Utah. Every year we plan at least one camping or backpacking trip together, and she remains a constant source of inspiration and ideas for me to get outside. We have grown to a place where we push each other – we each suggest places and adventures that the other one might not have done on their own and then we make it happen together. And our camp routine has gotten pretty solid across the years, to boot.

What I’ve come to find over the years is that there’s nothing quite like going outdoors with those that originally got you out there. I am fortunate enough to have a solid group of friends I adventure with – they inspire me, we grow and learn together, we push each other, and we certainly go places or do trips that my parents wouldn’t be up for at this point in life. But it’s different than going back to my roots, to walk with the same people, sometimes on the same trails, that we’ve walked together for the last 30 years. No matter how long you’ve been getting out there with those who first inspired you, you are grateful for them on a more fundamental level – they are part of the reason you are even here.

Last year, my dad finally visited me in my adopted home state of Washington. He hadn’t been backpacking in almost a decade and had never been to Washington, so I took him out to the North Cascades for an overnight. He was rusty and new to the Pacific Northwest terrain, but watching him feel the wonders of being outside in a new place – foraging for blueberries, surrounded by green, or watching the peaks change color as the sun arced through sky – this was a way I knew I had given something back to him that he had helped start in my life.

So grab the person who first inspired you and get outside with them again this summer – you’ll be happy to go back to what brought you out there in the first place.

Gemina is a National Geographic Explorer, a photographer, and an Explorer for The Outbound Collective.

You will likely find her out on the trail and chasing the light with camera in tow, a silly grin on her face.

You can find Gemina at her Instagram or on her website.