Welcome to my new blog feature, Unpacking, where I talk about how time in the outdoors has benefitted me and my family.

Unlike many others in the outdoor space, I did not grow up outdoorsy. My family lived in a rural community, so I spent lots of time outside, but we did not camp outside our backyard, nor did we do long or strenuous hikes. I grew up in central Ohio, so hikes with elevation change are rare.

It wasn’t until I went to Virginia that I fell in with a bunch of hiking camping trail running people, and got invited on my first serious hike. We headed to Old Rag Mountain, the iconic Shenandoah day hike, and I was completely unprepared. I spent the morning debating whether to wear flip flops or sneakers, I brought no food, and had to borrow a backpack with hydration bladder. The hydration bladder was so novel that I drank the entire thing and had to stop to pee more than once on the way down.

Despite being out of shape and underprepped, I had a fantastic time. The weather was beautiful, the top mile of granite scramble was right up my alley and validated my decision to wear sneakers. My friends went more slowly than they would have preferred and shared their food with me. I still owe them a million thanks. I loved it so much that I went back with a few of the same people plus this guy I had just started dating a few weeks later. (About a year and a half later, we got married.) My favorite picture of us is from the summit. My hair is in a tight ponytail and I’m wearing no makeup. His eyes are red from the wind. Our smiles are genuine.

Since then, time in the outdoors has been my touchstone. Whenever I feel out of sorts or the kids are rioting, I schedule us some time outside, preferably in the woods or near the lake. Living in Northeast Ohio near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Metroparks, and Lake Erie, we have an abundance of options for outdoor adventures, most of them within an hour’s drive. Ohio is an outdoor gem and I’m so glad my kids get to grow up here.

What’s your favorite Ohio outdoor destination? Anywhere we should check out soon?