I’m going to go out on a limb and say not everyone has considered traveling to all 59 National Parks over the course of a year. Well we’re not just considering it, we are doing it. Our adventure might seem like the ramblings of a crazy person to some people, but to us it seems like the a dream coming true that has been a lifetime in the making.

The outdoors and our adventures in them have played a huge part in our lives and we don’t envision that stopping anytime soon. So we wanted to take a trip down memory lane to share some of our favorite and most impactful outdoor experiences that have made us who we are today. Here are 4 things that made Cole who he is today.

  1. Playing in the backyard – When I was 5 my family moved from our apartment in town to our newly built home on the edge of the county. Of course since I was leaving everything I’d ever known I complained and sulked the whole way. If I only knew then how many more adventures I could have exploring our endless new wooded backyard where I could hardly ever see another house… catching crawdads and tadpoles in the creek, turning an uprooted tree into a hideout, slinging globs of mud during mud fights at the pond, running wild playing cops and robbers, racing down the hills in full-contact sled battles, swinging out 30 feet over the hillside in a Superman pose and of course chasing our black lab who was constantly getting loose. These memories of my childhood along with many others are very special to me. And looking back, I think these early experiences led me to grow my love for the outdoors.

    Cole and his little sister, Tara, with dog, Dave, on their first day of school at the new home.

    Cole and his little sister, Tara, with dog, Dave, on their first day of school at the new home.

  2. Family vacations and reenactments – Another unique influence in my early years was our family vacations and hobby. One summer we loaded up the minivan and set off for our first visit to Yellowstone National Park (our first visit to any National Park for that matter). It was a long way from our home in St. Louis, MO, but we had a great time checking out all the familiar wonders of the park. But after our couple nights of camping we set off for the second half of the vacation: a family reunion at the Wyoming cabin of a relative I’d never met… and it was mountain man rendezvous themed. Over the next few days we slept in tipis, made crafts to barter, told stories around the campfire, dressed up in leathers and fur hats, competed in archery and tomahawk competitions (black powder rifle shooting for the grown-ups), climbed throughout the mountains. It was like nothing else my little flat-lander self had ever known and I loved every minute of it. Apparently my whole family did, because after that first trip not a summer went by for the next 10 years that we didn’t take a trip out West to the family rendezvous or some National Park. We gradually made our own period clothing, got a canvas tent, collected all kinds of 1800s living utensils and began participating in reenactments. First it was the Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous, then we joined events closer to home, and to this day our family is very involved with Lewis and Clark reenactments through our group the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles. This outdoor hobby probably isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for us.
    My sister and I at Ribbon Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Still the most beautiful waterfall I've ever seen!

    My sister and I at Ribbon Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Still the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen!

    Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous - when things got serious!

    Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous – when things got serious!

    family rendezvous - first

    This must have been our first family rendezvous because all of those clothes were borrowed and Tara is so tiny!

  3. Boy Scouts – I was a Boy Scout from starting in first grade as a Wolf Cub Scout until senior year of high schools when I achieved Eagle Scout. Something that was that consistent of a presence throughout my youth no doubt had a big impact on my outdoor exposure. Where else would I get the Wilderness Survival or Basketry merit badges, make modern conveniences from twine contraptions (like a hat rack) all around camp, navigate through the woods in the middle of the night or build and race our own canoe, or take on an 11-day backpacking trip through Philmont? I must admit, at the time I took many of these opportunities for granted. As I got older many of my friends gave it up and there were plenty of times where Boy Scout outings got the back seat to sports tournaments. But in the end the friends I made, skills I learned, traits I developed and experiences I had can never be replaced.
    Cole earns a badge as a Cub Scout. But check out those green jeans!

    Cole earns a badge as a Cub Scout. But check out those green jeans!

    eagle scout prject

    Cole’s Eagle Scout Project – building a nature trail at the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center in St. Charles

     

  4. OSEP – I was one of those super-involved kids in high school. I played soccer and ran track, was President of Student Council, did service through Key Club and NHS, won Mr. LHS representing Care Team, blah blah blah. The one thing that I can easily point to as the highlight of my time in high school was my participation in our school’s Outdoor Student Education Program. This was a one-of-a-kind program where a handful of students were nominated and chosen from each grade. Throughout my four years of high school I had some awesome adventures with OSEP including rock climbing and rappelling, orienteering challenges, cave explorations, and 30-mile overnight hikes. These outdoor adventures were designed to push us out of their comfort zone and expose us to new challenges where we had to practice our leadership and work together. I will never forget the friends I made or the stories we shared. I know I was incredibly lucky to have an opportunity like this in my school and I would like to think that in my case it did exactly what it was meant to do: allow me to grow as a person through the great educator of the outdoors.
    Giving a farewell speech at our last OSEP event.

    Giving a farewell speech at our last OSEP event.

    Cole with his OSEP group in St. Louis on an Urban Scavenger Hunt.

    Cole with his OSEP group in St. Louis on an Urban Scavenger Hunt.

    Read about little Elizabeth growing up here.

Written by Cole