I’m curious about something and wonder if this scenario is true for you. Most of us seem fairly certain that we know what we want in life—where we want to go and what we want to do. But when we look back from five to 10 years in the future, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves on adventures we couldn’t have imagined—and often for the better. That’s the premise of the story of my journey to become outdoorsy. But since I’m often asked about the longer journey, I feel like this is the perfect time for a deep dive.
My journey to become outdoorsy
The story typically begins about 20 years ago on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. But as I continue to make sense of my life as a whole, I believe that a strong affinity for the outdoors has always been a part of me. I can’t speak for everyone, but considering our history as human beings, I imagine that being drawn to the outdoors is inherent in all of us. Although it often lies dormant. I guess that describes me for the better part of my life too. I loved playing outside as a young girl and especially learning about all things nature from my grandmother. But as I grew older and attempted to make my way in this world, I lost sight of most of the things I loved in a desperate search to feel like I belonged and build a better life for myself.
Both my spouse and I grew up in households with few financial resources. The only vacations we took were trips deemed necessary—like out-of-town family weddings. The idea of spending money on gear to sleep outside likely seemed preposterous back then. The local churches where I grew up lead annual trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), but I didn’t have the resources to buy the basic outdoor gear that was necessary to attend. And if I’m being completely honest, although it sounded intriguing and friends raved about their experience, it was miles and miles outside my comfort zone.
When I share these stories with friends today, I’m often slathered with sympathy. But I’ve come to realize that there’s so much good that came from discovering the outdoors later in life. I probably wouldn’t change it even if I were able to.
Now back to Hawaii.
My husband and I got married around the same time most of our friends were getting married. Every wedding we went to made us feel more strongly that a big wedding was not for us. They’re expensive and time-intensive to plan. And it seemed as though no matter what our friends chose to do, there was always someone who had an opinion about how it should have been done differently. We just wanted to get married and enjoy the day together, so after a long engagement, we eloped in Hawaii.
Just over a day of that trip was spent actually getting married. The rest of our time on Oahu was the first of many epic adventures together. We saw all the touristy things—Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, the Aquarium, and even a luau. But our fondest memories were driving around the island and savoring the breathtaking natural world. We hiked up Diamond Head, swam at Lanikai Beach, and watched the sun set behind the big waves on the North Shore. Everything was pure magic—the sights, sounds, and smells. After we returned home to Minnesota, we were bound and determined to one day call Hawaii home.
That trip to Hawaii was the start of a lifelong love of travel and adventure. The following May we rented a cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior and fell in love all over again. The beauty of the dramatic landscape coupled with the endless outdoor adventures had us dreaming a new dream—summers on the North Shore of Lake Superior and winters in Hawaii.
Due to its proximity to our home in the Twin Cities, we’ve spent a lot of time on the North Shore and in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region over the last two decades. For the first five years or so we rented cabins and vacation rentals. It was wonderful and met us where we were at in terms of our comfort zone. But it was expensive—even way back then.
Not wanting to spend $1000 every time we journeyed up north for a long weekend, I began to look into camper cabins at Minnesota State Parks. There were fewer back then and they were much less popular. So it was easy to grab an August weekend with reasonable advanced notice. We had an incredible time on that camper cabin camping adventure. But it quickly occurred to me that if we camped in a tent, we’d be able to stay three times as long for the same price. That’s how our interest in tent camping was born.
A new adventure
We planned our first tent camping trip in the Superior National Forest for the following summer. While I appreciate the friendships and opportunities social media platforms—like Instagram—have provided, I’m grateful it wasn’t around when we started camping. First, there’s a certain kind of magic when you go somewhere you’ve never been and have no idea what it looks like. It always exceeds your expectations.
I also believe that not being fed a stream of Reels and YouTube videos of the destinations we were visiting prevented us from believing that we knew what we were doing—if that makes sense. Watching a YouTube video of Shug backpacking in the BWCA, for example, immerses me in experience and makes me feel like I have it figured out more than I actually do. In reality, we had no clue what we were doing back then, and we’re still learning today. Without access to the abundance of filtered and edited “content,” we researched, read, and learned as much as we could about how to do things right the old-fashioned way. We still made mistakes, however, and it took years to get where we are today.
The next year we pushed the limits of our comfort zone a bit further and stayed in a walk-in campsite where we had to carry in all of our gear. In turn, we were rewarded with unforgettable views and privacy. By this trip, we were sold on the idea of going more remote when we gained the skills and the discretionary income to buy all the necessary gear.
We enjoyed our new hobby immensely and explored new places each year for a handful of years. Then in 2017, the time came for me to take one of the biggest leaps outside my comfort zone yet. It had been several years since we’d taken a “real” vacation and I was getting antsy and whiney. My husband’s life was consumed by a lot of family stuff at the time, so he encouraged me to do something on my own. I’d always wanted to visit every Minnesota State Park, but I’d never camped alone and the idea of it downright terrified me. Most people assume I was scared of the wolves, lynx, and bears. But it was the axe-murdering psychopaths that made me lose the most sleep.
My word of the year in 2017 was courage, so despite my terror, I went ahead and did it anyway. That August, I took a three-week trip through Northern Minnesota knocking out more than half of the 69 parks I eventually visited. I was scared no doubt, but by night 10 I was sleeping like a baby, grateful that I allowed my dreams to be bigger than my fears.
I finished my state park tour in 2018 and it was time to start dreaming up a new challenge. That summer I decided that 2019 would be the year I backpack solo. When I started dreaming and planning, I imagined I’d do an easy trip to a state park backpack campsite. I’m not sure what happened but that easy trip somehow took the shape of a 4-night, 85-mile, section hike on the Superior Hiking Trail, also known as the SHT.
The next few years, as you may recall, were “a pretty kettle of fish.”
(Side note—I looked up a synonym for dumpster fire and found this. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “a pretty kettle of fish” as a very difficult and annoying situation. Side-side note—If we’re friends IRL, I expect this phrase will be used on the regular.)
Anyway, some stuff happened those first few years of this decade that—in ways that were unique to each of us—altered our plans and changed how we lived our daily lives. We did our best to roll with it in the Scherer household, but we didn’t get back to a feeling of “normalcy” until this year (2023).
After that pretty kettle of fish, I was eager to do something that would bring me the joy and excitement of a new challenge. So, I decided that 2023 would be the year I attempted to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail. Up until that point, I’d hiked most of the trail but felt like I was dragging my feet to finish it. I figured there was no better way to wrap it up than by doing all 310-plus miles all at once.
It was hard. And it challenged and changed me. But I’m so grateful I did it.
If I could leave only one lesson with you, as it pertains to this story, it would be this. We sometimes look at people online and on social media doing things we couldn’t dream of accomplishing. In our heads, we make up stories about how they’ve always known how to do this. Or how they have some quality or circumstance that we, ourselves, lack. I hope this story serves as a reminder that this is never the case. We all start from zero. We’ve all had injuries and challenges along the way. But step by step, year after year, we keep moving forward toward what we love, and what makes us feel whole.
Back in 2004, we wanted nothing more than to retire in Hawaii. Then in 2005, that dream evolved to include a second incredible location. Nearly 20 years later, we’ve discovered so many breathtaking outdoorsy places that we couldn’t pick just one or two. On top of that, we’ve come to realize that our experience is incredibly limited and that there’s so much more to see and do. So, for now, the dream is to keep exploring and doing all things outdoorsy.