For Teva Explorer Ron Griswell, being outside is an act of healing, resistance, self-care, and liberation. Hear why he believes creating space for joy and replenishment is essential. Words by Ron Griswell. Photos by Cliford Mervil.
With all of the ups, downs, twists, and turns since COVID-19 altered our way of life, never more in my lifetime has the phrase “life’s a rollercoaster” been more true.
It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating the New Year—planning and plotting my adventures for the summer. There was the backpacking trip in Alaska, the wedding in Morocco, and the various festivals and concerts I had in the books for July, August, and September. But because of a global pandemic, those are all just fleeting memories of what could have been.
Ron and Linea hike on Causeway Park’s boardwalks that wind through the wetlands along the Pasquotank River, in their hometown of Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
In the wake of canceled engagements and the implementation of state and federal social distancing guidelines we are all left to wonder, “what now?” But if there is anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s how you pivot in times of adversity. With the new challenges and regulations set in place, I’ve often thought, “how do I rise to the occasion, rather than wallowing in my own self pity?” In the face of this new reality, adapting and rolling with the punches is the only thing that makes sense.
Since surrendering and submitting to my changed circumstances, I’ve learned more about myself, but so much more about the place I call home: northeastern North Carolina. I think we often become enthralled by the idea of foreign landscapes and activities that we fail to recognize the potential of the environment we live in. For too long, the sentiment, “it’s just home” has kept me from going deeper into experiencing the place that has raised me—until now. I’ve realized that in its purest form, adventure isn’t where you are, it’s a frame of mind. Exploration, as well as curiosity, should start right in our own backyards.
While exploring my hometown and surrounding areas, I’ve utilized #RecreateResponsibly guidelines as a compass for how to get outside safely during COVID. Through local, low risk, and physically distanced activities that prioritize public health and safety, I’ve adopted this as my new lifestyle and the lens for how I engage with the outdoors.And truthfully, this realization couldn’t have come at a better time.
In conjunction with this pandemic, we are witnessing a great awakening of race-related social justice issues. The racial trauma and strife we are facing taxes our hearts, minds, and souls. Quarantining and social distancing has isolated us, further elevating the collective feeling of despair.
“I’m choosing to create and actively participate in my healing by finding joy.”
The CEO of The National Alliance on Mental Health, Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., put it exquisitely in a recent statement, “…Our nation’s African American community is going through an extremely painful experience, pain that has been inflicted upon this community repeatedly throughout history and is magnified by mass media and repeated deaths… And, with more than [150,000] lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic—disproportionately from minority communities—these recent deaths add gasoline to the fire of injustice. While there is much we need to do to address racism in our country, we must not forget the importance of mental health as we do so. Racism is a public health crisis.”
As a community, we must understand that the effects of racism on our mental health are real and can no longer be ignored. We must tend to these internal wounds. In today’s society, getting outside in a responsible manner is necessary and of utmost importance for many of us and especially marginalized communities. It is essential healing, as well as an act of resistance, self-care, and self-preservation.
Linea wears the Midform Universal Leather in Desert Sand.
I’m choosing to create and actively participate in my healing by finding joy. I’m reconnecting with past experiences that stir within me an ephemeral and nostalgic feeling. I’m going outside, moving my body, taking deep breaths, and enjoying the company of loved ones all for my mental health.
Here, in the Albemarle, I rediscovered two activities—hiking and sculling (rowing with two oars)—that have been helping me find a sense of balance while also nourishing my soul. Both have a special place in my heart as they relate to how I began my journey in the outdoors.
With hiking, I could go back to when I attended my first Summer camp in 6th grade. Or maybe even as far back as when I was a child roaming around the woods at my grandparents’ house. But the experiences that I drift to often, are when I made the decision to enter into the outdoor industry by moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I spent many days and nights walking, meandering, running, and hiking along East River Flats on the Mississippi River corridor.
Hence, here in my hometown, I’ve begun hiking the local water trails. Well, okay, the hikes are actually more of a short walk, but they still resonate with me as much as the longer strolls I enjoyed back in Minneapolis. I couldn’t realize then, but when life became too much, or whenever I had a lot on my mind, it’s the trails alongside the river I would retreat to. There I found solace and peace. The same peace I’m finding here at home on these shorter and less frequented trails.
Ron goes sculling (rowing with two oars) on the Pasquotank River.
The same goes for sculling. While I can say that my first introduction to paddle sports started at that first Summer camp, I have to remember that I spent most of my time flipping canoes to swim, rather than learning to paddle. It wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities that I became a proficient paddler, right there at East River Flats. Ironically, the floating dock I used to launch canoes from belonged to the University of Minnesota’s row house. I guess it was always meant to be.
I can recall that childlike joy while being on the waters of the Mississippi. Paddling while staring deep into the brackish waters—wondering what swam beneath. That joy and curiosity of the unknown is what I wanted to tap back into during this pandemic. With a bit of effort, I was able to find a local row house right downtown—not even a 20-minute walk from my front door. And sure enough, I found the joy I was searching for as I slid into that slim vessel, dipping the oars right below the surface to propel myself upriver. Pure elation. Just my thoughts, my breath, and the sound of the oars diving and resurfacing out of water. I forgot how calm and meditative paddle sports were.
Linea wears the Hurricane XLT2 in Bright White.
These are the experiences I get to relive right here in my community. These are the moments bringing me joy. This is me healing. And if it can be my healing, I know it can work for others. A large part of my time now goes to figuring out ways to partner with my city to bring awareness to these local recreational opportunities that the black community (50% of the residents are Black or African American), traditionally don’t have access to or don’t normally participate in. I feel as though now, more than ever, the prescription of nature and the recommendation of getting outside should be normalized to combat the mental health issues plaguing the black community, and BIPOC in general.
It’s been proven that proximity to nature, green spaces, and time spent outdoors has both physical, psychological, emotional, and social benefits to us as humans. It is a vital experience that we all need. Personally, recreating responsibly now, and in the next couple of months, isn’t just about fighting boredom, changing up the scene, or combating the summer heat. To recreate responsibly is an act of resistance and our liberation. It’s about prioritizing our mental health, while respecting the physical health of others. It’s creating space for joy. It’s how we rest, heal, and replenish ourselves as we all continue down the road of a more just society.
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