I have just made the decision to move 1,500 kilometres away from my home in Alberta to Vancouver. I’m leaving my friends and family and going to beautiful British Columbia. This is the stuff dreams are made of, right? I am a young woman who loves spending time in nature, running, camping and exploring the mountains.
My head and my heart are filled with ideas of all the adventures I will have with friends I will meet, who must all be similarly inclined outdoor lovers, who want to explore all the peaks and watch sunsets and get dressed up to go out for dinner, and, bonus, I will be able to do these things, comfortably all year round, in the milder climate of Vancouver.
Surely, this will be an easy thing to do—meet people that love the outdoors in a city surrounded by the outdoors? It’s all so accessible.
Yes and no, it turns out. Gone are the university days of meeting new people with ease, anywhere and everywhere, especially for an introvert in a new city like me, without a network of pre-existing friends to fill my “social” cup.
When I first arrived in Vancouver, I searched around online (the Meetup platform was a thing at this time—is Meetup still around?) and did some digging. I stepped way out of my comfort zone and messaged a woman I found on Facebook who ran a women’s trail running group. I started going to weekly runs and hikes, and I met a network of women from all over the Lower Mainland who were interested in doing lots of the same things as me! Yay friends and adventures!
Joining an adventure-based group was easy. Friends—presto! Hobby—presto! I had limited insight into the time, organization and responsibility necessary for these group events.
After a good dose of exploring all around, without many cares, I got married and found out I was pregnant. Although these were exciting times, I ended up having a complicated pregnancy (which subsequently had a four-month hospital stay out of country—a story for another time). Essentially, I could no longer participate in many of the activities that had also become my social life. When I made it home with our (finally) healthy baby, life as a new parent was a big adjustment. It was beautiful and I was fully in love with this new little creature, and I was exhausted.
As this phase morphed, I was craving my previous connections and time in the outdoors. I thought it would be as easy as asking my friends, and other parents I had met, to get out and do some exploring, kids in tow or not.
The reality is, that most people are busy, and just because you have good friends with shared values and interests in common and even similar life circumstances doesn’t mean that everyone wants to spend their “free” time traipsing through the forest.
As a family, we started spending time doing hikes on the weekends and, during the week, I begrudgingly went to baby activities with hopes of meeting people and creating those connections through shared interests. I met some lovely people through these activities, but the activities were just not how I wanted to spend time.
At this time, there were some communities of outdoorsy parents and families popping up on social media, and so I started messaging them: “Hey you don’t know me at all, do you have a group in Vancouver? I am on the search for friends who like to do outdoorsy things!” I thought that there would be a large established community of like-minded people in a city with such incredible access to the outdoors, but I couldn’t find one. If I wanted a group like this, I was going to have to create it. Which is exactly what I did.
Along with another woman (now friend and business partner) who I knew through social media, I started an Outdoor Mom’s group in Vancouver. I was really feeling this need to connect with others in 2020. I know this was/is a feeling for many over the past two years: an intense need for connection. As restrictions and regulations allowed, I began posting group events. The easy part—choosing something to do and posting an event. I was pleasantly surprised the first few events. Numerous people indicated they were interested and showed up. Yay—community! Through those first few events, I connected with many women (and families) who became good friends. Mission accomplished—outdoor parent friends.
In addition to spending time outside with my son, I was ready to do more of the things that filled my own cup, without my child, and without 4,000 stops to pick up rocks, snack, swing sticks, insert fun kid activities here. I had an invite to be a group leader for Women Who Explore, which is a BIG group. I had been a member of the group for a long time, which of course through the pandemic had limited opportunities for group events. The group in Vancouver has over 8,500 members (and growing). As a side note, I take this as evidence that there are LOTS of people, specifically female-identifying folks like me, seeking friendships and time in the outdoors. Because this group is so well-established, with many groups setting precedent, getting started was relatively easy—a time commitment, but lots of procedures in place to make everything go as smooth as possible.
Running online adventure groups through a pandemic (like everything during this time) has been interesting. Changing restrictions has meant limited opportunities for groups of people to get together in person, as well as many awkward conversations about “best practice” for car pooling (environmental yes, pandy no-no).
So, with that said, here are my overall takeaways for creating a community of people who like to do the same things as you. I’ll give you a hint: in my opinion—it’s completely worth it!
The Good, The Tricky and The Time Commitment
People are busy, people have lives and things happen. Overall, I think people have good intentions, but sometimes they can’t make events.
It is really freaking hard to put yourself out there and show up to an event with a bunch of total strangers. I completely understand that. HELLO VULNERABILITY.
For me, there is an inherent sense of responsibility for group members and those who make it out to events. I am not a trained wilderness survival professional, so this tends to make me err on the side of extreme caution when watching weather and avalanche conditions. Sometimes folks arrive underprepared for trails/events, and there is a sense of “mother hen” I feel.
I have waited at a trailhead for almost an hour, in a region with poor cell phone service, without hearing from people, to start the trail and then in a moment of cell phone service getting a call from them saying they are there, and then felt for them in how hard that is to continue with the event when you think you have been left behind.
On the opposite side, I have waited and had no one show up with no calls or communication and felt concern that they have been left behind. So, there is always some guilt associated. I dislike that “maybe” response option for online events.
I have had the opportunity to meet so many people from lots of different places, cultures and perspectives.
I have learned about new places to explore locally and big travel bucket list destinations.
I have seen incredible sunsets and wild areas.
I have made friendships for myself and playmates for my kid
I have learned about lots of different types of gear… and personalities.
I have started two businesses that have become my career through connections made through these groups.
I have had conversations, interactions and friendships with people whom I may not have ever met in real life, if not for these groups.
I have tried new things and put myself way out of my comfort zone in terms of vulnerability and in terms of activities, in a good way.
I have fostered friendships with people all over the world, that I have not yet met in person, thanks to social media and connections through these groups.
I have been able to explore the outdoors, with others, with friends, and say together, “isn’t life so beautiful?”
It really is.
P.S. Did you know Explore Magazine has an Adventure Challenge Club?
We fill your calendar with weekly, monthly and quarterly challenges and reward you with prizes for getting outdoors and living a more fulfilling, adventure filled life.
No more humming and hawing or what you and your family should do...
Pick a challenge and turn every opportunity into a fun, scavenger hunt style outdoor adventure.
Click here to learn more about our unique challenge club community.