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I Finally Embraced My Home State When I Couldn’t Leave It

Through actively engaging with your environment and embracing unique regional opportunities, there really is no place like home.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, safety and economic measures have forced people to put plans on hold indefinitely. It’s a difficult reality to accept and can be deeply frustrating. And I get it.

I had long wanted to move out of my home state of Utah and experience new places. But a few years ago, circumstances had prevented me and my spouse from leaving. After some time I realized it wasn’t the state that needed revamping, but my attitude.

Here’s how I fell in love with my home state when I couldn’t leave it.

Give Yourself a Challenge

A lover of hiking, I signed up for the 52 Hike Challenge, which is designed so you hike at least once a week on unique trails. I bought myself some spikes and layered up for winter hiking, which increased my hiking opportunities.

My hikes varied between easy trails that were no longer than a mile and challenging mountain summits. After one particularly memorable summit of Mount Timpanogos, my husband and I were charged by a moose. In the dark. Near midnight. It was terrifying.

So many times I’d swear I’d never do something like that again. But then the next week I’d be planning my next adventure, excited to get out and explore more.

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INSIDER TIPOne of my favorite hikes was to Donut Falls, which was buried in several feet of snow. Here you can hike up, crawl into a cave, and look at the falls through the hole in the rock, and then slide down to the bottom on the snow-covered rocks safely.

Embrace Opportunities Unique to the Region

Utah has incredible—no, endless—crags and canyons available for rock climbers at any level. I had always wanted to get into rock climbing, but I didn’t know how to do it outdoors. I was shy about approaching people in the climbing gym, so I turned to Facebook groups and posted about looking for partners. Soon I was making enthusiastic friends who were more than happy to show me the ropes.

1, 2, & 3: CREDIT: Liesl Hammer

I got a thrill from touching that sun-warmed rock. When I climbed, I wasn’t thinking about anything but my next move. I looked forward to the evenings after work where I could head over to the gym and climb.

Learning to adapt to your location and playing the hand you’re dealt can do wonders no matter where you are. Plan day trips to different parts of the state or country, even during the winter. Some places have beautiful rivers and lakes, while others have rolling hills ripe for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. You could even explore older, smaller towns. It takes a little creative thinking, but almost every place has something unique to offer.

Leave the House

Getting at least 120 minutes a week outdoors can drastically improve your mood. But not everyone can just skip over to the nearest forest.

Might I suggest walking?

Walking gets you out of your head. You interact with your local environment and find hidden gems in places you might have previously dismissed as uninteresting. The neighborhood I previously lived in was largely industrial parks and apartment complexes–not much nature there.

But I loved walking in this area. My spouse and I interacted with feral cats that lived nearby. We admired the pretty buildings on the route, picked leaves off of overhanging weeping willows, and speculated about the lives of the people in the area. We’d bundle up for bad weather and go out during snowstorms and rain. It saved my sanity during dark winter nights.

Go Off the Beaten Path

Crowds and coronavirus go hand-in-hand, so take this as an opportunity to find the less popular places. Or visit the popular places at less popular times.

Utah has five national parks, but I decided to check out state parks and national monuments as well. Dinosaur National Monument and Escalante National Monument don’t get the same rush of crowds the way Zion and Arches National Parks do, but they’re just as awe-inspiring.

1.CREDIT: Liesl Hammer; 2. CREDIT: Zachary Mink

One of my favorite places to backpack was a place within Escalante called Coyote Gulch. You have to drive on a 30-mile dirt road to even get to the trailhead. Once you hike into the canyon, you can walk through the shallow river and experience vast overhanging sandstone walls. There are beautiful natural arches and small waterfalls.

Going off the beaten path makes a place more special because you feel like you discovered it. Also, it’s more environmentally friendly and helps out small local businesses. Win-win!

Make Plans for the Future and Execute Them

Sometimes, even after you’ve tried everything, you’re still struggling and just want out. That happens. This is when my spouse and I started making plans.

We planned a six-month trip abroad and watched travel vloggers for ideas. We budgeted for each place we planned to visit and made specific lists of activities we wanted to do. It was exciting spending winter evenings planning together and dreaming of riding motorbikes through Vietnam.

Travel plans won’t be put on hold forever. Look at places you’ve been eyeing and start planning now. Learn the language of the place you want to visit and find language-speaking partners who could help you improve. Planning is just as fun (if not more fun) as the trip itself.

When my spouse and I left on our trip and later moved to Oregon, I was sad to leave Utah. I had developed place attachment through trying new hobbies and letting go of high expectations. Those months were formative in helping me become happier when plans weren’t going the way I wanted.

Getting out of your house and actively engaging in your environment is a powerful way to help you create meaningful experiences where you live. You may not be able to completely change your circumstances, but you can control how you respond. There are so many opportunities out there as long as you look for them.