Close banner

Support Outside Online

Love Outside?

Help fund our award-winning journalism with a contribution today.

Contribute to Outside

Wide-Eyed and Breathless

Whether our writers and editors were drawn to flower and tree, bird and creature, or sun and moon, the outdoors wowed them in ways that never let go

Text by

Tim Cahill, editor at large

That’s my mother, sometime in the late 1940s, at Nagawicka Lake in Wisconsin, and as you can see, she was beautiful. I spent my summers on the lake, and learned to swim early, in a time before my memories begin. Dad said he just tossed me off the pier into the lake, which is how you taught a kid to swim in those days. Apparently, I sank like a stone. My father had to dive in, fish me out, and explain that the idea was to stay on top of the water and breathe. I guess that made sense to me, and I spent most of my summer days in the lake. When I told my parents that I wanted to travel, they suggested I join the YMCA swim team. I did, and went with the team to such exotic places as Fond du Lac and Beloit. I swam in high school and later for the University of Wisconsin. My first ever plane flight was a university team trip to a meet in Minnesota. So swimming and travel are deeply intertwined in my mind. One of my first jobs in journalism was as a traveling correspondent for a scuba magazine. Over the years, I’ve reported from almost 100 countries and once took a (brief) swim in the waters under the ice at the North Pole. But that’s another story.

Petra Zeiler, deputy art director

For two weeks every summer, my family would drive three days from Santa Fe, where I grew up, to my grandpa’s house in San Bruno, in Baja California Sur. We’d spend our days playing paddleball on the beach, fishing with our friend Miguel and other locals, kayaking, and exploring the caves of San Marcos Island. Since then I’ve explored and traveled a lot: from ski racing in Sun Valley, Idaho, to attending school in Vancouver, British Columbia, to returning to Santa Fe to work at Outside. Now that I’m home, I know what I’m doing next summer: going back to my grandpa’s place in Mexico.

Erica Clifford, designer 

Just before starting third grade, during the summer of 1998, I went on my first real backpacking trip, at Cape Alava in Washington’s Olympic National Park, with my family and friends. It was the first time I carried all my own things—for a whole 9.4 miles. I was immensely proud. After seeing that I was an accomplished backpacker, and that bribing me with trail treats staved off the more severe bouts of whining, my family began taking me backpacking almost every summer. 

Grayson Schaffer, editor at large

When I was 16, I was really into fishing, so much so that when I was 18 I got a tattoo on my shoulder of a rainbow trout copied out of the Idaho Fish and Game handbook. I got it done in the back of a bar in Sandpoint, Idaho, where a guy took a needle out of a tackle box and assured me that it was clean. My dad was really mad at me for getting it, but I told him I was old enough to make my own decisions. I do wish I’d gotten a better tattoo.


Will Grant, correspondent 

I learned to ride on good horses like Buster at the family ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I’ve been mad for the animals my whole life and have probably breathed more fresh air sitting in the saddle than anywhere else. After my first feature for Outside, in 2013, about racing 600-plus miles across Mongolia on a horse, my editor Sam Moulton advised that my next stories should be less horse-centric. It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn:  (“Calamity at Every Turn”), I wrote about riding part of the Pony Express trail with nine of them.

Molly Mirhashem, associate editor

My parents have been dragging me on hikes since I was born. Growing up in New Hampshire, I was spoiled by beautiful trails close to home, though I usually ended up missing the view because I’d fallen asleep in my dad’s pack. On any given weekend during my childhood, it was a safe bet that we were going hiking. I wasn’t always the most enthusiastic trail com­panion, but eventually all that walking in the woods grew on me. I suppose I should thank my parents for forcing me into the great outdoors before I could even stand up.

Aleta Burchyski, copy editor 

This is me discovering my flow state, learning to breathe, trying to hit the target almost as good as Mom and Dad, who got their first backyard bows when they were little, too. Whenever I felt mad or frustrated or anxious or bored, I’d put on my boots, string up my junior-size Bear bow, and head outside to practice at this pioneer-planted oak behind our little farmhouse in Viola, Oregon. Twenty-five years later, now with a Diamond compound, I’m still not a particularly brilliant shot. But as my parents knew I’d learn, that doesn’t have to be the point.

Blair Braverman, correspondent

I grew up an only child in Davis, California, and spent my afternoons tromping around with the family dog, making up stories. My parents indulged my imagination; if I said I was a castaway on a desert island, they’d ask about my shelter and water supply. When I got whooping cough in second grade, my dad read me Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Treasure Island. After that I was a reader. I spent long afternoons in the tree in our front yard and rigged a basket on a pulley to hoist up books and Fruit Roll-Ups.

Amy Silverman, photography editor

My family’s horse Twist-A-Bit-Late was born at our house in 1975. My dad had moved us from Indianapolis to what was then the country (now a quintessential Midwestern suburb) because he wanted to be a cowboy. We grew up riding horses and roaming the ten acres behind our house. When I read David Quammen’s story (“Whose Woods These Are”), I felt like I was reading a description of my own childhood. We, too, spent hours playing in the woods, swinging on a rope over the creek and entertaining ourselves in the trees and fields. I never lost the love of seeking out spaces that feel wild. 

Wes Judd, assistant editor

Much to my chagrin, when I was growing up, my family never really got outside in the summer. Sure, we went on hikes and visited the local pool in ­Geneva, Illinois, but we didn’t back­pack, roadtrip to national parks, or even camp. Instead, the staple of my summer was a two-week trip to Ocean City, New Jersey, a coastal resort town with a small amusement park, cotton candy vendors, and lounging beachgoers. Despite the touristy vibe, it was there that I got my adventure fix: skimboarding. It wasn’t surfing, but I learned to love it.

Hannah McCaughey, creative director

Every July, during my dad’s summer break from teaching college in New York City, my parents would stuff me and my brother in the back seat of their Volkswagen Bug for the nine-hour drive to Nags Head, North Carolina. Unmonitored by the umpteen relatives who also came, we ran barefoot and free from sunup to sundown. If you were lucky enough to lose a tooth down there—as my cousin Katie (right) and I did the day this picture was taken—you’d wake up to a jackpot of quarters and half-dollars under your pillow and a vague recollection of many tiptoes sneaking into your room the previous night. We just assumed that all the tooth fairies went to Nags Head for the summer, too.

Erin Berger, associate editor

Growing up, I was girlie—that’s me in the middle. My older brother and younger sister didn’t care quite as much about looking cute, but we were all excited to be on our first family camping trip at North Carolina’s Nanta­hala National Forest in July 1997. I remember only small details: roasting marshmallows, happily squishing between family members to feel safe in my sleeping bag, and teasing my sister for being the only one with mos­quito bites. I learned that camping was fun, and my parents never let it cross my mind that I was too girlie—or too anything—to belong at a campout.

David Roberts, former contributing editor

In 1972, a few years after we graduated from college, my climbing partner Matt Hale and I headed for the Arrigetch Peaks in Alaska’s Brooks Range. We attempted a five-day assault on the then unclimbed 6,500-foot Mount Arthur Emmons, the best remaining challenge in the range. But we spent the two days we had planned for the climb huddled under an overhang in freezing rain and wind. We never even saw the peak. We knew our blitz attempt was a long shot—but it still hurt to hunker in the storm and count off the hours left in our dwindling chances as they vanished one by one. Jon Krakauer bagged the first ascent two years later.

Mary Turner, deputy editor

I started camping before I was born, in my mother’s stomach in Alaska, where my father was stationed for a couple of years. And my dad instilled his love of fishing in me at an early age. In this photo from May 1974, we are on an annual camping trip with family friends at the Jordan River in Flint Hill, Virginia, near our home. We slept in party-size tents and brought along a portable toilet, because doing our business in the woods was too scary. My dad helped me catch those two fish—I was so proud!—on a rod with worms. It was a precursor to fly-fishing trips in Montana later in life.

Reid Singer, associate editor

Of the more than 1,000 lakes within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that can be accessed by paddle or portage, most are so rich in smallmouth bass that even as an 11-year-old I managed to snare four of them, all on my own, in a single after­noon. While my uncle filleted the catch on the keel of a canoe, my dad took a picture of me holding up two of them that were still on the stringer. I’ve been struggling to do anything as impressive ever since.

Christopher Keyes, editor

I fell in love with being outside in 1984, when my family embraced #vanlife long before hashtags were a thing. That summer we piled into our Volkswagen Vanagon—standard, no camper—and took a six-week, four-day road trip from Massachusetts to California, up the West Coast, and back through Canada. It was 9,512 miles round-trip. We camped at KOAs and national parks, with a few Motel 6’s thrown in for heat-wave relief. The highlights were always hikes with my dad, like this one to the top of Lembert Dome in Yosemite, while wearing the latest in technical fabric. 

Madeline Kelty, assistant photography editor

My dad grew up spending his summers on Lake George, New York. For his 50th birthday, in 1996, he brought us all from Lake Forest, Illinois, to the place we’d heard so many stories about. We stayed down the road from his family’s old cottage and hit all his favorite spots, re-creating his youth. My dad effortlessly navigated the lake on his boat, pointing out where every friend had lived. Lake George became not just the place I learned to water ski, but the place that taught me more about my father than I’d ever known.


David Quammen, editor at large

It was summer 1949, if memory serves, when a young girl at the apartment compound where my family lived, in suburban Cincinnati, fell into the swimming pool and began to drown. My elder sister, her playmate, ran to alert our mother—who came running and, fully clothed, wearing her Bulova watch, plunged in to make the rescue. That heroic drama resulted in, among other things, toddler me being tethered by clothesline to a cable run, so I couldn’t reach the pool and likewise get myself in beneath the bubbles. When the rope came off, I headed for the Woods (“Whose Woods These Are”).

S. C. Gwynne, writer

I got access to an amazing piece of technology when I was 14 years old: a 13-foot Boston Whaler with a 40-horse Evinrude motor. It changed my life. From my base at my family’s house on Cape Cod, I took the little boat all over Martha’s Vineyard Sound and Buzzard’s Bay, often traveling 50 miles in a single day. My friends and I explored uninhabited islands and hidden harbors. We swam, fished, and caught air off the wake of the ferry. We water-skied everywhere, behind my boat and my friends’ boats, including here on Waquoit Bay. 


Alex Heard, editorial director

During summertime days as a kid in Mississippi, I was always outside as I pursued my three favorite things: messing around on my bike (awesome Stingray with a banana seat), tennis (I lost to some of the best players in the state), and Little League. Baseball was still king—everybody I knew was on a team, and we also played for hours in backyards. I was never that great, but I got by, thanks to coaching from an older neighborhood kid named Jimmy, who went on to play in college. To me he seemed good enough to be All-World.

Luke Whelan, assistant editor

My parents took me camping on Wash­ington’s Mount Rainier when I was two. On the second night, I crawled out of our tent and fell on a stake, splitting my lip. My parents drove me, screaming and bloody, more than an hour away to the hospital to get stitches. That was the first of many misadventures with my mom, which included getting lost in a thunderstorm in Honduras, an asthma attack while skiing in the Rocky Mountains, and countless missed planes, trains, and buses from Mexico to Minneapolis. Each time, she would grab my hand and assure me that it would all work out. Thus far, it always has. 

Marie Sullivan, associate video producer

Summertime visits to our family’s farm in Stribling Springs, Virginia, were always a treat as a kid. It had horses, a swimming hole, and the occasional evening firefly. The farm was a camera-wielding six-year-old’s dream. Our days were almost always spent outside, and it didn’t get much better than running around on southern dirt roads with my sister and cousins, plastic Fuji point-and-shoot in hand. Little did I or my photography-loving dad know back in 1996 that I would one day talk Outside into hiring me to shoot a thing or two.

Elizabeth Hightower Allen, features editor

You know you want my outfit. That’s seven-year-old me and my cutie little sister Anne on Dusty. He had a mean streak—he’d lie down and roll to scrape me off—but I adored him. Nashville, Tennessee, in those days had miles of in-town farms, and this one, the old Burton place, where Dusty lived, is now an office park. But back then, I spent my days bareback, crossing through pastures with my friends, pretending we were Charlie’s Angels. I always had to be Sabrina, the nerdy one, but that was OK. We had all day and everywhere to be before dinner. 

Lawrence J. Burke, chairman and editor in chief

I think this photo is from 1963. One of my fraternity brothers, Charlie Dole, took it in Tucson while we were at the University of Arizona. That was my bike, and if I remember correctly, it was an English-made Greeves Hawkstone Scrambler, a 250cc two-stroke that I used for local events or just tooling around in the desert. Later I bought a 650cc Triumph, which my then wife made me sell when she caught me riding around with our infant daughter on board.