Resilience: the Other Outdoor Benefit

Resilience stems mostly from perspective and time.

We quickly slammed the tent, sleeping bags, and pads in the dry bag as the first raindrops gave a warning of the deluge to come. We had the entire Frost River ahead of us and were scheduled to meet friends on Hub Lake nearly 10 miles as the crow flies, but significantly more if you count the twists, turns, backs, and forths. 

Now, for those unfamiliar, note that “river” is a lost term in the Boreal Forest covering the craggy bedrock of the Canadian shield. Here in the south, rivers call to mind leisurely cooler toting floats on hot afternoons. In the north, however, the term river means long skinny lakes broken by steep rock-strewn riffles that lead to more skinny lakes. With our schedule dictated by week old plans to meet up and no cell service to be found for a call to postpone, the options were onward and… well onward.

The day became a series of paddle, paddle, paddle… peer through the mist for faint portage trails around impassable riffles… lug gear over muddy boulders in wet Chacos… then dump everything back into the canoe. Repeat. 

Annie stands in the middle of the river with Luna, beautiful fall foliage in the background.
We needed Chacos to do this low-water river hike.

As a glasses wearer, I couldn’t see for most of the day, our dog looked like a drowned rat, and mostly we were just plain cold! Overall, I’ve never eaten so many Cliff Bars in one 12 hour period all while perpetually staying hungry… This was the most difficult outdoor day I’ve voluntarily had in my entire life and… I loved every minute!

Some time ago, I started to enjoy short bursts of discomfort.

This wasn’t some deranged masochistic switch that flipped after a head injury. Rather, I started to notice a lingering mental and emotional boost that came from increasingly more difficult experiences. Something that pushed me to just get through. 

These are not some post-apocalyptic themed marathons of privation, but rather simple experiences that were a little out of my comfort zone. And the more I became comfortable being uncomfortable, the easier other aspects of my life became. Interestingly, certain other themes in modern society started to look downright silly, but that’s a digression for another post.

A sleepy dog to end our trip in the BWCA.

As an unlicensed therapist, wannabe philosopher, and egotistical contemplator I believe that resilience stems mostly from perspective and time. Specifically, perspective is how resilience is built with time being the way to allow for it.


10 years ago, the Frost River marathon in the rain would have ended prematurely. With a single campsite available at the midpoint, it’s highly likely I would have taken the out, set up camp, and waited for the weather to clear. It was all of the prior wet, cold, and long excursions that gave me the self-confidence to push forward. 

Specifically from knowing these two things: 

  1.  I had the strength and skills to be successful.
  2. The day would end, the sun would shine and there was a dry sleeping bag for me to crawl into that night. 

Resilience is preferably built, not through a single horrific experience, but rather through a series of small endeavors. Each topping the one prior. 

In a primitive world, hardship would drive this. In our modern society, a conscious decision must be made to push the envelope, so to speak, and set yourself up for an appropriate challenge when it presents itself.


To a procrastinator, time is the enemy. As anyone who’s been in a tight spot knows, a few extra hours or days can make a world of a difference. 

Nick stands to portage the canoe in the BWCA. Luna standing in her packs next to him.

In this high-strung society of digital calendars and notifications, extra time is fleeting and often stolen back by simply showing up late. We fill time because we can and because the culture seems to tell us to. With FOMO a few clinical studies away from a DSM-V listing, we say yes to anything that comes our way. Thus effectively stretching our finite bandwidth to the limit. 

Sadly, this schedule filling behavior leaves little room for tragedy as we gravitate to sure things: avoiding risk to ensure completion. Yet, as every savvy investor knows, risk and return tend to be fairly monogamous.

Put simply, this means you have to GO FOR IT if you want ‘it’ to be anything worthy of a profile picture. 

To analogize, getting to pristine beaches requires a sketchy bus ride with chicken-toting locals and most morning mountain-top sunrises follow cold windblown nights above the treeline. 

For an instant experience enhancer, be sure to schedule enough time.

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This post was written by Nick Schmitz, December 2020.

Nick sits in canoe and Luna swims in the water

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