I have often credited New Belgium Brewery with being the pivotal link in the chain of events that led to me deciding to pursue an extended experience of living and working in the developing world. Toward the end of my third-year and over the summer that followed I was working on applications for a variety of jobs— as a consultant, as a statistician, and as a research assistant— but very few of them were ever turned in. Mostly because I didn't really want them. It got so bad that I felt physically sick when I tried to write a cover letter. Then, one afternoon, I read about New Belgium Brewery: their work philosophy and their incentive scheme to encourage healthy living and environmentally friendly commuting. I liked the idea. Not just a job, but a life. The magazine in which that article appeared was Outside.
Outside has long been a fixture in my family. Good writing. Great gear reviews (I almost always buy my trail-running shoes based on the previous year's Gear Guide best buys... they're cheaper). Content that nails my interests, and, on top of it all, beautiful photography. You can always count on the writers of Outside to provide something to dream about (that heli-ski trip in Alaska or the ridiculously expensive adventure lodge in Chile), something to think about (Urban sprawl, upheaval in the Middle East, the future of green architecture), and something to act on (the best adventure races near you, quick outdoors getaways in your city). Whatever your mood— dream, think, or do— Outside has you covered.
This past spring, my grandma bought me a subscription and every month she and my mom send me the newest issue. When it arrives it usually sits in the post office for a week or two, waiting for someone to pass through Ocotal headed for Jícaro (a two hour trip). Sometimes the magazine takes a detour. One poor issue (September 2011) sat in the post office for a week before being picked up by my friend Paul, who held on to it until one of my bosses came through the following week. My boss got it from Paul and tried to come visit me, only to be turned back by a roadblock protesting one thing or another. The magazine then went to Managua, where it stayed until one of the other Peace Corps staff members visited my friend Lexi, who gave it to me as I hopped on a bus to go to Esteli. Sadly, I left the magazine on the bus when I got off and it continued its journey into the unknown. (Outside, upon hearing the story from my mother, sent me a new copy, which has almost completed its journey to Jícaro.) When an issue finally gets here, I invariably spend the following Saturday in my hammock, leaving only to walk to the corner store and buy coffee. Sunday, I pass it along to my site-mate Natalie. All of us look forward to a new issue making its way to Nueva Segovia.
The reason I so look forward to each issue of Outside is bigger than the magazine itself. One of my major struggles during Peace Corps has been feeling unbalanced, feeling like only some parts of myself and my personality are being expressed. I miss standing on top of mountains in the middle of the night, jumping of cliffs into lakes, the sense of anticipation you get eying up a ski run, running without being chased by dogs or laughed at, and hanging out at the bar after a long week just chatting with my friends. They aren't just activities, they are expressions of self. Every month when I get my new issue of Outside, those parts get a little attention. What I read injects something new and different into my daily life. The fresh look at things helps me me put my current experiences into perspective or makes me challenge something I used to think. Aerial photography of development in the west helps me think about urbanization and infrastructure development (Nicaragua is urbanizing at a rate of 2% per year). A ranking of the 19 best towns to live in (for the outdoors/adventure inclined) lets me ponder how such places and the establishments in them have come to be and why they exist in some places and not others. Then, of course, there is the yearly Best Places to Work issue... we've already seen what that makes me think about.
In Nicaragua I spend a lot of time developing new aspects of myself by playing with little kids and working with small farmers. I also spend time deepening other aspects, patience and flexibility, also my already impressive ability to drink coffee and ponder things. When I leave, they will demand a measure of attention just like the parts of my personality that currently feel out of place. That's the price you pay for stitching together a self from so many different places. Thankfully, there's always something like Outside Magazine waiting to help you make sense of them all.
Next up: Need I really say it? If you're allergic to nostalgia better start running...