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Bold tales shone spotlight on pandemic's silver linings

If anything could be celebrated this year, it was the value and extraordinary benefits of spending time outside

Finally, it’s the end of 2020, and time to look forward to getting back to normal in 2021! Unfortunately, we know this is not going to magically happen as the clock strikes midnight, but still, as we look back on the year, there are things to celebrate.

This was so evident when I reviewed the “Bold” stories published by OrilliaMatters during 2020. What a year to be featuring stories related to “the great outdoors, adventure sports and eco-tourism.” If anything could be celebrated this year, it certainly was the value and extraordinary benefits of spending time outside.

The effect of the pandemic was a theme in almost every one of the 29 Bold stories published since June 2020. Whether a personal discovery, or the way a business or organization adapted to remain viable, the silver linings were plentiful.

A common thread among those who inspired Bold stories in 2020 was personal discovery.

When the pandemic required Chris Tomasini to work at home, he lost his bicycle commute (a daily workout and chance to unwind). But he changed gears and discovered the joy of early morning kayaking on Lake Couchiching.

Wilderness educator, Ben Benson, was unable to work as a guide when outdoor tours were cancelled, and instead, worked at a local farm for the summer. He discovered a new way to enjoy the outdoors, while being introduced to a potential new career path.

Another bold step of discovery was demonstrated by local outdoor enthusiasts, Karen Whitehorn and Nynka Greer. They extended their swim season to December and learned how a cold water dip could strengthen their physical and mental health during a stressful time.

Another positive outcome in many stories was the discovery or re-discovery of the exceptional outdoor adventure opportunities to be found in our own neighbourhoods.

The ability to travel has been curtailed or discouraged, while many indoor facilities have closed. This left many of us turning to the outdoors, where new adventures were to be found at our doorsteps.

Local athlete and cyclist, Adam Hill, would typically enjoy travelling throughout North America for the summer race season. With events cancelled this year, Adam experienced the simple pleasure of cycling from his own driveway and being on beautiful trails and quiet country roads within minutes.

Whether on a bike, paddleboard or in hiking boots, the discovery of local routes and waterways was a highlight for many people. Carol Strickland of the Ganaraska Hiking Club said members were both surprised and pleased to see so many new faces out on the trails this year.

Of course, we have all heard the word “adapt” mentioned so many times this year – and local businesses and organizations have been no exception. The change from in-person to virtual activity turned out to have surprising benefits for some.

The Couchiching Conservancy was able to increase participants (and dollars!) in its annual Carden Challenge fundraising event as well as attract new participants to its Passport to Nature program by offering webinars.

The Orillia Rowing Club moved from group lessons to one-on-one training (a bonus for beginner rowers) and yoga studios, like Kind Living with Sue Sinclair, moved classes outdoors to the delight of participants.

For some local businesses, the very nature of their services attracted new business this year. Glen Oro Eco-Retreat opened its new stargazer domes and glamping tents for overnight stays this summer – an experience visitors booked up quickly.

The added interest in being active outside also helped support businesses like Hardwood Ski & Bike that offers a safe trail environment for cyclists (and now skiers) and Sunrise Yoga Studio, where clients can learn stand up paddle boarding and practice yoga on their boards, all while keeping safely distanced.

Over the past year, we have all been faced with the challenges of living through a global pandemic. But as the Bold stories of 2020 demonstrate, we seem to keep discovering those hidden silver linings as we adapt to our changing lifestyles.

I hope you were inspired by these stories, and perhaps even gained some insight into how and where to enjoy the incredible outdoors that we are so fortunate to have in our own backyard.

I look forward to sharing more of your stories in the new year and encourage you to keep in touch and let us know about your bold adventures in 2021!