Dive in!

Sarah Jackson

One of my favorite places in the world is the St. Croix River. I don’t get out on it very often. I rely on a friend who’s generous enough to let me and a few friends join him on his speedboat a few times every summer.

We hop on his vessel on the Minnesota side at Afton and then cruise, letting the wind rush through our hair as the sun shines on our faces. He and his wife, she in her 50s and he in his 60s, like to wake board, complete with daring flips and wipeouts, too. I just watch from the back of the boat, thank you very much.

Sometimes, however, it’s hot enough that we can stop the boat near a sandbar and jump right off the back for a refreshing swim. It’s an amazing feeling, floating around in crystal clear water between two of the most pristine and green shorelines in the country.

It is, in a word, sublime.

Of course, I also enjoy the outdoors at home, puttering endlessly in my yard, feeling the same wind and sun on my face — but with the added pleasures of digging in the dirt and hearing the birds sing. This time of year, I also try to make time for a cup of tea on my humble back deck before the heat of the day begins.

Time with nature — whether it’s a 40-mile backpacking trip or a walk around your neighborhood block — can be surprisingly restorative. It can also be a pain — involving bugs, sunburn and many other challenges. But I believe it’s worth the effort for all of us.

Greg Lais — this month’s incredible Cover Star — believes that, too.

But he, as the founder of Wilderness Inquiry, has done something miraculous during the past 40 years: He’s worked tirelessly to make sure everyone — not just people who know people with boats — has access to the outdoors, including people facing disabilities, lower incomes and other challenges. This is the guy who, more than 40 years ago, helped lead a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with two people in wheelchairs and two people who were deaf. He personally helped party members in and out of canoes along the 22-portage, 100-mile adventure. His incredible experience back then inspired him and friends to found Wilderness Inquiry, which today offers more than 500 annual trips around the world, designed for people of all abilities.

Last year, the nonprofit organization served an astonishing 37,000 people, including 3,600 people with disabilities and 18,000 people of color, including a new Canoemobile program (a fleet of canoes that travels to different cities to reach out to youth).

I hope you enjoy reading all about Lais and his mission in this annual Outdoors Issue, which also includes a list of inspiring ideas to help all of us — yes, even caregivers as well as those in their care — enjoy the outdoors every day.

Happy summer!