Your edge is that point just beyond your comfort zone. Something that can make your stomach turn at the thought of facing it. It can be a fear of getting lost in the woods or encountering a bear in the wild and discovering whether your reaction is to fight or flight. (For the record NEVER run from a bear)
“What’s your edge?” is a question Carly Joynt asked the group of us one foggy morning on a two-night camping trip in Algonquin Park. It was Parkbus’ first-ever camping adventure.
Twenty of us were gathered around picnic benches and a charming firepit - our campsite kitchen for the weekend. We had just spent a comfortable 4-hour bus ride together to escape the GTA and were about to spend an entire weekend together in the stunning wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park.
Although some people were on this adventure with friends or partners, most of us were strangers. Gathered around the picnic benches, we had only just learned each other’s names and what each person was looking forward to the most. “Seeing stars,” someone said, “Fall colours!”, “Hiking and swimming.” The promise of an adventurous weekend outside was ahead.
Carly Joynt is the ActiveDays Coordinator for Parkbus and an all-star at leading people who are both new to the outdoors or people who, like me, have a hardcore obsession with being outside. She’s spent the last decade helping children and adults push their limits and connect with nature through the P.I.N.E project as well as through her own programs Riversong and Girls with Fire.
Carly has studied herbalism, plus she's a psychotherapist in training, and a talented musician. Over the last year she has run ActiveDays Toronto for Parkbus, which facilitates group hikes throughout Ontario and the Great Lakes region.
Carly has not only helped hundreds of outdoor participants from all walks of life discover and overcome their edge outdoors, she’s also spent time overcoming her own challenges.
We were on an ActiveDays trip at Warsaw Caves, when you first challenged participants to find their edge and share it with others. Did people push themselves in ways they weren’t expecting?
If you’re just thrown into an edgy situation and you don’t have much time to consider what that means and how you relate to your own edge, it can be overwhelming. It can even shut people down. Warsaw Caves has a lot of things that people could find edgy. There are spiders, poison ivy, and the caves themselves are dark and can feel claustrophobic.
I wanted to give people an opportunity to claim their edge. This way, whether they overcame their edge or not was up to them and it would feel more empowering. The challenge of it brought people together! An hour into the trip they were like little kids, really excited to explore the caves together.
On the overnight camping trip in Algonquin, you also presented the idea of facing your edge to the group. It was early on in the trip and people shared some interesting edges. Do you remember what they were?
The exercise was intended to break the ice. A lot of people were new to camping. I wanted to say, “You don’t have to be completely okay right now.” No matter how experienced you are, being with a group of people in the woods away from your comfort zone is going to be edgy.
Naming our edge brings us all to the same level. It makes us feel safer with one another. I remember a lot of people shared physical edges: They were afraid of bears, snakes, and spiders.
One person was afraid of the dark and wanted to know if they could keep a light on in their tent or not. Some people brought up social edges like being part of a new group.
My edge was that I didn’t want to sing in front of the group because I’m afraid that I am a terrible singer and that people’s ears will bleed.
Oh yeah! I never made you sing at the campfire.
Nope, I got off embarrassment free... for now.
That’s interesting too. At some point, I realized that a lot of people were just saying their fears point blank. Edges are often looked at as “What’s something bad that you’re afraid of?”
One camper demonstrated our contradictory feelings about the edge perfectly. We asked, “What’s your edge?” They said, “A bear.” We asked, “What are you excited about?” They said, “Bears!” It’s that, I am scared but I’m going to look sense of excitement that helps people grow.
Did you see people experience and overcome their edges on the Algonquin trip?
Definitely! I think in some ways nature facilitated that. It wasn’t me saying, “okay, let’s talk about your edge and let’s find a way through it.”
It’s waking up in the morning and realizing you didn’t get eaten by a bear. That realization makes being out in the woods feel 5% more safe because of the lived experience of “I’m okay.” Or, “I survived this weekend hanging out with a bunch of strangers and I’m okay.” So people go home with this realization and the next time they go outside it’s a bit easier for them to face those things.
What’s your edge and have you been able to overcome it?
My edge is being alone in the dark in remote wilderness areas. I started to realize this was my edge ten years ago, when I was running nature programs.
I was given the task to go cook a fish over the fire in the woods alone. It wasn’t even that far away from the rest of the group, but I could hear coyotes howling at the time. I put the fire out and I was like, ‘Nope, I can’t handle this. I am cooking smelly food, I don’t want coyotes here. I’m out.’ I said no to my edge in that moment. I remember feeling a lot of disappointment about this. I kind of felt smaller. But it was important for me to feel that way.
Soon, I was part of a youth program that brought a group of teens into the woods for solo camping excursions. I remember being inspired. I was still reckoning with my own fear. In that moment, I committed to facing my edge. I got my opportunity the following summer.
I was on a camping trip in Temagami and we were portaging over huge wolf scat from big timber wolves. My portage partner, who was a professional wilderness guide, decided to sleep alone under these beautiful old growth pine trees. I realized, ‘Oh no, that means I’m going to sleep alone in the tent tonight.’
I lay there for the whole night feeling terrified, but also pumped. In the morning, I woke up and realized the sun had risen and I didn’t get eaten by wolves. It was an amazing realization that made a big dent in my edge. Still, if I am alone in the deep woods at night, there’s a sense of 'oh crap.' But I am able to embrace more now. I have less fear.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to go try a new adventure outside?
The fact that you’re afraid of something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. Our fear is here to keep us safe and there are a lot of risks outdoors. Just knowing it’s okay that you have an edge is the first step.
Think about what is unknown to you and see if there’s anything you can beforehand to understand it. If your unknown is, ‘Are there bears?’ Look up a video on what to do if you see a bear.
If you fear the dark, practice being in the dark in safe ways. Once before a three day solo trip in the desert, I was feeling afraid of the dark. My basement at the time was old and creepy. I thought somebody has definitely died down there and I would never go into it with the lights off.
To prepare myself for the solo, I would sit in the basement with the lights off for as long as I could. Then, I’d do it again the next day until it became more comfortable.
What else would you say to people who are hesitant to go outside and face their edges?
Doing new things helps us grow and there are so many incredible benefits to spending time out in nature. Emotionally, mentally, physically, and just to experience the beauty of it all. Even though it is scary, it is something that can really contribute to our well-being.
Go with friends or come on an ActiveDays trip! ActiveDays trips are a great opportunity for people to have these experiences in a safe environment, where risks are mitigated. Then participants can go out and have more risky or challenging experiences after they get comfortable with our ActiveDays community.