Wellness Series: Exploring the Outdoors with Randy Kinkade

Visiting Arizona during the month of March when the desert is in bloom is transforming.  There’s an abundance of activities to enjoy including hiking and biking, and for me, the physical connects to the spiritual when in the desert. There’s a calling and an awakening of my senses when I’m there and Canyon Ranch offers a number of opportunities to enhance this experience.
I recently connected with Randy Kinkade, the Outdoor Sports Manager at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, AZ.  He’s been in this position at The Ranch for the last 7.5 years, however, he’s worked for The Ranch on and off since 1986.  The desert is alive with color and beauty so March is a busy month for Canyon Ranch and Randy’s team as the weather is great for outdoor activities. Randy’s insight is invaluable and I have a feeling this interview will inspire you to get out more and maybe even consider a visit to the Arizona desert.

Let’s Explore!

DMA: What inspired you to go into Outdoor Activities (park ranger/outdoor educator)?
RK:  I went on my first camping trip with some friends when we were 11 and felt a connection from which I never turned away. There was a freedom that drew me then and draws me still.

: What tips would you like to share with my readers to help them reconnect to nature/spirituality and go outside more?
And, where do you like to hike?
RK: In its simplest form, though we’ve tamed it down, we all have an innate connection to nature. Consider what draws us to having a pet which merely is a toned-down version of an animal from the wild. Or why do we have live plants in our townhouses in the heart of the city? I believe we crave the connection we have to the natural world. Multiple scholarly studies have shown the benefits of connecting to the outdoors: We think more clearly, we heal faster, we have less stress, we interact better with one another and we return to our “regular” world refreshed and better prepared to handle the challenges of our day.

Nearly all of us find a spiritual connection in nature as well. Though there are many ways to approach this aspect I am convinced we are connected to being outdoors because we descend from the people who inhabited the original garden. We are drawn to the outdoors, no matter how distorted it has become over time, because we have the experience ingrained in us generationally. I am comfortable going out with little or no gear and sleeping on the ground and you may only care to sit on the patio sipping wine and watching the sunset but we are being drawn by the same thing.  That thing is our natural connection to the environment.

When I’m asked about my favorite hike I quote one of my mentors, Phyllis Hochman. “My favorite hike is the one I am on now.” I have the opportunity to hike the same trails over and over again and I see new things, encounter new people and experience the familiar in new ways every time I go out.  If one will be open to the experience the trail will show you things worth venturing out to see.  More often than I can count I have been asked by people heading up the trail I am returning from “Did you make it to the top?” and “Was it worth it?” When you are on a fitness hike you should already know you can make it to the top by picking the right trail for your fitness level. And I can think of no time where being out on the trail wasn’t worth it.

What’s one of your biggest life lessons so far and do you use it in your work?
RK:  My biggest life lesson is that one shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. In my work, I have the utmost dedication to keeping people safe in the wilds but I am sure to have fun and keep people smiling throughout the experience. I have a cap I wear that has one word on the front. It simply reads “Play.”  I do all I can to make life “play” and not “work.”

If you weren’t working in outdoor sports/activities, what would you be doing?
RK: When I’m not engaged for hire in the outdoors I am out doing similar things at my level and pace. Nearly all my vacations are bushman’s holidays. I hike, kayak, mountain bike, climb and practice primitive skills because it is what brings me joy.

DMA: Tell me more about your Primitive Outdoor Skills program – how long have you’ve been offering it, the upcoming dates, what inspired this and what is the connection to your Willow River Wilderness School.
RK: All of the primitive skills we offer at the Ranch have been taken from my history of teaching wilderness survival skills based on hunter/gatherer techniques. We started offering Primitive Fire nearly 5 years ago and the interest in this type of skill allowed us to keep on building the program. Currently we are the only wellness resort in the world to teach survival skills in this manner.

DMA: What do you do to stay educated in your field?
RK:  I sit at the feet of the elders. In its simplest form this merely means that I take the time to work with people who are more skilled than I and learn from them. I find that I can only get better by practicing my craft and being challenged by those who are better than me. I have been called an expert in the skills I practice but the term makes me uncomfortable. There are many who know so much more than I and I look to them to be the experts. It is sitting with these experts that keeps me educated.

What’s next for you?
RK: We have some changes percolating at The Ranch and given the opportunity I’d like to see us expand to doing more adventure type offerings. I can see us hiking and biking farther, dipping deeper into the back country and connecting in a more intimate way with nature.

Do you have a mentor?  If so, how has he/she helped you?
RK: I have one mentor in this field and that is Phyllis Hochman. She created the department I now manage and gave me the opportunity to succeed here. She helped me to better understand the people I serve, the staff I am responsible for and the way these things connect in the context of Canyon Ranch and outdoor fitness. When it comes to not taking myself too seriously I give credit to an old Park Ranger Named Ed Bernstein. He taught me how to keep the park safe from the people, the people safe from the park and the people safe from each other. But to do it with an air of joy, fun and humor.

: What’s your biggest challenge in your work?
RK: Helping people understand the gravity of choosing the proper level of activity. When we talk to people about our hiking and biking levels we combine 3 things: distance, elevation gain and pace. If one doesn’t understand the connection that all three play in their choice they will be at best uncomfortable and at worst unsafe. Even though being in the beauty of nature is a major reason to go out, we focus on fitness and we still must factor that into our choices.

What is most rewarding to you in your field?
RK:  I find that seeing people embrace the natural world and then allow it to make a lasting imprint on their lives, gives me a feeling of great reward.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into this field?
RK:  I best way to get into this field is to be a part of it as a daily practice. We’ve all heard to pursue the things we love. The same applies here. I can tell very quickly when I talk to someone about joining our team if they have a desire to serve the people we work with and a longing for the environment we work in.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share to assist others with getting outdoors more for wellness and fun?
RK: Start slow, make a plan and keep going. Sit at the feet of the elders in your particular community to learn what you can then go out and interact with nature and let nature interact with you.

Tip: Consider a private hike to Saguaro National Park or Sabino Canyon on your next Canyon Ranch journey.

More about Randy Kinkade:
Randy spent his career working in the outdoors and in various customer service programs. In the outdoor field he has had the pleasure of working as a park ranger, outdoor educator, guide, wilderness survival instructor and challenge course facilitator.
In his role in the corporate world he has led as a manager and executive director. He created the Willow River Wilderness School with his wife, Susan, and used the combined skills of management and wilderness survival to teach corporate teams how to excel.
He is the author of several articles related to outdoor skills and wilderness survival and the book The Quest for Spiritual Truth, published by Xulon press in 2007.

Photo: Canyon Ranch

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