Janelle Cole’s ride toward a sustainable life
If you attend Bevard College in the mountains of North Carolina, then you’re probably used to seeing Janelle Cole stretching while doing homework on a purple yoga mat in front of her dorm. The 20-year-old multiple junior national road champion can’t help being outside. It’s who she is.
More than just a nature lover, Cole’s parents made outdoor activity a priority. Whether it was hunting and fishing or simply playing in the dirt, Cole grew up with a deep love for the environment. That love grew once she got to college and started studying wildlife leadership and experimental education, a program that fosters emotional and physical growth in people through outdoor activities like rock climbing and whitewater rafting.
“The growth that I gained with the program changed my outlook on and approach to life,” Cole says. “I see wilderness leadership as an opportunity to bring humans back to our roots, our commonalities that transcend so many of our perceived differences. I believe in giving people the tools they need to be happy, healthy and successful while bringing them back in touch with their environment.”
But her love of the outdoors doesn’t start and stop with the standard physical activities like mountain biking or kayaking, Cole also strives to live a sustainable life, meaning she tries to make the least amount of negative impact on the planet and actively encourages others to do the same.
“It’s important to not overthink the concept of sustainable living. You can drive yourself nuts. I had an inner crisis once that I ate bananas, my favorite fruit, and finding out it’s probably one of the most damaging foods to the environment. I love bananas and still eat them, but in reduced quantities – more like one a day instead of four.”
Living a sustainable lifestyle can seem complicated to the average person. Cole believes that people are afraid to take steps towards it because the information out there can seem daunting and unrealistic.
“When I was looking into how to be more eco-friendly, I came across an article that passionately vilified the use of toilet paper, advocating instead for a reusable personal wipe system. Yeah. Not happening for 99.99 percent of the population, and frightening enough to skew people’s ideas of sustainable practices.”
“Now, if you can weave your own clothes of hemp, pick dandelion greens for dinner and produce your own food and energy on your self-sufficient homestead, that is incredible and I applaud you. I aspire to that. That said, there’s no reason to avoid sustainable living practices because you’re afraid of growing out your armpit hair, you know?”
Cole says she lives in the real world, understanding that living an environmentally friendly life is not only foreign and frightening, but unrealistic at the same time. But it’s those little things, she says, like “hanging a clothes line or starting a compost bin,” where people can make progress.
Besides the fear of the unknown, what’s stopping us from doing more for the earth? Cole thinks it has to do with our view on nature, that we think ourselves as separate, not one with the planet and therefore have lost touch with a source of happiness.
“There is a lovely quote from Joseph Campbell that explains exactly how I believe true happiness is achieved, and in doing so, explains what our society seems to lack: ‘The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.’”
So walk barefoot, sit outside to send emails, go for spur-of-the-moment walks in the woods and buy food from your local farmers market. Cole wants us all to do what makes our heart happy and rebuild the spiritual, intrinsic connection with nature that still lives in all of us.