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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
Mary Oliver

An amazing thing happens when women support women through outdoor explorations: women gain confidence, perseverance and grit. REI Outessa, leaders in adventure travel, offers three-day mountain retreats in California, Oregon and New Hampshire, which are designed to inspire, educate and motivate women from around the country. These sweat-filled weekends are perfect for moms traveling with their daughters, girlfriends meeting up for a short getaway and solo travelers that want to connect and bond with new like-minded pals. If you’ve never tried rock climbing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, mountain biking, endurance hiking, yoga, or trail running (or any of the other activities offered—there are loads of happenings and outdoor classes to choose from) and you’ve always wanted an encouraging environment to check it out, then give this experience a try—you won’t regret it. Take a peek at the below photographs from the REI Outessa weekend in Kirkwood, California and get inspired by their “Sweaty Dirty Happy” ethos.

Reaching the summit—well over 9,000 feet—on this four-hour hike, was a test of endurance and strength. We traversed snow and ice, crossed a stream, and tested our ability to hike at a high altitude. Four things were super helpful and needed: trekking poles, lots of water, good hiking boots and friends.

The last time I went rock climbing—real rock climbing outside, not in an air-conditioned climbing gym—was when I was a teenager. I took the beginners class at REI Outessa, followed by the intermediate level at the end of the weekend and I’m so thankful that I did—each section of the rock provided a new challenge. I only made it to the top of two out of the six sections. Professional ice and rock climber, plus guide and co-owner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing, Kitty Calhoun says, “It’s not about getting to the top, it’s about learning new movements and developing your skills.” I really took this to heart and each time I hooked up to climb, or was on the ground belaying, I developed my understanding of what it means to be a rock climber.

Part of what REI does so well as an adventure company is spread this idea of teaching a woman to fish so she can feed herself for a lifetime. If you want to go mountain biking, for example, the guides aren’t going to just give you a bike and say, “follow me”. Each rider at REI Outessa, or in any REI store nationwide for that matter, can benefit from real instruction and industry know-how. “We want to teach you good habits so you’ll know what to do when it counts,” says Halle Enyedy, REI mountain biking instructor.

Camping in tent city, in my opinion, is the only way to go! Skip the condo or hotel and get closer to nature (isn’t that the whole point?!) by sleeping on the ground. At Kirkwood, you’ll hear a lovely creek all night and if you leave your tent flaps open, you can let the breeze and fresh air rock you to sleep. Be sure to have an appropriately weighted sleeping bag, like this one from Big Agnes, and you’ll stay warm and comfortable until the sun rises.

If you haven’t kayaked in a 26-pound foldable kayak, then you haven’t lived! Oru Kayaks really help you feel every movement that your body makes, which helps you learn about how to balance your movements and paddle strokes efficiently. Kayaking on Sliver Lake with REI Outessa instructors, and a gaggle of gal pals, made for an incredible day spent in the sun.

The community of women that exists and develops at REI Outessa is what makes the adventure so incredibly meaningful. Getting to meet and bond with women from across the country, push ourselves on daily adventures together and then break bread at the end of the day at a communal dining table is so good for the soul and heart. I met a woman that was traveling solo for the first time after a divorce; a mother that was traveling with her off-to-college daughters; a grandmother that wanted to show her granddaughter how to experience the outdoors and be healthy and many other women that were just in some sort of life transition and they wanted to treat themselves with an adventure in the outdoors. In a word, REI Outessa is: stellar.

Female adventure travel is an exciting trend and companies, like REI, that put women at the helm as instructors and leaders are the driving force for gender equity in the outdoors and for highlighting women’s needs to connect and find freedom outside. Through annual events like REI Outessa, women can not only try out new activities and sports in an encouraging and uplifting environment, which hopefully will inspire a newfound love for the outdoors, but also women can meet role models and female movers and shakers in the outdoor industry. I truly love what REI stands for and they are one of those adventure companies that are making the world a better place—one adventurer, at a time.

The next two REI Outessa weekends are: Waterville Valley, New Hampshire September 22-24 and Mount Hood Skibowl Oregon August 18—20. And, of course, there’s always next year…but, why wait?!

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Wendy Altschuler

Wendy Altschuler is a seasoned writer, editor and adventurer with many publishing credits under her belt. She writes regularly for several publications (print and web), churning out indelible lifestyle, travel, events and dining articles on the regular. Wendy spent over four years as a contributing writer and special correspondent for Sun-Times Media and while there she developed and wrote her own parenting column: Wendy City Mom. Wendy’s stories have been published in: Tribune Brand Publishing, Chicago Parent, Blood and Thunder, Five on Five, Yoga Magazine, Yoga Chicago, Chicago Now, The Listen to Your Mother Show, The Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs and more.

Fun facts: Wendy was born and raised in Montana; while earning her undergrad in Chicago, she studied abroad in India; formerly, Wendy wrote itineraries and travel tips for a luxury, boutique travel company; and Wendy, A.K.A. Drew Grit, was an athlete and writer/editor for the Windy City Rollers—Roller Derby. She’s always looking for an adventure — hello skydiving, trapeze, road trips, urban rappelling and parenthood — and she seeks out stories to write home about. www.wendyaltschuler.com

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