It's never mattered to me that I'm a woman who loves adventure. I don't mean that in a negative way - I just never saw it as a limiting factor or as something that was even remotely out of the ordinary. As a young girl, I spent my days exploring the creek behind our house - digging up crawfish and searching for snakes, and, once, even outrunning an alligator (true story). I dangled from tree branches, watched anthills for hours and scampered over rocks - falling in love with the sensation of pushing my body further and higher. In 4th grade, I was the only female on a boy's soccer team, and I easily outran everybody on the team. I remember hearing one of the parents say, "Wow, that girl is fast!". At the time, I thought, "Of course I am, I'm a girl." For me, it was always an advantage.
When I started climbing mountains, it never even crossed my mind that being a woman had anything to do with it. It was always as simple as a question existing: Do you want to climb a mountain? And then, answering it: Well, then go climb it! It wasn't until other people made comments to me that I even gave it a second thought. After a successful climb of Mt. Shuksan in the Cascades, a park service employee looked shockingly at my friend Brenda and I, "It was just the two of you ladies?". Another time, while descending Mt. Baker, a male climber remarked, "Oh, two ladies? Nice!" Naturally, I took both of those comments as compliments (because, indeed, I believe that was how they were intended), but I was still struck by the fact that other people noticed our woman-ness on the mountain... when it was something that never even occurred to me.
I've always felt that just being me is all that has ever mattered. I'm small, fast and tenacious. I have an insatiable hunger for altitude and a deeply emotional connection with the wilderness - that combination elicits a powerful drive to push myself to new heights of exploration. Adventurers are born, not made. You can't force somebody to love hiking for 10 hours on loose talus slopes. You can't force somebody to love climbing out of a cozy sleeping bag at 1 AM to ascend a peak in sub-freezing temperatures. You can't force somebody to subject themselves willingly to the physical misery that sometimes coincides with wilderness exploration. And yet, adventurers always come back. It is in the deepest part of our tiniest cells, neurons and synapses. The call for adventure pulses through our veins with each pump of our heart. We cannot ignore the call - it is who we are.
Experiencing the wilderness isn't just about peak-bagging. More importantly, it is the place where we find ourselves. As an awkward adolescent and young adult, I used to hide my body underneath oversized t-shirts and baggy sweatpants. I was ashamed of my "bubblebutt" and my muscular thighs. Becoming a mountain climber changed everything. Now, when I look in the mirror, I don't see thighs that can barely fit into a pair of jeans - I see strong, powerful legs that have climbed mountains (while carrying a heckuva lot of gear). I don't see dimples on my buttcheeks - I see the figure of an endurance athlete. I don't see scrawny arms - I see sinewy muscles that have pulled me up and over rocks and gripped tightly on precarious, "veggie belays". I don't see unkempt hair and a lack of makeup - I see grit, determination, confidence, and the freedom of my braid blowing in the wind as I ascend the next peak.
The wilderness has helped me discover a new depth to the strength that I feel inside. As a child, I was bullied and tormented - I drifted through my middle school and highschool years in zombie-mode, feeling like a complete outcast. My parents pulled me out of school and homeschooled me from 7-12th grade. In college, I struggled to fit in. I attempted to go to frat parties, but apparently showing up at a party with your own KitKat Bar and Dr. Pepper does not earn you any "cool" points. I tried my hand at drinking in order to fit in, but very quickly realized that Zima was not very refreshing in reverse. My only true connection was with other students who played music in my orchestra. At one point during college, I was actually referred to by the majority of the students on campus as, "weird girl", because I sat alone and read books during dinner.
Our lives are so unbelievably crowded with clutter that we are "told" is important. Stories that have absolutely no bearing on our lives whatsoever are forced into our brain at such an alarming rate, that it is no surprise to me that most people do not feel inspired and/or fulfilled. Mountains give you the space to be yourself. When I first started climbing, I felt like my creativity had been locked away in my heart for so many years. As a child, I had written poetry and stories freely, but as my individuality had been, "punished", I stopped sharing those parts of my soul. I was living in a world where I compared myself to others and desperately sought approval - a world where I did not believe that everything was possible. Standing on the summit of my first peak, surrounded by infinite space and abundance, I realized that I had the key. I unlocked myself from the confines of feeling trapped into who I was, "supposed to be", and I started to reveal who I was - a vulnerable, strong, emotional, adventurous woman. In the heart of the wilderness, you can be yourself with no judgement, no comparisons and no limitations. You can sob, overwhelmed by the vast beauty surrounding you ... or you can laugh at the hilarity of subjecting yourself to eating freeze dried foods and burying your own poop. There are no mirrors, no filters and no expectations. In short, the wilderness allows you to be you, just how you are.
My true calling in life is to teach other women how to use the lessons of the wilderness as a vehicle for change in their own lives. Each woman has such a unique and special story, and I also believe that women with adventurous souls have a deep-rooted need for wilderness-inspired fulfillment. When you have spent time in the mountains - even if it's just for a moment - something inside of you changes. Rene Daumal wrote, "What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
When you've truly felt a genuine connection to the energy of the mountains, you can never un-know that feeling. For the first time, perhaps, you've touched the key to your own heart. Deep, in the cavern of your soul, you know that you are a woman destined for adventure, whatever that looks like. Once you know that part of you exists, you simply cannot live your life in the same way ever again: you've started the process to unlock who you truly are at the core of your being. Those answers are waiting for you in the wilderness - in the whisper of the wind through a lofty pass, the ripple of the water on an alpine lake, and the last rays of sun on a snow-covered ridge. All you have to do is go there, be you, and listen.