Finding Confidence In The Outdoors:

My Weekend At REI Outessa Summit

By Amanda Sandlin

Five years ago I sat in my college dorm room in New Jersey and watched 180* South. On the screen I saw Yvon Chouinard and Jeff Johnson scaling peaks and sailing seas, and I so badly wanted to do the same. But none of my friends did anything remotely like that. I had no idea where or how to start.

Most of my formative experiences in the outdoors were led by men. My dad took me on my first big hiking and camping trip. I learned how to rock climb and went backpacking for the first time ever with a boyfriend. There’s nothing wrong with this — someone had to make the introduction. I’m grateful to have had adventurous people in my life to do just that.

It wasn’t until the past few years I began adventuring solo or with other women. Before I typically let the man plan the trip, lead the way, drive the car. For a while this was simply the default.

I hardly took ownership of outdoor experiences. And because of this, I felt no deep connection to the mountains I climbed, the forests I camped in, and the boulders I topped out.

I hardly took ownership of outdoor experiences. And because of this, I felt no deep connections to the mountains I climbed, the forests I camped in, and the boulders I topped out.

So I started doing short local hikes by myself and saying yes to friends at the gym when they asked me to go climbing for a weekend — without my boyfriend. Quickly I began uncovering a part of myself I didn’t know existed: a strong, wild, confident outdoorswoman.

After a weekend at the first-ever REI Outessa Summit in Kirkwood, CA, I felt a similar soul recognition. I was given the opportunity to spend three invigorating days stepping (leaping!) out of my comfort zone along with a couple hundred other women. We learned how to ride bikes over mountains. We watched the sun rise from downward dog. We climbed on rocks that had never been ascended. We kayaked under a dark sky, singing melodies up to the moon.

During the first morning at Introduction to Mountain Biking many of us were nervous, and we simply said so. Ah, imagine that! We smiled and laughed and encouraged one another as we maneuvered around corners and re-positioned ourselves on our bikes and totally ate the dirt. No competition. No embarrassment. No ego.

Maybe you want to experience trail running by headlamp, stand-up paddle boarding yoga, learning how to keep yourself alive in the wilderness, or controlling a mountain bike down a rocky trail… REI Outessa Summit would be a prime place to try just about any outdoor activity you can dream up.

I am so excited about what the summit means for women — the relationships to be formed, the new passions to be uncovered, the confidence to be built. I wish something like REI Outessa existed back when I’d watch nature documentaries with constellations in my eyes, when it felt like the outdoor adventure world was totally out of reach.

It’s not! All you gotta do is try. You can start small with a local hike or go all the way with an event like REI Outessa. Just start. You’ll never be the same.

Find Amanda Sandlin on Instagram and read more of her writing on her website.

Note: This article contains affiliate links, which help support She Explores with small commissions at no cost to you. Also, while Amanda was able to attend the summit free of charge as media, her opinions are all her own.

How were you introduced to the outdoors?