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Be a Force of Nature

This post is sponsored in partnership with REI and the Force of Nature campaign. All opinions are my own.

This year, REI has launched their Force of Nature campaign with the goal of leveling the playing field for women in the outdoors. More often than not, it’s men who’s stories of outdoor accomplishments are told in the media while women are under-represented. REI hopes to change that starting by partnering with Outside magazine for the first all-female issue in May. The promise that I’m most excited for is their plan to extend the options and improve the quality of women’s gear and outdoor clothing on the market.

I was asked to write a post for their Force of Nature campaign. I spent some time deliberating what I could share with you readers to get you on board with becoming a part of the initiative to make this year the year to get outside. Always liking a good pun, I’ve decided to share a few stories of times when literal forces of nature screwed me over then taught me something useful.

When you’re stoked for a pass and it dumps snow the night before.

Getting several feet of snow the night before hiking a 17,800 feet pass. In 2015, I was doing the Three Passes Trek in Nepal’s Everest region. Having already completed the first pass of the three and hiked to Everest Base Camp, I kept hearing about how difficult Cho La, the second pass, was going to be. People assured me that there would be snow, and it would be dangerous. There was an option to take a lower, safer, and longer route around the pass. I take my hiking goals very seriously. I also like to be prepared and don’t like to blindly go into things. I was trying to realistically weigh my option.

Around Everest Base Camp, I befriended a group of four hikers who were on the same route as me, and they invited me to join their group for the rest of the trek. The night before we were set to do Cho La, it snowed several feet. I also had a head cold and a bad cough. In the morning, three of the four people in the group decided to bail on the pass and take the low route. As we were discussing it, I saw two porters heading up the pass. I decided if they could do it then I could as well.

As I was packing, one of the guys in my group came to try to talk me out of doing the pass and going with the group for the easier hike. I shrugged off his concerns. I had just met him two days previously, and he knew nothing about my outdoor experience. And yet here he was trying to discourage me from doing a trek that he had deemed too difficult for himself.

I hiked over Cho La that day in several feet of snow. It was cold, and my feet got drenched. I had to stop and catch my breath every minute. When I finally made it over and to the next village, the severity of my cold had doubled. However, I still think it was worth it and I would make the same decision again.

Lesson: I’m the only person who actually knows the extent of my capabilities. Don’t let people try to discourage me from reaching my goals.

Hiking through freezing rain in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Early into my love affair with long distance hiking (2012 to be exact), I set out to do the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail. Before departing for the trail, I was a college student and spent all of my time either working or studying. I did not train for my hike, being undisciplined as far as working out goes.

During my entire thru-hike, steep uphills to the tops of mountains were always a challenge for me. Sure, I got faster at it, but it never seemed to get easier. For six months, I loathed every long climb up and counted the miles until it would be over.

I was nearing the end of the Appalachian Trail, walking through Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness and ready for the long journey to come to a close. It was late-September, and the weather was chilly. As I was hiking up White Cap mountain, a storm rolled in. The rain started beating down and was so cold my fingers soon began to go numb. The strong wind was stinging my face and blowing my hair into my eyes. And the trail was still going up, up, up.

My guidebook said there would be a view of Katahdin, the Appalachian Trail’s final mountain, from the peak of White Cap. As I approached the top, I could barely see 20 feet in front of me, let alone to my final destination. Pissed off and getting pushed around by the wind, I came to a realization: there will always be another uphill climb on the Appalachian Trail. And there will always be metaphorical uphills in life. Basically, I’ll always have to do shit that I don’t really want to do. I can either get upset about it or I can embrace it.

After that day, I still sometimes dread long hikes up mountains. But oftentimes, I enjoy them.

Lesson: My outlook on life and personal satisfaction is highly dependent on my attitude.

I look happy, but I’m actually sick AF

Suffering from altitude sickness in the Peruvian Andes.

Is high altitudes considered a force of nature? This one may be a bit of a stretch to fit into the mold, but this post is all about breaking molds so I’m going to tell it anyway.

In spring of 2016, I decided to take a three week vacation to Peru so I could hike the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit. It’s regarded as one of the most beautiful treks in the world, hence why it made my bucket list.

Wanting to get to the mountains and start my hike, I did not do the recommended acclimatization hike out of the city of Huaraz. Having previously trekked at high elevations without getting anything more extreme than a touch of altitude sickness, I assumed I would be fine. Most people hire guides for this trail and have mules carry their camping supplies. I, however, set off by myself with eight days of food. I was being stubborn and full of myself.

On my very first night of the hike, I woke up, crawled out of my tent, and promptly threw up all of my food. The next few days didn’t get much better. I could hardly eat more than a few bites of food at a time. Hiking over 15-16,500 feet passes was physically taxing for me. I just generally had a negative outlook and was not enjoying myself.

About halfway through my trip, I made friends with a group of Isreali’s who welcomed me to join them. My altitude sickness started to subside. Finally, I was starting to have fun and was able to finish my hike while feeling strong and healthy.

Lesson: Work around my limitations instead of fighting against them.

63% of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model.

This year REI commissioned a national study to learn more about the relationships that women have to the outdoors. The above statistic stood out to me because the outdoors women I look up to are often my inspiration for tackling new adventures. It’s been said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” If you count yourself amongst the 63% who don’t have an outdoor role model, check out these amazing women.

1) Jennifer Pharr Davis

When I first became interested in long distance hiking back in college, Jennifer Pharr Davis became my first role model. During that time, I was eager to read every book I could get my hands on about the Appalachian Trail. Her book, Becoming Odyssa, quickly became my favorite because I could relate to the experiences and challenges she faced as a young woman in the wilderness. For four years, Jennifer held the speed record for being the fastest person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

The Young Adventuress out exploring (image from her website)

2) Liz Carlson

Liz Carlson, of Young Adventuress, is my all time favorite blogger. She travels the world, often to outdoor locations and often to places where hardly any tourists go. I find her particularly inspiring because she’s not some accomplished athlete; she’s a regular American girl who just happens to do really cool stuff. My favorite stories from her include her experiences moving to New Zealand, horse packing through Mongolia, and taking a ship around Svalbard to look for polar bears. Oh yeah, and her Instagram account makes me jealous.

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, my hero. (image from Nat Geo)

3) Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita

Talk about overcoming odds. Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita is the 2016 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. She was the first Nepali woman to become a mountaineering guide and was on the first all female expedition to climb K2. After Nepal’s 2015 earthquake she and her husband dove into relief efforts, organizing supplies, raising funds, and going to villages that were at the epicenter of the earthquake. She grew up in Lukla, in the Everest region of Nepal. She knew she wanted to climb mountains, and was told for her whole life that climbing was a man’s profession and her place was to get married and have children. Even after becoming an accomplished mountaineer and getting married, people tried to discourage her from leaving her family to climb K2. She says that her best moments come from when young girls tell her she has inspired them.

Huge thanks for REI for organizing the Force of Nature campaign. I’m stoked to see what sort of impact it has on the outdoor community in the coming year.

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