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I went to the REI Outessa Summit in hopes of making new outdoor loving girlfriends, to learn more about the outdoor sports I already love, and to find new passions to put my time and energy into. I went to this event with many hopes in mind, but I came home with so much more than I had anticipated. I came home already counting the days until next year's summit because I will totally be planning to go EVERY year! At the end of part 1 in this two-part series, I went to bed sweaty, dirty, and extremely happy from all that I had experienced so far. I couldn't imagine how the weekend could get any better, but it totally would.
I got to watch the sun rise over the Utah mountains
It turns out, at high altitudes, everything is enhanced in your body, including caffeine. I spent all day Friday drinking coffee and yerba mate, and eating all sorts of delicious energy bars and chews that were provided everywhere we turned. That Friday night, while the wind wasn't nearly as earth shaking as the night before, I still got no sleep because I had mistakenly ingested too much caffeine. I tossed and turned all night long, half awake because of the caffeine running through my veins. Having had so little sleep over the last two days, I mistakenly thought that my first class of the day, a morning meditation with world renown author and life guru, Kristine Carlson, was at 6:30 am. At 6:00 am, I gave up on getting any real sleep and scrambled out of my warm sleeping bag to find some coffee before I thought it was time for class. Thankfully, I had my coffee in hand once I realized my class wasn't supposed to happen until 7:30 am. I had once again gotten up way earlier than I needed to. Thank goodness I did because I got to sit in the sunken yurt, with my organic coffee in hand, watching the sun rise over the Utah mountains. Watching the sky morph from the Milky Way speckled darkness to the rainbow of colors that slowly peeked over the horizon with the first light of the day, was one of the highlights of my weekend. There's something magical about the sunrise in the morning.
After mindfully watching the sunrise, I left the warmth of the sunken yurt to find the Amy's Kitchen tent, where my meditation class was scheduled to take place. It was a brisk 40-something degrees outside and I was shaking furiously in my hiking boots. I wondered to myself how many people were dedicated enough to show up for the meditation this early in the morning in the cold, but I was surprised to find that the Amy's Kitchen tent was bustling with ladies all smiling and ready to make some meditation magic. The next 30 minutes were amazing, and I left that tent with a peaceful smile on my face.
Altitude sickness stood in the way of my Saturday plans
After meditation, I had a couple hours until my next class; Map & Compass skills. I had been looking forward to this class since I am somewhat directionally challenged in the city, but it would turn out that I would not attend any of the rest of my classes on Saturday because, at 8,000+ ft., altitude sickness had finally taken hold of me. My headache was too much for me to handle that morning, so I ended up going back to my tent to try and nap it off. After a small nap, I was so hot in my tent that I decided to walk down to the Amy's Kitchen tent to lie down, knowing how comfy their setup was. Their huge hippy inspired tent was lined with comfy mattresses, pillows, and warm fuzzy blankets to snuggle. In the middle of the tent, they had a table decorated with adorable succulent planted in recycled Amy's Kitchen soup cans, and all the materials needed to make friendship bracelets in your favorite colors. I lucked out when I chose their awesome tent to relax in because I got the chance to make friends with one of the most inspiring women I met over the entire weekend, Ironman triathlete Kendra Goffredo.
Having nowhere to go while I rested in the tent, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to hear her speak. I was very impressed when she told me how she secured the IRONMAN US Championship title and raced to a top 10 finish at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2012. I was even more impressed that she did all of this despite learning to swim AND competing in her first triathlon just one year before. The most impressive part, though, was her passion for spreading the word about the charity that she works with, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. As we sat there discussing the benefits of using our social clout to help spread the word about charitable causes that we're passionate about, I realized that this was just what I had been wanting to do. I was emboldened to take action, and I immediately knew what charity I wanted to work with for myself. (I will delve deeper after I contact them and see what we can do together!) Kendra's story also made me realize that I could do more physically too. She didn't know how to swim the year before she won the US Ironman. I never thought that I could run in a race because of my partially paralyzed legs, but her story inspired me so much that I decided to train for my very first 5k race! Thanks a ton Kendra! You really gave me a lot to think about when I came home!
The most amazing surprise of the entire weekend
While I was spending my day lounging around Amy's Kitchen, I heard through the grapevine that the farm-to-table dinner that night was supposed to be a mile (or two) hike (or shuttle bus) away from camp at the Wasatch Overlook area. After a day of elevation sickness, I wasn't sure that that sounded like something that I wanted to do. What could possibly be so special a mile away that I couldn't do back at camp? Thankfully, my girls convinced me that I didn't want to miss out on a single moment and I decided that I felt well enough to hike a mile with them. Lugging all of our warm clothes, blankets, and headlamps with us, we all met near the Outessa registration tent and as a huge mass of women, we began to hike toward the unknown. As we hiked, we all joyfully chatted with our newfound friends around us. When we finally arrived at the overlook, we were shocked to see so many paper tablecloth lined tables lined up with chairs on both sides. There were enough chairs and place settings for all of the hundreds of women attending. The tables were set with wine glasses adjacent to our dinner plates. The plates were adorned with a cloth napkin decorated with twine, twigs, and leaves; giving the tables a cute rustic feel.
The biggest surprise came when we all realized that we were attending a crab boil! There was fresh crab, shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, corn bread, potatoes, and wine. I was starving and beyond excited for all the food to make its way to us. The Outessa volunteers began bringing buckets of food and dumping it right in front of us on the paper lined tables. We all voraciously filled our plates and chowed down while we chatted happily with one another, reliving the weekend's adventures while we broke bread together. After dinner, we all left our tables and walked across the trail that we hiked up to get to the overlook. Our jaws dropped when we saw what they had waiting for us. The overlook was definitely just that. A flat piece of land sitting just off the trail, it overlooked the vast mountains and valleys below. They had decorated the overlook with goal zero's lights strung around the propane fueled fire pits. Each of the fire pits were surrounded by a circle of hay bales and topped with warm blankets for everyone to sit on. As the sun set over the hazy mountain range, the colors in the sky began to fuse together making a collage of oranges, reds, blues, and purples. We all huddled together around our fire pits for warmth while we enjoyed each other's company with wine and smores. Choosing to hike back in the dark, we turned on our headlamps and happily made our way back down the dirt trail. It was the perfect way to celebrate the weekend that we had enjoyed and I ended up sleeping better that night than any other night on the mountain.
Nothing goes as planned, and that is good
Sunday morning, the last day of the Outessa summit, I woke up completely refreshed and ready for the day. I was super excited because I had rearranged my schedule to pick up some of the classes I had missed the day before due to elevation sickness. My first class, once again, was supposed to be map and compass skills. I had just enough time to make it to breakfast and then head out to my class, but during breakfast, we were told that we had to pack up our tents and gear before 11 am. I realized that I didn't have enough time to fully pack up my gear and make it to my class in time. I reluctantly accepted that my schedule wasn't going to go as planned and headed back to my tent to pack up all my gear.
After packing everything up, I had an extra hour to spare so going with the flow I walked down from camp to see what random class I could pop into. I hadn't planned to attend Igloo‘s class on making bloody mary's….but it was 10 am and I was looking for something random and fun to attend. BEST. IDEA. EVER. I have never actually had a bloody mary before and I had the best time learning how to make them while snacking on all the snacks Igloo managed to pack in their awesome packs made just for entertaining out in nature. If I hadn't missed my morning classes, I would have never gotten the chance to enjoy bloody marys at ten in the morning with all my ladies!
You can do it all with one Leatherman multitool
A morning of bloody mary's with my ladies proved to be just what I needed. Afterward, I moseyed on over to the Leatherman tent, ready to learn new tips and tricks on using my own Leatherman multitool out in the wild. I have to admit, I am a big Leatherman fan. The very first time that I saw Survivorman, Les Stroud, pull a Leatherman multitool out of his pocket on his show, I immediately went hunting for the right one for myself. I've spent the last few years always carrying one in my purse with me, and usually end up saving someone's day with the many helpful tools on it. It was time for me to find one geared towards all of my outdoor adventures too! During our class, we got to check out all the different tools on the many current multitools they carry, but even better, they put us to work using the tools in fun ways. We got to open bottles (and drink the beverages in them), saw through sticks, cut through fruit, and try our hand at using the flint on kindling. Who doesn't love a class about knives and fire? After seeing all the amazing tools that the Leatherman Signal has, I was sold. Every backpacker or hiker needs one of these multitools on them! It has 19 tools that are super helpful in the outdoors:
- needlenose pliers and regular pliers
- 154CM replaceable wire cutters, 154CM replaceable hard-wire cutters, wire stripper
- 420HC combo knife and saw
- awl w/ thread loop
- can opener and bottle opener
- 1/4″ hex bit driver, bit driver, 1/4″ box wrench, 3/16″ box wrench
- carabiner, safety whistle
- ferrocerium rod
- diamond coated sharpener
Going off on my own unplanned hike
After my multitool class, I decided to go in the opposite direction down the trail, and do a little bit of solo hiking. I hauled my camera down the trail, hoping for a good spot to stop and take more pictures of the Utah mountains surrounding me. As I trekked further away from the Outessa camp, all of the sounds of hundreds of people having a good time started to die out. Somewhere in the distance, I heard a hawk call out to its mate, landing in a far off tree. Here I was in the middle of nowhere and all that I could hear were the soothing sounds of nature, it's time to meditate, I thought to myself. What better time than now! After meditating, I decided to head back for lunch. On my way back towards camp Outessa, I stopped at one of the Eno hammock stations and lounged in a hammock facing the vast span of mountains. Even Netflix can't beat the kind of chill that I got from hanging out in the Utah mountains.
Trying something new is good for you
It was the last day of Outessa and not much time was left in the day to accomplish much more. The night before we had all chatted it up with the EliptiGo guy, Jeff Caron, and he told me to stop by the next day around 2 because he hadn't been scheduled for a class during that time. Wanting to try something new while I was there, I decided to head down the mountain to see just how hard it would be to learn to ride on their bikes with my partially paralyzed legs. If you have never heard of EliptiGo, you should definitely check them out! They make these amazing elliptical inspired bikes that are great for runners and bikers alike! A little nervous but always down to try anything once, I listened carefully while Jeff gave me instructions on how not to kill myself on their bikes. As I climbed onto the bike and started riding around the parking lot with it, I was thrilled that it wasn't nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. It still felt extremely weird to be standing up moving on this bike with my numb feet, but I managed to make it all the way around the block without crashing it or falling off. I felt like that was a big feat for me! When I got off of the EliptiGo bike, I was surprised at how well it had worked ALL of my leg muscles. I was seriously wobbly for a minute because it had equally worked muscles that normal bikes don't target. I could easily see how these bikes were great for people looking to run without all of the impact involved. I need to get me one to practice with at home! I think it'd be great for training for my first 5k!
I was sad to say goodbye to my Outessa tribe
The end of Outessa, Sunday afternoon, was a bittersweet goodbye. I was definitely sweaty, dirty, and happy, but I was also totally exhausted and ready for a good shower in my hotel room. We had had the ladies weekend of a lifetime and I couldn't believe it was already over. My awesome friends were nice enough to drop me off at my hotel on their way to the airport, leaving me with a whole 24 hours to relax and rifle through the entire 45L backpack of freebies given to me, before flying back home. I had to eat a good amount of ProBars that night to save room in my backpack for the rest of my gear! It was totally worth the bellyache afterward lol!
As I sat on my flight heading home, I was sad that my weekend of adventures and fun was already over. I knew that I would definitely be going next year, no matter what I had to do to get there! I had accomplished a ton for such a short period of time. I had hiked a good 20 miles, learned to ride an EliptiGo bike, kayaked on a lake surrounded by mountains, learned all sorts of useful skills for the next time I am in the backcountry, and made a TON of new outdoor loving girlfriends. Here's to all my ladies who love to be #sweatydirtyhappy! I'll see you out in the wild and hopefully at Outessa again next year!
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