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I showed up for the first day of nordic ski practice in 6th grade with a pair of old fishscale skis my parents bought at a yardsale. We had just moved to Maine and, being the oldest in the family, I was the first kid in my family to join the cross-country ski team.
Mere minutes into my first practice, a popular eighth grade girl derisively told me I was wearing the wrong skis. Apparently, fishscale skis were not only useless for racing in general, but particularly unsuitable for skate skiing.
I was mortified to the core, wanting to shrink behind the trees we were skiing along, never be seen again.
I began tiptoeing around new outdoor situations, unsure of how to proceed, not wanting to appear like I didn’t know what I was doing. I feverishly observed those around me who seemed to have an idea of what was going on. I constantly tried to blend in: to have the right backpack, to use the right lingo, to roll my ski pants the right way, to do my braids with just the right amount of messiness. If I did it all correctly, I figured, I would be seen as legitimate—I would be welcomed into the fold.
This feeling stayed with me into adulthood: the eighth grade girl’s scoff of disgust echoing within me years after I left middle school.
In my early twenties, I moved west, arriving in an environment where it seemed like everyone around me did every outdoor activity at a high level. It wasn’t enough just to ski and trail run, you had to climb and mountain bike (and kayak, and…), too.
I wanted to throw myself into new activities with abandon, but:
But I feared looking like a beginner.
But it had taken me twenty years to figure out how to look like a skier.
But I didn’t know how to move my body or what to wear or where to begin.
For years, I let these “buts”—these fears—stand in my way.
It took a knee injury to kick me out of my comfort-zone sport. I made a leap into the unknown, into the world of mountain biking. With a pair of unpadded spandex shorts, beat-up trail runners, and a borrowed old hardtail, I followed a supportive friend around beginner trails.
The moment the first downhill began, all nerves, doubts, and discomfort faded into the evening air. I shifted my weight the way I’d been coached to, chose my line, and rolled forward. Soon enough, I was having too much fun to be self-conscious. The “but” that had kept me out of the saddle was vanquished, replaced by flowing, flying joy.
Each of us have “buts” ready to stand in our way, hold us back, keep us small. Members in several of Outdoor Women’s Alliance’s Grassroots Teams shared what their individual barriers were—what prevented them from grabbing their gear and getting out the door—and then demonstrated the ways they’ve pushed past it.
What’s Your “But”? Outdoor Women Respond:
New England Grassroots Team
Jodi Kosherick “‘…but it’s cold out.’”
Quinn Bjorhus “‘…but I’m afraid I’ll fail or get injured or I won’t achieve my original goal or reach my destination.’
“OWA and the outdoor community has helped me appreciate the journeys, the setbacks, the struggles that we all face together, and appreciate every beautiful and hard moment we can get outside. And sometimes you finish a three-week thruhike atop Mt. Whitney and realize the top of the world really is within reach!”
Sarah Diver “‘…but what if it rains or I get lost?’”
Annette Murano “… but I’m embarrassed and frustrated that I’m not as good as I used to be. I struggle with comparing my past abilities with my current ones after a major depressive episode took me out of the game for a while.”
Emma Limburg “’…but I’m so sore.’”
Alexis Simpson “‘…but what if I fall?’”
Mia Heacock “’…but I’m envious of those who can push through their boundaries … That’s what made me want to try … by training every day.’”
Wasatch Front Grassroots Team
Maria Paspuel “…but I need to find the time to train. I want to summit Ecuador’s Chimborazo, but finding time to train and my recent injuries have been holding me back. So now, I’m strengthening my knee (after it got scoped three months ago), being more cautious to prevent more injury, and setting goals with deadlines on when I want to accomplish things.”
Gina Bégin “’…but I can’t keep up.’ (Or even ‘…but it hurts my pride.’)
“This started filling my head for the first time after getting into a major ski accident and blowing out three ligaments in my knee. Due to medical malpractice, four years later, I’m still waiting for it to be fixed. The result is going from being confident in skis to feeling very intimidated. Because of this, I’ve isolated myself on the ski hill; I don’t want to let others down (or let myself down in front of others). My mind has a hard time realizing my body isn’t the same and accepting that.
“But (a positive ‘but’ here! : ) because of being able to work with so many incredible volunteers at OWA and reading the many story contributions made by other outdoor women there, the doubt and negative self-talk I inflict on myself is beginning to be chipped away. I realize we’ve all had setbacks, we’ve all had to be beginners (and even beginners again) and others around me just want to see someone enjoying themselves out there—no matter their ability. I know that’s my outlook on others, too; it dawned on me: Why am I not applying it to myself?
“I kept trying to stuff myself into my usual aggressive ski gear and ending up in pain because my pride hurt as bad as my knee. Finally, I softened my attitude on myself, allowed myself to go back to the mindset of being a beginner, and got into some intermediate-level gear. My knee loved it and for the first time in four years, I had a smile on my face while skiing.”
Washington State Grassroots Team
Nikki Frumkin “…but it’s so warm in my bed!”
Ashley Gossens “…but I have to carry my ever-growing kid. However, these hikes remind me I am capable of more than I ever thought possible.”
It’s not always a simple road. Many of us are working toward a triumph over our “buts.” As we listen, we find we have doubts and setbacks that are in common with each other:
Michele McNulty Finnegan “…but everyone else is going to be younger and fitter.”
Sarah Giordano “…but I have no … gear.”
Sara Gentzler “…but I should really get some more work done.”
Debbie Johnson “…but I have no one to go with and am not sure enough of the right things to do to really explore solo.”
Teresa Hagerty “…but I don’t know if I’m ready or not and I might be the slow one in the group.”
Brittany Leffel “I always want to go for an evening hike but don’t think there is enough time. Winter is always difficult with it getting dark so early…”
Jen West “Safety alone is always my ‘but’ and trying to coordinate a regular schedule with like-minded … people.”
Dawn Bays Geoffroy “‘…but I don’t know where to start!’ So many choices can be overwhelming; I find myself getting stuck in a closed loop of analysis paralysis.”
Meryl Nelson-Lee “My ‘but’ is not feeling confident in my technical skills. I have the friends and resources to learn new things. But I doubt myself or I don’t want to ask someone to take the time to teach me.”
Sylvia DeMichiel “I struggle with anxiety and depression so my ‘but’ is often just even getting up the energy to get outside or to calm my nerves. So many activities I wanted to try but I was always too scared because what if I mess up or look like a fool; everyone will know I don’t belong.”
For those of us with unresolved “buts”, our New England Grassroots Team member had this to say:
“Just show up. Expect the best possible outcome [and] realize that we feel nourished and … refreshed by differences. Try doing something—or going somewhere—different every day; just be and observe.” – Juliet Cole Barash
We can work through these doubts through our collective community.
We can beat the excuses. We can vanquish fear.
We can get the heck after it.
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Editor’s Note: Punctuation and spelling in the above quotations may contain corrections to spelling and punctuation, when needed, with respect to the original quote. However, the meaning and message of the quotation was not altered in doing so.
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About the Author
Carolyn Highland says: “I have a tattoo on my left instep of the word ‘Atrévete,’ which means ‘dare yourself’ in Spanish. It’s about living boldly and creating the life you want for yourself. After graduating college with a degree in creative non-fiction writing, I spent time on New Zealand’s South Island, Chile’s Atacama Desert, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the coast of Maine, finally landing in Colorado to get up close and personal with the Rockies.
“In any given weather I can be found trail running, hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, nordic, backcountry, or downhill skiing, or just staring up at the mountains with my jaw dropped and my heart full. I believe that the best way to protect our planet is to inspire the next generation of little outdoor women to love the wild and fight to keep it beautiful, and as a result am pursuing a career as an outdoor writer and an outdoor educator. Pass the stoke!”
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