“It was a week of many firsts.” This was the banner headline from the check-in call with our local partner, Women’s Wilderness. With a grant from The Cairn Project, Women’s Wilderness had recently wrapped up their first-ever Adventure Days program in Jefferson County, Colorado – the Denver metro area.
For each of the little ladies in attendance – Adventure Days is a one-week camp for girls entering 3rd-5th grade – it was an action-packed week. First nature-based craft project. Initial fear of bugs, followed by a first foray into plant and animal identification. First time exploring a river.
It’s hard to decide which part of our grant’s impact is the coolest – that all of the participants received financial aid; that funding from The Cairn Project helped launch a program led by seasoned instructors in a new community; or that at the end of the week, one shy young woman looked her leaders in the eye for the first time and told them “I found my voice.”
But I think my favorite part is the final “first” of the week: first hike in the rain. As Adventure Days leaders Addi and Caterina shared, the girls clamored for it, despite Addi’s and Cat’s plan to bail in favor of an alternate, drier, capstone activity. “You guys want to go on a long hike in the rain?” “Yeeeeaah!!!” they shrieked. And so they did it! A few miles up a hill and back down again, in the rain. Pretty awesome for a dozen seven and eight year olds – how many of us in our adult years shriek with glee at the chance to hike in the rain?
It’s the scary, new, or uncomfortable that is most memorable. It’s the hike with the unexpected weather or terrain challenge that imprints itself more deeply in our memories.
When I think about what we’re trying to do with The Cairn Project, the word touchstone comes to mind. In the Front Range of Colorado and in the growing number of communities where we are supporting organizations like Women’s Wilderness, we’re trying to help more young women find those crucial touchstones with the outdoors. And here’s the kicker: good touchstones usually involve something scary, new, or uncomfortable.
It’s the scary, new, or uncomfortable that is most memorable. It’s the hike with the unexpected weather or terrain challenge that imprints itself more deeply in our memories. And as we learn this and love it, we seek out more versions of new and uncomfortable. We discover that we can do far more than we think we can – that being uncomfortable is part of what propels us beyond our perceived limits.
Last year, Sarah and I set off on the longest backpacking trip either of us had ever done. For both of us, “uncomfortable” took on a new meaning every day. For me, the touchstones that connect the dots between my first hikes as a kid to the morning we summited Mt. Whitney span across decades, and dozens of landscapes. It would be a long-winded story for me to piece together the trajectory that brought me to the completion of the 200+ mile John Muir Trail, with some notable moments of fear, newness, and discomfort outside.
What’s clear, though, is that if I hadn’t taken a first hike in the rain and come out the other side soaked but triumphant, life would be different.
We’re so honored to be able to contribute to the work of groups with Women’s Wilderness. Here’s to more first hikes in the rain, for many more young women.
A San Francisco native, Alison grew up in a family that enjoyed the privilege of outdoor access – many memories were made in California’s iconic mountain and coastal landscapes. Alison has spent her career in the philanthropic sector, advancing initiatives for justice and empowerment internationally and closer to home. In addition to her leadership at The Cairn Project, she directs the Environmental Defenders Collaborative at Global Greengrants Fund, channeling support to frontline environmental activists around the world.