Movement shapes our lives. How we choose to move defines us, sketches the outline of experience. Yet movement also invites the space to be moved—in unexpected, even tectonic ways.
In the weeks leading up to REI Outessa, I imagined a weekend bursting with movement. Hiking, running, biking, climbing, all in a gorgeous mountain setting with amazing, strong women who love the outdoors. Outessa offers over 200 classes, from intro mountain biking to intermediate rock climbing to navigation skills—you can choose your own adventure. All-star REI guides lead each guided activity and draw on a wealth of outdoor education experience. From panels and talks to refreshing down-time activities, and a range of lodging options to boot, Outessa offers the chance to build a custom retreat experience of your dreams. It’s a rare combination of adventure, inspiration, and community, designed for women of all ages and backgrounds. What more could you want from a retreat?
But the real power behind Outessa lies in the experience of being moved and watching others be moved—by the fierce overcoming of fear, by the grit a woman shows on her first climb, by the spontaneous formation of a whooping high-five line, by the dawning of transformation and realization of possibility. Allison Arevalo reflects, “When you open yourself at an event like Outessa, you realize that you are stronger than you think, and that you are not alone.”
Rachael Minucciani, Senior Program Manager of Events Marketing at REI and a huge force behind Outessa, recognizes that same magic. “It casts a little spell over you, and you can’t help but open your arms up and fall backwards and embrace this experience.” In her welcome speech, she encouraged folks to identify what scares or challenges us, and to dig into it throughout the weekend, knowing we would have encouragement to push through. We all carry reasons for why we seek the outdoors, and Rachael shared how embracing her relationship with the outdoors was her method of healing after her father passed away. She also celebrated her mother, who had joined her at Outessa, as a true force of nature for her family. “She has inspired and empowered me to do this for everybody else,” Rachael says of her mom.
I learned that some women had come with an adventurous friend, some aspired to be outside more, some came in mother-daughter pairs, some came last year and couldn’t imagine not coming back. It was one woman’s 40th birthday present. One woman’s time to heal from a painful loss. Karolyn Dupree attended last year with a long-time friend, and explained why she was drawn to it again: “Outessa gave us the opportunity to try new outdoor activities without the pressure to perform. Without judgement, without competition and yet with all the support to feel comfortable in trying something new and different. I needed to spend time outside for me but didn’t know where to start and Outessa provided that avenue.”
The supportive environment facilitates connections, even if you’re an introvert. In Going Solo: An Introvert’s Guide to REI Outessa, Allison Arevalo writes, “You might not meet anyone – right away. By the end of the weekend, I promise, you’ll have connections. People who get it, who understand you. People who feel just like you do.” These connections are built by moving together throughout the weekend and beyond.
Here is a brief recap of the weekend in three movements: each day was orchestrated and supported by amazing staff, instructors, guides, and brand partners.
6:30 am Wake up to the hush of the mountain stream bordering the DIY Campground. Pack for the day, wash up, walk to the REI Village. Savor coffee from the Allegro bus. Eat breakfast.
8:00 am Intro to Mountain Biking. Expert instructors Halle and Nicole get us fitted with Cannondale bikes. Kindness radiates as they encourage our group, many of us new to mountain biking. They walk through the basic tenets and safety precautions. “We are in control of our bikes,” they tell us, demonstrating power poses. We run drills to work on positioning our bodies, getting in ready position for anything. Stops. Turns. Obstacles. Bumps. We run through it all. Finally it’s trail time, and suddenly the unexpected looms, daunting. But we begin and it’s a rush of adrenaline—streaming sage and wildflowers, cool wind. My body responds to the trail and what it brings. Not thoughts, just movement. Exhilarating.
12 pm Lunch. Hydrate. Sunscreen. I sit down and meet new friends, and we talk about how amazing the guides are, how incredible it is to be taught by women instructors who take into account all different skill levels.
Halle Enyedy, REI Outdoor School Instructor, shares her perspective on teaching mountain biking and witnessing transformations:
“We taught both entry level mountain biking classes as well as more intermediate skills and everyone seemed challenged at the appropriate level. Existing mountain bike riders commented to us that the focus on fundamental skills helped to improve their riding ability and confidence.
My personal favorites are new mountain bike riders who may be a bit cautious and fearful of the sport. I see the largest change in these women as we work on skills and then hit the trail; you can literally see them gaining confidence as they master each skill.
Finally, each class has its own level of bonding. As guides we really work on the skills before putting them on trail; it’s an essential part of our curriculum. They go through this together as a group so by the time they are riding on the trail they are cheering each other on as a team. It’s a blast.”
1 pm Wilderness survival class with Raquel. We meet at the Lifestraw tent, hike into the woods, and assess our surroundings. We talk about emergency kits and survival skills, then practice building shelters.
3:30 pm Back at the Village, I stop by the Igloo tent to cool down with ice cold slushies. I meet Jim and Sam, the house band for the weekend. They are incredible musicians, playing a show every day on their Anywhere Everyday Tour.
4:30 pm Force of Nature Panel. Deanne Buck of Camber Outdoors, Kitty Calhoun of Chicks Climbing and Skiing, Georgina Miranda of Altitude Seven, and Claire Smallwood of SheJumps share what drives them to be a force of nature. Their suggestions? Change the narrative. Take the first step. Embrace risk. Tie yourself to the women around you. Find what lights you up. Simplify. Show up, even when it’s hard.
5 -10 pm
Happy Hour snacks and drinks, great dinner, campfire chats and hearty s’mores supplies. We see runners bouncing in the distance—it is the night trail run coming back. Everyone cheers madly and lines up to high-five the runners entering the Village.
6:30 am Wake up, pack up, coffee, breakfast.
8 am I have some time before my first session, so I head to the tie dye station at the Keen tent. “I’ve never done this before!” I hear someone exclaim, as we grin and douse white shirts with splashes of color, hoping they turn out.
9 am Scenic Sierra Hike. Hope, our all-star REI guide, leads us up the trail, joined by Rebecca Bear, REI’s Director of Outdoor Programs and Local Community Development. We traipse together in our group, hopping over streams and circling closer to the base of the mountains. We stop to admire wildflowers, spot butterflies, and scout out ideal pitstop locations. At the summit (aptly named The Sisters), we take in the view, frolic in snow, and best of all, get a requested crash course on pooping in the woods.
12 pm Lunch.
1 pm Campfire Cooking. Aimee, Emily, and Mai-yan, the ladies behind Dirty Gourmet, show off a few recipes and best practices for cast iron cooking. Their jalapeño cornbread has a crunchy base and a soft, spicy, savory bite. The peach cobbler is smoky with complex flavor. Wow. They have us all dreaming about whipping up fire-cooked meals on our next camping trips. Check out their recipes, ranging from day trips to bike touring and backpacking.
4 pm Tired Feet session with Rinse Bath & Body Co. We clean our sore and dirty feet, spritz them with peppermint magic spray, and learn foot facts. One quarter of the body’s bones are in the foot?? Spritz again.
6 pm Dinner at Red Cliffs Lodge. We walk next door and feel as if we’ve stumbled onto a movie set for a glamorous outdoor wedding. Pennants are strewn across family style tables, laden with food and flowers. We feast! Jim and Sam again serenade.
8 pm Campfire and s’mores. The music ramps up a notch and begins to draws more and more women, until a full-on dance party has broken loose. We dance with abandon. Stepping back for a moment and taking in the scene with awe, I laugh as the woman next to me says, “This place really brings out your inner child, doesn’t it?”
7 am Coffee, breakfast. By day three I am tired in the best way. Coffee, as this photo indicates, is nectar from heaven.
8 am Intro Rock Climbing. Ladies get outfitted with Petzl gear, led by Elaina Arenz and Kitty Calhoun of Chicks Climbing and Skiing, and stellar REI guides Cindy and Allison. We begin a steep climb up the mountain and stop near the crag to put on harnesses and helmets and talk safety. At the wall, the guides demonstrate climbing etiquette and scale the wall with ease and panache. I am so impressed by first-timers, fearless, edging up the crag. “Your hips are your power,” we hear. “If you’re not sure, just move your feet and keep going.”
1 pm Open Kayak. I catch the shuttle to the lake. We get suited up for paddling in Oru Kayaks, lightweight, foldable kayaks that are awesome to try. Alisa, another amazing REI Outdoor School instructor, walks us through a refresher on paddling. We set out and explore the lake—the sky streaked with clouds. We talk about paddle trips, drool over REI Adventure destinations, and reflect on the weekend.
3 pm Closing ceremony. I wash in from the lake, worn out, exhausted yet soaring, with the most tired muscles being from merely grinning all weekend. The final words are an affirmation of how, despite what we carry—no, because of it—we roared with life over the past few days. Halle Enyedy reflects:
“I was blown away by the level of positive energy that everyone brought to the weekend. It was palpable. There were so many options and challenging activities for everyone to participant in during the weekend, and being at altitude, there could have been fatigue but I just didn’t see any. Everyone was there to play and learn as much as possible. On my drive home from the weekend, I was struck by the magic of a couple hundred strangers coming together to play in the outdoors and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
I was inspired by so many amazing women and their accomplishments, big and small. I think the individuals that I will continue to think about are the ones who were determined not to let their fear define them. I saw a lot of courage at Outessa and that pushes me to identify my next challenge.”
We each left with new friends and battle scars, each telling a story, a cartography of the body in motion. We carved out new space, crossed lines, and embraced various hues of meaning. For some, Outessa has motivated them to give back. Karolyn Dupree was so thrilled by mountain biking last year that she continued to take classes and now mentors young girls and teaches them about mountain biking in her community. Karolyn shares, “That positive experience at Outessa last year made me want more. I wanted to ride as much as possible and I wanted to get more girls on bikes…I think sharing my Outessa experience and mentoring to others helped me find a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment.”
It turns out Outessa’s greatest gift isn’t just the power to move and be moved—but to create a movement of women fired up about our place in the outdoors.
Stay tuned to follow Outessa as it grows and continues to excel in offering women-specific programming. Activity-specific regional experiences, camping music festivals, and more retreats may be in the works.