Sometimes I feel like I’ve been hiking all my life. And technically, I have! Growing up I used to hike at World’s End State Park multiple times each year with my dad, and I would beg to hike as many trails as I could. He taught me how to set up a tent, how to dress properly for the weather, and how to make the perfect s’mores. But now that I’m living in Alaska and hiking up bigger mountains, I’m starting to realize that I’m actually an outdoors newbie. And honestly, it’s rough.
The outdoors is a tough place – one wrong move and you’re seriously hurt or dead. And this creates this really intense space where I feel like I have to learn EVERYTHING there is to know about hiking and camping as soon as possible. Everyone else seems like they’re lightyears ahead of me in terms of knowledge, skills, and confidence level and that makes me stress about trying to catch up. I can hike on a well-used trail with other people in a state park with the right gear and feel safe, but I’m always aware of the fact that I’m still learning my outdoors skills. To be less of a newbie I have to keep putting myself out there – hiking with more experienced people, going to classes at REI, reading books and blogs, and trying harder trails – but that means that I have to really push myself out of my comfort zone and be willing to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
The outdoor newbie struggle is real, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve done some pretty stupid or embarassing things outdoors in the process of learning how to do things right. On my first solo backpacking trip last March I had to google “How to start a fire” when I got out to the cabin and couldn’t figure out how the wood stove worked. I cried after my first time riding singletrack on my mountain bike because I was so scared. Sometimes I wear the wrong layers and die from the heat, and sometimes I wear too few layers and don’t have any extras in my backpack so I freeze. I literally just learned last week that I needed to get sized for a backpacking pack to fit right. I’ve accidentally gotten way too close to a moose more times than I can count. Sometimes I pack way too much water. Sometimes I don’t pack enough. Learning how to pee outside was definitely an adventure. I’ve never been truly lost, but I’ve gotten off track to the point where I was completely frustrated and just wanted to go home. And I’ve gotten horribly sunburned on the top of a few mountains.
All of that stuff is rough. And each of those experiences teaches me something new about how to handle the outdoors. Being outdoorsy isn’t something you learn how to do perfectly overnight, and that’s okay. I’m slowly learning how to adapt, survive, and thrive in the outdoors. And I know plenty of accomplished outdoorsy women who have had their fair share of newbie moments too. I’ll probably never stop making mistakes, and might never feel like a pro. But for now I can get excited about those moments where I am prepared, confident, and knowledgeable! There are so many hikes where I do everything right, and those moments make all the tough newbie moments worth it.
Are you an outdoors newbie or a total pro? How did you learn all the skills that you have now? What skill do you want to work on?