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The Magic of Firsts: When Women Unite

There’s something so special about the first. You only get one.

First time skiing, first taste of a dragon fruit or first time falling in love—you learn something about yourself in a single experience that you carry with you the rest of your life. I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to experience something for the first time, and in the outdoor industry we are surrounded by firsts. First ascents, fastest known times and records being set across the board—we see it, we hear about it, we revere it. What we don’t hear as much about is the simple stuff that got us there—the first steps.

Do you remember your first time packing a tent on your back, or the anticipation you felt before sleeping on the ground under a blanket of stars? How about your first attempt at cooking a meal over a fire, filtering water to drink from a river or pooping in a bag?

These are the kinds of formative experiences we all have outside that make us into the adventurers we are today. Yet, after many years playing in the wild, we tend to lose sight of where it all started. These new beginnings may come and go for many of us, but by forgetting where we began and what it was like to learn something new we risk losing the spark of curiosity. It’s not until we venture into these now-familiar worlds, through the eyes of someone or something new, that we remember.

Remember the magic of learning something for the first time? Remember what it was like to take a leap of trust in someone who might know a little (or a lot) more than you? Leaning into the mystery of newness with curiosity and enthusiasm is one of the most character-building pursuits.

I first met Latasha, a Denver based artist, during a backcountry hut trip in the San Juans of Colorado, where she was painting outside. Her work was beautiful, and she had a beaming personality to match.  We got to chatting and immediately hit off a longstanding friendship. Over the many years since, we’ve shared countless heartfelt conversations and belly laughs in beautiful places around the world.

When I learned Tash had never been backpacking, I couldn’t think of a better person to share that experience with. The idea of walking all your belongings and sleeping outside both terrified and intrigued her—and I knew I wanted to be there when she did. I planned a backpacking trip to the Eastern Sierra of California and invited Tash and Kimmie, a LA-based climber and frequent backpacker, to join. It’d be Tash’s first backpacking experience and Kimmie could show her the ropes. Both women share a mutual love for rock climbing, so we’d make sure and spend some time on the wall too, as well as have Tash teach Kimmie how to paint outside: a full exchange of passions.

In an industry saturated with experts and enthusiasts, there are loads of folks simply wanting to get out and experience the outdoors in an approachable and enjoyable way. Not everything has to be extreme, fast or lightweight. There is space for everyone to enjoy nature in a way that suits them best. You can go fast or you can go slow; you can go far or you can stay close. The details matter less than the experience itself and what we stand to gain when we simply try.

For those who haven’t slept outside in the wild, there is likely a degree of fear, concern or uncertainty attached to the unknown. To wonder where to go to the bathroom, if there are wolves, bears or mountain lions that want to eat you or where to sleep is all very normal. The logistics of an overnight backpacking adventure in the outdoors invite us to learn and experience something new, and having friends willing to take you under their wing is a great way to get into it. There are no wrong questions and there is certainly no shame in asking them. When you have a learning mindset, you continue to evolve as a human being. A teachable person is willing to look a little lost, feel a little confused and not be the expert. This mindset allows you to connect with others in a new and meaningful way, gain new skills and confidence, share strengths and expand your worldview.

Kimmie describes herself as an adventure-seeker, lifelong student and jack-of-all-trades but master of none. She thrives with a learning mindset. When we got to California, Kimmie gracefully put up a route to introduce Tash to a different type of climbing than she’s used to. Tash loves to boulder, and being able to stay closer to the ground brings her a sense of stability. Watching Tash ascend a cliff face on ropes was one of the most thrilling things to see—with the support of a new friend and mutual love and admiration for a sport, the women connected in a way that few things in life can replicate. Just like Tash, a friend took Kimmie out climbing for the first time and taught her about the gear, how to climb safely, and how to stay calm and problem solve.

Our overnight backpacking trip into the Sierras held many firsts for Tash. She filtered her own water, slept in a tent by a lake, carried all her gear and painting supplies deep into the mountains, and hung her first bear bag. I still remember the first time I went backpacking and how tired I was. It was one of the most exhilarating and accomplished feelings I'd ever had. Seeing Tash experience that same sense of pride and human-powered strength was really moving.

Tash doesn’t go anywhere without her paint supplies—she’s been an artist all her life, and doesn’t recall a time when being creative was not a priority. She had many art teachers who helped her to hone her creative voice, reign her wide net of ambition and learn how to not get pigeonholed to continually evolve as an artist. In the outdoors, she’s found her favorite place to express herself. Being still in nature allows Tash to merge into the landscape and experience it in an authentic way, in lieu of moving through. Her art is defined by stillness. She takes time to notice the colors, smells and shapes that maybe, when moving too quickly, you’d overlook.

Tash sat down to give Kimmie some pointers on how to paint outside. She approaches teaching by trying to debunk what others define as good art and showing them that all forms of expression are valid. She’s there to remind folks that art is subjective, and there is no right or wrong way to express it. Tash’s only goal was to convince Kimmie that she is naturally an artist.

The two ladies painted into the sunset, and watching Kimmie beam at the results of her first painting was amazing. Kimmie’s learning style is a combination of visual, auditory and hands-on. An art lesson with Tash was just up her alley.

Through the lens of my friends, I got to experience a landscape I once called home in an entirely new way. Special places that had become familiar now sparked with newness. I witnessed Tash grow her confidence outdoors and Kimmie paint her first piece at one of my favorite lakes, something I'd certainly never done before either. This trip brought newness to all of us—and following our curiosity created space for mutual growth.

One of my favorite things about women teaching women is the sisterhood we build. Raising each other up, advancing skills together and feeling stronger and supported while working towards a common goal is both comforting and rewarding. You only get to learn something new once, and having the courage to ask for support, or be there to offer it to someone else, ultimately lifts us all to new heights.

Words and Images by Kylie Fly(Opens in a new window)

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