An Ode to Female Friendship
From Great Outdoor Store
I've never felt comfortable describing myself as an 'outdoor woman'. That phrase conjures up an image of a woman who is confident, self-assured, and able to save herself from the mistakes that she makes when out in the wilderness alone. When I'm planning a trip, there is a certain edge of uncertainty--a question I'm left without the correct answer to. For me, there is almost always a quietly thrumming thought in the back of my mind reminding me that I am a woman, but even more than that, reminding me that I am a rather vulnerable human.
I did not grow up camping. We didn’t climb rocks or mountains in my family. We might have hiked a bit, but it was gentle. One of my very best friends, Grace, taught me how to be a woman in the outdoor world. She taught me how to be a friend, too. She started at Great Outdoor Store just a few months after I did. From her I learned how to camp, how to choose where to stake you tent, how to build a fire (challenge me to a contest, I’ll win) and how to plan camp meals. She used to winter camp--she’s slightly insane--and taught me how to build a layering system that will keep you warm in frigid temps. She taught my mom and I how to cross country ski. Though “ski” is a strong word for what we did, really. Gracie taught me how to say yes. She left me some of her sense of adventure before she headed out to the Seattle area to be an ER nurse. Her natural inclination is to pick the most difficult route, whether that’s up a mountain or in a career path.
I recently had the opportunity to visit her. I headed out west to spend a week soaking up her new life and routines. It had been about THREE YEARS since we’d seen each other, which makes me just want to scream. We’ve both changed so much in that time, but she is the best kind of friend. We fell immediately back into easy camaraderie and then we immediately hit the trails. We spent a beautiful fall week sleeping in, drinking coffee, shucking and eating oysters, hiking every trail we could find, going to breweries, making risotto and eating ridiculous amounts of cheese and salmon. We took every opportunity for chocolate. We took afternoon naps and soaked in the hot tub of our AirBnB in the north of Washington. What I’m saying is: we had the TIME OF OUR LIVES.
I have gained much independence in my outdoor endeavors since Grace and I worked at GOS together. But spending that week with her and all those hours on countless trails I was reminded of how deeply I admire her. Grace is an astounding woman. She is helplessly honest in her need to be outside. She moves with a certain confidence but also a certain restless energy. She moves with necessity when she’s on a trail. She sweeps through space like maybe the trees whisper to her how many trails she needs to complete before she finds whatever it is she’s wanting at the end. Peace, maybe. Or contentment. So, she finishes trails with a drive almost suggesting obligation. I think maybe that understanding how many unknowns there are on whatever mountain she is charging up finally overwhelms her to the point where her brain goes quiet. I think she finds solace she can’t find elsewhere in the combination of physical and mental exertion coupled with knowing that on some level, in small or big ways, she is at the mercy of the elements. (Remember how she’s an ER nurse?? The girl loves to be overwhelmed.) Watching her reminds me to get out of my head and into my body—to experience. Watching her reminds me to be in awe of our outdoor spaces, of spaces that overwhelm. She reminds me that understanding fully your human limitations need not hinder your action.
Grace is an outdoor woman. A woman in the outdoors. You should always, always be smart, always make informed decisions and plan safely. But watching Grace, I also saw someone who needed to be connected to the outdoors more than she needed a meticulous plan or a carefully weighed decision. I saw a woman who cries more than anyone I know, who is giving to the point of exhaustion, generous with her energy and able to tell you your needs before you can identify them yourself rise to the challenge of the forests and the hills and the rocks. Grace has grit. Grace spends her nights grinding away in an emergency room with people having the worst time of their lives. People in extreme pain and danger. And then she wakes in the afternoon and she finds the next challenge. She swells with some kind of vibrant life in the middle of the wilderness. At the end of it all, I am sharply grateful for such a powerful female friend and role model. She teaches me about the breadth of the human experience, and the breadth of the female experience. She reminds me how many kinds of strength there all. Gracie lives out an incredible vulnerability that shares space with incredible adventure.
Anyways—support the gals in your life, support the human beings in your life, and find some wild spaces of your own.
Emily is GOS's Instagram Influencer and the person who keeps us "on-brand". She won't let Nancy play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving which makes Nancy sad.