Outessa Kirkwood: Inspiring and thought-provoking

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Outessa is an inspiring and thought-provoking gathering of women who love the outdoors. Here’s what our executive director and co-founder, Claire Smallwood, had to say about the event.

CAMP OUTESSA

My journey to Outessa began when I received an invitation from the event organizers to speak on the Force of Nature panel. My heart skipped a beat when I read the email—it was an offering of recognition for our work with SheJumps and the opportunity to participate in a larger conversation about women in the outdoors.

Outessa proved itself to be a gathering that was truly for ALL women. I met women from all over the country at the event, and from many backgrounds and places all over the world. It was a homecoming for many in a lot of ways that only the outdoor community can provide.

First off, the MC, Steph Jagger might have accidentally stole the show. She didn’t mean to, but her energizing—yet calm—rhythm of banter and guidance through the event made you not want to miss even the most mundane announcements about lost phones or parking. Jagger is the author of a book called “Unbound” about her quest to break the record for skiing the most vertical feet in a year. It’s a fabulous read that reminds us life is not about achieving so much as being, and Outessa could not have been a better landing place for that theme to flourish.

Steph Jagger leads her "Great Big Journey" workshop at Outessa Kirkwood.

Steph Jagger leads her “Great Big Journey” workshop at Outessa Kirkwood.

Jagger even hosted her own event at Outessa, called “The Great Big Journey.” It’s a goal-setting session with Jagger and fellow Outessians designed to be a tidbit of her life-coaching business where you can experience the 100+ page journaling exercise designed to open up completely new avenues of “hell yes” mantras in your life. In short, it was a must-do at the event. (Stay tuned for an exclusive Q and A with Jagger here at SheJumps.org soon).

Outessa is set up in time blocks so you can choose different activities each day but hopefully still accomplish it all in a single weekend. From rock climbing (intro and intermediate) to mountain biking, trail running, backpacking, navigation, SUP, kayak, and even a gourmet camp cooking demo—there was literally something for everyone. Set over the course of three days, you could find yourself as busy or as “not busy” as you’d like. Every vendor in the Outessa village also offered an activity. From making tie-dye t-shirts to flower crowns and learning how to hula dance, you day was easily booked.

Making tie-dye shirts with Keen.

Making tie-dye shirts with Keen.

Navigation basics with Lindsay MacIntosh-Tolle from REI in Portland.

Navigation basics with Lindsay MacIntosh-Tolle from REI in Portland.

Wilderness Survival with Raquel from REI.

Wilderness Survival with Raquel from REI.

There was also a staggeringly amazing amount of positive support for one another. It was not uncommon to hear the following exchange on regular basis:

Person A: “I just found out that they have another spot in the rock climbing. Do you think I should do it?”
Person B [who just met Person A moments before]: “Yeah! Go for it. You’re gonna do so great. It was so much fun!”
Person A: “Ok, I’m going to go for it!”

Rinse. Repeat. (Did I mention there were hot showers there for the campers, too?)

Workshops for mountain biking from IMBA certified mountain bike coaches.

Workshops for mountain biking from IMBA certified mountain bike coaches.

It seemed that the only prerequisite for coming to the Outessa weekend was that you need to be ok with strangers talking to you. All. The. Time.

That’s where I’d come in. I have this thing I do when I’m in a new place, especially one relating to the outdoor communities: I say hi to everyone. I intentionally sit with strangers. I want high fives. I want to meet people.

My new friend Margery. We met at the airport and were buddies all weekend!

My new friend Margery. We met at the airport and were buddies all weekend!

And, I had Girafficorn stickers.

The Girafficorn stickers were fantastic conversation starters and it gave me the opportunity to tell attendees about our nonprofit, and about the wonderful community—just like Outessa—that we have been building for nearly 10 years. It was a great privilege to be able to connect with people one on one about just that thing—community—and learn that regardless of rock climbing routes, backpacking adventures achieved, or how many flower crowns they made, the ultimate reason for attending was, above all else, community. In a world full of accomplishing and then instantly sharing via social media, I felt much more grounded with the group as we simply enjoyed real, non-digitized, life.

Wilderness Survival Class.

Wilderness Survival Class.

The Force of Nature panel I had the honor of participating in was a powerful extension of the experience for myself and (I’d hope) the other attendees as well. On the panel was alpine climbing guru and co-owner of Chicks Climbing & Skiing, Kitty Calhoun; CEO & Founder of Altitude Seven, Georgina Miranda; myself; and executive director of Camber Outdoors, Deanne Buck.

Force of Nature Panelists (from left): Deanne Buck, Steph Jagger (moderator), Georgina Miranda, Kitty Calhoun, Claire Smallwood.

Force of Nature Panelists (from left): Deanne Buck, Steph Jagger (moderator), Georgina Miranda, Kitty Calhoun, Claire Smallwood.

To be included in a line up with these women was a fabulous feeling of accomplishment, but also of relevance. It reminded me that all women have a role to play in societal leadership; the context of outdoor involvement being a convenient (and in my opinion, heightened) way to experience the momentum of success via risk taking and adventure.

Women are thought leaders. Women are powerful. Women are ambitious. Women are nurturing. I saw all of these things manifest clearly during my weekend in Kirkwood, and was thankful to be able to speak about it during the panel on Friday afternoon. In hopes to instill a bit of perspective for the power women have, our panel focused on the ideas of (professionally/personally) what we need to connect to, let go of, or seek out in order to embody a “Force of Nature.”

Beautiful dinner on our last evening.

Beautiful dinner on our last evening.

The sunset matched the mood: fired up!

The sunset matched the mood: fired up!

Needless to say, 30 minutes was not enough time for the panel to scratch the surface, but we were able to invoke some thoughtful head bobs and dozens upon dozens of conversations after the panel had ended. All in all, I felt the goal had been achieved to provide a touch of “context” to this group of women—many of whom had never even slept in a tent prior to the weekend—about the state of the outdoors, why it’s important for us to provide access, and how we as women can change the world simply by connecting to nature.

Photo by Meghan Young (founder of PNW Outdoor Women).

Photo by Meghan Young (founder of PNW Outdoor Women).

I packed up my DIY tent (graciously provided by our partner Big Agnes) and started to make the rounds to say goodbye to new friends. I felt energized about, well, everything…but especially SheJumps. Our vision is to provide these same types of experiences to women and girls of all ages and backgrounds. It was energizing to see those women of all backgrounds at Outessa, pushing themselves and making a personal commitment to get outside. It made me realize the future is bright, and while we have a lot of work to do, we’re on the right path when companies like REI decide to support our true force of nature.

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Interested in checking out Outessa? You can still sign up for Outessa in Waterville, New Hampshire: September 22-24

Huge thank you to Saveria Tilden and Rachael Minucciani!