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Friday, February 6, 2015

Redefining Grace

Unfortunately, some things we carry with us from our experiences growing up, whether they were personally experienced, or a belief we were conditioned to over time. There’s this stereotype, one that until last semester I agreed with. That was; groups of girls kinda suck. They’re cliquey, manipulative, overly emotional, and catty together, has anyone still not seen Mean Girls? Well it’s safe to say that enrolling in the Women’s Topics in Wilderness Leadership and the Women’s climbing course for last Fall was mildly terrifying. Two field courses and about 80 percent of my time spent with ALL women. How would I survive multiple weekend trips and three full days a week with a group of 10 women. Would we not kill one another? I mean, we’re talking six-seven hour car rides with ALL WOMEN.

Grand Canyon Nov2014
Well it’s January now, the class is over and I made it. Not that that phrase does any justice to my last semester with those 10 beautiful humans. Honestly, I think we all walked into class the first day with these ideas in our head. We were a little standoffish towards each other, not sure of our place in an Adventure Ed class which many of us were used to taking with mostly men, but that was so much of the beauty of this class. As women we all got to redefine ourselves and our place in the AE field. 

6 days before Thanksgiving, me and four of my fellow lady classmates dropped into the Grand Canyon on Tanner Trail. We saw it as sort of a final. We’d made it 3 months together, could we complete a successful expedition now? We had our backpacks, no instructor, a sat phone, and hiking boots, or for some of us, hiking sandals and sad toes. We had 4 days to make it 29 miles down Tanner Trail, “along” the mighty Colorado River and up Red Canyon, on the hardest trail on the South Rim, but luckily McKenzie had enough chocolate to supply us all. This trip was the cherry on top of a life-changing semester. We were five badass women, doing a badass trip and we were going to do it our way. Our instructor left us with a few words on the rim, she asked that we consider “grace” on our trip. We laughed about it a lot on the way. We felt strong but grace didn’t seem to fit us as we tripped over rocks, slipped down scree fields, dripped sweat, sat in our sleeping bags and stuffed our faces when we got to camp, screamed, worried, and got attacked by supersized mice, laughed till we cried when Erin panicked as she looked down and saw one sitting next to us and proceeded to “fling” it into the bushes. We howled at the top of our lungs when we reached an epic spot, supported our friends as the pain of old and new injuries arose. We laid under the stars every night in a row of five, pointing out the constant stars seemingly falling out of the sky. Sometimes the conversations were deep and we all shared bits of ourselves, sometimes they were silly, and sometimes they were nonsense. The Canyon became this place for us where we all showed up in our truest form.

Hiking out the last day, after about 5 miles of going straight up I began to feel it. Looking behind me the smiles had faded from everyone's face. We were making amazing time but I know the cold air, constant need to chug water, aching joints and the want to just be there already was starting to sink in. This trip finally felt challenging but none of us waned, the more monotonous the steps became the more of a silent rhythm we fell into, keeping great time because believe it or not we were doing this trip as women, with a touch of grace.
Not a bad view for lunch

My roommate and best friend stopped us about a half mile from the top, she wanted to read a poem, for a split second I hated her for it. I was ready to be at the top, sit my butt in the van, drink real coffee and elevate my knee. But as the sun hit us for the first time that day we all put our packs down, drank water and listened intently as less than a mile from the Rim of one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, it was totally silent,  except for the ravens scouting above.

She read:

OUT HERE by Carolyn Highland

Joshua Tree Oct2014
“The thing about the wilderness is that it equalizes us, it sets us all on flat, even ground. We are all small in the face of mountains, all vulnerable before swelling seas, all dwarfed by the limitless sky. Facing the elements we are our raw, basic selves. All else falls away. In that rawness there is clarity, all the wind on the water going still so we can see straight into the depth.
We are no longer defined by the years we have lived, or what we have been called, or the things we can do. We are all equally young and alive, swaying in the arms of the ancient earth. We are all equally young next to the rocks and the waves.
With us we have only the parts of ourselves we can carry, only what travels with us always. We may find things that have been hidden, we may remember what we had allowed ourselves to forget. We may stretch ourselves taller and wider to mimic towering trees, taller and wider than we might ever have imagined.

Where we’re from we’re kings and queens of concrete, we cradle the power in our hands. Returning to the wild we are reminded that all we have created are constructs, all our control conjured up in our minds. Out here we do not have to go to churches and temples to pray to the idea of something greater, we can simply stand before mountains and see it.

Being out in the wild reminds us of all the smallness and largeness of ourselves because this earth, this sea and sky and rock and tree and mountain, this is where we are from. Not a town with a name and a sign, but the ancient, persisting, elemental earth. We are not names and birthdates, but hearts and souls reflecting the browns the blues, the greens.”

have to love a good 5.9 at JTree
In that moment it all made sense. These ladies felt like my sisters, though all of us standing next to one another, we look far from it, not to mention we've known each other about three months, but that’s the beauty of it. We’re all women and we’re all so different but being out in that place together brought us together, being out in all the places over the semester brought us together. From the initial awkward river trip on the San Juan, to three day a week climbs at the Dells, Sully’s, the Promise Lands, the Butte and a few epics on the Mountain, along with an inspiring trip to Joshua Tree, we formed our own group and we all navigated our own place within it. We tested our strength, our support, our skills and our leadership. Through all of it everyone emanated grace. It was no longer this word that brought up visions of tall skinny women gliding across the floor in long dresses but instead I began to see it as this strength that comes with each of our own touches of femininity. Through the giggles, roaring laughs, tears, rough downhills and asskicking uphills we climbed out of that canyon as one (in 6 hours!) , crusty and graceful.  

Saying goodbye to that class in December was weird. To be honest, I’m not an emotional person but getting up and walking away from those ten ladies who had become some of my best friends, inspirations, and mentors was hard. What was I going to do with my time now?

Well I walked into a friends house that night, made my way outside and sat down to find myself surrounded by four familiar graceful badasses, who went from four random ladies to some of my best friends. Congrats, Ya did it again Prescott College.

~Dani Skane

*all photos property of McKenzie Maddigan


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