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Explore Austin Girls are a “Force of Nature”

Written by Explore Austin Trip Leader: Lydia Huelskamp

Edited by Explore Austin Development Intern: Sophia Cantor


“I’d like to try to get back on the bike today,” Keren told me quietly, but hopeful. She was one of 15 ninth-grade girls who spent the entire school year learning to ride a bike in preparation for their five-day mountain bike trip. On the merely the second day, Keren took a nasty fall while cruising down the Colorado mountain. The stitches in her face and her bruises were still fresh as she told me she was ready to get back on her bike; I couldn’t help but smile.

Keren is a Force of Nature; a force to be reckoned with. Keren is a strong female conquering her fears by exploring the great outdoors.

She does not stand alone. REI’s Force of Nature campaign is encouraging females to get outdoors and go as far as they can; far enough to where the stereotypes and barriers of society can no longer reach them. REI “believes the outdoors is—and should always be—the world’s largest level playing field,” (Force of Nature: Let’s Level the Playing Field).

Being a Force of Nature takes on many definitions, shapes, and sizes. The young ladies of Explore Austin are the next generation of #forceofnature. These forces are the group of eighth-grade girls who carried backpacks bigger than themselves through pouring rain and swarming mosquitoes, conquering hills and blisters, spending 11 hours on the trail one day, but stopped at nothing until they reached their final destination. These forces are the group of eleventh graders who were the first girl’s group to summit snow-covered Mount Baldy and in record time. These forces are Keren, Perla, Jennifer, Maddie, Eloise, Tanya, and more. I consider myself so lucky to know and mentor these incredible Forces of Nature.

Explore Austin did not always have the privilege of inspiring young ladies like Keren. Explore Austin only began accepting girls in 2009, three years after establishment. Today, guiding these young, female explorers is an honor. I could go on and on about their perseverance, grit, and echoing laughter, but, I don’t need to. These young ladies don’t have to prove anything to earn their spot in the outdoors; they’re out getting dirty and having a good time, just like the boys.

Thank you REI for choosing Explore Austin as one of 26 grant recipients among the 560 applications (REI Announces Force of Nature Fund Recipients). Thank you REI for believing in the explorers and giving us the opportunity to lead and guide them to conquer their fears, find their passions and be inspired by the great outdoors.