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How I Overcame My Fears: One REI Employee's Story

Most of us have a phobia or two. For Maria Erb, Outreach Specialist at the REI St. Louis store, her love of exercising outdoors is tempered by her fear of getting cold. So when her husband and a couple of REI colleagues invited her to participate in an upcoming adventure race in her area, she hesitated. A grueling 8-hour outdoor race? You bet! In winter? In Missouri? Hmm, I'm not so sure.

“I do not like getting cold,” Maria notes, “despite the fact that I am from Russia and people think I should be used to it. I love skiing, but biking in the cold is difficult for me—the wind chill and the sweating make it quite challenging for me to keep warm...”

Below: Maria with her husband, Tom

 Maria and her husband, Tom

To help conquer her fears of being cold, Maria knew she needed the right gear to complete a grueling 8-hour course of mountain biking, paddling, running, trekking and navigation/orienteering in freezing temps. Lucky for Maria, she became one of the 115 REI employees that were awarded an Employee Challenge Grant in 2010. This employee program provides recipients with up to $300 worth of REI brand gear and apparel that directly supports a personal outdoor recreation challenge.

The resulting benefit: Participants increase their product knowledge and outdoor experience, which can then be used to help enrich the lives of REI’s members and customers. Everybody wins.

Gear requirements for all racers

Thanks to the REI grant, Maria outfitted herself with the following items:

   REI Stoke 19 Pack in action          

The race, known as the Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure, was a success!

So, Maria tell us...

Did you stay warm with your new gear? “Absolutely!”

Would you do the race again, “Yes!”

And, what was the best part of the day?  “Crossing the finish line, and a giant Mexican meal and margarita after the race!”

How about you? What outdoor phobia would you like to conquer?

Maria's teammate: Sarah Iannarelli

Maria's adventure-race team

Posted on at 5:50 PM

Tagged: Castlewood, Employee Challenge Grants, REI employee benefits, adventure racing and outdoor recreation

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Okay, I have a weird, possibly stupid question: do technical fabrics heal after being poked with a safety pin? I've always hated pinning race bibs to my good tees, but noticed yours is pinned on your backpack, which is a coated technical fabric. So do the holes close up afterwards? Thanks!

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T.D. Wood Staff Member

@eureka, I asked a member of REI's Gear & Apparel team for a response. Here's what I heard:

Knit fabrics heal just fine from pinholes. In fact, all knit garments are constructed with needles. Microfiber and siliconized wovens (those that are not coated or laminated) with show a hole initially, but after some use or wearing it will self-heal. A needle could potentially sever a thread, but far more often it just pushes them aside as it passes through. Those small gaps usually vanish after the needle is withdrawn.

However, you will puncture any coated or laminated fabrics if you stick them with a needle. The micro pores in eVent, for example, are less than 10um, which means 1/100th of a millimeter (mm). The wire of a safety pin is about 1 mm in diameter. So it's smart to avoid poking needles into rainwear.

I hope this helps.


Along these lines with the cold...

What are some gear suggestions to counteract the effects of Reynaud's? I have problems keeping my hands warm even with handwarmer packs, and I don't even have the severe kind where the skin turns blue/black.

T.D. Wood Staff Member

@damfino1920, this is strictly a layman's guess, but from a gear perspective you could try combining a thinner liner glove with a waterproof/breathable outer glove. Due to the presence of a WP/BR membrane, laminated materials typically excel at being waterproof while not being as breathable as some highly aerobic people would prefer. Reduced breathability typically results in a buildup of warmth. But if your hands struggle to generate heat in the first place, I'm not sure gear alone will provide the solution you seek. For starters, you might try the glove combo suggested above and see if it yields the desired results. I certainly wish you all the best.

T.D. Wood Staff Member

@damfino1920, after I posted my March 30 comment, an REI colleague shared this suggestion with me: Use a system of a snug-fitting lightweight liner glove like the REI Performance liner ( and a well-insulated mitten, such as the Outdoor Research Alti ( or REI Ridgecrest. You might need to choose a larger-than-normal mitten size so it fits over a liner glove. The mitten can come off when dexterity is needed, but the liner glove should never be removed to expose skin to cold air, which is especially important for someone with Reynaud's. You can add handwarmer packets, but they should be affixed to the inside of the mitten and positioned close to the back of each hand. A trick is to use toewarmer packets. They come with an adhesive on one side, because they're meant to stick to a sock. So they'll stick to inside of mitten. The problem with many mittens is that they include a special pocket for a handwarmer packet, but that pocket is on the outside, so heat is lost through the shell fabric instead of being transferred to the hand.


I'm going to have to get over fear of sleeping alone (and to some degree even with a group!) in the woods at some point. I'm new to backpacking and used my dividend and coupon on a new Hennessy Hammock.


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