Member Portrait: Outdoor School Instructor Asia

Rate this story:

Member since 2012

Tell us about yourself.

I am Asia (Á-see-á) Arana, a 33-year-old, big-little kid who seeks adventure every chance I can get. I grew up in Northern and Central California, where my exposure to the outdoors began at a young age.  From backpacking and hiking to snowboarding and climbing, I enjoy anything that is challenging and, preferably, secluded from civilization. After teaching P.E. for eight years, I was burnt out and ready for a change. I had a passion for the outdoors and a desire to educate and outfit others, so I applied for a job at REI. I was hired while I was hiking the John Muir Trail solo, receiving the call atop Donohue Pass (the border of Yosemite National Park and Inyo National Forest). It was amazing. REI and I were meant to be.

What is it like being an REI Outdoor School instructor?

Being an Outdoor School instructor is one of the most fun and fulfilling opportunities I've ever experienced in my entire teaching career! The amount of joy you get to witness through other people's accomplishments has been indescribably rewarding. We get to help people reach their fitness and adventure goals, we lead participants through stunning, local environments and we help build stronger community relationships through these activities.

How did you fall in love with the outdoors?

My parents always encouraged me to explore my surroundings, to get dirty, to not hold back “because I was a girl" and to be a risk-taker. Growing up, we couldn't afford lavish vacations or family outings, so car camping and road tripping were our usual vacation choices. I remember being in Yosemite with my family when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old; we found a big tree that had fallen across a small ravine (about 25 feet up) and my dad says, "Go walk across that tree bridge!" Of course, I did. That was my entire childhood: Hiking, climbing, camping, learning about nature and wildlife, picking up trash and not being afraid of taking risks.

Asia belaying

Why is spending time outside important?

It provides a healthy escape from the realities of city living and has a way of showing you just how strong and capable you are at life. Living in Los Angeles is hard with fast-paced people, slow-paced traffic and not too much greenery throughout the city. Sometimes I need to get away. It's when I'm standing atop a mountain, exhausted from the epic climb and I'm breathing heavy with my heart racing that I feel at my best and most confident. There's something about looking back at the path and distance you've traveled that makes you say, "I did it and I'm awesome." Outside is therapy.

Who inspires you to get outside?

My family’s encouragement inspires me to push myself to go farther distances and stay knowledgeable with wilderness skills like first aid, navigation and basic survival techniques. My friends inspire me to try new trails and be braver when going solo. And in my two years with REI, I have met so many inspirational customers that make me want to do more outdoors! Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hikers are my favorite, and each summer, we are visited by several that are currently embarking on the trail. Their stories are amazing and as a long-distance backpacker, it makes me yearn for the experience.

In whom are you fostering a love for the outdoors?

Working at REI has given me the opportunity to participate in many stewardship and fundraising events. My favorite fundraising event is the Three Saints: 8,000 Meter Challenge, where all money raised is spent on outfitting, educating and leading underexposed urban youth on their first backpacking experience. After teaching underprivileged youth for eight years and seeing how little they knew about our national parks and the outdoors, I am honored to have the chance to give back to the populations and communities that I love. Being able to help foster a love of the outdoors in a child that has never been exposed to it holds a particularly special place in my heart.

Asia climbing

What's your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?

Hands down, my Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 backpacking pack! I started backpacking about five years ago and on my first trip with my friends, we all made many mistakes because none of us knew what we were doing. My pack was too big, we over packed with gear we didn't even use, my hips were sore and raw afterward, and on and on. So when I finally got my Deuter pack, it changed my backpacking experience immensely.

What adventures are on your bucket list?

I have a pretty long bucket list but here are my top five in no particular order:

  1. Backpacking the PCT
  2. Backpacking a section of the John Muir Trail I skipped due to severe weather
  3. Visiting Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
  4. Bodyboarding in Indonesia, Portugal and Morocco
  5. Snowboarding in Canada

Asia belaying

What does #ForceOfNature mean to you?

For me, #ForceOfNature is a statement to women around the world that we are just as strong, just as capable and just as independent as anyone else in the wild and in life. #ForceOfNature encourages women to ignore the limitations set by our society and push the boundaries of what people say is right or normal. #ForceOfNature makes me feel extremely proud to be a strong woman of the outdoors.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A lot of people may doubt or not understand your goals, but just remember what is most important to you and take that chance to do it. Change is scary but happiness is worth facing that fear. Do what you love. Love what you do.

No more articles