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REI Presents: Venture Out

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In 2014, I quit my corporate job and decided to make a huge life change. I was tired of running on a virtual, and also very real, treadmill every day. I was tired of sitting under fluorescent lights daydreaming about a life in the mountains. I was tired of not living my life authentically, of not being true to who I was and to what I wanted to do.

I didn’t quite know what that dream was, but I knew that in order to figure it out I should go to the mountains. I returned to my stomping grounds in Southern New Hampshire to clear my head on iconic Mount Monadnock. This mountain has a bald summit with slabs of granite that are slick when it rains, treacherous when it snows and super fun to run up when it’s dry and sunny.  On that fall day, it was clear and sunny. The air was crisp and the leaves were at their peak, filling the valley with deep reds and oranges and yellows that popped.

I spent a good chunk of time scaling the granite—taking one step at a time and hoping that my footing would hold, that my legs would keep pumping and that my brain would be fed by the air, the rock, the view and the feeling of joy that sometimes only nature can bring. When I got to the top of the mountain and let the sun wash over my skin, I felt a sense of elation I’d never felt before. I felt a complete sense of embodiment, of joy, of comfort and ease in my body. I felt appreciative that this body, the one that for nearly 38 years had felt too curvy, too soft, too feminine, got me to the top. That this body helped me feel free, helped me see what it was that I was here to do. At that moment I realized I was feeling elation not in spite of my body, but because of it. I was feeling happy and joyous because my body had gotten me up that mountain. I wanted every person, especially every queer, trans, and nonbinary person to have this feeling of peace in their body and perhaps even have the chance to appreciate their body for what it is, and not regret it for what it is not. With that, I jogged down the mountain and began to build The Venture Out Project.

The Venture Out Project participants hiking together

The Venture Out Project is a nonprofit organization that brings queer, trans and LGBTQ+ youth and adults together to build community, develop leadership skills, and gain confidence through the shared experience of outdoor adventure. In addition to the trips we lead, we also provide training and facilitation to help outdoor organizations, schools and camps better affirm and support their LGBTQ+ community members. In the five years since we were founded, we have grown from serving 20 people a year in two states to having more than 900 participants in 21 different states with four full-time staff and a robust crew of instructors and volunteer hike leaders. We lead open-enrollment trips in which any member of the LGBTQ+ community can sign up as well as women’s trips (where anyone who identifies as a woman is encouraged to attend), trips for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) hikers , youth and family trips. This year, in partnership with Jenny Bruso and Unlikely Hikers, we’ll be offering two backpacking trips for queer plus-size folks.

The Venture Out Project participants hiking together

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