By Amy Christensen
The morning dawned crisp and clear. My mind alert and tuned into to the day ahead.
As the sun rose over the canyon walls, I nervously packed up my gear, taking comfort in the routine and predictability of this small task. The aroma of fresh coffee wafted through the breeze as I made my way toward the community kitchen we’d erected the evening before.
I watched the other women begin to stir. Drowsy yawns and excited energy were interwoven with nervous giggles as one by one they awoke and began to prepare for their own day ahead.
Today we were heading into the unknown—our first big risk of the trip.
I tend to think a lot about risk—taking risks, not taking risks—and about how and when to take them. As scary as they often are for me, when I face my fears and take the risk, I feel my self-imposed limits and boundaries stretch. My world expands.
There are huge benefits in life to taking risks, yet for a lot of women, risky endeavors can feel like a much bigger challenge than for men. There are both physiological differences and cultural influences that result in the way different genders and ages deal with risk, yet risk taking in our adolescent lives is essential to our healthy development as adults. So why do we as women shy away from it?
Taking risks is awesome. And we should all be encouraged to do it— it’s how we grow and evolve. But we have to be able to create our own environment for that risk, and do it in a space of safety and minimal discomfort, or it’s possible to make it worse and increase the fear instead of working through.
Empowerment comes from taking that step ourselves. I work in a career where I coach others to embrace personal risk at their comfort level, and it was time for me to take that challenge on for myself.
Rafting the Grand Canyon
My challenge? A 2-week adventure, rafting and paddling 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with a group of just women. I signed up for this adventure with Backcountry Babes, a female-based company that strives to inspire and empower women in the outdoors.
Prior to this river trip, I’d only gone rafting once. I had no idea what to expect from the Grand. It was so different than the single-day whitewater trip I had experienced 10 years before in Colorado. Going on a full 2-week river trip into such a remote place with just women (none of whom I knew) was scary and overwhelming.
But I was looking forward to witnessing the immensity and awe of the Grand Canyon from the water’s perspective and trying out my first all-women’s adventure.
I arrived in Flagstaff nervous and excited to meet my fellow women adventurers. I found myself wondering who the other women were going to be.
Would they be like me? Or be really different? Was this trip something they felt was a risk for them too? There was something enticing about the prospect of doing such a big adventure with just women. I’d been doing a lot of research on all-women’s trips, and was curious to know if I’d still feel safe, yet also experience a sense of camaraderie and the lack of self-consciousness and competitiveness that I’d read about.
Preparing for Risk
As I sipped my coffee the morning of our first big rapid, I looked around at the other women as they got ready.
I watched the young girls snap and clap hand games as their mom stuffed their tent into a dry bag and thought how cool that they are able to experience this trip with such a strong mom. I could only imagine what thoughts were going through her head, but admired her calm presence as she prepared her daughters for the day ahead.
Then there was the other end of the age spectrum—several women in their 60s and 70s who had run these very rapids over 30 years ago, as women my age, on the first-ever all-women’s raft trip down
the Grand Canyon in 1978. Thinking about their strength, wisdom, and tenacity—that they were some of the first women to do this trip; that they would come back, taking this risk again as much older women. Their presence and courage grounded me as I felt my own nervous energy grow in anticipation of the day ahead.
For today’s leg, I was set to be in the front of the paddle boat (where you’re a lot more susceptible to getting pitched and going for a rough swim). I could tell it was serious business as the guides got quiet that morning while making preparations to get us through the day safely.
My coffee mug almost empty, I felt the shortening of my breath as my hands started shaking. I thought about everything that could go wrong. I tried to put my worries aside and accept that there was only so much I had control over and I’d just do my best.
Transformation Through Risk
As the day wore on and we approached the rapids, an unexpected sense of calm came over me and I was able to focus my energy on my boat mates, encouraging and helping them manage their own fears.
As we entered the rapid, I took a deep breath, looked toward the churning water and focused my senses toward our guide to hear her commands over the roar of the rapids.
Suddenly, all my remaining anxiety left, replaced with a giddiness that was decidedly unfamiliar to me in risky situations. My mouth expanded into a huge grin and I giggled. Exhilaration coursed through my body as I whooped and hollered with each onslaught of the rapids splashing toward us, landing in the face (and up the nose).
Leaning over the edge of the boat as I had been taught, I dug my paddle deep into the water and pulled back with strength and determination. It didn’t matter that I, or any of the other women, were scared to do this previously; we were taking a risk together. As a team, we were strong, focused, and in concert with one another. We made it through, releasing our relief in laughter and more whooping.
I began to joke that my “Inner Badass” had finally come out to play. And I’d loved it!
Sometimes we need a tangible reminder that owning exactly who we are—fully and completely—is what makes us strong and unique. The women surrounding me embraced this similar feeling, and helped me realize that not only was I feeling stronger and more confident, but they were, too.
When I think about the adventure of the Grand with Backcountry Babes, I am able to access my natural confidence and strength. I am reminded that I have the choice to say “yes” more often; to take more risks; to tap into my innate courage and power; and to lean into fear as I did from the front of that paddle boat.
Amy Christensen is a certified life coach with a passion for adventure and helping women discover and tap into their own adventurous spirits. Based in Boulder, CO, her company, Expand Outdoors, focuses on helping women get outside literally and metaphorically: to step outside their comfort zones, take more risks (the healthy kind) and live a richer, more fulfilling, active, adventurous life. Subscribe to Expand Outdoors and receive a free guide to the 10 Essential Elements for Everyday Adventure.
Want to read more about risk-taking? See Amy’s other blogs on risk.