Meet our 2019 summer Adventure Guide Intern Abbie Downes! Read below to learn how outdoor challenges and adventures has impacted and changed her life. We are so excited to have Abbie join the DNK Presents team this year!
What is your name, where do you live. What do you do for a living?
My name is Abbie and I currently live in Bloomington, Indiana! I grew up in Indianapolis, so my whole life has been spent in Indiana discovering what the Midwest has to offer.
Currently, I spend my days as a student at Indiana University studying Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Human Ecology. I left IUPUI in 2017 to move my life an hour away so that I could study the outdoors and how to encourage people to reap the benefits of the natural world. I hope to use my degree in outdoor recreation and passion for lifestyle wellness to expose people to a simpler, more meaningful life.
How has the outdoors impacted your life? Why do you believe it can do the same for others?
The outdoors has given me a space to center, reset, and gain perspective. Looking to the metaphors supplied by taking a closer look at nature has always made me feel a little more grounded and optimistic. For example, understanding that we are creatures of the earth and work in cycles just like the plants that thrive in summer and are dormant in the winter. Nature has taught me to be more gentle with myself as we go through our own seasons too. I want to share this with others because I believe we all have that innate connection to nature that needs to be nurtured. A brief step outside can alter the entire course of your day as it restores attention and gives the space to find perspective.
Could you share a story about the outdoors that has taught you something about yourself?
I was involved in a program called CORE (Conservation Outdoor Recreation Education) at IU in the spring of 2018. It was an intense program that I did not feel prepared for at all that focused on all types of outdoor recreation and leadership training. I was the girl that enjoyed sitting outside and observing my surroundings, not the adrenaline junkie ready for anything. However, it felt like a challenge I needed to face.
One of the learning components was focused on rappelling and climbing. I was definitely most fearful about this trip and imagined myself becoming paralyzed in fear at the top. We travelled to Southern Illinois to Giant City State Park and prepared to rappel the next day. To my surprise, I volunteered to be one of the first groups to go down. Once at the edge, my instructor guided my movements and I put all of my trust in him, myself, and my gear. I slowly started moving my feet down the rock and figured out the coordination involved with the ropes and how to position myself. My mind was so focused on the technique that I wasn’t even thinking about where my body was in space. My feet made it to the ground and my heart was racing.
That night I kept thinking about how I didn’t give myself the time to overthink and allowed my body to perform. I later realized how many things that I have told myself to be afraid of, ultimately giving into the fear and overthinking. Who knows how long it would have taken me to come to this conclusion if it weren’t for this opportunity to learn it on the side of a rock wall. About a year later, I still think about that and try to intervene in those thought patterns when they come up and question whether they serve me or not.
What is your first significant memory of the outdoors or nature in some way?
When I think back to my childhood, I don’t remember having a substantial passion for the outdoors until I was in high school. This was the time that I began daydreaming about mountains, traveling, and how the Pacific Northwest was obviously the only place that I would be happy (spoiler: wherever you go, there you are). Once I graduated high school, I took a trip to Bozeman, Montana to visit a friend. While we didn’t get up to anything too adventurous, I experienced altitude for the first time and cried when I saw Bridger Bowl from the window of the passenger seat. It felt like I was home and that was my signal to keep pushing on with my interest in the outdoors, wherever that led me.
Why do you feel it is important in today’s society to get outdoors and disconnect from technology?
From what I have gathered from friends, strangers, and everyone in-between, technology has a hold on us that we aren’t necessarily comfortable with. However, it has become so engrained and second nature that it can feel almost impossible to distance ourselves from it. It’s a great tool, if we use it correctly and aren’t slaves to it. The outdoors is the perfect place to leave it behind, spend time looking up at the world around us, and connect with our deeper selves or the people joining us. Technology has given us a mindless, constant distraction we can retreat to any time we don’t want to be alone with our thoughts. Finding peace, being mindful, and working through our issues is so much easier when we create the space for our inner wisdom to shine through. We hold our truth and the outdoors assists those truths with coming to the surface when we are getting back to the natural connection we all have with the earth.
What is your favorite outdoor gear?
One of my biggest comforts during CORE was my pair of down booties. A few people had these in the beginning and I thought they were incredibly silly and a waste of space. I accept that I was wrong. By the time expedition came around, I grabbed a pair and never looked back. Everyone knows the joy of putting on those fresh socks at the bottom of your sleeping bag at bedtime, but it’s worth experiencing the added delight of slipping into down booties. Treat your feet, they’ve gotten you everywhere you’ve been.
Does unisex or women’s specific gear make a difference for you?
I don’t have too much of a preference, although I usually like men’s gear color options more than women’s. A lot of reviews I’ve read mention how women’s gear color choices are always bright pink, purple, etc. and many women would prefer gender neutral colors like green, blue, and orange. I typically stick with women’s gear, assuming that it is built better for my body. There are times that I look into other options when the women’s gear isn’t fitting my needs.
Why do you feel it’s important to get more women specifically outdoors?
The beauty of the outdoors is that it can benefit anyone that takes the time to set foot in it. The outdoor industry is heavily comprised of male athletes, guides, and adventurers. Women absolutely have a place in the outdoors as well, but may feel intimidated to try new activities that are typically dominated by males. We feel like we belong when we see people we identify with doing those things. This goes for race, gender, economic standing, and more. By creating spaces where women are celebrated and events are made for them, we take away just one more barrier that may keep them inside. It is vital that as people in the outdoor industry, we make an effort to be as inclusive as possible so that we can share the gifts of the natural world with all. The outdoors won’t turn anyone away and we shouldn’t either.