Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.

Let me tell you a secret: I’m not the most Colorado-y person. Though I’m a Colorado native and I love the Rocky Mountains as if they were members of my own family, I never once, as a child or teenager, thought it would be a good idea to wake up at 2 a.m. to take a grueling hike up a giant mountain, just because. (I’m looking at you, Facebook profile picture with a cardboard “Bierstadt” sign). Myself, I’ve never bagged a fourteener.

But now, having moved back to my home state after the better part of a decade away for school, work, and travel, I think I would very much like to do just that. That and a whole bunch of other very Colorado outdoor things. I started by re-strapping into my Burton Stiletto bindings for the first time in six years just this season and experienced my first deep powder day about a month ago (and I’m hooked). I’ve never mountain biked (but it’s suddenly on my short list), and I don’t really know how to climb (working on it). Are you sufficiently un-intimidated yet? I hope so, because my right-swipe rate just plummeted.

Since moving back to the Centennial State, I’ve found myself venturing more and more often into the outdoors, drinking (nay, sipping and discussing) craft beer, complaining about traffic on I-70, and Instagramming mountainscapes near daily—you know, the usual. And, in trying out new adventures here in Colorado, I have felt intimidated, vulnerable, and just flat-out uncool many, many times. I’d be willing to bet some of you have felt just that way, too. Maybe that feeling is even holding you back from tackling everything on your own Colorado bucket list.

Obviously, that just won’t do. Because in addition to feeling timid in the outdoor space, I’ve also had a freaking blast, and felt strong, capable, brave, and above all else, really, really happy. So to give myself a good chuckle and to help us all feel a little less scared and a little less alone, I’ll be chronicling my misadventures of first attempts at Colorado-y things here in this column.

Welcome to The First Diaries. In each entry, I’ll take you along with me in my attempts at crossing off a Colorado bucket list item.

We’ll start off right now—there is no better time, after all—with the mothership of terrifyingly-intimidating-but-ultimately-rewarding Colorado rites of passage: Joining a climbing gym.

Living in Boulder, as I do, it’s only a matter of time before one starts to think, “Hey, I could be pretty good at climbing. What a great way to build upper body strength to balance all the hiking I do.” And by that I really mean, “Hey, climbing gyms are full of very, very attractive humans that I wouldn’t mind getting to know.”

But inevitably, the “Oh no, they are way too cool for me” track starts playing in my head. Honestly, I think it took me about a year to actually take the plunge and commit to a membership. I was afraid of being the least-strong and most confused person there. And I was afraid of not being able to make new friends. It’s just a little difficult to put on your most welcoming smile and drum up the kind of charming banter that’s going to make someone want to spend their Saturday afternoon on a get-to-know-each other hike with you whilst you’re huffing and puffing up an easy climbing route, fearing for your life, and not doing a great job of hiding it. But I digress. Feeling fresh at the start of 2018, I put on my big girl pants and just joined the gym. ”You have to start somewhere,” I told myself. “Now is the time. Do it. Okay, fine, let’s just try to get through the first day.”

I wasn’t about to commit financially in any kind of substantial way to this misadventure (and I highly recommend you don’t, either), so my roommate lent me her hand-me-down climbing shoes (a few sizes too big, but I saved $5 on a rental or $100+ on a new pair of my own). I had to wear them with very thick socks (concealed underneath long, scrunchy-at-the-bottom yoga pants, because climbers don’t wear socks). And because I couldn’t face it alone just yet, I also dragged my sweet roommate with me as my allotted plus-one/security blanket for the first day of my foray into becoming a person who hangs out at the climbing gym.

Luckily, my roommate is a very kind and encouraging person whom I like to spend time with. So Day 1 went off without a hitch. I wasn’t great at climbing, obviously. My hands burned and after just a few climbs my forearms perma-clenched like Annabel Bowlen’s rock-hard face, but I tuckered myself out on the easy routes and had a good time doing it. Did any of the sinewy Adonis’s around me give two hoots that, unlike them, I have no calluses, technical ability, or muscle definition? No. Not even a little bit. You always have to remember that 99% of the time people are really only paying attention to themselves and to their own situations, unconcerned or deterred by the person on the route next to them.

Moral of the story: Day 1 went well, and I expect there to be many, many more. And a few days later, I ventured to the gym by myself with my newfound confidence. I started attending the gym’s come-as-you-are conditioning class, a good place to meet people, right? Did I find cool, potential girlfriends? Maybe a few. How about nerdy guys avoiding eye contact at all costs? Plenty. Ex-Tinder flame? Just the one. But that’s a story for another day.

Pro Tip: Don’t commit to buying new gear too early, borrow a friend’s or buy second-hand.

Safety First: Loose shoes are actually a terrible idea for climbing; they make your foothold unstable. Climbing shoes should be skin-tight.

When was the last time you tried something new? How did it go? Connect with me on Instagram to tell me your stories. I can’t wait to hear about all of your (mis)adventures!

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