“I got to watch my playful, power-woman daughter shine in her outdoor world!” — Hilda DiBlasio, Outessa Retreat Attendee


Mothers and daughters don’t always see eye to eye. But when you’re next to your mom on a paddle board in the middle of a lake, struggling to balance as little waves send your board rolling up and down, it’s hard to avoid eye contact — which might make you laugh and go toppling into the water.

Falling, failing, trying new things — they’re all part of the fun when we spend time outdoors. And it’s those challenges that bring us closer to the people we tackle them with.

That’s the idea behind Outessa Retreats, where women of all ages and backgrounds, including mother and daughter pairs, are spending time together outside. They’re hiking, rock climbing, paddle boarding, feasting, and telling stories around campfires. Started by outdoor retailer REI, these retreats are held twice a year. They’re created for women, by women, and designed to encourage new friendships and new experiences.

The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift: Spending Time Together Outside

With Mother’s Day approaching, mom is probably on your mind. Those of us who are lucky enough to have our mothers in our lives are writing reminders on post-it notes to send flowers or call. But what if we took this yearly reminder of all that mom has done for us, to do something a little different?

The Dyrt caught up with mother-daughter pair Hilda and Natalie, who attended the Outessa White Mountains Retreat together last year. They loved it so much, they’ll be attending Outessa Tahoe together this August.

hilda and natalie at outessa

“If you ever take her camping, remind her to NOT spray perfume in the tent,” jokes Natalie, speaking of her mother, Hilda.

Natalie tells me that Hilda spent decades of her life working as a preschool teacher for disabled children, and retired early to become a caretaker for her own mother, who passed away last year.

“My mom is an amazing woman,” says Natalie.

When Natalie’s grandmother passed away, she saw her mom struggling to find her identity. After devoting the last year of her life to caring for someone else, “My mom was a bit rudderless.”

Natalie had already attended an Outessa retreat, and thought the experience would be great for her mom, too. They could go together.

“She was surprised that I said yes right away,” recalls Hilda. “I typically need to contemplate, obsess and sit on the fence with any decision. I guess I was ready!”

Prior to the Outessa Retreat, Hilda says the most time she spent participating in outdoor activities was watching Natalie run track and play tennis in high school. But it wasn’t just the outdoor activities that would force Hilda out of her comfort zone at Outessa.

outessa 2017

“I’d really lost my social confidence.”

“I retired from my 33 years of teaching without a plan. I’d gone from a very active job where I saw 500 people a day, to living in a ghost town and seeing only three as a full-time caretaker. I’d really lost my social confidence.”

Natalie and Hilda joined hundreds of women at Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire for a weekend of outdoor activity. The social aspect was as challenging as the physical. But ultimately, they both proved rewarding.

“I think my favorite thing about the retreat was spending so much time with so many women,” says Hilda. “Women of all ages and sizes, some with friends, some alone, some mom and daughter teams, all of their faces becoming more familiar as the time passed. So many people shared personal stories and exposed vulnerabilities. Everyone was inviting, supportive, and encouraging. Especially during challenging activities.”

One particularly challenging activity was rock climbing. Hilda was scared to try it, but after a great hike she said she was feeling more confident, both physically and socially. The guide asked who wanted to go first, and the group fell silent. Until Natalie volunteered herself and her mom.

climbing at outessa

“I learned that the version of me that I remembered from my youth was still there.”

Hilda was spooked when the rope slipped on her first attempt. But tried again on a less challenging face.

“It was tough, but I made it to the top!”

Natalie was right. After a difficult few years, this was just the kind of experience that her mom was needing.

“When I signed us up for classes at Outessa in New Hampshire, I was hoping my mom might see a glimpse of what her new life could be.”

And that she did.

“I learned that the version of me that I remembered from my youth was still there. That version of myself had just been a bit lost, or buried deep inside. Life can do that.”

sharing a moment at outessa

From what Natalie and Hilda tell me, it sounds like they’ve always had a strong relationship. So perhaps they didn’t need to go rock climbing or spend a weekend sleeping in a tent together in order to reconnect with each other. Perhaps that time was needed for each woman to reconnect with herself.

“It’s incredible to get the opportunity to try so many new things with someone you love so much,” says Natalie. “And it’s even more incredible to cheer for them as they break out of their comfort zone. Of course we’re headed back together this year.”

Hilda recently purchased hiking boots, and installed a bike rack on her car. She’s recently been hiking in Sedona, Arizona and rode 25 miles on her bike with a women’s tri-club. The two planned a Christmas snowshoeing excursion last year, and continue to find ways to spend time outside, both together and on their own.

Britany Robinson

Britany Robinson

Britany is the Managing Editor of The Dyrt. She's been a writer ever since she can remember, and her first literary accomplishment was having a poem about a panda published when she was eight. The anthology was definitely a scam to get her parents to buy a bunch of anthologies, but she's still pretty proud of her panda poem. When she's not at her computer, she's (hopefully) outside, hiking or camping with her dog.