The Veterans Outdoors Adventures' 2nd Annual Women's Retreat was one that I will unlikely forget.
We met at Izzy's house and the first thing you see is a school bus, a very small school bus. 8 seats, not quite large enough for 2 to a seat and the back that barely fit the hats I brought along, let alone all of our luggage. We knew from those initial introductions that this would be a great weekend, but it wasn't until we got on the bus we knew how great of a weekend we would have. Prior to our first "fuel stop" (meaning we ran out of fuel and had a patrol man check on us and an uncle bringing us some gas...) I got to know everyone pretty well. If we are being honest I could write a page about each woman, but I will sum it up.
Izzy - the founder of VOA and a powerhouse of a woman who is determined to serve our veterans. A great antiquer, and someone through her stories and passion you can learn so much from.
Amanda - can put the pedal to the metal even though she can barely see over the steering wheel. She made sure everything was running smoothly, including getting underneath the bus and working on it. Her genuine nature convinced me to go into a pool that felt like it was 32 degrees after being in 106 degree hot springs...and to go under the freezing water.
LeAnn - owns the "crappiest" coffee shop in Devil's Lake. She likes to lick windows and is slightly obsessed with unicorns, which is perfect because there is no other spirit animal for her. She is strong and the person I would want backing me in any situation.
Corean - more than just myself had an instant connection with Corean. She is the epitome of the quote "do not mistake my kindness for weakness." Now that I have helped her with her Facebook profile picture, we are BFFs (even is she doesn't know it yet).
Kari - my "hold my beer" gal who was extremely encouraging as we floated down the Madison River. Something I was terrified to do. She provided a bravery in me (as we spoke I found out that we have a lot in common) that had me standing on a tube. She provided a sense of adventure and courage out of something I found to be terrifying.
Cass - typically quiet and self described socially awkward was so comfortable with this group that neither of those describe her anymore. She didn't feel as though she deserved to be here but after the weekend knew she did. (And if she's reading this and still doubting it...you did.) She is a great soldier and serves our country well.
Brandi - The big sister of the weekend. She took care of everyone, regardless...well of anything. She can do anything she has to do. Fear is not a word she knows and she made sure the adventure an adventure. And while it doesn't speak to her character she has the cutest haircut.
Sabrina - If Brandi is the big sister, Sabrina is the fun, crazy sister. Fun followed her around. She is loyal to supporting our veterans both inside the VOA organization but also as a career. It also should be noted that family is her number one value, which I find extremely important.
Myself - Now for me.
I go on adventures often. Team RWB blessed me with that opportunity which is why I had no hesitation applying for this trip. I just don't often do them with just women veterans, who live in the same state as I do. I wasn't sure what to expect.
I laughed more than I have in a very, very long time. I think we all did. I was brave. While I often consider myself brave, bravery never occurs when water is involved. We zip lined over the Gallatin River....had to climb on moving ladders. The zip lining itself was amazing. But the standing on trees and waiting had me a little nervous. Plus Izzy could never grab on to her yellow straps, she always grabbed mine. :P The last line we did got pretty close to the river but I chose to do one of the more challenging take offs the "trust fall." I became a little braver each time these women cheered each other on, whether it was me or the others.
The biggest fear for me was tubing. It sounds silly to be terrified, I mean petrified of tubing down a river, connected with family, a beer cooler and water never higher than hip height. I was with a SEARS trainer for goodness sake, and was still terrified. Yet somehow all of a sudden I was excited. I got in and had one of the most relaxing times of my life. I even jumped in the water trying to move us so we'd avoid rocks and my tube flipped....over my head. I was under water and Izzy was there immediately. I don't know how she was a good 3 or 4 tubes down from me, but she was there just as she said she'd be.
This group of women taught me a lot of things:
As women veterans and first responders we just understand each other. We didn't talk about diagnosis or significant events that caused such diagnosis. Or any event in which others may have considered us victims. We are not victims of anything, we are survivors of everything.
We felt safe and like we had known each other for years after just one night.
Age, background, location, marital status, branch of service, years of service can't separate family.
And this family we ride our short bus proudly, no matter how many times we run out of gas (gas gauge fault, which after 2 times we were able to correct), how many people stare at us because we are in this bus, we'd gladly get on this bus any day.