An Open Letter to Outdoor Women on Independence and Bad Relationships

Ladies, I hope you’re ready to hit with the feels–because I am full of them today. It’s been a while since I curled up to write something raw, but when the lovely Sidni West included me on a list of 65 rad humans to follow, and described me as ‘writer’, it reminded me that I’ve gotten a little too caught up in day-job marketing and neglected my true love: honest, this-is-me writing.


So, prepare yourselves for a little real talk that’s been brewing for a while–probably about two years–and now is finally being put down into words:

It’s mind-blowing to me that it was three years ago that I started living in a van, but it’s taken me until very recently to recover from a little something I’d like to call “girlfriend to a boy who goes outside” syndrome. In my case, this ‘outside’ was actually climbing–but it can apply to anyone with an ambitious partner. It started out innocently, sharing a strong passion for the same activity, but by the end of our relationship, it was toxic and damaging. Here’s my question to you, ladies:

When is the last time you got outdoors without your partner? A just-for-me, don’t-need-no-man, this-moment-is-mine adventure doing what you love? A trip that’s just yours?

When my ex-boyfriend and I started dating, he truly helped me become a climber. He worked at the local rock gym, so we’d stay up late climbing after-hours and before-hours and all-hours. I still remember the day I fell head over heels for him on our first date. He was rugged, outdoorsy, and seemingly king of a world that I wanted to be a part of. He was there during my first climbing trip (before we started dating), and took me on 99% of any climbing excursions I went on for the next four years.

He was my coach, belay partner, and trusty spotter. He introduced me to everyone I knew in the community, always pitched my tent, drove the tricky dirt roads I was intimated by. He did everything. I didn’t realize it then, but I completely lost myself in the “us” of my relationship. I loved my year exploring the USA in a van, but by the end of it, I just wasn’t having fun anymore. He picked all my climbing projects, pressured me into trying hard–seriously I still resent myself over that one–and no decisions were made based on what I wanted to do. I wasn’t climbing because I loved it, I climbed because I felt like I needed to for him to still love me. I wasn’t stoked on the situation anymore–and he wasn’t either (which is probably why he cheated on me with a younger, more motivated climber, but I digress).

Major pump the brakes, back it up, this doesn’t sound like the Katie Boué we all know, right? I know. My bad ladies, I promise it’ll never happen again.

After he left me, I was devastated and lost. I promptly packed up my bags and hauled ass out to Colorado to lick my wounds and start anew. I felt good about a new beginning–but it still felt like there was something wrong with me, and honestly, I felt ashamed to be ‘over’ climbing. I had forgotten what it was like to follow my passion. I knew I still loved being outdoors and going climbing, but I didn’t know how to do it anymore. I had to start my journey as a climber from scratch. The worst part is: it wasn’t his fault at all, it was mine.


I thought about all of this last week while I took a solo drive up into the Blue Ridge Mountains to watch the sunrise over Asheville. Looking at that toxic relationship in the rearview mirror, it’s infuriating that I let things get that way. Currently, I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had, and at first I was frustrated that my partner isn’t as stoked on alpine starts and pebble wrestling as I am–but it taught me something crucial: the value of doing things for you.

I am a stronger, healthier, happier person now that I frequently take solo trips and go adventuring without my boyfriend. I adore the trips we do take together, but I also cherish my time outdoors without him. I feel confident when I’m on a trail alone, and stoked when I pull up to a crag to meet friends on my own. When I top-out a project at the rock gym, I don’t look around seeking approval anymore. That moment and satisfaction is mine. If I want to go somewhere, I go. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t.

So here’s my call to you, ladies: ditch your boyfriend more often.

I’m preaching to the choir with a lot of you badass women, but I know more than a few rad females who tend to use ‘we’ more often than ‘me’. You’re not doing yourself or your relationship any favors by losing yourself and becoming dependent on your partner–or anyone else for that matter. If you can’t remember the last time you spent a weekend out in the woods with just your fine self and/or a few fellow female ass-kickers, change that. If your boyfriend always carries the heavy gear and navigates the tricky sections of dirt roads, you’re doing it wrong. Leave your man behind, do exactly whatever it is that gets your blood flowing, don’t ask anyone for permission, live your passion, and always pitch your own damn tent.

And if we’re going to be honest, nothing is sexier than a strong, independent woman. Don’t worry about hurting your boyfriend’s feelings by leaving him behind–there are few things more attractive to an outdoorsy dude than a woman covered in dirt and radiating from her own adventure.

Need some help on the journey of ditching ‘ours’ in favor of ‘mine’? Here are a few ideas:

  • Go for a solo drive. Trust me, I know it isn’t easy going from doing everything as a couple to taking the reigns back on your she-time. Start by picking a new mountain road and exploring it for a few hours. Catch a sunset, or a sunrise.
  • Invite your favorite friends for a girls-only climbing night at your gym. 
  • Plan a ladies’ weekend of camping, hiking, climbing, whatever gets your blood flowing. Bring wine.
  • Start carving out a weekly time when you get out and do something on your own. Go for a run, spend a few hours writing at a cozy coffeeshop, head out on a mission to explore a new trail every week–whatever it takes. Form a habit that’s all yours.
  • Call me and let’s plan a damn adventure! Seriously though, I’m down. Let’s do it.

In case any of you need reminding: You’re a capable, confident, sexy, clever, inspiring, strong, badass woman. And I’m pretty stoked on you, and hope you’re stoked on yourself too.

PS: For the record, you were right Mom. Ladies, always listen to your mother’s opinions of your partners. Or at least listen to my mom, because her success rate is 100% in identifying bad seeds. 

PPS: If you need some no-nonsense female back-up to kick you in your lady parts and remind you that you absolutely do not need no man, go hit up Sidni West. She’s the shit. I strive to be as beautifully bold as she is on a daily basis. Also her dirty humor is the best.


  1. says

    Did you write my story?! I still don’t love climbing like I did when my ex and I were together, still can’t sport climb. We actually broke up on a climbing trip lol but YES TO ALL of this. Make it yours with the times you to w the bf the extra, but you need space apart to realize your own goals/approaches!

    • says

      My best advice: don’t fight the break from climbing. It seriously took TWO years for me to really truly fall back in love with it for the right reasons. And while I’m no where near as strong as I used to be, I’ve never been happier while climbing. Do what makes you happy, chica!

  2. says

    LOVE THIS! I love my boyfriend and he has always been my biggest cheerleader in all outdoor pursuits, but I rely on his skills and extra motivation a LOT. I’ve noticed that even more as we’ve been traveling through Central America, and it’s time that changed!

    So while he fills out applications for seasonal jobs, I’m applying for a permit for the JMT. A thru-hike is a goal of mine that I’ve honestly never thought to pursue on my own. He might join me, but for the first time in our relationship, I’m taking the reins and planning something major. Maybe I’ll be hiking it solo (and freaking out in my tent the first few nights), but otherwise, it might never happen.

    I want the “me”, but I also want the “we”. The best relationships should allow for both, and if that’s not there, then the “me” is always more important ;)

    • says

      There is so much HELL YES in this comment, you rock Michelle. (I totally freaked out in my tent the first night I ever camped solo too–that night when I started my first fire, a raccoon decided he was my BFF and kept sneakily creeping up behind me and he scared the living day lights out of me no less then 5 times. I may have cried a little.)

      A balance between me & we is so important. I almost edited this post to include “also hi hey I am crazy in love with my boyfriend and smother him with ‘we’ time on a daily basis.” Gotta keep it real. ;) But ‘me’ will ALWAYS be around.

  3. says

    Great post! I’m happily married but a couple years ago I felt the same way – I realized that my husband was always starting our finicky camp stove, driving the tough roads, and that I rarely went out without him. So I went solo hiking more often and last summer I organized an all-woman backpacking trip – 8 of us went backpacking for the weekend with lots of wine – tons of fun! You are so right – we need to not get caught up in the “us” (even if the “us” is good and is working well) because we need to hang on to our independence and our own identity as women.

    • says

      I love this and am having major envy of your big ladies + wine backpacking trip, I need to plan a big shebang like that soon. Sounds like you’re doin’ it right, Taryn!

  4. Julia says

    Thank you for sharing this, Katie. We can’t be reminded enough of how strong, capable, and amazing we are. I bet most of us have lost ourselves in a toxic, regretable, why-didn’t-I-see-the-light-sooner relationship, and it’s so, so hard to admit. Mine wasn’t with an outdoorsy guy, but I put my happiness on hold for his ambitions. I almost turned my life upside down and moved to a different country so he could pursue his dreams. High five to you for refinding yourself and being in a relationship that’s healthy and solid enough that you adventure by yourself! A solo trip is something I’ve never done, and I admire you and the ladies who’ve commented above who have! Running is my me thing. Karl is one of my biggest supporters, always on the race course, at the finish line, and ready to pick me up in the middle of a crappy run, but I value that alone time and overcoming long miles or a tough run by myself and for myself. It makes crossing the finish line so much sweeter. As for girls trips, one of my favorite trips last year was a week-long vacation in Montreal with my best friend, so yes to more girls only adventures!

    Come to the midwest! Let’s plan an adventure!

  5. says

    So so so proud of and happy for you for figuring out what makes you happy and putting yourself in a position to get it! I think it’s so important to retain ourselves and what’s important to us in friendships, relationships, even with family, and making sure we put ourselves in situations that force us to test our own limits is a great way to do that! Keep being the awesome Katie you are :)

  6. says

    Oh man, such a great post. So glad you’re rediscovering YOUR love of the outdoors and adventure. It’s funny, because I went through something kind of opposite with my now husband, namely that he really ISN’T into doing long backpacking trips etc, and I had so many moments of thinking, “but wait, isn’t my partner suppose to share my passions???” In the end though, I’ve found that it really WORKS (and, actually really great) for me to have my interest in the outdoors, and for him to occasionally join me. When he doesn’t, I still go by myself, because I also really really enjoy my quiet solo hikes, drives etc.

  7. says

    People think it’s odd that DH and I are so independent of each other, but that’s how we roll. Some of our passions are different or vary in strength and we follow our own hearts. The great thing is no matter what we continue in the same direction, meeting at different points along the way. =)

  8. Alyssa says

    I am so glad you wrote this. It has a lot of parallels to similar situations with my partner, especially now that I’m working to regain control of my life after getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia. After nine years with my partner, one of the biggest things we have to work on is doing things without each other. We’re best friends and great partners but we go outdoors for different activities and it is good to do our own activities on our own. Since my diagnosis we’ve gone through some ups and downs but now we’re able to do things separately and it’s actually made us stronger for it.

  9. says

    I hike without my Husband. He is unable to hike. I’ve always been an outdoors woman and have always canoed alone, hiked alone, camped alone… whatever. Doesn’t mean I don’t love my partner. Just means we have different interests and at over 50…. I’m not stopping now.

    Go forth and explore ladies! Don’t sit around and do nothing OR do what THEY want. Enjoy life while you can.

  10. says

    Total truth there Katie! It was touching to read this and i hope it inspires others! I’m sorry to hear about all that. I can totally relate. I recently got out of a similar relationship – one where the outdoors was his passionate and I relied on his skills, I discovered quickly when I didn’t know how to put up my own tent! I discovered the freedom in the midst tho – when he went away for work, I went off on my own instead…and I had some of the best trips I’ve had yet. All ladies, lots of chaos and independence. It all ended climbing alone in Colorado, funny that! And here I am, so much happier and so happy to see you’ve found the same, glorious independence! xx

  11. says

    This is so great, and exactly what I needed to remind myself. I started mountain biking with my ex-boyfriend, and my main goal after we broke up was to prove to myself that I liked it just as much on my own. Turns out I do!

    My boyfriend is great, and I love doing outdoorsy things with him, but I recently realized that I hadn’t gone snowboarding by myself in two years! I went by myself, had a great time, and I realized that I need to do stuff by myself more often.

  12. Leanne says

    I SO get this! I could have almost written this about my ex, except that never did I ever like climbing or claim to like it! He was climbing obsessed when we met and while I had climbed, I have a terrible fear of heights that just won’t go away. I tried to get over it, I tried to like it, but he knew the entire time we were together that I just didn’t like it. I did not try to pretend that it was ever going to be my thing. I fully supported him going out whenever he wanted with his buddies and never made him feel guilty about it because it gave me time to do what I loved, which was go biking, but he wanted us to do everything together.

    I should have known early on that it just wasn’t going to work. In the first year we were together we did a big US road trip and even though we had all kinds of outdoor gear with us, all we did was climb. Smith Rock, J Tree, Bishop… you name it, we climbed it (I’m actually a decent climber but am gut wrenchingly terrified the whole time and not in the good way). Did we ever do anything I wanted to do ? Not really. If we did he would bitch about how we could be climbing. I put up with it, foolishly, but looking back that asshole totally hijacked OUR two month trip into HIS two month climbing bender. I think we rode our bikes twice in all that time even though we hauled them around the damn country for two months. So inconsiderate.

    We finally broke up last year. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good guy, just not the right guy. I have no problems with spending time a part and having different interests, but he did. So in the end I broke it off with him after 5 years so that he could meet THAT girl, the one that DOES want to spend every second together climbing. That’s not me. And I’m so much happier now. :)

    • says

      Ugh, sounds like a miserable trip! It was similar for me when I did my year in a van. Granted, both of our main hobbies were climbing–but I also wanted to do OTHER things. My ex refused to spend any money/time on anything other than climbing, so I feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities to explore all the places I visited in unique ways.

      And totally feel you with the ultimate feelings of both parties ending up finding the person for them. I found the perfect guy for me (who was actually my best friend who was there all along, I just needed to open my damn eyes), and even though it took a while to get over the fact that she “ruined” our relationship, my ex’s new girlfriend is way more of the person he should be with.

      Everybody wins! It’s just a process to find your way towards the right path for YOU. Cheers mama!

  13. says

    Katie, you say “there are few things more attractive to an outdoorsy dude than a woman covered in dirt and radiating from her own adventure.”

    As a man reading that sentiment, I avidly shout “Hubba hubba!” ;^)

    I don’t believe I’ve achieved perfection by any stretch, but to my mind, a man who is secure with his emotions and self-growth potential is the kind of man who will be willing to actively listen to you, i.e., to assess when you need him and to know when you don’t. He’ll be the kind of man who, when you want him to show you how to do something – or to do that something better – will not see it as an opportunity to lord his self-presumed superiority over you or to cement stereotypical gender roles, but will simply recognize that doing so furthers the cause which, whatever that cause is, ultimately serves the best interest: it makes you both happy. He’ll also understand the value of saying – and won’t be afraid to say – “OK, now you do it.” (And to reciprocate when you say it.)

    Sadly, perpetuating a woman’s dependency is merely a feckless, too-common power trip characterized by petty emperors who wear no clothes. I’ve camped with such guys; they’ve neither done the work to build strong emotional bonds with their gal-pals nor been eager to further the collective cause with their fellow men, i.e., they don’t “pitch in”. They’re often too wrapped up in their own egos to recognize that in order to build a skyscraper of love, one must first build a foundation of respect. (They also don’t get to camp with me a second time.)

    You know, every one of us must sooner or later slog through our own personal (and often messy) Shawshank redemptions. I’m thrilled that you’re emerging from the other side of your two-year slog as a happier new you, Katie. Glow on!


    • says

      <3 <3 And you do realize that my Mr. Right is totally someone you met and hosted at your house, right? I could smack myself for wasting so much time on Mr. Wrong when the perfect guy was right in front of my face all along.

  14. says

    Um, yes. I’ve “been in recovery” for about 9 months. It’s an amazing and necessary transition and recouping period. I so needed to strip away all the ways I had learned to define myself though his eyes, motivations, and needs, and get back to my own.

    On behalf of all the ladies that have fallen prey to the extreme outdoor guy, thanks. I hope the ladies who need to read this do!

    And, YAY for writing :)

  15. Ro says

    Thank you…this too is my story yet not my story. I am also in recovery and have realized how much I had given my power away to him and others. Pitching my first tent was so freeing and I celebrated it with myself, high-fiving myself. The recovery road is not always easy yet it’s necessary. Thank you for sharing!
    Climb on!

    • says

      Ro, it’s a long, hard road, but reaching the end of it and turning on to a new chapter of life is the BEST DAMN FEELING EVER. Wishing you easy travels on your own journey. <3

  16. Cassie says

    Beautiful blog!

    Ladies-take this advice seriously. Going on ladies-only climbing trips have been the most refreshing, invigorating, and self motivating actions I’ve made in all of my relationship; and it took me 4 years to learn how to peal away from the beau for a weekend. Don’t wait that long!

  17. J Shambora says

    Great article and great blog!
    I have yet to find my “outdoor” loving man…and my friends are either not interested or not available to go hiking or on any adventures. So…this year I am planning lots of SOLO travel. No more waiting to do what I love or defining myself by other’s wishes and needs…excited to see where I end up!

    Keep writing!

  18. says

    I do completely agree! In fact it was a break up from someone that fuelled my outdoor adventure lust and so it began. I happened to meet someone, who I’m in a relationship with now, who loves the outdoors. He’s motivated, inspired, pushed (gently) and encouraged me to be a bigger and better, more go getting outdoors girl and it’s been great to have him on my journey.

    I’m still open to going outdoors adventuring with anyone who comes along and I do organise group activities like the time we all went paddle boarding, that was so much fun, or mountain biking. Something I see which is common though in my friends who are also in relationships and do a lot of their activities with their partners, they’re there because of an added pressure to be into and do the same things to keep the relationship going…

    And whilst my relationship does have the same interests, we also have our differences too. Surfing for example, I can take it or leave it, and my fellow lives for it. Mountain biking I love with a passion but he doesn’t love it as much as surfing.

    I haven’t found the need to actively want to go out on my own yet because I like company and I like to be able to share the most amazing landscapes with my most dearest, not with instagram. That said I’m more than happy to venture out on my own if no one’s up for a challenge that day. There’s that saying, not all that wander are lost and I think this sums up me, perfectly. I am an I first and foremost and then a we. I can be an I when I’m surrounded by we’s.

    Of course, I’ve planned a summer camping trip with just me and the dog, only because I want to test out my own survival skills. I’ve made sure that my time out with friends, family and my boyfriend includes me chipping in such as making the fire, food and helping with the tent,

    Like all things in life it should be an equal thing.

    Great post!

    • says

      Love this comment and love your perspective. Sounds like you’re really found YOUR balance, and that’s what it’s all about. Doing what works for YOU and your relationship. Screw all the rest (even my advice if it doesn’t work for YOU). <3 My kinda lady!

  19. says

    Hell yes, chica! I love this enthusiasm. At the end of the day all we really have left to rely on is ourselves, anyway. I’m proud of the woman blogger, writer and role model you’ve become! (I’ve been following you since the van days, let it be known). I recently just got out of a similar relationship (read: bad) and found so much more time to develop who I am sans a man.

    Now I have a new boyfriend who is wonderful. He doesn’t smother me and allows
    me all the time I want and need to pursue my career and personal interests. It’s such a breath of fresh air to hear a woman living for herself, not a man!

    Cheers to you and best of luck with your beau!

  20. Michael says

    K, I agree with most everything you said. The time for a strong woman to follow your advice in their relationships is right at the start. The whirlwind that becomes wanting to be together, do together sometimes overwhelms everything else. If a man resists your alone time at the start of a relationship it will not improve as your time together lengthens. It has been my experience that nearly every problem that shows up in a relationship was there at the start. It is said that men mature later in life than women do. I’m not so sure that men really ever mature. Most of my friends and all of my loves have been women. I will tell you that a woman independent enough to take time for herself, alone or with girlfriends, has strength, character and drive. These are things any intelligent, thinking, secure man loves. M

  21. Lisa says

    I…don’t have this problem and it weirds me out how many people are commenting that they do. You don’t have to do everything your boyfriends do, you know.

    It is pretty funny how so many of these comments (and the main story) finish with “now I have a new boyfriend and it’s all different!” yeah. It was “different” at the beginning with the original boyfriends, too. I can’t help but feel that y’all are headed right back down the same path.

    Seems like a lot of ladies here are relying on men for their hobbies, experiences, and self worth, and THAT’S the problem, not finding a boyfriend who likes climbing juuuuust the right amount….

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