Melanie Sidwell being lowered off a climb in Boulder Canyon. It was her first time rock climbing.

“Of course you can.” Say it with exasperation and disbelief.

That’s what I’ve been repeating to my friend Melanie, who I’ve taken on a few first-timer adventures this summer. She turned 30 this year and wanted to try new things, so she started a (growing) list and a blog ( to record it all.

More Field Notes

Jenn Fields blogs about life in Colorado’s great outdoors at

“You should add rock climbing to your list,” I said.

“I’d like to, but do you think I can?” Mel asked. “I’ve never done it. I’m not sure I can.”

“Of course you can,” I replied. “I’ll take you.”

She’s young, healthy and fit; to me, whether she could climb was a silly question. But questions like this changed my assumptions about why others aren’t into the outdoor life. So I came up with a few rules of conduct for outdoorsy types teaching a friend — that is, if you don’t want to be a jerk and want to remain friends.

First, be understanding. Never-evers might see many barriers, and have anxiety and big questions — like, “Am I capable of riding a bike all the way to work in Boulder from Longmont?” (Also on Mel’s list.)

“Do you think I can do it?” she asked.

“Of course you can. I’ll ride with you.”

Second, know your answers won’t be enough. I learned my of-course-you-can refrain was reassuring but incomplete. Answers I think are straightforward (“Don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts”) only left Mel with more questions (“Really? What about everything else I’m wearing? Seriously, no underwear?”).

Third, quit talking and just do it. When I took Mel climbing, I assured her that she would not fall far. At the crag, we ran into my friend Dianne, who took a lead fall while we were setting up. Mel sucked in a breath; her eyes were big.

“You won’t fall that far,” I said. She didn’t look entirely reassured. I tied her in anyway and told her to start climbing.

Later, Mel told me she was glad I did, because it halted her imagination in its tracks.

Fourth, since your answers aren’t enough, try to fill in the gaps. Last week, Mel chose Friday for her first bike commute; as promised, I would lead the way. On Thursday, Mel was full of questions. At one point, she said she wanted an itinerary.

Itinerary? We’re riding to work, not going on a bike tour in Tuscany, I thought, ignoring rule No. 1.

I wrote back:

Here’s your itinerary:

1. Breathe.

2. Breathe again.

3. Relax.

I’d clearly miscommunicated something, but I didn’t know what. To me, it was simple — load stuff into backpack, ride to work, clean up upon arrival. I’ve been doing it for more than a decade. Then I remembered that in addition to being her first commute, this would be her longest ride to date. It was a big deal.

So fifth, don’t be Cap’n Cavalier of the HMS Insensitivity.

Finally, offer to take a friend out. After the commute, I learned that Mel didn’t ever ask me to take her to do any of these things before because she didn’t want to impose on a friend.


I wonder if she thinks I’m capable of being sensitive. And I hope her answer is: “Of course you are.”

Jenn Fields’ Field Notes runs every Monday in the Colorado Daily.

blog comments powered by Disqus