REI holds free classes and events throughout US July 30, 31

April 14, 2024 | Get outside this weekend with free events (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — With one hand on a blue climbing rope and another on his harness, Matt Liddle yells out in a language only rock climbers understand.

“You ask me first, ‘On belay?’ And after I check the system to make sure everything is locked and tied in the way it’s supposed to be, I reply, ‘Belay on,’” explained Liddle, the outdoor programs and outreach manager at REI.

With one final call — “Climb away!” — he pulls in the slack of the rope.  

“I think there’s a perception about rock climbing, that it’s incredibly risky, but I’d say compared to a lot of things outside, if you manage the risks properly, it’s one of the safest,” Liddle said.

On July 30 and 31, Liddle and other REI instructors will be teaching exactly how to manage those climbing risks, as well as the ins-and-outs of paddle boarding, kayaking and biking, to hundreds of Washingtonians and more than 4,000 others across the U.S. for free.

REI’s Land of the Free weekend aims to introduce the adventure curious to new outdoor activities and bring attention to all of the classes REI offers year-round in its Outdoor School.

“If you’ve gone to a REI store and you’ve seen the climbing gear or the cycling gear and said, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that’ … It’s hard to get into some of these outdoor activities if you don’t have somebody who knows the ropes and can teach you,” Liddle said.

Most of the free classes in the D.C. area, including wilderness survival, backpacking basics and outdoor photography, are full (there is an option for the waiting list), but Liddle says don’t let that discourage you from getting outside this weekend.

In addition to the classes, REI is hosting a number of daylong outdoor celebrations in local parks — Pohick Bay, C & O Canal Angler’s and Patapsco Valley State Park — July 30 and 31. These are free and open to the public.

“We’re picking these great local parks with tons of trails and other outdoor activities, and REI’s setting up shop there and we’ll be teaching mini-classes and doing tons of giveaways and things like that,” Liddle said.

At the trailhead celebrations, representatives from REI’s Outdoor School will hand out free energy snacks, answer questions on gear and offer up information on local trails.

There are also several opportunities to sign-up for free social and instructional events leading up to the fall opening of REI’s first D.C. store at the Uline Arena in Northeast. Thru-hiking panels, camp cooking basics and outdoor movie screenings are just some of those available.

REI’s outdoor classes, tours and hikes are available throughout the year at various locations in the D.C. area. Most cost between $10 and $125.

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