Tag Archives: outdoors

V-PODCAST EPISODE 1: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reasons for Leaving my Career

Welcome to Episode 1 of the V-PODCAST SERIES: ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD.  In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the question, “Why leave a stable career for pursuit of an unconventional dream?”

Tune in and share with us your own reasons or thoughts about the topic! Thanks!

To learn more about what this v-podcast is about, check out the INTRODUCTION.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

The outdoors appeal to most of us as a safe haven to let ourselves go from our day to day routines and stress in life.  But the reality of it is that life in the outdoors is not as perfect as any paradise we conjure in our minds, especially when, as a female hiker, we don’t fit the looks of women as portrayed by the outdoors media.

That has been the case until Summer and Lezley came into the forefront of leading women entities in the outdoors world to serve as the voice for women who may feel different, weird, strange, unsuitable or unacceptable.  Summer and Lezley not only love hiking but they also made it their mission to encourage women of all backgrounds to find pride in who they are as women hikers.

From my own personal experience, my being featured on Fat Girls Hiking’s Inspiring Women series clearly demonstrated that feeling of belonging and self-acceptance.  I’m no exception to feeling different as a woman of color who continues to wait for inclusion in the media.  Fat Girls Hiking provided a voice on my behalf and echoed my presence to the social media world of the outdoors. That’s a good start towards a long road in promoting diversity and women in the hiking world.  For that reason, I’m absolutely delighted to come across these two lovely souls and be a part of their mission to promote diversity in the outdoors.

Women Trail Leaders: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

Summer is from Minnestoa while Lezley is from New Mexico. They currently live in Portland, Oregon.  Off-trail, Summer works as a nanny while Lezley is a Data Analyst.  They typicall hike in the Portland area, and around Oregon and Washington states.  They also have traveled overseas for on trekking trips.  Summer is also a writer, a photographer, crafter and reader while Lezley is a sports enthusiast, daredevil, traveler and a board game and film geek.

When and how did you first start hiking?

Summer: My love of hiking started about 4 years ago.  I had been on a few hikes before then but not on a regular basis.   At first, I didn’t like it.  But it grew on me. 

Lezley: I started hiking 10 years ago while living in Nevada after getting a taste of hiking while in Zion.  My uncle was an avid hiker in New Mexico & would take me with him but I didn’t appreciate hiking until I got older & moved to Nevada. Now I hope to hike more in my home state to experience the things I missed when I was younger.

What do you like the most about hiking?

When we hike, we feel strong & capable.  Worries & stresses of everyday life are wiped clean.  We hike to be connected to nature & our selves.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Summer: I like hiking alone a lot. There is something therapeutic about being out there by myself that makes me feel self reliant. When I face challenges & solve problems on the trail, I feel empowered.  But I also love leading hikes with Fat Girls Hiking, I love watching other people gain confidence & feel inspired in the outdoors.

Lezley: I prefer hiking with a group or another person. For me, I feel safer being with others. Plus, I like getting to know people or spend quality time with people away from the distractions of everyday life.  Also, having another person on the trail with me motivates me to keep going when the trail gets challenging.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Summer: Hikers are creative problem solvers.  When I am miles away from civilization on a hike, if something goes wrong, I have to figure it out.  Also, I love feeling small in the grand scheme of the world. It puts any silly or trivial problems in my head in check when I can look around from the summit of a mountain and say, “Those things don’t matter, not really.”

Lezley: Sometimes trails can be intimidating but if I keep on pushing myself forward, then there always seems to be a reward at the end.  It’s a daily reminder of life off the trail: keep pushing forward, no matter what might scare you.  The other lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the aspects of nature that we often take for granted.

Summer and Lezley share with us their favorite hiking moments.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. 

We had spent the night before the hike sleeping in the back of the truck in a 24-hour grocery store parking lot because all the campgrounds in the park were full.  We wanted to get up early to beat the crowds because we heard this was a busy hike. 

On the hike in to the lake, we counted seeing only 5 people. It was amazing to witness the sunrise over the mountains onto the clear lake cluttered with logs at the bottom. We ventured around the still lake and the mountains were reflected perfectly.  There were glacial waterfalls above us that we heard would be extinct in less than 10 years.

Then we met another hiker who was gathering sand from the beach, he said he proposed to his fiancé at that spot & they were getting married later that day in the park. As we were heading back to the trailhead & the sun began to shine onto the lake, it was a bright green color that matched the leaves on the trees.  On the way back to the trailhead, we counted 207 people making their way to the lake.  So glad we hiked early!

Saddle Mountain, Oregon.

We were so excited to do this hike.  It was the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago & we were ready to conquer one of the Oregon Coast Range’s biggest mountains.  The hike starts out really steep & 2 minutes in we were taking layers off.  This is the most elevation gain we’ve ever done on a hike, it felt good & really difficult.  We were stopping a lot but enjoying ourselves.

About 45 minutes into the hike, Summer’s stomach started to ache.  Oh no.  The trail is mostly switchbacks & there isn’t any spots off-trail to dig a cat hole.  Ugh.  Finally, we found a spot where Summer scrambled up to some bushes for privacy to “use the bathroom.” 

Much better…Ok, let’s do this.  We get to the summit & WOW what an amazing view.  There’s the ocean to the west, and it’s a clear day so Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are visible.  It was incredible.  Then we notice the trail keeps going.  Oh. Shit.  This is what they call “the false summit.” Ok, we can do this.  We are tired & the rest of the trail feels painstakingly steep.  The trail is covered with chain-link fencing, and there is ice in some spots, but we make it to the real actual summit. 

The exhilaration of the view, being up there with the wind as it whips our hair around. We know we are strong enough to carry our bodies to the top of a mountain. This is the reason we hike.

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada.

We knew this hike was busy & touristy.  The photos we had seen online were amazing & we really wanted to see it for ourselves.  So we got up really early to beat the crowds.  The trail is paved almost the entire way. There’s no “roughing it” on this trail. There are catwalks along the side & bottom of the canyon that allow access to the canyon in a way that usually could only be accessed by repelling.  The natural beauty of the rock & the pure clear water was stunning.  However, the trash & plastic water bottles underneath the catwalk were less than desirable. Nature Tourism is over rated.

Sometimes the crowd of inconsiderate tourists can overshadow the beauty around us. Well, at least it changes the experience. We carry on. There are three waterfalls along the trail that we enjoy & then decide to turn back & head to a less busy trail.  The trail was really crowded  the last half mile & there is a group of twenty slower hikers ahead of us.  We just want to get out of the crowds.  Summer finds an opening & jogs around the tourists & Lezley gets stuck among the crowd. 

After Summer jogs by one of the men Lezley gets stuck behind says, “Wow, you could really feel the ground shake when she went by.” It’s attitudes like his & comments like these that intimidate plus size people from feeling safe in the outdoors.  Even though we are avid hikers, most likely more experienced than the man who commented on Summer’s body size, this comment changes our experiences on trails.  It’s easy enough to shake off an ignorant comment from someone who arrived via a tour bus & carry on with your love affair with the Canadian Rockies.  Needless to say, we found many other gorgeous places to explore while we were in Banff National Park but Johnston Canyon was the most memorable.

What advice would you give to women who are new to hiking?

Start out on some easier trails with a fabulous reward at the end (waterfalls & viewpoints are good).  Don’t worry about how fast or slow you hike.  It’s not a race.  There are no prizes at the end.  Research the trail & the weather before you go. Have more than one source of information on hand (a screenshot on your phone is good, but a backup is never a bad idea). Print out driving directions & don’t rely on Google maps.  Many trailheads do not have cell service which is a blessing in our overly “connected” world, so make sure you know where you’re going.  If you are hiking alone, tell someone specifically where you are going & when you are expected to return.  Bring enough water, snacks, and weather appropriate clothing. Most importantly, listen to your body.  If something isn’t feeling good, don’t do it.  Savor your time on the trail & have fun!

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Summer: All the hikes are on my list.  Seriously, all of them.  If I could travel endlessly & hike everywhere I went, I would. I definitely want to spend more time in the Canadian Rockies & Glacier National Park. 

Summer at Falls Creek Falls.

Lezley: Patagonia and Machu Picchu are on my list. But any time we travel, we like finding a hike in the area so we get to enjoy that peaceful part of a city.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

Summer: As a plus size hiker, finding gear that fits is not easy.  There are such limited options for women’s plus size outdoor gear that I usually end up buying men’s gear. Ill-fitting raingear is the only option I have.  However, I do have an amazing Granite Gear backpack that fits well and has hip pockets for little things that I need accessible while hiking.  And I love my Platypus hydration bladder—it’s really easy to clean & dry out. Black Diamond trekking poles are my new favorite gear…wish I would have gotten them sooner.  And of course, my Canon 5D.

Lezley:  I like my Granite Gear day pack.  Everything else I’m still testing out.  I haven’t found the exact right gear for me yet.  My $1 bandana is pretty sweet though!

What is your favorite quote that motivates you on and off trails?

Summer:  As an avid reader with a degree in writing, words always motivate & inspire me. Mary Oliver, Cheryl Strayed and Audre Lorde are among my favorites. My recent favorite quote is by Judith Thurman, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”

Summer at Mt. St. Helens.

Lezley: “Why you crying? Are you bleeding? But did you die?” –traditional Mexican words of inspiration.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

There are many challenges to being a female on the trail.  Often in our society, women aren’t taken as seriously as men. In any athletic endeavor, women can be even more patronized.  The idea that women aren’t as tough or as knowledgeable about the outdoors is merely an extension of our sexist society.  Women are still treated as novelty in the outdoors. We face these challenges by going outdoors anyway, by proving them wrong.  For the most part people are kind on the trail & there’s a wonderful community feeling while hiking but these challenges can be intimidating for women to face on the trail.

Summer and Lezley are the women behind Fat Girls Hiking – an important female led entity in the outdoors world that promotes diversity.  Below they tell us more about FGH. 

Fat Girls Hiking started on Instagram in early 2015.  We were hiking a lot & looking to social media to find outdoor communities that represented us, but they didn’t exist.  There were a few accounts that focused on women but they were very homogenized & always featured a specific type of woman that we couldn’t identify with.  We are both fat queer women.  One of us is covered in tattoos, one of us is a woman of color.  We do not look like typical hikers.  But the lack of any diversity was staggering.  So, we decided to change that.  We wanted to celebrate all these amazing, beautiful people who aren’t usually featured on blogs or outdoor Instagram accounts.

What is the mission of FGH?  

Fat Girls Hiking is a body positive outdoor community. We believe that all folks should be represented in outdoor media.  We want to take the shame & stigma out of the word FAT & empower it.  Our motto, Trails Not Scales is to focus on self love in the outdoors instead of weight loss.  Trails Not Scales reminds us that the more we hike, the more love we have for ourselves & our bodies just as they are.  We want all people to feel comfortable outdoors & to be able to claim their space on the trail.  We know that bodies of all shapes & sizes are capable of anything.  Our community is for those folks who have felt like they didn’t fit the typical hiker mold. We encourage & support folks who want to get out & hike, to do so!

How do define success with respect to FGH?

Empowering people through group hikes is how we define success.  Any time we get an email saying “thank you for including people who look like me” is how we define success. People who don’t feel represented in outdoor Instagram accounts commenting on a photo & saying, “I love this account” is how we define success. Watching people who come on group hikes grow & gain confidence is how we measure success.

What are the current and future projects that you have for FGH?

Fat Hiking Club is a documentary about Fat Girls Hiking that is still in production.  Some amazingly talented filmmakers from Vancouver, BC contacted us about FGH & filmed a hike we did with our group & interviewed us about body image, the outdoor community and why it’s important to create this space for fat folks, queer folks, people of color, trans & gender non-conforming people and women.

The Fat Girls Hiking Adventure Club is a new endeavor that is starting January 2017.  We love hiking & will continue to lead group hikes once a month but we also want to have other outdoor adventures with folks in our community.  Parasailing, fat tire biking on the beach, kayaking, snowshoeing, high ropes, climbing and many more activities are on our bucket list of adventures.  The Adventure Club will sometimes be a body positive yoga or dance class, other times it will be a weekend getaway with outdoor activities or a group camping trip.

Besides Fat Girls Hiking, Summer and Lezley also have a blog called Be Heard and they tell us below what it’s about.

We have a blog called Be Heard.  On the blog, we post photographs (taken by Summer) of people in the Fat Girls Hiking community or other body positive folks & have them answer a few questions about themselves.  We want to hear people’s stories & photograph them in a space that feels comfortable for them.

Thanks Summer & Lezley! Fat Girls Hiking certainly symbolizes the awakening of women to loving themselves more in the outdoors.   Without your organization, the hiking world would be less celebratory and appreciative of women who are different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to see what other projects you have in store for us.  So, keep doing what you do to inspire women of all types.  After all,  for the rest of the world to love us, we have to first love ourselves.

You can follow Fat Girls Hiking via their website & social media: Facebook & Instagram,

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS SERIES, OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES or FREEDOMEPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

9 Things Every Traveler Can Do in Kentucky

A Guest Post by Louise Brown

The first thing that people think of upon hearing Kentucky is probably fried chicken. Although that’s a very valid association, there’s a lot more to this state than that.

Bourbon, horse races, tobacco, and bluegrass are just some of the popular things that make up Kentucky’s character. Aside from that, there’s deep love for music, arts, food, and the outdoors.

Here are some of the things you should do when you’re in Kentucky.

#1 Have a Taste of Good Old Kentucky Bourbon


The Russians have vodka while the Americans have bourbon, and Kentucky is one of the best states for it.

You can stop by any distillery, but for an even better experience, go on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It’s probably one of the unique experiences you’ll have in Kentucky.

The Bourbon Trail consists of 9 of the state’s top distilleries. It lets you experience the culture of Bourbon, from the ingredients, to the process, to having a taste of the best Bourbon.

Many facilities have stunning surrounding landscapes too! If the trail doesn’t interest you, that’s okay. Just don’t leave Kentucky without having at least, a taste of Kentuckian Bourbon.

#2 Saddle Up

Horses are not only a big thing – they are one of the defining things of Kentucky. This state is, after all, the Horse Racing Capital of the World.

All year, you can enjoy horseback riding in the hundreds of miles of horse trails in the state. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro or a beginner, there’s a trail just right for your skills.

Many stables offer horse rentals, as well as horse camps for those who have horses of their own. Horseback riding is also a great way to see the outdoors. Most horse trails and horse camps offer stunning scenic views and peace and serenity.

#3 Kentucky Derby

Every year on the first Sunday of May, crowds of people from all over the nation and the world, come into Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is one of the state’s most popular event, which takes place at Churchill Downs.

Either before or after the event, you can visit the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn even more about the sport.

#4 See the magnificent Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls is also known as the “Niagara of the South.” The waterfall is 125 feet wide and has a drop of 68 feet into the Cumberland River.

The Cumberland Falls State Resort Park also offers other activities and attractions aside from the waterfall. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise! It has hiking trails, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

#5 Go camping

The Kentucky State Park System has 31 campgrounds all throughout the state, so wherever you are, you’re never too far from one. Most grounds are open year-round, with sites for RVs, cabin tents, traditional tents, and even hammocks.

You can even lay your sleeping bag right under the stars. Also, many of the campsites are also equestrian-friendly.

After you set camp, you can do some exploring. Depending on which park you’re in, you might be able to go hiking, see lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, go horseback riding, or go biking.

#6 Explore Mammoth Cave

Did you know that the world’s longest cave system is Mammoth Cave, which is in Kentucky?

I didn’t know until just recently. From simple walking tours for families to strenuous spelunking for experts, there are lots of opportunities for exploration. It’s one of the many unique activities you can do in Kentucky.

#7 Go extreme at Hidden Rivers Cave

Another cave adventure you should do is the one at Hidden Rivers Cave. However, this one is not for the faint of hearts. Part of the adventure is zip lining across the cave’s sinkhole.

You can also go rappelling from the start to the mouth of the cave. That’s about 75 feet high!

The tour doesn’t get easier, but it’s still worth the thrill. A guide will lead you on a walking tour of the cave where you’ll be passing through wet and muddy surfaces.

Along the way, you’ll see some eyeless cave creatures too! Be ready to bear crawl, scramble, and have a memorable experience!

#8 Eat Hot Brown

We all know world famous food chain that originates from Kentucky – KFC! However, the state has other food that they are proud of. One of this is Hot Brown.

It may not sound so appealing, but this open-faced sandwich is a must-try! It’s made of turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and covered with Mornay sauce.

Many restaurants serve Hot Browns. However, there’s no better place than where it all began – the Brown Hotel. Nevertheless, do not leave the state without having a Hot Brown.

#9 Explore The Music Scene

Music in Kentucky runs deep, especially since it is the birthplace of Bluegrass music. It’s also the birthplace of many stars, including Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, and Loretta Lynn.

Being so musically inclined, the state has many museums that showcase the history and the music culture. At the end of your visit, you will have a new level of appreciation for this genre of music.

If you’re lucky, you might visit during the music festival.  If it is, don’t miss it! Many international and local artists share the stage and play all sorts of genres.

Conclusion

You’ll find Kentucky has so much more to offer than fried chicken and horse racing. It’s a state that is so diverse and has something for all sorts of travelers. It’s also surprisingly such a great place for outdoor adventures.

I’ve only named a few, but I’ll leave the rest of the exploring to you. Don’t miss out on what Kentucky has to offer!

Author Bio

Louise is the founder of TheAdventureLand.com, where she and her associate’s blog about Outdoor experiences, tips & tricks that will help you have an exciting adventure. She is also a tour guide of travel company where she learned many things about wilderness. “Let’s pack our bags and explore the world!”. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+

If you are interested in submitting a guest post, please see the guidelines here.  Looking forward to your articles!

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WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

I must admit – life can be hectic.  But what happens when your passion takes over most of your waking life?  Since the inception of this blog and my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, any minute I get outside of my legal career has been dedicated to building the foundation for both entities.  Luckily, my effort to do so is inspired by so many wonderful women who thrive in the spirit of the outdoors.  Rebecca happens to be not only an inspired hiker, but also an INSPIRER for many women who love the outdoors.

To be honest, life before meeting Rebecca was like living in a bubble with the presence of such frequent thoughts in my head:

Am I the only one who is obsessed with hiking?  Why can’t I be normal like the rest of the single girls back in Washington, DC?  Why do I preoccupy myself with the idea of mountains and summits?

Shortly after launching this blog and Peak Explorations, I met Rebecca through her women-focused outdoors website, Hike Like a Woman.  This discovery was completely by accident which happened through a network of bloggers on Facebook.  From the HLAW website, I gathered that there are more women who care about hiking that I could have ever imagined.  In fact, I discovered through HLAW that there IS a community of women supporting one another in their pursuit of the outdoors.  How did I overlook the idea of the existence of such a community?  From there, I gained interest in getting involved and contacted Rebecca about the Ambassador Program with HLAW.  I then contributed a few articles to HLAW and eventually became a contributor for the website.

The thing is I never really thought of the possibility that networking with other outdoor bloggers/leaders would be feasible.  But, Rebecca through HLAW managed to pave the way to connect many of us and create a community that continues to grow as time passes.  As I learned to get to know Rebecca and her mission behind HLAW, I began to sense that Rebecca’s role within the hiking community for women is irreplaceable.  

Rebecca embodies the role of an icon for women as a reminder of the possibilities out there for us, be it in the world of the outdoors or in our personal lives.  There is no limit to what we are capable of as women – whether we choose to be a trail leader, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, or to simply be a hiker.  In the most authentic version of ourselves, we have the power to be what we wish to become.  HLAW is a testament to the empowerment of women that we embody individually and celebrate as a whole.  The sum of all the parts leads to HLAW as the vehicle to promote the voices and the relevance of women in the outdoors.  HLAW’s success, of course, goes back to the founder herself.  It’s a reflection of Rebecca’s commitment to be of service to the community of diverse women who share her passion – hiking and the outdoors.

There are plenty of individuals and organizations I’m grateful for since the start of my blogging life and entrepreneurship.  As such, undoubtedly, Rebecca and HLAW are on top of the the list of those who I’ll always be grateful to in terms of inspiration and support.

So, with all that said, I’m thrilled to share Rebecca’s hiking story, her role as  a trail leader and her experience as an entrepreneur in the outdoors world.  As I learn about Rebecca’s insight and passion for all the above endeavors, I quickly came to this realization:

When our passion takes over our lives, it may very well be so damn exhausting. Yes, indeed it is.  And yet, alongside with it, is a feeling of immense joy- after all, it is all about going after what is truly dear to our hearts.  Hence, we rest, if needed, but no matter how tired we may be, we never stop forging ahead.

Outdoor Woman’s  Voice, Woman Trail Leader & Freedompreneur: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

Rebecca Walsh grew up in Bozeman, Montana.  She currently lives with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 3 in Laramie, WY.  As our feature, it’s a pleasure to have Rebecca because she not only is a voice for outdoors women, but she is also fitting as a feature for the Women Trail Leaders and Freedompreneurs series of the blog.  Rebecca has founded several outdoors entities: Hike Like a Woman, Little Laramie Hikers and Just Trails.  She’s also a published writer.  Rebecca’s love for the outdoors is unquestionable as any activity that she partakes in almost always has everything to do with the outdoors.  Talk about passion!  It’s amazing how she manages to find time for all these things.  It must be true love!  So, let’s read on about Rebecca’s hiking life and learn about her amazing projects that have become instrumental to the hiking community.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in a really outdoorsy family so I don’t really remember when I started hiking but I’ve seen a lot of picture of me as a baby in a backpack carrier on my Dad’s back. So I guess it started from before I was born. It’s just kind of in my nature to want to be outdoors and on the mountain.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like that it’s something that can be done almost anywhere there is a dirt path and that there’s minimal equipment required. After all, a hike can be nothing more than just a walk in the woods. You can make it as extreme or as easy as you want just by varying the terrain.

Rebecca shares with us her most memorable hiking experience to date.

A few years ago a group of my Mom friends and I decided that we needed a break from hiking at the pace of our toddlers and young children. So we planned a quick trip to Colorado where we climbed four 14ers in one day. Mt. Democrat, Cameron Lincoln and Bross. We showed up at our campsite late at night on a Friday after working all day and then woke up at 4 am to begin the climb. It was a long day, with breathtaking scenery and lung-busting ascents. The whole adventure lasted maybe 24 hours but it was exactly what we needed to do something a little bit challenging and have some fun together.  

See the full story here.  

14er trip/Democrat: Twice/year the moms in our hiking group plan a girls-only trip where we leave the kids at home and do something epic. Mt Democrat was our first 14er together.
14er trip:The entire group.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned lately is how to slow down. When I’m on the trail my email isn’t buzzing, my phone isn’t ringing, my to-do list disappears. It’s just me and the trail with nothing to do except enjoy the beauty that surrounds me and become lost in my own thoughts. My best ideas don’t come when I’m busy, they come when I’ve taken a few minutes to slow down, breathe and walk.  I’ve also learned to listen and just be at peace with who I am.

What advise would you give to those new to hiking?

Just lace up your boots and go. The hardest part for me is getting out the door, so I have to put hikes on my schedule so the space doesn’t get filled up with work. If you’re new to hiking find an experienced friend to show you what to pack and where to go. If you’re a new Mom and looking to start hiking with your baby don’t wait, hiking is so good for children of all ages.

Rebecca shares with us some of her favorite family photos while playing on the trails.

3 year old Finn
5 year old William
We don’t shy away from difficult trails as parents because we like to push ourselves. This is the summit of Medicine Bow Peak at 12.016 feet.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Definitely Kilimanjaro. I turned down a trip there last year and totally regret it. I’m also planning to do Rainier in a few years to celebrate my 40th birthday.  But yeah, if there’s a big mountain I want to climb it.

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker?

This is an interesting question, because after all I do have a website called Hike Like A Woman. But honestly, I  grew up in a family where all of us hiked. I live in a place where I see just as many women (if not more) on the trails as I do men. I feel really comfortable and safe on the trails, and I’ve never experienced any sort of gender discrimination on the mountain.  I guess I’m lucky, not all women experience that.

You have a hiking group called Little Laramie Hikers in Wyoming. What is it about?

Shortly after my husband and I left our careers to move to Wyoming I noticed a few things. First, I noticed that my entire town seemed to hibernate for the winter. I rarely saw any women and children on the trails once the snow started to fly. Second, I noticed that occasionally I’d see a family on the trails but only on the weekends. There were a lot of outdoorsy women in my town who love the outdoors but weren’t comfortable taking their children on a hike without their spouse. I wanted to change this culture so I started a family-friendly hiking group.

The friendships that my children are developing with other children in our hiking group are invaluable. I think they will explore with this group of children for a long time.

What made you decide to start this group and tell us what activities does the group do? 

I started the Little Laramie Hikers because I’m passionate about connecting women and children with nature and local trails. I also wanted a way to make friends who had similar interests (like the outdoors) and I wanted to provide a fun way for parents to meet up and hike.

Right now, we hike together every Friday morning. We alternate between different trails, we have a lot to choose from and sometimes we throw in other activities or environmental education lessons. Our hiking group went to look at dinosaur bones and fossils with a paleontologist last year and that was amazing for the adults and the children. We’ve also learned about pikas with a wildlife biologist, tadpoles, hiked with a senior citizens hiking group, hiked in Halloween costumes, had picnics, learned about wildflowers, and sometimes we hike deep into the woods and read our favorite children’s outdoor books. We’re fortunate to live in a college town so grad students are always looking for fun ways to come out and hike with our group.

The kids in our hiking group love hiking to a place and then stopping to read outdoor stories. I like combining literacy with the outdoors, it’s fun.
This was a joint hike with the Little Laramie Hikers & a local senior citizen hiking group. It was a huge group, we had so much fun. Multigenerational hikes are great.

Do you have other folks organizing?

Right now it’s pretty much just me. There are 200 families in the group, but someone always steps up to lead if I can’t make it to a hike or to help plan a fun outdoor adventure for the group. It’s really a sub-community of outdoor families within our larger community and I like that.

Where do you hike with the group?

Everywhere! We try to keep the driving distance to less than an hour but we’ve hiked all over Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado.

What do you like about being a trail leader?

I feel like one of my goals as the leader of the group is to make sure that I get to know everyone who hikes with us and to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. I like meeting new people who who up for a hike the first time.

What are some of the challenges of being a trail leader?

Naturally I wish I could do more for the group. I wish I had more time to find us gear sponsors for our lending library, or more time to coordinate hikes with other groups but that’s just life. I do what I can.

Also, our hiking group is really family-oriented but since we usually hike on Friday mornings we tend to attract the work-from-home and stay-at-home spouses, so it’s usually a big group of Moms and children. Once we got mistaken for a daycare! I actually love having the support of a good solid group of outdoor women and mom’s and I’ve found that they have developed into my closest friends. My biggest challenge is being able to lead hikes on weekends so I can get more women who work during the week involved.

What advise do you have for women who are interested in starting a group?

Go for it, set up a communication platform that is easy (we have a private Facebook page to communicate) and tell your friends to come out. For the first 6 months only 2 women joined me on hikes and sometimes no one would come at all but that’s okay, we kept on hiking and planning hikes and eventually the group grew. Now I think our hiking group is one of the best things going on in my town for families.

Name 3 qualities that will help to be a successful a trail leader.

Patience, kindness and organization.

You started an enterprise called, Just Trails. What is it about? 

In 2012 my husband and I left our careers are Army officers. We had deployed to Iraq a bunch and had a new baby and just needed some time to decompress. We also loved to hike, cross-country ski, mountain bike and explore so we wanted to combine our love for the outdoors with a small business that we could pursue while deciding what to do with the rest of our lives.

What is the purpose of Just Trails?

Our goal was and always will be to help people explore. We had noticed that wherever the Army sent us we had a hard time finding accurate and useful trail information so we spent our precious weekends researching where to go instead of actually exploring. So our goal was to map out every single trail in Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado to provide a mega data base of local trail information.

What made you decide to initiate this enterprise?

Honestly I think we were just in this weird transition phase after leaving the Army where we just weren’t quite sure what to do. We had saved some money and wanted to work for ourselves so we just went for it.

How has it been like for you running this enterprise?

It’s been amazing. It’s been hard and we’ve learned that it’s not a sustainable business model, so we made a lot of mistakes financially. But at the same time everyone in our local area knows that they can find reliable trail information on our website so it’s quite popular locally. I don’t really know what the future looks like for Just Trails but we really enjoy it.

What do you enjoy about your role in running Just Trails?

I like working closely with my husband on a project. I think it’s been good for our marriage, it’s taught us both how to communicate with each other better.

What are some challenges?

The biggest challenge is funding Just Trails. After a few years with my husband and I running it together we decided that he needed to go back to school and find other employment, so for the past 2 1/2 years while he’s been in law school the bulk of the work has fallen on me. As a result we haven’t been able to put up any new trail maps, or launch a few other projects we have brewing on the back burner. But we’re hoping to hire a few employees someday to help us expand and grow. There’s interest in it, it’s just a matter of being strategic with our funds.

How did you overcome them?

I think it helps to have a long term vision and strategy. We’ve built the brand, we have a solid reputation, the next step is just growing smartly. We’ve cash-flowed the business and are committed to keeping it debt-free. Because we want to keep the risk low it limits the speed by which we can grow and expand.

What 3 tips would you give to outdoors women who are thinking of starting an outdoors-related business?

Chose your business partner wisely. Have a plan. Don’t go into debt, it’s just not worth it.

How do you define success as an entrepreneur?

Do you work hard to provide a good service that helps people? If so then you are a success.

What keeps you motivated in running a business?

I guess it’s selfish but I really like being my own boss, I don’t really want to work for someone else.

How hard is it for a female to run a business in this niche?  Any challenges?

Since it’s been a partnership from day #1 I haven’t noticed any challenges related to being a female. I like to think that if you want to pursue your passion and work hard nothing will stop you.

As I met Rebecca through her organization, Hike Like a Woman, I definitely had to ask her about HLAW, its beginnings and  how she envisions it evolving over time.

What inspired you to start HLAW and tell us about its mission?

A few years ago I felt like I needed to find my own voice in the outdoor community so I started HLAW.  The mission of HLAW is to build a community of outdoor women inspiring each other with stories, tips and advice.

Where do you see the group heading in the future?

My ultimate goal is to have all-women guided trips and tours. I’d especially like to start something geared toward helping female Veterans, because as a Veteran myself I know that there’s a huge need for that.  But HLAW trips, tours, retreats –  it’s on my horizon. For now, however, I just want to keep building the community, sharing experiences and providing good information for outdoor women.

You have successfully launched a community for women in the outdoors.  Can you share what factors led to the success of HLAW?

Bringing a group of women on board as Ambassadors & Contributors to help share their experiences is the first thing that comes to mind. It helps the website feel less about me and more about the community. The next thing would be partnering and collaborating with other outdoor bloggers, especially my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama. I love bouncing ideas off of her and a few others. The last thing would be to know your people, I have a photo shared by one of my readers. She’s a heavy-set middle aged woman who hikes in a blue jeans, she’s a real woman. Her photo is printed off and I look at it when I write blog posts and record podcast episodes. She reminds me to speak to her when I write and podcast. It’s not about her, it’s about the thousands of women just like her who read my blog and listen to my podcast.

Rebecca then shares with us some of her favorite moments through HLAW

Since it’s a visual community one of my favorite moments was the first time when my group of Ambassadors hopped on a google hangout. It was like meeting my readers for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling.  

See the article HERE.

What have been some of the challenges along the way in running HLAW?

Sometimes I get haters and everyone is always pointing out typos. I do my best but I’m not perfect. If someone wants perfect I’d prefer the they didn’t read my blog 😉 If someone wants honest and real, then they are in the right place.

Tell us about some of the upcoming projects for HLAW.

I launched the podcast earlier in December, 2016. Growing the podcast and getting to know my readers is my goal for 2017. In 2018, I’d like to take the show on the road and maybe travel across the country hiking and interviewing inspiring outdoor women.  Maybe a kickstarter is in my future.

You have expanded the HLAW community through the creation of the Ambassador program. How does it work?

Last summer I took Darley Newman, the host of Adventures With Darley, a show on PBS on a hike when she was in town filming an episode of her show. I noticed that while the show had her name in it, it wasn’t about her. It was about the areas she was exploring and the locals who were guiding her. At the time I decided that I needed to change HLAW, it needed to be a place that wasn’t about me, that’s boring. It needed to be a place where others could come and share their stories. So I invited my community to apply for a chance to be an Ambassador for HLAW, basically someone to contribute to the website and be more involved with planning on the back end. I thought no one would apply but 118 women did! I selected 35 of them from all over the world. Since the program is new I’ve decided to add a group of contributors, as well.

How can women get more involved with HLAW?

Definitely follow along the website and hang out with us on Facebook 🙂

This is a photo from a trip last winter where we skied or snowshoed into backcountry cabin for the weekend. There was wine, chocolate and a lot of fun.

You also write yourself.  To date, which piece of writing by you is your favorite? 

Speaking of haters, a few years ago I published a post about hiking with kids on HLAW. One women freaked out about it in Facebook, she said something about how it was dangerous to hike with kids. Her comment got me all sorts of fired up so I wrote a post called, “Why I Put My Babies At Risk By Taking Them Hiking” it’s been my most popular post to date. And while I wrote it out of anger, it was super honest and I think that’s why people love (or hate) the post.

What advise would you give to female bloggers who are new to writing or blogging?

Find a blogging mentor, someone who has been around that you can throw ideas at or find a blogging group that is supportive and fun.

Share with us your favorite quote that keeps you going whether on or off the trail.

“What if you fall, but darling what if you fly?

                                                      -Erin Hanson

How do you see yourself in 5 years with HLAW, Just Trails and Little Laramie Hikers?

I hope I’m just still getting outside as much as possible, encouraging others to get outside and having fun.

I love camping with my family and just being able to unplug and focus on what’s most important in my life, them.

On that note, I think it’s clear that Rebecca’s passion for the outdoors will continue forward for a lifetime and is easily a calling for her.  Not only does she create the world that is safe and supportive for us women hikers but also she lives life true to her passion for trekking.  That, in and of itself, is the real inspiration that she sheds on all of us.

Going back to my initial thoughts before discovering HLAW and knowing Rebecca, I’m happy to say that they have dissipated in my mind.  After all, the hiking world turns out to be pretty darn amazing for women!  I’m no longer the only insane person who is obsessed over hiking and neither am I alone in my continued pursuit of my own calling and commitment to living an authentic life.

Thanks, Rebecca!  I look forward to seeing you flourish in your momentum of empowering women.  I can’t wait to see your creative ideas come to fruition as you forge ahead to inspire the hiking community.

You can follow Rebecca via Hike Like a Woman and Just Trails.

Hike Like a Woman is one of the collaborators for BGT’s Film Project, Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks.  Learn more about the project here.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS SERIES, OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES or FREEDOMEPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Kaila & Wyatt

One is never too old to hike.  But then, can one ever be “too young” to hike? 

Our next feature, Kaila, found inspiration from hiking through making a choice to live a healthy lifestyle and discovered hiking in her adult life.  However, joining Kaila, is her 4 year old son, Wyatt, who started hiking at 8 months!  Of course, not literally as he was too young to walk then but his parents have exposed him to the outdoors from that very young age.   So, are you ever too young to love the outdoors?  According to Wyatt, no.

Before officially meeting Kaila and Wyatt, my first encounter with Wyatt was through reading a Huffington Post article on him.  Wyatt aims to hike Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia’s Borneo – the  youngest to do so.  I personally did a solo hike of Mt. Kinabalu years back and it’s a strenuous trail not to be taken lightly as it goes as high as over 13,000 feet.  Luckily, it appears his parents are mindful of his safety and deems that to be the number one priority.  Wyatt’s pursuit of hiking and just being in the outdoors is certainly inspiring for the young and old alike.  Also, it’s a testament to the fact that having kids should not halt our passion for the outdoors as adults, especially for women.  After all, it’s the healthiest way to raise a young person.   So, I’m rather excited to hear from both Kaila and Wyatt about how hiking has been instrumental in their lives.  In addition, their hiking stories take us to the Philippines and Asia (for now).  In case you do wonder if there are trails to trek in that part of the world, the answer is yes, most definitely!  It’s not the easiest terrain either with frequent muddy conditions and steep climbs.  Nonetheless, it’s a heavenly place for any avid hiker.

Outdoor  Woman’s Voice

Kaila (& Wyatt)

Kaila Sharlene de los Reyes – Bedural was born in Santa Cruz, Manila and grew up in Quiapo, Manila.  She is currently residing in San Pedro, a city in the province of Laguna.  Kaila is a freelance web developer, web designer, SEO specialist, and marketer.   Kaila started hiking in 2011.  She hikes in nearby mountains and around Batangas, Laguna and Rizal as time allows.  She also has ventured into the Cordillera mountains in Benguet and explored some of the peaks in Mindanao.  When off trails, Kaily loves collecting banknotes of the countries she has visited and old Philippine banknotes.

How did you discover hiking?

I saw the hiking photos of my officemates and I suddenly feel envious with them. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to join but I suddenly got invited by one of them, so I immediately said yes!  After that, I didn’t join them anymore and I just searched for groups and events on facebook where I could join and I eventually became a solo hiker.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I was born and grew up in a city so I seldom experience being with nature during my childhood and teenage days. When hiking, I loved how I can see different views of nature. Also, there’s an overwhelming joy once you reach the top of the mountain. Next, it helped me have a healthy lifestyle. Our family is prone to being obese. In fact, I’ve been overweight since I was a child. But because of hiking, I’ve lost a lot of weight. However, in 2015 when I became too busy with work and we seldom went hiking, I gained back some pounds again. Third, hiking helps me relieved some stress, especially when spending the night camping in the mountain. Fourth, hiking is our major family bonding.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more? 

When I didn’t have my own family yet, I enjoyed hiking solo. Hiking with big groups delayed the itinerary and I want to follow my own pace. If spending the night in the mountains, sometimes it’s too noisy at the campsite if there are too many people. So without a doubt, I loved hiking alone. However, it changed when I’ve got a husband and a baby. Hiking as a family is the most enjoyable thing for me now. I no longer care about my own pacing because we enjoyed every step with our Wyatt.

Kaila shares with us 3 places locally and abroad that she and Wyatt have hiked. 

Fansipan in Sapa Town Lao Cai, Vietnam is our first ever hike outside the Philippines. It is called the “Roof of Indochina”. It was winter season (December) when we went there and although there’s no snow, the climate is really cold especially at the top. But we’re prepared and equipped with proper gears so we didn’t worry about the cold weather.

Next is Mt. Talomo traverse to Mt. Apo. It is known as Mindanao Megatraverse because of its tough trails. Mt. Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines and potentially-active strato-volcano. There are a lot of trails to get there like the Kapatagan trail (easiest), Kidapawan trail (a little challenging) and a lot more. We did the Mt. Talomo-Apo traverse when we decided to hike Mt. Apo because it’s like hitting two birds in one stone. Before getting to Mt. Apo, you have to hike a series of mountain peaks so it’s hard. The usual itinerary for it is 4 days and 3 nights. But because we have a toddler with us, we extend the itinerary to 5 days and 4 nights

Third is Mt. Ulap Eco Trail. It is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Philippines because of its spectacular views. There are pine trees, grasslands, ridge, hanging bridge and you can also see burial caves. It is just near Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Never underestimate the mountain. Be prepared always. Learn not only the basics of hiking but also the advanced skills. Have more patience.

What advise would you give to women who are new to hiking?

Enjoy the trail and the nature in general. These are the things that no amount of money can buy. So we, as a family, invest on these experiences rather than gadgets and other unnecessary things in life.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

Every hike is memorable for us. But the most memorable perhaps is our Mt. Kitanglad traverse to Mt. Dulang-Dulang. It is also a tough hiking trail in the Philippines. And because we have a toddler with us, it is much harder than usual. The weather forecast in the place was sunny but we still experienced moderate to heavy rain in the middle of the trek. We couldn’t go back anymore because we’re too far already so we have no choice but to go. There are steep descents and ascents so we have to use ropes. There’s a part with big rock with cliffs on both sides. An existing rope is available but it’s too muddy making it slippery. Same goes with the rock. We couldn’t ask any help as well because the local guide already went ahead of us and there are no other hikers during that time. I wasn’t afraid for myself but for my husband and our little one. I went first and I managed to surpass that obstacle. While at the top, I kept praying to God and saints to protect both of them. Thankfully, nothing bad happened.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

We have lined up Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, then Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hong Kong for 2017. Hopefully, more international climbs for 2018. Nothing specific yet because we’re just relying on promo fares and we’ll go whichever place I get the most affordable fare. Of course for the bucket list, we have the Himalayas – Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp; but that’s too expensive so not a priority.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker? 

When I was still a single woman, there are people who underestimated my capabilities as a female. I was turned down to join a hike simply because I was a newbie and a woman; they thought that I couldn’t do it. I felt so hurt so I decided to go on my own way and proved to them that I can do it just like them (men).

Wyatt

When did Wyatt start hiking?

He was only 8 months old when we brought him to our hiking activity.

How did he get started on hiking?

When we already knew that I was pregnant, we stopped all the outdoor activities until my CS wound was completely healed. We were on hiatus for about 1 year and 5 months. We really wanted to go back to what we used to do before and we really missed outdoor activities. We don’t have a nanny for Wyatt, and since there are only three of us in the house, we decided to go camping with our baby. Surprisingly, Wyatt showed interest being one with nature. He’s really happy with the trees, the environment, and the people we meet on the trail. The funny part is that he didn’t want us to stop walking. Yes, he didn’t want to rest. We had fun climbing together as a family so we decided to do it often when the schedule and budget permit. Aside from the fun that climbing brings, we noticed that Wyatt’s stamina is getting stronger and he was able to resist a lot of sickness. Unlike other kids, he seldom gets sick and never been hospitalized.

What trails has Wyatt hiked to date?

A lot. 43 mountains as of this writing. You can find his hiking log here: http://www.wyattmaktrav.com/climb-log/

What is the terrain like for these hikes?

Mountainous, grasslands, mossy forest, open fields, muddy trail, and river crossings.

How do you coordinate and plan his hikes?

Of course, extensive preparation has been done before we go on a climb. We consider the type of mountain whether it’s only a dayhike or a multi-day climb. We avoid mountains that are rocky and have limatiks (leeches). We choose mountains where baby Wyatt can walk/climb by himself in most parts. As a result, his legs are full of muscles even as a baby. There are more preparations in major climbs because we need to make sure that we won’t run out of supplies for the entire duration of the hike. Aside from the allotted food for the estimated days, we also have some buffer supplies (emergency food) just in case there are unexpected circumstances. We have to know the weather forecast on the location of the mountain, although we know that mountain has its own weather that we can’t control. In fact, we have scheduled climbs in the past that we aborted due to bad weather in the area. We’re also searching for some locals in the area who will assist us, especially for the logistics such as the transportation going to the jump-off and processing of permits so that our focus will be on our internal preparation – mostly for our baby.

As parents, how do you ensure his safety?

We carefully choose the trails that we will hike. As parents, we don’t want him to be in danger. So when hiking, both of us are very attentive to his every step. If there are hard parts on the trail and he’s too tired, we carry him. If the mountain is a major one, we used to seek help from friends to accompany us so we have somebody to rely on in terms of cooking of meals, etc. so our focus is purely on our son. We also take time in the trail. Before, we used to run but now, we just follow our son’s pacing. Very enjoyable!

You also launched a website – what is the goal for your site?

At first, it was a private site because Ed and I were both busy so we couldn’t write anything to be published on that blog. We just wanted to compile Wyatt’s photos of his climbs, travel and other adventures through it. I’ve purchased a domain with his name and made it public in May, 2016. Then eventually, the website helped us establish media presence for Wyatt (TV shows, magazines, and other blogs).

How has the outdoors community responded to your son’s love for hiking?

We’ve been receiving both positive and negative comments about bringing our child in the mountains. For the positive comments, they said they are inspired, amazed and wanted to do the same. For the negative, there’s a lot. They said we are putting our child into danger, some even said we’re not a good example, that it’s a bad parenting, etc. Even so, we’re not really affected with the negative comments because they don’t know us, they don’t know what kind of preparation we do, and they didn’t experience it themselves.

You can read more about this topic via this article on Wyatt’s website.  What future hikes do you have planned for Wyatt?

For nearby mountains, we usually go unexpected. For those that need airfare tickets, I’ve already booked promo fares in advance so we have plans for Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia (May), Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hongkong (July).

What are some of Wyatt’s favorite hikes?

 Wyatt loves water so his favorite hikes are those with falls, river, and lake.

What advise do you have for parents who have a child who’s interested in hiking and who wish to start going outdoors?

Hiking with a child, let alone a toddler or infant, is not an easy task. So if you are interested to start going outdoors with your child, make sure that you have tried it yourself. The most important thing is that both parents should love what they are doing. Be prepared not only with the supplies but also physically and emotionally.

It’s been a pleasure to have Kaila and Wyatt on this feature and learning more about the hiking life in the Philippines.   The outdoors are meant for any age and stage of life as long as preparations are made.  Wyatt sure has more hikes to pursue and so it’s worth following him via his social media accounts:  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.  You can also read about Wyatt’s adventures via his own blog.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

HIKER’S PARADISE: Meteora, Greece

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

METEORA, GREECE

by Romy of Brunette at Sunset

Before I get into the hiking trails, I have to tell you a bit more about Meteora. Meteora is an incredible phenomenon in Greece. A landscape where the wonders of nature and man meet. Rock formations form this landscape and monasteries were build on top of them. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Monks had to climb the rocks to reach them as there where no stairs then. It somewhat of a mystery how they did it. They must have been incredible rock climbers, because the rocks are steep!

Many people come just to visit the monasteries, but this area has some of the most scenic hiking trails. You can walk the trails that monks may have used centuries ago. Some of the trails are more challenging than others, but they are all beautiful. This place feels magical and I’m sure the monks felt that magic and serenity when they build the monasteries. A couple of the trails lead up to one of the monasteries and a few up the rocks in the area. I’d highly recommend:

Aghio Pnevma

One of my favorite hikes was up the Aghio Pnevma rock, also known as the Holy Spirit. There are a couple of companies advertising hiking tours, but this is one you can easily do yourself. Our hotel staff told us we could do the trail in about an hour, but it definitely took us a lot longer than that. I’ll leave it up to you to judge if the hotel staff was wrong or if we were just out of shape;) The rock is situated in the middle of the valley. Early on in the trail you already get to see amazing views of the monasteries. When you continue you’ll eventually reach a gate, but don’t worry, it is open! You can just open the gate and continue. A rugged trail leads to the top where you can find caves that were once used as prisons for monks. Take a short moment to imagine what it must have been like for the monks to be locked up there, before you finish the trail. You’ll have to climb the last bit of the rock to reach the flag on top. From the top you’ll have breathtaking views in every direction.

How long do you need?

A lot of tour groups have stopover in Meteora for just a few hours, but they are crazy in my opinion! I would recommend at least 2 to 3 days. You need at least one day just to visit the monasteries and maybe do a tour to get to know the history of this magical place. There are a lot of incredible legends. The other days you can explore the hiking trails and view the area from a different perspective.

How to get there:

You will probably arrive in Athens. I would recommend booking the train from there. The train takes about 4 hours to get to Meteora. Just make sure you make the reservation well in advance, because they sell out quickly. We were the suckers that were too late to book the train and had to take the bus. The bus takes about 5 hours and is harder to get to. There’s no easy way to get to the bus station in Athens so we ended up taking an uber there.

 If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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Fire & Zen: STROMBOLI

Stromboli was special. It always will be.  On my journey through Europe, I was trying to decide where I wanted to spend the last year of my being in my 30s.  Stromboli was my birthday peak.  I wanted something that wasn’t a major chain of mountains to trek; rather something a bit simpler. What can be more appealing than hiking up one of the most active volcanoes in the world to witness it spurt lava and smoke?  Hence, Stromboli.

IMG_20160520_112440

I was actually in the middle of trekking in the Dolomites when I went to Stromboli. In a way, it wasn’t the most efficient means of traveling as after Stromboli, I returned to the Dolomites to do the Alta Via 1 trail.  Nonetheless, I was very glad I took that break in terms of scenery.  I ended up spending time checking out Sicily as well, and some of the Aeolian Islands which were beautiful in their own right. Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands and so riding the boat is the way to get there.  Luckily, the island still has cheap stays for budget travelers like me as I found a dorm bed stay for less than $30 per night.  The rest of the options appears to be pricey.  As I settled into my dorm bed shared with 4 others, I booked a night hiking tour to the top of Stromboli.  One can easily book it via local operators in the main center of town.

I only had a few days to spend in Stromboli and the plan was simply to go hike up the volcano and witness the crater and lava.  I was told by the locals that Stromboli had been quiet lately and that there might not be so much to observe on the top. However, it turned out in reaching the peak of the volcano, I was treated to a few bursts of eruptions here and there as I stood with the crowd at a safe distance from the fuming crater.  In addition, the sun was setting behind the clouds.   After sometime just watching the fire show and the sun setting, we then descended with our headlamps via the volcanic scree-filled trail and made it back to town in no time.   The hike up started around 4 p.m. and it took 2 hours or so to get to the top.  The hike up was quite pleasant but the going down another path of very loose scree was a bit tough on the knees and you do it in the dark! My birthday could not get any better than that.

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Well, it did actually.  Stromboli had the ambience of a small community of nature lovers and adventurers.  I met some locals who used to be tourists themselves but fell in love with the island that they either decided to make the place their own or they frequented it so often over the years or decades that they had to proclaim themselves to be natives at this point.

IMG_20160520_112328Stromboli’s streets are narrow with a small town where everyone can be seen at the end of the day drinking or eating after a day of beaching or hiking.  There are plenty of sandy black beaches to be had.  I must confess I’m not a big fan of black sand beaches and I didn’t expect to like Stromboli’s beaches for that reason. However, I fell in love with the beaches in Stromboli. The water was so clear (even though rather cold) and something about that combined with the sand that comes from the volcano itself made it so “earthy” and “pure.”  The island’s inhabitants are unsurprisingly earthy themselves as they believe in preserving the beauty of Stromboli.  There are no cars in Stromboli – just golf carts.  In the event of an eruption, the locals have been trained how to evacuate the island for safety.  Conserving electricity and water is a must.  Time moves slowly in Stromboli, and in fact, it is such a small place that you can easily see everything in just a few days.  Beyond that, you will be living day to day on the same routine – hitting the beach, strolling into the town center to eat, and jogging/hiking around.  But that’s what makes Stromboli special.  One can indulge in silence and peace; the means to meditating and spending time within yourself.   And if you wish to know – no internet!  The inner peace was reflected back to me by the locals.  No stress in Stromboli, unless of course there is ever a major eruption.

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What strikes me about the people who have decided to make the island their home is how they seem to be excited and fueled by the notion of danger associated with living on this island.  Because of the potential for life to end anytime mother nature chooses so, they are living their lives in the moment and happy at that.  No one I encountered on this island talked about what they plan to do the next day or month or year.  They simply sat next to you and stared at the sunset or the water or the fumes coming out of the volcano.  Once in a while I made a mundane comment, “what a nice sunset,” to which the other replied, “but it’s always like that every night.”  “And what about the volcano’s fumes?”, I’d asked further to which the other would say, “Oh, she does her own thing…we can never predict.  That’s why I love it here.”  “Of course,” which I said with a smile.  “Me too.  I’d love to come back,” I thought to myself.

Compared to other parts of Italy, Stromboli doesn’t get as much tourism.  But if you manage to go which I think you should, I promise there is some major beauty to be had.  So, see the photos of the lava below, but better yet, see them in person if you ever get a chance.  It isn’t the easiest place to get to within the country but it is truly unforgettable in its own right.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Victoria “Vix” Harris

In the years I’ve been trekking, I’ve been wanting to use the activity itself as a means to an end, not only for the purposes of taking people to trek globally through my social enterprise, but also to support a cause and be an agent of “change.”  When I met Vix on one of the social media sites and learned about her project to do a solo trek  of a lesser known long distance trail in Jordan to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, I quickly gained interest in her project.

For one, I am a believer in utilizing our experience outdoors as a way to have a positive impact on others.  Secondly, Vix’s idea for a project is not new to me since I intend to do a trek of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal to interview women in the villages along the GHT as a way to share with the world their voices through a documentary or a book publication.  Knowing that such an endeavor requires determination, meticulous planning, stubborness and enormous amount of time, I can completely relate to Vix’s aspirations of supporting a cause while undertaking a major trek in the process.

Without a doubt, I admire her courage to pursue this on her own and her deliberate intention to make a difference in the world in doing so, especially in the current global state that we’re all in.  I’m excitedly anticipating the start of her journey which is set to commence in April, 2017 and will for sure be following Vix as she does a solo trek of a newly developed trail in Jordan.  Let’s hear from her directly about this project and her hiking life.

Feature Outdoor Women’s Voices


Victoria “Vix” Harris grew up in Scotland, but have been nomadic for the last 10 years.  At the time of her interview, she noted she’s in West Africa but then will be heading to Geneva before returning to Cape Town, where she will live for 3  months.  Currently, Vix is wrapping up some Ebola projects for work and planning an epic 640 km solo hike through Jordan to raise £6400 for Doctors Without Borders.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in the Scottish Highlands, in Helmsdale, a small fishing village on the ocean and surrounded by hills. I was a very hyperactive kid and I was always running, jumping and climbing trees. I would spend hours walking along the beach or climbing up hills. I learnt basic mountain skills through the local army cadets and Duke of Edinburgh Scheme  but after I graduated, I stopped hiking and didn’t pick it up again until I moved to Australia.

Learning to hike was harder the second time around. I was older and more cautious. I wanted so much to do a multi-day hike and to do it solo, but I had talked myself out of it so many times, I was convinced that I couldn’t. That was until I stayed with an avid outdoors friend, who basically told me to get over it and go do it. He lent me a bunch of gear and drove me into the Australian desert and left me there with a promise to pick me up in 4 days at the other end. I walked, I got blisters and got scared and maybe I sat down and cried. But I got up and walked and camped and met other hikers who also had blisters and had been lost and wanted to sit down and cry. A few days later, my friend picked me up, handed me a cider and laughed at my blisters. I had survived. And I was excited to do more.

Wild camp on the Larapinta trail during my first solo hiking adventure, nobody else around, just me the stars and a rather loud red kangaroo who came by to wake me up in the morning.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date? 

Every trip is memorable, there are moments from each hike that I find myself coming back to, time and time again but it’s the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of other hikers on the trail which is most memorable. I’ve been offered shelter from the weather, taken into people’s homes or yurts, carried across rivers by donkeys, brought home-cooked food and shared many fires, whiskies and tall tales. Other hikers have taught me lessons simply by allowing me to walk with them some of the way. It hasn’t mattered which country I’ve been in or if I could understand the local languages, it’s the people I remember most. The kindness of new friends and total strangers has made me more generous and giving myself.

The kindness of strangers in Kyrgyzstan – I speak very bare bones Russian yet I was welcomed and very well fed.

Kindness of strangers- yes, I couldn’t agree more on that.  It’s a universal fact that people, regardless of where they’re from, are by nature willing to help whenever and however they can.  

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like to be alone and self-reliant. I like the feeling of conquering something difficult where I’ve had to overcome my own fears or push my limits. I love those moments when you experience something special and you are the only person there to experience it. It could be a stunning sunrise or a surprise animal encounter but that moment is yours alone.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The outdoors has taught me how small I am in the world. I stand and look at 6000 meter mountain peaks and I’m a mere speck. Yet I know the smallest things can be the biggest motivators. When you think you are too small and insignificant to direct change remember that the tiny Scottish midge can motivate anyone to change their plans! And if you have never had the pleasure of a midge swarm at your beautiful Scottish wild camp you are not missing out.

What advice would you give to those new to hiking?

Take some lessons, there are great resources out there, or start with a group. The success of your hike comes down to preparation and safety: you have to know how to navigate and how to cope with bad weather and injuries. Hiking should be fun but you have to know how to avoid problems and how to cope with the unexpected. Knowing you have those skills means you are free to relax and enjoy the walk.

Vix shares with us her favorite hiking photos.

Facing your fears – This picture just can’t convey the pain of arriving at this spot or how steep this final section actually is. 25kms at over 4000 meters in altitude, one dead horse and the final ascent is a scree bowl. I have nightmares about this kind of terrain, I’m convinced all the rocks will just keep sliding and I’ll be cut to 1000 pieces falling down the mountain. But it has to be done, even if I hate every moment of it.

At least the view from the top was amazing! 80km, 6 days, 5 people, 4 passes between 3500m- 4800m, 3 kg of chanterelle mushrooms,  2 sore knees, 1 trek

Scotland in May! Overcoming this section of my walk across Scotland in 2015 really boosted my confidence. (It helped that only a dozen km away was a pub with an open fire and a large Scottish breakfast!)

River crossing selfie – one of the biggest challenges of hiking solo is getting any good action shots. Kidding. In Scotland, you have to be prepared to ford a river or two, which comes with obvious risks, but makes you feel like an absolute champion when you cross it safely.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Greenland, the Arctic Circle trail, 170km. It’s remote, beautiful and I know almost nothing about Greenland so I want to find out more.  

You can read more about Greenland here.

The Cape Wrath trail is my nemesis. It’s the trail I most want to experience, it’s almost on my Scottish doorstep and it’s a massive challenge because being remote you need excellent hill skills and to be confident wild camping. Then there is the weather which can destroy the best laid plans on a whim. And if you survive that there are always the dreaded midges. 

More information on Cape Wrath can be found here. 

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker? 

The most annoying thing on a trail is coming across a guy who thinks you shouldn’t be out there on your own. Oddly, these guys are usually on their own and that isn’t a problem, but they see me as a delicate liability. I’ve been told by an Australian ranger that I should turn back now as he doesn’t want to have to come out and rescue me later. I was 5 days into a multi-day trail, I had all the correct gear and nothing other than being female gave him the impression that I would get into trouble. I usually shrug and carry on, there is no point debating, and in the case of the ranger, I reported him at the park exit, the woman behind the desk knew exactly who I was describing. This was not the first time he has tried to send women back.

Ignoring the sexist ranger meant I got to enjoy this view during the only 5 minutes of sunshine on my 3 capes track walk.

Getting your period on a trail is challenging – do we talk about that?

Yes, YES! Please do so.  

The ethos of leave no trace includes sanitary products, and that means storing your waste and carrying it out, which let’s be honest, is a bit gross. I’m not a fan of menstrual cups as keeping them clean in the backcountry can be difficult, but others swear by them. If I can’t avoid hiking on my period I carry spare ziplock bags and make sure they are packed careful away from my food, then dispose of them when I reach civilization. But that is only half the problem, you won’t be able to keep the same hygiene standards in remote areas especially if water is scarce. Wet wipes are great, remember to carry out the waste too, it’s a pain having to carry extra weight and but nobody wants an unwelcome yeast infection or UTI.

Even finding a concealed spot on a trail to deal with these and bathroom issues can be difficult if hiking a busy trail or with others. Sometimes you just have to get on with it…. Or buy a she-wee.

Or a Go Girl which I personally took with me on my one year trekking trip.  Also, just so you know the ladies from Animosa have developed a solution to address some of the sanitary issues.  The hassles of being a woman on the trail are clearly self-evident.  

I’d like to move on to the future trek in the horizon for our feature.  Vix is set to trek  640 kilometer of the Jordan trail over a period of 30 plus days, which will commence in April of 2017.  This trek aims to raise fund for Doctors Without Borders.

Tell us about this upcoming trekking trip you have in mind?

I will be walking the 640km of the Jordan trail. it starts in Um Qais and ends with a dive into the red sea. The trail traverses the length of the country and one of the highlights is hiking into the ancient and world-famous city of  Petra. The trail was developed with the support of USAID and only opened in its entirety in 2016. So far, nobody has done the walk solo, (although I’m sure that will change before I get there) and only 3 women have completed the whole trail in one go. I’m going to do the whole trip on my own but I will take rest days especially in Petra so I can do some sightseeing and eat some of the amazing Jordanian foods.

You can learn more about the trail HERE. 

What is the itinerary like?

The trail should take me around 33 days to walk end to end and I hope I can do it in less time by using a light and fast approach. But, I don’t want to push myself too hard and fail early so I’ll play it by ear depending on the weather and how many of the sights I want to take in along the way. It could take up to 40 days.

What are the logistics?

When I arrive in Jordan I will have to pick up some last minute items such as stove fuel and then drive to Petra to drop of a resupply box and a number of water containers with a local guesthouse. Then I can drive back and head to the start of the trail in Um Qais. 

For the first time, I’ll have to navigate 100% using GPS as there are no detailed maps of the trail have been published yet. I’ll need to carry a backup GPS as well as new batteries. And a compass, just in case.

Tell us about the accommodations along the way? 

I plan to mostly wild camp, but also to regularly stay at guesthouse stays so I can shower and get an amazing cooked meal. The Jordan trail website has all the details for guesthouses along the route. I’m going to be carrying my sleeping bag, a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and yes, a pillow. Comfort is important on long walks so I’ll be able to camp when I find a nice spot or carry on to a village guesthouse.

I plan to stay a few nights in Petra, where I will spend my days visiting the Petra site and eating my way through the Jordanian menu!

How do you deal with the food and water?

For the first part of the walk, down to Petra, water and food can be found in numerous small villages which the trail passes through. Although I will still have to carry a lot of water, I expect it to be similar to hiking in the Australian outback where I carried 5L as standard – that really makes your pack feel like a brick after refilling everything! I am looking forward to the Jordanian food, I’ve just found out about Kanafah, a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, which I am super excited to try. I might actually gain weight while hiking!

For the second part I will need to hire a driver who is familiar with the trail, to fill water containers and drop them into the desert along the trail so I can refill when I walk to the spot. This will give me an additional safety margin in the remote region. During this stage I’ll rely on dehydrated foods and shed the extra weight gained in Petra.

Will you be receiving any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?

I’m not receiving any formal help but so far, everyone has been very helpful. The folks responsible for the Jordan trail are providing advice and contact details for drivers familiar with the trail and on social media several people have reached out and offered advice and help when I am in Jordan. Again, I’m relying on the kindness of strangers and I will welcome all the support I can get!

How did you come up with this idea of a trek/project?

I love to travel. I travel for work more than I stay home, but I needed a personal challenge and wanted to take on a new hike. At the same time I didn’t know where to go. Being a geek I set criteria, the hike had to be over 500km in length and in a country, I had never visited. When I thought about Jordan, I knew I’d found my next destination. The trail is new, but well-documented on their webpage, and not yet crowded with thousands of reviews of every step along the way. There’s still a lot to discover. Also the thought of walking into Petra, really grabbed my imagination.

In Swaziland.
In Ethiopia.
In South Africa.

What inspired you to do this?

I woke up and realized that if I want to see change, I have to act as if I can effect change – hence “be the change you want to see”. I hope I can reach out to others who want change, who want to help, but don’t know how. I’ll walk the walk so they don’t have to!

What is the purpose?

I want to “be the change I want to see.”  To me, that means doing something more than clickbait social activism.  I want to walk the walk and not talk the talk. I can’t just sit and watch as the world builds walls and demonizes groups of people. I can’t solve those issues myself but I can do more than repost angry tweets by raising money for a cause I believe in so people with the right skills can reach and help more people.

Why are you doing this SOLO as opposed to group?

I’m doing this solo because I prefer to walk alone, although I’m not sure I could persuade any of my friends to come along if I asked them. They all support me, but mostly they think I’m a little crazy.

Have you hiked solo before? 

I usually hike solo as a preference, I’ve walked across Scotland and several Australian trails. I love setting up for a wild camp and being the only person around, where possible I use a bivvy so really can sleep under the stars.

How would you measure the success of this project?

Initially, I thought I would aim to raise £640 just £1 per KM of then trail, but my mum hearing my plans, offered to donate £500, basically my wedding fund, to the project. At first I thought she was offering to donate it if I didn’t do the walk! But happily it turned out she is really 100% behind me. Then my friends and family chipped in more and I broke the initial £640 in a few days. So now I am aiming to raise £10 per Km I have to walk, a total of £6400.

What do you hope to accomplish on a more personal level?

Other than raising funds, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy Jordan and meet people along the way. I want to do the walk safely and dive into the Red Sea at the end of the trip. I want to walk every step of the way, so no cheating and hitching when the trail follows a road! Safety first, then fun will come and completion is a bonus.

What do you anticipate to be the challenges? 

The biggest challenge for me is being active and engaged on social media and contacting people to support my cause. I’m a science nerdy lab rat, not a social butterfly, so I don’t have a huge media following, I’m not famous and I’m not setting out to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro which everyone has heard of. But I have set a huge goal which I won’t reach with donations from friends and family alone so I have to be bold, loud and proactive. And that is scary. But I’m putting myself out there anyway and I’m already surprised by the generosity and kindness of strangers.

It’s great news indeed to know how supportive folks are for this kind of project.  Given that there are tons of options for organizations to choose from in terms of fundraising, I wonder how she decided to support Doctors Without Borders (or Medicines Sans Frontiers).  Her response echoes my own sentiment about the current struggles around the world and the feeling of helplessness and search for empowerment as individuals.  

I didn’t decide to raise money for Medicines Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders until after I knew I wanted to hike the Jordan trail. I was frustrated at the world and feeling powerless in the face of Brexit, the American elections, the war in Syria, the escalating humanitarian crisis in Burundi and so many other terrible situations. I can’t personally change these things, But I can donate to an organization that helps people around the globe and that shares my values. I’ve worked with MSF three times and seen firsthand that almost all money donated to MSF goes directly to saving lives, instead of big salaries or fundraising appeals. They won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work but they still need more support to help more people. Because of their neutral and independent stance, they do not accept money from governments, and instead they rely on the public. As some governments build walls and fences and cut aid spending, MSF will become more and more vital to those in need.

You can read more about the reasons why Vix is supporting Doctors Without Borders via this ARTICLE. 

Curious and wish to track Vix’s project before the trek?  She’s put in some serious time to create this outline below.  

Vix is raising the funds through JUST GIVING. 

She’s also hoping to raise some funds from personal collections after the trek by giving a couple of talks which have yet to be arranged. All funds raised will go directly to Doctors Without Borders or MSF.  Not one penny will be spent by Vix to fund her trip.  She also intends to add to the donation funds any gratuities she receives during the trek via free food, accommodation and other expenses as saved cost.

How can individuals support you on this project?

You can support by sponsoring me per KM for just £10. In return you can request something from me on the trek.  For example, I can dedicate KM 100 in your name as posted on my social media, or you can ask for a specific picture at a certain place, or challenge me to do 20 push-ups on film when I reach your KM. You can be creative, as long as it’s respectful.

To support Vix’s project, you can either help her through spreading the word about her project or via donation HERE It’s a secure website and donations from UK have a bonus 25% gift aid tax relief that allows UK charities to reclaim an extra 25% in tax on every eligible donation made by a UK taxpayer.  

Make sure to follow Vix’s journey via her blog, Vix’s Jordan Jaunt and through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Vix’s aspirations are truly inspiring.  I wish her the best, and the most life enriching adventure yet as I look forward to interviewing her again after her off the beaten path trekking experience! Until then…hit those trails, enjoy the journey to the fullest and leave nothing behind except a positive impact on the world.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Andrea of Andy in the World

We, hikers, are more similar than we think.  If you ever doubt that, please let me give you some arguments to support that statement.

I took one year to travel and trek.  Andy did as well.

I have trekked the Inca Trail.  Andy has done the same.

In fact, I’ll add Mont Blanc in Europe, Torres del Paine in Chile, Banff in Canada, Haleakala National Park in Maui and Yosemite.  We both have trekked in those places.

Add Kilimanjaro, South Africa and Nepal, which I’ve been to.  These three are on Andy’s bucket list.

Obviously, Andy and I have similar tastes when it comes to mountains.  Not only that, but we are also both fortunate to be part of the same supportive community of female hikers called Hike Like a Woman.  And, I’m quite happy to add, Andy is also part of the Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks project.  Who knew there is such a thing as being twins in the trekking world?  Well, now you know.  With all that said, I’m excited to share Andy’s hiking story.  She’s truly an adventurer and a source of inspiration; hence, I’m thrilled to have her featured on this series.   After all, Andy has already inspired a significant number of people.  Need some proof of that?  Check out her Facebook page and see for yourself her number of followers.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Andrea “Andy” Buzeta is from Kennesaw, GA who currently resides in Canton, GA.   Andy is back in the working world after a full year of traveling and hiking.  But not for long.  She already has some adventures in mind. Her next trip will be in Colorado for a week of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.   Locally, Andy hikes around North Georgia mountains, metro Atlanta and the Smokies.  She usually takes 1 to 2 hiking trips a year abroad or to a U.S. National Park.  When off the trails, Andy loves traveling that entails experiencing other cultures and cuisines.  She’s also fond of biking, kayaking, salsa dancing and reading.

How did you discover hiking?

I first started hiking 8 years ago- 2008. I had moved from the city (Atlanta) to the country (North Georgia) when I had first got married to my then husband. I was bored and having culture shock because there was nothing to do- no crowded bars and nightclubs, no international restaurants, it was even hard to find a gym. While I was out driving one day, I found Amicalola Falls State Park and hiked some of the trails.  Upon hearing that the Appalachian Trail starts there and goes all the way to Maine, I was fascinated!  Also the 2 mile loop I did with 600 stairs in the middle made me realize that I was out of shape!  It became my goal to be able to do that 2 mile loop without feeling like I was going to die.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

My most memorable hiking experience to date was my trip to Chile in January 2015.  It was supposed to be a 6 day backpacking trip called the “Trail of the Neighbors”, trekking Chile’s famous Futaleufu River Valley.  The trip would depart from near the little town of Futaleufu and take me to a camp located at the confluence of the Futaleufu and Azul rivers.  It would be a circumnavigation of the Teta peak along side the Espolon lake, while experiencing deep immersion of Patagonia culture with homestays in remote ranches. Well, that’s what I went to do.  But I ended up on an expedition from the Andes to the Ocean on horseback, because the route was too dangerous on foot. A volcanic eruption a few years before had left the route too dangerous, with rivers unsafe to cross on foot.  I later learned that this was a bucket list trip for horseback enthusiasts. I had never even rode a horse before. It was way out of my comfort zone to trust an animal to carry me up high mountain passes and to cross rushing rivers.

That’s quite a surprise – from walking to horse riding!  That’s why it’s memorable indeed.  

What do you like the most about hiking?

What I like most about hiking is the mental meditation that it is for me.  It completely clears my head and rids me of my anxieties.

I couldn’t agree more with that.  To me, the meditative part is the most alluring aspect of hiking.  

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

It depends.  I enjoy hiking solo more as a general rule, when I am just going out for a hike on the weekend.  On trips, especially international trips, I enjoy the group comraderie, meeting like-minded people from all over the world, and sharing the experience.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

First, to be truly present in the moment.  Put away the IPhone. Put one foot in front of the other, breathe in and out, see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the scents around you.  Second, some things seem impossible when really they aren’t, it is just your brain telling you so. For example I look at a pass and think wow, there is no way I’m going up and over that. But you just put one foot in front of the other and next thing you know, you’re there!  Third, when you’re lost and cannot find the way, sometimes prayer really is what works.

What advise would you give to women who are new to hiking?

1) Always go prepared- with water, rain gear, etc. 

2) Don’t not go hiking because you don’t have anyone to go with, go alone anyway. Start at your local state parks and get comfortable there, then you will have more confidence to venture out for hikes in other places.

Please share with us your 3 favorite hiking photos and the reasons why they are your favorites.

This is in Banff National Park, Canada, in July of 2014.  This was the day I went over my first real high mountain pass. I was very happy because I had accomplished something new. The scenery around me was so very beautiful!

This is going up Macchu Picchu Mountain in Peru, in April 2016.  This was a very challenging hike, because you have to climb 2000 stairs above 10,000 feet in altitude.  The air was thin and it was hot and humid.  But about halfway through I got this crazy second wind and zipped up to the top!

The next picture is from the Tour du Mont Blanc in August 2015.  This was right near the border of Switzerland and France. Our group was about to close the loop we started 10 days before. The weather was just gorgeous this day and I was enjoying every moment.

With all these beautiful trekking experiences you’ve had, what other treks do you still have on your bucket list?

I would like to do a trek in Nepal in the Everest region or Annapurna region.  I would also like to do a trek in Africa- either Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or something in South Africa.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

I love my Merrell Moab Waterproof shoes.  They have taken me all over the world.

Andrea shares with us 3 favorite trails.

In July 2016 I took a trip to Yosemite National Park in California and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Panorama trail, which starts at Glacier Point, passes Nevada Falls, and ends in Yosemite Valley.
 

In February 2016, I took a trip to Hawaii (Maui and Lanai) and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Sliding Sands trail in Haleakala National Park, which is a dormant volcano.  The terrain of this place is the closest you can be to walking on another planet!

In October 2015, I hiked a 100 kilometer section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, starting in Sarria and ending in Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.   This walk was 8 days, 2 of which were in the pouring rain.  This hike really tested me.  Even though the terrain was flat and much easier than trekking in the mountains, the 2 days of rain and amount of time walking on concrete really took its toll on my feet.  This was also my first solo trek.  On others I have typically gone with a group.  It was a great experience.

What was the toughest hike or trek you have done?

It was actually the section I did of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  It was physically more challenging to me because walking on flat terrain, sometimes paved, for longer distances was harder on my feet and legs than walking up and down mountains all day. I got leg cramps that I had never had before. I walked 2 full days in very heavy rain so I got blisters also. It was also mentally challenging. I expected to be meeting and connecting with lots of people, but the rain had everyone just trudging along only focused on getting to the next town. This was also my first solo trek, so when my phone died from getting too wet, it did increase my anxiety.

Yikes!  That is one heck of a blister.  I do agree with flat paved paths as a challenge.  I’ve had that same issue in the past myself as it can be mentally challenging due to the lack of variety of the trail.  

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

 No, not really.  On one of those really rainy days walking on the Camino, I did have a man pull over and offer me a ride to the next town.  I asked the pair of hikers behind me and the pair in front of me if he had offered a ride to them and they said no.  I’m pretty sure it was just a nice person offering me a ride, but being a female alone, my guard was up and I declined.

One last thing, Andy leaves us with her favorite quote from one of my favorite authors to inspire us all.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” 
                                       – Paulo Coelho

Andy manages to document all her adventures via her blog,  Andy in the World which launched in August of 2015.   In her blog, she documents not only the treks that she has done but also her non-trekking travels.  I do enjoy the fact that she is eclectic in that she does combine her love of the mountains with regular traveling.   With us being so similar in tastes and with my social enterprise (Peak Explorations), I get the sense our paths will cross sooner than later, and that’s something I look forward to!  Until then, you and I can follow Andy via her blog to see what mountain trails or cities she’s exploring.  And if you did end up checking her Facebook page earlier, you would then have discovered that she has over 17,000 followers!  Proof enough of her being a source of inspiration in the traveling and trekking world.

You can follow Andrea via her blog, Andy in the World and social media:  Facebook 

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FREEDOMPRENEUR: Cory of You Could Travel

Most of us can only imagine of a traveling lifestyle where one gets to travel frequently and have the financial resources to do so.  In the brief period I’ve been writing and connecting with other bloggers, it became apparent to me that there is a huge community of nomads, expats, lifelong travelers of every kind.  In the Freedompreneur series, my hope is to debunk the myth that it is close to impossible to live a life filled with travels.  With creativity, passion and perseverance, many aspiring nomads do achieve their dream of a traveling lifestyle.  This achievement is exemplified by our feature Freedompreneur, Cory Varga, from You Could Travel, a website that provides travel inspiration and advise.

Dreamy in Madeira, Portugal.

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Cory

When diving into the world of travel blogging, one can easily lose his or her way.  I don’t blame you.  It’s a rough blogging world, after all.  By luck, I met Cory via one of the blogger groups when I posted my search for features for the Freedompreneurs series.  Unbeknownst to Cory, I did know of her even before then due to an article she wrote that caught my attention.  The article,  aside from being well-written, somehow left an impression on me.  Her article spoke of the hurdles that bloggers face, and despite of it, deciding to to take the higher ground, nonetheless.  As a new blogger, I have yet to get a full understanding of how collaborations work with fellow bloggers.  Cory provided an opening for me to get somewhat of a view of how that world works.  Since reading that article, I have always kept Cory’s advise nearby as a resource for future mishaps in the world of blogging.

Cory Varga of You Could Travel

Nature in Seychelles.

Cory Varga is a Romanian born British citizen from Bristol, UK.  She   grew up in Bucharest, Romania.  She was an only child which enabled her “to keep all treats for herself and not having to share them with siblings (haha!).”  According to Cory, she had a very happy childhood as her mother dedicated 7 years to stay home with her, raise her and teach her about the world. As a child, they used to travel to the seaside and mountains a lot, which she believes made her the traveler that she is today.

Cory loves writing and photography.  She always had some sort of inclination towards arts, but her parents told her on many occasions that without mathematics and sciences, she can’t make a decent income. For many years, during school, she dedicated her time to learning mathematics and computer science, whilst using her spare time to visit art galleries, museums and read A LOT.   When she turned 18, she pursued her passion to learn languages whilst pursuing a degree in law with criminology. Years later, she settled for what she truly loves: design, photography and writing.  

Hence, it isn’t a surprise that You Could Travel came into existence.   Cory is a UX designer for her own digital studio in the UK, as well as, a travel blogger and photographer for You Could Travel, which she deems  as her epic soft adventure website.  Let’s learn more from Cory about her enterprise and traveling life.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

The answer is not quite as a black and white. Together with my husband, I own a digital studio in the UK, whereby I am the creative force in the office. This is my main source of income and I absolutely love designing. As a hobby, I started writing on my travel blog about my travels, whilst sharing my photography with friends and family. A few months later, my blog took off and became my second source of income. I am now sharing my time between both businesses so in a way, I work from 8am till 11pm.

What are your current plans?

I want to continue to grow both 42droids (my digital studio) and my travel website, You Could Travel. I also want to focus more on monetizing my photography skills.

In Madeira’s Pico Ruivo.

I’m curious to know more about You Could Travel. What led you to start your travel website?

It all started at the end of March 2016 when I decided to write down everything about my trip to Japan. Before visiting the country, I found little information about what a foreigner should actually be aware of. Beyond the tourists attractions and a few Japanese words, there is a lot I wish I knew prior to my arrival. I wanted to share this with the world. My website has only honest information, and I only write about personal experiences. I make mistakes so others don’t have to.

What is the mission of You Could Travel?

To encourage others to travel safely, learn new ways to enjoy various destinations and avoid making the mistakes I made during my trips. I want to educate through my blog.

What type of content do you have on your website?

I mainly write about my travels to Japan as this is my main niche. I am obsessed with this country and one day I hope to live there. I obtain my content based on personal experiences and I usually spend at least a week figuring out a proper travel itinerary. I read other blogs, books and ask around what’s best, then tailor this to my own requirements.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

The competition is fierce and sometimes I feel that blogs are about who shouts the loudest as opposed to ethical and quality writing. In the end, great content and a solid business plans wins the race.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I created a solid business plan, dedicated a lot of time A/B testing to ensure I know what works and what doesn’t. Also, I followed my gut and continued to create good content as opposed to short targeted articles.

Who or what helped you along the way to make your website a success?

I am grateful to several blogging communities from which I learned a lot about the business aspects of having a website. I spent a lot testing on my website to understand what works and I was not afraid to try new things. I kept an open mind and embraced useful advice.

Tell us more about your traveling life. How often do you travel?

I am keen on slow travel so I prefer to travel one month out of three, as opposed to travelling somewhere just for a weekend. As it stands, on average, I travel every month for at least a week.

Cory shares with us some amazing travel moments:

Mount Hiei when my husband proposed to me.

Tokyo arrival when we realized how amazing the city was.

Driving in Madeira because their roads are crazy narrow and sometimes close to 90 degrees upright.

How do you define success for You Could Travel?

The more visitors read my content, spend time interacting with my website and email me for further advice, the more successful I deem the website to me. Of course, I need to make a living so kind readers using my affiliate links make a difference, but I strongly believe that when people press that share button, it means my content left an impression. That is what my website was created for.

What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?

I discovered that I love a good challenge and I am relentless until something works the way I want it to. I also learned to be more patient, because let me tell you, I usually want things to happen yesterday!

How do you manage to afford traveling?

As I mentioned before, I make a living from my digital studio. Together with my husband, we offer a lot of fantastic digital services which clients love. This leads to more recommendations, which translate to more clients and ultimately more revenue. Since we own the studio, we can work from anywhere and are location independent. We also get clients though You Could Travel which helps us a lot.

Do you have other future projects in mind? Tell us about it.

We are redesigning 42droids Ltd and we can’t wait to put the new website live very soon! I also want to launch my own ecommerce brand. Next year I will have a space on You Could Travel dedicated to photojournalism, through which I want to sell my photography. Now that is what I’m mega excited about! Want even more? I have almost completed my first book and going to Japan for a month to research for my second one!

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursuing their passion?

Stop dwelling, stop finding excuses and just take the first step. Don’t be abrupt and change your life all of a sudden, but it is important that you take the first step towards following your dream. One step will lead to another, and then another, and ultimately, this is how we all start pursuing our passion.

The coastline of Madeira.

Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be? 

It really did. I was working a 9 to 5 job when I met my husband, already a freelancer who enjoyed a free lifestyle. Together we put together our digital studio and the moment we had our first client, I quit and never looked back since. There are a few downsides and you have to be cut for this lifestyle. Whoever tells you it’s all pink and flowers will lie to you. If you do it with you partner, you have to know you can work and live together almost 24/7. You have to be relentless and perseverant and know how to do your research. You have to be good with budgeting because you can have a huge contract today and nothing for 6 months down the line. It works for me and my husband and I would not do it any other way.

Are you living a life with more freedom now than before? 

Of course I am and it’s epic. I can take holidays whenever I want, budget the way I think is fit and have the flexibility to shop on a Thursday and work on a Sunday. Well, I do tend to work most of the time but that’s not a bad thing. The important part is that I can tailor my schedule to fit my needs and avoid busy times at the market, busy weekends in the mall or peak times on vacation. I can travel during the cheapest dates and work from anywhere in the world as long as I have internet.

Finally, any unique travel advise you can give everyone?

Don’t start travelling because you seek to discover who you are. Travel because you want to get to know the world, because I promise you one thing: by discovering the world, you will inevitably discover yourself.

To wrap it up, I asked Cory just a few more QUICK travel-related questions:

How many countries have you been to?

You know, I never kept count of this. Over 30 but the more you focus on quantity, you start forgetting about the quality.

What other countries are on your list?

Canada, Nepal and Mongolia.

Name one thing you miss the most when on the road?

My tea!

Which do you prefer? Mountains or city life?  

I’m an outdoors lover. I would take a hike up the mountains over shopping in a city any day.

Name 3 qualities that you think are the most important in accomplishing one’s dreams?

Patience, perseverance, relentlessness.

As you can see, choosing to live a traveling lifestyle is not as easy as one would think.  It’s possible as long as you are aware and open to the challenges that it brings.  Thanks Cory for the insight and encouragement!  I’m definitely looking forward to what the future holds for your project and mission.  Undoubtedly, you’re well on your way to your dreams, as we speak.

You can follow Cory via You Could Travel and her social media accounts: Facebook & Twitter.

If you wish to be featured or know of someone who should be, let Brown Gal know & email her at bgtrekker@peakexplorations.com

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.