Tag Archives: trekking

VPODCAST EPISODE 7: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 7:  I Love the Mountains and You Should Too!

VPODCAST: ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD. Why is Brown Gal Trekker obsessed with mountains? And why you should be too! Learn about the reasons why BGT launched Peak Explorations and her take on her alter ego.

References:  Peak Explorations community via Facebook. 
Women Explorers on the Move Meetup.

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

Episode 4: How to Approach Money.

Episode 5: The Money Talk

Episode 6: I Love the Mountains and You Should Too!

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

VPODCAST EPISODE 6: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

 

Episode 6: Life Happens on the Move.

What happens when life throws something unexpectedly your way?   Do you change directions or stay true to your plans?  Learn about the latest on Brown Gal Trekker’s journey towards a nomadic mountain life.

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

Episode 4: How to Approach Money.

Episode 5: The Money Talk

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Enjoylight Mafuwe

WOMAN TRAIL LEADER FEATURE

Meet Enjoylight Mafuwe.  She lives in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and works as a porter for Kilimanjaro climbs.  The video-podcast features Enjoylight’s story as a porter for Kilimanjaro treks.

BACKGROUND

In February of 2017, my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, organized a group to trek up Kilimanjaro via the Northern Circuit route.  Enjoylight was one of the only 3 female porters out of 24 porters in our group.  She has been working as a porter for at least 3 years.  The job is unpopular for women but some women like Enjoylight pursued such kind of employment out of necessity and due to a lack of employment options.  Porters earn very minimal wages – usually below $10 a day.  Life as a porter is difficult.  One obvious reason is because of the physically demanding nature of the job as porters have to carry a load of 30 pounds or more up the mountain for several days.  At the same time, you would have to subject your body to varying types of elements outdoors, from rain to snow or hot to freezing temperatures.

For Enjoylight, the next natural step to take is to become a lead guide for Kilimanjaro.  To do so,  one must obtain certification and licensure by taking a one year course and a year or two of field training.  The costs associated with this are exponential for the locals in the area.  Many cannot afford to pursue a job beyond being a porter.

Enjoylight talks about her dreams of becoming a lead guide.  She has not been able to pursue her dreams of being a guide due to lack of finances to fund her education and training.  Her story is all too common for the very small number of females working in the mountains of Kilimanjaro.  Female guides are few and far between, mainly due to the lack of money to afford additional training.

KILIMANJARO WOMAN GUIDE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM

Inspired by Enjoylight’s story and the women of Kilimanjaro,  Peak Explorations and Brown Gal Trekker lauched the Kilimanjaro Woman Guide Scholarship Program to raise funds to help the women who have a passion for the mountains in Moshi/Kilimanjaro region to pursue their dream of becoming a lead guide for Kilimanjaro climbs.   Peak Explorations and Brown Gal Trekker jointly aim to empower women to pursue leadership roles on the mountain trails while improving the lives of the locals.

We have partnered with a female owned local trekking agency in Moshi and a guide training school in Arusha to establish this project to support women like Enjoylight in pursuing a better paying job in the mountain trekking/tourism industry.  Oftentimes, local trekking agencies overlook women for the opportunities to train as a guide.  By doing so, we are also  elevating the roles and status of women in a predominantly male driven industry.

The total cost for the guide training and licensure is $1100.  This will cover the one year course, boarding, field trip fees and exam/licensure.   With a goal of $2200, we can provide scholarships to two women.  Women who are selected for these scholarships will have to undergo a formal application process.

Upon successfully securing the funds, the founder of Peak Explorations, Marinel de Jesus, will be flying to Kilimanjaro region in February of 2018 to meet with the selected applicants and our local partners to initiate the training program.  This meeting will be documented and filmed which will then be shared with our wonderful supporters and donors.  A group of female hikers from U.S. who are joining us for the Kilimanjaro Women Only Charity Trek in February, 2018 will also get to personally meet our selected applicants. (See below for more information on this charity trek).  My social enterprise will continue to monitor the selected applicants’ progress with their training program to ensure a successful completion of it.  All donors and supporters can follow along by subscribing to our media outlet, Brown Gal Trekker.

Support the women of Kilimanjaro region by donating to our GoFundMe campaign HERE.

Enjoylight and the small community of women in Moshi/Kilimanjaro region wish to thank you in advance for your support.  Your donation will affect the lives of women in this mountain region in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.  So, thank you!

KILIMANJARO WOMEN-ONLY CHARITY TREK

In addition to this donation page,  Peak Explorations has organized a women-only charity trek of Kilimanjaro, which is set to occur in February, 2018.  5% of the trip cost will be donated to the Kilimanjaro Woman Guide Scholarship Program.   The hope is to establish this program as an ongoing social project through Peak Explorations and expand its scope to women working on the mountain trails in other parts of the world such as Nepal and Peru.  You can also support us by joining this trip!  To join and learn more, go HERE.

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VPODCAST EPISODE 5: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 5: The Money Talk with Gigi Griffis.

Learn about money matters as a nomad with Gigi Griffis – a freelance copywriter and a nomad who took the leap of faith 5 years ago. Not only does she give great advise on finances but also how best to prepare and approach the idea of living a nomadic lifestyle…and some advise on having pets as a nomad!

You can follow her via the website, The Ramble .

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

Episode 4: How to Approach Money.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

Women Empowerment in the Outdoors: Inclusion or Exclusion?

I grew up with three older brothers. I learned to stand my ground as the lone female in the pack at an early age. Growing up with brothers meant being the weird one and the outcast at times. A boys club, after all, entails a different focus from a girls club. I wasn’t always privy to everything that was going on and the fun things that my brothers did, especially when it involved an element of risk. Despite my limited participation in the shenanigans my brothers engaged in, by simply living with boys who one day became men, molded me to who I am now.

Fast forward to now, I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me one bit to play in the outdoors with men. In fact, I enjoy their company as much as I can appreciate the uniqueness of my interactions with women. There’s a certain level of openness with men that I don’t experience with women – one in which I can tap into my masculine leaning side where I peak bag mountain summits just like any guy would or get into an endless banter without worrying about offending the other by my brutal way of delivering my thoughts. Being delicate and gentle with my manner of speaking  can be set aside so I can be blunt. Personally, I like that. On the other hand, in the company of women, I find myself more reserve with my thoughts and overly mindful of the delivery of my words. To not have to work that hard once in a while is certainly a much wanted break.

Feeling at home with my male hiker friends.

 

Recently, in the outdoors world, there’s been so much media frenzy around the notion of women empowerment. Big companies like REI are promoting the presence of women in the media, as well as, hosting female-only events to encourage women to hike, climb, bike, kayak and everything that has to do with the outdoors.

My addiction to the outdoors happens to involve hiking and multi-day backpacking. Hence, I know first-hand how the field is dominated by men. I founded a social enterprise, Peak Explorations, that markets trekking and adventure tours worldwide, and all but one of my local operators are  men. Despite a disproportionate number of men over women in my social enterprise, I’m not at all feeling intimidated or hindered by this fact. In a way, it instills in me so much gratitude that the men in my life whose main purpose is to expand the growth of my social enterprise are all supportive of a female led social enterprise. How much more feminist can a man get? At least in my mind, they have made more than enough effort to show their support for equality between men and women.

Scouting the trails in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia with men.

 

This leads me to question the notion of all-women treks, women focused outdoor organizations and entities.

Do we need them?

Setting aside my personal experiences with men, I do understand that some women feel a level of discomfort from participating in outdoors activities that involve a larger number of male participants. As a female myself, I can agree with women who hold such sentiment, especially when they are in the beginning phase of their pursuit of hiking or trekking mountains. Rewinding back to the initial phases of my own hiking life, I can attest to the fact that yes, I certainly would feel a slight sense of intimidation to be around mostly men as a newbie hiker. And, I did. Thanks to time and experience, I overcame that sense of discomfort.

Recently, as part of my social enterprise’s mission to promote women in the outdoors, I initiated an introductory class on wilderness backpacking with a focus on women only. I soon learned that within the hiking groups where I have been an organizer for over a decade, the idea of women only activities is potentially intimidating to the opposite gender. Accusations of being discriminatory and actively excluding men were easily shared with me. Some viewed my action as politically motivated while others felt the event shouldn’t be organized at all within a co-ed hiking group. I then found myself having to justify my action by stating multiple times that the class is meant to empower and encourage women who are new to hiking to take on the hobby.  After all, the female members of the hiking groups were the ones who approached me to make the request for a women-only class to learn the basics. As an organizer who happens to be a female, I felt it is only natural for me to finally organize an event to address this particular need. Mind you, this was my first time in over 10 years as an organizer to schedule a series of female-only events. As it turns out and as I have anticipated, it is a risky move on my part, especially when I’m still creating a foundation for my social enterprise.

My all women group hiking in Great Falls (D.C.)

 

So, going back to my earlier question – why do women need to be in a women-only group to learn backpacking?

For one, there is a sense of comfort knowing that all members share more or less similar backgrounds, be it gender-specific social challenges, life experiences, physical strength, and unwelcome social expectations that are frequently imposed on them. This naturally leads to camaraderie and empathy among the female participants, just as there’s a unique camaraderie that bonds men when they engage in a boy’s night out or getaway.

In addition, women do face a unique set of issues when it comes to backpacking and being outdoors.  In discussing those issues, I’m sure men wouldn’t feel the need or desire to be a part of it.  Similarly, most women would likely find themselves feeling uncomfortable divulging information pertaining to their menstrual cycle, among other topics, in the presence of men.

Lastly, inspiring women can best be achieved if the role model is a female versus a male.   The outdoors world is without a doubt filled with male leaders, role models and mentors.  For women to feel inspired to partake in the outdoors, the presence of a female leader, mentor, role model  or fellow hiker is crucial.  Of course, women admire certain male role models in the outdoors but such admiration is just not enough to compel them to partake in outdoor activities.  Therefore, arguably, women-only groups fill the void as a result of the lack of female voices in the media.

Now, be honest, how hard is it to grasp the above concepts? How much more justification does any of us need to understand that an all-women event is in reality harmless? 

In fact, the outcome of this endeavor leads to more women actively engaging in the outdoors. Hence, INCLUSION, right?

Don’t we all see this as a positive result? Is there anything morally or ethically wrong with that? If there is, I’d like to be the first to know. Assuming you support diversity and women in the outdoors, I cannot imagine a scenario where anyone could justifiably hold an objection to women-only events.

So, maybe you feel a bit excluded. I understand the notion.

In this case, however, in the past decade that I’ve organized events, with the exception of the most recent slew of women-only activities, members of my hiking groups availed themselves of countless opportunities to join co-ed trips locally, nationally and globally. To date, the treks that have been offered through my social enterprise are ALL co-ed. So, it begs the question – at what point in time did one gender get excluded?

Attending REI’s Force of Nature Women Empowerment Panel in Washington, DC area.

 

I’m here to tell you that along with REI and myself, there are plenty of other entities out there that are now seeing the value of holding women-only events for the same reasons noted above. I’m not alone when it comes to this definition of empowerment; although, I’d like to add that I also join the mainstream in supporting co-ed events. As much as I find value in women-only events, I also find it significantly progressive and empowering for women to break out of the bubble of the women-only events to pursue outdoor activities alongside men without any sense of fear or insecurity.

So, is one a greater version of women empowerment than the other?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d find elements of empowerment in both scenarios. One does not have to exist exclusive of the other.   In my world, both are equally important and for the sake of my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, I should be able to execute both notions for the purpose of achieving an authentic version of inclusion.

As much as I understand the fear and insecurity behind “excluding” one gender, the most productive measure to take is to understand the motivations behind women-only events. The problem is it’s easy for us to quickly judge and express our opinions based on fear, as opposed to sound logic. Yet, now is an opportune time for us all to be open-minded in a moment in our society where some of us are engaged in creating scenarios that challenge everyone’s preconceived notions and levels of comfort in the outdoors. The discomfort should not lead to quick conclusions. It should initiate conversations towards a greater understanding of the underlying issues behind being a female in the outdoors. Only then can you truly have the means to decide for yourself whether anyone is being excluded or whether the endeavor is actually moving us closer to the spirit of inclusion.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

VPODCAST EPISODE 4: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 4: How to Approach Money

How does one handle the finances to live a nomadic lifestyle? Tune in for the next upcoming episodes as Brown Gal goes over the approaches, challenges and ways to address the financial part of her journey.

Read also Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Episode 3: Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

VPODCAST EPISODE 3: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Episode 3:  Am I Too Old for a Grand Adventure?

In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the fear of aging. Is it a factor when it comes to going after your dream? Yes and no. Tune in for this special Mother’s Day Episode.

Articles referenced in the podcast:

I Turned 40 and Became a Superwoman

Why Your 40s is the Best Time to go on a Grand Adventure

Accepting Myself Through My Mother’s Eyes

To learn more about this series, see VPODCAST INTRO.  Also see

Episode 1: Why I’m Leaving My Career

Episode 2: What Am I Afraid Of? Solitude.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

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

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Susan Elliott (aka Hadija)

The universe at times can do its wonders and connect people who share similar aspirations.  In this case, the shared aspiration happens to be Jordan Trail.  If you happen to be following the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, you’d remember one of our features, Vix Harris, who planned to trek the Jordan Trail.  Shortly after her feature was published, I met Susan who has done the Jordan Trail herself a few years prior.  I was delighted to find out that both women knew of each other before my knowing either one.  It further amazed me to learn that Susan happens to be the oldest female hiker to complete the Jordan Trail at the age of 65!

I’m beyond honored to have the opportunity to meet Susan.  Ever since we first chatted about her being featured on the Outdoor Women’s Voices series, she’s been hiking non-stop.  To me, Susan’s life and her dedication to hiking serve as the ultimate inspiration because her relationship with hiking entails challenges including her own unique set of physical challenges that render hiking a much more difficult pursuit to her as compared to most of us.  What impresses me the most about Susan is her determination to do it anyway.  Her “can do” attitude is contagious.  In my world, she has impacted my level of self-confidence in that no matter what difficulties come my way in my pursuit of becoming a mountain nomad, there’s no other way to handle it but to forge ahead.  I also appreciate her ability to break the norms by showing the world that age should not deter you from pursuing your passion.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Susan Elliott aka Hadija was born in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands and grew up in Mbabane, Swaziland from age 7 to 16.  Circumstances require her to divide her time between Maui, USA; Kent, UK; and Jordan, Middle East!  Currently, she’s looking after her health and giving aromatherapy massage in Maui; working in UK as a healthcare assistant in a psychiatric hospital; visiting her daughter and three grandchildren, who are between 1 and 5 years old, in their Bedouin village in Jordan…and hiking in all three locations.

When and how did you start hiking?  

You could say I started hiking, together with  my love of the outdoor world, when I was inside my mother who was five months pregnant and who, with my father, was hiking for a week across the Falkland Islands camping and carrying equipment and  food in big heavy old fashioned rucksacks! Once I could walk, I was struggling through peat bogs to a beach for fishing with my parents.

Who or what inspires you to hike?   

My parents definitely inspired me, although as a teenager, I did not appreciate going on long hikes in Swaziland’s mountains every Sunday! Thank you so much my school friends, Yda Gibbon and Cynthia Hooper, for coming on some of these hikes. Then, as a young adult, I just took for granted my love of the outdoors and hiking. Only when I got older did I realise what a gift my parents had given me. Sadly, they had both died before I thought to thank them.

What do you like the most about hiking?  

The solitude and beauty of the natural world and being free of the daily complexities and troubles of our world. Some may say escapism but for me crucial renewal time and space.

What do you like the least about it?  

Nowadays, the pain and fatigue which comes with having fibromyalgia and arthritic knees, but overall hiking still rejuvenates me!  

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?  

Definitely hiking the Jordan Trail! Not only because I accomplished this not inconsiderable challenge at 65 years of age,  but also because for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to hike a long distance trail – one of my dreams. The Jordan Trail gave me everything I needed and at exactly the right moment when hiking – miracles of iced water, sweet energising tea, thick coffee; beautiful flowers to focus on when the way was long and tiring; soaring wheeling birds of prey uplifting me from the rain; camping spot surrounded by mountains alive with animal bells and distant adhans; nourishing food prepared with love by strangers and their unconditional kindness;  mountain rock colours soothing my tiredness; space to allow my inner intuition to find the route and to be safe; making new friends when I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final trail sections.

My tent at remote Wadi Gsieb, November 14, 2016.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?    

“Mindfulness” and extra discipline since, in remote areas, one has no choice but to keep going to the end of the hike! Truly, hiking teaches the importance of being mindful and in the present, without wishing it were different and without fearing it will always be this way.

What advice would you give to those new to hiking?  

Set realistic goals taking into consideration your physical stamina and strength, distance, difficulty of terrain and climate, availability of food and water, nearest assistance. Plan thoroughly with a back up plan or two for changes which are guaranteed to happen in the natural world – such as  a weather change or delay in finding the way. Take blister care items and support bandages for twisted knees or ankles. Better to start with modest goals and enjoy your hiking than try to do too much too soon and end up in difficulties. When you go to hike, communicate your plans in detail to those close to you.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite hiking photos.

(Alas, I have only taken digital photos over the last three years so cannot depict my wide range of hiking. Also, I didn’t have a camera/ smart phone for my first Jordan Trail trip.)

The quintessence of an English right of way for walkers on the 1066 Trail at Winchelsea, Kent! Beautiful stone stile, clear waymark signpost, nearby bench, information board for ancient ruins, no rubbish, well-maintained, December 7, 2016.

Skyline Ridge Trail at 10,000ft,  Haleakala, Maui. One of my recent hikes on January 22, 2017, for my WALK 1000 MILES 2017.

A surprise on a Maui neighbourhood walk – part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge, February 10, 2017.

What treks/trips do you have still on your bucket list?

Sinai Trail   

Lebanon Mountain Trail   

Turkey –  the Sufi Trail   

Turkey – Lycian Way   

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

A real challenge has been finding other women among my friends  to hike with me due to factors such as terrain, distance, speed, elevation.  Also, as the years went by, I became more wary about hiking alone in Maui in remote areas in case I fell – bodies of fallen hikers have been found from time to time in Maui! Hiking the rural and new Jordan Trail as a solo woman was especially challenging since rural women do not hike, although some women will be out alone grazing their family’s goats or sheep. Indeed, hiking, in general, for Jordanians seems a new concept. Everyone felt responsible for my “plight,” and drivers wanted to “rescue” me and take me to a town. Others were reluctant to help me find a taxi driver to take me to my daily start/end locations! The taxi driver in turn would be reluctant. I was repeatedly warned of the dangers such as wild animals, the cold, finding my way, and once of bad men!

One of the wild animals! The two side-winder snakes didn’t hang around long enough for a portrait. November 13, 2016.

How did you overcome these challenges?

In England, I made new friends who had a similar hiking style – one from a yoga class and the other a sponsor for my War Child hike in Jordan. In Maui, I joined a Sunday Meetup Hiking group whose key members are strong hikers and who explore new territory. I’m challenged to keep up at times, but they always wait for me! In Jordan, since I was a woman in a Muslim country, I kept my arms, legs, and hair covered, and when the trail sometimes followed small roads, I hiked with my eyes down when vehicles passed. This worked really well. Only cars with families stopped, a couple of police cars, and two trucks with secret service agents.  All along the Jordan Trail, I showed those whom I met a laminated card with information in Arabic about the newly developed Jordan Trail, who I was, and why I was hiking. Not everyone could read, but the card still seemed to help allay concerns.

I proceeded to ask Susan about her Jordan Trail journey.  She happens to be the oldest female hiker to have completed it.

I hiked the Jordan Trail which tracks 650 km (405 miles)  from Um Qais in the far north of Jordan to the Red Sea not far from the border with Saudi Arabia in the south of Jordan. The trail crosses rolling fertile hills in the north, plunges into 1000 metre wadis, climbs steeply back up to the plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, meanders through the fabulous ancient city of Petra with its carved pink sandstone facades, winds through spectacular remote canyons, and crosses over the deserts and multi-coloured mountains in the south. At 65 years old, I am the oldest person and the oldest woman to have hiked the Jordan trail, although it took me two trips to complete.

November 21, 2016, I finished the 650 km Jordan Trail for War Child at the Red Sea south of Aqaba!

When did you do it?   

February 23 to April 1, 2016 and November 3 to 21, 2016.

What was the itinerary?

Since my first trip was in the spring with unpredictable rain and cold, I first hiked from Ais to Petra.  I rested and then moved north to the beginning of the trail at Um Qais, skipping the Dead Sea Wadis, and finishing at Ais. On my second trip, I tackled the tough Dead Sea Wadis, and then completed the Jordan Trail by hiking the final sections from Petra to Wadi Rum to the Red Sea south of Aqaba.

A total of 42 hiking days: 27 days in February/March and 15 days in November. 30 days solo finding the route solely by GPS (which I had never used before!), 3 days with a guide between Feynan Ecolodge and Qbour Al-Wahdat,  and the last 9 days with the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike and walking 18 to 30 km (11 to 19 ml) a day.

Have you done something like this in the past? 

No, but in spring 1980, my husband and I spent two months travelling among the mountain areas of Spain, camping and hiking along the way.  Also, when growing up in Africa, I travelled widely with my parents camping and hiking every long school holiday.  In 1962, we drove by car all the way from Swaziland to Alexandria in  Egypt. Then, we caught a boat to Lebanon and continued by road through Europe, finishing in England.

Tell us about the logistics of this trek.  

Originally,  I planned to hike the Jordan Trail camping and using the excellent Dixon Roller Pack to carry my equipment,  food, and water.

Pulling my Dixon Rollerpack after Ma’tan Siq on Day 3, February 25, 2016.

Photo by Leon McCarron, adventure traveller and filmmaker.

Unfortunately, much of the terrain turned out to be vastly more rugged, rocky, and steep than anticipated! Consequently, on my first trip, I only camped a few nights. The rest of the time, I stayed in family home stays along the way or stayed at a basic hotel for 3 or 4 days and hiked along the nearby Jordan Trail, using local buses or taxis to my daily trail start and end points.

My room at Rocky Mountain Hotel, Wadi Musa, near Petra, November 10, 2016.

I was bitterly disappointed to abandon camping, but even with today’s ultra-light equipment,  I couldn’t backpack the weight with my arthritic knees and fibromyalgia. On my second trip, I joined the Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike for the final nine days of remote hiking with camping at night. Thus, solving the problems of food and water, since we had support vehicles to bring supplies and carry our bags.

My tent – near Jebel Kharazeh, November 16, 2016.

Did you receive any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?

I  relied totally on information from the Jordan Trail website. Indeed, once I got to Jordan, I was very strongly discouraged from continuing after only three days. My ability, organisation, planning, and experience were severely questioned. I think perhaps because of my age and the unsuitable Dixon Rollerpack! So I abandoned pulling the Dixon, pressed on, and kept a very low profile.

On my second trip, the Jordan Trail Association took the risk of allowing me to join their technical thru hike for the final nine days which are impossible without support for food and water. I will be forever grateful for the team’s openness and welcome, in spite of their reservations. I feel very honoured to have had this opportunity to hike with the three Jordanian women, Dinah Aqel, Duha Fayyad, and Karmah Tabbaa – the first women to accomplish the thru hike – and with Olivia Mason, talented researcher.    

Practical essential help in the UK came from a great friend, Jill, who trained with me every week through miles of mud on English footpaths, and from her husband, Paul, who loaded all the GPX files on my Garmin eTrex 30x and lent me a power charging pack. My grateful thanks to you both and to Minnie, who sent me off with a kilo of super healthy flapjacks!

How did you come up with this idea  for a trek?

I have always wanted to hike a long distance trail but life, work, job, health, and family responsibilities did not give me enough space until recently. My daughter and three grandchildren live in Jordan, so when I heard about the new Jordan Trail, that was the  perfect choice, especially as I don’t like the cold and rain of the UK. Then, War Child found me, and their work in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan became the final piece of the puzzle.

What inspired you to do this?

I like challenge, and the Jordan Trail became a personal challenge in memory of my parents who planted the seeds for my love of hiking in the wild. My father, Frank K Elliott, who lived to 103, was an extremely accomplished rock climber and Antarctic explorer as well as, along with my mother, a life-long traveller and hiker.

What was the purpose?

My journey, in a small way, was also about helping to create positive understanding about this part of the world. I wanted to give some hope and support via War Child to children of our future and do something beautiful for God in our troubled world.

Did you do it solo or with others?

30 days solo; 3 days with a guide Feynan Ecolodge to QbourAl-Wahdat; 9 days with group Jordan Trail Association technical thru hike.

Have you hiked solo before? 

I often do solo day hikes and am looking forward to some long weekend hikes this year as part of my WALK 1000 MILES 2017. Although I very much enjoy hiking with a friend, I also like the freedom of being on my own, pausing when I want, and  not having any thoughts concerning my companion’s needs. Indeed, I can be gloriously selfish!

How did you decide to do a fundraiser for this trek?  

War Child found me! I was travelling through London with a big backpack when I was stopped by a War Child volunteer. I had never heard of this organisation,  but when I did my research and discovered their work with children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, I knew this was the perfect cause to motivate me on my Jordan Trail challenge. Since I work in a psychiatric hospital, I was delighted that post-trauma counselling was available for the children from war-torn Syria. My commitment to the Syrian children, who were given hope and the tools with which to live positive lives, helped to keep my legs moving forward since the Jordan Trail was a tough challenge for me, physically,  mentally,  and emotionally.

So far donations total £2,691/$3,560(53% of my goal of £5,000).  This money will be used by War Child for their work with Syrian refugee children in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. War Child focuses on mental health first-aid, trauma counselling, creation of ‘Safe Spaces’ and provision of informal education to help the children heal from their traumas, as well as training of local staff in psycho-social care.

The money I have raised will make a real difference to children like Nour, whose lives have been devastated by conflicts around the world. After Nour fled her home in Syria, she was withdrawn and aggressive, lashing out at her younger sister. With War Child’s help, she’s beginning to recover – she’s making friends and is a lot calmer. It’s just the start and War Child will continue to help Nour and her family cope with their experiences. Through “I Deal” counselling sessions, I have helped War Child reach the most vulnerable and traumatised children like Nour, and their families, to help them better cope with everyday life after conflict, bringing happiness and hope back into their lives. It’s not a simple or quick fix and it’s down to people like myself that War Child is able to provide long-term support to children and their families.

War Child is the only organisation dedicated to delivering this kind of specialist support for children affected by conflicts around the world.  

What were the challenges you encountered on the trek?

Every day in the north, I had to deal with groups of stray dogs. Often they would be asleep in the bushes and wake up when I was almost on top of them. However,  I just had to pick up a rock, and they’d mostly run, not knowing my aim was useless! Once some men watched me walk up a long hill. When I got closer, they went into the house and left me to the mercy of  a pack of very fierce dogs. Some of the dogs were loose and others bouncing around in a frenzy on huge chains! Wielding my pointy trekking poles helped me feel a bit safer! Thankfully, the Bedouin shepherds always called their well-trained dogs off me.

Dehydration was a constant struggle most days, as I just didn’t seem to be able to drink enough to counteract sweat loss on the steep hills. This meant I only needed one toilet stop, but oh what a challenge as there always seemed to be a village in view, or a farmer or a shepherd somewhere on the surrounding mountains, and no cover. One day my kind taxi driver had bought me cardamon coffee so in time the bathroom break became all consuming. Then, when I was finding my way down a mountain with no trail, I found a perfect deep grassy pit where I was completely hidden! So often the Jordan Trail gave me exactly what I needed!

My almost total lack of Arabic made me very sad as most people I met had little English, so our communication was very limited. A language miracle was when a policeman  stopped his car when he saw me at a bus stop in a village and phoned a number I had and arranged instant transport,  with price, to my accommodation with a driver with no English.  

My first trip was also bitterly cold at times, especially on the high plateau.  One night in a small hotel, I needed two extremely heavy thick woollen blankets from Iran. My thick socks regularly took 2 days to dry after washing. The cold probably contributed to my loss of 12 pounds in weight, in spite of forcing myself to eat more than usual!

How did you overcome them?

I was so happy to start walking each day and leave behind everyone’s worries and could just concentrate on finding the way and not falling down! Each day was spectacular and full of interest. Miracles occurred when I needed something in particular.

Susan shares with us her 3 favorite moments along the Jordan Trail.

Elegantly scattered black rocks – so beautiful.

Miracle of crocuses bursting out of the rocky ground. 

Surprise of new friends! Dina Aqel is one of the three warrior women who were the first women to complete the whole 650 km Jordan Trail in the technical thru hike. 

I was unbelievably touched when just before we got to the Red Sea, the thru hike team waited for me – I was lagging behind with horrendous blisters on blisters. We had to go under the road by a tunnel, and as I went through, one of the Mohammads played his flute and everyone clapped and sang. For me, that was the ultimate recognition for finishing the Jordan Trail!

What did you hope to accomplish from the trek?

Simply to hike the 650 km from Um Qais to the Red Sea, taking as much time as I needed to be safe and to enjoy the experience, and to raise £5,000 for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal. The first goal was accomplished, but I am still working on my target for donations!

How did it impact you as a person?

The Jordan Trail touched my soul. On the trail I felt whole, no fragmentation, deeply at peace, and in awe of the beauty of creation. The Jordan Trail experience made me feel more confident again. I realise now that gradually and subtly my confidence had lessened over recent years. Probably due to a combination of increasing age, three bouts of early breast cancer with surgery and radiation, and onset of fibromyalgia and arthritic knees. I had to give up my Hapkido training and rethink my limits. My world seemed to be shrinking, especially as friends died. Not only did  the Jordan Trail broaden my horizons – literally, as well as physically, mentally, and emotionally – but the trail also introduced me to some wonderful new friends!

How was it like interacting with the locals along the way?

I had such heart warming experiences.  For example:

Day 1: The one man who did not seem alarmed by a lone woman walking down the road heading for wilderness was the driver of a minibus with special education children and their staff. I stood at the window in the rain near Ais and was introduced to the ladies and children, and he cheerfully said that he would see me in Aqaba at the end of the Jordan Trail, on TV. He beamed so much positive energy, and I thought someone who works with challenged children understands more is possible than most of us can imagine – I smiled.

Day 4:  Not far from Feynan Lodge, a woman’s  voice called me, literally from inside some bushes! Nearby, another woman and a young boy were squatting by a tiny fire and offered me shai. An old cup was rinsed and tea poured for me. We tried to communicate and the voice in the bushes joined in, but all I could understand was the Shahadah. I was offered a donkey ride to my destination, but had to refuse since I had to walk the whole Jordan Trail. I left some money with the child for the shai – somehow they seemed extra poor.  The voice in the bushes remained a puzzle.

Day 10: A few miles north of  Little Petra, at the start of the day, some children and their Aunt invited me into their traditional goat’s hair Bedouin tent for shai. These tents are very strong and last for years, but this one had holes in the roof and the recent rains must have poured through onto the family and their few belongings. Of course,  I am again hampered by my lack of Arabic, so I gave the twelve-year-old girl my explanation sheet. In spite of its complexity and the unfamiliar material about War Child, she read the piece aloud so beautifully and with so much energy and expression. Her Aunt looked so proud of her, and I was really moved. When I left, to thank them for my tea and the reading, I gave the girl 5 JOD. Alas, I cannot remember her name.

Are you currently trekking or doing a project?  

Yes, I have joined the WALK 1000 MILES 2017 challenge to continue to raise funds for War Child’s work with Syrian refugee children and young people in Jordan.   

 Tell us about it!

The aim is to walk a 1000 miles in 2017. I am challenging myself to walk on planned walks beyond my usual everyday running around. I am motivated by the well publicised health benefits of walking. I am continuing to raise funds for War Child’s Children of Syria Appeal to reach my target of £5000/$6500. I’m excited to return to the beginning of the Jordan Trail on March 31, 2017, for some of the first public Jordan Trail thru hike –  an historic event.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Waikalai Ridge, West Maui Mountains, February 19, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Iao River close to my apartment in Maui and good for the daily walks, February 13, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Another neighbourhood for daily walks – Sugar Cove, Spreckelsville, Maui.           February 7, 2017.

WALK 1000 MILES 2017: Bewl Water, Kent, UK.  A 13 mile circuit, March 10, 2017.

Susan then shares with us her favorite quote on and off trails.

“Breathe and Believe.”  A friend of almost 50 years who is now severely limited in her own mobility courageously and generously gave me these wise words before my Jordan Trail hike. The many long steep ascents were “breathe and believe” moments! I send my utmost respect to this friend and to whom I dedicate this piece of writing.

To wrap up, Susan noted the following gratitude for her life-changing adventures:

I cannot say enough about how honoured I was, in the final nine days of my Jordan Trail journey, to meet and hike with some of the pioneers of the long and difficult development of the world-class Jordan Trail, especially Amjad Shahrour,  Mark Khano, Bashir Daoud, David Landis, and Nasser Tabbaa. Not forgetting Mahmoud Bdoul, Zaid Anwar Kalbouneh, Ali Barqawi, and Mohammad Al-Homran and Mohammad Al-Zaeadeen – the first two Jordanians to complete the thru hike, October, 2016.

One day, I hope to meet Tony Howard and Di Taylor, cornerstone pioneers of the Jordan Trail over many, many years!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to all my sponsors so far  and for all the words of encouragement from friends, family, and strangers which keep me going as I walk towards my £5,000/$6,500 target for War Child’s  Children of Syria Appeal.

Thanks, Susan!  I wish you more amazing trail journeys and hope to hear from you as you forge ahead!

You can follow Susan via her fundraiser page through Just Giving.   

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7 Reasons to Try Hammock Camping Instead of Tents

A Guest Post by Rich of Rolling Fox

Summer is just around the corner and that means camping season is almost here! I’ve got my camping weekends marked on the calendar and this year my plans include a new essential piece of equipment: a hammock.

My love for hammock camping started when I noticed my camping trips were relaxing, but left me bone tired from nights of poor sleep. A friend suggested I try it and it totally changed my experience.

You don’t just have to take my word for it. Here are 7 reasons you should give hammock camping a try.

1, The Ground Can Be Uncomfortable

Sleeping on the ground in a tent means bumps under your sleeping bag, overnight moisture, and curious bugs creeping around your tent floor. Sleeping in a hammock gets you up off the ground, away from all those annoyances and can actually be good for your health. Experts in sleeping posture found the angle of incline and lack of pressure points in a correctly installed hammock can increase circulation and oxygen during sleep, and can dramatically improve back pain. After a day of hiking or chopping wood for a camp fire, anything that makes my back happy makes me happy.

2. It’s Lighter

An average hammock can fold up into a pouch smaller than your water bottle and weighs less than a pound. That means you could hit the trail with your bed in your back pocket and what tent could say the same? With a hammock comes the freedom from a bulky tent leaving you able to take longer hikes without the heavy gear. See more undiscovered off trail areas or get to higher elevations where carrying extensive equipment would be too physically demanding.

3. You Can Sleep Better

A great night’s sleep can literally transform your camping experience when you wake up feeling rested and physically ready for the next hike or a long day of swimming. When I first started camping I went sparse on the sleeping arrangements: just a tent and a sleeping bag. Soon I upgraded to an air mattress, and then a double air mattress with the battery powered pump and a padded mat and a leak patching kit… You can see where this is going. No matter how much more gear I bought and dragged with me, I never really slept well outdoors until I started hammock camping.

There are the obvious benefits, like being elevated off the rocks and tree roots that inevitably complicate tent sleeping, but there are properties of the hammock itself that make your sleep better. Studies show you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper in a hammock and the gentle swaying motion can actually change your brain during sleep to help you stay in a restful state longer.

4. Create A Better Connection with Nature

One of the main allures of camping for me is the uninterrupted time to connect with the way nature changes throughout the day. When I spend the entire night and early morning cooped up in a stuffy tent, I miss some of the most magic experiences. My first hammock camping night, I lay awake staring up at the stars in utter comfort listening to an owl serenading the night. In the morning I awoke not to the sight of errant bugs trapped in my tent net, but to the soft dawn light slowly warming the air around me. Yes, a tent gets you out of the house and into nature, but a hammock gets you out of the tent to experience more of those rare moments that really make camping magical.

5. There Are Plenty of Accessories to Keep You Warm

A simple hammock will be enough for many camping scenarios, but if you want four-season comfort, there are many affordable add-ons that can make your hammock the most versatile piece of gear you own.

Staying warm starts with staying dry. With an optional rain cover, a hammock neatly sidesteps moisture problems, keeping you off the damp ground and letting air circulate without condensing. If it rains or snows, there are no walls to drops to seep in and no floor to collect puddles. And tearing down a nice dry hammock when you’re ready to break camp in minutes is a mess-free experience. A mylar blanket can function as a rain fly, but also works as a layer of heat retention under your sleeping bag.

Get some easy insulation between your sleeping bag and the elements with a sleeping pad. If you have the funds, an underquilt will keep you warm and toasty even in the coldest camp sites, but you may want to choose your product based on the temperatures you expect to encounter.

6. Camp in More Locations

It’s no secret for anyone who has tried tent camping that the roots and rocks are only one element of what makes the ground uncomfortable. Uneven soil, cold puddles from rain or condensation, and even the slant or grade of your site can make your tent awkward for relaxing. Without a tent to consider, you can set up for the night on a slope, over water, and in rocky terrain without sacrificing comfort. You can even set up your hammock camp in places without any trees!

7.  Fast Setup

With a little practice, you can set up you hammock and be ready for bed much faster than a traditional tent. Some seasoned hammock users can get set up or torn down in less than two minutes! Think of all the extra time this will leave for exploring, making a delicious campfire meal, or just relaxing in the wilderness.

Now that you’re familiar with the main benefits of hammock camping, you might be ready to ditch the tent for your next camp out. I personally can’t wait to hit the trails this summer and see what new experiences my hammock allows me to enjoy. If you enjoyed this list, or are ready to try a hammock yourself, let us know by sharing this article.

Photos via Creative Commons

Author Bio

Rich is a hiking and camping enthusiast who runs the blog over at Rolling Fox. Rolling Fox is regularly updated with outdoor guides, recipes and gear reviews. You can find us on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

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Why Your 40s is the Best Time to Go on a Grand Adventure

Quit your career when you hit your 40s.  Seriously, quit it and take on some grand adventure.  Take  a break from it all and just indulge in guilt-free freedom.  I know. That sounds so against the norm.  After all, it makes more sense to tell you–

“don’t quit your job, pretend you like it, pay your bills, and if you’re single , then hurry, and find that partner!”

Two years ago, I wrote an article about how it felt to be a global backpacker in my late 30s.  In that article, I confessed my feeling a tiny bit awkward carrying a 70 liter pack as I mingled with the millennials at hostels.  Two years later, I’m thinking, why the hell not?

While so many in their 40s re-evaluate their progress in life by looking at the increase in their income, their career progression, the success of their marriage and the existence of children in their lives, this doesn’t have to be the case for everyone who reaches this age.

In my world, my 40s is meant to be spent outside playing.  To be more exact, it’s meant to be spent hiking and trekking countless mountains, and then some.  At first, I too, felt this was such an insane idea.  And perhaps, my dream of becoming a mountain/digital nomad frolicking around the globe was simply too late for me to pursue and that maybe I missed my chance in my younger years.  It took time for me to realize that doing this at an unpopular age of 40  is actually a blessing in disguise.  In fact, it’s the best time to partake in a major extended travel or adventure.  If you are in your 40s and  are fortunate enough to get a chance to partake in a grand adventure, then I’d say go for it!  Here’s why:

  1. In your 40s, you are past many of the insecurities you had in your 20s. Your 30s typically are spent challenging the existence of every insecurity you might have that was carried over from your 20s.  As we enter 40s, many of us have more or less learned how to deal with our insecurities and hopefully most of them were outgrown in the process.  By getting to this point, our adventures tend to be more meaningful and devoid of unnecessary stress.  Forgetting to bring that nice evening attire to look good on a trip wouldn’t dampen our spirits nor do we care if we need to skip showers for the sake of enjoying a life-changing trek.  Petty things dwindle as we age and that’s priceless.  Anyone who has yet to reach 40 should be jolted with excitement to look forward to a much more carefree version of themselves.
  2. Assuming you have spent part of your 20s and all your 30s building your career, by the time you’re 40 you know you have built yourself a solid career.  There’s no longer a question whether you’re a real doctor or a lawyer or an accountant because you are!  We manage to shrug off the other set of insecurities – those that challenge our ego as to whether we are good enough at what we do.  Heck, yeah, we are!  So, go on that adventure and remember if you tire of it, you can always come back to that career that you built. If not, chances are, by the time you’re 40, you have established skill sets that can be transferable to other types of endeavors.  If that company doesn’t rehire you, with creativity and persistence, you can even start your own company and run it in your own way.  Either way, you come out on top.
  3. With over two decades of adult life experiences under our belt, being 40 should render us more courageous and fearless.  We’ve been hurt, disappointed, criticized and fired.  But we lived and survived. We ought to know by the age of 40 that failure is merely a redirection.  We no longer cry or get angry over it.  We just strive to find another route that we believe will take us to where we need to be.  By this time, we experience lesser amount of invalid fears and worries.  We trust life more and allow it to bring us closer to our desires.  In our travels, we then find no reason to stress out when itineraries fail.  We lived long enough to realize that unexpected events happen for a reason and so we refrain from fussing in the same manner that we did when we were in our 20s.  We just let most situations be, regardless of whether they’re wanted or not.
  4. We are likely to be richer than the younger version of ourselves, and in some cases, fortunate enough to pay off a mortgage or student loan.   When we compare ourselves to others, sure, we might say we’re broke but if you were honest with your situation, you’d soon realize that graduating from college or grad school had led you to incur thousands of dollars of student loan debt.  By the time you’re 40, you would have had at least a decade to pay off some or most of the loans.  That’s something to smile about since that only means more money to put towards that grand adventure.  And if you’re the savvy kind, you may even have an investment or two which will then afford you more disposable cash for your grand adventure.  Lucky you!
  5. Do you feel wiser now that you’re 40 or older? I hope so.  That’s the point of living – growing and learning and then growing, and learning, and so on and so forth. By the time we’re 40, the expectation is that our life experiences should have taught us a thing or two about love, loss, success, failure and everything else in between.  By 40, we’re likely to know ourselves and our goals better.  But if not, we ought to have enough tools to figure out our own destiny in our own way.  All that therapy and counseling should have yielded the outcome we hope for by now.  We are ready to re-do everything – relationships, career, and even ourselves.
  6. Simply put, when you’re in your 40s, you hardly give a damn.  Nothing will ever be as serious as when you were in your 30s.  In your 40s, you begin to realize life starts over again.  But, this time around, you’ll makes sure it’ll be done in a more lighthearted fashion.  After all, this is the age when your health becomes more relevant and therefore stress is your number one enemy.  In your 40s, you naturally start to value your time and how you spend it upon realizing that life is limited and that success is defined by the frequency of joy in our lives.  You also begin to enjoy the authenticity of being “you” without giving into societal pressures and living our lives based on others’ expectations.  True to not giving a damn, you do what your heart tells you even if it’s unconventional and weird.  Doing so doesn’t at all make you feel uncomfortable; rather, it makes you feel empowered to be “you.”
  7. As a result of wisdom gained over the years, you know what you want when you reach 40.  When you decide to travel extensively or become a nomad of some kind, you mean it.  You have never been this sure in your entire life!  Since you now value time more than ever, you wouldn’t just quit a career that you put forth effort, money and time just to travel without a purpose.  You are deliberate in your decision to travel on an extended period of time or even for a lifetime!  When you decide to venture into some kind of an enterprise to give you that freedom to roam the world, you initiate it with all your might.  In fact, you have never felt this driven in your life because this time around you are answering to the calling of your deepest desires.  And you simply know you have to go that direction even if the path can get bumpy along the way.  You know that if you traveled in your 20s, it would only be temporary because you have yet to experience the contrast of the life of a 9 to 5 to decide honestly whether a life of travel is for you.  In your 30s, traveling is a break from the 9 to 5 but you may still be uncertain as to your true desires or unskilled at the endeavor you wish to pursue or still in need of wisdom to learn how to succeed or have yet to muster the courage to risk it all.  So, rejoice in taking a leap of faith in your 40s because chances are you’ve gone through all the necessary steps to finally be ready to experience a real adventure.

As you can see, being in your 40s should not be  the reason not to travel; rather it should exactly be the reason to do so!  You’re in the prime of your life and you have nothing to lose except the opportunity that you can create for yourself to experience the greatest adventure of your life.  Don’t hesitate for a second to hop on that adventure.  Don’t doubt yourself, and most certainly, don’t doubt your desires. Do it now!

To learn more about Brown  Gal Trekker’s plans on leaving her job and becoming a mountain nomad, check out her podcast:

ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD (intro)

Episode 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Reasons To Leave My Career

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