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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 possibilitiesout 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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?
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.
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.
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.
Self discovery goes hand in hand with hiking. You may not even realize this is happening but it’s inevitable the more you immerse yourself in the outdoors. Sometimes self-discovery can be frightening; however, if you stick with it, you’ll soon realize how wonderful the process is. The latter rings true for our feature, Jessica. With life’s twists and turns including the breakdowns of relationships, we gradually emerge to be the stronger and more adventurous versions of ourselves. And when you least expect it, hiking may surprisingly turn out to be one of your passions in life.
I can totally relate to Jessica’s story as hiking crept into my life right after an important relationship came to an end. The loss hit me hard and left me feeling confused. But that painful moment led to taking small steps, literally on the trails and in real life. The next thing I knew, I discovered this new kind of love for life and myself. Jessica’s story takes me back to that moment in my life when I first encountered my love for hiking as part of my self-discovery. What was once a bitter experience has now turned into a pivotal moment in my life that I will be eternally grateful for. I hope by reading Jessica’s hiking story, you’ll feel that same gratitude towards all challenges, whether big or small, that enter your life.
Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice
Jessica Guth is from Naples, Florida. She’s most definitely a busy bee! A single mom of two, she works and attends school full-time. Florida is where she hikes locally but she spends every 6-8 weeks to take a bigger backpacking/hiking trip elsewhere. When not on the trails, Jessica loves to write, fly-fish, shoot archery and attend concerts. She’s also learning the ins and outs of hunting small game. Her love for the trails includes trail running which involves doing trail half marathons.
How did you discover hiking?
I first started hiking after I separated from my husband, about 2 years ago. I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors. I was not in a healthy marriage and he discouraged me from doing things I loved. I would always ask him to go camping/hiking/do outdoors things, but he had no interest, so I never went. Once I separated from him, I did a lot of soul-searching – it was a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. During that journey, I discovered a lot of things about myself, including just how strong and adventurous I really am. Since this discovery and pursuance of my love of adventuring and hiking, I have greatly involved my 2 kids (ages 6 and 10) and they have developed a great love of it too.
What do you like the most about hiking?
Hiking brings me a sense of peace, self-awareness, and connection. I feel so very connected to myself, to whoever I’m hiking with, and to nature.
Below, Jessica talks about some of the places she’s hiked. The photos definitely look amazing! Well, minus the alligator!
A local trail that I hiked in April 2016 was in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, which is just about 1.5 hours away from where I live. My daughter and I backpacked 13 miles over 2 days and spent the night in a secluded area. We had an alligator come join us around dinner time! He walked right up to our tent, and plopped himself down for over an hour!
In September 2016, I took a trip to California. I took a ferry out to Santa Cruz Island which is part of Channel Islands National Park. I camped 2 nights on the Island and did a lot of hiking during those 2 days. We hiked to the highest point accessible to the public, called Montanon Peak. The views along our hikes were breathtaking!
In April of 2016, I hiked up to Lava Lake near Big Sky, Montana. Armed with bear spray, I attempted this hike while I was quite sick with a bad cold. About 2 miles into it, I turned around and headed back because I was just not feeling good at all. 2 days later, still sick, but feeling better, I tackled that hike again. It’s an out-and-back trail that is 8 miles total. The last mile was interesting… It was fairly steep, the snow was about knee deep, and there were steep drop off’s on the side of the trail. I didn’t have snow shoes or hiking poles, so I had to very carefully take each step as to not slide off the side of the trail. I never thought the trail was going to end and it made me grouchy. When I was least expecting it, we came across an opening to the frozen lake – I could hear angels singing as I took in the view… All I could keep saying was “wow!
I’m going to add one more because I love the pictures from this hike. This hike was also near Big Sky, Montana and is called Storm Castle Peak. This was a beautiful 10 mile roundtrip hike. The views along the entire trail and at the top were stunning! At the peak, I lied down on a big rock to just take in the 360 degree views.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?
I have learned to take the trail more traveled (or end up lost otherwise), and to connect with the people you come across on the trail, you might just get some trail magic from them like I have in the past. I have also learned that hiking is essential to my well-being.
Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?
I really enjoy getting to share a hiking experience with someone else. When I hike with another, we generally don’t talk much, we just have a shared understanding of the specialness of what we’re doing.
Jessica shares with us the most memorable hiking experience for her to date, which I hope to experience myself one day! Her photos from the trip look very magical indeed.
My most memorable hiking experience, so far, was hiking thru White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It was like being on another planet. The hike to the campsite where I was camping for the night was only 2 miles long, and all through sand. The sand (it’s actually gypsum) is so buttery soft and cool that I hiked barefoot and didn’t even bring any shoes with me. That night, we hiked up to the top of a dune and had dinner as the sun was setting. And then later that night, the sky was so clear and the moon so full and bright – it was an experience I will vividly remember forever.
Jessica has some great advise for first time hikers:
Thoroughly enjoy it – enjoy the sounds, the smells, the feeling (inside and out) that you get from being on a trail. Also, be smart – be aware of your surroundings, carry some kind of self-defense (pepper spray?), and always tell someone your plan before you head out.
And here’s her favorite hiking gear:
I love my boots – Keen Marshall’s that I got brand new on eBay in an attempt to save money. My “P” Thing (a silicon funnel to aid woman in peeing while standing up) this allows me to pee without taking my backpack off and while standing up. It’s something I will never hike without because it is just so convenient! My Resq Link beacon – this is a lifesaver, literally. I won’t ever hike without this either, especially when I’m with my kids.
Jessica’s favorite hiking photos below depict wonderful memories for her that are quite personal to her.
It was so difficult to just choose 3! I love the picture above because I am genuinely happy. This picture was taken at a trailhead, right before trekking to the top of a mountain to spend the night. I was so happy to be there in that moment, starting off on a trekking adventure.
I love the picture above because, well isn’t it obvious – it’s my babies hiking! We were hiking on the Appalachian trail that day, on our way to a waterfall where we had lunch. This was such a beautiful and special day.
If you could only read my mind in the picture above… This was the devil’s backbone trail leading up to the summit of Mt. Baldy in California. It was the toughest hike I’ve ever done and I am wickedly proud of this picture because of that reason.
What treks do you have on your bucket list?
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which I will be doing in March and will be my first hiking trip outside of the US!), Storm King trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state, some 14’ers in Colorado, Mt. Whitney in California. I would love to hike in Norway and Iceland, and also do the Gibbon Experience in Laos. (This is just a sample of my never-ending bucket list!)
I asked Jessica about her toughest hiking experience and she notes that to be Mt. Baldy.
In September 2016, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy, right outside of Los Angeles. This was a 15-mile, steep, grueling hike. The descent was tougher than the ascent because of the steepness and so much loose rock (I fell a few times!) We went the route of Devil’s Backbone trail and it definitely lived up to its name. We ended up taking a wrong trail to get back down the mountain, which made us lose elevation that we had already gained – that frustrated me, but I knew my only option was to just deal with it and put one foot in front of the other. It was both mentally and physically tough.
Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?
Yes – At times, when I’m either hiking solo or with just my kids, I often get a little leary of people I come across. I think if I was a man, I would not get that feeling. I addressed these challenges by always being aware of my surroundings and hiking with a sense of confidence.
In overcoming challenges, Jessica shares her favorite quote when it comes to being on or off trails:
I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m just telling you it’s going to be worth it.
Jessica chronicles her adventures via her blog, Bravely Wild. She launched this blog a little less than a year ago as an outlet for her self- discovery after her separation from her husband. She’s a huge advocate for women and loves to write about different issues facing women. Hence, the blog has evolved into a means for her to express her thoughts on various subjects and hiking tips to encourage and inspire others.
But the most important aspect of being a hiker for Jessica is to spend time every year, as a tradition, with her kids. The three of them go for an 8-day camping/hiking trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee/North Carolina. They hike every day (and on parts of the Appalachian Trail) while on their annual trip. While recognizing that every hike she does is special, the ones that are the most special to her is when she gets to hike with her mother and daughter – that’s 3 generations of strong, powerful, badass women tackling the trails together! As you can see, Jessica is so passionate about getting outside and encouraging others (especially women and children) to do the same.
Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list? Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations. Also, read more about why you should trek the Classic Inca Trail HERE.
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.
You know the deal. We’re not going to be in our 20s forever. Not even in our 30s. Once you hit 40s, the nagging feeling of “aging” starts to enter front stage. Fear not. Aging has its perks. Presumably, we learn from our mistakes and we know better what we want in life. This is especially true if for the past decades you managed to spread your wings and throw yourself into countless adventures.
For travelers, traveling can bring us so many different lessons, experiences, and moments. Of course, it also expands our circle of friends and our views of the world. But, when you get enough time on the road or trail by yourself, you get to treat yourself to daydreaming, fantasizing, self-introspection, and most importantly, pondering life’s toughest questions. As one gets older, the meaning behind traveling evolves and we are gifted some level of wisdom every step of the way. Accordingly, everyone of us holds a unique view on traveling based on our experiences, both on and off the road.
Here are some of the ideas, epiphanies and lessons that came by my way in a very random order over the years I’ve been traveling and trekking up mountains, and by the time I have reached the lovely age of “40.” Luckily, the list will keep growing as time goes by, which I find to be the most valuable natural side effect of “aging.” It turns out that aging as one continues to travel and hike up mountains will only become more enlightening from hereon. Hence,
We should embrace the process and love every minute of it.
1. Once upon a time my goal was to get married. Now, my goal is to be happy. I raised the standard.
2. I’d rather see you rise and shine when you’re most afraid than when you are at your bravest moment.
3. Our lives are defined by moments, not people. That’s why you should never take people’s words or actions personally. Neither should you get 100% attached to someone.
4. It’s good to know if you’re afraid of love. It’s better to know the reason why.
5. Love is blind oftentimes; self-love is there to give you eyesight.
6. I’d rather be imperfect and be loved as opposed to being perfect without love.
7. Never lose two things when you get into a new romance: yourself and your friends, as they will save you when your new romance ends.
8. I don’t go for the fastest, the highest or the hardest. I go where my heart is moved the most for it’s how we felt at the moment, not what we accomplished, that will live with us for the rest of our lives.
9. We can make a choice to turn our lives into an adventure. The starting point is to find the inspiration to do so.
10. We are all waiting for something or someone. Don’t let the waiting period drag you down. It’s the suffering that makes the prize much sweeter.
11. There is no better gift to your romantic partner than loving yourself first.
12. The more you master letting go and saying goodbye, the easier it is to open your heart to others and experience each moment with a fellow human wholeheartedly. So, don’t fear saying goodbye even if it requires shedding tears and feeling enormous pain.
13. People come and go as you turn the chapters of your life. Staying permanently is merely an option so be grateful if some do stick around.
14. We attract what we put out there. Hence, keep your soul beautiful.
15. Ego is the worse motivation for any endeavor.
16. A fellow human is a tool for personal growth. Use him to learn but never force him to be someone he’s not.
17. Find a partner who complements and inspires you; not one that simply fills the void. Filling the void is your job, not his/hers.
18. A person’s character is the cornerstone of real beauty.
19. Happiness comes easy when you remind yourself of the good things you have in life.
20. Living is a privilege, not an entitlement.
21. Find “your” peeps and never let them go.
22. I don’t aim for perfection; I’d rather aim to learn.
23. Get rid of expectations as best as you can so you can see more of what a person is truly made of.
24. My spirit died once, but never again.
25. Some humans enter our lives temporarily to show a reflection of ourselves at that very moment in time. Don’t ever pass up that opportunity to glance at the mirror to see how your soul is doing.
26. The biggest experiment is yourself. You dissect it, analyze it, mold it, change it and in the end hopefully you come up with a better theory of what you’re about.
27. It’s relevant in life to learn to respect boundaries, be it physical or emotional in nature for oftentimes lack of boundary can ruin significant personal ties.
28. I would prefer to be alone than feel lonely with a significant other.
29. What we believe, we achieve.
30. Don’t base my courage on the amount and frequency of my tears; but rather pay attention to the number of times I keep moving forward and making something magical out of an experience that is so extraordinarily painful.
31. I haven’t given up on love. It’s just that a goodhearted man who has found true love with himself is a rare kind of soul.
32. You don’t dive into a relationship to change each other. You enter a relationship because all the work has already been done by both parties to be the best versions of themselves.
33. Indeed, my parents taught me significant life lessons, both good and bad, but I take it from here how I define my own happiness.
34. We long for adventures because they fill our soul with meaning through lessons we learn along the way.
35. There is no such thing as a “goodbye.” Any ending is part of the flow of life so there is always something gained, not lost.
36. Self actualization happens faster when you’re unattached to anything or anyone; hence, the more reason to appreciate solitude and singlehood.
37. Timing is everything. Patience will you get you there.
38. The complexity of life is at times finding value in simplicity.
39. The challenge of being human is gaining insight beyond the physicality of ourselves and our surroundings so we can discover the power we have as creators.
40. Traveling is timeless, be it in the physical, emotional and mental sense. Even with limited physical capacity in my old age, I will easily revisit the places I’ve been through so-called memories just to find myself falling in love with them all over again.
Often, as hikers, we hit the trails to clear our minds, to connect, or to reflect on our daily lives. We also hike to create stronger bonds and lasting memories with friends, families and pets. Our hiking experiences fall under any of the above categories. Today’s feature is about creating memories with people that matter the most and cherishing the memories of those who are no longer with us. Either way, hiking is about love for the activity itself, for those around us and for ourselves. I’m honored to be touched by Sarah’s hiking life. I hope she touches your life the same way by reading her story.
Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice
Sarah D. Tiedemann is from Trenton, NJ. Off the trails, she works as a paralegal, writes on the side and enjoys hibernating for the winter. Sarah spends time in North Jersey and Adirondacks for her hiking adventures. In addition to hiking, she enjoys crocheting and crafting. Sarah’s love for hiking started at the age of 17. Let’s hear more from Sarah directly about her hiking life. Enjoy!
Sarah’s discovery of hiking appears to be inspired by the location she was in at the age of 17.
I moved from New Jersey to Hawai’i when I was 17. The beauty of Hawai’i encouraged me to get on my feet. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all.
What do you like the most about hiking?
The quietness. I’m an over-thinker and being outdoors quiets my nagging, obnoxious inner voice.
Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?
Though I can appreciate the merits of hiking solo, I’m in the “strength in numbers” camp. I’m a scaredy cat and it feels safer for me to hike in a group. I typically hike with my husband and we mostly have a “together but separate” experience. At first, we’re abuzz with excitement and conversation, then we slowly quiet down and it becomes a more intrapersonal experience.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?
The biggest lessons I’ve learned were about myself. I’m much stronger, tenacious, and more capable than I give myself credit for. I’ve learned to appreciate what I can accomplish and to not be so hard on myself.
Sarah shares with us three places that she’s hiked accompanied by photos.
Mt. Marcy, Adirondack Mountains, New York: This was my husband and my first high mileage hike and we were total noobs. It’s pretty funny to go back to the pictures from that day and look at what we were wearing and what “gear” we had. Aside from my bloody blisters that soaked through to the other side of my boots, it was a great trip!
Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawai’i: I was totally sure I was 100% prepared for this hike. It often makes lists that detail the world’s “most dangerous hikes”. I didn’t take that lightly- I was prepping physically and mentally for months beforehand. We ended up taking a wrong turn at a trail junction (in retrospect, it was totally obvious) and long story short, we hiked back to the trailhead in the dark, rather than spending 3 nights at a secluded beach.
Sun Fish Pond, Worthington State Forest, New Jersey: My husband’s family has been hiking this trail for decades. It’s their “power spot” and where we spread my father in law’s ashes. It’s the perfect hike for a quick jaunt in the woods.
What advice would you give to women who are new to hiking?
There are certainly things that are different for women when it comes to hiking, but I think a general rule for those who are just starting out would be to plan for the worst and hope for the best. A lot of times, feeling apprehension is a normal reaction to something we’re inexperienced in. The best remedy for that is both physical and mental preparation.
Sarah takes us to her view on hiking as a female and any challenges that it entails. Curiously enough, the challenge doesn’t come from the outside.
Honestly, the biggest challenges I’ve run into have been self imposed and internal. Whether it be a big scramble or a feat of upper body strength- I consistently question my ability as a woman. And, every time I question myself, I pull myself up by the bootstraps and make it happen.
Any gear recommendation?
Smartwool base layers. They are absolutely amazing in any weather. You stay warm, dry, and comfortable.
What treks do you have on your bucket list?
Kalalau Trail 2.0- We’ve got to get back and finish what we started. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I had originally gone to school for anthropology before life got in the way, so now it’s just a fun hobby.
For the most memorable hiking experience, here’s one of hers.
Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the winter. I was terrified to hike in the winter- I was imagining all the things that could go wrong, and coupled with the cold, I was sure it would be a disastrous experience. We prepped to the gills and I was pleasantly surprised- that was the best hike I had ever taken. It was a perfect winter’s day- sunny, still, with plenty of snow on the ground. The stillness of the woods was incredible. We’d hiked the same trail in the summer and it wasn’t an easy one. Blanketed in snow, it brought you up the mountain on an easy slope. It was not what I was expecting at all!
Check out below Sarah’s favorite hiking photos. Favorite doesn’t always mean the “best” shots from a photographer’s standpoint. At times, it means the photos that depict the most meaningful memories in our lives. I tend to agree with that as some of the most important photos in my own life remain tuck away for now. Photos exude their own power of allowing us to relive moments, whether it’s a feeling of joy or sadness. Sarah’s candidness in sharing her personal stories behind each photo is certainly appreciated.
This is a candid shot of my husband and I dancing upon our summit of Algonquin Peak in the Adirondack Mountains. It was such an incredible day that I think back on fondly. My sister-in-law was with us on the trip, so she made sure to take some photos of us without us knowing. It was a nice treat to look through them!
This is my father in law on our last hike together to Sun Fish Pond before he passed. He just exudes happiness in this photo. It means a lot to us!
This was from a trip to Yosemite when my husband proposed – that speaks for itself
Sarah graciously shared her toughest hike yet that was closely intertwined with her life off the trails. At times, that happens. Our lives on the trails coincide with some moments in our lives off trails. Usually, nature provides the comfort or extra layer of meaning that we seek.
There were countless hikes wherein I had to push myself both physically and mentally, but the one that stands out the most is the hike we took to spread my father in law’s ashes at Sun Fish Pond. He died as a result of a work accident- he was still young and vibrant. The whole family, ranging in age from 20-70 made the trip up there to say goodbye. Coincidentally, my husband’s uncle had died years before and his father still had his ashes. We spread both of their ashes at the top.
Dad’s death felt final and real that day. It was a surreal experience, but we did it to honor him and his wishes. It was something we had to do and that made it a little easier to handle. We haven’t been able to get back up there since. It’s far too painful- but we hope to be able to make the trek in the future.
To get her through daily challenges or any moments of fear on the trails, Sarah reminds herself of these two quotes, the latter of which re-energizes her spirit:
“Everything is true just as it is. Why dislike it? Why hate it?”
“When plans fail, blaze new trails.”
Sarah’s philosophy has led her to expand on her own creativity. On an outdoor-related project, Sarah recently wrote a book about hiking and the outdoors for those who experience fear and anxiety when adventuring outside. The book is called, Traveling with Baggage: A Guide for the Hesitant Hiker. She notes that the book was written partly based on her experience growing up in the city where opportunities to get outside were scant. It’s also based on Sarah’s experience of venturing out for the first time. Sarah adds the book also has a specific section that addresses how to be prepared mentally and physically as a female hiker. Make sure to check it out on Amazon. You can also follow Sarah via her website: www.sarahdtiedemann.com
Thanks to Sarah for sharing her hiking life and personal journeys. Her feature is a great reminder to never take anything for granted, be it on or off the trails. Hiking is one of the most effective ways to create and maintain bonds with people, however short lived any hiking moment may be.
The blogging world is enormously filled with a mix of various adventure-seekers and travelers. But from time to time, you make connections with people who share similar passions. Michelle is one of the few who shares my affinity towards mountains, so much so, that she actually did a solo hike in Australia – a trek that earned her the recognition of being the first person and first female solo hiker to complete the long distance trail called, Lavender Federation Trail in Southern Australia. She did this trek unsupported, which you’ll know more about as you read on.
What struck me about Michelle’s passion for the mountains is that in her world, trekking is an endless and timeless endeavor. At any given age, we all can hike, even if it means just next door to where we live. We can stop and start hiking whenever. There’s no reason to feel afraid of starting over again after years of being absent from the trails due to various life circumstances including having kids, which was true in Michelle’s case. It’s a thrill for me to share with you her story which I know resonates with many of us who love the mountain trails.
Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice
Michelle Ryan was born in Sydney New South Wales, Australia and grew up in sunny Perth Western Australia. Off the trails, Michelle has had her own set of adventures such as working as an artist, prawn trawler, teacher, travel writer, and of course as a mother and a wife. Currently, she dedicates her time to travel writing and developing her website, Walking Two By Two.
On the trails, Michelle loves long distance trails and has hiked in various parts of the world including Norway, Scotland and Italy. She’s currently planning her 620 mile bush hike for Spring of 2017 so to follow her, make sure to check out her social media accounts at the bottom of this feature. As you can see, and by her own admission, Michelle is a “hiking addict” who prefers wilderness trails as they afford her a sense of peace, harmony and freedom with nature.
When did you first start hiking?
I have always spent time growing up out in the bush as I grew up in an outer suburb of Perth, which is situated in hills of the Darling Range. We would always just explore and make our hidden forts and just spend hours doing so as long as we were home before dark. My memory of my first short walks was with my Grandma. She would take us out behind where she lived and we would explore the bushland.
As I got older I joined the Brownies (Girl scouts sort of) Girl Guides, Rangers and went on to do my Duke of Edinburgh where hiking was part of it. When I had kids, I didn’t do much for a while until the youngest was around 11 (2007) and I started heading back out for short trips like 1-2 nights which became 1-2 weeks. My first hiking trip overseas was in Alaska in 2009 for 4 weeks! From there, I haven’t stopped!
What do you like the most about hiking?
I love the feeling it gives me – the sense of being free and strong; to have the world around you to be so quiet but at the same time so loud with life. The feeling it gives me when I look back on the day, week, month and see where I have come from and think, “WOW! I walked that with my own two feet!” This makes me proud of myself. Then, there is the love of trekking in a foreign land and exploring it in a way most wouldn’t. You can really get the feel of a place and the culture when you are walking through it. You meet so many amazing people and sometimes they might not speak the same language as you but when you are on a journey like this it doesn’t matter and you tend to find a way to communicate.
Michelle shares with us 3 of her favorite trails.
Cape to Cape Western Australia
This trail is an 83 mile coastal bush/beach walk. It starts at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and ends south at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. There are campgrounds along the way or you can arrange to get pick up from the trail and stay in accommodation. My parents live down there so it was a great way to visit and get a walk in. I have walked the length of this trail and many times more. The vistas are amazing as you get to see the incredible rugged cliffs and coastline of Western Australia (WA for short). There’s also some beach walking and coastal bush involved. It can be a challenging walk in some sections including a 6 ½ mile of soft sand walking on the last day, but worth it.
Lavender Federation Trail in South Australia
This is a little-known trail but a very beautiful one. It’s around 131miles but it since has been extended to 152 miles of country walking, mostly over farmlands. I was the first person (and female) to do a thru hike, unsupported (without vehicle support or bag transfer). It starts in a small riverside town of Murray Bridge and meanders its way north through farmlands and wine country. I stayed in a mix of B&Bs, motels and private residences which require having to walk off the trail to get to any as you really don’t walk through towns.
The Great Ocean Walk in Victoria
This is a stunning trail I would recommend to any overseas hiker to do (or anyone for that matter). It shows the best of the rugged southern coastline, rainforests, bushland and farmlands. It is a 65 mile walk with campsites along the way though it is well set up for you to be picked up from the trail and taken to B&Bs along the way. There is plenty of wildlife including many koalas and wallabies to see and a lot of history especially along one stretch of beach called Wreck Beach (the name says it all).
I was curious about Michelle’s preference in terms of solo versus group hiking. She noted that she enjoys solo for the following reasons:
I love solo as it grounds me. It reminds me I’m strong and I can achieve this, plus I love alone time. I love time in my own thoughts. There was a time that this scared me but I now embrace it and I realized I actually like myself. I think I’m cool to hang out with.
I love that Michelle learned to appreciate herself more by hiking solo. It’s liberating to get to a point when you don’t need to rely on anyone for company to enjoy the moment. However, Michelle also enjoys sharing the activity of walking with others as it creates stronger bonds.
Walking with others is a very different experience. I do a lot of big treks now with my husband (got him in hook, line, and sinker) and we are very different walkers but complement each other well. I love having the chance to experience these amazing trails with him and I think it has bought us closer. Not bad after 25 years of marriage!
Also, we walk with friends and sometimes I arrange groups. These are fun as you get to spend some quality time with people and share their joy on the experience. We just got back from an overseas trip where my hubby and I walked Norway, then went straight to Scotland and met our old friends who are new to trekking and we walked the West Highland Way for 7 days. It was fantastic! We got to have real time with them – something in this crazy fast paced world you don’t often get. And, yes, we are still very good friends. In fact, we have been on more hiking trips since then.
As to lessons from hiking, here is Michelle’s take on it.
There’s so many! It must be the best schooling in life one could get. I have learned to appreciate nature and its extreme beauty. Not to take life for granted and let it just pass you by. Go out and soak it up; experience it in the best way you can. I have learned to be strong – not so much as physically (though it does help sometimes) but mentally.
You learn to rely on yourself and to make decisions for yourself (funny enough this is a hard one for most people) and to follow through with the decision you made. Also, you learned not to give up easily and instead to push yourself mentally and physically. I have learned so much more about the world than I ever learned in school. And mostly, you learn to love life.
In terms of women who are new to hiking, what advise would you give?
Just give it a go. Don’t be afraid to try. Take it slow at first and do a few small walks and then move on from there but don’t walk and think about when you will finish. Don’t think about the fact you have 12 ½ miles to walk. The number in the end doesn’t really matter. Take that first step onto the trail, then stop, close your eyes and breath deeply, pulling in the nature… and blow out the world you just stepped out of, then start walking. This, in a way, gives your body permission to let go of your normal busy life and have a moment in nature where there is peace. When you walk, stop often to look around at the scenery or even just a leaf on a plant. Sometimes it’s the small things that really gives pleasure. From there, the rest will evolve.
Her last statement just resonated with me as it’s so true! When asked what her most memorable trek to date was, Michelle gave it her best answer as it was a struggle for her to name just one.
Now this is so hard to answer. People ask me all the time this question. All the trails I have hiked have all been different and the experiences were different. I will say though the answer will probably be the Alaska trip. It’s because it took me around 18 months to save for and it was my first overseas trekking experience.
I got to hike a multi-day glacier trek with my friend and a guide, then went to Denali and did a multi-day trek with just my friend and did a multi-day kayak trek through the icebergs! For an Aussie girl from a state that is so hot, this was very different and really cool to do. This tested me in ways I have never been tested before. The trekking and camping on the glacier were just incredible with the wild openness and grandeur of it. The sounds of the ice moving were fascinating if not a bit daunting, and the wildlife! The bears! I have a few stories there but in a nutshell met a few and I loved them!
Michelle, no doubt, is a brave hiker with all her accolades on doing long distance hikes on her own but I was curious to know if she has experienced any challenges as a “female” hiker?
Not so many, I would have to say. I am very aware of my surroundings. As I hike long distances, I would quite often end up in a town and stop for a drink at a bar. This at times does raise a few eyebrows especially as I’m a middle-aged woman with a backpack on. I never really tell people what exactly I’m doing if I can avoid it so as not to create an opportunity to attract unwelcome attention. As I have a website and Facebook, I tend not to tell where I am exactly if alone on long treks. When I was doing the Lavender trail, due to its remoteness, I would hide behind a tree or in a ditch if a car came by or I would keep my head low (hat on), try to walk like a man and raise a hand without looking to let them know I know they are there.
Michelle then gave good examples of her “toughest” treks ever – one that entails mental strength, while the other touches more on being strong physically. I quite agree that some treks require more strength in one area versus the other.
Mentally, the toughest one would be the Lavender Federation Trail which I hiked solo. It wasn’t my first solo as I did a trail in Portugal that was 420 miles long which at that time was the most challenging for me as I used it to help myself overcome severe anxiety and panic disorder. So, why was the Lavender trail harder mentally? It’s because it was one where I didn’t see a soul hiking. It was just me and the cows. Mentally, it was tough as there was no one to grab onto if an attach occurred. In Portugal, I saw people all the tie, even though I didn’t know them.
Isolation and solitude combined together can be powerful to train your mind to overcome fears. As to physical strength, Michelle shares the following treks that tested her the most.
My recent trek through Norway involved some tough sections and some outright dangerous ones that at some point I decided to abandon the trail. That section had a landslide which had taken out the trail and it was very dangerous to cross.
Then, there was the Lakes district when walking the Coast to Coast in the UK. On top of one of the mountains, the weather turned for the worse and we couldn’t see past our noses or where the trail was. We had to negotiate our way down fast as the temperature dropped quickly. We broke two pairs of hiking poles. Though very tired, we were relieved that we made it out safely.
Another tough trek would be the Six-Foot track in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales Australia. The first day was quite physically demanding and to end the day we had to walk on a swing bridge (I hate swing bridges) that was very long and very, very narrow. It scared me out of my wits.
That bridge looks rather intimidating so I don’t blame her for feeling a bit freaked out by it. To shift to a more pleasant tone, Michelle then shares what treks she still has on her bucket list.
I need more than a bucket. I need a barrel! But I will say my top ones are Tour de Mont Blanc (Switzerland, Italy and France) which I will be doing in August or September of 2017; the Sunshine Coast Trail in Canada and the Alpe-Adria (Alps to the Adriatic) Trail, which takes you through Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia.
I’ve done the Tour de Mont Blanc and it is a great choice for any avid hiker. The other two treks sound equally appealing. Moving on, I was curious to know her favorite hiking gear to which she responded,
My backpack since when I’m on a trail it can be sometimes up to 4 weeks or even 6 weeks or longer and it is my everything! It holds all that I own for that time. When I wear it, it fits right. It triggers memories from other great moments in my life and each trip just adds more to the memory file.
Due to all these fun and amazing adventures, Michelle decided to start her own blog which evolved from a Facebook page that initially served to maintain connection with family and friends. Michelle then took a travel writing course that led her closer to the idea of blogging. She fondly shares the backdrop for the name of her blog, which came out of the idea of a 4WD vehicle. Akin to a 4 WD, getting around with two legs would mean 2×2. Hence, the name Walking Two By Two, which she credits her husband for coming up with such a well thought out name.
On one final note, Michelle shares her future plans as to hiking and blogging:
Last year I wanted to really take the blogging to the next level and try to use my love of trekking to my advantage. I want to make hiking my career and keep going as long as my body will allow. I also want to inspire people to get out there and try and to feel some of what I feel. My site is not only a blog of my journeys but it is also an information site so people can go on and learn about a trail and how to go about trekking it themselves.
I also have lots of “How to” sections to help people, especially the new ones wanting to give it a go, such as “How to choose the right backpack or boots” or even “How to tie your laces.” Yes, don’t laugh! There are many ways to tie laces which can actually save you from blisters and sore feet. I also send my stories off to many magazines and have sold a few (yay!). I hope to sell a whole lot more. I have in the past few months started doing presentations for functions. I was asked to do one and then 3 more came up! I really love doing them.
Obviously, there are plenty of reasons to follow Michelle – from hiking tips/advise to all the treks she’s done which she documents in detail on her blog. All the treks that have been mentioned in this feature can be found on her website so make sure to visit Walking Two By Two. You can also find her on social media via her following accounts: Twitter, Facebook,Instagram.
In closing, Michelle shared her favorite quote on and off trails:
Each moment of the year has its own beauty – a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Michelle explains the quote as her way of viewing each day as “a new picture and that each trail is new even if you have walked it a million times. It is never the same.”
Thanks Michelle for the inspiration and sharing your hiking life with us! It’s been an amazing experience to connect with an avid hiker from Australia. I’m sure we all want to do our next trek there now. After all, the Great Ocean Trail truly looks amazing!
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.
My life these days seems reminiscent of the law school days of the past: intense, highly motivated by caffeine and filled with self imposed anticipation of what is to come next alongside the constant questioning of whether I’m cut out for this or not.
There’s a redeeming difference, however, this time around. As much as I wish I could say my attending law school was a true desire, I’d say it was partly a desire; and partly a peer pressure induced move in my life. This time around what I’m pursuing is completely part of every inch of my existence and further beyond I have ever imagined to behold my dreams and creativity. In the real world, it’s called ENTREPRENEURSHIP. In my world, I deem it as FREEDOMPRENEURSHIP.
Coming back from a one year sabbatical from my legal career in 2015, I must admit I was a complete mess.
Sure, I quickly adapted and retrained my brain to function yet again as its legal minded counterpart but deep within the core of my being my peace was disrupted by the rallying of new age thoughts that developed while in full access to a life of freedom on the road. Mind you, the thoughts were not harmful in anyway. They were life-changing. They were the voices that I have successfully pushed aside all these years because of one thing:
So, as I walked back into the house I have lived in for a decade on my first day back in the U.S., the familiar sense of home I once knew was no longer there. I became a stranger in a space I called home for ten years. I discovered that my path was changing. I didn’t have a clue as to how, when or what. I knew, however, that I had no choice but to follow the flow. For the first time in a long while, I saw a big sign on the road telling me to go a certain way. It was loud and clear. There was no way for me to push down on the brakes. There was no way out of it except the exit door that life was presenting before me. There were no more excuses to keep me from unlocking the door and walking through it. I dove right in without pre-planning anything or everything. I was free and yet completely lost in the midst of this pool of creation and energy, the physical built up of which was the formation of a social enterprise.
Peak Explorations, which is Brown Gal Trekker’s virtual mountain home, didn’t materialize out of boredom or the need to partake in a lucrative endeavor.
It all started because of a burning desire to impart on every person that manages to join a trek the notion of freedom – the way I experienced it on my one year away. To speak truthfully about this, the freedom they will experience on a two week trek in Nepal will merely be a fraction of what I have experienced, but good enough to afford them the idea that there’s more to life than the status quo that we created in our respective lives.
Peak Explorations aims to put in the forefront of the trekker’s mind the meaning of fear. Fear is an illusion. But our desire to travel is real. The nagging voice that tells us to take a break from our job to explore or to quit our job altogether to pursue our passion is your voice in its most authentic form. Drowning it any further is futile. It’s our inner being finally grabbing a hold of that microphone to be heard loud enough by your ego.
Life is about freedom, joy, love and inner peace.
Since being back to the U.S., people have asked me repeatedly about the lessons learned on the trails and unequivocally seek for words of wisdom based on my love affair with the world and the mountains. So, I tell them my best guess and hope that they instead search inwardly for the answers they’re looking for. In a chaotic world where our lives are mediocre at best, it is up to us to recreate and refurbished the complexities of our lives and transform them into a much more comprehensible and simpler version of living. I know it can be done. I have met the people who have executed this premise flawlessly and now living the life that they initially pushed away because of fear-based excuses.
Entrepreneurship has a way to pave the path towards freedom.
By this, I mean in a broader sense, we should never leave the major decisions in our lives at the discretion of our bosses or mates or friends. The lifelong questions of where we go and who we are lie solely within our sole capacity as humans to address, understand and accept in their entirety. That’s part of coming face to face with true freedom.
As to entrepreneurship, by transforming myself to becoming my own boss, I know I’m half-way there. The second half would merely entail the grunt work that the outside world often gets to witness. Mind you, the process is scary as hell as I worry about safety of my clients all the time. After all, mountain trekking is a serious endeavor with some serious consequences in the event of mishaps on the trails. This is when faith is crucial – faith in that everything will work out. That your passion outweighs your doubts. That your mission is noble enough to render the risks minimal.
You tell yourself, YOU GOT THIS! Yeah, YOU GOT THIS! Soon enough, you will believe it and the world will, too.
It’s been overdue. But, finally, every step of the way, I’m telling my fears to take a hike.
In my traveling life, I have figured rather quickly that as humans we crave freedom more than we care to acknowledge. As a new entrepreneur, freedom turned out to be everything that I always wanted for the sake of creativity, self-expression and actualization of the authentic version of myself.
A few months ago, I attended an outdoor film festival in Washington, DC that focused on the adventure films that were produced by artists from all over the world. The work presented was certainly admirable. I was inspired. A few months later, I watched yet another outdoor film festival and found myself, yet again, inspired.
However, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disconnect. The first time around I felt the same feeling but couldn’t understand what it was about. It was after the second film festival event that it became evident to me that the past two showings I watched were lacking in two things that mattered to me: (1) hiking or wilderness backpacking and (2) women. It was at that point that I vividly recall noting this concern to my male friends who shared their honest opinion that filming an activity that focuses only on hiking isn’t as exciting or “sexy enough” as climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and all these other adrenaline filled sports.
“Okay, they have a point,” I begrudgingly said to myself.
Months later I was trekking with three guys in the Caucasus Mountains of the Republic of Georgia who were from Egypt, France and Sweden, respectively. I raised the same question as to why there’s a lack of hiking or backpacking film documentaries at such events. The answer was similar to the first.
I never asked my male friends about the women aspect. After all, I was already dismayed at the responses dismissing the idea that pure hiking or wilderness backpacking as the subject of a film fails to even meet the standards that would compel any filmmaker to produce such kind of film. So, I pushed the idea aside… but ONLY for a moment.
Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks
I was in China’s remote trekking trails in yet to be discovered Tibetan Autonomous Region of the country when I met May. She was from Thailand who once trekked up the Everest Base Camp in Nepal. As money was an issue, trekking or traveling for her was a major expense. By fate, May and I met in some of the most remote trekking regions in Sichuan Province of China. We ventured out to do the 30 kilometer high altitude pilgrimage trek in Yading Nature Reserve. It was a trekking region that has yet to be fully explored by trekkers from the western world. You can read our adventure in full HERE.
The piece, Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks, was inspired by May and all the wonderful solo women trekkers I’ve met in over a decade of trekking in the U.S. and abroad. To be clear, the piece is not so much about dating, but rather it’s meant to be a way to celebrate women and their love for the mountain trails. May was one of them. To not be able to pursue her passion as often as she would want given the location of her home in Thailand that is devoid of mountain trails is a disappointing reality, to which I can fully relate. In the small city she lives in, life is simple and money is difficult to come by. For someone like May, it’s a devastating notion to accept the fact that she is unable to pursue her passion as easily as she would like due to her responsibilities in taking care of family members and the lack of finances to afford traveling to hike up mountains. Personally, I would go crazy without regular access to mountains!
Our meeting was in 2014. Yet, even now, May still reminisces about our pilgrimage trek in China. In her correspondence, she often dreams about hiking up mountains, whether within her home country or outside of it. I figured if May cannot trek an actual mountain, then I can bring the mountains to her from all corners of the world – thru the film project that is now underway. To read more about the pilgrimage trek, see Off the Beaten Path: Trekking China’s Yading Nature Reserve.
The FILM PROJECT
Just shortly after writing Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks, I decided in September of 2016 to open my Brown Gal Trekker blog to the public. I soon came to find out that the world seems to agree that women certainly must be celebrated for their passion and commitment to the outdoors. I was thrilled to learn that the world echoes the same sentiment that I’ve had all along, and as a result, Don’t Date a Girl Who Trekswas published by Dave’s Travel Corner (a pioneer website for independent-minded backpackers), Huffington Post and WHOA Mag (a publication that promotes women in the outdoors). At the same time, the piece was promoted by various leading entities in the hiking world including BestHike.com and Hike Like a Woman.
You can find the publications via the following links:
In late October, 2016, Bernard Chen, who I met months ago as part of the Great Himalaya Project (which still is currently a project via Brown Gal Trekker), reached out to me regarding ideas for future projects. All this time, I had him in mind for an interview for my blog given how inspiring his work is as an award-winning landscape photographer. He then suggested that we work on a film project on the subject of pursuing one’s dreams.
In my case, it would be about my real life decision to quit my career as a litigator in Washington, DC to pursue my passion for mountain trekking globally via my social enterprise, Peak Explorations. I was flattered at the idea but felt that may be it’s too premature as my blog is just about to turn two months old and I have yet to take my first group of clients to Kilimanjaro in February, 2017.
I then brought up to him the idea that has been brewing in my head, which is to create a short film based on Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks by showcasing women trekkers globally through a collage of photos and videos submitted by the trekkers themselves.
Bernard was thrilled at the idea. We both agreed it’s a perfect means of promoting outdoor women from all walks of life and their presence in the media.
As the idea sank in my head that day, I recalled the earlier conversations about the boring nature of a film on hiking. Then, my mind redirected me back to the feeling of disconnectedness that I experienced from the lack of female hikers depicted in the media. But then, I felt a surge of excitement knowing that the landscape of the outdoor media world will change, soon enough. That change is right within our control. We just need to make it happen.
This FILM PROJECT is a collaborative endeavor that is made possible through the help and support of female trekkers worldwide.
Hence, if you’re a female trekker who has photos or videos that you wish to submit, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, please provide us with the following:
Short background story on your photo
Short answer to the question, “What does hiking or wilderness backpacking mean to you?”
Your blog site (if you’re a blogger)
You’ll be notified when your piece is selected via e-mail. Credit will be given to your submission. You can subscribe to BGT’s blog if you wish to get updates on the project.
On December 3, 2016, Bernard and I started working on the project. We’re excited to see the end product based on the submissions of photos and videos that we received from women worldwide. To receive updates, feel free to subscribe to Brown Gal Trekker.
Also, we are raising funds to create the film. Your donations are welcome!
Or, check out our T-shirt fundraising campaign below: