Tag Archives: womenempowerment

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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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.   

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

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WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

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

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

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

Women Trail Leaders: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

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

When and how did you first start hiking?

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

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

What do you like the most about hiking?

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

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

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

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

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

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

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

Summer and Lezley share with us their favorite hiking moments.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. 

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

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

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

Saddle Mountain, Oregon.

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

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

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

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

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

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

Summer at Falls Creek Falls.

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

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

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

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

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

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

Summer at Mt. St. Helens.

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

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

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

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

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

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

What is the mission of FGH?  

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

How do define success with respect to FGH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Upasana Ray

As some of you may know, I am currently a nomad in Washington, DC which is my third home.   I have called Washington, D.C. my physical home for the past 15 years.  With a few exceptions, this area is a hub for nomads and transients who come to the city to pursue their dream jobs and initiate lifelong careers.  Hence, Washington, DC is a unique place to meet a diverse group of people.  This applies as well to meeting hikers and mountain lovers in the region.

Upasana herself came to D.C. for work opportunities just like many of us.  She came to the D.C. area to pursue a fellowship in 2012 and eventually discovered her love for the mountains.  Upasana became known to me via outdoor groups through Meetup.com.  If you have yet to familiarize yourself with Meetup, I highly recommend it.  If it wasn’t for Meetup, I would have never discovered my passion for the mountains and Brown Gal Trekker would not have been in existence.  Suffice it to say, I’m grateful for the invention of such a platform.  It’s one of those social media sites that actually allows for people to meet and connect in the old school way – plan the activity and go!  This discovery is something that Upasana also experienced herself as you’ll hear more about below.

Truth be told, I have yet to meet Upasana in person which hasn’t prevented me from  hearing about her from mutual friends and acquaintances.  Eventually, despite the lack of an actual meeting in person, we managed to become friends virtually on Facebook.  That allowed me to witness her passion for the mountains, and as such, I quietly admired her nonstop pursuit of peaks in the East Coast, then West Coast, and eventually the Indian Himalayas.

As I got to know her a little more, I realized Upasana and I have this similar love for high altitude treks – the ones that make you work extremely hard to capture an everlasting moment in nature.  At the same time, we both share the same sentiment about trekking – the notion that we spend time with our beloved mountains for spiritual connection, more so than a personal goal defined by distance or speed.   It’s a thrill for me to feature Upasana, who is now a kickass hiker in the mighty Himalayas of India.  Although she has left behind her Meetup hiking friends in the D.C. area, I’m sure we’re all with her in spirit as she continues to trudge up the Himalayan mountain ranges of India.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Upasana Ray is from India and is currently living in West Bengal.  She’s a scientist working on research on viral infections and development of therapeutic aids.  She professes to being a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast since her childhood.  However, due to her busy school schedule and lack of like-minded friends, she did not get into hiking until she came to Maryland in 2012 for a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.   The boredom during her free time led her to discover hiking via Meetup.com, which was a pivotal moment in her hiking life.  Upasana is also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer and loves painting, music and films.

Let’s hear directly from Upasana about her hiking life in the U.S. and India.

Tell us some details on how you discovered hiking via Meetup.com in the U.S. and your experience hiking with strangers for the first time.

In 2013, one lucky day, I do not even know how, I was searching for trekking clubs or nature clubs over the internet. It was then that Washington Backpackers and Young Adventurers groups caught my eyes. These were actually Meetup groups. Travelling with strangers? Oh, I do not drive! Should I take this risk? Are these good people? What if…….? And so on…….Many questions came to my mind especially being a woman.   But then, I decided that alright…..enough of thinking……….I should go for one and see how I feel.

The next question was which one to do? I did not know a single thing about trekking and gear list involved. That time in the meet up group I saw that a night hike meant to view the sunrise from the Old Rag mountain, Virginia was getting organized. This was it. I wanted to do it. It was a group of many hikers…….really many. We did carpooling (something that I could never imagine doing) and reached the trail head at almost midnight. Everything was new for me that time – the country, the people, the culture, the society and the type of activity, as well. But, as it turned out, I liked the people, I liked the company, I liked the fresh air, the darkness of the mountain, the thrill……every moment of the hike. The sunrise…….Ah! I decided, yes, I love this!   And, the journey started.

After this first hike, I did several day hikes before I did some weekend backpacking trips in Virginia and Southwest Virginia with Washington Backpackers. Then I came to know about the DC-Ultralight group. I wanted to do serious mountain treks/hikes with full of challenges and definitely risks. It was this group where I was taught to be methodical and independent on mountains. I kept doing all kind of hikes with them starting from low mileage to moderate to extreme hikes. Very soon, I realized that I have changed a lot.  My endurance level increased a lot and I was getting crazy about mountains.

Between, 2013-2015, I did many… REALLY MANY hikes with them. Even though I returned to India in July 2015, by then I had done many section hikes of the Appalachian mountain/Massanutten mountain, many weekend backcountry hikes in Virginia and Southwest Virginia regions like the Roaring Plains, Dolly Sods, Double Top mountain, Canaan mountain, Catoctin mountain, Mill mountain, Big Schloss, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliff, Dragon’s Tooth, Cranberry Wilderness, Mount Rogers, North Fork mountain, AT-Mau-Har trail, southern SNP, the Tuscarora trail, Great North mountain, so on and so forth. I loved the foothills trail running from South to North Carolina. Then I got the opportunity to taste the mountains of New York. The first one was Devil’s path. I was told that it’s very tough and risky and I should be careful. Yes, it was. But I did it. I successfully finished United States’ one of the most difficult hikes.

Tibett Knob, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
The Adirondacks, New York.

Then I followed my passion and did many peaks of the Adirondacks range.  East Coast was not enough for me and so I went to other parts of the country with different groups of hiking friends and hiked the Rocky mountains, Colorado; the wind river traverse in Wyoming; the famous rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Olympic National park in Seattle; Mount Rainier up to the Muir base camp in the Washington state and the Burroughs mountain of Washington state.  All these – in less than 2 years.  As I kept hiking I realized that I like high altitudes more, the snow covered peaks and the beauty of the mountains above tree line.

Olympic National Park, Washington.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Wind River Traverse, Wyoming.

Then in July, 2015 I came back India. We have Himalayas. I had to try. Himalayas have completely different terrain, very unstable weather, more dangerous on high altitudes and definitely majestic. So, I went for a 12 day high altitude trek in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Bara Bhangal trek that involved two high mountain passes of almost 14,000-15,000 ft altitude, the Kalihani pass and the Thamsar pass. We were a group of just a few trekkers and out of them I knew one who studied in the same institute from where I did my PhD.

This is one of the most remote treks in India and we did it. I was extremely happy. The view that one can get from these high mountains is just breath taking. No, I could not stop here. In fact, now it’s time to explore more and explore higher. This year, after all the preparations, I went for a semi-technical climb of Stok Kangri, in Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a 20,080 ft high summit of northern Himalayas, the highest in the Stok range. It was a serious expedition as the altitude falls under extreme high altitude range. With a systematic ascent I could successfully be at the top of the summit.  It’s beyond my vocabulary to explain how I felt. This was an achievement.

And the journey continues.

Who or what inspires you to trek?

Mountains attract. They are addictive and keep calling back. The beauty, the massiveness, the sense of achievement after a successful summit or after successful finish of a trek, everything inspires me to do more and not stop. When I stand surrounded by those massive snow peaks and weather doesn’t follow the rules, I feel how tiny I am and how big mother nature is. So, shake off all those unnecessary ego, overconfidence and what not…….here I am nothing but a tiny part of this huge universe. Mountains teach to be human, to share, to live, to smile, to enjoy, to respect nature and to trust each other. When the same mountain allows us to stand on top of one of her peaks, she says…….hey, see, you can do it….this is success! Being a woman, this feeling of achievement is a huge driving force.

What do you like the most about hiking or the outdoors?

Hiking lets me see nature at its much unaltered/ minimally disturbed form and offers me with a feeling of success. This success is something very different than materialistic success. Above all,trekking brings tremendous peace of mind and boosts my confidence level. Even if no one is there for you, nature will always be there. I always feel that mountains make me feel that I am important, I am worth it.  Every time I visit her, she asks me to come back and talk to her, whatever I want, whenever I want. She has so much to offer but for that I need to keep going back.

Apart from walking on the trail or climbing the passes/peaks I also love mountain photography and thus every time I trek, I shoot lot of photographs.

Upasana proceeds to tell us about her most important treks thus far.

I will tell you about not one but two of my favorite treks that I did in India as I can’t pick one out of them. These are (i) Bara Bhangal trek, Himachal Pradesh, India (12 days) (ii) Stok Kangri expedition, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India (9 days). I went for Bara Bhangal trek in the month of October and Stok Kangri, between end of August and early September. The reason I attempted these treks are the challenge levels. These are challenging treks. Additionally, Stok Kangri is a summit climb of a 20,  080ft mountain top that is the highest of the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Bara Bhangal Trek

Bara Bhangal is a very less explored trek. Not many people attempt this. The trek is 12 day long and difficult but what you experience is majestic. The two passes that one has to traverse, the Kalihani and the Thamsar, will drain out the energy from you but once you start feeling like you are now completely drained out, it’s when you realize that you reached the top and then look up to see the heaven. Tons of high Himalayan peaks show up in panoramic form and you now feel all of a sudden that the energy you lost is back again.

Bara Bhangal.
Kalihani Pass.
Thamsar Pass.
Thamsar Summit.

Stok Kangri Trek

If weather is clear, from the summit of Stok Kangri, one can see the higher Karakoram range and even K2. There is a massive glacier that one has to cross after the second base camp of Stok Kangri and that part of the journey is glamorous. However, the summit climb of Stok Kangri is a night ascent, hence one can actually see the glacier only while returning.

Stok River.
Stok Kangri Basecamp.
Glacier after Stok Kangri Advanced Basecamp.
Stok Kangri Summit.

What did you wish to get out of this journey? What personal goals did you have and to what extent did you achieve them?

I am a person who just wants to see very high mountain peaks as closely as possible. I enjoy taking challenges and going through difficult conditions to ultimately view something majestic. The only goal I had was to go for extreme high altitudes to see high peaks, cross glaciers and travel through high mountain passes and snowfields full of crevasses. Of course, when I return I wanted to have plenty of photographs to show everyone what I saw, what you can’t get in cities or low lands.

What lessons did you learn from this trek?

I learnt that one should not get demoralized because many people could not finish a particular trek…..rather you should trust your abilities. Being mentally positive and being happy on the trails, both are very important. Instead of trying to finish a trek, one should try to live the trek and enjoy it.

If you were to do this trek again, how would you do it differently, if at all?

I think I did pretty much what I could. But, more the fit one is, the better it is. So, I would definitely exercise harder and try to improve breathing efficiency even more considering the thin air that one faces at extreme high altitudes.

What piece of advise would you give a female who is thinking about doing this trail based on your experience?

I would definitely say that one must at least give it a try ……..and do not underestimate yourself.

Upasana talks about her toughest trek, which happens to be Stok Kangri for obvious reasons.

There are many tough treks that I have done, each challenging in one respect or the other. However, Stok Kangri was most challenging because of the extreme altitude of 20,080 ft accompanied by bad weather. Many participants had to turn back because of altitude mountain sickness sooner or later, in some cases milder and in some others harsh. The pace of an athlete would not necessarily help in such altitudes.  It’s the discipline and slow but steady ascent that counts. If you hurry, you will be in trouble. Being slow, acclimatization, drinking lots of fluid, eating well, and honesty make the difference.

Someone told me in the beginning of the trek that hardly 50% of the total participants can actually finish Stok Kangri. That was not nice to hear. Also, I am not a very thin person. Plus, I am a woman. But, I kept my confidence level high and did everything that I could. I worked hard on acclimatization, kept my spirit up and that was my key to the successful climb of Stok Kangri.

What other treks do you have on your bucket list?

Oh, many…… I would require lots of buckets. However, some of them are Kalindi Khal, Pin Parvathi pass, Annapurna Circuit, Chamser Kangri, Goecha La, Auden’s Col, Panpatia Col, Everest base camp till camp 2 i.e. crossing the Khumbu ice fall and back and the Siachen Glacier trek for civilians that is organized every year by the India army.

I want to explore more semi-technical peaks of altitude 20,000 ft and more. I am also looking for sponsors for my treks so that I can accomplish more and write about such expeditions.

What is your favorite hiking gear?

They are two: (a) My hiking shoes as that keeps my foot (most important for the journey) safe (b) my backpack as that is required to store the essentials for a multi-day exploration in the rugged mountains.

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

As a female hiker my experience regarding issues that I faced is similar if I compare India and USA. Generally speaking, women are considered less efficient as compared to men whether it’s here in India or the western world (of course, the extent of this type of thinking is of lesser degree in western countries). Let’s talk about hiking alone. I found that a lot of women engage in this hobby. However, if you are interested in high altitudes or multi-day treks, the number of women participants decrease with the increase in number of days and increase in altitude. So, if I am looking for a female company, my chances are low.

Being a woman, I am confident. I fight for the rights of a woman. However, I do have to accept that nature herself has made man and woman different. On the trail, some women can be very fast just like their male hike mates while others can be slower but not inferior as far as endurance is concerned. Lot of times I felt that when I trek in a group of men only or mostly, it’s hard for them to understand that a woman who is slower than them is not necessarily less efficient or is feeling unwell. It is just that she hikes little slow but can hike as much as the others do.

Then, we women have health related issues that we need to consider seriously. If needed, we should have someone to share our problem with. It is a little harder when you do not have other female hiking friends in the group. I have faced this once and I had to take medication and wait on the trail itself in an isolated place where the other group mates went ahead. I waited alone for almost half an hour before I could get up and start walking again. This was way back during one of my initial backpacking trips and would never want another woman to go through. Hence, I would suggest every woman hiker to carry enough medicines and have them when required. Also, if you are not feeling well please tell your hiker friends whether female or male about your exact problem.

Lastly, women always are at the risk of harassment/ misbehavior. I generally keep a knife for emergency use and always maintain distance from suspicious people.

Upasana gave us an in-depth insight on some of the challenges as a female hiker including the pace difference between men and women which I completely relate to as generally men tend to go on a faster pace.  In any event, we ought to listen to our body and learn to respect our own abilities for safety reasons regardless of the pressures from our fellow hikers.

Moving on to the trekking world in India – what are the best areas for trekking in India?

For someone who likes snow peaks, I suggest trekking in the northern and eastern Himalayan ranges in India. The terrain is different in each of these areas. While extreme north (e.g. Jammu and Kashmir) is arid, as you move towards eastern India, the mountains are greener. Each type of the terrain has its own beauty. Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Darjeeling (in West Bengal) and Sikkim are some of my favorite destinations.

How would you categorize the hiking/trekking in India?

In India you will find hiking choices of all sorts, non-technical and easy, moderate, non-technical but very difficult, semi-technical, and of course, technical. Some high peaks such as Stok Kangri and Chamser Kangri are semi-technical climbs where you need to trek till the base camp and some more before you need to get roped up and use your ice axe, crampons etc.

As far as elevation is concerned, the altitude can vary from nominal to extreme high altitudes above 20,000 ft. Trekking above 12,000 ft is very common here in India and thus for many treks hikers traverse through altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 16,000 ft. For those who like to go even higher, there are plenty of options.  The Himalayan terrain is not easy. The weather is also unpredictable.

Although many people opt to hike on their own, according to the government rules, Himalayan treks must be done by hiring a guide and you should have permits wherever required. Hence, trekking alone is not advisable. This is particularly important for high altitude treks as altitude mountain sickness is a common issue in Himalayan treks and guides become very useful in case of any sort of emergencies.

What treks would you recommend for someone who is doing treks in India for the first time?

If someone is new here, I would suggest doing Goecha La (in Sikkim), Roopkund (Uttaranchal), Rupin Pass (traverses from Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh), Har ki Dun (Uttarakhand), Chadar (Jammu and Kashmir), Bara Bhangal (Himachal Pradesh) (this is very remote and less explored) and Kuari pass (Uttarakhand). There are many more. These are only some of them. It also depends on individual interests. Like myself, I always look for very challenging treks at extreme altitudes and remote areas where risks are high, and of course, treks with good views. Some trekking companies conduct guided treks and these can be pre-booked. People who are trekking for the first time in India, it will be advisable to book the treks beforehand.

Can people trek solo in India? If so, which areas?   What are the obstacles/challenges of solo trekking in India?

You can trek solo in India but with a guide. However, a group of 5-6 hikers is always better. Himalayan terrain should be taken seriously. As I said elsewhere as well, most of the Himalayan treks involve high altitude climbs in one or the other forms, for less or more duration. Mountain sickness is a commonly experienced issue. Weather is unpredictable. The trails in Himalayas are not well marked, especially at very high altitudes. Hence, even if you want to hike solo, please hike a guide who can help you out in difficult situations.

How does one obtain guides for treks in India for those areas requiring permits and guides?

Guides are mandatory in Himalayan treks. Those who don’t hire guides, violate the law. If caught, you can run into trouble. If you come here and decide to go for a trek unplanned, you can certainly still go for it. You need to get in touch with travel companies and they will assist you.

Are there factors that women should specifically know about when they trek in India?

Yes, being a woman, you have to be a bit more careful. That is why I suggest to be in group. If you still want to go solo, please get in touch with reputable trekking companies. They will take care of your safety. On your own hand, you should keep something for self-defense and emergency situations. Phones might not work on trails. Let the embassy or similar organization know that you will be out solo in the wilderness and share your travel logistics with them.

Upasana encourages everyone, as I would, to experience trekking in India.  As my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, intends to scout the trails in India to promote local tourism, I plan to trek there one day and hope to cross paths with Upasana in her trekking paradise – the Indian Himalayas.

On one final thought, Upasana leaves us with her favorite quote in loving memory of her friend a beloved member of the Meetup hiking community of the East Coast and an inspiring Outdoor Woman’s Voice –

HUA DAVIS

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

                                             -Swami Vivekananda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

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

How did you discover hiking?

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

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

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

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

What do you like the most about hiking?

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

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

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

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

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

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

Andrea shares with us 3 favorite trails.

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

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

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

What was the toughest hike or trek you have done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Marite Perez

Have you ever imagined living a life mostly dedicated to the outdoors?  Better yet, do you ever contemplate on being a leader on the mountain trails and get paid to do it?   And all the while being a woman doesn’t stop you from leading a group in various parts of the world?  In fact, the experience of being outdoors and trekking have made you the strong KICKASS woman that you are.  

When I heard about Marite, that’s what came to my mind.  I’m amazed at how she has lived her life which only a few of us can truly experience – the almost complete freedom to roam the world at our own choosing.  I only experienced a brief one year of that kind of traveling life.  Since then, I’ve been wanting to relive every moment and make it my full time reality.  To me, Marite’s way of life signifies THAT depth in life where profound revelations abound – ones that will pave the way for most of us to become our authentic selves.

marite-in-sand-dunes

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Marite

To be exact, Marite and I have yet to meet in person.  Where that will happen,  I can’t really say.  But that uncertainty excites me.  It’s a situation where somewhere in the world an aspiring nomad meets a lifelong nomad in action.  I have my co-founder, Swamy, of the non-profit, Trails Without Borders to thank for this unlikely introduction.  He highly suggested that I connect with Marite when I was discussing the idea of having female guides as part of Peak Explorations‘ team.   Upon meeting Marite via Facebook, I quickly became an admirer of hers.  She, after all, met Swamy while they were climbing up Denali this year (2016).  Marite was with a team of Venezuelans while my co-founder was going solo to summit the highest point of the U.S.  Both of them obviously have star quality in them but for this segment, Marite beats Swamy as my very first feature for obvious reasons…. fortunately.

BACKGROUND

Marite was born in Venezuela and has deemed Spain as her residence for the past 15 years.  However, during the time of submission of her interview, she noted she was in Alaska.  I can’t say that is still true since she travels frequently as a guide and an explorer but she did add that this past summer, she explored the state while intending to return in the winter to be a guide for cross-country skiing, hiking, biking, dog-sledding, canoeing and for regular sightseeing and wildlife tours.

marite

HIKING LIFE

Marite started hiking at the age of 16.  In my interview of Marite, she shared her most memorable early days of hiking.  One that came to her mind that permanently changed her view of life was a trek in the Amazon rain forest in Venezuela.  On that hike, she trekked with the local Indians without any provisions, meaning no food, water, or tent.  Her group relied on what they could get from nature such as fish, fruits and even ants  and spiders!  Along the way, she met shamans in the local villages which added so much more meaning to the journey.

Marite loves everything about hiking as she treasures “the experience of being close to beautiful nature, landscapes, and the local people.”  Marite also finds hiking to be the gateway to learning more about herself.  To her, hiking is “a way of life…and you get  stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”  I couldn’t agree more.

marite-yoga

I felt that way myself when I spent extended amount of time on the trails by myself.  Nature has a way to minimize distractions in our lives to finally come face to face with the inner workings of ourselves.  I value that about hiking as much as Marite even though now I don’t get to trek the world on a full time basis like I once did.

When asked whether she has a preference on going solo or with others as to hiking, she noted she enjoys both.  She adds, “hiking  alone is a challenge.  It is meditation.  As to hiking with others, you learn from your companions while teaching and sharing with each other what you know.”

Speaking of lessons from hiking, Marite learned to appreciate and love mother nature, animals and human beings as an integral part of her life.  She reminds new hikers that hiking is an incredible way to spend time as it is a healthy and enjoyable endeavor.  Marite also emphasizes that hiking adds to the experience the pleasure of traveling and the opportunity to expand and open one’s mind in doing so.

Below, Marite shares with us some of her favorite treks thus far, of which the last one happens to be a favorite of mine, as well.  From her photo, you can easily understand why we both love it.

CORDILLERA REAL, BOLIVIA

ak

PATAGONIA IN CHILE & ARGENTINA

marite-bike

EVEREST REGION, NEPAL

marite-kumbu

LIFE AS A GUIDE

Of course, I am very much intrigued about Marite’s profession as a guide.  Marite started working as a guide in the Andes as a tourism student in Merida, Venezuela.  She then ended up working regularly at the same job with local agencies in Merida, Los Roques, Los Llanos and Amazonia (Venezuela).  Marite’s experience in leading a diverse group of hikers is vast as she worked as a guide for groups from Europe, U.S., Canada, Brazil and Japan.

Guiding, however, has its set of challenges.  Marite notes that as a guide you would need to be ready to address all sorts of problems that may arise during the trip.  The manner of handling the problems requires that it be done expeditiously while being mindful of the comfort of all members of the group.  According to Marite, to be a successful guide, you have to know the territory, the history and culture, and be able to network with professional tourism operators.

marite-2

As Marite has traveled to so many places for years, I wondered what treks or peaks she has yet to conquer at this point.  For Marite, her future trekking adventures include the Baltoro Glacier and K2 Base Camp in Pakistan, the Grand Italian trek and the famous Markha Valley trek in India.

Coincidentally, Baltoro Glacier/K2 Basecamp trek and the Markha Valley are both future scouting trips for my social enterprise, Peak Explorations.  If logistics and timing work out, Marite and I may finally meet officially in Pakistan!  For now, I will try my best to follow her adventures on Facebook.  I did urge her to start a blog to make it easier which she agreed to explore at some point.

AS WOMAN AMBASSADOR

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to name Marite as one of the Women Ambassadors of Peak Explorations. In a male dominated world of global trekking, Marite surpasses most men on the trails with her strength in purpose as a guide, her dedication and pure girl power awesomeness.  I’m truly honored to cross paths with her as we continue our planning of future joint global trekking adventures.

Thanks for sharing with us, Marite!  We all look forward to learning about your future treks, some of which I anticipate will be a joint one with Brown Gal Trekker.

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Saying I DO is Not the Only Thing to Celebrate On the Trails


Source: MC Travel

Today I had a bit of time to browse through my Facebook wall and by chance came upon a video that caught my attention. It was a video depicting the famous Machu Picchu, a place that I have visited twice.  The first time was to do a one day hike and the second time was when I organized a group of 30 people to hike the Inca Trail.   But this video happens to be about  not only the ancient ruins, but also about men proposing to the ladies in their lives.  The women as expected were ecstatic as evidenced by their tears of joy and smiles.  The video gained over 4 million viewers, 65, 000 shares, 54, 000 likes and 12, 000 comments.  If you asked me 10-15 years ago whether I would “like” the video, my answer would have been a “yes.”

But fast forward to now, looking at this clip I’m perplexed by how much society celebrates the dramatic flair of marriage proposals as if it’s the ultimate goal in life.  I’ll confess one thing – I’m beyond the age that most women get married. I have never been married.  It’s not my ultimate goal even though the majority in our society sets that as a goal for me.

You see, when you spend tons of time alone on travels which I had over a decade, you realize there’s so much more to celebrate beyond marriages and partnerships.  Women are advancing in their careers at a much higher rate and breaking down glass ceilings more than ever before.  Women are expanding their horizons as they travel the world with others or solo.  Women athletes are on the rise, be it on the mountain trails or in the more traditional sense.  Women are turning towards entrepreneurship to answer their calling and define their own freedom.  There are so many aspects of being a woman that warrant a celebration beyond a piece of paper that says you’re legally committed to one person.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in the value of having a loving partner in one’s life. Sharing moments on any and every hike would be amazing.  But as we age, we need to be more mindful of the sources from which we receive love.  If it’s from the outside world or our partners that we find the flow of love, then what happens when we lose him or her?  Oftentimes, when we don’t have a good grasp of loving ourselves, once he or she disappears, we end up easily losing ourselves.  That’s a pity.  I’d like to think that love can be more enduring and everlasting than that, at least for as long as I’m living on this planet.

This brings me to the thought – wouldn’t it be nice if one day our society places more value in learning to love ourselves and stop looking down on women who walk the trails alone?  Trust me, I get questions about my being a solo hiker along with the curious looks and wondering minds that question the whereabouts of my partner.  If this video depicted me instead with my looking into the camera directly, hence, looking at the viewers themselves, would they even have the ability to see the happiness within me the same way they did with the couple they saw kissing and hugging?

Perhaps, not. Perhaps they’ll assume the wrong things and disregard that genuine sense of joy on my face so they can instead feel sorry for me for standing alone in that photo.  Or better yet, they’ll wonder where my prince charming was in such a beautiful mountain backdrop.  If I may be blunt, as I watched this video, I felt more concerned than joyous towards the couples as I wondered if they were making the right decision for both parties.  After all, commitment on paper entails tons of hassles, both emotional and financial.  It’s a step that most people take based on societal norms even though unnecessary at times.

But then, what do I know?  I’m just a mountain fanatic who barely has time for relationships, and who, for now, is simply happy to commit to nature  because it always provides me the ability to align with my innate sense of joy.  I know it would be unrealistic of me to expect millions of viewers and thousands of people to like my videos that merely depict a lone female frolicking on the trails, but I’ll continue sharing them, nonetheless.  Maybe one day society will warm up to the idea that we can celebrate other crucial life moments besides the notion of marriage atop mountain peaks.  If it’s truly meant to be, then I’ll patiently wait like any hiker at heart.

For more, read She Becomes a Judge and I Become a Mountain Nomad.

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