An Epistle to Women

Submitted By: Sarah Richards, Guest Contributor

Twenty-four hours ago I came off the water from a 100-mile solo canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness. The magnitude of the experience is only just beginning to sink into my bone marrow and become a part of Me, this list of moments, images, smells. Navigating in the fog on big water, listening to an eagle tear meat from bone as he ate his lunch with gusto, breathing in deep of wet forest, waking to a fierce west wind (and initially thinking it would be of great benefit since I was going east – it was not – quite scarier when you can’t see the rollers coming), paddling into an equally fierce headwind for three days, talking to a pair of stalker otters that stayed close to my canoe for nearly a mile late one afternoon, speaking urgently into my imaginary military sat phone to call down an air strike every time I encountered a beaver dam (there were many and this strategy didn’t work), hoisting my muddy pack onto my back while cursing at her and calling her a wretched water-retaining whore, scraping smashed banana slug off my small pack (poor slug – he was in the wrong place at the wrong time), screaming (with a canoe on my head) in pain and frustration in the middle of an interminable bog, absolutely certain I was going to lose my mind right then and there if I had to take another step…

But I took another step…

And another…

And another…

I slept on a bed of dried sphagnum moss. I scrounged, sawed down to size, and split my own firewood.

I stared down a bull moose (actually, he grew bored with me and disappeared into the trees).

I dispensed with all table manners, shoving food into my maw, wiping at my mouth with the back of my hand.

I blew my nose onto the ground (this takes skill to not get it all over your face).

I stood on a great slab of bedrock in the rain with my face lifted and my arms spread wide.

I pissed the perimeter of my campsites.

I was, at different times (sometimes all at once), cold, wet, tired, sore, hungry, hot, angry, exhausted, exhilarated, at peace, and struck abjectly dumb by the beauty all around me.

I felt powerful.

Prior to my trip, when people would ask where I was going, upon learning what I intended to do, for some, my Woman-ness was an important consideration.

“You’re going alone?!” “Aren’t you afraid?”

Afraid of what exactly? A woman’s most prevalent predator is a man, and I didn’t expect to see very many of those at all.

Yes, I am going alone. Men do it. Go into any bookstore and look at the travel writing section.

Men do it AND write books about it.

That I was a woman, who plotted her own route, who had taken two prior solo canoe trips, who is physically fit and most days of sound mind…that is enough. Sufficient resume for man or woman.

But since the Woman-ness factor was introduced into my trip (I’d thought I was just a human going on an epic adventure), I will address it.

DSC00132To ALL women I say this:

Break through those boundaries.

Smash those walls into a million billion pieces and roll naked in the rubble.

Travel through your life as you see fit.

Cut your hair off. Or don’t. It’s YOUR hair.

Ride a motorcycle.

Make yourself strong, be it physically, emotionally, mentally – Be HUGE.

You do not need approval or justification.

Never apologize for being female. It is a strength. Not a liability.

Own your existence and shape it to YOUR liking.

Pay homage to the millennia of warrior women who have come before.

Swear like it’s a second language.

Do not let fear be your guide.

Sing at the top of your lungs and dance with abandon.

Accept nothing but the best from yourself and from others.

Be your own Motive.

Wear that dress because it makes YOU feel sexy – fuck everyone else.

Let your blood race through your veins, red like fire.

Paint your face on a flag and march into battle.

Don’t be afraid to give voice to your mind.

Let no one tell you what you are capable of doing – that is for YOU to decide.

Be your own hero.

Reject the moniker “Rebel”.

We are not rebels.

We are Women.

And we are far more powerful than comic book caricature politicians or an objectifying culture can begin to touch.

We ARE life.

It ought to be on OUR terms.

Square your shoulders, hold your head up proud

And go forth.


The Red Hat

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member

Last summer, as we entered Glacier National Park, Sara (WWW’s Social Media Coordinator) commented on the classic wood welcome sign, “You could watch me grow up through photos with those signs.” Sara’s family, Adventure Pass holders, stopped for a Kodak moment by the welcome sign to every park they visited.

I had something like that too, I realized. You could watch me grow up through photos with my red hat—the knit cap I always bring on outdoors trips because it’s too bright to wear in civilization. Ironically, it hails from the most urban of places, New York City. My mom bought the hat for me from a street vendor for ten bucks, when I was ten years old. Seventeen years later, I’m still wearing it. But only in landscapes too grand for it to compete for attention. Places where it becomes just a cheerful fleck of color.


Section 16, Colorado Springs, Colorado

There are two schools of thought on apparel color in the outdoors. One is to wear muted colors and blend in with the scenery, the better to see wildlife. The other is to wear brilliant hues, because while it may be a drawback for wildlife to spot you, people spotting you is probably a good thing. Moreover, the vibrant trend seems related to the expense of new apparel. If The North Face is asking for $200 for a jacket, it had better come in appealing colors.

Because seasoned outdoors-folk already have the gear they need, and often take pride in their old threads, the color war tends to fall along generational lines. I saw this exemplified at breakfast at a hotel in Julian, California, a stopover for Pacific Crest Trail hikers. About six twenty- and thirty-somethings were like a flock of parrots in their neon puffer jackets, jabbering excitedly about their trail experiences. Meanwhile, three or four hikers in their sixties, dressed in well-worn dark fleeces, took their time sipping coffee, hardly speaking at all.

Growing up, my dad took me shopping, and since he’s of the thrifty coffee sipping generation, my outwear has always been navy blue, forest green, black, and brown. I’m still wearing the black fleece I’ve never grown into, and the brown rain shell I can barely fit layers under. (Children’s extra-larges and women’s extra-smalls tend to be a bargain.) But then there’s that red hat.


Somewhere in Utah

Looking at my red hat/dark outerwear photos, I’m reminded of those t-shirts that say “Same shirt, different day.” The photos could almost be from the same trip except my face is changing and my hair gets longer and shorter. I wear the hat in different ways through the years—rolled like a skullcap, flipped at the edge and sticking up at the top, full length so it slouches in the back. It’s like that famous photograph of the Hole in the Wall Gang, where all the men are wearing bowler hats, but each at different angle that says everything about their personalities. I don’t know what the variations convey in my case. But no matter what phase I was in, on any given cold night, the red hat was pulled down to my nostrils, my sleeping bag drawn around my chin. In some sense, it has all been one trip.



Age 11, summit of Mt. Massive, Colorado 2001


Age 13, Appletree Campground, Angeles National Forest, California 2003


Age 14, Angeles National Forest, California 2004


Age 16, La Sal Mountains, Utah 2006


Age 17, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado 2007


Age 20, near Woodland Park, Colorado 2011


Age 26, Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana 2016

I’m the one in the red hat.

Never Underestimate a Mountain

Submitted By: Kristen GraceBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Denver

When two women set out to climb a mountain, they don’t let anything stop them.

They aren’t afraid to wake up at 4am. They don’t let fierce winds or freezing temperatures scare them off. And they definitely don’t turn back when the summit is in sight.

Even if they probably should.


Climbing Mt. Bierstadt – 14,065′ (Georgetown, Colorado)

When we set out to climb Mt. Bierstadt, it was late September and the Denver highs were still in the 70s and 80s. Packing a heavy coat for hiking seemed excessive. We thought to bring hats and gloves, and to layer up just in case, but even that seemed like overkill.

Mt. Bierstadt was the first 14er I climbed after moving to Colorado in Summer 2016 and it taught me an important lesson: never underestimate mountain weather.

Because mountain weather is fickle and no matter how warm it is in Denver, in the mountains it’s always cooler and a sunny day can change to powerful storms in minutes.

The Climb

We hit the road around 4am so that we could arrive, stretch and start our climb just in time for sunrise.

The base of Mt. Bierstadt is only about an hour and half drive from Denver, making it one of most accessible 14ers in the state. It’s also a good choice if you’re looking for a quick and challenging day hike since the out and back is only a few hours.

The first part of our hike took us through a flat valley. It was deceptively pleasant and made starting out in the dark totally worth it. We watched the sun light up the snow-covered mountains with shades of pink and gold. This view alone was worth the trip.


But once we started to climb, we realized something was wrong: it was windy. Really windy.

And windy means cold.

The part of this hike that people neglect to share is that you are completely exposed to the elements once you reach a certain point in the trail. That means there is no shelter from the wind, especially when you get closer to the rocky summit.

As we climbed, I questioned both our sanity and safety.

I couldn’t feel my toes, my face was completely exposed and it was really cold.

This should have been enough to make us turn back… but we were on a mission.

The summit was 20ft in front of us. How could we quit?

The Summit

I learned later that my hiking buddy, Chi, had been shouting for us to turn back, that it was too cold and the wind was too strong to keep going.

But I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the wind whipping around us. So as I continued to push on, she begrudging followed.

Not being able to communicate was another reason we should have turned back. If only I’d known.

But miraculously, we reached the top.


We pulled out our signs and snapped a few pictures. “Click, click, okay, let’s go!” My mouth was too frozen to smile.

The pictures we managed to take showed a clear, wide open view of the Rockies that only the top of a 14er can provide. I just wish I’d been able to actually enjoy it!

Then a strong gust of wind threw me into a rock, nearly tossing me off the mountain. With the threat of death feeling very real, we raced back down. Mission accomplished — we were ready for the hike to be over.


On the way down, the weather improved. It was actually warm enough to enjoy the view!

As we passed groups of people headed to the top, we noticed that many were even less prepared than we were. We saw hikers in shorts and tank tops. We saw sandals!

I was already feeling bad enough about misjudging the intensity of this hike, but I admit, seeing others more foolish than me attempt the climb made me feel just a tiny bit better.

We tried to warn our fellow hikers that they were in for a shock at the top, but most brushed us off. It was beautiful and warm at the bottom! How could it be cold at the top? A rookie mistake.

The Aftermath

In the end, we made it. All our fingers and toes intact.

But this experience changed the way I prepare for serious hikes.

First, I always check the forecast before heading out. I want to know if there is ANY chance of rain, wind or snow. When you’re over 10,000ft in elevation, it matters.

Second, I pack for every possibility, even if most things stay in the car. Extra clothes, raincoats, snacks, hand warmers, etc. You never know what you might need.

Third, I never underestimate the intensity of the climb. Just because you’re in shape doesn’t mean the elevation won’t affect you. When you’re at high elevation, you need to be aware of how you’re feeling and when it’s time to call it quits.

Finally, I’ve made peace with turning back. Finishing the Mt. Bierstadt climb was stupid. It was dangerously cold and windy, and we were not prepared. While I’m proud of us for pushing ourselves, it was a huge risk and we got lucky. When faced with a similar situation, I’ll never put my goals ahead of my safety again.

But at least it was beautiful!


New Zealand: or what study abroad trips are really about

Submitted By: Mia Zavalij, Board Member

It’s been difficult to write about my study abroad experience in New Zealand. I chose to go to New Zealand because it was one of the last options left by the time I had decided to spend my next spring semester, and my last semester of undergrad, abroad. Of course, I also chose New Zealand because of it’s breathtaking sights and landscapes. I mean, could I really not have a great time in the country where Frodo and Bilbo Baggins journey through Middle-earth?


The truth is, a study abroad trip, or almost any solo trip for that matter, is always about so much more than the trip itself. Although I was thrilled to be travelling to one of the notably most beautiful countries in the world, I would have eagerly jumped at the chance to go to anywhere else.

The decision

I was holding on to some deep seated dissatisfaction with my life. I worked incredibly hard in college, and was fortunate enough to have cofounded a successful nonprofit at a very young age. But my hard work didn’t translate to my academics. It had been four years since I recovered from an eating disorder and I had even planned awareness raising events on campus. But, internally, I was still plagued by my past and felt incredibly disconnected from my body. I had one year left until graduation. I’d graduate after five years of undergrad, and a robust resume that I wasn’t proud of. The feeling of “this isn’t enough” followed me. So the option was, push through and finish up undergrad in one more semester OR — my dad offered me another alternative. Why don’t you study abroad?

The arrival

I landed in Auckland, New Zealand on February 15th. I was at the top of the North Island and I had one last flight to go before my final destination to my soon to be home for five months, Wellington. It all felt pretty surreal. My flight from Maryland to California had been delayed because of a snowstorm, causing me to miss my flight to New Zealand and forcing me to stay the night in LA in a crappy Holiday Inn room by the airport that reeked of smoke. So I won’t be lying when I say that Auckland felt like a breath of fresh air. When I made it to Wellington, my wonderful homestay mom picked me up and drove us up a steep hill to the neighborhood of Melrose, where she was hosting two other students. Lisa, from Germany and Dan, from China. These women became nothing short of family. The house itself was idyllic. A charming white house, with wood floors, tall windows and front yard with a view of the bay. I opened the door to my temporary room and sighed, yeah I could be happy here I thought. It felt like a blank page, white walls and empty spaces. 


My journey through Middle-earth

Despite being in an entirely new country, it was easy for me to find my way to my old habits. I made friends easily, said yes to everything and constantly told myself I was somehow screwing it all up. I had begun to fill my schedule with people and things without intention and my mind filled up with the uneasiness of it all. I’d come home and wonder, but what am I supposed to get out of all this? Did I decide to explore the right things today? Why don’t I feel like a new person? Am I supposed to be enlightened by now? Am I taking enough classes? Am I taking too many classes?

A few weeks in I decided to wipe it all clean again, I physically slid off all the clutter from my desk and went back to the drawing boards. I told my newfound friends that I went on this trip because there were some things I needed to do on my own and although within days we had become “the goon squad” and were already lifelong friends, they understood. I decided there wasn’t anything I needed to be getting from the trip, and my only objective was to feel whole. I crumpled up all of the lists I had made with the things I had to do and places I had to visit, the lists that were beginning to weigh me down. I committed instead to go on one hike every single week, no matter where I was in the country. And I wrote five magical words on one sticky note. “Today, I will enjoy myself.” I woke up every single day for five months and saw those words. It didn’t matter if it meant I was studying by the beautiful Wellington waterfront or taking a run along the coastline in Lyall Bay. Oh and that’s the other thing. I took my very first run out of desire. Of course it’s easy to love running when you are surrounded by rugged coastline. But that was the first time I was running not because I had to. And not because I felt shitty about eating and six miles was my personal punishment for being born with hips and thick legs.

Woman vs. wild


Now this is the fun part. Cue montage of a woman in flannel and khaki pants trekking up mountains, backpacking along coastlines and laughing while drinking wine with her friends as they watch the sunset on a beach. Now picture me, my experience was hardly as graceful or picturesque. It was me and my new best friends eating string cheese in the dark for dinner when we arrived at a hostel in the middle of the night. It was running through the streets of Wellington in the middle of a cyclone for the fun of it. It was jumping off a pier off the coast after seeing the shadow of a couple of stingrays swimming just beneath the surface and screaming “fuck it”; likelihood of death by stingray: low, belief of death by stingray: high. It was taking a five day backpacking trip in the Abel Tasman with my friend Anna and missing a week of school because it was oh so worth it. And it was getting in trouble with a park ranger because you messed up the dates on said backpacking trip. Oh and also learning the absolute wrong way to back your backpack. It was drinking Scrumpies (cheap, super sweet cider) with my friends in their dorm room and learning that iced coffee actually meant coffee milkshake no matter how many times you said you just wanted ice in your coffee. It was climbing up Mount Doom (you know the one in Lord of the Rings), and hating every minute of it because with every step up, the rocks would slide you back down again. But also loving it, because you were going to tell everyone that you climbed up Mount Doom. It was going to hot water beach, and digging in the sand to find the hot water only to find you made a bunch of pits in the sand that were filling up with lukewarm water. It was taking a windy and narrow kayaking trip  that was above your skill level and getting stuck in the bushes along the way. It was never as glamorous as I thought it should be, but it was always glorious. It was full of lessons, memories and people that I will treasure for a lifetime. And yes, by the end I really did feel like I was whole again.

It wouldn’t feel right to share my experience in New Zealand without compiling a list of some of my favorite adventures. So if you ever do find yourself in New Zealand, I hope you make some pretty imperfect memories in these places too:

  • My favorite multi day backpacking trip, and how I learned the best way to not pack a backpack: Abel Tasman, South Island. If you love the idea of hiking up mountains while having a view of the coast and its beaches, and being able to take a dip in the ocean at the end of the day — this is the most perfect backpacking trip.10155633_10201786735449920_1532715957692977262_n.jpg20140327_072146
  • When I felt the strongest, aka my favorite day hike: Tongariro Crossing, North Island, New Zealand. Great for hiking up volcanoes, Mount Doom and discovering the beauty of emerald green lakes. (


  • Most peaceful hostel: Little Earth Lodge – Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand. Also the best place to find the greenest of hikes. 


  • Most challenging kayaking experience: Tokaanu, just outside of Lake Taupo, North Island.
  • Coolest experience: Waitomo Caves, North Island. Make sure to take an evening walk through the surrounding forest — you’ll be surrounded by glow worms in the trees and the starry skies.
  • Favorite beach (and hot tub!) : Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Bay, North Island. You really can dig up your own personal hot tub.10174833_10201900368050664_6000726863604297452_n



Film Selections: California, September

Submitted By: Nicole Lesnett, Board Member & Wilderness Ambassador in East Bay, CA

Rediscovering a film camera that I was given as a kid has been a lesson in remembering how to look more closely. In remembering how to focus a lens. Film is often blurry. Film is expensive. Film gets me excited to inspect the dirt and to visit Walgreen’s and turn small outings into colorful somethings. I’m thinking it’s been a good project!

The following is a very small selection from a year and a half ago, romping around Northern California.

Sun going down in Steep Ravine
Picking over late summer scrub
Leaving a milky pastel view at Baker Beach
Hazy afternoon in Kirkwood
Seafoam succulents, burgundy stems
Day breaking from Mt. Tam
Trekking on

The Time I Visited Glacier National Park (aka My First Foray into the Backcountry)

This post is a reflection on Wild Wilderness Women’s first annual Babes Off the Beaten Path (BOTBP) trip to Glacier National Park. This trip was an opportunity to explore what it really means to be a “babe” while taking new and experienced backpacking women out for an exceptional outdoors experience. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, or if you’d like to chat about how you can support BOTBP 2017, please contact us!

Submitted By: Jamie Furlan, WWW Member

The neural pathways in my brain are on fire: they are in overdrive taking in and processing so much beauty. I look to the left—ancient mountains rise boldly to the skies; I look to the right—mirror-lakes reflect those stark mountains and eternal sky back at me. I breathe in and pull the scent of damp forest and earthy soil deep into my lungs. The air is sweet in that fresh air kind of way. The sun warms my arms, my face, my very core. The silence and the roar of nature fill my being.

I am surrounded; I am engulfed; I stand in rapture amid endless beauty.

My muscles contract and propel me forward and up, and I feel strong. It is enough to place one foot in front of the other, to climb, to take it all in.

I feel gratitude for the unadulterated experience, for the opportunity to share it with others equally in awe of the spaces we are inhabiting. I am grateful for strong breath, for trees, for boundless sky.


It feels good to disconnect from my urban life and, instead, adopt a more deliberate routine of unpacking my pack daily, setting up camp, pitching the tent, separating my snacks and toothpaste to be hung in bear bags after dinner. In the morning, I pull down the tent, pack up my bag, prepare to do it all over again.

There is comfort in the process – in doing and undoing and doing something again. Like intricate Buddhist sand art, the beauty is in the process, in the total concentration on the moment.

Over the course of the week, we eight ladies make our own kind of sand mandala made up of laughter over attempts at hanging bear bags; of the simple pleasure of a hot beverage on a damp, chilly night; of glimpsing streaks of the Perseid meteor shower on its pilgrimage across the night sky.

These moments are ours – we lived them, we breathed them, we carry them with us. When we venture out into wild spaces, we bring a piece of it back within ourselves.

On my trip to Montana I learned that the kindness of strangers extends far and wide. That women, when they come together, can be a powerful source of support and strength. That Montana is breathtakingly, heartwarmingly beautiful. That it’s a delight to spot a marmot against the rocks in the afternoon light.


Don’t Mind Me, I’ll Just Be Sweeping

This post is a reflection on Wild Wilderness Women’s first annual Babes Off the Beaten Path (BOTBP) trip to Glacier National Park. This trip was an opportunity to explore what it really means to be a “babe” while taking new and experienced backpacking women out for an exceptional outdoors experience. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, or if you’d like to chat about how you can support BOTBP 2017, please contact us!

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

By late morning, the rain mellowed to a mist and the wind died down. I was serving as ‘sweep’ at the time. The sweep is a steady hiker who acts as the caboose. She ensures no one is behind and unaccounted for, and by default, provides motivation to those in front of her. It was a position many of us took turns at. We took turns at the head of the pack too. I was pleased by our fluidity with this, changing positions throughout the day.

The gal in front of me and I found the rest of the gang waiting at a trail junction. Regrouped, the Babes made to start off again, turning toward the wrong branch in the trail.

“Um, I don’t think we’re going to Twin Falls…” I spoke up. I’d briefed the group on our route over a map before we broke camp.


But there was no mistake. While waiting at the fork in the trail, the Babes had agreed Twin Falls was worth a detour. It was a third of a mile there, meaning another third of a mile to return to the junction so we could continue on our route. As I did the math, I was hit with pride. Despite our rough start that morning with the weather, the group was game to add over half a mile to the day in order to see some waterfalls. And they made the decision collectively without me. It was a leader’s dream. The falls were nice too.


Photos credit: Sara Gassman

When A Daughter Tells Her Dad She’s Venturing into the Wilderness—Alone

Submitted By: Korrin L. Bishop, Co-founder & President (This piece first appeared on The Good Men Project)

I watched it play out several times before my departure. I’d explain my plans to kayak solo for a week through the backcountry of Everglades National Park to various father-daughter and boyfriend-girlfriend pairs. The conversations always ended the same. The father or boyfriend would turn to the daughter or girlfriend, and say, “I’m definitely never letting you do something like that!”

There was a lot about these interactions that made me cringe. Each conversation perpetuated the dialogue that men can be safe in the wild, but women can’t, and that women need permission to do something on their own.

However, while these dialogues made me cringe, I also felt deep compassion for these men. They were, after all, men who truly cared about the women in their lives. Not to mention, it’s not like my own dad had immediately vocalized an excitement over my plans. In fact, he sort of just went silent about it. I knew he had to process it.

Since college, my dad and I have written letters to each other in a journal we mail back and forth. We’re currently on our third volume of letters. The letters are filled with life philosophies, family history, random rambles, social justice rants, current events and personal processing of when we’ve each had to come to grips with major changes in each other’s lives.


After an initial period of silence, of avoiding the topic of the Everglades in our conversations altogether, my dad wrote to me:

I am filled with trepidation about your kayak trip. But I “see” you. I have the usual fears about you being out there alone. But I’m sure it will be OK.

You’re a big spirit. You have to go. I have hiked into the wilderness alone twice now. Both times it was more and less than my fantasy about it.

There is plenty of time while backpacking where you are just grinding. Trudging up a ridge. Bandaging your blisters. Sometimes you’re so tired you don’t notice how amazing where you are is.

But then you are surrounded by it and it takes you. The vastness and wildness. The beauty. The wildlife.

I always have a craving to go back to the wilderness. You purposefully push yourself and see that you are capable of persevering through the physical and mental challenges of being alone in the wild.

I know you have to go. I respect that you are that kind of person. One who needs to go and be with yourself and the wild. Mark my words, whatever lies ahead for you will be meaningful. So, go on your trip with my blessing, and perhaps a cash donation.

There is always risk. Prepare best you can. But life is to be lived, not feared. Go forth and trip. But call me as soon as you’re out of the wild so I can relax again.

Like the fathers and boyfriends I encountered while talking about my trip, my dad had the same fears and protective spirit. When I read his letter, I felt the powerful love driving those reactions, but I also felt immense gratitude for him channeling those emotions not toward restricting my life, but toward championing it. With his honest blessing, I didn’t feel small and incapable; I felt confident and empowered.

To assuage my father’s fears, I took an emergency satellite communicator with me. The device periodically pinged my location to an online map. I appreciated that I didn’t have to do anything, but turn it on, so I could still feel disconnected from the outside world. My dad appreciated that he’d be able to see my little dot still moving forward each day.

I paddled out on my first day with excitement. I was ready.


Halfway through my first day’s paddle, my kayak’s rudder fell off. It hung from its strings, dangling in the water behind me.

When I got to my campsite that evening, I examined it. I didn’t have the tools needed to fix it. I’d just have to do without. I strapped the rudder onto the top of my kayak so that it would stop dragging behind me the next day, set up camp, cooked dinner and basked in the park’s beauty.

That night, I slept with a knife in one hand and a flashlight in the other when all of the sounds of the dark came out to play.

The second day, I awoke and took in the light of morning, leaving a little later than planned.

After a brief, winding creek, I entered a calm cove of brackish water, and felt cradled in the arms of Mother Earth. This section was called Sunday Bay, but in my mind I kept mistaking its name as God’s Bay. In the middle of this vast, natural stillness, I looked up at the stunning, blue sky, and felt the spiritual presence of a Heavenly Father.


Gently held between the arms of my Mother Earth and the protecting gaze of my Heavenly Father, I paddled on, becoming increasingly aware of the extra effort it was taking to paddle without a rudder.

A series of large bays later, I got tired. The two-dimensional plane of mangroves blended together in my vision, and the channel I was on that should’ve been widening was narrowing. Realizing my mistake, I backtracked to paddle down another channel only to end up circling an island and heading back down the way I’d come.

I was getting hungry and thirsty and could see the sun quickly descending in the sky. I knew I was still at least four miles away from camp. Alone in the wilderness, I began singing “Amazing Grace,” not yet willing to admit I was lost. I was lost-ish, I told myself. I sort of knew where I was, but just didn’t exactly know where I was going.

Then hunger, thirst and exhaustion bred fear. I began thinking about my arms giving out on me. There was nowhere to dock. I’d have to tie up to a mangrove and sleep in my kayak.

At last, I pulled out my satellite communicator and pinged my dad my GPS coordinates and a sloppily typed, “Turned around. Help me out?” Then I looked up at the sky like I had in Sunday Bay, only this time I saw another father looking down at me with love and protection in his eyes.

It took a little time, but I heard back from him. His initial reply was even more jumbled than mine. His words were duplicated and misspelled and his directions were muddled.

I could feel his worry, so I sent a message back to get clarification and also say I was feeling OK. In reality, I felt like vomiting.

With his bird’s eye view, I confirmed where I thought I was, and decided to paddle toward a different campsite a couple miles closer. I had been in a moment of fight, flight, or freeze, and my body had wanted to resign, both physically and mentally, but the moment I paddled forward with confidence in my direction, I handed my fear over to faith, and felt strong again—stronger even.

A dolphin greeted me as my campsite came into view. I pinged my dad my safe arrival, and smiled wide. I imagined him back home pouring himself a drink and filling with pride over a well-executed, technical rescue, of sorts.


That evening, I had a fortuitous encounter with a righteous ranger on the evening patrol. After checking my permits and confirming I had a proper personal flotation device, he caught a glimpse of my mangled rudder.

“How’s your rudder doing?” he asked.

“Um, not good. It’s broken,” I replied, giggling inside over our shared, yet unspoken sarcasm of the obvious.

I paddled out in the morning with a functioning rudder and renewed resolve. I paddled another five days with an ever-growing sense of self and burgeoning confidence in my abilities to persevere. One day in the Gulf of Mexico, the water looked like the heavy seas, but I paddled on. I was in the Bay of Ten Thousand Islands, but I could tell with my map and compass which islands were which.

I never had to reach out to my dad again, but I never stopped sensing him there with me. It was surreal to be alone in the wilderness, yet feel so intrinsically connected to him.

Through our two beating hearts, I realized that even when I was alone, I would never really be alone—satellite technology or not. I knew he was seeing my journey through eyes that know me, and the feeling of being wholly understood and loved was all the protection and guidance I’d ever needed. I didn’t get lost again.

I pulled my kayak up onto the dock where the journey had begun some seven days and a hundred miles before, and pressed the button on my satellite communicator to signal a safe arrival back in civilization. As I unloaded my gear from the kayak, I turned my phone back on for the first time in a week. Notifications from my city life began to pour in, but I skipped through them to a message from my dad:

Yeah! That’s my girl. Congratulations on completing a great quest. I have followed your progress every day and I think you are awesome. Nicely done! You must feel pretty good about now. Talk soon. I love you.

After a shower, some grub and a cold brew, I called my dad. With laughter, we both shared our sides of the story of that time I got lost in the Everglades—me fumbling through brief messages from the middle of the water, and him from his office in the middle of a meeting with a client, showing the client the satellite map of where his daughter was off on her adventure.

As equals, our stories of that day blended into us swapping wilderness stories in general. We chatted for hours as the experience of all I’d just been through solidified within me. The trip had forever changed me in some of the greatest ways, and there I was talking with the man in my life who had pushed past his own fears of it to find the courage needed to become one of its greatest supporters.

Later, my dad would write in our journal:

After you were safe and sound, I realized how dialed in and intense I had been. I felt a little nauseous and spent. But I was mighty proud of you for handling adversity. It is these moments, when your mettle is tested, that shape you and strengthen you.

I knew you’d be a better wilderness person because of it…I worried less after that day. I knew you had what it took and would be fine. I still watched all the time and felt the glory of where you were.

The depth of our relationship is one of the greatest delights of my life. I can’t wait to see what’s next for my intrepid daughter.

Fathers, let your daughters be brave. Let yourselves be vulnerable. Because if you’re a good man, a good dad, that means you’re already there to protect them and guide them—even when you’re not.


Away is a Place

Submitted By: Ashley Barry, VP of Organizational Development

Last fall, I had the opportunity to combine two loves of mine: the outdoors and great company. Korrin and I set off on a long weekend in what we fondly call the Adventure Prius. Although rather small and of questionable wilderness driving ability, the Prius seems to get us to where we want to go: Away. Away from the city, responsibilities, task lists, mobile phones, the internet, and the other accoutrements of modern life. Cranberry Wilderness in West Virginia was the destination – ­about as “away” as one can get from Washington within a few hours of driving.

This photo essay is not a trip report, nor is it a backpacking “how to.” Rather, it is a call for women to get away, to get outside to discover what is inside and to reexamine what is really important in our lives. It is a call for women to put themselves and their spiritual growth first, a task with which many of us often experience difficulty. Put this task at the top of your list in 2016, and let the following guide you:

Get out and go


Have a little fun (and enjoy your morning coffee)



Stop to notice the little things





Take a moment to feel small



Accept that in backpacking, as in life, some trails are clearer than others (and prepare yourself with a good map, a compass, and orienteering skills)




Take time to breathe and find your center



Celebrate milestones


Don’t forget to look up


Celebrate the finish line (and have a pair of clean clothes waiting for you)


Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro (Alternately Titled: “The Time that Mango Juice Made Me Cry”)

Submitted By: Kelly Paras, WWW member (This piece first appeared on Flip Flop Caravan)


I’ve thought about Kilimanjaro everyday since I left it’s slopes, but haven’t been able to find my voice in telling its stories.

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It’s hard to put into words something so big and profound, especially when you feel paralyzed in the wake of it.

Coming back from the mountain was almost as challenging as the climb itself – nothing in my daily life felt as important or relevant or exciting. It was like now that I knew this intense feeling of being alive, everything else was inconsequential.

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I’d try to explain THIS THING, THIS MOUNTAIN as best I could, but too much had happened; the details became suffocating and I could never find the words to properly articulate the experience.

So I let it sit week and week, trying to figure out how to put it into words – then I wrote thousands upon thousands of words that somehow just didn’t feel right. (As a writer, this was disappointing, surprising and stirred up an awful lot of self doubt. I mean, really? This is what I do and I just can’t get it right).

And the words still don’t feel quite right honestly. But this is my best attempt, at long last, to put the experience into words. To capture the insanely rewarding week I spent on Africa’s highest peak.

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I’ve decided to focus on the summit push – the hardest day of the climb, the day that tested me in every way possible.

To say it pushed my limits is somehow hyperbolic and simultaneously a woeful understatement. Have I been through shit that was more challenging than this? Yes. But was it the single most mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding day I’ve ever had? Yes.

And it was also the day that drinking mango juice made me cry. No joke.


It only took about an hour for my Camelback hose to freeze solid. And it took me awhile to realize it. I would decide to take a drink, steady my feet and mentally prepare to suck the hose’s mouthpiece as hard as I could.

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But no water came out, and I was left gasping for breath. It was just after 1am and every movement took an excruciating amount of focus and mental capacity.

Each tiny step forward was calculated. By that point, I could scarcely feel my feet – they became a completely unreliable source for confirming that I was actually touching the ground. I had to look down, to see my legs moving, to will each step.

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My world became the two feet radius around me, cast by the glow of my headlamp.

There was nothing beyond this halo of light for me – this was my world. And it was hell.

A literal hell on earth.

I had to keep telling myself to push forward, to draw breath (shallow and labored though it may be), to focus, and to remember that I chose this. I was on a vacation of my choice. I wanted to do this.

But in the moment, I wanted to be anywhere else. Wanted it to be over. Wanted to be warm. Wanted a full breath. I questioned why I had wanted to do this thing at all.


After four days of hiking 6-10 hours per day, we were bearing down on the summit push; the night we’d been working towards.

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We arrived at summit basecamp (15,000 feet) in the late afternoon, ate dinner, had a briefing with our guides and went through a health check. The long days on the trail, coupled with the altitude, left us exhausted as we collapsed into bed at 7pm.

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Sleep was elusive though. Maybe it was nerves or excitement. Or maybe it was the thin air that robbed us of sleep. I wanted to pop an Ambien, but I knew I had far fewer than the recommended eight hours to sleep.

In fact, I knew I had only about four hours to potentially get some shut eye. The summit day wake up call was coming at 11pm.

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I dozed off and slept restlessly, wrapped in layers of clothing; a cocoon of down sleeping bag with only my nose peeking out into the cold air inside my tent.

And then I heard it, the porter’s light tapping on the side of my tent.

“Dada’s (sisters) time to wake up. Get ready!”

Had I slept at all?

We’d slept (?) in our hiking gear so that all we had to do was groggily grab our packs and head to the mess tent for breakfast – porridge, cookies and tea.

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I wore my glasses for the first time on the trek after having been told that it was impossible to wear my contacts to the summit – it was too cold and they would freeze to my eyes.

What. The. Fuck. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. It was then that I started to really get nervous.

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It was midnight when we received a few final words from our guides, stepped out in the bitterly cold night and began a slow march into the darkness.

All we knew was that we had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult a task that became.

I should mention that there are only three rules on Kilimanjaro, and they had been drilled into our heads the entire climb:

  1. Listen to your guides
  2. Pole Pole (slowly slowly)
  3. Sippy Sippy (drink all your water everyday)Image 11

We dutifully followed our guides. It didn’t take long for it to feel like a death march; we had no concept of where we were going or what was around us, we just followed unquestioningly with our heads down.

How our guides knew where they were going is just one of the mysteries of the mountain I have yet to understand. There was no trail or path, no signs, no cairns, they just knew the way in the pitch black.

Within an hour, everyone fell silent and everything felt frozen; limbs, face, body – but especially hands and feet. They were bricks that constantly needed to be checked on.

Hands still holding my trekking poles? Check. Feet still moving forward? Check.

Aside from the freezing cold, the black, the lack of oxygen, and the headache caused by the altitude, it was the wind that was the most cruel element. Gale-force gusts swept across the side of the mountain with relentless ferocity.

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Vicious billows knocked us around, often dismantling our single-file line. We had to watch out for each other and help one another back into line when the wind blew one of us aside. All the while, we had no idea if we were next to a sheer cliff-face or an outcropping of rocks.

It was the blind leading the blind through a cyclone. (We found out later that the winds that night were the strongest the mountain had seen in years – lucky us?)

Even though I was wearing multiple pairs of pants and more top layers than I ever had at one time in my life (long johns, a long-sleeves shirt, an Oregon Ducks tee shirt, a down coat, a down vest, a windbreaker and a ski shell), I was still chilled to the bone.

Time became an afterthought somehow, an analogous concept really. And something I simply didn’t allow myself to think about. It was too awful and depressing to dwell on – 6 more hours until sunrise, 5 more hours, 4 more hours.

Instead of thinking about time, I thought about what the beach in Zanzibar would feel like; sand underfoot, the tide lapping my ankles, hair sweeping across my face from a gentle breeze.

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I thought of nights curled up on the couch cuddling – how warm and cozy and simple those moments were. All I could feel now were the hurricane-force winds lashing my cheeks, stinging my eyes. Tears froze to my cheeks as they fell.

And I thought about Annie and Bobbi Jo, my friends on this god-awful ascent. They very well could hate me for this – this was my idea, this moment indirectly my doing. I might lose friends over this and I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

Image 14When the wind paused a moment, I would look up to the skies, so full of brilliantly bright stars. More stars than I had seen since nights spent in the remote isolation of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

I’d never been so close to the stars with my feet still on the ground (literally).

Some stars were so bright I felt as though I could reach out and touch them; hold the infinite in my hands. And then it donned on me…these weren’t stars at all. These lights, in horrific fact, were the headlamps of the other climbers ahead of us.

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They weren’t stars and I had to go to there – I actually had to go that high up. It seemed impossible and I hated myself for that moment of clarity. Ignorance had been a cosmically romantic bliss.

I felt desperate for an alternative truth, but the only truth was that I was freezing on the side of a mountain and I had to keep moving forward.

Even with all of these thoughts racing through my head, there was nothing; time disappeared.

Minutes felt like hours, yet hours just slip away. It was an instant, a forever eternity.

There was a constant flux between being in total awe of what I was doing and where I was, and wanting to lay down and cry and be anywhere else besides the side of this brutal mountain.

Then, just when I was really starting to hate everything, I looked up and saw color in the sky. Color! Not black! The sun was about to break the horizon. My happiness and exuberance were unfathomable.

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Minutes later came a moment of pure joy; the sun hit my face, the wind stalled for a moment and I looked out on to an alien landscape of black earth for the first time.

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It was another hour of hiking before we reached Stella Point (18,885ft) to take a much needed rest.

Our guides were all smiles and jokes – we were beaten down monsters. But one of our summit porters pulled a thermos of tea out of his pack and by some small miracle its contents were still hot!

We each savored a half a cup of heaven as we caught our breaths.

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How the tea managed to still be warm after seven hours in those conditions was truly miraculous. I mean serious mountain voodoo shit.

For reference – I pulled my Nalgene bottle out of my pack and it was nearly frozen through. The Snickers bar that I’d foolishly been longing to eat for hours, was also frozen; so hard and dense it could have been used as a weapon.

That tea was magic.

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After our break, there was another hour of mountain ahead of us. But this section was easier for many reasons; we caught a burst of energy, there was daylight, it was a bit warmer, the incline was less severe, we could see where we were going, and we had the knowledge that this ordeal was nearly over…or so we thought.

Annie, Bobbi and I set off with a guide ahead of some others in our group and pushed on. For the first time in hours, we spoke. Or rather we coughed up words at one another, our faint voices trying to be heard over the howl of the wind that continued to blow us around like tattered prayer flags.

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This last bit to reach Uhuru Peak took us along the rugged rim of the mountain’s volcanic crater, a vast expanse of black rock.

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My skull was pounding from an altitude-induced headache and I tried to remember what it felt like to take a full breath.

My attention was fully focused on the ground and the crater to my right. That was until I dared to look left. I stopped cold and stood staring with mouth agape. A massive glacier seemed to be suspended in the air – it was black pumice earth, bright glacier and sky.

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I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like it. It didn’t seem real that such a thing could exist. My wind-chapped lips couldn’t help but curl into a painful smile.

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Our feet carried us still higher until we caught our first glimpse of the iconic summit sign of Uhuru Peak. The sign that we’d longed to see for days on the mountain, months of anticipation and really, years of dreaming.

Now here’s the thing, it wasn’t the euphoric moment I had anticipated. I mean, it was incredible, but it wasn’t the moment of catharsis that I had imagined. Or at least not in the way I imagined.

Instead, I saw it, gawked for a minute and then a gloriously unexpected realization came to my fuzzy brain – it’s over! We get to go down now!

I felt relaxed in that moment, satisfied with what I had accomplished, in the pride that the three of us had done it together. And I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

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I thought of how glorious that first shower back at the lodge would feel. But that’s where my brain got ahead of reality.

First, we had to take pictures of this amazing place and snap a gals photo with the sign and our Ducks shirts – those tee shirts that were buried under so many layers of jackets. Instantly though, we knew we had a problem. Our hands were so cold that we couldn’t move our fingers, like at all.

I mean, I could only focus my iPhone photos by using my nose to hit the screen (I kid you not. I looked insane, tapping my nose to a phone over and over); there was no way I could grasp my jacket zippers. All dexterity was gone.

Thankfully, yet again our super-human guides came to our rescue. Props to Frank for dutifully unzipping 3-4 jackets (each), snapping some photos (dude wasn’t even wearing gloves during the climb. Seriously?!) and then zipping us all back up.

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We smiled the best we could through our monstrous condition. (Bobbi’s face to the far right sums up how we felt – fighting for happiness through pain, discomfort and exhaustion.)

We were on the summit less than 10 minutes, before we began bounding down the mountain thanks to another inexplicable burst of energy. It was 9:30am.

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On the way back down to Stella Point we passed another group of climbers in our team – they looked beat. One guy in particular could barely hold his head up, his feet dragged in an unnatural way. But we were all battered to varying degrees and he had several guides with him, so we thought nothing of it really.

My sudden burst of energy was short-lived as the reality of descending quickly came into focus. In the night, as we climbed ever higher, the ground beneath us was frozen, providing surprisingly solid footing even if we couldn’t feel our feet.

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Now I could feel my feet, but the sun had thawed the ground; no longer solid it was a 4,000-foot wall of dirt and loose rocks. It was slippery, treacherous and steep as fuck.

Every step turned into a slide and soon we were half-skiing down this damn mountain. That may sound potentially fun, but not when you’re physically and mentally fatigued. And not when the dirt sends clouds of dust into the air for you to choke on; to dry out your eyes. And not when this form of pseudo-skiing was wreaking havoc on your knees and smashing your toes into the front of your boots.

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These were probably the most dangerous hours of our entire time on the mountain.

I had long ago handed my pack over for a guide to carry (everyone had) so I could focus on not dying. Problem was, that guide was much further down the dirt slope than I was and so too was my water.

As the hours stretched on and the distance between hikers grew wider, my throat became sand paper; raw from the dust and lack of moisture.

I hadn’t had water or liquid of any kind since the summit and I was desperate for it. I would love to say that that was the only thing I could think about, my sole focus (crushing as it was) but I had bigger problems.

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My feet were in a loosing battle with the mountain. Every time they made contact with the steep angle of the slide, a dagger of pain shot into my toes, up my legs and caused my face to contort in what I’m sure were the most unattractive grimaces ever made. I honestly didn’t think I could take another step, and then I would take another step and the pain would spike all over again.

Annie and Bobbi were getting farther and farther ahead, each of us in our own personal hell. I simply gave up trying to catch up to them; I was just trying not to fall over, to make sure my toes didn’t fall off. Because that’s exactly what it felt like was happening.

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Between the pain, the dust, the exhaustion and the now the very evident dehydration, I was becoming delirious. When the path finally began to level out, my walk was slow, labored and ugly. In fact, everything was ugly at this point. Every damn thing about me.

I hobbled into camp and was met by an exuberantly cheery porter, wide smile on his face. He congratulated me on making it and handed me a plastic cup full of mango juice, “drink dada (sister)!”

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“Water?” I croaked desperately. I had never been so single-mindedly focused on anything.

“No dada, drink juice!” he replied in a sing-songy tone.

I burst into tears. Like full-on toddler tantrum-style tears. I would have thrown myself into a pile on the ground and screamed, but I simply didn’t have the energy for that.

Now, I know that the porter had my best interests at heart and that the mango juice would give me much needed sugars since my body had been physically punished for 13+ hours, but I couldn’t help it. The lump in my throat was too big and I had no control over my reaction.

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My little standoff lasted maybe :30 seconds before I just chugged the mango juice. It was better than nothing, right? And like magic, water was then given to me.

I had behaved like a child and was treated like one. I was reminded of my mother forcing me to eat my vegetables before allowing me to have dessert, the eternal parent/child negotiation.

I cannot tell you how silly and awful I felt about the tears – but I was a broken person in the moment. A broken person with no control over anything anymore.

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Annie and Bobbi watched the whole fiasco. I couldn’t tell if they were more concerned or horrified or entertained. But that’s the great thing about traveling with your best friends; these women have already seen me at my absolute worst, a complete breakdown on a mountain is nothing compared to what they’ve seen.

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And speaking of being at your worst, here we finally got a good look at each other. It was a goddamn freak show – we were mountain monsters. Battered, wind burned, sunburned, wrecked monsters.

I crumpled to the ground in front of my tent and dragged myself inside before slowly and excruciatingly taking my boots off. To my utter surprise, my toes were still intact and weren’t even bloody. They were however, bright red, swollen and brought new tears to my eyes when I touched them.

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I lay down and thought about what I had just done. Thought about what was still to come – an hour-long nap and then five more hours of hiking to get to our camp for the night. I started to panic about how the fuck I would possibly put my boots back on and hike another minute, let alone another five hours!

But before my mind could get to the brutal logistics of what lay ahead, I drifted off into the involuntary unconsciousness of sleep.

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