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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Age 11, summit of Mt. Massive, Colorado 2001

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

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Age 14, Angeles National Forest, California 2004

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Age 16, La Sal Mountains, Utah 2006

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Age 17, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado 2007

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Age 20, near Woodland Park, Colorado 2011

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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. 

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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

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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. (

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

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  • 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos credit: Sara Gassman