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.

Six Signs You’re a Bonafide Babe

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Acadia National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Ella RauschTwitter—@VanellaBear95

Being a babe isn’t about outward attractiveness. It isn’t about how many 14ers
you’ve summited, the number of miles you’ve hiked, or how long your hair is. It
doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, black or white, rich or poor,
male, female, or somewhere in between. Being a babe is about holding each other
up, giving back, and apologizing when we’ve made mistakes. It’s about not taking life
too seriously, but being mature enough to handle whatever gets thrown at us.

  1. Even on your busiest days, you make time for others. Whether “others”
    means your dog, your boss, the mailman, or the environment, you go through
    life caring for those who need a friend, but also recognizing when you’re the
    one who needs a little support.
  2. You ask for help. Independence is so IN right now but I’m pretty sure no one
    can move a king-size mattress alone. You’re more than willing to take a stab
    at anything on your own, but aren’t ashamed when you hit a snag. (Offering
    to give others a hand is pretty babe-worthy too.)
  3. The process of things excites you. Most of us know that climbing a mountain
    isn’t just the physical act of getting to the top – it’s the preparation, the
    relationships you build, the inner demons you fight along the way. Instead of
    refusing to acknowledge these components when you finally do reach the
    summit of whatever peak you’re climbing, you better believe your
    acceptance speech is going to be chock-full of genuine thank you’s, emotional
    stories, and caring faces.
  4. You care about something and say so. You believe that being complicit is no
    different than being on the opposing side of an issue. You speak up about
    what matters to you, but you listen more than you talk. It is so crucial to
    democracy that we take the time to hear each other out and respond in an
    appropriate way.
  5. From a young age you’ve been identifying the holes in everyone’s logic, and
    not because you want to fight or make someone feel stupid, but because you
    genuinely want to help them better understand themselves. Life is pretty
    confusing, and by the time we become these so-called “adults” things can get
    pretty muddled in our brains. You strive to be your most authentic self, and
    encourage others too! If who that is changes day-to- day, that’s okay. You
    don’t make progress by staying in the same place.
  6. You’re empathetic AF. This world is harsh – the last thing we need is a bunch
    of emotionless robots roaming the streets ignoring every new sad, awful,
    terrible, or good thing that happens. We have to be honest with ourselves
    about the true state of things, and refusing to engage is really uncool. You
    own your emotions and give others the space to do the same.

Sounds like you? Rejoice! And share the love – according to my calculations we’re
severely understaffed in the babe department and the maximum capacity is infinite.

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

The Importance of Accessibility in Being a Babe Off the Beaten Path

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Nicole Lesnett, VP of Engagement & East Bay Chapter President

I’ve been wondering why going to Montana for this first annual Wild Wilderness Women trip is important to me.

My first ever backpacking experience was a five-day hike through Stanislaus National Forest with U.C. Davis Outdoor Adventures. Thinking back, I made a lot of mistakes. I remember reading the clothing section of the packing list and assuming that it meant one shirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of socks for every single day. I remember dividing up the food and not understanding why no one else grabbed the oranges and avocados. I remember trying not to cry the first day as we hiked five miles uphill in high elevation, my pack weighing over 50 pounds and resting completely on my shoulders rather than my hips.

There were so many moments where I did not believe I could continue. But as the days went on and we covered more and more miles, as we were shown how to wear our packs properly and devoured the food, as I shared my clean clothes and nursed my bruised collarbones and developed blisters, I found that I could do it. When the other participants and I finished the trail, we bought a gallon of chocolate ice cream and ate it in ten minutes flat. I was beyond content, I was sore and relieved and proud, and I was surprised to learn how disappointed I felt that it was over.

Going on that initial trek was a privilege in many ways. I was fortunate enough to have some money from graduation to cover the trip fees,  and to borrow most of the necessary gear from my outdoorsy momma. It was also a privilege to experience this challenging and awesome excursion with mostly women (though you were an irreplaceable, spectacular guide, Marshall!). Not once, with the exception of my own critical mind, was there a trace of doubt that I was capable of completing the trail. This has set the precedent for all trips since then—that women, new to backpacking or not, are unquestionably capable of such things.

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Seven years and a dozen excursions later, this notion has certainly been tested.

There was the time that my friends and I brought about half the food needed for the six of us, and desperately shared one bag of salad between us for dinner on the last night. I’ve had a lot of good burritos in my life, but the one I had for lunch after getting off that trail was something else.

There was the time that two of us set out to tackle the Presidential Range in New Hampshire and were up on the ridge, much farther behind on the route than anticipated, when we learned that thunderstorms were rolling in. We got desperately lost trying to get to shelter, and when we arrived, didn’t have enough cash for the little covered site. We stayed there anyway, but were woken up every few minutes as lightning illuminated the shelter and thunder shook the foundation. The next morning we donned our $5 ponchos—arguably the best $5 ever spent—and hiked four hours out to a small highway, where a sweet couple eventually, graciously gave our muddy selves a ride back to our car. Satisfied with our level of roughing it for the weekend, we ditched all previous plans and drove towards the hot showers awaiting us at a hotel room in Portland, ME.

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There have been so many mosquito bites and steep hills that I wonder why I keep coming back to it. I suppose there is something insanely gratifying—and supremely funny, in hindsight—about getting through the unexpected elements of backpacking. Coupled with endless endorphins, gorgeous views, and lovely views, I realize over and over again that there’s many reasons I keep coming back to it.  

My only frustration with this lucrative pastime is its inaccessibility. In my experience, it’s been easy to see that more often that not, I backpack with friends who are male, white, and/or middle-class. Needless to say, I love their company, but I’d also really love to go with my less wealthy, non-white, female friends too. It’s disappointing to see that “the outdoors” is frequently an exclusive place. Though in some fields it has begun to change, most outdoor sports are dominated by men. It feels starkly apparent each time I find myself bouldering or waiting for a wave, and realize I can count every single woman in a (literal) sea of dudes.

Misadventures Magazine, a publication “by and for adventurous women,” has some pretty enlightening graphics on gender representation in outdoor media. It’s also no secret that outdoor gear can be absurdly expensive, and that big name companies perpetuate needing the top-of-the-line equipment to do it right. Considering a range of supplies, this site found that the cost of buying the most essential components of backpacking gear could be anywhere from $300-$2,200, not to mention permits, gas, food, etc. for each excursion.

Ideal backpacking destinations are not exactly welcoming either. A heartbreaking article from Al Jazeera states that only 1% of national parks visitors are African-American, in part due to fear of racist treatment. It’s clear that backpacking can often require certain levels of privilege, and this isn’t right. Something so strangely wonderful shouldn’t be so exclusive.

What does this all have to do with being a part of “Babes Off the Beaten Path?” Naturally, I’m excited for another challenge in a completely new place. Mostly though, I’m looking forward to an experience with other women who want to change the notion of what backpacking has traditionally meant. Though I haven’t met them all yet, I admire each one for putting so much time and energy into something as challenging as weathering the elements while hauling a bunch of crap around. And more importantly, I admire them for wanting to make sure that any lady who wants to partake in this absurd, rewarding, life-changing activity can do it too.

This year’s group of gals may be a relatively privileged lot, it’s true. But hopefully we can still set a precedent that our activities are accessible to any self-identified woman, regardless of income or background. While there’s much more work to be done, establishing no barriers to participating in Babes Off the Beaten Path could be one step towards making the outdoors more inclusive.

Baby Steps

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Susan Sommer, True North

My ex-husband and various boyfriends before him called me “Babe.” It always felt a little weird. Even though they simply used it as a term of endearment, it made me feel weaker than I knew I was, like I had to conform to that stereotype of the fair maiden needing rescue.

A few years ago, I joined a meetup group called Alaskan Wild Women Hiking & Backpacking (the “Wild Women” part is how I stumbled across this group of Wild Wilderness Women!) and rekindled my love of hiking. The outings made me feel strong and knowledgeable in a way I never had before. I found myself wanting to lead hikes on favorite old trails in the area, so I became one of several official organizers for the Wild Women. I’ve since attended more than 100 events. For many in the group, our mantra has become “We can do it—we’re Wild Women!” We use it to get ourselves to the top of the mountain when we’re flagging, or to try new activities, or to psyche ourselves up for facing something totally unrelated to hiking and backpacking.

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We tease each other when one of us feels wimpy about getting out or going farther: “Your butt’s going to be bigger than mine.” That usually spurs us to go the distance, together. We’ve created solid new friendships with women of all ages. And though we’ve never called ourselves “Babes,” we’ve definitely become stronger, healthier, and more confident in our own abilities and our capacity for accepting things like inexperience or fear or discomfort. If “babe” equates to being “sexy,” then that’s what sexy means to me. And, like babes in the woods, we enter the unfamiliar again and again only to discover that we summit life’s peaks and crawl out of her valleys by simply putting one foot in front of the other.

See more about Susan Sommer at www.akwriter.com or visit her Alaska trails blog, True North, at http://truenorthalaska.weebly.com/.