St. John, USVI

New Project: Launching ‘Roars Outdoors’

If you’ve read the “about me” section of this blog, you know I’m not a professional guide, nor do I have any special training when it comes to backpacking.  I started this blog because I felt there was a need for useful, everyday advice for people new to the hobby.  Plus, it’s fun for me and I look forward to helping the backpacking community grow!

What I didn’t realize was that writing this blog would, in part, unleash within me a pent-up passion for the Great Outdoors that is powerful and intense.  This blog, combined with other factors in my life, led me to make the decision that I no longer want to work my normal 9-5 desk job.  I have struggled to find passion in every career I’ve had – and there have been many – but I’ve always felt that pull to do something different, and something more meaningful to me.

Boundary Waters Backpacking
An idyllic spot canoe packing in the Boundary Waters wilderness of MN.

I ignored that pull time-and-time again, and waffled in various unfulfilling careers and jobs that made me money but did nothing for my psyche.  I am tired.  Tired of trying to be someone I’m not and tired of trying to conform to what, I believed, was expected of me.

And so I launched Roars Outdoors.  Roars Outdoors is my new blog and the platform I will use to reinvent myself and launch a new career(s) – and you all are invited to watch!

As fellow adventurers, I’m sure some of you have also felt that pull toward something … different.  Something outdoorsy and adventurous and dynamic.  But, let’s face it: these types of career moves can be really tough, so tough in fact that we often declare them “impossible”.  Not to mention, the older you are, the harder it gets.

I’m turning 39-years-old next month, May 2017.  I have a husband, a young stepson and a mortgage.  I work full-time and bring in almost half of my household’s money.  The idea that I could drop everything that I know and embark on an entirely new path … that I could reinvent my entire professional being and completely re-jigger my life … seems next to impossible.  But I’m not getting any younger and my creative juices are flowing like crazy!

St. John, USVI
It’s hard not to be exuberant in the Caribbean!

I truly have no idea what I’m doing or exactly how I will get there.  I’m not even entirely sure it will work – but I’m more than willing to try.  I want to become a life coach, a part-time wilderness guide and a writer.  My hope is that these three endeavors will, eventually, sustain me spiritually as well as financially.  It’s going to be tough.  I’m going to have many ups and downs.  But I know I can do it if I work hard and continue to fuel the passion I have right now.

I invite you to join me.  I invite you to watch as I build and reconstruct the new “me”.  I also invite (and plead for!) your encouragement and support as I struggle, learn and grow.  I’ll share how the process affects not only me, but those around me.  I’ll be open about what steps I’m taking, what works and what doesn’t.  And I’ll provide outdoorsy inspiration to those of you pondering similar pathways for your own life.  Please follow along in three ways:

I appreciate your support and hope I can inspire some of you to take that leap and do something different, or to embrace the more creative side of yourself and tackle that project you’ve always told yourself that you’ll tackle someday!  If nothing else, I hope you get outside more and enjoy that “nature effect” we all know and love.  And if none of that is up your alley, fear not!  I’ll keep posting in Beginning Backpacker as well.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

Women in Backpacking, Part V: But, I Might Feel Lonely!

In the last post, I discussed the fear of getting lost or injured while backpacking alone in the wilderness.  Today, I tackle my own personal fear – the fear of loneliness.

Yes, you will probably feel lonely from time-to-time while backpacking solo.  If you’re like me, it’s the biggest challenge of them all and I rarely end up solo, even though I may have started that way.  My purpose with this post isn’t to try and convince you loneliness won’t happen, but rather that it probably WILL happen, and that you shouldn’t let it stop you from getting out there.

There are levels to loneliness, ranging from extreme, depressing feelings that no one in the world understands you, to just a minor feeling of wishing your friend was available to have a movie night when she already has plans.

IMG_0596.jpg
A tired selfie on a solo stretch of the John Muir Trail.

The type of loneliness one feels when backpacking solo is not the deep, scary kind (Note: feeling alone is somewhat different from feeling afraid of bear attacks or being assaulted, which tend to elicit strong fears).  For most people, myself included, it’s more of a longing to share stories at the end of an amazing, but tiring day.  It’s a manageable feeling.  For most people, it’s entirely beneficial to spend some quiet, quality time alone with your id, your ego and your superego.

When I backpack, my magic formula is hiking alone most of the day, but meeting up with people for lunch and also to make camp at the end of the day.  I’m extremely extroverted and enjoy storytelling over lunch and dinner.  I like hearing what others saw during their hikes and marveling at their stories.  I also like being with others to watch the sun set and the moon rise.  A refreshing dip in an icy alpine lake is more fun, to me at least, if there are others there enjoying it, too.

But other times, I head out into more of a no-man’s land; places where I know I will likely be entirely alone.  It’s not creepy, per se, but time seems to drag a little slower after I set up my camp and sit down to eat and wait for night to fall.  The first night is the toughest, although “tough” isn’t really the right word.  It’s more that I’m a bit bored.  And yes, the strange sounds of the forest do somehow seem louder when it’s just me out there.

Camping in Ventana Wilderness
Just me, myself and I camping before a solo trip in search of lost hot springs in the Ventana Wilderness.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of people who find that they absolutely love being solo – entirely solo – for days on end.  That might be you! But you won’t know until you try it.

No matter how you think you’ll feel about backpacking solo, you shouldn’t let any concerns stop you.  I’ve rarely heard of a woman who backpacked solo and regretted it.  I’ve written in other posts how to do your first solo trip: start out short; stay close to home; pick a place with cell coverage; try listening to music, etc.  Those tips apply here.

But other tips also apply:

  • You can choose trails that are known for being popular.  Sometimes you can tell a trail is going to be popular based on the permit application process, if there is one.  Permit processes usually indicate a trail is popular enough that the park has limited the number of people who can go in each day to minimize damage to the areas on and around the trail.
  • You can do research online or in books to see how popular a trail is.  Most resources will list that information.
  • Call a park ranger and ask!

Once you’ve chosen a more popular trail, you can at least camp in the vicinity of others if you want.  But more than that, you will likely meet people and make fast friends along the way.  This is a phenomena of backpacking that is widely known: making friends is easy and happens fast.  One day spent with your fellow backpackers on the trail can feel like an eternity and bonds can become very strong in a short amount of time.

Lower Cathedral Lake
Amongst new friends met on the John Muir Trail. Photo cred: David and Steve Szmyd

Case in point: I met two brothers on my second day of the John Muir Trail in 2015.  I was solo and had just had a very scary bear encounter as I was packing up camp that morning.  Needless to say, I was feeling a tad stressed and very alone (and very small).  I met these two brothers just after I set out from camp for the day and they invited me to hike with them.  By lunch, we were fast friends.  By dinner, we had made a lasting bond.  By the next morning, when we parted ways, we were practically lifelong friends!  Fast forward two years – we’ve kept in touch and I’ll be joining them for their annual brothers’ trip to Wyoming this August.

Even though I was supposed to be solo for parts of the John Muir Trail, I never once spent a night completely alone.

Another tip is to bring books or podcasts.  These give your mind something to do if it’s feeling restless and lonely, and they help pass the time.  You could also do guided meditation or bring along a deck of cards for a game of solitaire.  Try bringing a journal and writing down your thoughts as they happen.  If you have cell coverage and feel extra lonely, call a friend or loved one for a quick check-in!  Consider exploring the area you are camping in (if you aren’t too tired).  Walk the perimeter of the lake or climb up that close peak.  Lastly, go to bed! Backpackers need lots of sleep, so don’t be afraid to hit the sack way earlier than normal.

As with everything, preparation is key.  You can’t rely on anyone else when you’re solo, so be prepared with the necessary gear and essential items.  And consider carrying a satellite messenger like a Garmin InReach (formerly Delorme InReach).  If you have the right mindset, are prepared to confront minor to moderate feelings of loneliness, and understand that’s not a bad thing, you’ll have a wonderful time filled with scenery and adventure that is all yours, and only yours.  Try it!  You just might like it!

Islesboro Maine Coastline

Women in Backpacking, Part I: Lions and Tigers and Bears (and Men)!

*Note for male readers: Sure, this post is geared toward women, but you can definitely learn something, too! It’s a reality that most women have a least a little bit of fear of men while out backpacking. Simply being aware of these fears and understanding them can make you a more empathetic, female-friendly stranger out on the trails!  I encourage you not to skip these posts. And pay attention, because my final post in this series will be geared toward you!*

At the half-way point of the John Muir Trail is Muir Trail Ranch. It’s a very remote outpost accessible only by foot or on horseback.  It’s a haven for weary backpackers who can resupply there, as well as soak in their hot springs, sleep in a REAL bed, do laundry and have amazing meals cooked for them, but only if they are willing to shell out a pretty penny.  And shell out those pennies I did when I was there in 2015 (trust me, it’s worth it)!

Muir Trail Ranch on the John Muir Trail
Muir Trail Ranch: A needed respite for weary thru-hikers on the JMT

In the ranch’s library is a whole host of old books. In one of those old books I found a chart listing how much weight men, women and children should carry in their packs, respectively.  Women were instructed to carry less weight than an eleven-year-old child! I almost snorted when I first saw it.  But that was how we women were viewed back then.

1950's recommended pack wieghts for women.
A 1950’s book showing recommended pack weights for men, “wives” and children.

Women were not historically big backpackers. John Muir didn’t exactly have women shouting, “Pick me!  Pick me!” when he was putting together his exploration groups (though he frequently explored alone).  And even in the 1950’s, when women did go backpacking, they were often considered meek and weak. A double whammy!

Fast forward to today, and women are now dominating the entire outdoor arena!  Don’t believe me? Just check out the latest issue of Outside Magazine (May 2017 issue), with all those strong, independent female icons on the front cover. Women like Melissa Arnot Reid are not just killing it “for a woman” but killing it across genders!

May 2017 Outside Magazine Cover
What an inspirational group of women!

Women are now taking over backpacking. Well, maybe “taking over” isn’t the right term, but our numbers are growing at astronomical rates. We make up 51% of the outdoor industry consumers now.  More and more companies are making women-specific products. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve made huge strides since the 50’s.

But I still can’t believe how often I hear women say they could never backpack solo. Or that they constantly worry about men and/or animals attacking them if they are alone.  Every time I hear these statements, I practically shed a tear.

And you know what’s worse? When I tell non-backpackers that I’ll be heading out solo, I get WAY more statements of worry and concern from women I know than men I know. Seriously? Men are less concerned for my safety than women?  Oh, the irony.

Perhaps it’s because I was formerly a sexual assault detective and have a firm grasp of the realities of sexual assault, or perhaps it’s because my parents raised me to be entirely unafraid (or maybe it’s even genetic, who knows?). Regardless, I’m unafraid to backpack alone.  Of course I have fears that occasionally enter the picture, but they never get in my way.  I’m also not oblivious when I’m out there and I take precautions and work hard to stay safe.  I remain aware of my surroundings and I make a point of looking strong and confident when faced with an unknown man on a remote section of trail.  But isn’t that the picture of a backpacker anyway? Aware, strong, confident; that’s what we backpackers are!  So why do we let ourselves forget it so often?

Solo Selfie
Entertaining myself on a solo backpacking trip.

Here are the concerns I hear most often from women on the topic of backpacking solo:

  • I might get raped (they don’t always say it exactly this bluntly, but this is what they mean).
  • An animal might attack me in the middle of the night.
  • I’ll be too lonely.
  • I’ll get hurt (or lost) and no one will be there to help me.

To help combat these fears, I’m going to do a series of posts tackling each one of these concerns individually. None of them should prevent us from chasing our dreams, accomplishing our goals and enjoying the Great Outdoors on our own terms.  But we also don’t have to be complacent, and there are things we can do to boost our own confidence and make the chances of any of the above ever happening even more remote.

Next Up: Women in Backpacking, Part II: I Might Get Raped!

Marry an outdoors woman. Then if you throw her out into the yard on a cold night, she can still survive. -W. C. Fields