Estrogen and the Outdoors

All Women's Hike

All Women's Hike

This fall I gave an all-women’s backpacking workshop at a small liberal college outside of Asheville.  Several of the flyers promoting the event were graffitied before my arrival with indelicate comments suggesting the sexist nature of an all women’s event.  Thankfully, the workshop went off without riot, I loved my time spent with the young women on campus, and I collected the profanely decorated posters as souvenirs.

I have always believed that all women’s backpacking outings and workshops are often beneficial in a way that coed gatherings are not.  The fact is that women’s time in the woods is often very different than that of men.  Women have to deal with the fact that we are outnumbered by men in the outdoors, which comes with specific social challenges.  We also have different body shapes, separate gear needs, and we have gender specific issues that men frankly don’t empathize with, let alone want to talk about in co-ed clinics.

Triple Falls

Triple Falls

This past weekend I led an all-women’s day-hike at Dupont State Forest.  Together, a small group of girls spent four hours skidding over snow and ice, spending time at the base of four breathtaking waterfalls, and eating lunch while overlooking a frozen lake.  It was on that hike that I was reminded why, above our physiological similarities, it is important for women to spend time together in the woods.

Walking is rarely a competition or a chore for a group of women.  On the whole, women are more willing than men to hold hands with each other down icy slopes, and laugh at themselves when they end up sliding on their bottoms downhill.  On all-women hikes there are usually more potty breaks and they last longer as we have to take our packs off and then stand guard in the trail to protect our friends. With girls, there is a greater likelihood that dark chocolate will be consumed as a snack… or a main course.  And most notably, with a group of females, there is bound to be a good deal of conversation dedicated to the topic of men.

But boys (if you made it this far), I don’t want you to feel bad or stereotyped, because I don’t see you as macho, insensitive beasts blazing down the trail.

I know a lot of men who are lovers of nature, stewards of the trail and TERRIFIC hiking partners.  It’s just that it’s different with all women, and our time together is good for everyone, because often amid all that girl talk you guys end up looking pretty good!  And next time we head into the woods, there’s a good chance we’ll ask you to go with us ; )

The Home Gym

Girlie Push-ups

Girlie Push-ups

My husband and I do not belong to a gym.  I think gyms are great, but as principle, we try to exercise outdoors as much as possible and save all our extra pennies for hiking excursions, thus gyms currently do not make the cut.

Most of the year, I am fine not belonging to a health club, but during the cold months of winter there are days when I am simply too much of a ninny to exercise outdoors.  For example this past week was the coldest week in Asheville since 1970, every time I ventured outside I came back indoors without sensation in my fingers, toes, or nose.  For eight straight days we had negative wind chills and during that time I only once braved the cold for a 9-mile run, all the other days I exercised in our home gym.  Now some people really do have a home gym, but we just have a carpet.  That said, I have enjoyed some of my best workouts on that carpet.

So for those of you who are unable or unwilling to venture outside in the cold, dark, winter months, here are some of my favorite indoor exercises.

The Mat

The Mat

1.  The Mat – A lot of people have an official yoga mat.  I have a foam sleeping pad that works great for stretching, sit-ups, and push-ups.  I usually start on the mat with a serious of stretches and then go into leg-lifts, followed by holding my body in a V-formation without using my hands – you will feel this in your stomach, trust me!   Next I will do several sets of push-ups, usually the girl style because boy push-ups aggravate my back, and I finish with several rounds and variations of stomach crunches.

Exercise Ball

Exercise Ball

2.  The Ball – I love those big blow-up exercise balls.  I have seen them at Wal-mart and Target for around $10-$12 and besides the excercise benefits they also make a great spare chair when company comes over.  I will use my ball on the mat by holding it between my ankles and lifting it up in the air, or putting my feet on top and lifting but gluteus maximus off the floor.  When not on the mat, I will sit on top of the ball and then carefully lift my feet off the floor to try to balance.  This is a fun exercise and great for developing both your balance and your core muscles.  Often my husband and I will turn it into a game to see who can balance the longest.

The Bike Trainer

The Bike Trainer

3.  The Bike Trainer – I am not good on a bike, I wish that I was and I have tried to be in the past, but trust me… I am not a cyclist.  Suffice it to say, that I am much better at sports where my feet touch the ground and have an average speed of less than 8 miles per hour.  Typically the only workout that our road bike gets is taking my husband to and from work, but I will admit that when it is below freezing outside, it is nice to set the bike up on a stationary trainer and spin for an hour.  It not only negates my fear of speed, but it allows me to watch Sportscenter as well.

Stair - Stepper

Stair - Stepper

4.  The Chair or Couch – When I am training for the Appalachian Trail this is one of my favorite ways to get in shape.   I will find a sturdy chair or couch in our house and then with my backpack weighted and strapped to my back I will step on and off that chair for up to an hour.  I usually start by facing the chair doing 5 mins of right leg step-ups, followed by 5 mins of left leg step-ups.  After that I will turn 90 degrees and practice side step-ups on both legs as well.  It is amazing how much better I am on those long climbs when I have been doing this consistently at home.

Okay, with a little core work, some time spinning on the trainer and a good dose of steps, you can get a great workout in your living room that will set you up well when the time comes to don the boots or trail runners once again. I hope this helps some of you endure the winter blast and get ready for your upcoming spring adventures.  This week in Asheville the highs are returning to the mid-40s so I am looking forward to getting back out to the trails soon because, let’s face it, the trails will always be my favorite gym.

*Be sure to click of the hyper-links to get detailed instructions and information for exercises to do at home.

2010 Goals

P1010258I usually don’t set new goals for the New Year.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all about goals but usually I set them throughout the year instead of when I am drinking champagne with friends.  This year, however, my husband was sicker than I had ever seen him and the wind chill outside was below 10F, so we did not celebrate New Year’s Eve, we did not even go out on New Year’s Eve.  Instead, I stayed at home and wrote down my goals for 2010.

I thought about goals such as meditating more, trying to make the house more eco-friendly, being a better friend and family member, but those still need to take some more shape up in my head before they make it to paper.  So, in the end, the goals I wrote down all revolved around hiking.  Several of my hiking goals have been up in my head for quite a while, but there is something about writing it down and posting it where I can see it that encourages me and holds me accountable at the same time.  And putting it on my blog?  Well, that’s like double the accountability and it gives me something to write about when it is too cold to go outside and play.P1010344

So in order, here they are…

March: The Foothills Trail, SC (76 miles). The Bartram Trail, NC (100 miles).

April: The Benton MacKaye Trail, GA/TN/NC (273 miles).

May: The Grand Enchantment Trail, AZ/NM (730 miles).

June & July: The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Great Britain (186 miles).  The Haute Route, Switzerland (115 miles).  GR 20, Corsica (115 miles).

August: The Allegheny Trail, VA/WV (330 miles).P1010865

Sept: The Pinhoti Trail, AL (240 miles).

Now some of you might be thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of miles, so how are you going to spend time with your husband and work amid all those trails?”  Well, the plan is to set a women’s supported or unsupported record on each one of those trails, that will get me back to my hubby faster and since my work consists of writing and speaking about outdoor experiences it kinda ties in.  Clever, eh?

The truth is I LOVE the trails and I want to be out there, plus I think I can do some pretty amazing things as far as records are concerned. P1010322Not to say that fast is better than slow, because it’s not, but it is pretty fun in it’s own right.  Plus, God-willing, I eventually want babies and it is hard to hike fast and light with babies on the hip or back, so if I want to do these trails, which I do… I really, really do, now seems like the logical time.

So even though I stayed at home on New Year’s Eve, and even though I went to bed at 10:30, I woke up on New Year’s morning more excited about the upcoming year than ever before!

The Gear Exchange

The Outdoor Enthusiast fell into one of three categories on December 26th.  If they were really lucky then his or her loved ones managed to pick out the perfect size, style, weight, and technically rated Christmas present.   A second category found the adventurer with beaucoups gift cards to use at their local outdoor store.  More likely, however, one woke up the day after Christmas with gifts that weren’t exactly what they wanted for his or her 2010 exploits and therefore needed to exchange the presents.

If you fall into the second or third description and plan to spend some time this week searching for gear, then take a second to check out my time tested favorites to see if there is something that you might want to supplement your holiday haul.

Patagonia Fleece

Patagonia Fleece

(***Please note that while the gear fashion show displayed below did take place inside, I opted for photos taken in front of an outdoor painting to present a more authentic feel.)

1.  Patagonia Fleece – I love Patagonia because they are such an eco-conscious company, but I also love them because their products last forever.  My lightweight fleece is a very light very and warm piece of gear that has traveled over 6,000 miles with me.  I bought it five years ago, and the only sign of wear has been a slight fading in the dark black color.

WM Sleeping Bag

WM Sleeping Bag

2.  Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag – If you have A LOT of extra Christmas cash then definitely consider a Western Mountaineering sleeping bag.  I love them!  I have a 45F and a 25F bag.  Again, they have both lasted several thousands miles.  Western uses some of the highest quality 800 Fill Power down in the industry, so they are both uber light and most importantly they keep this cold-blooded southerner warm on chilly nights.

MH Down Jacket

MH Down Jacket

3.  Mountain Hardware Down Jacket – I don’t know if I can stress how much I like to be warm; a desert climate is ideal.  However, when I do have to face the cold and snow there is no better piece of gear to wear up top than my Mountain Hardware down jacket, it has great loft and utilizes body heat to keep you nice and toasty.  After four years mine isn’t quite as puffy as it used to be, but it is still my go to winter jacket.

SmartWool Sock

SmartWool Sock

4.  SmartWool Socks – If you just have a little bit of left over Christmas cash then think about investing in some quality socks.  I personally like SmartWool because they wick away moisture really well.  I never realized how important socks were until I developed the initial symptoms of Trench Foot on the Appalachian Trail.  At that point I realized that a pair of good socks is just as important as a pair of good shoes.

Okay, friends, that concludes my list.  Unfortunately, most of my friends and family think I have way TOO much gear and refuse to buy me anymore for Christmas, but my sweet husband ended up with a nice pile of gift cards so I look forward to helping him spend them on some great technical items this week.  After all, we have some big adventures planned for 2010!

When Snow comes South

Brew Sledding

Brew Sledding

Telemarking, shredding, bindings – I know these words, I just have no clue what they are or what they mean.  You see, I grew up in the South. I have spent my life in North Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia, so I am terrified of snow.  Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty at first and I always consider it a rare treat to see everything blanketed in white, but after the novelty wears off then comes the fear.

In the South we don’t know what to do when it snows.  Well, I take that back.  We think we know what to do.  For example, five days before the slightest chance of a wintery mix, we all rush to the grocery store and load up on milk and bread.  Even if we usually don’t eat bread or drink milk, we still buy it because that is what you do when it might snow.  Two days before a potential storm we check to make sure our flashlights have batteries inside them for when the power goes out, then the day before the possible threat we fill our bathtubs with water for when our faucets no longer work.

Jen Sledding

Jen Sledding

After that we feel relatively prepared so we sit under five blankets and watch the windows and the weather channel to monitor the incoming front.  In the morning there is typically a light dusting on the ground.  And thank goodness we did all that prep work, because at that point everything shuts down.  Schools shut down, people avoid driving for several days, and for the rest of the year people can talk about what they did when the big storm came.

The thing is, this year it actually happened, we actually got a big storm.  And it came out of nowhere!  All of a sudden on Thursday the news forecasters predict a snowstorm that would come in overnight.  (Maybe they are waiting til the last minute now, because of their inaccuracy in the past?)  Then, the next morning, we woke up to several inches of white fluff on the ground and throughout the day the snow kept falling and falling and falling.  When it finally stopped, we had a foot-and-a-half outside our house – the last time I experienced something like this I was 9 years old!  This was a Christmas miracle… and a nightmare.

Brew and Jen

Brew and Jen

I hadn’t made it to the store before Thursday, I didn’t have my milk and bread, my bathtub wasn’t full of water, and my flashlights were nowhere to be found.  My husband and I don’t even have “snow clothes.”  It is true that NC, VA and WV do all have some “decent” snow slopes, but my speed threshold is 6 miles per hour, and other skiers don’t like it when I zig-zag in front of them a million times going down the green slopes, so we avoid the resorts, and the gear.  But I did have hiking gear, so with rain pants over leggings and a big puffy jacket, my husband Brew and I went out to explore the new world.

There were so many cars on the side of the road that it literally looked like a scene from Armageddon.  Amid the chaos, however, we found some friends with sleds and decided to give the whole winter sports thing another try.  Brew and I sledded until we had snow in all our clothes and our fingers felt like icicles.  We had races, we gave each other style points, but mostly we just laughed when the other person wiped out.

When we finally went back inside to warm up, we turned on the lights, took a shower, enjoyed a hot cup of cocoa and then curled up to watch a movie.

So while I’m still not ready to move to the North or to the West, I have to admit, I hope that it is a lot less than 15 years until we get another foot of snow. ; )

Just Jen...

Just Jen...

Ever Seen a Tiger in the Woods?

Outdoor Hero - Warren Doyle

Outdoor Hero - Warren Doyle

All this hoopla with Tiger Woods over the past two weeks has made me appreciate being an outdoor athlete.  It also begs the question, do giants in the sporting world have an obligation to their fans to be not just great at their sport, but a great person as well?  I say no, Tiger Woods does not owe me anything.  I do not look to Tiger for any advice or examples of how to live my personal life.

But Tiger does have an obligation to Nike, EA Sports, Gillette and countless other sponsors to either be an upstanding guy or not get caught, because the truth is, I no longer want to own anything with Tiger’s image, likeness or signature on it.  (Okay, I admit, there is one exception.  I will still use Gillette razors because that’s what Roger Federer uses, and I want to use whatever the Fed uses.)  But in general, when a person signs on to sell a product we need to be able to trust that person, and I no longer trust Tiger Woods.

Outdoor Hero - Scott Williamson

Outdoor Hero - Scott Williamson

My current distrust of Tiger led me to start thinking about heroes in the outdoor world.  I have met so many people pursuing their love of the outdoors on shoestring budget in an attempt to test their human limits, inspire others, and enjoy the natural world.

Some of my own personal heroes include hikers Warren Doyle and Scott Williamson, ultra-runner David Horton, and kayaker Anna Levesque.  These folks are just as gifted and disciplined as anyone in mainstream sports, and yet they are also level-headed, unselfish and just as interested in you as you are in them.  These people are not well known outside of their specific sport and they are constantly struggling to do what they love and support themselves and a family, but in my opinion they have proven themselves humble, wise, and worthy to be called a role model.

Outdoor Hero - Anna Levesque

Outdoor Hero - Anna Levesque

So I think the outdoor industry should give society a new version of role models.  I don’t think that these athletes should be paid millions of dollars, but how great it would be to have heroes that promote the outdoors, conservation, and a healthy lifestyle?  What if we had heroes that didn’t respond to the roar of the crowd, but instead gave 100% day after day because an inner voice kept pushing them forward?  What if instead of buying a jersey with someone’s name and number on it or sitting in the stands and eating nachos, people’s role models inspired them to go backpacking for the first time, take a kayaking lesson, or test themselves at a rock climbing clinic?

There are so many amazing people in the outdoor world with amazing stories, and I think it would do a lot of people a lot of good to hear their voice.  The world of professional sports is about more, more, and more, but the outdoor world is about doing more and needing less.

Outdoor Hero - David Horton

Outdoor Hero - David Horton

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am a HUGE mainstream sports fan, and I am not saying that there won’t be an outdoor icon who is unfaithful to his/her spouse, or that they won’t use recreational drugs.  But as it stands right now, there are no outdoor athletes that I know of who have over-inflated egos because they sign multi-million dollar contracts, and they are not on their way to being a billionaire like Tiger.  Instead, they have chosen their sport out of love, personal growth, and an appreciation for the outdoors.  And I just think it would be cool, if the outdoor world introduced some of their heroes to the mainstream population.

With the trend of society rightly turning towards being more “green,” shouldn’t our sports heroes do the same?