Last October, I had the opportunity to document a 5 day women's backpacking trip in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness with the Atlanta based nonprofit SheisABLE (which was founded by one of my favorite humans, Elise Knicely). Florence Williams joined us on behalf of Outside Magazine, and I'm thrilled to say that her words & my photos are in Outside's May 2018 issue, and featured online here.
This trip necessitated conversation within the outdoor industry on ways to structure outdoor programs for populations that have suffered long-term psychological trauma. The outdoor education and adventure world predominantly follows the formula of putting students in harsh and physically demanding environments as a means towards self-discovery and interpersonal breakthrough. Words like grit, endure, conquer, strength, tough, and survival are centerpieces of learning. For certain populations, this method is fantastic- I experienced it firsthand while working at Voyageur Outward Bound last summer. However, with other populations, different approaches have to be considered. The women I went on the trip with are some of the most resilient, gritty, and tough people I've ever met. They've endured pain beyond belief for horrific periods of time. When I asked one if she had previously been camping, she responded that the closest thing to camping she experienced was homelessness. This group didn't need to learn how to survive, they'd been surviving their whole life. They needed comfort, empowerment, compassion, self-care, safety. The benefits and healing that come from nature cannot begin if your population feels like their basic safety needs are not met.
As Aleya explains it, healing trauma is complicated. That’s because the brain wants to hold on to memories of danger. “They’re separate from linear, logical thought processes,” she says, “so your nervous system acts like it’s happening now or is about to.” Simply talking about traumatic memories doesn’t fully work, because it engages only those neural pathways associated with logic and speech. Healing involves both separating fearful emotions from bad memories and bringing the nervous system back to the safer, quieter present. “Trauma healing happens not only through talking, but also through integrative nonverbal therapies,” Aleya says, referring to both movement and mindful-ness. These happen easily in adventure sports, as long as they feel relatively safe.
So what does that look in the context of an expedition? For our trip, it meant fewer miles, lots of verbal processing, and play. Not only was it the women's first time camping, but we were camping in Colorado in October, where we experienced freezing temperature and a snowstorm. For most of the women, playfulness and goofiness were emotions taken from them at a very young age. Partnering a playful spirit with a sense of safety in a natural environment brought many moments of laughter, fun, and healing.
Our trip ended in Toth Ranch, a retreat center in Hot Sulphur Springs that brought warmth, food, and a safe space to process their experience in the wilderness. Hiking with heavy packs immediately grounded the women- for some, it was the first time in years that they felt aware of their bodies, and that they could claim ownership of their body once more.
The fact that she is even feeling her body is progress, according to researchers like Julie Anne Laser-Maira, a trafficking expert and associate professor at the University of Denver. “They’ve been through so much brutality,” she says. To survive those experiences, women often dissociate from their bodies.
I hope that this article sparks conversation amongst outdoor educators, companies and outfitters to consider alternative ways of facilitating outdoor programs for other student populations. Nature is accessible, healing, and nourishing for all, and I would love to see continued effort towards creating programs that provide powerful expeditions for populations that have suffered long-term trauma.
Florence wrote an amazing book on the scientific ways that nature affects creativity, health, and happiness on our brain. It's called The Nature Fix, and you can buy it here. Outside's May Issue is available in stores now, and the online article is available here.
E, I am so proud of you. Keep following that beautiful heart of yours.
A thousand thank you's to E for creating SheisABLE, and to Outside & Florence for being their megaphone.
Friends & businesses in the Santa Barbara/Montecito/Carpinteria/Ventura area! Aleia Design Co is selecting 1-2 clients to receive a branding package, and I’m stoked to offer a photo shoot as one of the options.
Other donated services include:
01. one-on-one consultation + marketing brainstorming session
02. new brand design / logo refresh
03. brand collateral package (style guide, business cards, logo suite & more)
04. new website / site refresh
05. 1 hour photography session
06. 1 hour of professional copywriting
07. social media strategy
All other submissions will receive 30% off all design services through the end of 2018.
The last day to submit is March 15, 2018. Here's to giving back and rebuilding! #strongertogether
"As long as there are young people with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run." -Sigurd Olson
Last October I documented a 5 day whitewater canoeing expedition on the Rio Grande with Outward Bound. Big Bend is a magical place, and exploring a park via a river invites visitors to synchronize their bodies with the heartbeat of the land. 2018 courses are available here.
- nightly Star Club
- taking a massive spill out of my canoe, gaining some scratches, life lessons, and thankfully maintaining a dry camera
- losing my mind over the light in the Santa Elena Canyon during the morning
- exploring Fern Canyon's cracks and caves
- navigating the Rock Slide Rapid
- Solo sunrise time & sunset yoga
"ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty by working with women who have often overcome extraordinary circumstances. We manufacture directly in the communities we wish to impact, both locally and globally, creating jobs and ending the cycle of charity dependency."
Last June, I traveled with the fashionABLE crew to meet their partners in Peru. We choose leather from local tanneries for their 2018 shoes & handbags. We also toured Lives Sac, a small batch factory operated by three sisters who are committed to ABLE's mission of breaking the cycle of poverty by creating jobs for women and paying a living wage. ABLE's apparel is manufactured by Lives.
One of my most treasured moments from 2017 was a women's backpacking trip I lead in Tennessee's Virgin Falls State Natural Area. There were 7 of us in total: some old friends, some new faces, some experienced campers, some first timers. A few months prior, I sent an email out to a handful of female friends in the Nashville area, inquiring that if I put together a women's weekend backpacking trip, would they be interested, and what would they want to learn? I was floored by the response- my email flooded with an overwhelming amount of "heck yes's" and "I've been wanting to do something like this, but didn't have the equipment". Most of the responses expressed a basic desire to get outside, but a few things prevented them from going.
Since it was impossible to adhere to everyone's schedule, we decided to have an evening gathering for anyone interested, even if they couldn't attend the trip. 15 women sat in my living room, and we shared our experiences in the outdoors. We discussed the basics of packing a backpack & made sure everyone was well equipped for a weekend outside.
I headed to Virgin Falls a day early with two of my compadres, to solidify a camp spot and make sure the trail was manageable. We had a beautiful, warm evening and were filled with anticipation for the rest of the group to join us.
The next morning, we woke up to snow & temperatures in the teens. Anxiety swept through me, for camping in the snow can be quite unpleasant, especially for a beginner camper. I texted an update, that we were staying and it seemed like it would clear up, but that I completely understood if people didn't want to join us. All I got in response was, "WE ARE COMING." I thought I would burst from joy.
We were gifted with the slowness of a snow day, with a fire burning from afternoon until bedtime. The morning brought sunshine and a motivated hike out to reward ourselves with some good ole Mexican food.
Cheers to getting outside despite inexperience or lack of equipment! Endless thank you's to my camping buddies for trusting me to lead you outside, regardless of unideal weather.
Who's up for a backpacking trip in 2018?
Available now on Spotify!
I had the privilege of traveling to San Matias, Honduras last June with Considerthewldflwrs to document the women of Unison Made. For the past six years, Emily has been teaching women in the local community how to make and sell jewelry. For Small Business Saturday, Considerthewldflwrs is selling Unison Made necklaces, and I'm partnering with them to sell prints from our trip to Honduras. All proceeds will go towards Unison Made.
Buy necklaces here.
Buy prints here.
Honored to be on the latest episode of the She-Explores podcast series, Women On The Road. Huge thanks to Laura Hughes & Gale Straub for letting me be a part of such an inspiring & curious community of women.