Outside Magazine + SheisABLE

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.

music | Rebekah Pahl

My pal Rebekah is a gifted writer/singer, and a loyal friend filled with intuition and wisdom.  This time last year, I packed up Fran the van & moved from Nashville with the west coast on my mind.  Rebekah joined Fran & I from Austin to Tucson, and along the way we took some promo photos in the eclectically bizarre town of Marfa, TX.

Listen to her tunes here.

Outward Bound TX Staff Invite

"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. 

Trip Highlights:

- 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 | Peru

 

"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.

2017: a recap

2017 highlights:

bought Fran the Van & built her out with my grandfather

led a women's backpacking trip in TN

moved from Nashville

Austin -> Big Bend -> Tucson -> Moab -> Salt Lake

hiked 5 days in the Grand Canyon

joined some pals on the AT for 8 days

documented 7 days in Peru with fashionABLE

spent 2 months working at Voyageur Outward Bound in Ely, MN

snuck in a weekend to my favorite place in September

documented a 5 day backpacking trip in CO with SheisABLE

documented a 5 day whitewater canoeing trip with VOBS in Big Bend

moved to Santa Barbara

"I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got [there].  But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home."  - Thomas Merton

This life is a gift, and this year was no exception.  I am thankful.

happy franiversary

Mikaela Hamilton- Cali Fran-1.jpg

I bought this little lady on this day last year.  It has been one of the most bold & unpredictable years of my life, and much of the credit goes to having the freedom to take an off-road turn when it presented itself (even if that meant occasionally taking a wrong turn and getting stuck in sand).  Cheers to another year of open hands & sharpened eyes to the world around me.  There are wonders everyday if we choose to see them.

Women's Backpacking Trip | Virgin Falls, TN

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?

Small Business Saturday | Unison Made

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.

Half Hidden

Honored to have some photos & words featured on Rock Meets Soil.  Full feature on their blog!

Each of these photos has a silhouetted theme—
it's difficult to see the faces of the subjects. To me,
they represent the vulnerability and mystery of human
relationships. Often we only display curated parts of
ourselves deemed worthy of revealing. 

Most of us are half hidden—we're
anthropomorphic glaciers gliding through the world,
carrying most of our burdens beneath the surface. 
Photography feeds my curiosity, allows me to evoke
emotion, and every so often, grants me a glimpse into who
someone truly is. May we continue to welcome life's
mysteries, keep asking questions, and have
the courage to show our scars.

Mysteries, Yes


Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.


Mary Oliver