Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Outside with Trail Dames

In January and February, many Trail Dames events are designed especially with new hikers in mind.   I’m always inspired by the women of this group, and feel so good about the chance to help get more women outdoors.
Hiking up Stone Mountain near Atlanta, GA.
Meet and Greets
In town Meet and Greets provide practical information to get everyone--even complete outdoors novices---ready for their first hike. A panel of trip leaders covered how to choose a trip and use Meetup, what to wear and bring, and what to expect while hiking with a group. One of the biggest challenges is getting over the hurdle of going out with a group of new people. So Meet and Greets also provide a chance to meet the the group and see how fun we are.
Talking about what to bring on a hike.
Meetin' and Greetin'
In winter, dayhikes close to town provide more moderate temperatures compared to the mountains.  I ended up leading trips nearly every free weekend I had while I was in Georgia. I won't be able to do this easily after I leave GA---I won't know the trails and won't have a group of other co-leaders ready to help out. These things take time to build.
Beaver Dam at Lake Russell.
Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area in Georgia.
Botanical Gardens in Athens, GA. Photo by CT.

Beginner backpacking clinic
Demonstrations and activities at a local park provided ample chance to introduce backpacking skills and gear options.  The goal was to send the message that “you can do it” and to help people avoid feeling overwhelmed or fearful, and prevent them from wasting money on gear that is never used.  We also covered how to sort through all the conflicting advice and figure out your own style.

To address common fears in backpacking, we came up with the game of “Fear Charades.”  We made up a list of fears on index cards and handed these out to everyone randomly.  Each person had to act out their assigned fear and say what they’d pack if they had that fear.  Like a zero degree sleeping bag in 50-degree weather (if they are scared of being cold).  After everyone guessed what the fear was, as a group, we brainstormed how to deal with the fear and mitigate risk of any real danger.  People’s creative sides showed through and there were good discussions.

Many people ask whether to get a hammock or tent.  We illustrated tradeoffs in shelters by setting up a hammock and a tent side by side, and discussing pros and cons.
Trying out a hammock for the first time.
The topic of peeing in the woods inevitable brings up laughter.  We encourage discussions because that breaks the ice and puts people more at ease.  In the past, we’d heard stories about people who’d avoid drinking so they wouldn’t have to pee in the woods.  So now we are open in talking about where to go, pros and cons of toilet paper, pee rags and female urination devices.  After one Dame (who was really enthusiastic about being a peer-educator on this topic) returned from going in the woods, she’d boast “ahhh it feels so good to have an empty tank”, and inevitably the other women would head out to go too!
Wearing it proudly.
I was glad to have the chance to spend time with the Dames and to help out on a variety of trips.  Special thanks to all the women who joined us and to my fellow trip leaders-- ya'll are awesome.


  1. Hi Joan , hope your foot is better . How's it going since the scare ?
    We have an informal group in our bushwalking club that they lovingly call "the big girls". Not as big or as organized as yours but quite a good little group.
    Regards Steve C

    1. Hi there Steve, I think the foot is going to be OK. I just got back from testing it out for the first time in a few days, and didn't feel any problems at all. Still nervous, but I think it's going to be OK. And I'm on my way over to Arizona now. Thanks for asking. :)

      So cool that you've got a similar group as ours out there! There sure is a need for it. I'm happy to know that we are everywhere.

  2. So much generosity, what a great role model. Much appreciation!

    1. I think you probably understand, since you lead trips too, just how much it means to be part of a group like this. To be able to share things you've learned, and to see the wonder and excitement of beginners. The complete opposite of jaded, entitled attitudes. Refreshing.