I dreamt of Teddy Roosevelt.
Of course I did. After all, I was in the tranquilness of Adirondack Park at Silver Bay on Lake George, exhausted yet exhilarated. This long weekend of workshops was packed with activity, education and camaraderie. For the last four years I have loved coming to this region, mostly to visit Lake Placid for triathlon training. But this visit was different. This visit was to tap into my inner outdoors woman, one who is alive and vibrant, but often hidden in daily struggles to get work done and masked in long training sessions which encourage her but fall short in letting her roam free.
My outdoors woman got plenty of time to play this weekend. And she loved every packed minute of it.
Becoming an Outdoors-Woman is a national non-profit organization developed about 20 years ago to help encourage women to, well, be outdoors. The New York State program is run through the DEC and its signature event for the last 19 years as been a weekend full of workshops. Traditionally, I wouldn’t look to the DEC to help with my inner outdoors woman since, in my mind, the DEC is synonymous with hunting and fishing. As a vegetarian, I don’t have much need for a class on field dressing or fish and game cooking. And right now beginning muzzleloading isn’t on my to-do list. But the workshops are about so much more than hunting and fishing. The weekend truly is about learning new skills in a supportive environment, embracing and respecting nature and the joy of being with a group of like-minded women. And it’s also a bit about going outside your comfort zone.
The workshops started on Friday afternoon and promptly after lunch I went off to my wilderness first aid class. While not a certification class, it was extremely thorough. Shelia Young, our instructor from the Adirondack Foothills Guide Service, wasn’t just informative, but entertaining as well. “If your head is leaking, it better be spit, snot or tears,” Shelia told us as we went through the basics of the respiratory and nervous system. My personal favorite came when we were discussing water purification. If you’re without water and all that’s around is a dirty looking pond (at least in the United States), it’s better to drink the water than risk dehydration. “You can’t fix dead, but you can fix diarrhea,” she said. Funny, but true. I now can create a makeshift split out of twigs, duct tape and bandages. But more importantly than that, I can access a situation on the trail whether it’s injury or illness and help devise a treatment or evacuation plan. I feel confident enough to stay calm.
Saturday packed in two workshops and after my morning 6-mile run, I went on a 4-mile hike on the private trails of the Silver Bay YMCA Association. The first mile went up — straight up. And my quads definitely felt the work. During the hike, I met some amazing women and chatted away with Natasha, who lives in Ithaca, and Ellen, who lives in Syracuse. Ellen described herself as a “wannabe vegan” and we discussed our love of the movie “Forks Over Knives.” Perhaps the best part of weekends like this is discovering that there are people out there like me — other women who enjoy getting outside and hiking and laughing all the while not taking ourselves too seriously.
The afternoon brought another class with Sheila and her husband, Sonny, as we learned map and compass skills. Ever look at a topographical map? Yeah. It’s pretty scary. And all I knew about a compass was that it somehow showed where north was. With patience, the two taught the class and helped us through examples. The map and compass are no longer intimidating. I can see ridges and valleys on the maps and understand the contour lines better. I now know the difference between truth north (i.e. the North Star) and magnetic north (a point in Hudson’s Bay) and the importance of declination. (Hint: Forget about the declination and you will be off target by a quarter mile for every mile you travel. And that violates the first rule of map and compass — staying found.) I’m actually pretty excited to get my own compass and start practicing, even though it does require some basic math skills.
Sunday morning brought the final workshop and I chose backpack camping, learning exactly how to cram all my necessary gear into my pack and carry it into the woods. I tried to hang a bear bag, but my throw over the tree branch never quite made it high enough, leading me to believe that bear canisters may be worth the extra weight in your pack after all.
I returned home with pages of handouts and a boatload of knowledge that I am eager to synthesize and practice. I made new friends, which, frankly, can be difficult to do as an adult. Most importantly, I got a chance to play in the woods. I learned that exhaustion can be exhilarating if you’re doing things you love with people who are supportive and want you to succeed.
So why did I dream about Teddy Roosevelt? I am halfway through the book, “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America” by Douglas Brinkley. (It’s an 800-plus page book which I borrowed from my father. I actually gave my dad the book as a Christmas gift one year. I tend to buy him really long books that I also want to read. That’s how I roll.) The book traces Roosevelt’s development as America’s leading conservationist at the turn of the 20th century. And Roosevelt, a native New Yorker, found much respite in the Adirondacks as both a child and an adult. Teddy was an advocate of the strenuous life, but in it he also found peace and restoration. I know exactly how he felt. The exhaustion is quickly remedied but the exhilaration lasts a long time.