If you say you live in an area where there’s nothing to do, you’re not looking through the right lens. Before you protest, know that you’re arguing with a girl from Florida. I once thought the same: the whole flat state is comprised of alligators and swamps; a land with no redeeming qualities for someone who loves exploring.
I was wrong. No, I didn’t have have one of Colorado’s 14’ers in my backyard. I did have waterways that carved through thick grasses, waves that swelled up whenever storms rolled in offshore, seldom-used trails that went deep between cypress knees, and springs bubbling up from underwater caverns.
I didn’t recognize what I had back home and off I went, headed west. But once I was there, I found many of the places that looked so remote in the magazines were crawling with people.
You know what far fewer people have experienced? The sun baking the dew off Florida’s fallen pine needles, filling the air with a Christmas scent as hikers move through. Or how, in the rainy season, clockwork thunderstorms empty over the southland’s hammocks, lingering in muddy patches as bikers twist their way through tight palm trees and over rooty singletrack.
I’d underappreciated that experience while living back home.
Maybe you live in the midwest. Lucky you: you’ve experienced the insects clap in flight as you disrupt their place on prairie tallgrass, their sounds echoing in afternoon clouds that thunder across the horizon. You’ve watched autumn’s wind brush against the stalks, moving them in formation like golden waves.
The northeast? The maritimes? The mid-Atlantic? I’ve lived, played in, and been impressed by the offerings of each of these regions.
The key to finding the treasures of these regions was not only diligently turning onto every backroad but also connecting with local outdoor enthusiasts. But for some of us, that’s easier said than done. During my nearly ten years of volunteering with Outdoor Women’s Alliance (OWA), the same issue continues to arise: many of us are having a hard time connecting with an outdoor crew in our area.
And though OWA, amongst a handful of groups and organizations, has created regional meetups to help ease the issue, there’s far more that can be done. Because women everywhere should be able to access the inherent virtues that come from being part of a community of outdoor women.
You don’t have to move west to be part of an outdoor group. There are places to discover outside your door in whichever region you live in, and joining up with an adventure crew can help you find it.
But like LeVar Burton from the “Reading Rainbow” says:
“You don’t have to take my word for it.”
Mid-Atlantic and New England
Katie Levy: When I moved to Philadelphia via Alaska and Upstate New York, it took some time to meet like-minded people because it's not exactly an outdoorsy city. Additionally, there aren't many mountains here in Pennsylvania, so getting out for longer backpacking and hiking trips was always challenging.
But in searching for those bigger outdoor adventures, I found amazing places just outside my home. I ended up joining a local outdoor group and met many like-minded people — building some of the strongest friendships I have — and found hiking and backpacking nearby on beautiful trails. Not only that, but the Catskill Mountains and Adirondacks of New York were easy trips, just a few hours away. One of my favorite things about the region in comparison to some of the remote areas of the west is being able to more easily access these places across all four seasons and seeing how incredibly different the landscape looks in each.
Whitney Bradberry: I was an outdoorsy kid. Growing up in Florida, my idea of exploring was taking a road trip to a new city, floating down a river with friends, or enjoying the views at a new beach while working on my tan. I spent 20 years of my life living so close to beautiful places that I never bothered to explore. I had a solid community of athletic friends, but we played team sports together—going for a hike or exploring new parks was just not something we did.
Now, after moving west and living nearly 10 years in Colorado, my perspective of my hometown has totally changed. The little things when I’m back home — like a sandy trail run through a preserve, kayaking through mangrove tunnels, or crystal-clear beaches covered in driftwood — are beautiful and worth exploring. It makes me wonder how often we all take for granted where we live and the places we've driven by a million times, but never bothered to explore.
Elizabeth Harwood: I hear people say all the time that there’s nothing to do in Florida. They are wrong; it's loaded with wonderful things to see and do. The springs, especially, have been my focus for recent outings. By doing some research online, I found a bunch of women who opened my eyes to a whole new world here in Florida. While they never disclose locations publicly, when I ask privately and show interest in their adventures, they are happy to share. Through this online crew, I’m discovering new places to explore Florida.
(Photo: Kristina Cooper, Pictured: Crystal Jones)
Michelle Jackson-Saulters: I moved to Atlanta after graduating college in 2004. Prior to college, I lived in Germany with beautiful landscapes, rolling hills, and some of the most amazing views. When I arrived in Georgia, I was a bit underwhelmed. I wasn’t an avid hiker, but enjoyed being outside a great deal. However, most of my friends preferred lying by the pool in lieu of hitting a trail. I didn’t think that Georgia had much to offer when it came to getting outside, but that all changed when I made my first trip to the north Georgia mountains. It was beautiful: rolling hills and the most beautiful shades of green.
I found many other trails throughout Georgia and co-founded the Outdoor Journal Tour in an effort to share the landscapes with other women and bring us together. Our first group hike was Stone Mountain, and we flourished from there. Pine Mountain in Cartersville is probably one of my favorite hikes within the Metro Atlanta area. Once you get to the summit, you have the most beautiful view of Red Top and Lake Allatoona. It turns at that Georgia has much more to offer than I ever imagined!
Kat Carney: I lived in Kansas for 20 of the 29 years of my life. So how did I get into all these outdoor activities? I think that adventure is everywhere, in the same way that I believe beauty is everywhere. So I went hiking, waterfall hunting, and floating down the rivers of Kansas.
To this day I dream of spring in Kansas when the thunderstorms roll in and you can see them coming and going for miles. I think of floating the river, chasing rainbows that you can see from end to end, going to the lake in the summer, and finding hidden waterfalls by following streams through a prairie. In the fall, the sunflowers bloom, and you can lay in the middle of the night taking long exposure photos of them with the stars in the sky. It's not hard to get away from light pollution in Kansas and walking into the country to view the stars was one of my favorite things to do. In the winter, ice storms would roll through and create a crystal world. Every branch on every tree was covered in a thick layer of clear ice. Beauty and adventure can be found anywhere if you keep your eyes open for it.
If you’ve discovered strength through the outdoors and believe more women should have access to its benefits no matter where they live, Outdoor Women’s Alliance can help you be part of this movement. While our regional teams serve over 8,000 women through clinics, events, and backcountry outings, there is more we can do. Within our larger community of 230,000 worldwide, many women fall outside team regions. We receive regular requests to expand into new areas and want to offer the benefits to all.
To answer this need, Outdoor Women’s Alliance is creating an online program that women can use to connect, grow skills, and build in-person communities right where they are with all the same benefits of our regional teams — worldwide.
To find out more and to join the effort with your donation, visit: https://www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/outdoor-women-in-your-community.