Friday, January 6, 2012

The Heart of An Adventurer

“I’m more like the woman I want to be when I am in the woods, “ said Anna Huthmaker. “I am strong and capable.”

This truth has wormed its way into the heart of all people who call themselves outdoor enthusiasts. To them nature provides a sense of belonging, a connection with something bigger, and a truer sense of self, but among others it’s a daunting arena rife with potential hardship, solitude and wild life.

Huthmaker attests that any woman can find the promise of belonging on a trail and discovering her own strength, power and heart. With this in mind, she led the first Trail Dames hike to the top of Springer Mountain, Georgia in March 2007 and officially launched the organization in 2008. Meant to empower women who lack the confidence to explore the natural world on their own “the hiking club for women of a curvy nature” was established to provide a safe and supportive environment for women, regardless of age, fitness level, economics, or pant size. 

Her organization answers the question of how a woman can hike at a pace that’s right for her while enjoying the safety of hiking with others. Ultimately for Huthmaker, it’s really about getting women on trails where they might discover the independence, confidence, and wonder of nature that she enjoys while hiking.

The emphasis for most hikes is taking it slow and having fun so that even the last hiker can feel proud of what she has accomplished when she reaches the mountaintop.

“The one in the very back who is older or less fit, when she reaches the top, that’s when the real magic happens,” said Huthmaker.

She has experienced the magic herself. As a hiker Huthmaker knows that the slowest person is achieving the most. During her first backpacking trip she felt the elation of summiting Big Bald hours after her group, and she faced the challenges of walking the requisite ten miles into the night to eat a pot of undercooked ramen seasoned by the leaf litter of untreated water.

Undeterred by the difficulties and inspired by the adventure Huthmaker backpacked 700-miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2003, hiked the Inca Trail in 2008, and has visited Africa, Cuba, and the Arctic Circle. She accounts for her travels with the explanation that she has the heart of an adventurer, the body of a real woman, and the belief that it’s just as easy to dream big as it is to dream small.

Huthmaker took her big dreams, a “yes I can” attitude, and dedication to inspiring others to a new level at the end of June when she organized The Summit, the nation’s first hiking and backpacking conference for women.

Anna Huthmaker greets attendees during opening event. 
Gathered from across the nation in Harrisonburg, Virginia in June 2011 women learned from one another on topics of gear, nutrition, hiking logistics, nature appreciation, and issues specific to their gender. They gleaned inspiration from each other’s stories in workshops and over meals.

Huthmaker shared her experience of hiking the Inca Trail and delivered the authentic tale with such pitch and fervor that wet-eyed attendees cheered and clapped along with the porters who showered her with their respect at the end of the journey.

Other stories of global travel were shared by hike leader Cheryl Bharath who talked about hiking in Trinidad and author Cindy Ross who presented stories and slides from her treks around the world with her husband and two children.
Cindy Ross (right) was recognized as Woman of the Year. As the keynote speaker of the event, she had me absolutely captivated by her pictures and stories of traveling the world with her family. It gave me hope that family and travel are not mutually exclusive. Thanks, Cindy!
Ross was presented with the Woman of the Year award for her excellence in outdoor pursuits. Eight-year old Scout Aulenbach received the Adventurer of the Year award for her positive attitude and aptitude for easing the nerves of Dames she led on a caving adventure. 

Scout Aulenbach
The event even celebrated individual attendees. Everyday women were honored for the strength, power and heart that epitomize the Spirit of a Dame. Among the recipients was a woman who arrived at her first hike following a surgery, pushing a walker, and emphatically saying that she wanted to learn to backpack. A Georgia Dame was recognized for her compassion and generous spirit in bringing a woman with special needs on hikes. Another woman had been confined to her home by anxiety prior to joining the Dames for hikes. Through her participation she gained the confidence to literally continue living in the world beyond her home and the trails.

Through Trail Dames many of these women have discovered what Huthmaker optimistically set out to achieve – an awareness that a simple walk in the woods is an empowering experience.

As the conference drew to a close, Huthmaker asked participants what they get from spending time in the woods. The answers rang out from across the room: freedom, sanity, beauty, strength, connection, no responsibility, self-sufficiency, confidence and a way to break down unrealistic expectations.

Armed with these truths, women are taking to America’s trails.  

Trail Dames has grown to an association of more than 2,000 members in 10 states. 

Grand Dame and visionary founder Anna Huthmaker
 You can read my full interview with Anna here.

Learn more about the 2012 Summit by visiting This year's Summit will be held in Durango, Colorado. Get ready, Colorado, these women are amazing and full of heart!

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