Hope floats ... and flies
Adventure Forum offers inspiration for the active and the activist
Low river flows got you feeling blue? Or maybe Bears Ears brings tears to your eyes? Sit down, and keep calm: the third annual Women Outside Adventure Forum is just around the corner and, with it, plenty of opportunities to step back from all the hashtags and get some fresh ideas about how to fight for public lands, polar bears and world peace.
Between Hollywood and Washington, our plates are pretty full of news that tastes of mushy peas and low-hanging, orange-tufted fruit. The WOAF, presented by Backcountry Experience, invites you to leave the dinner table and join other intelligent human beings for thought-provoking films, scintillating storytelling, locally brewed beer and perspective from a woman who flies.
While the last two years have showcased inspiring athletes, adventure writers and outdoor industry entrepreneurs, WOAF-organizer Margaret Hedderman leaned into the idea of an environmental focus this year. She loves the energy that’s sparked when you get a room full of people excited to work toward a brighter future.
“When you’re alone, you start to lose hope,” says Hedderman, marketing director for Backcountry Experience. For the three-day soiree that takes place March 27- 29, Hedderman chose voices based on input from previous years as well as what’s going on at the national level. In light of those things, the theme “Wild Places and Open Spaces” evolved.
Take a moment to savor images of desert sunsets, whitewater rapids and campfire solitude. Then get excited that you won’t have to wait for the weekend to experience the call of the wild with this mid-week reprieve.
The evenings will feature speakers ranging from conservation filmmaker Jenny Nichols, to Jane Zelikova, a tropical ecologist living in the Rocky Mountains. Navajo/Dakota writer Jacqueline Keeler brings soulful words about Bears Ears, while freelance journalist Krista Langlois discusses the meandering world of rivers. Finally, we’ll hear from pro climber, BASE-jumper and wingsuit flyer Steph Davis, as she shares insights into veganism, grieving and living fearlessly.
One of the primary goals of this year’s WOAF is to identify practical action that each of us can take in our everyday lives to speak up for the planet. Listeners at any of the WOAF presentations will likely hear echoes of suggestions for keeping hope afloat: go outside, pour into the next generation, get creative and unplug.
“Take those rejuvenating trips into wild places – even if it’s just a short walk with your dog,” Durango-based writer Krista Langlois says. “Remember what it is that we’re fighting for.”
And what is it that, exactly? For Rachel Landis, director of Fort Lewis College’s Environmental Center, La Plata Electric Association board member, Telluride ski patroller and co-founder of San Juan Mountain SOLES (Sisters On Leadership Expeditions), connecting with “why” you fight happens when you go outside.
You should show up to battle with that sun-kissed glow of morning dew and alpine air. Landis suggests adventuring with others for the ultimate recharge.
“Heading into the outdoors with a group of people really puts a pressure on figuring out how to work together,” she says. “You pick up tools to work with lots of different skill sets and backgrounds and perspectives.”
Landis brings this option to high school girls through her nonprofit, SOLES, which is the chief beneficiary of the WOAF. She founded SOLES in 2014 with local high school teacher, Ashley Carruth.
Landis says unstructured time spent learning leadership skills in the wilderness is exactly what young women need to confront the inevitable trials of adulthood just around the corner. After trips, the girls get together to share how the trips have impacted their confidence at school, in sports and life in general.
“I’ve watched how many road blocks I put up in my early years, troubled to the point of paralysis,” recalls Landis. “To blast through that before they launch into young adulthood ... and then to have tools to deal with that ... it’s powerful.”
“The natural world gives us beautiful challenges that often inspire us to do things we never thought we were capable of,” adds Davis. “Confidence comes not from knowing you know how to do X right now, but from knowing that you know how to figure out how to do X.”
Based in Moab, Davis walks the talk of facing these beautiful challenges and then some. The 44-year-old has lived and breathed the road less traveled since the early 1990s when she first fell in love with climbing. Since then, she’s collected a hundred lifetimes’ worth of stories, shared chalk bags and wingsuit memories with larger-than-life legends, bounced back from tragedies and become one of the outdoor industry’s most iconic figures.
She’ll give a 45-minute presentation before joining a panel discussion on Thursday night at the Powerhouse. One of the topics she’ll discuss is the importance of uncovering all sides of environmental issues before committing your energy to a cause.
“It’s really difficult to get thorough and non-agenda-based information, and, as a result, it’s hard to understand what the issues actually are,” says Davis. “I try to ask questions of everyone I meet about issues I’m hearing about to make sure I have as full an understanding as possible. Things are generally much more complex than can be communicated in Facebook posts or soundbites.”
Communicating the whole story and not just presenting biased facts is a top priority for freelance journalists like Langlois, a High Country News and Outside magazine correspondent. While her career might revolve around writing environmental and outdoor industry news, she says it’s just as important to unplug from the news cycle.
“Get away from the news for periods of time,” she suggests.
Landis calls this “setting informational boundaries.” These informational boundaries will help you better focus on actions at the regional level, versus worrying about what’s going on at the capitol.
“We’ve been coaching this really hard in the era of Trump,” says Landis. “You cannot do everything.”
Getting involved in the community could be as simple as plugging into a book group, donating to public places you love or joining arms with organizations like the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Or it could be as lofty as writing books or creating films. The important thing is to make your voice heard, says Boulder-based Nichols, a conservation filmmaker.
“Get the word out to larger audiences,” she advises.
For Nichols and other creatives, story-telling is the tool of choice for keeping hope afloat. On Wed., March 28, at the Durango Arts Center, Nichols will share more about her journey as a filmmaker as well as screen two of her most recent films.
Another creative at WOAF is Southwestern-born writer and Portland-based activist, Keeler. On Tuesday, Keeler will read from Edge of Morning, her compilation of essays and poems about Bears Ears written by Native American authors. These reflections about the beloved, misunderstood land of slickrock and slot canyons are guaranteed to ignite your passion for thinking of ways that you, too, can put your talents to work for the land you love.
And, when hope starts to sink, read and re-read dear Ed Abbey’s wise words: “Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast ... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”
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