Since large destination hikes are discouraged during this quarantine period, I’ve spent some time reflecting while I’m at home doing my part to flatten the curve. What keeps coming up in my mind is a really fulfilling hiking-related experience I had in the fall. I had wanted to write about it in the fall, but I was very busy with schoolwork and then ski season started up. But now that I’ve had time to think and write, I’d like to share it here!
Last fall, I ran a series of hikes for young Girl Scouts with my good friend Abby. Our mission was to empower the girls, teach them outdoor skills, and help them unplug and appreciate the beauty of nature. I’ve always loved mentoring young girls because I can see myself in them. If I were their age, I would definitely be signed up to learn about the woods from a high schooler! No doubt! My Girl Scout Gold Award involved mentoring girls to be scientists and Abby is involved in a mentoring program called Girls for Girls. Together, I knew we would be the perfect team to lead a group of crazy and energetic elementary-age children through the woods. It was quite an experience.
It all started in the spring of 2019 when I attended a third grade Girl Scout meeting in my hometown and gave a little presentation about hiking and my own experiences on the trails. I showed off my backpacking gear, let the girls try wearing my pack and holding my trekking poles, and spoke about what kinds of food creations can be made with a WhisperLite stove. I also recounted some of my many stories, from moose encounters to stalker birds and shared dozens of printed photos. Lastly, I pulled out one of my trusty maps of the White Mountains and explained how to use a compass and topographic map together to find your way to a peak on a bushwhack or to get back to your car when you are lost. It felt really good to share some stories (that’s also why I started this blog!) and I loved when the girls asked questions and were interested in everything I was saying! But, talking about compasses and trail spice to a bunch of Brownies is not all inspirational rainbows and unicorns. I had one girl screaming about pickles and one girl trying to zip another into my overnight pack. All in all, it was an experience, and I was ready and excited to get outside with these girls and see where I could take this program.
Fast forward two weeks and Abby and I are on a local trail with the same Girl Scout troop. The day before, I had hid scavenger hunt clues all through the trail network and many of the clues I wrote required compass skills to solve. I was hoping the girls had remembered what I taught them and sure enough they came armed with dollar store compass carabiners. I gave a quick review, let them borrow my big compass, and handed off the first clue. Before we could even blink, they were off running through the trees, howling, “pickles!!” It was crazy, and there was one point when I had to run after the group screaming about poison oak, but it was a rush – we were on a high after having run through the forest and felt like we made a difference. We wanted more.
A couple months later, Abby and I had laid the groundwork for our official fall hiking series. We had a flyer circulating on Facebook and were inviting troops from all surrounding towns, effectively broadening our community of young hikers. We planned themes for each hike, from art hikes to one focused on wilderness first aid.
On the day of our first scheduled hike (scavenger hunt-themed), Abby and I recruited Marion, another friend, to help us handle the massive amount of kids we were expecting to show up. The three of us arrived and waited at the trail head for girls to show up. We waited. And waited. And waited. At last, one singular young girl arrived. The three of us looked at each other. This isn’t what we expected! But, we made the most of it and walked her through the entirety of the scavenger hunt, the three of us giving her all of our attention. I pointed out every nature fact I knew and sampled some edible lichen for her. So, yeah, the first of our hikes was a fail, but we still had fun and were ready to jump headfirst into our second hike.
The fall was when I was going through a rough period with my shin stress reactions, caused by skiing too much the winter prior. So, for one hike, I was on a bike to prevent pounding impact from walking far distances. This was our “art in nature” themed hike. We had a much greater turnout and had fun leading the girls through trails with their sketchbooks. Abby and I are both art-enthusiasts so we really enjoyed this one. On the hike, we gave them paper bags and they collected fallen leaves and other interesting pieces of nature, like acorns. At the end, we all made collages with nature and did leaf rubbings!
I’m so glad that we led these hikes for girls in our community. I think we helped connect some girls with nature and built some solid compass warriors. I was looking forward to continuing this project and creating a spring series, but unfortunately that has to be pushed due to Covid-19. Hopefully, we will pick up again in the summer or next fall. I enjoyed this immensely, had a blast, and learned a lot through the process. It was great to share my passion and pass the torch to a new crop of hikers. I challenge all of my readers to share one of their passions with a family member or roommate during this quarantine. You have plenty of time to do it, and maybe you’ll just learn something about yourself. 🙂