Learning curve: Getting comfortable outdoors

Having lived in the Upper Peninsula for 15 years, I’m embarrassed by how little I know about winter sports.

Take, for example, the following story.

I was assigned to cover the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman in Michigan event, which took place at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay from Feb. 22-24.

Not being an exceptionally outdoorsy woman (especially in the winter), the boots I had at the time were more for walking from the car to the front door than for walking through deep snow, so I figured I’d better buy myself a good quality pair before heading out.

While trying some boots on, the store clerk asked me what I’d be using them for.

“Mostly snowshoeing,” I responded. “But I’m thinking about going cross country skiing, so I may use them for that too.”

An awkward silence ensued.

“You need special boots for that, I think,” my husband said.

I could feel the heat creeping up my face as my cheeks turned red.

“I’ve never been before,” I told the clerk in an effort to explain my ignorance of the sport and its most basic equipment needs.

So, over the BOW weekend, I sat in on a cross country ski class, the memory of that blatant display of ignorance still fresh in my mind. I learned all about skiing, about the different types of skis, why they’re shaped that way, what types of wax to use. And, most importantly, I learned about ski boots.

It turns out, they’re specially made to clamp into ski bindings.

Sitting in on the class, I didn’t feel stupid for not knowing that. If I had said out loud, “Oh, I didn’t know you needed a special boot,” no one would have looked at me like my hair was on fire.

That’s the whole point of the weekend – teaching women with little to no knowledge on outdoor activities in a way that doesn’t make them feel silly for having little to no knowledge on outdoor activities.

And even beyond the classes, just meeting all those amazing women was inspirational. I met incredibly knowledgeable instructors who exemplified the idea of being an outdoors woman. I learned basic wood-burning techniques from an accomplished artist and built my own snow shelter with the help of a husband and wife who’ve probably forgotten more about winter camping than I’ll ever know.

The participants were equally inspirational. I went snowshoeing with a mother and daughter who constantly challenge each other to try new things and roomed with a group of friends who came up to the north woods for a weekend of outdoor fun.

I interviewed a trio of ladies in their 50s and 60s who were doing things for the first time in their lives – skiing, snowshoeing, Zumba – and were having a blast doing it.

It felt empowering to be around so many women who seemed so fearless. I hope to be like them when I hit 50. I hope I never get set in my ways, that I’m always open, no matter my age, to trying new things.

After all, age is relative – it’s all in your mindset. And these women were open to any experiences they could have over the weekend. I’m better for having met them.

This is the second column I’ve written about this program in just a few short days, but I could never say enough about it. What a fantastic three days it was.

The next BOW event is taking place May 31 through June 2. I highly recommend that all women, from grandmothers to granddaughters, take a look at www.michigan.gov/bow. Registration will be open at the end of March. Sign up before all the spots are taken, and hopefully I’ll see you there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net