Officially we call ourselves the “Must Love Dogs Book Club,” but these five women, in a lot of ways, inspired me to start The Outdoor Book Club. The group includes Juanita (a sassy, smart Detroit girl who reads more than anyone I know), Lynne (a warm, passionate member of the Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus and recently opened her home to adopt a refugee teenager), Bev (probably the most conservative, and insightful members of the group — she hired me at the company where we all met, and recently left to start her own business), Jorri (straight-talking, driven and a sense of humor as dry as they come) and Kali (funny, supportive, and sports the most amazing blond curls that we’re all somewhat jealous of).
We don’t meet regularly — scheduling is often an issue (so much so that we’ve met in the conference room at work during the lunch a few times). We keep in touch via email and a secret Facebook group, which is a great way to keep track of the books we’re reading, as well as post articles related to the authors and themes we love the most. Finally, although we are very different people, we have a few things in common that we’re all passionate about: great books, writing and dogs (well, except for Bev, but we love her anyways).
Here’s a glimpse into how our book club operates:
How & when did your book club start?
Lynne: “At work, some of us realized we enjoyed sharing the books we were reading with co-workers, and discussing them.”
Juanita: “We formed our club in February 2012. We are coworkers who are also writers / editors. After a few lunches to discuss books several of us had read (“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett), we made it official.”
Kali: “A group of writers at work kept talking about books together, then talking about creating a book club. Finally, we did it.”
Bev: “I wasn’t a charter member. (Although I liked to women in the club, I couldn’t buy into the name ‘Must love dogs’ since I’m more of a cat person and really not a dog fan.)”
Jorri: “I’m too busy to answer these questions.” [MY PARAPHRASE]
Me: “We all worked in the same office. I can’t remember being officially asked to join, but I do remember turning down another book club offer so I could join this one.”
Why do you like your book club?
Lynne: “We are all intelligent, funny, and appreciate good writing, so it’s not just a good story that gets us excited – it’s the style of the book, the approach, the character development, and sometimes the social environment/mores that the book encourages us to think and talk about.”
Juanita: “We challenge one another. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine of reading the same authors or genres but our club doesn’t suffer that problem.”
Kali: “Because the picks have been so diverse, and many of them have been books I’d never choose for myself. I’ve never read many memoirs or much non-fiction. I’ve learned they can be just as engrossing as fiction! Plus we are an awesome group of ladies. We can disagree on things, and nobody judges. We always have healthy discussions about our books. We are totally comfortable with each other.”
Bev: “The books are eclectic and interesting and the women in the club are intelligent and articulate – and most (if not all) are writers. So we find we have a lot to talk about/ we have intelligent conversations about the book, the author, the theme, etc.”
Me: “Because we’re all the same, but all different. Some of us have kids, some of us don’t. We have differing political opinions, different ages, different backgrounds. But our love of books always gives us a place to start (and the fact that we all work[ed] in the same office — sometimes for the same boss! — doesn’t hurt).”
What kind of books do you read? How do you pick them?
Lynne: “We take turns choosing the next book. We’re an ‘anything goes’ book club, so when it’s your turn to pick, you have complete freedom. That being said, I think all our members try to be conscious of keeping a good mix – novels, biography, non-fiction, new vs. classic.”
Juanita: “The truth is, we read a lot of memoirs. We’ve read nonfiction and fiction. Historical fiction and contemporary novels. Books on the best sellers list and classics. We have six members and take turns picking the book for the month.”
Kali: “The type of book ranges – fiction, memoir, sci-fi. We have a rotation so we take turns picking books.”
Bev: “Every member takes turn picking the book. Anything goes.”
Me: “It’s a pretty good mix of fiction and nonfiction. Juanita is right, we do pick a lot of memoirs, but I think that’s because we’re all intellectually curious and like a good discussion, and memoirs tend to lend themselves to that. Lynne is great about keeping us from getting stuck on the bestseller lists — she once picked the sci-fi classic The Left Hand of Darknessby Ursula K. Le Guin, and though I didn’t care for the book, I did learn how to appreciate reading books that otherwise wouldn’t be on my radar.”
Do you have any ground rules for your club?
Lynne: “You have to read the book. Except one of our members who is in grad school. Sometimes she gets a pass.”
Juanita: “Read the book (or at least enough to be able to contribute to the conversation). And come to the discussion.”
Kali: “Besides reading the book? Not really. Even ‘must love dogs’ is flexible.”
Bev: “Must love dogs (except Bev).”
Me: “I would like to say show up on time, but really, that’s my own rule, so I’ve just learned to hang out in the conference room or restaurant by myself reading while I wait for everyone else to get out of meetings.”
What’s been your favorite book club book so far?
Lynne: “The Goldfinch [by Donna Tartt]. We read it before it won the Pulitzer, which is always fun – although it was on so many ‘must read’ lists we can’t claim we ‘discovered’ it! Second favorite: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.”
Juanita: “The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Roundhouseby Louise Erdrich (Honorable mention for Wild, by Cheryl Strayed).”
Kali: “Oh geez. The Goldfinch. Wild. Bossypants.”
Bev: “My favorite book is almost always the one I’m reading at the moment. It’s hard for me to compare books. I would need to pick a memoir, a novel and a non-fiction book I guess. My favorite author at the moment is Anne LaMott.”
Me: “Bossypants was one of my favorites, though I thought Lynne’s choice of Elizabeth’s Strout’s short stories, Olive Kitteridge, was the best writing.
What are you thinking about suggesting next? Lynne: “I liked the French-themed food at ourThe Paris Wife [by Paula Mclain] book club gathering, I think we need to do another food-theme for an upcoming book.”
Juanita: “I’m picking my friend Roberta King’s memoir He Plays a Harp (see, another memoir!) as my selection likely in August.”
Kali: “”Well, it was just my turn. We’re reading The Lowlandby Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved it, and I can’t wait to talk about it with others – that’s the whole reason I chose it.”
Bev: “Bel Canto by Anne Pachett (Not sure if this has been read by the club or not.) I’ve read some of her other books and like her style. (Almost finished with ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.’”
Me: “Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things. I haven’t started reading it yet, but Lynne has mentioned how much she’s enjoying it, and it’s high on my to-read list.”
Any particularly memorable book club events?
Lynne: “Going out for dinner and then to hear Anne LaMott speak. The whole evening was wonderful.”
Juanita: “What Lynne said.”
Kali: “”Our field trip to Anne Lamott!!”
Bev: “Hearing Anne LaMott speak (altho’ I was sick and missed it). Also wearing heirloom costume jewelry in an old, smoky-smelling steak house in honor of Auntie Mame.”
Me: “Anne Lamott was great, but I really enjoyed the night we discussed Auntie Mame (even though I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t read much of it). We went to this weird, old-school restaurant where the booths were all red pleather and the lighting was from 1968. Lynne even brought costume accessories for us all to wear.”
Why is your book club unique?
Lynne: “Because we have all worked at the same place for a while, work issues blend into our discussions. This is a place for discussing life, triggered by a book or books.”
Juanita: “I enjoy that we are all writers. Makes us appreciate the language of the books as much as the storytelling.”
Kali: “Probably for the same reason I like the book club – we can have great, healthy discussions and we love each other even if we have differing opinions. I also feel like no book is off-limits.”
Bev: “The women in the club are smart. Very smart.”
Me: “I’ve already said because we are all so different, yet share some of the same passions. Plus the books everyone picks are so great.”
Anything else you want to say about your book club?
Lynne: “If people start showing up without reading the book, I will quit. I want to talk about the book with others who’ve read it. It’s the reason I quit the other three book clubs I joined.”
Bev: “Thanks to the members for allowing dog-agnostic to join the club.”
Me: “You guys are awesome. Really, I love each and every one of you. Also, I really hope Lynne doesn’t quit!”
What about your book club? What makes you so special? If you’re interested in being featured, let me know!
Nothing will bond a group of women faster and closer than experiencing the challenge of a backpacking trip — ladies only. You’ll test your boundaries as individuals (and maybe as friends!), plus the pictures, conversations and the exercise will be amazing. Ready to take on a challenge that will change both your friendship and the way you look at the world? Let’s organize a girls backpacking trip!
Don’t feel guilty
It’s worth mentioning before we even start, that for many of us, taking time off from our work and our families has the potential to make us feel bad. Once that starts to happen, there’s no turning back and the guilt will ruin your whole trip.Here’s the absolute truth: you have nothing to feel guilty about — everyone deserves adventure in their lives. Even you.
To help mitigate the guilt monster, decide that you’re not going to take on planning the whole trip. Delegate the tasks. Put one friend in charge of meal planning, another in charge of daily itineraries, another in charge of shopping. It also helps to have an online planning tool where you can keep all your lists and notes organized in one place. Facebook groups and Trimble both have good tools for creating private groups that allow everyone to be on the same page.
Also, it’s a good idea to set realistic expectations — just like a wedding, not everything will go perfectly with your trip. Build in some relaxation and quiet time, since being alone can help you recharge. Just because you planned the trip together, doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together. Spend some time in the tent or hammock reading by yourself.
Finally you might want to make a rule about limiting smartphone use (not that they’ll work very well out on the trail). Make a pact to turn off your email and log out of your social media apps, so all you can do is take pictures and, in the event of an emergency, send out a text (which almost always works, even if you don’t have cell phone service).
Planning your trip
Having at least one experienced backpacker along for the trip will not only add peace of mind, but also reduce your learning curve when it comes to things like building a fire and other outdoor skills (though the tips in this article and reading a few backpacking books will go a long way too).
Where do I go?
The first step in planning any overnight backpacking adventure is picking where you want to go. Pick a trip that matches your skills and that you’ll find inspiring. Budget and time constraints should also be factored in. Try perusing outdoor magazines, check out some regional guidebooks from the library, and outdoorsy family and friends can all be helpful when choosing a trail that’s both appropriate and fun.
Depending on where you live, you’ll want to be thoughtful about what time of year you plan your trip (and let’s face it, most of us need to plan trips months in advance, just to work around everyone’s schedules). Though having the right gear means you can backpack just about anywhere at any time of year, you’ll enjoy your trip more if you pick peak seasons. Consider how crowded the trail will be, how bad the bugs will be (in Michigan’s upper peninsula planning a trip mid-May through mid-July means battling black flies) and of course the weather.
Terrain & distance
A good rule of thumb for beginners is 3-10 miles a day — but 3 miles up rocky terrain is considerably harder than 5 miles on flat land. Will your route be a loop? Out to a scenic lake and back? If you need to shuttle a car, make sure you have that adequately planned. Also, be realistic about your goals. Men usually like to cover as much distance as possible, but you and your girlfriends would probably rather hike at a more leisurely pace.
Guidebooks, maps & permits
Research which guidebooks, maps and permits you’ll need for your trip. Backpacker magazine is a great place to start, as is Trails.com. Be sure to check local regulations before you go. Can you have campfires? Are bear proof canisters required? What permits do you need to hike there?
What do I bring?
Remember, you have to carry everything you need on your pack — now is not the time to pack three extra pairs of shoes (your hiking boots and a pair of cheap flip flops to wear around the campsite are about all you need). Of course, what you pack will depend a lot on where you’re going and what the weather will be like. But for most spring-summer-fall backpacking trips, here’s a good list of gear you should consider (all affiliate links, but gear I recommend nonetheless):
Big stuff (do your research)
It’s a good idea to bring one luxury item with you that’s going to make your trip a lot more comfortable. Really only you can decide what that will be — and if you end up backpacking more, it’s likely that item will change. For me, I cannot sleep without a pillow; some people can just stuff a sweatshirt with clothes and call it good, but not me. So I bring along one of those little travel neck pillows. It’s a little bulky and kind of a pain, but it’s worth it to me to get a decent night’s sleep. Other people prefer to bring a higher quality mattress (thisAeroBed PakMat is on my wish list) or a place to sit & lean back while in camp (like a convertible chair sleeve).
There are two schools of thought when eating on the trail. You can either purchase pre-made backpacking meals either online or at a sporting goods store. These are lightweight bags of dehydrated food that you just fill with the right amount of hot water. These meals are easy and convenient (if expensive).
Or you can decide to assemble your own. There are lots of great backpacking meal recipes out there, especially if you’re willing to do a little pre-work beforehand. Like gear, it’s always nice to have one comfort/luxury item when it comes to food – it’s different for everyone. Some people bring chocolate, others a block of cheese (which, if you choose a hard cheese like cheddar, mozzarella or parmesan, actually keeps pretty well).
You can save yourself a lot of time and headaches if you properly label & package the meals. Determine the prep order: Dehydrated veggies & instant rice (and often spices) can simmer together, so put them all in one Ziploc bag. Sauce mixes all go in another bag. Then put the dry sauce mix bag inside the bigger rice bag — that way everything stays together. Then clearly but concisely label the directions, so that anyone can figure out how to cook the meal (instead of just depending on one person to know what to do). For example: On the sour cream & soup bag, write “sauce + 1c water.” On the rice bag, “rice/beef/vegs – simmer 9mins in 3.5c water, +sauce, cook 1 min.”
Finally, if you’re celebrating something special (reunion of friends, someone’s birthday, etc.), make the extra effort to add some style to that meal. A bright poncho can serve as a tablecloth, a bandana as a napkin, and even the votive candle from your emergency kit can add a festive flair. Depending on how much space you have, maybe consider bringing plastic wine glasses.
How am I supposed to get all that — in there?
This is going to take some practice. Generally speaking, put your sleeping back at the bottom (stuff sacks can be helpful in getting your sleeping bag as small as possible – if you can borrow an expensive, light sleeping bag from an outdoorsy friend, that’s the best), with the sleeping pad strapped to the outside. This makes a nice seat for breaks when you’re stopping & resting.
Put the cooking items, water & other heavy items in the middle. Stuff your clothes & other items around it (don’t pack a lot of clothes – see suggestions above). Put your toothbrush & other bathroom items somewhere convenient — many people choose to put it in their backpack’s lid/cover (sample/travel size toiletries are highly recommended). Make sure you’re putting items that you need to access regularly, like snacks, water bottles, maps and more (tampons? yeah, it can be done) in the side pockets where you can get to them without pulling out all the rest of your gear.
Divide up the stuff you’ll be using as a group: one person carries the tent, another the poles, another the cooking stove, another the meals, etc.
You need at least two liters of water per person per day, and more in hot weather. Collapsible bottles are nice, so are hydration systems (i.e. Camelbacks), but most people just use open mouth bottles, often called Nagalyne. Make sure you think about how you’ll purify the water — options range from chemicals you add to lake/stream water (drops or tablets, which are small and light) to ultraviolet pens that kill bacteria (easy but expensive).
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worstBackpacking is not for sissies. The extra work you put into preparing for when things go wrong could mean the difference between life and death (so for Pete’s sake, take it seriously!).
Stick to a plan
Always let someone know where you’ll be and how long you’ll be gone, and importantly, when you’ll be back. I am not kidding with this one. Set up a plan so that you contact them when you return, with instructions on what to do (who to call) if you don’t return.
Make sure you have an emergency kit that has first aid, firestarters, emergency blanket, a whistle, etc. It’s best if each person has her own. You can either buy a pre-assembled kit, or make one yourself. Include a supplemental phone charger/battery, lighter (wrap a long strip of duct tape around it for quick fixes), tinder, extra food and a warm hat and gloves — and you can do some amazing things with acondom or a tampon.
Finally, here’s a list of tips that are kind of random, but will certainly make your trip more enjoyable and safe:
You’re not an ordinary woman, and you don’t have ordinary friends (or at least not all of them). So why should your girlfriend getaway be like every other spa retreat? Get out there and have an experience with each other! So where will your next ladies-only backpacking trip be?
Or maybe you want me to plan one for you?
Jill Hinton Wolfe