Located in one of my FAVORITE outdoor places in Michigan — Ludington State Park — the Jack Pines Hike-In Campground is one of my favorite beginner backpacking sites. It's located just on the other side of the dunes of Lake Michigan, so at night you can fall asleep to the sound of waves. There's a pit toilet and water pump, and many of the sites have picnic tables, which is nice when you're first starting out.
In order to get to the campground (it's nestled inside the state park), you need to hike a mile in with your gear — the perfect distance to get away from all the crowds at Ludington (at least in the summer). However, you need to reserve your site ahead of time, so make sure you get online early. Once you're there, there are miles and miles of beautiful hiking trails to explore. Plus, if you wimp out and get hungry for some restaurant food, the beautiful town of Ludington isn't too far a drive!
Sand Lakes Quiet Area
The best thing about Sand Lakes is that it's not that well known — so if you're looking to get away from the backpacking crowds (yes, there is such a thing), consider Sand Lakes Quiet Area.
One thing I do warn visitors is that, as late as fall of 2017, the water pump was broken at the "campground" (really it's just a collection of worn spots & a pit toilet next to a marshy lake), so you need to be prepared to get water from the lake. And like I said, the lake is surrounded by mud and cattails, which makes getting the water into your filtering system a little tricky (but it can be done). Just be prepared!
But there's great hiking in the surrounding area, and if you decide you really only want to do one night in the "wilderness" there's a state campground (Guernsey Lake State Forest Campground) nearby that's really nice and hardly ever full.
Manistee River Loop
Because of its incredible popularity — and the damage that's resulted from that popularity — apparently local Michigan Hiking & Backpacking Meetups have officially stopped mentioning or promoting the Manistee River Loop to new backpackers. There's been too much trash, too many people driving in on old logging roads with their pickup trucks and beer coolers.
But I figure it's not the trail's fault people are destructive assholes! So I say go try it (though read up on it first). It's one of the best loops in Michigan, offering the perfect weekend trip for women who are beginners, with beautiful views and close proximity to civilization so you don't have to feel so remote..
Pro Tip: Plan on spending the night on the east side of the river — suitable campsites are few and far between on the west side.
Waterloo Pickney Trail
"Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 33.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Grass Lake, Michigan that features a lake and is good for all skill levels," says AllTrails.com. This is the only trail on the list that I have very limited experience with, but I wanted to add something for east-siders to visit. This trail is one-way, so you'll need to have two cars or some way to get back to your vehicle from the starting point. Do your research on which section of the trail you'd like to attempt — because 34 miles is NOT for beginners!
South Manitou Island
If you have to choose between North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island (you can reach them both via the Manitou Island Transit), newbie backpackers should opt for the latter — South has many more amenities such as bathrooms and water pumps. My husband has taken his three teenage boys camping on South Manitou twice, and both times they've had great experiences .
When you feel ready & have some experience under your belot, come back and visit North Manitou Island — it's one of my most favorite places on earth. Peaceful, gorgeous sunsets, and it's just remote enough to feel like you're really getting away from the world..
One of the most gorgeous natural ecosystems in Michigan, Nordhouse Dunes is a National Forest and a very popular place for backpacking, since it offers dispersed camping along the shores of Lake Michigan. Most seasoned backpackers avoid the location since in summers it fills up with college students dragging giant coolers of beer (there's no one as dedicated as a college boy with his beer). But if you can get there early and claim your secluded spot — the dunes offer a lot of privacy if you do it right — the views and the hikes are incredible.
Your own backyard
If you're nervous about backpacking, one of the best places to start is your backyard, or even a local park. BUT DON'T STAY IN CITY PARKS OVERNIGHT. Just set up your gear, maybe even cook a meal using your stove to get a feel for what it's like. Lie in your tent and smile and sigh, and imagine what it would be like to leave it all behind and do some serious shinrin-yoku. It's a great first step toward getting comfortable and feeling safe with the idea of backpacking.
Seasoned backpackers — what are your tips for newbies? Leave them in the comments below.
5 Reasons to Read: Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr
It's unclear as to how I first came across Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr. I want to say it was through the Women At Work podcast (another HIGHLY recommended resource) but I can't be sure.
However it just showed up in my life (just before the holidays in 2018), it's now been kicking around in my head ever since. I've bought four additional hard copies from my local bookstore (Books and Mortar!) to give away to friends. I've also downloaded the audiobook so I could listen to it again and again while driving or getting ready in the morning (more on this later).
This book has significantly changed how I think about my goals, my interactions with others, what I feel called to do professionally and how I frame professional and personal challenges.
So it makes sense I want to share it with as many women as possible!
(DISCLAIMER: Other than Amazon's standard affiliate payout if you buy the book through my links — which isn't much — I'm not getting paid anything to hype this book. It's just that good.)
So here they are — Five reasons to read Playing Big:
Reason 1: Call a staff meeting with the voices in your head.
There are lots of pervasive, cultural roadblocks that hold women back — a long history of gender discrimination and lack of access to resources are two that immediately come to mind — so many of which are out of our control. What's nice about Mohr's book is that she gives back some control to women in the forms of voices that are already talking in our heads. That's where your inner critic and inner mentor come in (the first two chapters of the book).
Mohr is the first person (resource?) to give me a clear, tactical roadmap on how to best deal with my inner critic. As women, we've been raised with certain ideas about how the world works, and those ideas and perspectives are so ingrained into our thinking that it's extremely difficult to overcome — even if those ideas and perspectives are flat out wrong (not to mention mean!).
In a nutshell, here's what she helped me do:
Many women say the inner mentor work is some of the most powerful work they've done, and for me, it was worth the price of the book.
"Playing big doesn’t come from working more, pushing harder, or finding confidence," said Mohr. "It comes from listening to the most powerful and secure part of you, not the voice of self-doubt."
Reason 2: Name and own your fear
Chapter 3, "A Very New Old Way of Looking at Fear" uses two Hebrew terms for fear which has been extremely helpful for me to name and identify my feelings of anxiety when it comes to taking risks:
You really need to read the book to get the whole explanation, because I can't do it justice, but I know that by being able able to look at fear differently, I have been able to make stronger, more confident decisions (plus help council my friends and students on how to move past the things that scare them).
"That’s the problem with pachad—it fires way too frequently, often simply in an attempt to protect us from emotional risks that we don’t really need (or want) to be protected from. When we feel pachad, we need to work on shifting away from responding out of fear so that pachad doesn’t dictate our actions."
Reason 3: Take the Leap
A lot women I know (who admittedly are mostly white and upper-middle class) are control freaks. Certainly I am. So often when our jobs, relationships, health, spaces and families feel out of our control, we desperately try to lock down and manage the chaos so we feel less anxious about it.
But often that control shows up as hiding and stalling: Saying we're not ready, that we need to get more money or education (that's a BIG one — check out this NY Times Opinion Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office for more on how women often use education as a sort of shield against playing bigger).
"The antidote to all that hiding and stalling is a special kind of action called a leap," says Mohr. This chapter took some time to really sink in for me. On some levels I'm good at leaping, but if I'm honest with myself, most of my "leaps" are pretty safe. Mohr has said that many women end up reading the book more than once (*hand raised*) and the chapters that resonated the first time through are different than the second time. Chapter 7 definitely felt this way to me.
"Leaping changes your concept of self from I want to be a woman who . . . to This is who I am."
Reason 4: Let yourself off the hook.
As a writer, Chapter 4, "Unhooking From Praise and Criticism" resonated so strongly with me I kept listening and reading it over and over again, each time amazed at what new thing I learned and absorbed.
In this chapter Mohr talks about her personal experience of growing up being praised as for her writing skills, but then later on became so paralyzed by praise and criticism she had to stop.
As Mohr grew older she started to become obsessed with getting praise for her work, while at the same time going to great lengths to avoid even the most constructive criticism. Her writing process became so fraught with anxiety that she stopped writing entirely for seven whole years. This follows my own path so closely that I fell to my knees in the shower listening to Mohr speak about it. I'd never realized how much being hooked into praise and criticism held me back.
As an entrepreneur, writer and even professor, I am forced to deal with criticism all the time. And yet I still hate it. I often avoid reading student feedback because I can't stand the feelings that are wrapped up with their comments. This chapter really helped me reframe praise and criticism so that I could actually benefit from reading feedback.
"Playing big is a kind of bold and free motion, and both the fear of criticism and seeking of praise limit that movement. When we are petrified of criticism or are in need of constant approval, we simply can’t play big. We can’t innovate, share controversial ideas, or pursue our unique paths."
Reason 5: Easy is the new hard.
Mohr's advice in Chapter 10 is a breath of fresh air. As women, we are always striving, always working so damn hard to prove we're okay, that we're good enough (if you struggle with this, you should check out Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, another book which changed my life). Being everything to everyone is really, really hard work.
Mohr gives us several other ways to frame and think about our goals, so that goal-setting feels less like a burden and more natural, more fulfilling, more in service to both ourselves and the world.
“I’ve come to know, in my own life, and in the lives of the women I work with," says Mohr, "that where we think we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love — not just self-love as an attitude, but self-love manifested through the routines and rituals that we set up to enable the changes we desire to happen naturally and with ease.”
"We want to set up plans for action that work for 'the most exhausted version of ourselves' not an idealized version of ourselves."
Have you read Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr? Are there other books you've read that you've found helpful in your journey to more fully step into your life? Leave your comments below!
Like what you've read? Do me a solid and share it with your networks.
We all need a little moral support these days, especially those of us who would like to read more but simply can't seem to find the time.
Whatever it is that's sucking up your your time to read — kids, work, lack of sleep or just the constant, general effort it takes to keep from veering into chaos — I hope these quotes inspire you to take a little time for some self-care and pick up your next great read.
A few weeks ago, an article showed up in my newsfeed from our local newspaper:
Winter river rafting is a 'magical experience;' here's where to do it in Michigan.
Before I'd even read the whole thing, I immediately texted my group of outdoorsy girlfriends:
"OUR BUCKET LIST JUST GOT LONGER."
Two weeks later, after a flurry of texts, emails and Facebook messages, I hopped into an inflatable boat on the ice-crusted, fast-flowing Jordan River.
Don't you just love it when plans come together quickly?
Much of the trip credit goes to Lisa, who both organized the outing and took the fabulous photos in this post. Usually I'm the one who does the organizing so it was great that Lisa took over the role. Thanks Lisa!
Winter river rafting: It's either not as bad as you think, or way more awesome than you think.
Many people think that getting into a boat while there's ice and snow around is a dangerous proposition.
I'm here to tell you: It's not.
At least it isn't in Michigan. If anything, floating down a river in winter was more relaxing than doing it in the summer. There's almost zero chance of you getting wet, much less of tipping over; and there's no other people on the river ruining your peace and quiet with their loud music and cursing (or occasionally, having sex).
In the winter, everything is more beautiful, more peaceful, more amazing. We saw deer, another group just behind us saw a beaver, and everything was so quiet. The only thing that could have made this trip better was if the sun was shining, but those of us in the upper midwest know that you have to take what you can get when it comes to weather.
Winter rafting rules
There are a few rafting rules in the winter that are different than the summer. If you can understand and follow them, then you'll be just fine.
1. Watch for low-hanging branches.
Unlike the summer, where the river is regularly cleared of fallen trees and limbs, the winter river is a bit more cluttered. Your guide should warn you of these (ours was named Al and he made dad jokes and looked a bit like Gandalf), or, you can just see them yourself and duck. Duck LOW. Like, lie in the lap of the person next you — a great way to build trust and camaraderie..
One of the women in our group did manage to get a small cut on her face when some ice slid off a branch. But she loved it. The rest of us were actually jealous. Like three different people tried to give her a bandaid and she refused. She said she wanted to casually bring it up on Monday's staff meeting ("Now next up is the marketing budget, but before we move on does anyone think that with this head wound I should be making any big decisions...?")
2. The river runs faster in the winter.
Because the riverbanks freeze before the middle of the river, you'll find winter river rafting moves very quickly — basically the whole current is funneled into the middle. So what may have taken you an leisurely hour and a half in August will take about half the time in February. The good news is that there isn't much paddling to do (your guide will do most of it, asking for a little help every once in awhile) so you can sit back and enjoy the view.
3. The trips don't run if the river is frozen.
Up until the day before our trip we weren't sure we were going to get to do it. Our guide service, the awesome Jordan Valley Outfitters, can't run the trips unless the river is wide enough to get the inflatable boats through (the boats are the same as what they use in Colorado). We had just experienced a very extreme polar vortex in Michigan, and so most of us had our money on the trip being cancelled. But it warmed up just in time.
In summary, if you can watch out for branches, not freak out at a fast current and the river hasn't iced over, you're all set to have an amazing adventure.
This is actually the fourth rule, but it's so important I made it its own heading.
Everyone I told beforehand about my plans had the same facial expression: The "You're-going-to-freeze-your-ass-off" face.
They weren't wrong. But they weren't exactly right either.
To explain, here's what I wore (with tips on how it was awesome OR how I should've known better):
The details of the trip
The trip started at the JV Outfitters headquarters, where we paid $40 each and boarded a bus with about 10 other people at 1:30pm. Dan & Melanie, who manage the shop, run the trips on weekends every four hours or so. It was about a ten minute ride to where we "put in," and we all grabbed a Personal Floatation Device (the outfitter actually laughed when Lisa asked about her "PDF" — which is another thing entirely!) from the back of our bus seats as we headed down to the river.
We had five women in our group, so we got our own boat. We listened to a quick safety briefing, then headed down to the river to get into our boat.
The float begins
I was a little nervous about getting into the raft; as a kid, I had a traumatic river accident with a friend, and so I've always been just a tad anxious when it comes to float trips, even in the summer. But it was as easy as a one-two quick step into the boat. We settled in and pushed off, and headed down the river.
It wasn't long before we came to our first tree and had to crouch down and hold our arms over our heads so that the branches wouldn't swipe our hats from our heads. In fact, the only person to lose something was our guide! But he deftly plucked his hat out of the river with his paddle.
The river flowed quickly around corners and we bumped into rocks and turned around backwards several times, but it was all very chill (ha). Someone said it felt a little like bumper cars. We all marveled at the scenery and the way the snow was untouched in the woods. We saw deer bounding off into the forest at several points (apparently we just missed seeing a beaver, though we saw plenty of sticks that the beaver left behind). Sometimes, when Al asked, we would paddle to help get the boat pointed in the right direction. But mostly we spent the time alternating between taking photos and ducking under tree limbs.
A treat at the end
An hour and a half later (or a bit less), we arrived at the end point. It was just as easy getting out of the boat as it was getting in, much to my relief. We headed up to the bus where there was hot cocoa and "river rocks" — a sort of local sugar cookie-type of treat — waiting for us. We chatted with the others in our group while everyone took turns pouring hot cocoa for each other (they also had hot cider if you wanted it) and comparing notes on our trips.
Do it. Do it now.
If you get the chance, you should try winter river rafting. I'm not sure you need to do it more than once, unless the first time you don't have much snow. You can even do it with the family or as a birthday or bachelorette party. The pictures are amazing, and besides — you've probably done all the skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking at some point — so why not try something new?
Like what you read? Do me a solid & share it!
"Women, books & the outdoors will save the world."
I first wrote the above sentence as Outdoor Book Club's "manifesto" back in 2015, a year and a half after I'd first stepped out onto the trail at Blandford Nature Center with 10 women, almost all of whom were strangers, on a freezing cold January day:
This photo was taken before I launched the website, before I'd met hundreds of women who also loved the outdoors and books, before I won a bunch of money to start a travel business in a 2014 business plan competition.
But the most important thing this photo represents?
The beginning of an amazing friendship with some of the women in the photo, whom I met for the first time that day.
On New Year's Resolutions
More and more, I notice people no longer set New Year's resolutions and instead pick a yearly word (or words) to live by. One friend picked the word "Adventure" a few years back, but found that 12 months of constant activity was exhausting. Not all the adventures she encountered were good ones. The next she picked joy. That seemed to work better. This year she chose “Engage.”
I love author and spiritual badass Danielle LaPorte. Whenever she comes out with a new book or planner I try to support her work through buying one, but frankly, I keep returning to her book The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals With Soul for inspiration (The Fire Starter Sessions is also really, really good.)
In the book, LaPorte suggests setting goals by how you want to feel. The feeling(s) are the goal. That way, there's room for moving and wiggling — if you want to feel “accomplished,” it doesn't really matter if you get the corner suite or lose 15 pounds, either way, you're a winner. You've reached your goal.
What does it look like in action?
Every year I have to think long and hard about which feelings I want to focus on. This year, after weeks of ruminating, I think I know what those words are. She suggests 2-4 words. I picked four words, but really they are two sets of two words; they work together.
CREATE and CONNECT
In 2015 I had to give up Outdoor Book Club, or at least the business model that I was operating it under. I couldn't do the guided trips anymore — not only did they suck the life out of me, doing all the prep, the marketing, providing the gear, agenda planning, making reservations, figuring out meals — they simply weren't profitable. I couldn't support my family emotionally or financially.
Four years later, it feels right to relaunch Outdoor Book Club as a movement. I’ve seen first hand how powerfully the combination of books and the outdoors resonates with women.
What does that mean?
It means I want to CREATE conversations around books, nature and women. And those conversations lead women to CONNECT.
Outdoor Book Club, in 2019 and beyond, needs to be about creativity and connection. If I'm not focusing on activities that do either of those things, then I know I'm focusing on the wrong things.
GRACE and GRITIn her book Grace (Eventually) Anne Lamott describes GRACE (which also happens to be my daughter's name) as "A ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.” She adds, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
I think of grace as "a proactive acceptance, love and caring for our fellow human beings — and ourselves.”
Grace often shows up in my life as:
Which brings us to GRIT.
I've been a fan of researcher Angela Duckworth's book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance for awhile — it uses actual data to help us learn how to be better people. While I can spend all my time trying to forgive myself and quiet my inner critic, I also need the grit to push through and meet my goals. Yes, it’s hard to keep pushing. No, we often don’t want to take one more exhausting step forward. But are we capable of hiking up our proverbial skirts and pushing forward anyway? Yes.
The answer is almost always yes.
Grace & grit: the peanut butter and chocolate of self-improvement.
The future of Outdoor Book Club
So if you've been with me from the beginning (and not just the beginning of this piece — though congrats if you just showed up here, started reading and are not at the end!), if you started watching or reading or following OBC way back in 2013 when I first conceived the idea, thank you. My gratitude is unbounded.
(If you actually went on a trip & endured my bumbling and scrambling event planning skills and still managed to have a great time, THANK YOU. Years later, I'm still inspired by your passion and commitment to books and the outdoors.)
If you're new around here, WELCOME. I'm so glad you're here. If you like what you see here and want to keep up with what's going on, stop by and follow/like the Outdoor Book Club Facebook page.
Here’s what you can expect going forward:
Also, what words will you be living by this year? Let me know so I can send some good vibes your way, or create something that might help you along your journey, or connect you with a person or resource that can help.
And of course I'll do it with creativity and connection; grace and grit. Because women, books & the outdoors will save the world.
Jill Hinton Wolfe
Chief Heroine, Outdoor Book Club
P.S. Please share Outdoor Book Club with a woman you love! Sign up for our newsletter, share the manifesto to your social media feed or join the online OBC community. We can't start a movement without an army of women's strength, grace and beauty behind it!
Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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