New friends Brandy, Jessica and Taylor on my most recent trip.
In April of this year, just before deciding to create this blog, I started a Meetup.com group for female backpackers living in the Bay Area called the Bay Area Backpacking Bettys. I started the group for three reasons: so I could backpack more often, so I could meet like-minded women living in my area, and also because I love planning trips for myself and others.
The group now has 153 members (and growing every day) and I've organized and led two trips so far with more coming. I'm not the most experienced backpacker in the group, but that's not really the point. The point is that I am one of the few people who LOVES researching, organizing and planning these trips. Now, before you go thinking I should probably become an event planner, think again! I hate planning other people's events; I only love planning my own.
Before the first organized trip, I hosted a meet-and-greet at a local sporting goods store. I blogged about that because I was worried the women who had joined my group would take one look at me and lose faith in my ability to lead backpacking trips. Of course, that was a silly thought because none of the women expect me to be a guide. They just want someone else to do the boring work on the back end so they can just show up and have fun.
I scan the cliffs in search of the BEST camping spot. Photo: Jessica Cortes
Or so I thought. I went into each trip thinking my role was to organize and plan, but that I would simply be an equal to everyone else while on the trail. I never planned on, nor considered, actually leading the women while in the wilderness.
And yet, I've noticed on both trips that the women who have joined me really do look to me to LEAD. I'm not just planning the trips, I'm the designated leader. By that I mean that the other women almost always prefer that I be the front-most hiker. I set the pace most of the time and I make recommendations regarding taking breaks, etc. When a decision needs to be made, even about things like where to stop for lunch, I can feel all eyes turn towards me. This is not to say I make decisions unilaterally; that never works. I am just the default decision maker.
This unexpected role comes with some level of responsibility. I have to keep an eye on the time and think about breaks. I have to pay close attention to the mood and energy level of the other women to ensure everyone is hiking comfortably and happily. I am looked to for problem solving the little things that go wrong, like broken water bladders and hikers who were too cold the night before. I'm expected to keep the conversation going in those beginning minutes or hours when women who have never met before come together for the first time.
Jessica and I enjoy the stark beauty of Bear Lake. Photo: Brandy
I've come to realize something I had already experienced in other situations and settings - most people like to have a leader. And as long as that leader is thoughtful, knowledgeable, friendly, confident and competent, their level of experience as compared to others rarely matters (or matters less). I saw this when I became a cop and was a rookie. I saw this when I became the new, inexperienced media spokesperson for that same police department. I saw this when I started my own dog training business and trained my very first class of dogs and their humans. I saw this when I became the operations manager for a small autopsy company and didn't have a clue what was going on at first.
It doesn't really matter that I'm not the most experienced hiker on these trips. I am skilled. I am knowledgeable. I take charge and am confident. I also like to think I'm friendly, warm and fun to be around. For many people, taking charge, acting confident and being responsible for a group of people is scary. It's scary for me, too! It adds a layer of pressure and I don't want to let people down or not live up to whatever expectations they have. But still - I love it! I love the challenge and I embrace the growth that occurs in me. I'm also honored to be seen as a leader while in the wilderness and I strive to be the best I can be.
What I have found is that this Meetup group brings more to my life than I had anticipated. I have been meeting like-minded, awesome women - check. I have been backpacking more - check. And I have had the pleasure of planning trips - check. But beyond that, I'm also finding joy in being the formal leader of the group. I strive to learn from the more experienced backpackers and I always seek the input of everyone and foster inclusivity. I don't pretend to be something I'm not. But even the most experienced women seem to prefer I take the lead.
Leading the women though a massive hail storm. Photo: Jessica Cortez
The result is: I feel like a real guide (almost)! That desire to really lead people into the wilderness is happening despite that not being my intention. I'm being looked at as the leader, not just the organizer, and it feels pretty great. I thought I would have to actually become a wilderness guide to enjoy that feeling, but it turns out I don't necessarily have to go that route to get the fulfillment I am seeking. I can continue to lead fabulous Bettys into the wilderness, learn more about my hobby, gain more experience AND feel like a real guide just through my Meetup group!
Totally unexpected. Isn't life grand?