A while back I got a chance to “cyber-meet” Heather Kern, the founder of Backcountry Babes and Betties, a meet-up group for Seattle women to get outside together and play – moms and non-moms, young and old, lifelong athletes and ladies just getting started. I was both intrigued by as well as jealous of this group, and Heather and I began emailing back and forth. I found her story rather inspiring, so I asked her if she would be willing to share her story in a guest post. Read on to learn how Heather got the idea for Backcountry Babes and Betties, and the challenges and rewards that she’s encountered along the way.
My lifelong challenge began to be apparent to me as a 7-year old Brownie with the Girl Scouts of America. My mom thought it would be good for me to be a part of a ‘girls’ group, doing ‘girls’ activities, instead of always tagging around after my brother and his friends on a bike, in the mud, digging, climbing trees, and so on. My dad was the Troop Leader for my brother’s Boy Scout troop, so I got to hear about all the activities the boys were going to do: hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, gold-panning, and all types of outdoor adventures! In my 7-year old mind, my girl scout troop would be doing the same things so I was eager and excited. You can’t imagine my disappointment when our first meeting was spent basket-weaving. Mine was deformed and wouldn’t hold anything in it. A week later, I sat at a table frustratedly trying to fill a little white fabric snowman ornament with stuffing. I finally gave up and went outside with my brother to play, leaving the other girl scouts behind, happily making their Christmas ornaments. While I have gotten a little better at arts & crafts over the years, I’m still the same girl, longing to be outside having adventures. And I still struggle to find other girls who want to join me, who’d choose to be outside getting dirty and sweaty over going shopping. I had a small handful of outdoorsy girlfriends but, when they got pregnant and had babies, they -all but one- completely gave up their outdoor passions.
As my husband and I started to think about having our own family, I had a difficult time envisioning it and began to believe that it must be impossible to keep up with outdoor fun once you have a baby. I talked with a few of my friends with children and they told me they really wanted to do more outdoor activities but felt overwhelmed by the planning, and the logistics of packing up a baby, fitting the activity between naps, hauling the baby up a trail alone, breastfeeding, etc. So, an idea began to form in my mind, to build a network of women who want to continue their outdoor passions with their family and that can support one another in doing that.
I launched Backcountry Betties & Babies, based out of the Seattle, WA area, in the spring of 2009. 50 women -most of whom I didn’t know but were friends of friends of friends- showed up to hear about the idea and contribute to the program building. We encouraged women to plan events according to their interests, including but not limited to: climbing, hiking, skiing/boarding, ski touring, picnics, farmer’s markets, camping, berry picking, running, biking, and so on. The only requirement for events was that it had to be about or involving the outdoors.
I wish I could write that BB&B was an immediate success, that we had tons of events to attend on the calendar and that they were well-attended. However, it has been an interesting and often discouraging process. The original group of 50 were enthusiastic about the idea but, in reality, did not show to the events that were planned. When I asked for feedback as to why they didn’t attend, I got mostly silence. The few responses had to do with timing and location of events, so I changed those factors, but still the events were poorly attended, if at all.
One Betty wrote to me that she felt intimidated to show up for a hike or bike with women she didn’t know and not being sure of her own abilities comparatively. This, I believe, is the honest crux of the matter. Although women like the idea of doing outdoor activities with other women, they often allow their inhibitions and insecurities to dissuade them from showing up. Most of our events have been described as “come one, come all; all abilities, fitness levels, and experience (or lack thereof) welcome!”; still, I believe, many women allowed their thoughts of not being fast/good/fit enough to keep them from coming.
I want to continue to challenge this fundamental issue that prevents women from trying something and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. It is so amazing when a woman does step out beyond her insecurity, whatever it may be. One of my good friends and a fellow Betty with four grown children, Dawn, was hesitant to try rock climbing. She was concerned that she wouldn’t be ‘good enough’ for the other women. After some coercion, however, she came to one climbing outing, then another, and then another, each time a bit less reluctant. On her third day at the crag, she glanced back while lowering, a huge grin on her face, so proud that she had pushed herself beyond her worries and fears. Some other success stories have been in helping one another on the trail. On one hike, there were seven Betties and only two Babies, so we passed the babies amongst us whenever the moms needed a break. On other hikes, we have laid out diaper changing mats on forest floor and lakeside rocks and helped with diaper changing.
As of this writing, I am 13 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and I look forward to joining the ranks of ‘Betty with Baby’. Today, Backcountry Betties & Babies consists of over 100 members and we continue to grow. In three years of operation, we have had over 250 events, including climbing, skiing, ski touring, hiking, mountain biking, berry picking, outdoor film festivals, picnics, and more. The ultimate purpose of BB&B, as I see it now, is to encourage women to set aside their inhibitions, make personal goals regarding outdoor activities and work towards them, and to be open to forming encouraging relationships with other women in the process. Running BB&B has taught me some things and reminded me of other things I already knew. Most fundamentally, women are phenomenal and the power of connections with other women is strong.
I know that life changes dramatically with children (probably more than one can imagine beforehand), and thus so do your expectations about outdoor fun. But, I also have come to see that I can make it happen if I make it a priority. Yes, I will have to navigate nap time, cranky moods, cold feet, bad weather, and so on. I feel most at peace when I get my regular outside time, most invigorated and refreshed. So, for me, it will be worth it to get outside just to maintain my own sanity, but also to give that same experience to my child. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, I look forward to teaching my child, through example, how to face and overcome insecurities and to always work towards self-improvement. Maybe I’ll complete a climb that I thought I couldn’t do or learn to ride a tricky section of singletrack. Through the process of working the climb or singletrack, my child will learn the vital lessons of: “try, do not give power to irrational fear, try again, believe in yourself, look for a different way, try again, don’t give up”. These lessons, learned in the arena of outdoor activities, are invaluable to our children in the everyday life of school, work, and relationships.
Thanks so much to Heather for sharing her story! It’s great to see a mom-to-be so passionate about continuing her active recreational pursuits. Of course there will be changes – life will never be the same! But thankfully Heather already has a great niche of women she can rely on for support, advice, and encouragement along the way. If you are in the Seattle area and would like to be a part of the Backcountry Babes and Betties meet-up group, or if you’d like to contact Heather about starting a similar group in your hometown, feel free to leave a comment below!