SEATTLE — The Seattle Times recently asked women of the Pacific Northwest to share their experiences with the outdoors. We received hundreds of responses that touched on themes of finding camaraderie within women-led spaces, founding organizations to bridge the gap between women in the outdoors, healing, challenges and more.
“Men swim too, but I’ve found that women are usually the glue bringing these groups together,” one woman said of her Whidbey Island group that swims in the Puget Sound year-round.
Here are some of our readers’ stories.
Thank you to all who submitted a story. We received so many responses, we have decided to publish more of your submissions in future stories like this.
Algae mustaches and camaraderie
“There’s no better camaraderie than women together in open saltwater. When you get out after a long swim and your hands have turned into cold, useless clubs, you want to be choosy about who’s going to help you pull up your pants. Or tell you about the algae mustache on your face. Or laugh hysterically with you as the dopamine kicks in. I have swam with a core group of women on South Whidbey Island for more than 15 years. We swim year-round, multiple times a week, at various local beaches. We are not unique. Groups like ours exist all over Puget Sound, women meeting and swimming and laughing together. I’ve met many of these women, and they’re all the best people! Men swim too, but I’ve found that women are usually the glue bringing these groups together. Our Whidbey group is like family. We meet, put on our gear, share our trials and stresses, then get in and leave our baggage on shore. I’m 100% certain they helped me beat my breast cancer diagnosis in 2020. They are pure determination, grit and fun. I’m the luckiest woman in the world to call them friends.”
— TJ Forsyth
Discovering the Pacific Northwest through 95 hikes (and counting)
“I was born and raised in Singapore. When my husband and I settled in the Pacific Northwest over 30 years ago, I quickly found the wonder of our mountainous landscapes. I started hiking with friends and eventually started a women’s hiking group called Wilderness Women in May 1999. My goal is to complete the 100 classic hikes in Washington state. So far, I have done 95. My mother instilled in me that experience is more important than material wealth. Almost daily, I get up early to be out in nature walking the trails before work. I learned not to be swayed by the weather. I see outside as my house, rather, I travel up above the fog-line to have my nature fix. Nature is my church. I breathe in the new air, soak in the fractals and bask in the sounds of wind, birds, tree groans and rain pattering on leaves. I get up early to catch the light and the mist, which benefits my photography. I post my photos on Facebook to much acclaim by family and friends around the world. I cannot imagine being anywhere else in this world than being in the Pacific Northwest with this climate and this natural beauty.”
— Vina Donow
Exploring the outdoors through painting
“A blast of cold wind from the glacier throws my painting against my chest, and I shield my face from airborne grit. I’m hunkered below the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker, and swaths of cerulean paint reflect the blue ice hundreds of feet above. My body is a puffy-jacket-encased marker of where the glacier used to be 20 years ago. I’m cold and stiff, but I stubbornly refuse to leave. My painting, which feels incomplete and vulnerable in my hands, carries the weight of my grief — and hope — for our warming world.
I began painting outdoors 12 years ago, and it is moments like this that inspire my work as an environmental artist, writer and educator to foster personal connections between people and nature. In the last year, my time spent painting outside — especially during the isolation of the pandemic — inspired me to found the Adventure Art Academy, which is a series of virtual art classes that I film on my hiking trips. With each class, I share with students from around the world a step-by-step lesson alongside the experience of exploring a place through paint and learning about the impacts of climate change in different environments.”
— Claire Giordano
Unplugging and digging up dinosaurs
“As a 30-year resident of Seattle, I began volunteering for dinosaur digs in 2012 and have found the experience to be one of the most exhilarating, thrilling and rewarding experiences of my life. In a world where youth celebrates their every moment with social media, this is an activity that is accessible to women and people of all ages, and in most cases, due to the remoteness of sites, forces you to unplug and be present every moment. Simply with a desire to learn and work, excavating fossils has given me a new passion, a new community and, yes, a new business. I venture out almost every year with a renewed sense of wonder and satisfaction that as a citizen scientist, I am helping unearth triceratops, hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs with so much more to be found.
— Marisa Rodriguez
The outdoors for dog owners
“As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and outdoor adventure guide, I have led retreats for groups of friends and up to 250 participants. One of the most rewarding aspects is to see someone who has never had outdoor experiences before and the moment when they fully embrace the beauty of nature and are fully engaged in the adventure. In 2021, I started a women-run company called Adventure Woof Pack to create an introduction to the outdoors for dog owners. During COVID, many people adopted dogs and needed more of a focus on wellness and mental health. Adventure Woof Pack offers virtual training with a different outdoor adventure each month, ask-the-expert sessions and a private community discussion board. Our adventures consist of skijoring, dog parkour, biking, SUP [stand-up paddleboarding] and more! Our company is founded on conscious capitalism and therefore 1% of our profits go to the Humane Society of the United States, 1% of profits go to the American Trails Foundation and we are a member of 1% for the Planet.”
— Jody Shaw
Chance encounters and random acts of kindness
“Single Black female hiker here! My love of hiking started with local parks like Robinswood, Coal Creek, Kelsey Creek and Weowna. Then, I graduated to Cougar Mountain. Now, I’m working on Tiger Mountain trails. There are a few extraordinary experiences that heighten my senses — from hearing the domino effects of the wind through the leaves and branches to seeing Mother Nature constantly change with each step and season. The trail community is wonderful and sometimes challenging. On a late hike, I miscalculated my ability to make it down the mountain in a timely matter and found myself alone in the dark. Then, I spotted another single woman in the same predicament. When I finally approached the woman, I suggested we walk together, but I could feel her fear of me was more than the dark and the possibility of being eaten by a cougar or whatnot in her absolute silence and tense body language. Even though we could work as a team, I didn’t want to take a chance that she could be a wood-Karen. So, I passed her and hastened down the mountain. Another chance encounter with a hiker was on [Tiger Mountain Trail] nearing the peak. It was snowing with freezing winds, and I forgot my gloves and didn’t want to turn back. Then, another fellow hiker who was heading down gave me his liner gloves. OMG! I was humbled by the random act of kindness and coincidentally was able to return his gloves further down the trail. Personally, taking on the great outdoors took months for me to be more mindful and release the outside world inside the outdoors in every step.”
— Donna Carpenter
Becoming a Grand Canyon river guide at 40
“In 1983, I went on a commercial rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. Between Crystal [Rapid] and Lava [Falls Rapid] (two huge rapids), there was a fast moving but flat stretch of the river. I asked the guide if I could row. He said, ‘Sure.’ I slipped into his seat and took up the oars. My job was to stay in the current and out of the eddies. I still managed to slip into a big one. It took two tries to get back in the current by working smarter not harder. The guide never commented. I loved it. On the bus ride out, I found myself sitting next to the owner. I asked, ‘What would it take to be a guide for you?’ He replied, ‘Go back to your own area, learn how to guide, then give me a call in two years.’ I was a 37-year-old woman with two teenagers, but that spring, I was the first to sign up with ZigZag, a local company. Two years later, I walked into his office, spread my arms out and said, ‘Here I am.’ He laughed and asked, ‘Who are you?’ That’s how I became a Grand Canyon river guide at the age of 40.”
— Carol Zada.