I’ve always loved spending time in the outdoors and would consider myself a very outdoorsy person. But loving the outdoors is only the first step – you’ve also got to know what you’re doing out there in order to really enjoy yourself outdoors. So what’s a girl to do when she’s never been taught how to be outdoorsy but really wants to learn these skills? It turns out that in many states across the US, there’s a program called Becoming an Outdoors-Women, or BOW. The one in Alaska is partially run by the Department of Fish and Game, and the focus is to teach women outdoors skills while helping to build confidence in our abilities outdoors. There are many one-day workshops held throughout the year in Anchorage, but the main event is the 3 day BOW Winter Workshop held in Chickaloon every March. This year the competitive online registration for the BOW Winter Workshop was the same day as my dad’s surgery, which was one of the hardest days of my life. Signing up for this made me feel like I was giving myself something to look forward to in a time when I felt so helpless and scared. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually signing up for one of the most amazing and empowering weekends of my life!
Last weekend, me and around 200 other women got together at a gorgeous camp located 2 hours away from Anchorage for the BOW Winter Workshop. After checking in at our cabins and getting our goodie bags with some cute BOW gear, our first main “event” at the camp was lunch AKA time to make new friends for the weekend. The women in attendance were young, old, total outdoor newbies, Iditarod participants, hunters, fisherwomen, moms – and they were all there to learn more outdoor skills together. One thing I kept hearing over and over again during introductions was that they had signed up in order to become more confident in the outdoors. So many women said that they follow whatever their husbands do outdoors, but have no real say in what happens out there because they’re not the “experts” on it. For example, women said that they’ve gone backcountry skiing in conditions that made them uncomfortable, but because they were the less-experienced girl in the group their opinion wasn’t taken as seriously as the men there. We were all looking forward to learning more about the things that we already loved to do, as well as falling in love with new activities.
Over the course of 3 days we all were able to take 4 workshops of our choice. We ranked our top choices during registration, and I was lucky enough to get into the 4 workshops that I had requested: Map and Compass, Winter Camping, Winter Survival, and Avalanche Awareness. The other workshop topics ranged from hunting (classes on various different guns, field dressing, butchering, skinning, fur sewing), fishing (how to tie flies, ice fishing, how to fillet and cook a fish), cooking (sourdough starter, dutch oven cooking over a campfire, foraging for wild plants), and winter activities (skiing, dog mushing, snowshoeing, archery, etc). There were so many workshops to choose from! I ultimately chose based on the skills that I felt would make me a better hiker overall – although I was very tempted by dog mushing and the class on how to use a chainsaw!
From the first moment of my Map and Compass class on Friday afternoon to the end of my avy class on Sunday morning I was hooked. At first, all I could think about was, “Why didn’t I know any of this before?”. But by the end of the weekend, all I could think about was how empowering it felt to finally feel like I knew how to stay alive in the woods. I learned how to use a compass to find my location, how to pee standing up, how to keep my food and water from freezing on a long hike, how to set up a winter campsite (and that I definitely can’t afford winter camping gear right now), how to build and stay alive in a snow shelter, how to signal for help, what a survival necklace is and why I need to make one, and how to assess the terrain for avalanche danger. I practiced starting a fire using a Frito as fuel, chopped wood, created a sleeping bag out of spruce boughs and a trash bag, cut snow blocks using a snow saw, lit 6 different types of cooking stoves, and found a “missing person” in the snow and dug them out in less than 5 minutes using a beacon and probe. I felt like a total badass. In between all the learning we did sunrise yoga, went skiing under the stars, went tubing, looked for the aurora, and hung out in our cabins like we were at summer camp. I never wanted to leave.
The most exciting part for a lot of us was finally learning more about the gear that we’d been carrying with us outdoors. Some of the girls in Map and Compass, including myself, admitted to carrying a compass with us on hikes when we had no idea how to use it. It’s one of the 10 essentials so you have to bring it, right? That became a theme over the weekend as we all realized we’d been carrying gear because someone told us to, even though we didn’t know how to use it. It might sound totally ridiculous, but I think most people can related to doing this with at least one piece of gear. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders as I learned how to do things that I’d always been told were important but I’d never been told why. At the end of the workshop me and 2 other girls bought paracord friendship bracelets in honor of the fact that we had just learned about so many new and important uses for paracord!
The big thing that our instructors told us at the end of the weekend was that we needed to share what we’d learned here with as many other women as possible. We started doing that at the camp, where each meal was mostly just recaps from everyone on what they’d learned in their previous class. I jealously tried on a beaver headband, listened to stories about ice fishing, and learned the commands my friend used during her dogsledding lesson. And by the end of the weekend I had decided to sign up for as many future BOW workshops as possible. I want to continue learning as many outdoors skills as I can – not just because it’s important, but because it’s a lot of fun! I HIGHLY recommend checking out BOW to see if it’s in a state near you. I can’t thank them enough for helping me become a better outdoors woman!
Have you ever taken any outdoors classes or workshops? Have you ever carried a piece of gear that you didn’t really know how to use, but you knew it was “important”?