So far this year, female students who have never surfed, whitewater rafted, backpacked or rock climbed have balanced on surfboards in pounding waves, paddled rapids, summitted the highest peak in Maine and scaled Bowdoin’s indoor climbing wall.
For the fourth year, the Bowdoin Women’s Resource Center has teamed up with the Outing Club to offer Wild Women Adventures, a popular series of women-only expeditions. These adventures often attract students who would not otherwise join an outing club trip, according to Melissa Quinby, director of the Women’s Resource Center. Quinby organizes the series with Becca Austin ’10, assistant director of the Outing Club.
Attempting new outdoor athletic feats is a mental battle as much as a physical one, if not more so, Austin said, requiring trip participants to surmount fears and trust in their untested strength. For some women, “this is often easier to tackle when they’re with other women,” she said.
The support female students give one another on these trips takes on a slightly different character than in co-ed groups; if anything, it’s more pronounced. On the Sept. 13 surfing trip, which included 15 students, “the women cheered one another on with amazing enthusiasm. They celebrated their own successes but also those of all the other women in the surf around them,” Quinby said. “They feel the support of the group in a different way and so push themselves differently.”
Plus, when men aren’t around to do the heavy lifting or strenuous tasks, such as tying down canoes or loading up surfboards, women step up. “They have to do the stuff that men would do right away,” Austin said.
Emily Talbot ’16 went on the Wild Adventure to Mount Katahdin over fall break this year. She said, “Having an outdoor space and time with such a group of women as we had was a really grounding and centering experience. Our Katahdin accomplishment was such a unifying climb; being literally above the clouds was one of the best feelings any of us could have asked for, and sharing it with each other, as Bowdoin women, was one part of a really unique camping and bonding trip.”
The other important part of Wild Women Adventures is connecting students with one another, and with staff, Quinby said. “It’s great for them to know these two,” she said, gesturing to Austin and Sarah “SJ” Johnson ’13, another outing club assistant director.
Michael Woodruff, director of the Outing Club, added his enthusiastic endorsement of Wild Women Adventures. “We have great female leadership here, which provides a lot of female students with a different perspective of women’s capabilities outdoors. They see women in charge, running trips. They’re calm, cool, collected.” Indeed, having women lead climbing, skiing or kayaking trips is eye-opening sometimes for men as well as for women, he said.
In the coming months, Wild Women Adventures will offer a telemarking trip, another hike and more surfing or rafting outings. “I think it’s really healthy for women to get out in a women-only group in the field,” Quinby said. Then, after they’ve gained skills and confidence, she tells the students to try mixed trips. “I encourage them to go out with co-ed groups.”