Becoming an Outdoor Woman – Pure Michigan

bow bow1A fresh snow on Moon Lake made it finally feel like winter. The snow coincides with me getting the latest travel guide from Pure Michigan. Inside, I finally got to see an article I put together last winter in print. It is all about being an outdoor woman. The assignment was perfect for me. I absolutely love the UP and being outside. The trip was my first time away from Jake for a vacation. Granted, I was working the entire time but I left being reminded of how much I love experiencing nature and how I couldn’t wait to share some of these experiences with Jake once he’s a bit older. The edited version of the piece can be found here. Or, here is a much earlier draft that shared a bit more about some of the amazing women I met over this 72-hour period in Big Bay, Michigan. For anyone interested in experiencing the outdoors in an environment that embraces women and all of the insecurities we sometimes face when exploring the great outdoors, this camp couldn’t be better. Happy Reading!

Girls just want to have fun! The DNR provides a grown-up version of Summer Camp for women twice a year in the northern tip of the UP.

Ding, ding, ding! A bell rings signaling the start to my weekend long adventure along with dinner in what’s fondly referred to as the Big House. I follow the bright eyed, enthusiastic group of 70 women to cafeteria style tables where food and stories are passed with similar enthusiasm. Glancing at the hearty homemade lasagna and catching a whiff of the fresh baked garlic bread, it is easy to understand why. By the time I savor my last bight of homemade apple pie, it quickly becomes clear there will be no carb counting this weekend.

In fact, nothing is off limits this weekend at the Winter Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) Camp at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, Michigan (25 miles north of Marquette). Over the course of the next few days, I watch and participate with mother-daughter teams, friends, seniors and strangers as we build snow forts, sleep outside in sub-zero temperatures, dogsled, snowshoes, ski, cook, learn self-defense, tie flies, fish and laugh… a lot.

Laughing is key. BOW is a national program that originated in the 90s when a professor recognized one of the reasons women weren’t getting into fishing and hunting is because they prefer to be taught by women and want to learn in a non-competitive atmosphere.

This weekend, that sentiment rings true. “I love the instructors,” says Catherine Sanborn of Bruce Cross, Michigan. For 10-years, she’s made the trek to Big Bay. “They teach you to do things without yelling at you the way your husband might.” Over the years, she’s tried everything from fishing to handgun safety, while making friends along the way. “The people here become life-long friends.”

It is easy to understand why, given over half the participants and most of the volunteer instructors have been making the trek to Big Bay for years. “I’m a BOW junkie,” laughs 5-year veteran Carrie Moritz. Each year, she and her mother-in-law drive up from southern Minnesota to attend the summer and winter camp. She’s taken many of the classes, but one in particular has stuck.

“I’ve taken wood burning every year. Over the years, I’ve really honed my skills and now I’m selling pieces on Etsy and making things for friends,” she explains. “It is something I love that I never would have discovered without BOW.”

Woodburning, like so many of the other courses, empower you to try something new. As someone who is more comfortable running a half-marathon than drawing a stick figure, I quickly learn that pushing your comfort zone isn’t just physical. By the time I’m done etching a flaming red pen along a freshly sanded piece of Baswood, my charred name tag and swirling oak leaves are barely legible. But, this doesn’t stop me from wearing it like a badge of courage the rest of the weekend.

In-between classes, impromptu snowshoe hikes along Lake Superior, bonfires and S’moreos, saunas, board games, and relaxing in front of the fireplace provide a backdrop for new friendships to develop and memories to be made.

For Ilene Smith, her only goal was to do something special with her college aged kids. Chatting with them prior to our final meal together, her 19-year old daughter Alex casually says, “I don’t want to be morbid. But, this is something I could see talking about at my mom’s funeral. My mother doesn’t have a ton of money but what she’s given me is memories.”

Mission accomplished mom.

As I make my way to my car, I pause for a moment under the gazebo basking in the surprisingly warm winter sun. Before me, the world’s largest freshwater lake looms large. I soak it all in and can’t help but think back to our speaker the first night who shared her personal story and struggles while circumnavigating Isle Royale. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just worth it.”

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