Photo: Women's Adventure Club

Adventure for Intimidated Women

Lindsay Gibson, founder of the Women’s Adventure Club of Pennsylvania, provides tips on how women can get out of their comfort zones and better engage with the outdoors.

Lindsay Gibson moved with her family to Anchorage, Alaska, in her late 30s and quickly realized she needed to make friends with winter. As part of the Anchorage Petroleum Women’s Association, a group of women involved in the petroleum industry, she learned to Nordic ski and hike in the winter, which were both out of her comfort zone. She was hooked immediately. “I realized,” she says, “you can try new things at any point in life and discover that they can be your absolute passion.”

In moving to Pittsburgh, she began sharing her newfound love of adventuring outdoors, through all seasons, with other women…especially women who felt intimidated to get out on their own. “I felt compelled to do it,” she says. Then after researching and chatting with Gillian Schair, who founded the Ladies’ Adventure Club in Maine, Gibson knew her idea for the Women’s Adventure Club of Pennsylvania could work.

And work it does. After starting with a women’s 3-mile hike—during which she nervously read an inspirational quote she’d written on an index card stowed in her pocket—the Women’s Adventure Club has hosted 400 women, aged in their 20s to their 70s, across 250-plus events over three years on outdoor activities ranging from full-moon hikes to Nordic skiing and whitewater rafting. She still reads that note of inspiration on every outing, and still guides the hiking, biking, and most Nordic skiing outings herself. On other specialty trips, she utilizes partners for standup paddling and rafting activities, or archery and skeet shooting. She’s offered classes such as “Intro to Hiking,” and “Intro to Snowshoeing,” and this past summer, she led women’s trips section-biking the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).

Here, Gibson shares her tips on getting more women outside in all seasons.

On the benefit of getting out of your comfort zone

It allows you to tell yourself a new story about who you are and what you’re capable of. You prove to yourself, even if you’re nervous or uncertain, that you’re going to do it anyway. You come out with resilience, strength, courage, and empowerment.  

Photo: Women's Adventure Club

On sharing a love of winter with others, women in particular

Here in Pennsylvania, it’s really gray in the winter. We have the lake effect. People tend to hunker down and wait for winter to pass. Instead, we get out and hike. We teach how to layer. We put on our Kahtoolas or Yaktrax and get out there. We’ll go on a 20-degree day and at the end of a hike, someone will say they never would have come outside on that day. One member told me that hiking with us gave her the best winter she’d had in a long time. Some now prefer winter—there are no bugs, and it’s so beautiful, especially when it snows. The snow brightens everything on a gray day. It’s neat to see the mindset shift.

On the healing power of nature 

An Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT)-certified guide leads the walks, which are a very sensory, immersive experience. They’re slow, and based around a series of invitations. He’ll ask, ‘What or who is in motion?’ We’ll meander very slowly, maybe sit on a log or a rock, and notice little blades of grass that are moving, ripples in the water. It can have a very emotional effect on women. A nurse who joined us during the height of COVID said that the Nature Therapy Walk was the only thing that gave her peace.

On the balance of camaraderie and the need for solitude 

When you’re single-file, there’s something about no eye-contact that makes you feel like you can be a little more vulnerable. Hiking friends become really close to you.

There is also something to solitude. Sometimes when you’re with a group of women, you may feel compelled to talk. We’ll do a ‘Quiet Mile,’ where we’ll focus on the wind in the trees, the crickets…and some women will drop back to give themselves solitude while being in the comfort and safety of the group.

On gaining confidence by simply showing up 

Women have told me that the club makes it so easy for them to get outside. I tell them where to park, what to wear, what to bring. I do all the navigation. I carry a first-aid kit and am Wilderness First Aid-certified. They have no decisions to make, or things to plan, which gets them outside so easily.

When you start to spend more time outside, your confidence grows. You know where to go, what to bring with you. You gain skills, confidence, and feel more comfortable bringing friends and family out with you.

I have women say they’re going to return to a hiking spot we’re on that weekend with their husband and kids. I love that because the kids get to see that mom is in charge. Mom is navigating, and mom has the pack with all the stuff in it.

I’m literally just the guide. I invite them out. It’s nature and the camaraderie of the women that’s what gives them all these benefits.

I just open the door.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.