Denver Bar Association
March 2008
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Barely Legal Columnist Barely Survives

by Becky Bye

When the editors of The Docket approached me about attending a Women’s Wilderness Institute course and writing about it, the weather was warm. When I finally was able to make a reservation, we were in the middle of the winter and I hesitantly agreed to embark upon a Snowshoeing/Compass/Mapping course in January.

As many of you know, I am not the "wilderness" type. I failed at my attempt to "rough it" in my lower-maintenance college days by breaking into tears on the third-day of a week-long mild camping trip with a small group of my college peers. I always consciously avoid situations that might be a drastic change from everyday comforts. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the outdoors. I love skiing and am a passionate environmentalist, but I tend to appreciate the great outdoors without immersing myself in it for hours at a time.

Truthfully, I was eager to enroll in the snowshoeing course. However, just as my Murphy’s Law-ridden life would have it, the week before my scheduled snowshoeing course, the Front Range area experienced an "arctic chill." Meteorologists were buzzing about how temperatures would dip about 35 to 40 degrees below average. I dreaded the snowshoeing course during the week of the chill. I almost, almost, regretted volunteering to write this very article.

The day before my scheduled adventure, as if my prayers were answered, the arctic freeze ceased and temperatures were back to average. The next morning, Saturday, I scrambled to get ready and packed a plethora of layers out of fear for yet another arctic cold front. As I hustled to Boulder to the Women’s Wilderness Institute headquarters, I observed that the wind was violent and vengeful, which I hope did not set the tone for my snowshoeing experience.

Finally, when I arrived at the Women’s Wilderness Institute, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the women who chose to participate. Women ranging from their 20s to 50s or even 60s had all registered for this course. In the room there were lawyers, teachers, students and scientists. My nerves began to ease when I realized I was not the only one who is the non-outdoorsy type.

Author Becky Bye (top row, second from the left) poses with the Women’s Wilderness group after their snowshoeing trek.

After getting briefed on the agenda, all the women chose their snowshoeing gear, packed a lunch and snacks, and carpooled to our first stop — an eclectic coffee shop housed in an actual train car in nearby Nederland. At this pit stop, we sat down in a circle while our two guides gave us a lesson on mapping. The specific lesson was how to read a map for grade separations and how we can identify where we were located based on the map and surroundings.

When the group arrived to the trailhead of a forest near Eldora ski resort, I first observed the peaceful surroundings — the endless pine trees and the untouched snow throughout the seemingly endless hills and valleys. The group put on their snowshoes and adjusted their layers for the unpredicted warm day and set out for a day of snowshoeing, compassing, and mapping.

After warming up, we ate lunch while our instructors acquainted us with compasses and how to use them. Although I never had a chance to use a real compass in the outdoors, I always assumed that using them was straightforward process. Not so. A panoply of factors contribute to using a compass effectively, including knowing the meaning of "red Fred in the shed", understanding how to read a compass, and recognizing the difference between north and magnetic north.

Throughout the rest of the day, we put our map, compass, and snowshoe skills to work as a group while we wandered through the tranquil forest. We spent some time off the beaten path, literally blazing our own trail through the deep snow while understanding our whereabouts based on our new exploring skills.

To be honest, the day went by substantially faster than I presupposed. When the sunlight started to subside and it was time to hike back to our cars, frankly, I was pleased with the fun and enlightening day. And I was pleased with being a sport through it all. Perhaps the title of this article is misleading—I more than barely survived this experience.

As I drove home, exhausted and excited for my bed, I grew appreciative of my experience that day with the Women’s Wilderness Institute. It was empowering to have the tools and the knowledge to steer through the great outdoors. More importantly, the day provided me with a deeper appreciation for nature and the mutual support and encouragement among the diverse group of women. Although we all had different backgrounds, we ultimately shared the same unique experience and we all had a good time doing it.


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