This year, I decided to segment hike the 76.4 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. When the coronavirus pandemic caused many of my favorite city establishments to close, I saw an opportunity to spend more time moving my body on trails. As I posted photos to social media of myself hiking in the woods, my inbox began filling up with encouraging messages from women who were interested in hiking and camping…but did not know where to start. Hiking is literally putting one foot in front of the other (and occasionally raising it higher for whatever root or rock is on your trail).
In practice, however, these steps can be overwhelming and scary for women who worry about their safety from the elements and from strangers they might encounter in remote areas. With my extensive experience in the outdoors, I figured that I could help to reduce the barrier to entry for some of my female peers by hosting the first camping trip for the Women in Business (WiB) club for full-time MBA students at Scheller College. The WiB leadership team was on board, and Christine Scott, a club vice president, was excited to co-plan a camping trip to Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Georgia.
My journey to the outdoors started in third grade when I wrote that camping was my favorite hobby. Ironically, I had never actually been camping. Yet, true to my nine-year-old instincts, after my first time camping in college, I fell in love with life under the stars. Over the years, I kept pushing myself through new experiences such as backpacking, rock climbing, and distance hiking. Through this time in nature—when, for instance, I had to learn how to tie a knot that could save my life if I was hanging off a rock wall and how to pack a bag I could live out of and carry for 20 miles—my confidence grew, and I felt more capable in everyday life.
Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I read an Adventure Treks blog in which that author states, “research has found that positive outdoor recreational experiences dramatically increase a woman’s self-valuation, self-confidence, and belief in her ability to lead.” My personal experience of gaining confidence through outdoor adventures, coupled with my research into the connection between these types of activities and leadership, inspired the WiB camping trip.
The purpose behind the retreat was for women to build skills and increase their comfort level outdoors as well as to foster connection amongst the women who attended. While we all knew each other, it was rare for us to spend extended time together as a group. We kicked off the retreat with a welcome reception that included mason jar sangria and trail mix in reusable containers—our other mission on this trip was to teach leave no trace principles. This activity gave our group time to sit at the picnic table and soak in the lake view, while we each discussed our own camping experiences and what we wanted to learn. Some people had never been camping before, while others had only been as children. Each of us was looking forward to relaxing during this special time when school was winding down and new internships and jobs were on the horizon.
Throughout the retreat, each camping activity—from starting a fire to cooking dinner—was hands on. Starting a fire proved extra challenging, with the wind blowing out our flame each time a match was lit. While the situation could have been frustrating, especially since we were trying to teach people, it instead brought the group together with a common goal. It also provided a realistic view of camping: Things won’t always go as expected, and you have to be prepared.
At last, by using Target’s windproof matches and teamwork to build a wind shield, we were able to catch some kindling and get our fire started. For dinner, we had eggplant pitas, a recipe inspired by Abby Brenller, a classmate who was unable to join the trip at the last minute. Again, our group had to adapt. The recipe was based on wrapping eggplant in aluminum foil and cooking it over the fire. However, the aluminum foil shredded easily, and we could not get pieces that were large enough for our cooking needs. So—we improvised! We put the eggplant in a cast iron pan and laughed about Maddy Bodiford’s fight with the aluminum foil. In the end, the meal was delicious. We filled grilled pitas with fire-roasted garlic, cooked eggplant, tahini, olives, and veggies. The fire and meal took over two hours to create, but time doesn’t matter when you’re camping.
Our trip was filled with many memorable experiences. We spent time reading in silence, with the wind in the trees the only noise around. We took paddleboards around the lake to explore other campsites and wave at the masses of people on the beach. In the morning, we made chilaquiles over the fire. Again, catastrophe almost struck as we realized we forgot a can opener for the black beans. Luckily, our camp host provided us with one—reminding us once again of the community of camping. After breakfast, the group took a walk. We enjoyed the serenity of the space and deeper conversations about challenges we each face. One common challenge was having a hard time saying “no.”
Being compassionate women, we want to help others and often say “yes.” Yet, that can lead to burnout. Jenn Telling shared that her friend checks in with her each week to ask, “what have you said ‘no’ to this week?” As someone with many interests and who wants to be a part of everything, this really resonated. I have come to the realization that I should say “yes” only to things I can commit to and do well. Sometimes, “no” can be the kindest, most honest answer if I am not able to be fully present or will bring a stressed-out version of myself to a commitment.
Following the trip, several participants provided testimonials:
Christine Scott, who had been camping only once before, saw leading the cooking portion of the trip as a chance for her to gain self-confidence.
I gained valuable experience by having the opportunity to lead. The entire group experienced coming together to prepare meals, from prepping the food to improvising when things didn’t go according to plan. I gained more confidence from this trip and plan to lead more groups in the future.
— Christine Scott
Jenn Telling, a former Girl Scout, used the retreat as an opportunity to build on her skills. Here, she starts a fire.
I learned to backpack as a Girl Scout, and those experiences served me well on numerous fun and fieldwork trips over the years. There was a lot I didn’t learn in Girl Scouts though, like how to cook real meals when camping or how to hang a camp hammock. Staying in my comfort zone, I’ve always just packed simple foods like apples and granola bars, even on multi-day trips. Getting to spend time outside (especially during the hectic end of the semester) and learning some of the things I had previously missed out on was a great opportunity for me. Trying new things is frequently intimidating, but learning those same skills in a no-pressure setting such as the WiB camping trip made everything more fun and helped to build friendships that will last well beyond the camping trip.
— Jenn Telling
The retreat was Katherine Crosby’s first time camping.
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and over the past year, hiking and walks (really, anything that got me into nature) have kept me sane. As an avid traveler pre-pandemic, camping started to seem like something that would be up my alley, but I had no idea where to start. Camping seemed inaccessible. On a basic level, I didn’t even have most of the equipment. The bigger issue was that I simply didn’t know how to gain the knowledge and wasn’t sure who to ask. When I saw that WiB was going to host a camping retreat, I couldn’t think of a better way to learn! Learning from my classmates, and from other women, was empowering. The weekend was just the relaxing break we all needed at that point in the semester. Taking the time to refresh and bond made me feel ready to tackle the final weeks of the semester refocused and reenergized. I also definitely caught the camping bug and am already planning my next trip so that I can learn more and hone my newfound skills!
— Katherine Crosby
I have an abundance of gratitude for the group of four women who put their trust in me and Christine. We took them into the woods and off the grid (there was a “no phones” policy on the trip so we could truly disconnect from constant notifications and connect with each other). The greatest gift of all is what I learned from the weekend. We turned obstacles (such as the wind or no can opener) into fun challenges. Working together, we were able to get the results we wanted—and laugh in the process! When we slowed down, it didn’t matter how long each activity took. The important thing was that we were present in the moment and did not need to be anywhere else. Since the retreat I have been trying to slow down, to commit to fewer things, and to be fully present in whatever I am doing. I have put my phone down more and tried to rush less. Additionally, this camping trip gave me the confidence in myself and motivation to lead future retreats in which women can focus on outdoor skills and career development. I came home re-energized to share my passion for the outdoors with others—and with memories that I will forever treasure.
Amanda Grupp received her MBA from the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in May 2021. Prior to the MBA program, she worked at Kapost, a content marketing startup, where she built a Voice of the Customer Program.
Amanda is passionate about learning what motivates people and building business solutions that meet consumer needs. She served as a 2020-21 Scheller College Graduate Sustainability Fellow. Amanda was named a “2021 Best and Brightest MBA” by Poets&Quants.