(Shoestring Warriors on a Joshua Tree Camping Trip, photo by Shani Leead)
This is a special guest post from Alyx Schwarz, the Founder of Shoestring Adventures, an LA-based community connecting city-dwellers who love the the outdoors.
On New Year’s Day of 2012, I dragged my dried-out Christmas tree to Dockweiler State Beach in Playa Del Rey, CA, along with a wood saw and a box of matches. The previous year was marked by back surgery, the end of a year long struggle with chronic pain and the beginning of a long road to recovery. But if all my training as a triathlete and marathon runner taught me anything, it’s that every setback sets you up for your biggest comeback.
As my tree turned into ash in the fire ring, I made a simple promise to myself — say yes to everything — road trips, race car driving, sound baths, jade hunting, dune sledding, waterfalls, dirt biking, you name it. You know the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you approach the edge of your comfort zone? That’s where I wanted to live — a curious place for a shy introvert — but I wasn’t going to waste another moment.
At the time, I didn’t have many friends who spent time in the outdoors, but I knew I didn’t want to go alone, so I set out to find my adventure community. I started off going on weekend trips with my little sister, but everything changed when my friend Rachel and I decided to climb Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in 48 states. I started a Meetup group for others to train with us called Shoestring Adventures LA, and my adventure community found me!
Before long, I discovered the many benefits of joining a group vs. going solo. I was accountable to show up for our 7am weekend training hikes. I met fellow outdoors-women and men, many who are still my friends today. I was exposed to a wealth of knowledge, from new trails to first-hand gear reviews. (My bucket list grew exponentially overnight.) On the toughest hikes, I had a team to cheer me on. Last but not least, if anything ever happened to me, I knew I would be in good hands.
With the help of our adventure community, Rachel and I successfully summited Mt. Whitney in July 2014. After that experience, I continued to foster the small community we'd built, so others could benefit in the same way. Flash forward to today, Shoestring Adventures has grown from a small ragtag crew to a flourishing community of engineers, teachers, lawyers, artists, veterans and doctors from ages 18 to 65+, who often keep in touch long after their first adventure.
(The Shoestring crew hiking to Havasupai. Photo by Alyx Schwarz)
Whether you live near us in California or all the way in Arkansas, here are some tips to find your adventure community wherever you are:
1. Tap into your immediate network. Share what you love about the outdoors with everyone you know. Chat about it by the water cooler and around the dinner table. Holler from the mountain tops if you have to! Chances are, the right friends will come to you if you are open.
Keep in mind that not everyone is ready for the adventure life, and that’s okay! But the friend who's down to wake up at 4am to climb a mountain and feed you gummy worms along the way is more valuable than gold. You will share experiences that will be retold around the campfire for years to come.
2. If you don’t have friends who love the outdoors, seek them. Social media can be a powerful tool to connect with others who share your passions. Don’t be afraid to reach out, and who knows? You might just end up sharing an adventure with a new friend in real life.
Whether your group is open to the public or brings together different groups of friends, spending time outside is a great way to meet new people. If you showed up, chances are you already have one thing in common: you'd rather be outdoors! Before every adventure, we start with a simple icebreaker question, like, “What’s your favorite national park?” or “What’s your favorite hike?” These questions often lead to deeper discussions down the trail.
3. Look to existing communities. Meetup.com worked really well for us but as in dating, every Meetup has a different personality. If the first one is not a match, don’t give up! Here are some other communities to check out:
(Two Shoestring Warriors reaching the summit in Yosemite, photo by Justin Sullivan)
Trash Free Earth is a nonprofit that organizes cleanups and “eco hikes,” which are fun hikes mixed with Leave No Trace education. Join their Facebook group to host your own clean-up.
52 Hike Challenge is a global movement inspiring you to take a personal journey to discover the physical, mental and spiritual benefits gained through hiking once a week for an entire year.
SoCal Hiker + Six Pack of Peaks Challenge: In order to train for the John Muir Trail, SoCal Hiker’s Jeff Hester developed a series of six peak-bagging hikes, each progressively more challenging and all within a couple hours drive from anywhere in Southern California.
Hike It Baby is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting families to one another and getting them outside with a focus on children from birth to school age.
Women Who Hike encourages women to seek the outdoors for personal balance, stress relief, and overall improvement of life conditions.
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature.
Camping & Backpacking Communities
(Mid-hike during a camping trip to Yosemite, photo by Justin Sullivan).
Trail Mavens: Based in San Francisco, Trail Mavens offer overnight camping and backpacking trips to empower women to be the fire-starters, the tent-pitchers, and the map readers, creating opportunities for adventure, leadership, and starry-night campfire conversation in the great outdoors.
Bold Betties: Based in Colorado, Bold Betties offers outdoor gear and adventures designed for women to connect with each other, the outdoors and themselves.
Outdoor Adventure Club offers adventure trips in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, led by professional guides.
First Descents is a non-profit organization that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (age 18-39) impacted by cancer.
Make Life Count, Co. plans adventures around your regular schedule to help enhance your life.
REI Adventures offers 150+ active vacations, weekend getaways, family adventures, and volunteer expeditions for all levels of experience.
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is a non-profit outdoor education school based in the United States dedicated to teaching environmental ethics, technical outdoors skills, wilderness medicine, risk management and judgment, and leadership on extended wilderness expeditions and in traditional classrooms.
Outward Bound is the premier provider of experience-based outdoor leadership programs for youth and adults.
Shoestring Adventures offers guided weekend camping & backpacking trips across California, as well as a supportive family for anyone who wants to experience the outdoors. We have led over 15 weekend adventures for 90+ Shoestring Warriors, from Joshua Tree to Yosemite and beyond.
Join us in 2017 to explore Yosemite’s Half Dome, Palisades Glacier and Santa Cruz Island to name a few. We will also be offering courses in basic backpacking skills, photography and Wilderness First Aid. We hope to see you out there!