Janel Lanphere

Winner of the Wonderland 2019 Woman’s Adventure Scholarship

Adventuring through remote and wild spaces has taken my life from a teenage abuse victim attempting to be small and invisible, to conquering my inner demons.  It has taught me the importance of play and the calm confidence of the flow state.

Growing up in a blue-collar family, the values taught to me included a perceived lack of opportunity, the need to work hard just to get by, and a negative association with play (play was for the rich).  Long hours at manual labor jobs with added DIY projects at home were common. With these values, I started working at 8 years old and have never stopped.

I started running in college and through the miles of pack running, sharing failures and success with sweat and tears, the comradery of the Cross-Country Team drew me out of my depression.  Slowly I started to see myself in a different light, as a person who could set an intention and live a little bigger. I moved across the country to Arizona where I didn’t know a soul and persevered when acclimating to high altitude running at 7000’.  I started running mountain races such as Imogene Pass Run and TransRockies Run. Each exploration removed fear and with increased success in problem solving, I started really believing in myself.

The personal growth continued upon meeting and marrying my husband, I now had the confidence to take the leap and become a wife and stepmother.  Together we explored remote areas of the Southwest such as Canyonlands National Park and I felt a new inner hum while staring at the night sky with no artificial light in sight.  I started seeking out more remote trails, running longer hours feeling the state of flow. Often alone, I explored more inaccessible locations and relished the hours playing. Longer hours on the trails required increased physical and mental strength.  General physical bad-assery doesn’t carry you by itself, we also need to control our minds. Often after many hours on the trail, when the body starts to break down, old demons would crawl to the surface and remind me of the small life from which I came.  Recently, when hopelessness set in at the start of a race, I pushed the demons away without any reason to be confidence.  My start at the 2018 Moab Trail Marathon found me badly nauseous from a prescription I stopped taking for the race. The nausea prevented me from eating my usual pre-race nutrition, I felt things were stacking against me.  When the nausea subsided at mile 11, I was so far back that I didn’t think I could compete. By accepting the situation, I broke through a mental barrier and ended the race 1st place woman in the Master’s Division of the USATF field.  Consequently, by adventuring in the remote and wild spaces in nature, I’ve been able to accept the remote and wild spaces in my mind.

Anna Brown

Winner of the Stehekin 2019 Women’s Adventure Scholarship

Whether it is through social conditioning that is deeply rooted in the norms of our culture or whether it perpetuated by the generational rituals of our families of origin, we learn from a young age our “place” in society. It’s a way for our collective brains to categorize individuals as part of our tribe and to “other” those who are not; evolutionarily speaking, this is how societies survived famines, wars, religious persecution, etc. My earliest memories of being “othered,” was in kindergarten. My family lived on the edge of the wealthiest school district in the city. We were working class. In addition, my mother was a large woman and did not look like the other moms. My fellow 6-year-olds would laugh at our old, ugly, yet reliable car, my gently used clothing, my made-with-love sack lunches, and my beautifully fat mother. It broke my young heart. I would experience this “othering” continually as a child, young adult, and even now – snide remarks on my weight, on my lack of wealth, on my family name, and on being a woman. This is part of the human condition; the price we pay for living in societal groups, but I believe woman experience some of the harshest forms of criticism; as such, we fade away, break, or develop unbending backbones. Personally, I am the latter; I learned how to be tough, independent, and resilient.

I once had a yoga teacher say to me that the goal of yoga was not to be perfect, but to breathe ourselves through the stuck spaces around our lives so that we could reveal our tender hearts hidden under layers of protective armor and to finally make peace with who we are. For me, an overheated studio with 50 strangers is not the place for me to find this type of vulnerable self-discovery; I would rather embark on this endeavor in the wilds the pacific northwest. Here is the thing about being tough, it serves a much-needed purpose in the moment of surviving, but it does little for building true strength and creating the vital connection we all need to live with meaning. In my experience, the most empowering thing I have done as a woman is to be vulnerable, to lay my heart bare for others, and to reach for the light of human connection. I could not have learned how to do this with others, if the mountain trail hadn’t first taught me how to do it with myself.

There is a raw honestly that one finds among the dusty July mountain paths of Eastern Washington – a truth that is realized once you force yourself to breathe in deeply the smell of hot pine needles. There is a feeling of connectedness and belonging that one can only get from standing alone on an alpine mountain top in October while looking at the newly turned colors of the larch blazing like wildfire below. Getting to these places require something more than physical strength and sheer will. It requires the ability to find those supposed human weaknesses that many women have buried deeply – vulnerability, reliance on others, and ultimately, self-love. I have experienced the depth and breadth of human emotion on the mountain trail; I once screamed until my throat was sore because of sheer panic at basecamp in the Pasayten Wilderness; I have cried the heaving sobs of grief on the hardpacked earth of an ultra-race course on the high-desert outside of Ellensburg; I have shared in the side-splitting laughter that comes after sheer exhaustion with other women under the shadow of the Sawtooth range; and, I have stood in stunning awe looking down at the mist shrouded valleys on a mountaintop in the North Cascades. For me, the most empowering experience I have had and continue to have in nature, is giving in to my need to be connected to this earth and others; I have to breathe into those spaces of vulnerability, and in doing so, I am learning to live a life of meaning, and not just survival.

Changing Seasons

I live in the Pacific Northwest where the extremes between the seasons are drastic. Long summer days are ripe with potential. Invariably they are spent exploring ribbons of trails, climbing new peaks, and squeezing the life out of each. I love collapsing in the dirt or back of the truck in exhaustion, hoping that my legs and lungs will be ready to go again the next day. 

As summer passes through a
 radiant fall into the grey and cool of winter, I mark the shift with different patterns. What was growing and expansive with summer becomes narrow and cool with winter. Where there was freedom, now there is focus, routine, and discipline. I love the shift. I look forward to winter. I love muddy trails. I love the darkness that comes early so I can more easily wake at 5am and train for hours before my kids are awake. I love running by headlamp, sweating in the cool rain, and watching a sunrise when I’m already miles into the woods. 

Each year these patters and cycle become more clear and refined.  I celebrate the changes in season that invite me to envision, train, and prepare for the next summers adventures.   

So it is with Aspire. We had an incredible year with new courses, new friends, and lots of adventure. We’re gearing up for 2019.  We have some incredible trips waiting for you. Registration opens on November 1st.