Women of the Wilderness
(Excerpt Saltscapes Magazine, Cover feature, Dec 2023)
Women in Southeast New Brunswick are taking to the woods together and having a blast.
The first time I met Sarah Lord, she was leading a hike to the Midland Ice Cave near Norton, N.B. The icy alcove tucked behind a frozen waterfall on private land is the kind of local treasure that isn’t advertised, but continues to be popular due to the agreeability of the landowner.
This is what Lord does best: she sniffs out hidden New Brunswick destinations, works out the kinks of getting there safely, and helps others stretch their comfort levels and discover the beauty of their own backyard without the worry of getting lost or encountering the unknown.
Lord is one of the founding members and leaders of Women of the Wilderness (WOW), a casual Facebook group of women aged 18 to 80 who connect through a shared desire to challenge themselves and become more comfortable in the natural world.
A health and wellness coordinator with a PhD in diabetes research, Sarah discovered hiking’s healing properties during a difficult period in her life. She’d lost her mom to breast cancer, suffered a marriage breakup, then escaped an abusive relationship.
“I was 40, unmarried, and didn’t have any children,” she recalls. “I felt I wasn’t of value to my dad, who wanted grandchildren. I was the only one in that predicament with my circle of friends. I no longer fit.”
Joining a hiking group of men and women helped her regain stability. “They were the community I needed for belonging,” she says. “Meeting other individuals, especially older ones, provided positive role models for me. One person told me, ‘You do matter to the world, even though you haven’t produced the things you think as a woman you should have.’ I realized that without family and children, I now had the luxury to do the things I wanted.”
With newfound confidence, she completed a Charity Challenge Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru, with the Arthritis Society, then shared her story at two Go Wild forums in Riverview, N.B. The events, part of a municipal program to encourage women to hike, attracted over 400 people. The response energized her. Lord took an outdoor leadership course and first-aid training and then organized a community Learn to Hike program to teach the safety aspects and help those unfamiliar with the woods feel more comfortable.
She started a casual Facebook group to keep participants — mostly women — connected, then began leading hikes and other outings. “My niche in leadership is the inexperienced hiker,” she says. “There’s more of a reward factor for me to build someone else’s confidence in something they didn’t feel they could do on their own.”
One day she posed a question on the social media page: ”Does anyone want to go camping?”
“It was like crickets,” she recalls. “Then I posted, ‘Do any WOMEN want to go camping?’”
(Read the rest…Saltscapes Magazine, Dec 2023 issue)