Backpacking: for any age or gender

Jana Strahan at Vedauwoo. Vedauwoo is an area of rocky outcrops located north of Interstate 80, between Laramie and Cheyenne.

CHUGWATER – Jana Strahan may be coming up on her 50th birthday, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to sit in a rocking chair at her country home and watch the world go by – she wants to explore that world.
Strahan grew up camping and hiking with her family and continued that outdoors lifestyle with her husband, Will, and two daughters, Jolie and Sami.
“My birthday is at the beginning of June, so as a kid it was always spent camping with my parents. My mother would bake a cake and bring it along in a Tupperware container with handles on the sides,” she reminisced. “After we were married, Will and I spent two weeks on a camping trip for our honeymoon.”
Reading books by others who had tackled the Appalachian Trail in the east, the Pacific Crest Trail in the west and the Continental Divide trail in between added to her fascination.
“The simplicity of it appealed to me. Everything you need on your back. Walk, eat, sleep, repeat,” Strahan explained. “A way to connect and get back to what’s really important – to reconnect with yourself.”
While she had always loved being outdoors, camping and hiking, the idea of backpacking was daunting and a little scary. Then she met Rebecca Walsh. Walsh is an Army combat veteran, thriving entrepreneur and successful outdoor blogger.  Her website, hikelikeawoman.net encourages woman of all ages, sizes and abilities to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The site offers an avenue for women to join other hiking groups in their area if they are unsure about heading off on their own, along with tips, reviews on products and general information about hiking and backpacking. Walsh also recently purchased the Cross Country Connection in Laramie, remodeled and reopened as Laramie’s Base Camp, offering outdoor adventure gear and lessons.
“Hike Like a Woman really spoke to me,” said Strahan. “It’s not about political or religious views, it’s about empowering women to get outside.”
in her late 40s, Strahan realized if she wanted to try it – she better get going. So she decided, yes, she was going to do this and made a plan. First was weight loss, she needed to be able to physically do it. Strahan starting walking, a lot. A year later, and 40 pounds lighter, she researched, bought some gear, and set out.
The first trip was just an overnighter in her sister’s pasture, three miles from the driveway.  It was an opportunity to practice setting things up, using the stove and getting a feel for what a longer trip would be like.
“In just a half mile we encountered four rattlesnakes. As a parent I’m thinking, what if someone gets bit?” Strahan said. “But I had cell phone coverage, if necessary, we could call for help.”
The three of them were learning what to do together and discovered it’s not as scary as it seems. “There is fear associated with women going by themselves, there are dangers, but there are ways to handle them and things to do to keep yourself safe,” Strahan relayed.
Energized and confident the three of them set off with another female friend and their dog, for a three-day trip on the Encampment River Trail in the Medicine Bow National Forest. The trail is roughly 16 miles and is about a four hour drive from Chugwater.
“It was mentally liberating to get back to those basic things like hiking, water, food, shelter. You’re not worried about work, no cell signal - but I didn’t know I would get so addicted,” she commented. “Sitting on the ground and talking with my kids, it was invaluable. Once you’ve done that you want to do it over and over again. Lying there in the dark, in the quiet – it’s awesome.”
And that’s her plan, to do it again. She is currently planning the “Epic Backpack 50.” To celebrate turning 50 next June,  she wants to do a 50 mile hike.
Right now she is researching where she wants to go. It may be the 111 mile Centennial Trail in South Dakota or the 50 mile Three Sisters Loop in Oregon. She has to be mindful of elevation because there could still be snow in June on the trails higher up in the mountains.
“The hardest thing is believing you can do this, getting over that mental thing,” explained Strahan. “I may not be as fast as others, but that’s totally fine. It’s about the experience not the finish line. Hike your own hike, do your own thing.”
She went on to talk about the trails available to hike around Wheatland, Guernsey and the surrounding area. Some possible options can be found at www.awayfromthegrind.com,  www.alltrails.com, as well as the Medicine Bow National Forest website.
“Anybody can do it, you just put one foot in front of the other.”


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