When motherhood meets the outdoors
Posted at 9:00 - 16th September - Sarah Booth
Some women head outdoors to escape, some plan epic adventures to discover what they are truly capable of and others simply make it part of who they are. We would like to introduce to you Avril Wiers who has taken her love of the outdoors and integrated it into every part of her life – motherhood and single parenting, her daily experiences at work and of her own personal adventures and challenges. This is a lady who sees nature and humanity as being inextricably linked and is passionate about creating communities who not only thrive in nature, but also strive to protect and respect it.
Flexibility is key
Avril, thank you for taking the time to talk to us! We first met you on a site called Adventure Mamas Initiative. Can we begin by asking you how you first became so passionate about the outdoors?
I grew up outdoors on 10 acres of property in the country. I loved climbing trees, playing in our garden, and catching little animals. My mother used to have to check my pockets when I would come back inside in the summertime because I had a habit of smuggling baby toads in with me to live in my dollhouse. Being raised on the shores of Lake Michigan, we spent long days at the beach swimming, surfing, and kayaking. The outdoors has always been my playground. I’m so grateful for the foundational experiences my parents provided me early on!
As mother to 2-year old Hazel, you are determined to continue your adventures and share them with her. What are your tips for combining motherhood with adventure?
Flexibility is key—for me as well as for Hazel. I discovered early on when I transitioned to single motherhood that finding balance between my needs and Hazel’s would be more challenging than if I were co-parenting. Consequently, Hazel naps more often in jogging strollers or bike trailers than your average kid so that I can get some active time in. I’ve also had to re-evaluate my priorities. I may not get out on epic adventures as often as I used to, but we still get out to our public lands several times a week.
Do you have a favourite destination that you like to go with Hazel?
We love to play in the waves of Lake Michigan. Hazel has been kayaking since she was about 4 months old and we just started stand-up paddle boarding together. Watching Hazel gain confidence in the water has been amazing—the first time we went out she was all nervous laughter, but now she asks to go to the beach daily.
“In so many ways, outdoor recreation has reminded me how strong I am, how competent. It has helped me rebuild my foundation of independence.”
- Avril Wiers -
Last year you made the brave decision to end your marriage. Did you use the outdoors to get through those difficult times and how did it help you recover?
Tracking my adventure life was actually a huge barometer of sorts for helping me discover just how unhappy I was in my marriage. One of the things that attracted me to my ex-husband was his love of adventure—we hiked and snowshoed together a lot in the beginning of our relationship. As we navigated our marriage, however, we spent less and less time outside. When I finally made the decision to file for divorce, returning to nature was the way I reconnected with who I was meant to be. During those first few months, hitting the trails with Hazel was how I found my calm—I could lose myself in the rhythm of hiking and process my thoughts. I started rock climbing and founded a weekly climbing club for women called Bouldering & Beer through which I’ve made so many amazing new friends. I took up mountain biking and had to learn to service and maintain my own bike. In so many ways, outdoor recreation has reminded me how strong I am, how competent. It has helped me rebuild my foundation of independence.
“I’ve seen young women develop self-esteem through rock climbing. I’ve seen people heal in nature after traumatic experiences. I’ve seen critics become strong environmental stewards after witnessing a natural phenomenon.”
- Avril Wiers -
Has your own love of the outdoors been a driving factor for what you do in your professional life?
I’m one of those people who can’t sit still—I was never destined for desk duty. Furthermore, I’ve seen the transformative power of time spent outdoors. I’ve seen young women develop self-esteem through rock climbing. I’ve seen people heal in nature after traumatic experiences. I’ve seen critics become strong environmental stewards after witnessing a natural phenomenon. Being able to combine an active, outdoors lifestyle and encouraging other people to get outside in my career has been amazing. I don’t think I would be so passionate about it if it weren’t for those early, formative experiences in nature.
You are passionate about helping other women access the outdoors and co-ordinate a project that introduces young girls to working in the outdoor industry. How did this project impact the girls that you worked with?
I love how empowering time spent outside can be, for women especially as an opportunity to focus on all the things our bodies can do instead of what they look like. Finding a place in outdoor industry was really helpful in encouraging me to pursue my passion. The Trailblazers pilot program that I ran introduced girls to careers in outdoor industry through recreation experiences with industry mentors—every day we did something new with women who were working in that industry. The outcomes were amazing: all of the girls reported an increase in self-esteem and more than half of the girls became passionate about pursuing a career in outdoor industry after school. So, maybe 15 years from now, these girls are going to be the emerging leaders of outdoor industry. How cool is that?!
You are also a regional volunteer for Camber Outdoors, which campaigns for inclusivity in the outdoor industry. What advice would you give women who are looking to work in the outdoors?
Take every opportunity you can to explore different opportunities in the outdoors because you never know where that trail is going to lead you. What I thought would be a sales career with REI ended up leading to a position in Outdoor Programmes and Outreach, which is where I discovered my passion for hosting events and clinics. The experiences I had working in the Outdoor School are now informing the decisions I make in creating a programme at my career and technical high school for preparing students for careers in outdoor industry. Without taking a chance on sales, I wouldn’t have discovered where my passion truly lies.
“Interconnectedness inspires me the most. I take my cues from nature: John Muir says that “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
- Avril Wiers -
Who or what inspires you most in life?
Interconnectedness inspires me the most. I take my cues from nature: John Muir says that “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I strive to be that connected. I’m a natural networker; I love meeting new friends, creating programmes to meet community goals, connecting non-profit organisations to resources they need. I think the more that we as a society realize this interconnectedness, the more compassionate the world becomes. And who doesn’t want that?
As a mother, teacher, project co-ordinator and volunteer you balance a hugely busy schedule. How do you ensure that you still get out to enjoy adventures in the outdoors?
I schedule it! Time management is key for me, and luckily enough, my inability to sit still helps with that. I am very intentional about being present in the moment and am always challenging myself to use my time wisely. (Grandma always said that “Idle hands are the Devil’s play things”, right?!) I’m also probably the only 20-something-year-old who uses a paper planner still! But having my days mapped out helps me figure out when I get to go for adventure. It also helps to have really clear priorities. It’s easy to say “Yes!” to everything, but sometimes we need to consider whether or not an activity or event is life-giving or life-draining. I’ve had to step back from some volunteer work because it no longer fulfils me.
And finally, we at ACAI love being outdoors. What do you love most about being outdoors and what kind of benefits do you get when you’re on the trails?
I love the space that I get from being outdoors, both the physical space (distance from civilization or the built environment) and the mental space (time to process, brainstorm, and daydream). When I’m done teaching for the day and I feel absolutely exhausted, I know that I’ve used my body for all its worth. After all, when your time spent on the trails is encouraging the next generation to connect with the natural world, it’s hard not to see the benefits.