The podcast interviews keep coming and this has been a fun one! Recently I was honored to be a guest on the Packrafting Podcast, sponsored by Alpacka Rafts and hosted by the wonderful human and new friend that is Dulkara Martig.
As the title implies, the Packrafting Podcast content is anchored by the guest and host connections to the sport, though, I feel confident that even if you aren't a packrafter you will find inspiration and relatable content within the dialogues that take place here.
The episode I was on is titled: The Magic of Alaska, Mental Health, & Overcoming Fear.
On Imposter Syndrome:
On the nervous system:
On a very cute bear encounter:
I hope you will have a listen and that you enjoy the conversation! If you have thoughts or any of these topics resonated, I'd love to hear from you!
You can also find a full transcription of the interview below!
Hello, everyone, I'm Dulkara Martig and you're listening to the Packrafting Podcast. This podcast is a celebration of the grand packrafting scene and the joys the sport brings to our lives. In season one, I'll be connecting with packrafters from diverse backgrounds, including some of the pioneers of modern-day packrafting, and sharing their packrafting histories, adventure recounts and musings on life.
I'd like to give a big shout-out to Alpacka for sponsoring this podcast. We can thank them for the explosion of modern-day packrafting. I've been paddling Alpacka since I bought my first expedition boat in 2013. That was just before they released the first packraft with internal gear storage, which was an absolute game-changer. Making trips that were previously impossible a reality. I found it super exciting to see their boats evolve as my passion for the sport has grown. And I love that their business values and ethics align perfectly with my own. Their business is not about making the most money. It's about staying true to their passions for innovation and advocating for the environment and access to wild places. They've been handcrafting packrafts for 20 years and all of their boats are made to water in Mancos Colorado. Whether you're looking for the perfect whitewater packraft and ultralight option for bikepacking or backpacking, or the ultimate do everything backcountry adventure toy, Alpacka has a packraft for you. This month they just released their newest raft, the Ranger. You can find out more on the website: alpackaraft.com
Welcome back to the Packrafting Podcast. It was a pretty busy last few months in New Zealand so releasing episodes was put on the back burner. I moved towns, started to build a house, did a big bike race at the last minute and was also preparing to leave the country for six months. I'll be based in Alaska for the whole summer so you can expect an Alaskan flavor this year. I'm excited to finally bring you episode 9, with Sarah Histand from Alaska. Sarah finds joy in many outdoor activities from wild ice skating to backcountry skiing and packrafting. She teaches mental health informed online fitness programs for outdoors people. She has some killer dance moves that come out in her living room and in the wilderness all over Alaska. I loved chatting to Sarah, we went down all sorts of tangents. From the joys of bear encounters in the Brooks Range to some of her earlier packrafting mishaps. We talk about fear management in an outdoor setting, including her intentional approach to building confidence in nervous system capacity. She also openly shares her challenges with fertility, something that's super common, but very rarely talked about in public settings. I wanted to give you a heads up at the start of the episode as I know it can be a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I'm a huge advocate for us sharing our vulnerabilities when we feel comfortable. It creates a space where others feel safe to share their vulnerabilities too and with that comes a stronger community and support from those around us. Sending hugs and positive vibes to all of you are going through challenging times at the moment.
So welcome Sarah to the Packrafting Podcast!
Thanks for having me.
I think something that's really cool is you're the very first Alaskan and very first true Alaskan to be on the podcast so far.
No kidding! I'm surprised there's so many packrafters up here. So yeah, what an honor.
It's interesting. Every interview seems to come back to Alaska in some way or the other but I've tried really hard to have a bit more diversity. So it's not just people from one spot.
Hmm, yeah. Nice.
So where abouts are you at the moment?
I'm in Anchorage, yeah, kind of South Central Alaska, the big city. That's where I live these days.
And I guess it's towards the end of winter in Alaska at the moment.
Well, it feels kind of like the heart of winter here, but we are getting more sunshine back. We're recording this in February. So we're having a little bit longer days, but it is 10 below Fahrenheit today. It's like as cold as it gets here. We're in a little bit of a cold snap. And I wanted to say too, when you asked where I was, I am trying to get in the habit of recognizing that I'm on Dena'ina Land. The traditional Land of the Dena'ina people.
Nice, cool. And something I'm curious about. I know I haven't ever been to Alaska in the winter and a lot of other people haven’t either. It seems like this other planet, if you haven't grown up there yourself. How would you kind of describe the journey of winter for yourself and Alaska?
Yeah, well, so it starts to get pretty dark here around like October and then like October, November, December like this pretty steep decline into the darkness. In the heart of winter here, we end up with like four or five hours of daylight. And I'm at the very, pretty south end of the state. So there's a whole other level of extremity of this for people that live up, even in Fairbanks are further north than that. So I’ve got it easy compared to some folks. But we do spend those like November, December, January months mostly in a lot of dark, we have to figure out how to either recreate [recreation] in that very mid-day, so we get some sunshine, or in the darkness, with a headlamp and get creative.
That's super fascinating to me, would you say most people find it quite challenging or is it just kind of like people’s lives?
I do feel like everybody is impacted to some extent by the darkness, whether they're aware of it or not. I've definitely become more and more aware of it myself over the years and it feels like a really dramatic draw, like a seep of energy and like wanting to sleep more and having trouble finding the motivation to get out and be active gets quite challenging in the heart of it.
Yeah, interesting. It's almost, from my experience, in summer people just go completely crazy. It's like you're suddenly unleashed from a box and you have to pack in as much as possible or something. Is that universal?
Good question. It sure is pretty widespread. And it does, in a way, balance out the experience of winter. Like we have so much sunlight in the summer that it is hard to stop and hard to sleep and slow down. So maybe over the year, it all balances out. But when you're in the middle of the season, it feels pretty unbalanced.
That's interesting. Yeah, my first time to Alaska, I pulled a few all-nighters by accident, just by getting excited and totally losing track of time. And I very quickly realized that it would be totally unsustainable to continue doing that.
Yeah, it's wild, isn't it? Summer when the sun isn't setting, and it's really nice in the middle of the night. It's like, really pretty light in that Twilight time when it's really tempting to just keep going.
Yeah. So your lifestyle at the moment. Sarah, could you just describe to us what you know what your kind of lifestyle and work home sort of situation is?
Yeah, well, right. So we're in the middle of the pandemic. My work. I've been working online, I started my online business three years ago now. So my work was kind of already in the online world before the whole world went online. But my husband, Luc, was working a job outside of the house. So when COVID hit, he moved his office to our house. We have a pretty little small house here. So we've been sharing space and making that work, as well as it can. We have, yeah, because my work is I'm self employed, and I have a pretty flexible schedule. So I'm trying to, I am able these days to shift my workday so that I can get some outside time when the sun is up and try to get outside for a walk or we have pretty good snow this year. So we're able to skate ski from the neighborhood events. So that's an awesome break.
I've seen some really cool videos from both you and Luc ski skating. It makes me really jealous.
Yeah, both the skate skiing and the ice skating has been really good this winter. So those have been really nice, kind of mellow ways to get outside without a ton of stress, unlike the back country scene where there's been a lot of avalanche activity this year. So a nice way to like get active and get some sunshine without the pressure or stress.
It almost sounds like one of those activities that's like a child's play, like really fun and playful that brings you back to being a kid again.
That's 100% of my experience with ice skating. So I grew up in Alaska and we had a little pond behind my house. And we would go there and like, shovel off a chunk of the ice so that we could skate even after it had snowed. And I loved it ever since I was a little kid. And I had a friend Jenny, who was also an ice skater and her family paid for her to get ice skating lessons. And I was so jealous. I really wanted ice skating lessons. So I've been reconnecting to that part of me that as a kid, like really wanted to get into ice skating, and Luc even bought me an ice skating lesson for Christmas. So it's been a cool little full circle moment for me.
It's a nice reminder as well, you know, as adults, for some strange reason we stopped doing things that kids do, but we really don't have to at all. It's weird how we naturally do that.
Yeah, I agree. I think that getting back to play is such a powerful exercise for adults, like we are. So I don't know conditioned to do like linear productive, or even like outdoors stuff that has like a, like a purpose or like a goal or whatever. It is really freeing. And for me, it's been a healing experience to shift to looking for the stuff that's just purely fun and joyful. And like getting back on a learning curve of super low expectations of myself on ice skates because I especially figure skates I haven't been on. Since I was a little kid. We do a lot of Nordic skating, which is more like super long blades. So it's easier to like, go long distances, and you can't get as fancy with your skating. But on those short figure skates, I'm definitely a bit of a Bambi. Beginning and working through all of that.
That's super cool and you seem to do a couple of longer, like reverse skate missions occasionally when the weather Gods align, I guess?
Yeah, for like a longer ice skating or Nordic skating trip, the weather does have to be really, really specific, because the conditions are so fragile between when the ice actually freezes and when the snow comes. So, yeah, so far this winter, that hasn't happened. And we've been feeling we haven't been as comfortable flying into the villages off of the road system for COVID reasons. Yeah, so that hasn't come together this winter. Fingers crossed, it will in the future. But we've definitely had some really cool adventures that way in other years.
It'd be really awesome to hear a little bit more, you sort of mentioned that childhood kind of joy of different outdoor activities. Can you tell us a bit more about what your upbringing was like both the kind of the place you lived and the kinds of activities you did?
Sure, yeah. I grew up on the Kenai Peninsula, which is a few hours south of where I live now in Anchorage, in the town of Soldotna. My folks lived in the Midwest of the United States. So they're like Ohio, Indiana, Mennonite, like farm families. And my family, they got married and ended up on a road trip in a VW bus, honeymoon and, like, drove their way up to Washington. And we're like, well, let's get ready to go home yet. Let's keep going, keep driving and end up in Alaska, and run out of money, needed to get a summer job. Found themselves like commercial fishing and made some friends and then just kind of decided to stay really. It sounds like it was really like not really a plan just kind of happened. And so they're like, Midwestern roots in Alaska. When we grew up my brother and I, we spent a lot of time outside, but it was always doing pretty mellow stuff like canoeing and hiking on some pretty easy trails. My folks definitely like to get us outside, but they weren't after any, like big, ambitious goals, or anything too intense.
Yeah. Nice. Isn't that interesting? When you look back on your life, you know, your parents, the fact that they settled in Alaska and you grew up in Alaska, imagine how different your life could have been if you were somewhere totally different.
It would have been so different. It's wild to think about and especially when that decision for them wasn't like a very deliberate thing. It just sort of happened. I'm like, Oh, I'm so grateful that it did. Yes. It's been really incredible growing up here.
Yeah. Nice. I'm curious to hear what the evolution of I guess being outside has been like for you. In terms of adventures or recreation.
Yeah, so with the younger years. Being pretty comfortable outside, but doing pretty mellow stuff, pretty safe things. I remember growing up and seeing some stories of some people doing some pretty ambitious stuff like the Wilderness Classic which is one of these backcountry events up here that is kind of an under the radar thing, but is also a pretty extreme thing. It was started in the 80s when I was growing up. I remember reading about people doing that and just being so awed and impressed and putting the people that did that stuff kind of on a pedestal. Like, wow, those people are so amazing. How do they do that?
And then I left Alaska for college and worked my way back after college. And there was a point at which I was trying to like build up some backcountry skills through some different relationships. There was a point where a long term relationship I was in had ended and my brother was in a similar situation, he had also just ended a long term relationship. And we were both kind of looking for somebody to do some outdoor stuff with and decided to do some trips together. We made a plan to go on a ski trip. And then as we were working out the details of this plan, my brother was like, maybe we should do the wilderness classic. That was like, my first reaction was like holy cow, I don't know, that's what those people do. Not me, you know? I kind of had us in separate categories. And somehow, you know, we toyed around with the idea and decided, like we started to realize that we'd been both working up our skills separately over the years. And that maybe it was worth giving this thing a shot.
We came up with a bunch of backup plans and ways to bail in case we couldn't do it. Like we had all the options on the table, and then decided to just go for it. And that first year was like the hardest thing I've ever done. It was a 200 mile route. It was a winter trip, a winter ski route. And for sure, challenged my body and my mind in ways that I've never experienced before. But we finished! That was a hugely mind blowing experience for me too, since I grew up looking at these other people that do this stuff, and to realize that like I actually did it too, even though we were like, way back in the pack. And it was really incredibly hard. But we learned a ton. And then we had such an incredible learning experience that we went back the next year. And we did the same route. And we finished at the front. There was a group of like four, three groups that all finished together at the front. So we like quote unquote “won” this thing that I had never thought was even an option for me to even finish. So those two times, really like they changed my concept of what I'm capable of, what we're all kind of capable of, because we like to have these areas where we kind of put these ceilings on ourselves. And that blew my feelings apart. It was pretty incredible.
I love that it's that new reference point of what's possible. And it reminds me of how much psychology is involved and you know, our own capabilities. It's quite a common scenario just to look at people and think of "them" and "us" and to feel really detached from people who are like these incredible adventurers or athletes. And you suddenly realize, oh, they're actually not too different.
Yeah, isn't that interesting? We're so quick to compare, like to measure down from what we think someone else's experience is like. Often that's that's just like, that's based on - Yeah, no it's hard to say what that's based on. It's often not accurate.
Yeah, totally. And that's so cool. I'm hoping to do that Alaskan classic this year, actually. Just the summer one.
Oh, that's so cool.
Yeah, but not just for fun. I can't go too hardcore. I like a little bit of slope. But just for the camaraderie and the event sounds really awesome. Just the close nature of it. And yeah, it's pretty cool.
That's really amazing. I'm really excited for you. It is really, it's a way that I made some really, some really incredible friendships. It's the way I met my husband. The community that comes out of those experiences is really amazing. And I and I think you're right on track with like, there are some people that are like, I'm gonna push my body to see how fast I can do this thing. And really test my limits. And then there's also this way of doing it that's like, let's just make this into a trip. Let's have a little bit of comfort along the way and yeah, complete this without putting my body through a ton of stress. I think that's a really incredible way of spending time outside.
Yeah, in some ways, you know, some people look at it and think it's really crazy. But within the spectrum of crazy, it's actually quite inclusive, because it does allow for those different types of styles all on the same event in the same course. Did you like packrafting before the Winter Classic, which I guess is just skiing? How did packrafting jump into your adventure world?
It came in about that same time, like that relationship that I had mentioned, that was like a long term one that ended right before my brother and I did the classic. We were also building a house together and like putting a bunch of finances toward this building project. And I remember we both wanted to get a package, but we were like, let's put our money toward the house instead of the packraft. And then the relationship ended. And I got my money back out of the house. And I was like packraft first, my first purchases that summer, in my new single life as I was like, kind of reeling from the end of that. And yeah, I was like, really excited. I did a bunch of trips that summer in the packraft and got myself into a couple of really scary situations right away. And then like have been ever since like trying to build up my skills and my confidence levels and my comfort on the water and trying to do it with less mishaps.
It's quite fascinating. You mentioned that because it's like when you're in that learning phase of a sport or an activity if you have those scary experiences at that point. It can totally change your journey and skill development with that sport.
Yeah, yeah, it can. I definitely know some people who bought packrafts got into a scary situation, sold the packraft, done. That was the arc.
What exactly happened to you? Did you jump into something that was too hard too quick or that just big Alaskan glacier fed rivers that never stopped moving?
I think that well, so I hadn't had much experience on moving water like we've done canoeing as a family and, and some like, ocean kayaking, but I hadn't done much river stuff. And I had two experiences in the first couple years. One was, I was out with a friend. I was in the front and we were going down the river and I saw a log jam that I thought I could sneak around and it turns out it was like across the whole river. And I ended up pushed up against the log jam. Getting out of my boat, stepping out of my boat onto the logjam. The boat got sucked part way under. And I just ended up in this really precarious situation, like balancing on a log jam trying to save my boat. And it was super sketchy. And of course, I made a bunch of mistakes like I really should have gotten out to the river side to see if you could get around the log jam before checking it out in the boat. And I felt like I got really lucky on that one. My boat, I had to let it go and let it go underneath the log jam and I thought I was gonna lose it but it popped out the other side. That was super intense.
Yeah. And then another time I was out with a girlfriend. We did a long, multi day trip in the Wrangells together and we came off of this route that ends up on the Chitistone River which has had a couple drownings in it that we'd read about. So we kind of knew this river had potential to be scary and it was really pumping. It was like a flood stage when we were there. So we walked down for a long time until we thought it had mellowed out a bit and then we've been bushwhacking down river and river just so tired of bushwhacking. I think we had to actually cross this side stream to keep bushwhacking and the side stream was flooded so much that we had to inflate our boats to get across it. And so we're like, well, the boats are inflated and the river seems a little more mellow... Like let's just like put in and see how it goes. And we put in and the waves were just so massive. They weren't like breaking but they were so big that like you'd ride a wave train and be at the bottom of it and feel like I was going like straight vertical on the way back up it and I like wouldn't be able to see her at all. Anyways, really bigger water than I've ever been in and she flipped and swam and then had a really hard time getting out of the water. She was in the water for quite a while. And because the water was so high the river like the gravel bars were all flooded so that there wasn't really any easy way to get out. I was barely hanging on so I couldn't help her that much. I stayed In my boat, but I felt like I didn't know what to do to help. And when she finally was able to get out, she was pretty hypothermic. And we were still super remote and felt like we were really alone, really scared. And so that was my other really scary one that definitely impressed upon you pretty early, how quickly things can go wrong in those boats.
Totally. Yeah. And they're quite different experiences. Hey, that second one especially, I think that scenario is a really common scenario where you're faced with, it's harder to keep walking, or to portage and people are likely to have mistakes happen when they might not have otherwise.
Yes, that's exactly it. I know. It's like, we kind of knew it was the right thing to do to keep walking but the walking was so hard and annoying. And like the water is, right there. It was so tempting and we kind of just fell for it.
Have you had luck reenacting any of those scenarios in the Packraft Handbook?
Yeah, well right - Luc is writing this. Yeah. So this is my husband who's writing up the Packraft Handbook that's coming out this spring, and he is writing up a bunch of the misadventures that people have been on. I don't know if any of those stories made it and he has a lot. There's a lot of misadventures in the packrafting community,
That's great. You know, I think stories are such a good way to connect, you know, you either have to have first hand experience, or you have to hear a story that feels very real. I think that they always stick with you more than reading just a concept or seeing a diagram or something.
Yeah, I think that's definitely true for me. Yeah.
I guess that sort of leads in nicely. You've mentioned to me that you're really interested in strategies to work with fear and the outdoors and to overcome fear. I'm kind of keen to hear a bit more about that, ideally, from your own experiences on some wilderness trips?
I love talking about this. So first off, this is a concept. It's an evolving thing for me. There are times when I feel like I make some breakthroughs and have a path forward, and then times when it is very real again. So I guess I just want to really normalize the non straightforwardness of working with things like fear, especially when we're outside. Because, gosh,, there's a lot of really primal survival, things that get set off when we are outside. And, like, in a lot of life, like we run up against fear in, politics, and with our bosses and all of these other things in our life where the primal level reaction to it is maybe not as appropriate anymore, and we need to like work with that. Like, nope, I don't actually need to be scared right now. I'm safe, totally safe, it's okay.
But when we're outside, it really is an accurate reaction a lot of the time, because there are some, potentially life or death things that we're at least toying around with, whether it's actually true in the moment or not, the possibility of it is really real. So I think that after those two misadventures that I had pretty early on, I pulled away from wanting to do anything that was on any kind of challenging water. I really did want to keep packrafting, but I wanted it to be really easy, and like controllable, maybe.
That's not a very realistic thing to expect for an outdoor time. We can try to make things as safe as possible. But there's always the unknown. There's like, potentially over a tree across the river, even if it's super mellow class one river. Things happen.
And it can be so some things are more concrete and other things are more subjective, like your perception of the fear whether or not that's really risky. Your perception is your reality, as well.
Yes. 100% right. Yeah. So I would say that for me, but like after those couple of scary things, I would say my perception of the scariness of something went way up and it totally spiked. And this is actually one of the cool things that Luc has in his book. He has a little trajectory of the illustrators, her name is also Sarah, and she made little drawings of where her comfort on the water went after having a couple scary experiences. So it's like growing as your skills build, and then something scary happens and it plummets, you know. And then it builds, builds, builds. And then like she had a friend that was lost kayaking, I think it was, and so boom, it drops way down because you're super aware of the consequences again. I would say I was in a cycle, something like that, like, just kind of naively into it at the beginning and then dropped away down. My fear responses in my body were like on super high alert. And it was pretty hard for a few years there to have a packrafting day. That felt fun in the moment. Like it would often after I was done with it, I'd be like, that was fun. Once you know you're safe. But in the moment, it's more like, gripped, like, really like white knuckles on the paddle and feeling really tense, and scanning around all the time. It’s really hard to relax into it. And so that was, I would say reality for a few years. And then Luc and I started dating around that time, and he's so into packrafting, and really likes to push. His comfort zone is quite a bit higher than mine. So we were like, kind of trying to sort out where the sweet spot is, you know, something that's like, not boring for him. And, and also for me, like, my capacity, like my skills were, were good enough to be able to handle maybe more than even my fear level was right. Like there's a difference there.
That's so common with women as well, more so than men typically.
It does seem like it. Yeah, from just what I've seen around there that yeah, that like maybe tendency to need a bit more comfort or be less okay with the risks, or the unknowingness seems a bit harder. For women.
What you tell me about your relationship beginning - It just reminds me of myself in so many friends, you know, when you have two people who are into adventure who come together in a partnership, and romantic partnership is quite different. And then you do these trips, and you go through this stage where you have to kind of work out what your happy ground is together and there's often a few riffles with it. And just different expectations. And yes, it's fascinating.
It's so tricky, isn't it, it's like, there's so many things going on there. It's like, wanting to be on the same page. And then also wanting to like, perform. Right? Like, it feels a little, I don't know, there's all this like messaging about like, doing more being a little bit cooler. And then also, like, Luc is a really skilled packrafter after and he's done a bunch of safety, like he's a swift water safety instructor. And so he really does have a bunch more skills and adds another whole layer of safety to the experience for me. So like, that does kind of help me bump up a bit. Yeah, totally. And, and like, I feel like I can take on a little more when I've got his support there.
And then in terms of I'm curious with examples, I can kind of picture what it's like when you're when you're in the grips of fear. I'm picturing a fast moving river or where it's a bit more technical. I guess it doesn't have to be like that, you know, maybe strategies that you would use ongoing before a trip just on day to day life and in new strategies that you'd use in the moment on the river or the expedition. Do you have some examples of them?
Yeah, yeah, I do so so I like it, that you break it down into those two areas, because I would say that the thing that has been the most helpful for me to build up this comfort zone with water has been all of the healing work I've been doing with therapists and, and, like I have a somatic therapist now that's helping work with Nervous System capacity. So there's what's called a window of capacity where like, when I'm inside of this, it's kind of like your comfort zone, like when I'm doing things inside of this zone, my body knows that it's got it like we're good there. And then when something scary happens that (window) tends to shrink down. So we can't, or it’s harder to perform. There's not much we can do and still feel like we're safe. And then there's this like that's happening on a physical nervous system level. So it has taken quite a bit of practice time and intention to build up that, like squeeze that window of capacity up because when you jump too far out of it, you do something that's too intense. It just can like squeeze the window down even smaller, because oh my god, that was super scary. And ...
Yeah, like shut down kind of.
Yeah, the whole cascade And so, right you get into like a fight or a flight or a freeze response. So for some people that is like, fight or flight, some people, it's that shutdown, like, kind of, I can't do anything, that's where mine tends to go is the shutdown place. So it’s all of that working on the mental health side of things. And then this is a lot of what I pull into my business my life, I teach fitness, that's mental health informed for outdoors people. And so I've been weaving all of these nervous system components into the body strength building work that I'm doing with folks, so I get to practice it myself on a really regular basis. And like, in those workouts, we're trying to build this like super functional strength so your body knows that it's capable of adapting. When things get weird, outside, you've got like some muscle memory for reacting and that has left like an embodied strength that has been really helpful too.
Yeah, it's interesting because, you know, muscle memory on a physical level, people understand and talk about a lot better. It's almost similar, like the psychological it's like the psychological muscle memory.
I think it is. Yeah. Well, not the same, right? Like the like, if your body physically has a muscle memory to respond in a helpful way in a situation, then your nervous system, and your mind is also going to be like, okay, we got this, like, we know how to respond. But if your body doesn't have that, then it makes sense that your nervous system response would be like, oh, holy shit, like, we got a lockdown. This is bad. But then sometimes, like you're saying the opposite happens, where like, if you have had a bad experience, or, or your body like, reads that your mind reads that as a dangerous situation, your body might have the capacity for it, but your mind is still like sending the alarm bells of like, this is bad, this is bad. And so your body doesn't even have the chance to show up. Because you've turned like the shutdown has already happened.
It's fascinating. Do you have any tips for people? You know, when you're on outdoor adventures with people and you know that they're, you've got differences and comfort level? And a certain scenario? Do you have any tips for people that, I'm specifically thinking of, the people who are more competent and confident and potentially unaware of how difficult it is for people who are more afraid?
Gosh, I mean, you're talking about empathy there, right? Like, is that like, that's a really, really helpful skill to have when we're outside, especially if we're on the, on the, like, higher end of the comfort zone. I really like using like, setting up the group with a like a with a, like a secret word, like a...
Like, a code word for...
A code word. Yeah, exactly. Like, just say this word. Anytime, like no pressure, we're going to change plans, or we're going to stop or we're going to reevaluate. It's really, I feel like having those kind of conversations ahead of time, where you can like lay out that, like, we're all in this together, there is like our safety and our group dynamic is the priority over whatever we think we're out there to accomplish is really, really nice to to kind of take some of that pressure off that it might not even be there. You know, but like, sometimes it feels like it's there unless we talk about it. So we definitely go on our trips now, especially when it's just Luc and I, but also when we have friends along. But we want to make sure that communication channels are as open as possible. We put that code word out there where it's like anybody, like say this anytime. And we'll just like, take a moment.
What code words have you use? I was like, she has a cool code word.
Unicorn is one we use lately. It's fun when they're totally random. Like, something you would not typically say when you're outside.
Yeah. And in some ways it takes away the seriousness or the pressure of it, and it turns the whole thing into something that you can celebrate.
Yes, and you could laugh and like bring some levity to it because it does get serious really fast, doesn't it?
Yeah, I've thought about this a lot. Because for me, and I'm just thinking of record records or technical water scenarios. Even you know, you get to people with different skill levels or levels of confidence, and they can both go down that stretch of water easily. But for the second person, it might be you know, they might want to scout more, they might want to follow someone they might want to talk about it more. So it's not saying you can't do it. It's just the strategies or the approach you take can make such a key difference to how they feel about it.
Hmmm, yeah, yeah. 100% right. And so if you can, if you can, before you hit a place that puts that point At the edge of their comfort zone, if you can talk about like, how it's fine to scout or like how we want to make this, we can slow it down as much as we need to all the things that help take that like invisible pressure off of the person who feels like there's, they're at the lower end, we call that weakest link syndrome. Yeah, and who is like the slower in the group, and it can be really intense, mentally to feel like you're slowing the group down. So I feel like it is really, really helpful when the other people in the group has some awareness around how, how much pressure that can feel like and how sometimes people are willing to forego their own needs just to try to keep the group happy, which doesn't end up good for anyone.
It's fascinating. I have spent, you know, when you do multiple sports? I do lots of sports, which is one thing I really love about it is that I'm on all levels of the continuum with confidence and competence, so you can kind of empathize more, but I've often wondered if it's more exhausting being the weakest link or being the strongest? They’re quite different places to be in.
I mean, I think it is, well, cuz I would say, when you're the weakest link you for one your skills are probably not at the same level as the people who are moving faster. So your physical body is having to work differently.
Totally. You're not, you're in survival mode for yourself as well. Right?
Yeah, like you're having to work at like your 95% maybe, like, keep going at this pace. And someone who's like, having a good day with tons of energy, or maybe they're further along in their sport, is like, they're cruising, or they're like, at their 70%. So the actual physical exertion is harder, but then the mental side of it, especially thinking about, like, I like to think about how as humans we evolved in tribes where we needed the group to survive, and, and not being a part of the group was like a life or death situation. So I think that there is some very primal body stuff happening when we are lagging behind the group that I think sets off some of that, like, I don't know, if I can hang with this group. And on some level, our body reads that as like a survival thing, which is really intense.
That's cool. I hadn't thought about it that way. But it makes total sense. Yeah. And it'll be cool to hear a little bit more about your business or the programs you're running with Summer Strong and Ski Babes. And also, just the, like, your journey with mental health, and the link with the outdoors, because I suspect that it started with more mental health and more of a mental health focus, and then they came together.
Yeah, it started so so for a while I was living in Valdez, running the gym there. And I was working on my master's degree in social work, trying to build this mental health skill set. And there was this time, when I was working my day job at the gym, doing personal training sessions with people and would have a session with somebody and scrape just like a little bit below the surface. And they'd be like, in tears, and there'd be all this like mental anguish. Like they're ashamed about their body or about, like, why they are emotional eating or like, why they can't stick with a fitness routine. And I would be like, well, dang, you should come over and have a counseling session.
In the evenings doing counseling at the counseling center in town, and I would counsel clients there. There's all this data about how exercise is just as effective for depression as most of the medications out there, and how it helps with anxiety and processing trauma and everything. So I'd sit down with people for a counseling session and be like, well, you know, you should come over and join me at the gym! And it just seemed like this, these two worlds needed to come together. They just support each other so much. And around that same time, I was learning to backcountry ski and and was working these teaching these classes in the gym that were very obviously helping my backcountry skiing learning curve. My muscles were like, way better suited for it because of these classes. And so when I ended up leaving Valdez and moving to Anchorage to Luc, Luc lived in Anchorage and I was in Valdez, we were doing this long distance thing and then when I moved here to like, move our relationship to the next stage, I decided to start this business and combine the three areas. So I'm doing fitness that's mental health informed and it's oriented toward people who want to be outside so that we can have this like physical stability and mental stability when we're facing the difficulties that we run into when we're outside. So that's kind of the origin.
That's so cool, and I guess it's transferable both ways, right? Like, from the urban world to the outdoor world, and, and vice versa.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I just feel like all of these things that we learn when we're outside, we bring those things home. And they and they, I mean, so much of the stuff that I have learned about myself on expeditions and like, when, like a trip feels like it's going on forever, in a day feels really hard. Like, those lessons have been super applicable for quarantine life, and, like the uncertainty of the world that we're in right now. So I do think they transfer really well.
Yeah. I'm curious to hear how you've been finding this quarantine life? That's a very open question.
I know. I mean, I feel like, gosh, we have it pretty good.
Right now, you know, Luc, and I have jobs that are working really well online. He's writing this book. We have really nice access to outdoors being here in Alaska. And we don't have kids yet. So we have quite a bit of freedom with our time. I really feel for people who have less options right now. And with all of that, it's still really hard. The amount of stress that I feel like we're all under with trying to judge what the right thing is to do. You know, can we hang out with people outside safely? Or Is that weird? Like, there's just so many things to be questioning right now.
In so many different facets of the world, too. Have you managed to get out on any longer trips in the last year or so in Alaska?
Yeah well we did a three week trip in the Brooks Range last summer, which was amazing. We're so so lucky to be able to do that even when a pandemic is happening, we did a typically we would be looking for long trips that like connect up between villages, so that we can get like a cheap flight out of a village and get some experience, like get some get to know some of what it's like to live up there. But Alaska Native communities were hit really, really hard by the Spanish Flu back in the 1918. Like, for decimated in some cases, and they really don't have a lot of access to medical. Out there. So anyways, we wanted to be really cautious. And there, they wanted to be, like, respectful and give us as much space as they needed. So we were trying to we didn't want to go into villages. So we did this three week loop that was off of the off of the haul road, that this dirt road that goes all the way up to the Prudhoe Bay oil area. And that was amazing. It worked out just just fine to do like kind of a creative loop instead of like a long traverse.
Mm hmm. Man, Brooks Range. Hey, could you ever run out of adventures there in a lifetime?
I don't know that you could, a few of those folks. Like I think, yeah, you know, have you interviewed Roman Dial and Brad and Meikeljohn? Like those guys? They've both Brad especially have just spent so much time up there. And always, there's always new places to explore.
Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, it's hard for people who haven't been there to comprehend the scale of it. Both the geographical scale and then the logistics and even just how long the rivers are.
Yeah, it's really incredible.
Yeah, you know, and New Zealand. New Zealand is incredible for adventures, but the style is just so different, like how you can't really do a river trip, or where the river is the main one of the main focuses, that goes for more than five days, naturally, you're having to completely mix and match different kinds of trips. So whereas in the Brooks Range, it's just born for those longer creative routes.
Yeah, yeah. It's really nice. It's like the blockings are pretty good. It's really like, the remoteness is definitely like it's a good and a bad thing. It's kind of challenging for logistics, but it's an incredible experience to be able to spend a few weeks out in nature without running into buildings or stuff - human stuff.
Do you have any moments in the Brooks Range that really stand out, that are just completely magical, with wildlife or even just like a feeling that you've got?
There's a few of those, like, there's one that I wanted, I've been thinking about tying into that conversation with fear. Because I had an experience this summer where on that trip we were, it was like the day after the solstice. So it was like peak summer. And it had snowed the night before. Like, what the hell, it was quite cold. And it was like sleeting on us. And we don't bring a ton of extra clothes on those trips, because we're traveling for three weeks, self supported. So I was wearing everything I had, and, and feeling pretty at the edge of my, like, physical comfort zone with temperature. And we were on some water that was kind of choppy and pretty high. And I had this moment of realizing how, like, last year on the same trip, I would have been totally freaked out right now. Because I'm like, very close to my edge of what I've got on my back and like, what my abilities are, and I could tell how much my capacity had grown in the last year. And because I was enjoying it, I was like, well, this is ridiculous. Here we are packrafting, it's sleeting, and it's fun! Okay, yeah, I was just able to laugh at it. And so that was one of my really coolest moments out there. It was just this sense of like, growth and being able to be in this like pretty uncomfortable moment and be okay with it felt like a really big win.
And what about what was your most interesting animal experience?
Oh, gosh, okay, I know. Also, we floated through one of the big caribou herds this summer, which was amazing. And like a dream. So that for sure was just incredible. But the one that has been sticking out with me, I hope I can describe this as well as it was in the moment because we at one point, we were walking around like traversing around this mountain, and we looked up ahead and there was this, there was like this hillside that had these like three little lumps on it, that looked like they were like dirt clods. And we walked up like kept kind of walking along to it and and still like checking out these dirt clods because they looked a little bit strange. And as we got, close enough, we finally recognized that it was this big bear that was lying on its back stretched out, belly up. It was sunbathing. We were seeing its legs, its belly and its head where these three lumps just sprawled out and so we were like, oh gosh, that’s a bear! So we looked at it and made some noise. And it's like okay, so it's laying on its back. It popped its head up, it like lifted his head up and looked over at us in just like the sleepiest bear way. And it looked over and was like ‘don’t disturb my sunbathing’ and then laid it’s head back down. Exactly. I swear. You could read his mind. And it was just like, what was that? Man? It's nothing. I'm going back to sleep. like super lazy. And it was still too close. So we made more noise and then and then like eventually it woke all the way up and saw us and then just took off running. So that was good, we like bears that do that.
And that's so cool.
It was cute.
Sometimes they just appear more human don't they? Then other animals?
Yeah, that one was just so relatable. There was just like, push the snooze. Sleep.
Yeah, alright, um, but one of my first trips in Alaska, because everyone overseas, you know, kiwis, all we have to worry about is sand flies or mosquitoes and New Zealand and so coming to be a country as terrifying and just really unknown and uncertain. But, you know, just seeing bears set on the tundra and eat, you know, set on there, bam. And eat berries, hand after hand just sitting there like a little child would. It kind of makes you realize that they are more human like than you think you sort of get used to their behavior more.
Yeah, yeah, I think that's true. It's like, okay, I can see how you would like just eat out here and just like to do your thing out here. And it's not so much about like always being in hunting mode.
And you just think of it you know, I think of the outdoors as like their home and then you think about yourself as a human and you're like, well, if a stranger bursts into my bedroom and just opens the door,I would be freaked out as well.
And I would have something to do! I'd be doing some stuff to make that person go away!
Awesome. Cool. Yeah. Well, I guess, Sarah to totally change the topic, or you've openly shared some of your struggles with pregnancy in the last couple of years. I would love to hear a bit more about that. And also, just thank you for your vulnerability and sharing things that, you know, are so common, but often not talked about in public as much.
Yeah. Well, you're welcome. And I hope I do it justice. It's a really interesting situation where Luke and I have been trying to get pregnant for two years now. And yeah, it hasn't happened yet. Which is like, such a kind of a mind blowing thing, especially at first, like, now we've gotten kind of used to it. Most of my life, I work in fitness and in mental health, and like, I'm pretty embodied, I'm kind of used to being able to train my body up for whatever I want it to do. And this one has been so freakin humbling. It's like, this is one I, I can't control. It's just, it's been a really interesting couple years. We do these long trips and when we first started trying, we weren't sure if we should even plan anymore, because we'll be pregnant any minute now. You know? And then that hasn't, that hasn't happened. So we've started to instead, like, look at what we can do outdoors wise, while we're in this process.
And is that more just in terms of like, what you're comfortable doing? And physically pushing yourself? Or?
Yeah, yeah, that that is, that is definitely a big piece of it, it's like, so if my body isn't ready, it hasn't clicked yet to create a baby, like, potentially, some of that is because it's maybe in more of like a survival state, like I sure don't want to like, be in a situation where we're running out of food, and be trying to get pregnant at the same time. That doesn't feel like that would be supportive. So we've been trying to look for ways to be outside that involve that where we know we have enough supplies, so we're not getting stretched too thin. where like, less, things are scary, so that there's just hopefully less need for like, those fight flight responses that like 10, they say like in the nervous system, stuff like your reproductive. There's that window of capacity, we need to be in the middle of it to be able to reproduce, to digest, to heal, to do that stuff. So I'm trying to stay in there as much as possible and expand that as much as possible while I'm there, so I can still do some stuff that's kind of fun and a little bit challenging without potentially throwing the system off.
And what was uh, so you had shared something a while ago on social media. I think I might have only been once that I noticed it. What was it that inspired you to share something?
Well, I do feel like this is - Gosh, I mean, a lot of people, a lot of people experience challenges with getting pregnant. I don't know what the numbers are. I wish I did. Because I remember seeing them and being like, Okay, well, it's not just me.
Yeah. And how can it be possible that this is so common, but we hear so few stories?
Exactly. Yeah. And and when I did share it, I got a flood of people sharing their own stories, or they're in the middle of it, too. And it's so hard. It's, it was really surprising to me how many people who I know who I know and like, yeah, regular basis are like going through something similar but but like, we're not. It's it's I don't know, it's tricky to talk about. It's kind of awkward, it feels really private, vulnerable. There's some shame maybe around it. There's all these things that that make it a topic that's that's not out there as much as I feel like it should be so. So that's a piece of it. And then, you know, with my business, I am like, moving my body in front of people teaching classes, talking to other people about their bodies and about their mental health and like, I feel like at some point, I felt like I couldn't keep doing that without letting people know where like what I'm grappling with. Because it's such a big factor these days with how I want to do my workouts like I want to do the workouts from a place that's supportive of building this capacity. And doesn't, like allows for the days where my body's not up for it to, to do a mellow workout that day, you know, like, I've just I've shifted from feeling from wanting to like, be in that pushing place to really wanting to orient and listen to my body and, and give it what it needs for the workouts for the outdoor time for all these things. And that feels like that's come from this fertility journey. And I just, it felt like I wasn't being like, fully honest, almost at some point without letting people know that, that that's a factor that’s influencing things for me.
It's interesting, you know, when you think about the different things that cause emotional stress in people's lives, a lot of them are talked about a bit more openly. But there are certain themes or topics that it's like the social norm is to avoid at all costs or something, which is not very conducive to a supportive environment for people when they are going through that to have you know, camaraderie or camaraderie might not be the right word, but maybe like a sense of belonging that and understanding that other people are going through similar challenges.
Totally, I mean, what is up with that it's so wild how, like, it ends up being really isolating. And, and it's really easy to feel like it's all on your shoulders and that, that people other people don't want to hear about it or, like you don't want to burden other folks. Yeah, there's, there's a lot there, but I do the more I've been able to talk about it, the less like, like, um, you know, Brene Brown says that stuff about shame, or like, shame cannot survive the light.
So the moment like, the minute you like, put stuff out there, that's awkward and vulnerable, and like, people see it and like, no one's been mean about it, you know, like, it's, it's just been super well received. And it feels like such a load off to recognize that, that I'm not alone. And then like we're muddling through this together.
And do you have any tips for people? You know, most people know, either close friends or family members who are struggling with fertility or different pregnancy challenges? Do you have any tips for people, you know, for how they can support someone in a similar sort of situation?
Oh, well. For me, at least this is something that kind of lives under the surface, but it's, it's kind of always there. And I'm, I'm not always aware of it, but for sure, in times where I'm around my friends, kids, or my brother's kids, or like, my nephew just turned three this week. And we had an outside sledding birthday party with him. And when we started getting pregnant, you know, he was one year old, and I had this vision of my brother's kid and my kid growing up together. And, I mean, I, I still hope that that happens. And that, that there would maybe just be a different age gap than I had imagined. But, what I want to say about that is that there's some grief in these seemingly neutral situations or, or just like children's birthday party celebrations that are supposed to be just fun. So I would, I guess I would say for advice- to have some awareness of how those situations might impact the people in your life and check in with them on it.
Yeah. Nice. Yeah, I guess Everyone's so different, that there's not one recipe that has the best support for everybody. So even just talking to people about what works best for them could be valuable. Yeah, I love that. Just let me let me know you're thinking about them and what kind of support Yeah, would be helpful. Cool. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that Sarah. I'm, you know, one thing I'm wanting to do with the podcast is really dig deeper into different themes. You know, they aren't linked to packrafting. But just a theme to all people, no matter what stage of life you're in, or what you're into. So, that's sweet.
Nice. Yeah, well, packrafting is a great metaphor for life.
To finish off, I asked Sarah to share a bit more about what her Summer Strong fitness program looks like. The first round of Summer Strong starts on April the 19th. And while it's based in the Northern Hemisphere, it is also awesome for people on the other side of the world.
Yeah, great. So Summer Strong is going to start up in April. And I know for southern hemisphere people, it's a little bit backwards. But really, these programs are built around functional fitness. So even if we're not gearing up for your summer season right now, I still encourage you to consider joining in, it's all online. So this is focused on bodyweight living room workouts for people who want to be strong when it's time to go outside. So we do six week training cycles. And over the course of the summer, they'll be three different ones. So ideally, people joined for the whole summer. So you get these three cycles that build on each other. And we're gonna work on the, like functional fitness, the mental stuff, the nervous system stuff, like pull it all together. And they're like 35-45 minute workouts three times a week, so that there's still plenty of time for outdoor stuff. Which is really important for like, pretty much everybody I work with. It's like, how do you do the cross training that helps support injury prevention without messing up my outdoor time? That's what this is about, like trying to find that sweet spot.
I've heard that there's some good dance moves in there as well.
Yes, it is. So we finish each workout with a dance move reward, which is just like, it's a super fun, playful way to connect and build up a sense of like that dopamine connection that we get when we're playing with other people. Yeah, and we get to like, play with that at the end of a workout. So yes, dance move rewards.
You must love dancing, hey, Sarah?
I love it. I'm not amazing. By the way, I'm not super skilled, and ....
I think you're pretty good.
It is for me, it's one of the most like playful ways to move my body. It's like always accessible to put on a dance song and shift my mood.
Yeah, the big question is have bloke’s dance moves progressed since you've been dating?
We do practice, you know, I like Tik Tok and Instagram. They're so good at, getting like little dance tutorials. So we do practice together. It's not always pretty, but it is always fun.
That's so funny. Hey, you know what, I'm embarrassed to admit this but dancing, like one of your dance moves, that's like one of my biggest fears. To me it's far more terrifying than something outdoors.
Yeah, that's so interesting. Well, I I know I have a bunch of people that just skip that part. It's at the very end of the workout. So it's not for everybody is not required. But if you're talking about taking on new activities as an adult, like on different parts of the learning cycle, that might be another little opportunity for you.
Awesome. Thank you so much for chatting, Sarah, it's been really, really awesome.
It's weird. I've used your mountain bike in Anchorage once and I've never even met you.
Well, I hope we get to change that!
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