Good evening everyone! I know it has been a while since I have posted here. I have been working a LOT on other platforms and projects lately. You’re never far from my heart and mind, little blog.
February is going to prove that big things come in small packages! It may be the shortest month of the year, but I have many exciting things to share. Please brace yourself; long post ahead!
First of all; if you know me or follow me elsewhere – you know by now that the Mountain Chicks Ambassador program was dissolved last month unexpectedly. I was part of the Mountain Chicks family for 2 years, building up the Midwest chapter, leading and organizing group hikes and backpacking trips for women of all experience levels.
Sadly, the founder of Mountain Chicks decided to take the organization in a different direction and abruptly shut all the Ambassadors out of moderating our individual Facebook chapters with very little notice. At one time there were close to 75 of us actively building Chapters all over the US! Pretty incredible that we helped women all over the country meet new friends, find confidence in the outdoors and gain some experience. In all honesty, it helped me with those things too. I made lifelong friends in that community; so even though it no longer exists, I will always be thankful for the friends and experiences that came from my two years with Mountain Chicks.
It taught me a few things. First – the idea of an organization like Mountain Chicks is really great on paper. Their mission statement was along the lines of “an all-inclusive women’s group encouraging everyone to get outdoors.” Okay. But…if you didn’t have a professional photographer following you to the summit (don’t forget to change into a flowing maxi dress!) with epic 13k feet views behind you, your outing/event photos were never shared on the main Mountain Chicks feed. My Missouri and Illinois crew can not relate to photos like this:
See a reoccurring theme? Versus amazing communities such as Women Who Hike, Women Who Explore and 52 Hike Challenge where every kind of man or woman is featured with any kind of background. Actual people captured enjoying the outdoors with candid photos, selfies, group events…
My measly Mountain Chicks Midwest photos were not glamorous enough, our attendees were (apparently) not Instagrammable enough, and our views were not epic enough. But you know what? We had FRICKIN’ SO MUCH FUN. So, is an organization like Mountain Chicks actually “all inclusive”? It talks a big talk but all women, all places and all experiences should be shared with such a massive following. Period. Mountain Chicks is, overall, a reposted travel photography account. Red flag #1.
After a period of time, the Ambassador rules and requirements became much more lax. When I first began, hikes or events were required to be held every 4-6 weeks which gave me motivation and drive. Blog posts were required as well. (Again, none of mine got reposted – I guess nobody wants to read about Illinois!) Eventually, we received an email exclaiming – “Hey guys! Don’t worry about organizing hikes so much! Just focus on becoming Instagram influencers!” Red flag #2.
This next part is a little shameful and embarrassing, but I’m owning up. I choose to be transparent and authentic with everything that I do after all of this. So, totally dragging myself. Hi.
When I first started blogging, it was because it was literally my therapy. I did it because it helped me; and the resounding topic just so happened to be hiking and outdoors based. Soon after, I found Mountain Chicks and the first year was EXTREMELY helpful in helping to overcome my social anxiety and stepping out of my comfort zone.
I am not going to lie. In 2018, the weirdest year of my life by far…I became obsessed with gaining followers, seeking approval from the Mountain Chicks founder – a wee 20-something Instababe, I was determined to be reposted on her main feed, to be acknowledged some way.
Around that time; I noticed I stopped blogging as much. I dreaded planning events. I tried to be something I’m clearly not. Which resulted in me doing things outside of my healthy routines.
I quit being so driven in actually getting outside. I was fixated on social media. I can’t be a real outdoor lover without 50k followers, right? I felt “influenced” to be someone I wasn’t. Because that’s what’s pictured EVERYWHERE. People who don’t look like me, who are younger than me, who live and adventure in places different than me.
The thing is, my words and feelings behind the things I was doing and sharing were still very much true, genuine and meaningful. But it was being done with ulterior motives. I was constantly feeling frustrated and conflicted. Am I actually doing this for me? Or am I doing this for other people?
A handful of months ago, I woke up. I actively stopped it. I realized playing that game was taking away from the reason I started this journey to begin with. I have been much less depressed since then. When I share now, it’s intentional.
I did however, work hard to build my Instagram account and while I do some paid posting and advertisements occasionally, (and only for brands and products I BELIEVE in, I’d never promote something I haven’t used before or wasn’t confident in!) I’m now choosing to use my small but mighty platform that I made for myself for something positive.
Is this all real enough for you yet?
The lesson I learned in all of this…don’t lose yourself in things that in the long run – are wildly irrelevant. What is Mountain Chicks truly leaving behind? Nothing. Just some scorned women who put hard hours and energy into building an outdoor community, who were done dirty and someone else took the credit for the work we did. When her money was made and she was able to travel full time without needing the community that made her, she tossed us. The end.
I’m going to be 35 this year. I have zero interest in gaining the approval of internet strangers. I truly just want to be happy; positive and find something that brings me absolute, undeniable joy. If I’m “influencing” anything or anyone – I want it to be authentic. I want it to be natural and organic.
Then it came to me. After all of this Mountain Chicks drama unfolded, I spent a good week drinking a lot of wine and reflecting on what I wanted out of my 35th year. After some encouragement from my Gear Forward team; I decided to leap.
I am taking everything I learned from the petty selfishness of another and spinning it. I 110% wanted to create a mission that is not only for me, but for others. I want to belong to something that will benefit the places and people that need it instead of taking from them. Every proceed will go to charity. Any share, repost or shoutout that Illinois Park Project receives, is beneficial to the state parks of Illinois. We are a body of volunteers. I want to breathe life back into the forgotten parks of Illinois. I want to get children disconnected from technology. I want families to get outside together. I want to introduce someone to their first experience on a hiking trail. I want to educate. I want to celebrate quality over quantity.
All I’m providing is the platform and the voice. It’s going to be a ton of work and take a lot of effort, but that’s exactly what I need. A wonderful purpose.
It took nearly losing myself to truly find myself.
A collaborative mission to revive Illinois State Parks. We are in the baby stages still; but I want to join other Illinois/Midwest outdoor bloggers or organizations in co-hosting clean up and maintenance events. If this sounds like an effort you’d like to co-host:
Category: Illinois Park Project, Trail Tuesday, UncategorizedTags: adventure, backpacking, camping, Chicago, epic social adventures, gear forward, goals, happy, health, hiking, illinois, Illinois hiking, Illinois State Parks, life, love, mental health, Midwest, nature, opt outside, optoutside, outdoors, roadtrip, state parks, summer, trail maintenance, travel, volunteer, weekend, weekend warriors