Up to the Challenge

  • An hour of hiking brought the Ladies Adventure Club to the first of two summits on their trip to the Little Concord Pond State Park area. After summiting Bald Mountain, the hike continued for another mile to the top of Speckled Mountain.

  • Activities organized by the club include kayaking excursions, hiking trips, and more introspective events, like poetry-writing workshops and guided meditations.

  • Club founder Gillian Schair takes a break between summits.

  • In the winter, Schair plans full-moon snowshoe excursions to take advantage of bright winter nights.

Ladies Adventure Club empowers women through shared experiences.

Gillian Schair was watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix one night when she came up with an idea. The drama series from Australia involves an attractive young sleuth living (and solving crimes) during the Jazz Age. “Miss Fisher’s a real-deal feminist,” says Schair. “She belongs to a club, and in one episode, her club sponsored a racecar driver. And I thought to myself, I want to belong to a club of women who adventure!” Schair realized that while her life as a parent of two and board chair for the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’s Policy Center was rich and fulfilling, it lacked a little zip, a little zest. “I never want to be bored in my life,” she says. “I want to grab what is out there. That’s what I wanted from the Ladies Adventure Club—a community of women who come together around a shared ethos and a desire to push themselves.”

It’s been over a year since Schair sat on her living room couch pondering adventures, and during that time, she’s built a robust network of women who gather for excursions. Some are adrenaline-boosting adventures, like a trip to a shooting range, while others are more low-key challenges, like learning to write
poetry with Portland’s poet laureate, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc. “While I love to hike—and that’s part of the reason I started this group—there are members of the Ladies Adventure Club who don’t like to hike,” Schair says. “I try to weave in more internal adventures for them, too. While outdoor adventures thrill me, I realize it’s so important to carve out quiet time.” Relaxing, introspective activities that Schair has organized for her club members include guided meditations and qigong lessons.

However, outdoor activities remain a vital component of the club, and Schair routinely organizes hiking, paddling, cycling, and snowshoeing excursions. These day-long jaunts form the backbone of the Ladies Adventure Club and are popular among members of all ages and a variety of skill levels. On a warm April Sunday, I join the club for a hike to the top of Bald Mountain, where I see firsthand the power of Schair’s vision. We meet at 10 a.m. in the muddy parking lot by the trailhead. Before we set out for the summit, Schair calls us to circle up. Fifteen women—some fresh out of college, some grandmothers—stand in stretchy leggings and windbreakers as Schair sets our intention for the day.

“We had a snowshoe trek in Scarborough under the full moon a few months ago,” she recalls. “It was beautiful, and it was great. But I realized afterwards that I spent the entire time talking, and that I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of the landscape.” Several members laugh in acknowledgement and look at each other knowingly. Schair goes on to explain that she isn’t saying we shouldn’t talk on this hike—just that she wants to spend a little time on the trail being quiet. She finishes by reading a quote from Khalila Archer of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (an international nonprofit that brings mindfulness practices to youth): “‘Start by paying attention to each step. Simply notice each time your foot makes contact with the ground. Notice your body moving through space. Feel the contact of air against your skin. Bring your awareness to your senses.’” After a few more words of wisdom, we start off on the hike, soothed by her words and silent in the chirping, creaking, budding spring surroundings.

The quiet doesn’t last too long. Soon enough, I find myself chatting with Margy Moreman, a recent transplant to Maine from Georgia. She joined the Ladies Adventure Club for two reasons: “I have loved hiking my whole life. I wanted to get back in the woods. Plus, I’m single and I don’t know anybody!” She heard about the club through a friend of a friend and decided it was just what she needed. “I needed a reason to get off my couch and get outside,” she says. Knowing that she’s meeting a group of people helps inspire her to follow through on her good intentions to exercise. It’s like having a dozen gym buddies, but instead of sweating it out in an enclosed space, they meet on the mountains of Acadia or the marshes of Scarborough or the hills of interior Maine.

Later, as we near the top of Bald Mountain, I catch up with one of the faster hikers in the group, Sara Needleman. Needleman is a close friend of Schair’s and she’s been with the group since the very beginning. For her, one of the biggest appeals of the Ladies Adventure Club is that Schair offers ready-made adventures, planned, researched, and scheduled ahead of time (and often they’re free of charge). “It frees me from having to think about it; I can just go and enjoy the hike,” Needleman says. “I heard Gillian say to you a few minutes ago that she’s organized and meticulous. She’s underselling herself with that description.” Schair has a rare talent for mobilizing groups, a skill that she utilizes in her work with the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’s Policy Center as well.

Although the Ladies Adventure Club doesn’t have any political affiliations, it does reflect Schair’s interest in providing women with the tools they need to succeed. In her volunteer work, she lobbies to change Maine laws to be more supportive of women’s economic security, access to health care, and civil rights. Through the Ladies Adventure Club, she seeks to “empower other women in our group to take on leadership roles, whether that means thinking up an adventure, leading an adventure, or co-leading it.” She wants women to feel more comfortable being in the driver’s seat of their own lives. But in order to become comfortable, one must first feel uncomfortable. And that’s where the adventures come in.

“My definition of adventure is doing something that puts me at my edge—not in a dangerous way, but a way that makes me feel more alive and vibrant,” says Schair. Adventuring is, for her, an essential part of living a full life. “I can feel it in my body. I don’t know if I have words for it, but it excites me, challenges me.” Even something as simple as a walk in the woods can be an adventure—particularly if you’re doing it with a group of people you’ve just met.

A big part of the fictional Miss Fisher’s appeal is her fearlessness, and while they may not be racing cars or solving crimes, Ladies Adventure Club members are fearless about trying new things and meeting new people. This is perhaps the most impressive thing Schair has accomplished. Although I started on the hike not knowing anyone, never for a moment did I feel alone. Conversation was breezy and everyone met on equal footing—it was clear from the get-go that all were welcome. “I didn’t create the group so I could go adventuring with my friends,” Schair says. The original idea, one that came to her as she sat on her couch watching Netflix, always involved (and celebrated) the awkward first steps toward forming brand-new friendships. And it’s paid off, Schair says. “I feel like there’s a new richness in my life, an interconnectedness that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the Ladies Adventure Club.”

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