A good ole fashioned sandbag could be the start of it all…

My body is sore, but it’s that good kind of sore, where even though my joints ache, I want to foam roll every muscle in my body, and all I crave is meat (says the former vegetarian), I know I am getting stronger.

I had the opportunity today to go on a hike with my good friends Rachael and Mike in Boulder. I totally sandbagged them when I said “it’s just going to be a short hike, I think like 3 miles total, enough so we feel like we worked, but it doesn’t take all day.” 6.8 miles and 2,951 feet of round-trip elevation gain later, the trail that Protrails calls “the shortest but most strenuous route to Bear Peak” proved to be just that. I had completely forgotten how difficult the trail was, but it was absolutely worth it.

It was an amazing day and as we were hiking up, we passed this group of three young teenage girls who had obviously just crushed it and were on their descent now. We said hello and asked them how much longer to the top and they cheerfully said, “Only about 30 more minutes and it levels out in just a bit!” Even though the next portion of the hike I was still sucking air, I could not stop smiling for the next 20 minutes. I was so excited to see young girls choosing to spend their Saturday outside and doing something challenging.

I am so inspired by young people who choose to spend their time doing something so positive because Lord knows when I was their age, I definitely was not always making those choices. I’m pretty sure I spent most every Saturday playing volleyball at all day tournaments or overnight tournaments, or doing all of my chores so I could go hang out with my friends. No where on my adolescent radar was the idea that taking a hike with friends could be a great Saturday afternoon activity. I’m also pretty sure that I didn’t even know such thing as a trail existed, let alone in Michigan. It just wasn’t something I was exposed to.

This is why I am so excited to go on this journey. Many kids these days are committed to doing something at a really young age and while I think that things like playing an instrument, playing sports, etc can be really positive experiences, there is also a part of me that wonders if, given the opportunity, would the outdoors have been something that I really connected with at a young age? Who knows.

All I know is that I had a wonderful family who loved and supported me through anything that I was interested in and I am lucky enough now, to have experienced the outdoors in a way that has forever left its mark on me. I hope that on this trail, I can at least give young girls an opportunity to see or do something that maybe was never on their radar and give them exposure to a trail that is right in their backdoor. Maybe one day, one of those girls will sandbag their friends and leave their bodies sore, tired and hungry for more adventure.

A quick update on the Iron Belles Initiative….

My friend Kristina and I have officially partnered together and submitted our paperwork for “Iron Belles” to be a trade name and a registered company! Once that goes through, we will be submitting our paperwork to be an official non-profit organization! We could not be more excited! Here’s our mission:

Iron Belles is an organization devoted to shifting the paradigms around women in contemporary society. Our mission is to challenge traditional gender roles and help each woman push past her perceived limitations. We want to create a positive community of women who empower each other, and we are dedicated to helping individuals create their own stories.

Here’s how you can help! We are going to be starting the process of developing our logo and if you have a creative idea, let me know! (bethany.gleason@gmail.com) You can also start to follow us on our facebook and instagram accounts and start tagging your woman adventures with #ironbelles.

Facebook: “Iron Belles”

Instagram: @ironbelles

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

It’s spring break this week and I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Buena Vista letting my electronics charge up before I hit the road again. My heart is heavy with sadness for a friend I have known since college who has just lost her Dad. I’ve seen her wrestle with her Dad’s health since college and it is hard to imagine having to live through that experience. But she has lived and she has lived to the fullest, with grace, positivity and love, qualities that I think she probably inherited from her amazing father.

I had the pleasure of knowing him through college, being in her wedding, and into adulthood. The interaction I saw the two of them have at her wedding was for me the ultimate display of who he was as a person. It was bursting with love and affection, there was an unspoken connection, and a deep appreciation for the moment. Every time I was around him, I felt this outpouring of love that felt undeserved because I didn’t even know him that well. He had this amazing ability to connect like that with every person that he met.

I think the world needs more people like this. Connection is something that I think we long for as human beings, even stubbornly independent people like myself. It is the thing that helps us feel like we are a part of something bigger than ourselves and the thing that brings the alive feeling to life. People like my friend’s Dad help to create that feeling. That is the feeling I hope to inspire with the Iron Belles. I can only hope that I will one day inspire others as he did.

I am about to depart for Crested Butte, for the next part of my adventure this week. This is a solo journey, but I want to make it a goal to make meaningful connections along the way. Sometimes I forget how important that is to do when I am somewhere on my own. Mike Fezzey, Jesse’s Dad, was brilliant at this. So this trip is dedicated to sharing joy and love with everyone I meet like he did and cherishing every single moment with deep appreciation.

Ooo So Thankful, Ooo So Thankful…

I was recently introduced to the musical group, “Nahko and Medicine for the People” by my friend Rachael on a trip to Steamboat. And in typical Gleason fashion, I have been incessantly listening to his music for the past 8 days. I have a lot to be grateful for and the song that has been on my mind is one called, “So Thankful.” 

I have always made an effort to practice gratitude. Some days this practice is really difficult and some days it’s very easy. Today is one of those easy days. I feel so grateful for the recent events that have unfolded in connection with this journey.

My last post was about some frustrations I was having with the process of finding sponsorships and the reality of the difficulties of that process. I realized that I needed to go back to the drawing board. I wanted this journey to be meaningful in some way, but I hadn’t yet found the way that I felt would connect with sponsors and others. So I spent some time brainstorming what is important to me and what are the things that I am most passionate about and then how can I connect those with this journey. Through much talk with family and incredibly supportive friends, I have decided to start an initiative called, “Iron Belles” with the goal of getting young women outside connecting with wilderness in order to discover their own strength and capabilities.

My sister and I came up with the name “Iron Belles” because the Iron Belle trail in Michigan is where this initiative will all begin. I also really love the combination of those two words because “Iron” represents strength and “Belle” comes from the French for beau or beautiful. To me, it is the perfect combination of strength and beauty, which are two qualities that all women possess and qualities that I find in myself, but sometimes need a little encouraging and reminding that strength is beauty and beauty is strength.

The goals for Iron Belles and for this trip are to do the following:
– Get at least 3 young women and a Physical Educator from each city or county that the trail passes through to join me for a portion of the hike
– Find the 25 best things to do along the Iron Belle trail
– Find 100 things to do along the trail in honor of the Michigan DNR’s Centennial
– Advertise the brand new trail for the Michigan DNR
– Inspire women young and old to get outside

Eventually, the goal is to take “Iron Belles” to every state in the US by finding a long distance trail in each state that young women can join me on, to encourage young women to get outside and potentially discover a passion for the outdoors and discover their own strength and capabilities.

I feel so grateful for the help along the way in creating this vision. I started a “GoFundMe” page in order to help raise the $8000 it will take to make this trip and initiative happen and have already received some very generous donations from friends who support the vision. This week, I also got my first “sponsorship” through the help of a co-worker, Lisa. Lisa talked to her sister, Linda, who works for Trango and that same day, Linda emailed me to tell me that they would support me with clothing for the journey. So Stonewear Designs, an off-shoot of Trango who creates amazing women’s clothing will be providing me with some clothing for the trip!

If you are interested in helping support the “Iron Belles” initiative, please consider spreading the word and supporting in one of a few ways:

1. Think positive thoughts for me and send well wishes 🙂
2. Follow me on instagram @bethanyglee, twitter @beth_gleason, and this blog
3. Support me monetarily through my go fund me page at the following link:
Donate here!

4. Spread the word to family, friends, co-workers, etc!

So in the adapted words of Nahko, Got to give, got to give, got to give, I’ve got to give you all a little kiss yea! Thank you so much for your continued support of this dream and happy trails!

A little beat up, but mostly smiling.

Well today was the day that I decided to start cold calling a bunch of outdoor companies to see if I could obtain sponsorships or get some donations to help me be able to do this trip and I’m feeling a bit like this picture: a little beat up, but mostly smiling.

As I was perusing through my pictures to see which one to post, I’m glad I found this one, because I thought, what better analogy than the old “riding a bike” one. This picture was from my very first time back on my mountain bike after only a few very novice rides years ago and I crashed hard. In fact, I would have had to get numerous stitches in my left arm if it weren’t for my friend Elizabeth’s amazing steri-strip application. But even though it hurt like hell, was a scary experience, and cost me some money in the emergency room getting x-rays, I was still able to walk myself off of the trail and now have an even stronger desire to mountain bike.

Today was frustrating. I called 11 different companies, sent emails, and came up completely bloody- yes, the opposite of dry, but I’m going to stick with one analogy here. But I have to remember that this is my very first experience with something I know absolutely nothing about, so much so that I don’t even know what to call it when I talk to people on the phone. I end up just kind of stumbling my way through the request as in “I’m hoping you might be able to sponsor me, or donate some equipment, or something, indistinct mumbling…”

So even though there were quite a few “no’s” today, I have to remember to pick myself up, dust off the dirt, and live my old biking, skiing, climbing, life adage of “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying” and know that there are other trails out there.

Here’s to new trails and “yes’s”!

The Planning Process…

Planning began a while ago, but today it has started to feel real. I tend to get really excited about upcoming projects and adventures, and my go to expression of this is creating a google folder for that adventure. Nerd alert! I started my google folder for the Iron Belle Trail a while ago, but have made some significant progress today!

The biking portion is roughly planned with no real great maps out there yet for it. But I have mapped out the daily itinerary for that portion. In order to get started on the hiking portion, I needed some trail maps and received my first three trail maps in the mail a few days ago from the North Country Trail Association. When I saw the package I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. The maps are very well organized and visually appealing and contain a lot of great information. Today, I mapped out the first re-ration and the first two weeks of the trail on the maps that I had. I ordered three more maps from the Association, joined as a member, and am excitedly anticipating their arrival!

All of my work thus far has consisted of mapping out the route, obtaining information on the trail, connecting with the DNR in Michigan, creating a list of contacts for different land areas, and creating a list of potential sponsors. The DNR has been absolutely amazing. When I first contacted them to see if they might be interested in working in conjunction with me to promote the state of Michigan and increase publicity of this trail, I left a voicemail with the thought that calling the state of Michigan was a long shot. But I was pleasantly surprised when an extremely friendly lady named Jacquelyn called me back right away seemingly excited about the idea and willing to work with me. I was really impressed with her communication and proud to know that my home state has such wonderful people working to promote Michigan’s natural resources.

The significant progress was made in mapping out the first two weeks of the hiking portion and drafting a letter to send to potential sponsors. I am excited and anxious to start the process of obtaining sponsorships as it is something I have never done before and also an area with which I have little to no experience. Even figuring out how to promote this journey on social media has been a huge learning curve because of how unfamiliar I am with social media other than facebook. But it is a journey I am excited to make and one in which I hope to learn a lot!

Stay tuned for more updates on the planning process as they develop!

Let the Adventure Begin!

My name is Bethany Gleason and I have a mission!

The mission is to be one of the first people and one of the first females to bike and hike the brand new Iron Belle Trail in my beautiful home state of Michigan, summer of 2016. I will also be finding the 10 best things to do along the trail and the 100 best contenders in the hopes of promoting the state of Michigan as “The Trail State.” My hope is to inspire people to get outside and explore the beautiful state of Michigan and to inspire women, young and old, to follow their dreams.

I would love if you followed my journey throughout this process–from planning for the trip through to the final experience! Here’s a little history of why I am doing this:

I was raised in Michigan and my family would go on the occasional camping trip growing up, but I was not what you would call “outdoorsy” back then. In fact, most people could tell you that while I have always been athletic and active, I was more interested in wearing velour jump suits and rhinestones in my ears than I was in exploring the outdoors. It wasn’t until my Junior year of college at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, that I went on my first “outdoor excursion.” At the time, my younger sister Annie, also a Hope College alum, had been guiding wilderness trips for Young Life out in Colorado and was a fairly seasoned backpacker.  We decided to take a siblings backpacking trip while in Sedona, AZ, as my parents slept cozily in their hotel room. As you can see from this picture, I clearly had no idea what I was doing, and also very clearly did not care about appearances.1928841_507387698935_6771_n   Even after this experience, where we ended up hiking out in the middle of the night due to the fact that I was uncontrollably shivering in my probably 40 degree rectangle bag in the middle of January, I was still intrigued and decided that I needed to learn more about this so called, “outdoors.”

I got my very first Black Diamond primrose harness back in 2007 and started climbing at the local climbing gym in Grand Rapids, Inside Moves, with my friends Brady, Eric, and Jesse. I decided that the outdoors was something I was very curious about and wanted to learn more. So in typical Bethany Gleason fashion, I went all in and signed up for a semester course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Alaska. That summer of 2008, I ventured to Alaska to spend 3 months backpacking, glacial mountaineering, and sea kayaking and my life has been incredibly different ever since. It truly was a life changing experience. From the amazing instructors, beautiful landscape of wild Alaska, type two fun tent bound for 7 days, incredible people on my trip, to the countless skills I learned and things I learned about myself and the world around me, I was hooked.

Since then, I finished up a degree in Physical Education from Hope College. I have worked at the University of Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Program as a trip leader, rental specialist, and climbing wall manager, and now run the Adventure Program at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, Colorado. I also run the Outdoor Club at Eaglecrest, coach our school climbing team, am the junior class sponsor, and am a sponsor for the Creek Outdoor Leadership Training Club at a neighboring Cherry Creek High School. During the summer, I also lead backpacking trips for an organization called Big City Mountaineers. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences that I have had and want to experience my beautiful home state of Michigan in a way that I never took advantage of when I was living there. There is a pride in people who are from and live in Michigan that is difficult to explain to those who are not Michiganders. We have da yoopers, us trolls below the bridge, pasties, Michiganawesome, the Motor City, Mackinaw Island and delicious fudge, the Great Lakes, beautiful Fall foliage, some of the friendliest people in the country, and miles and miles of amazing trails. We truly are America’s High five, bringing joy and beauty into the country in a way that could only be Pure Michigan!

So here’s to exploring this beautiful state and discovering the 10 best things to do along the Iron Belle trail! Wish me luck and let the adventure begin!