Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

Trailtessa Retreats meant to inspire active women

Back in April, I opened my mailbox on a regular Tuesday afternoon and pulled out an REI catalog. As a long time REI member and supporter, I always look forward to mail from this great outdoor retailer. I was so taken by the message on the cover that I took a picture and shared it on my Instagram account. My caption read: “Escape the confines of judgement and disappear into the natural world to explore the wildest version of ourselves.”
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

The April mailing was the launch of REI’s national Force of Nature campaign, an initiative to “level the outdoor playing field” by empowering women who partake in outdoor sports and recreation. As a competitive ultra-distance trail runner, mother, farmer and outdoor enthusiast, I considered this message to be very profound coming from such a respected leader in the outdoor industry.

To turn the Force of Nature campaign into a grassroots operation, REI awarded grants to outdoor organizations across the country to put real, actionable projects into play. In May, I was approached by the Ice Age Trail Alliance to help put together a yearlong series of events, or “Trailtessa Retreats,” that would get more women involved in trail culture. At the center of the Force of Nature Trailtessa Retreats is female empowerment, collaborating with local businesses and leaders and bringing awareness to our outdoor public spaces. As a trail runner, I spend a great deal of time training on the beautiful trails managed by the alliance, so taking the opportunity to work with the organization in partnership with REI was as natural as running.

The Ice Age Trail is a 1,200-mile trail system that snakes from northwestern Wisconsin down the center of the state then up to the Door County peninsula. The trail traverses some of the state’s most geologically fascinating terrain created during the last Ice Age. Each trail segment is maintained and managed by volunteers, which is a group that fosters a network of leaders driven by love for nature and community spirit.

The sold-out Trailtessa kickoff dinner on Sept. 23 set an exhilarating tone for the rest of the year’s retreats. More than 120 women and girls hiked to the top of the Table Bluff Ice Age Trail segment outside of Cross Plains on an unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon. Once the group had gathered, the hardy and spirited troupe of women hiked around the rocky, forested trails that are interspersed with lush prairie and oak savannah. It was an inspiring sight to see mothers with babies on their back, grandmothers, young girls and every age in between, striding over the technical terrain, sharing stories and making new friendships.
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

The highlight of the evening was the meal prepared by executive sous chef Jamie Hoang of Sujeo with assistance from restaurant owner, Tory Miller. Hoang created dishes that were an unexpected fusion of traditional Wisconsin fare with Southeast Asian influence. Her pork sausages, grilled chicken, potato salad and curried soup were Wisconsin cookout staples with Asian flavors, and they felt immediately comforting and familiar.
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

Ingredients for the meal were sourced from women owned/managed local businesses: StoneHaus Farm for pork and chicken, DreamFarm for goat cheese, Vermont Valley Community Farm for vegetables, Brix Cider for hard apple cider, Potter’s Crackers for the appetizer course and Toot + Kate’s winebar for wine. The national brands supporting the Trailtessa Retreats are Organic Valley, Wigwam Socks, Yumbutter, and Dream Lens Media.
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

The energy that the Trailtessa dinner created is the passion that female trailrunners like myself want to continue to feel every day. We don’t need a beautiful farm-to-table dinner as a reason to be outside getting dirty and experiencing the exhilaration of nature that has been encouraged in men and boys for ages. I spend up to 12 hours a week running wild through the woods training my body and conditioning my mind.
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

Even in this modern day, I still get unsolicited feedback about what I should and should not be doing as a female athlete with children. As women, we all need to set aside judgement from others and from each other to be a true force of nature. This is how we will inspire our own children to follow their hearts into nature and soak in the life skills to be gained when we let go of gender stereotypes in adventure sports and outdoor exploring.
Force of Nature campaign comes to Wisconsin

The Trailtessa experience continues at several upcoming events in the Madison area and statewide as well. Ice Age Trail Alliance and REI hope these events inspire women around Wisconsin to spend more time in nature to explore the wildest version of ourselves.

Be a Nature Princess – Saturday, Nov. 4 in Two Rivers
Moms, daughters, aunts, grandmothers–come explore the trail, make nature crowns, climb trees and get a little dirty. Teatime and snack will follow the adventures.

Be FREE – Saturday, Nov. 11 in Verona
Trail runners are invited to join four experienced leaders in exploring the Verona segment of the Ice Age Trail. There will be 10-mile, 6.6-mile and 3-mile distance options. A post-run happy hour is sponsored by Wigwam Socks and One Barrel Brewing Company and will include a group Q&A session lead by trail runners Jonnah Perkins, Brenda Bland, Kelly Tyrrell and Lysianne Unruh. Snacks will be provided by Organic Valley and Yum Butter.

Be EMPOWERED – Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 in Lodi
The Ice Age Trail offers opportunities to engage year round. Join Joanne Ellarson, one of the toughest trail enthusiasts involved with the Alliance, in a day of winter trail maintenance that will warm you to the core. Caring for the trail and contributing to a healthy trail system is an important part of being a force of nature.

Be ENOUGH – Saturday, May 12, 2018 in Kewaskum
This retreat focused on young women will feature a 2-mile hike and a body-positive yoga session lead by Felicita Nieves of Blue Luna Yoga & Wellness . This uplifting event will empower young women to find confidence in nature and be comfortable in their own skin while exploring a beautiful segment of the Ice Age Trail.

Be MINDFUL – Saturday, May 19, 2018 in Cross Plains
Spring is a great time to explore outside as well as inside yourself. Lysianne Unruh, IATA staff member and life coach with Time to Thrive Coaching , will lead an inspiring hike through the rolling hills of Indian Lake County Park. Reflection and guided journaling will be led next to the lake during this cleansing retreat.

Be CREATIVE – Saturday, June 9, 2018 in Lodi
The final Trailtessa retreat will focus on finding creativity on the trail in this fine arts workshop. Letha Kelsey, a University of Wisconsin-Baraboo professor and artist, will discuss how nature has influenced her work. The group will take inspiration from the trail following a steep 1-mile hike to create their own works of art.

Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins is a manager at Vermont Valley Community Farm, a trail runner, a freelance writer and the blogger behind The Ultra Farmer .