I grew up in a small town in North-east Queensland, Australia ‘where the reef meets the rainforest.’ It’s kitschy tagline says a lot about the area, beautiful beyond imagination but with the drawbacks of an isolated, tourist town. While not the most culturally fulfilling upbringing, I have had more exposure to pristine nature and exotic wildlife than most people see in a lifetime. The house I grew up in was next to a running trail that wound through lush tropical rainforest and ten minutes drive from the coast where, more often than not, you would have an entire beach to yourself. When I turned 12 my Dad threw a scuba tank on my back and introduced me to the wonders of the reef. Humbugs and giant cuttlefish, fluorescent clams and Spanish dancers… I was mesmerised. Underwater, humans are visitors out of their element. We cannot own the underwater world as we have terrestrial environments. Diving gave me a unique perspective of my place in nature, one that I carry with me to this day. In the months between high school graduation in Australia and college induction in the US I picked up a job with a local dive company and crammed in all the diving I could. But I was itching to get out and explore new realms. My restless soul took me to the east coast of the USA.
I tried and managed to keep diving for the first few years of college. I spent my second summer discovering the kelp forests of the west coast through a stint at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, upon returning to Rhode Island and trying my hand at the murky, frigid Atlantic I realised that it was more than my wimpy tropical blood could handle. In lieu of ocean activities I turned my attention to the academics of environmentalism, and the climbing gym. My studies awakened me to the fact that unique life and immense beauty are not sufficient grounds to ensure an area’s conservation, no matter how many people have pictures or postcards of it. I found myself fascinated by the systems of international law that govern conservation and efforts to cooperate globally to protect the planet from human-caused destruction. Unfortunately, the more I delved into the intricacies and history of these systems the more disheartened I became.
After college I felt the familiar restlessness and itch to move on (in reality it was more like a deafening torment that started my sophomore year). Part of the itch was my disillusionment towards international and environmental laws. I thought that a change of culture and perspective might help to illuminate new solutions. I moved to Chile with a harness, climbing shoes, mask and snorkel, and an openness to whatever adventure came my way.
Chile has every type of extreme environment imaginable, from the Atacama Desert to the glaciers of Patagonia, the second tallest mountain range to world-famous waves. The potential for adventure is enormous and the country’s length makes it easy to trade tourists for pristine wilderness. Getting off the beaten path takes only time and patience, and the rewards are otherworldly. In the end it was the mountains that swallowed me up. I discovered that same unfamiliar and untouched environment I had experienced underwater in the places that only climbers went.
The wildest place I have ever been is a place called Cochamo, located in central Chile. To access the closest of its grand, granite amphitheatres you must slog eight hours through muddy ditches, thick underbrush, and temperate rainforest carrying gear, food, and shelter. From this bivvy spot a hand-drawn map is your best (and only) friend, a daunting thought as you face up to the white granite scree fields that stand between you and the walls. Wild and humbling, in this place you know you are a visitor.
Developing a relationship with the wilderness on my own terms has shaped how I perceive challenges, goals, and limits. It is in these wild spaces that I have pushed my limits and expanded my boundaries, and where I have explored my physical and emotional boundaries most profoundly. To challenge oneself away from securities and comforts can be intimidating and requires support, particularly if the sorts of challenges you choose to embark on do not fit the stereotypes of your demographic.
I grew up surrounded by a particular type of toxic sexism, one that revolved around a belief that gender inequality was a thing of the past. Even though women could (theoretically) do anything they wanted, society rewarded those who dressed and acted a certain way. Ignorance of ingrained sexism pervaded many aspects of culture and social life. I am lucky to have supportive parents who ingrained in me the belief that no goal was out of my reach, a mantra that I carried with me when I left home. In college my exposure to strong female role models increased dramatically, and so did my ability to pursue the goals I had always been told I could achieve. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see. The power of seeing someone you can identify with achieving your goals cannot be overstated. That is why I am honoured to represent No Man’s Land as an ambassador.
Moving to Colorado I feel like I have entered a dream full of bold women doing daring things. And it is a dream, but it is also a bubble. I am both grateful and stoked to work with Aisha and No Man’s Land to bring that daring female spirit to the rest of the world because, although badassery in and of itself is a sweet goal, the more empowered women are worldwide the better the world will be. And nature is the best arena to push boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and remove ourselves from all the noise we are born into.