Foreword by Suzanne Thomson, article by Laura Supinger
In November of 2019 I put out an invitation to the first OWL Lite Nite trek, an opportunity for women to try a one night trek with experienced OWLs to help guide, loan equipment, and mentor.
You may have seen an amazing interview with Ellen Rice on Jas. Townsend’s YouTube channel, if not you can watch it here. Ellen was not only new to trekking she was new to
reenacting! With her enthusiasm and dedication it didn’t take much for her to get hooked on both! If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes to check out the Townsend video, Ellen did a great job with the interview and is an inspiration to many women interested in historic trekking.
Ellen Rice looks right at home in her shelter
Laura Supinger, another woman new to trekking, but well versed on 18th century reenacting, joined the OWL Lite Nite group. I asked Laura to share why she joined OWL, what she has gotten out of it, and what the group means to her.
Why I Joined OWL
by Laura Supinger
When an open invite to an OWL trek popped up in 2019, without thinking, I said “YES”! I enthusiastically bounced through the house saying yes, not thinking about what exactly yes and “trekking” really meant. I was more excited about the fact that I would be with a group of women that I looked up to not just in the reenacting world but outside of it as well. I mean these ladies are hard core! They trekked over nine miles in the Spring of 2019, carrying all their gear, in cold weather, sleeping under diamond flies they carried, setting camp every evening then moving on! I mean who does that really? Well, obviously these women, and soon to be me too. After getting the reply that they would add me to the list of attendees to the one night “Lite Nite” trek I was hit hard with a serious case of self-doubt. In the months leading up to it I nearly backed out so many times for so many reasons.
One of the ladies from the group, Shelly Gier, offered for me to carpool with her to Suzanne Thomson’s house for an overnighter before hitting the trails. Again, I jumped at the chance and even though nerves and deep seeded doubts plagued me, and honestly, I almost called and cancelled a few times, I climbed into her vehicle and we were off. After only a few minutes I was at ease with her and feeling better about what was coming and about myself. When we arrived at Zan’s house the other women who were already there so readily welcomed me in, even though some didn’t even know who I was. It was almost overwhelming. I enjoyed myself so thoroughly that I couldn’t wait to get out on the trail and get started. Yet in the back of my head I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to fit in, and this light trek would probably be my one and only, but I decided I was going to make the most of it! If anyone would have touched me I probably would have reminded them of a coiled spring. I was so nervous and ready to jump, even though all the women were so welcoming and so sweet.
The next day, after a short drive and trek in, we were set up within a few hours, a fire going, (thank you Stacy Moore) and dinner cooking, stories began to be swapped, jokes flowed, laughter filled our little section of the forest, and I realized I did fit in, I was one of these women. I realized I really can do this. I felt such strong connections to so many of these women, I no longer felt like an outsider. None of the women treated me as if I were, but in my own head that was what I had been expecting. Even as we loaded back up the next day, my back sore from not cleaning out my sleeping space better (by the way, always do that. I had acorn shaped bruises for a week!) I was happy, excited, different.
Laura and her shelter, Ellen, Peggy and Laura
Zan asked me why I joined OWL and why I wanted to do an OWL trek? Well, because! Because for me it is more than just a full emersion experience. Yes I am on the hook for myself, and if something goes wrong like a coon stealing all of my food then yes I could be in serious trouble. It’s realizing that I have no back up, no Sprawlmart to run to because I have no food or something has broken. It runs much deeper than just dressing the part and seeing if you can survive sleeping under one wool blanket, or fording a flooded stream. It’s that golden moment when you are standing on top of a rock house and looking at the smiles in the group, or as you sit around the fire after not seeing each other for six months that you get a glimpse of what life was like for the frontier women. Not just the housewife’s chores or the horror stories of captivity, but the real grit of these women. Carrying your gear up a hill or on a two mile trek that feels like ten, you realize exactly how resilient these women were. What they had to go through daily and how strong they truly were.
It’s in the moments together, and in the silence that I find more than just those who came before me. I find myself. Granted I haven’t done one of the hard treks yet, but on these smaller ones I find myself being tested not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to my limits and past them. I’m pushed from my comfort zone. Pushed past fears and beliefs that I can’t do something. Forced to find solutions. Forced to tell myself that my only limitations are the ones that I put on myself. I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how hard the path looks; I can find a way through, around, over! I just have to trust myself. Fears are overcome because there is no other way and I am forced to face the things I don’t want to. Things that I have left laying quiet and deep within me, the things that keep me from being me, that have become fears that hold me back. I’m forced to face them head on with an army of women behind me to hold me up when it becomes too much.
Sure I have made mistakes (like over packing! Won’t do that again! Ha Ha!) But trekking has taught me to let them go. To move past mistakes, screw ups, and failures, for truly they really aren’t any of those things. Instead they are learning experiences. Bumps in the road and the only way I can get to where I am now is to go through those. It’s about learning to listen to your instincts, they won’t lead you wrong. Your gut feeling. What your heart tells you is never something you should ignore or second guess. In the few short days on the trail, the sore backs, sore feet, hungry stomachs for something other than barley and jerky, wishing for a soft bed, is an experience I wouldn’t trade for running water. For it is a full emersion experience. A soul trying, heart pounding, mind challenging, experience that once you’ve done it, you’ll go back again for a second round, and a third. To push yourself and to see if you can make it like the frontier women would have. Do you have a tenth of the strength they did? Because they didn’t have a choice, we do. It’s an amazing and humbling experience to have.
It’s also so much deeper than just that. It’s more than pushing through the pain, exhaustion, discomfort. It’s laughter, tears, jokes, encouragement, support, respect, love. It’s getting a face full of spider webs for a friend, or pulling them off of someone else. It’s a knee up over a rock, then a hand up to that person over the same rock. It’s being there for each other; even if we live so far apart that we cannot physically be there we are on the phone or in spirit. We cheer each other on, encourage each other to do better, to start new ventures. We sit there and cry over experiences and hardships. It’s knowing that none of us are alone. There is always someone there for us. It’s friendships that have turned into sisterhood. It’s a community of women that are connected on a deeper level. So when I say trek or trekking I do not just mean the walking part, the historical parts, I mean the women, the experience the relationships.
On a July weekend that wasn’t really that hot, a shock for an Ohio July, we gathered at one of the women’s beautiful homesteads, to get away from it all. To be away from everything that was or wasn’t happening in the world around us. To reconnect with each other, to see friends we hadn’t seen in over a year in some cases. It was a joyous gathering. One that at the end of the weekend we didn’t want it to end and wished we could find ways to add days to the fun. It had been a fantastic four days for me. It was an endcap to tough weeks of struggling with a number of things, mainly within myself. And even though there were activities and hikes, and canoeing and shooting competitions, we spent a great deal of time in fellowship gathered around a small fire, just talking, stretched out on our wool blankets that doubled as cushions, catching up, filling in, laughing.
Stacy Moore, Suzanne and Beth (or Shelly) enjoy the fire
At night as we gathered around the fire having finished our dinners, and drinking toasts I found I couldn’t help but smile. I laughed with the best of them, shared bits of me I haven’t shared before, been encouraged, cheered on in something I was doing. Yet at the same time I slowly grew quiet. Not because I didn’t have anything to add to the conversation, I had stories to share that were just as funny, or ideas that I wanted to happily share. But I didn’t need to. Instead of interjecting my own stories; I listened, not just with my ears but with my heart and soul. I needed to feel, I needed to feel the spirit of my sisters and just be quiet. Be quiet and let their souls let their spirits heal mine, to fill me with something I was missing and so desperately hungry for. And as the smoke of the fire curled towards the starry night taking along with it our laughter, stories were swapped and we cheered each other on and shared news of those who could not join us, my soul was revived, my heart felt healed, I was finally at peace again, I was finally home.
Each of us come from different backgrounds, different jobs, different places, but at the same time the core of us are the same. Sitting by the firelight I look at every woman there. There are native and frontier women, all in various clothing and conversations. As we sit around drinking to those who could not join us and those frontier women who came before, slowly the laughter and chatter turns to something more. A deeper conversation among women. No, correction, it is a conversation among sisters. All of us have experienced the highs and lows of life, from the highest of highs which we cheer for each other to the lowest possible points where we sit and cry with them.
As each woman shares a story of herself, good or bad, she is not just speaking but giving a portion of herself to the rest of us. A part of her, a sacred part of her that only she can give. A piece of herself that she may or may not have shared with anyone else. A piece that each of us holds to our own hearts and fiercely protect it and her with a ferocity that would scare any man or beast alive. But from her story we build ourselves. From her pain and her joy we are given something unexplainable that we take and build our own stories from. We learn from her mistakes so that we do not repeat them. We gain strength from her strength, we gain joy, love, compassion, and understanding. It is not just a telling of tales, telling of joys and sorrow, it is a sharing of an unexplainable strength a gift given to each of us, shared with each of us, so we do not have to experience the same misfortune again. And from her strength we build ourselves, we build our own strengths our own passions, our own understandings. When one of us stumbles, not just on the hill that is way too high for all the gear we carry on our backs, but when life throws something into our paths and we land flat on our faces. One of our sisters will always come back and offer a hand up, and behind her is every other sister in our group ready to pull us both up and hold us up until we are able to stand on our own two feet again. I may not be strong enough to walk alone but I don’t have to, for every sister in the group will carry a part of my burden along with hers, while helping me along the trail, until I gain enough strength again that she can hand back small portions because now I am strong enough to carry it on my own. And when she no longer carries a portion of my pain or my burden she walks behind me, just in case I need help again, calling out words of encouragement as I stumble and walk along the path farther and farther, to the next sister with the next part of my burden and the process repeats until I am finally able to carry it all on my own, but I know that if I turn around or roll down a hill, and for some reason I cannot carry a part, or a need a hand over the next rock, there is someone ready and willing to shoulder the burden along with me, to offer me that hand, to tell me I can and no matter how bad it gets they will always be there to do that for me, every day, every night. Just as I will and have done for them.
And as I sat looking around that fire, these women that I had so long admired, stammered over my words with at events, heard about for years, they were no longer just women I strove to be like. I was one of them. They weren’t just untouchable women that I sat in total awe of. They were powerful amazing women; they were strong, beautiful, capable. They were not just my friends, in a matter of hours they had changed from these untouchable women to my sisters! To people that I knew would be there in an instant if I called. It’s so hard to explain exactly how everything changed in such a quick succession but it did. That night in the Indiana woods and the night in July around the campfire with my heroes something else changed within me. I was no longer the shy, quiet, over thinker who lugged way too much gear for a one night stay. I walked out feeling different, standing taller, a confidence I didn’t know I had was suddenly there. My willingness to say “Sure why not? Give it a shot!” To stand up for what I love, believe in, and more importantly myself, was suddenly visible to me. The strength of these women, and all the women before me who had walked the same path, just in a different century was there. I was now a part of it and it was a part of me. An indelible part that no matter the time, no matter the place, no matter what happens, no one will ever take that away from me ever.
Peggy, Ellen, Stacy, Laura, Beth Shelly and Suzanne