In this episode we’re talking with Grace Heneghan. Grace is an expert in the field of wilderness guiding and is passionate about connecting wilderness tripping with gender, feminism, identity, and the environment.
Grace talks about how she really didn’t have a lot of interest in the outdoors as a kid until she started going on trips with YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, and discovered a love for being in the wilderness even though at times it can be super challenging. She found where she fit in and found out things about herself that she didn’t expect. Having these experiences helped her discover things about her own identities in an accepting and supportive space.
Grace started going on longer trips and expeditions as a young adult where she was empowered by stretching the limits of her body and mind. She met other women and queer identified people who helped pave the way for her to figure out what she wanted for her future and make college and career choices.
We talked about how helpful and even healing it can be for some of us to discover informal learning spaces like those related to outdoor education. Some people fit right into the traditional classroom learning setting and thrive with that structure (like Hannah), while others (like Grace and Idelle) do better in a more informal space where learning is more hands-on, and sometimes even outside!
We got to hear about some of Grace’s favorite trips – so cool! She told us about some of her own successes and failures, and what it means to have “type 1” or “type 2” fun and the good parts about both. She also talks about how lonely guiding and backcountry travel can be, and why self-care is so important but is so easily ignored.
There’s a lot of risk that goes into wilderness travel, and Grace talks about how she learned and became proficient in the skills she needed to be safe and keep her groups safe. Like with anything else, it’s important to push yourself and take risks to grow, but also to recognize your limits and where you need to learn more or lean on others to be safe and successful.
Some things Grace focuses on that can be overlooked or not really talked about enough are being queer in the outdoors, being fat in the outdoors (Grace talks about claiming the word “fat” as an empowering term for herself), being femme in the outdoors, whiteness in the outdoors, and identity politics in the outdoors. She talks about always wearing earrings when she’s on a wilderness trip to connect to her femme/feminist queer identities. We also get into social media and representation in the outdoors and how it can often look very white and masculine, and not representative of BIPOC identified folks, people with queer identities, or people with disabilities.
This was such a great conversation, we’re so grateful for Grace’s willingness to share her personal experiences and expert advice. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! A couple of our takeaways – if you’re interested in the outdoors, or if you’re looking to get started, recognize where you’re at in your outdoor journey and be proud of it. If you’re new to outdoor activities and travel, start small and close by. If you already have experience, push yourself a little and try something new like taking on a challenging trip at a camp or with a guide, or even working at a camp!
Stay tuned at the end for Would You Rather and Girls Pick.
Reach out to our team at girltalk.girlscoutsrv.org/contact.
During our conversation Grace shares her strategy for curating a social media feed that’s empowering and not isolating. Here’s a list of Instagram accounts she follows to find inspiration: