I don’t think it was a coincidence that I met the Wander Women at the Heart & Soul Café in Pinedale, Wyoming. Over breakfast skillets of eggs and potatoes, the three women complimented each other’s vivid stories, having just finished a remote section of the Continental Divide Trail in the Wind River Mountain Range. The trail was often hidden by snow, food rations were slim, they hadn’t seen anyone for days. But, when faced with the challenge of crossing a rushing creek, a local hiker appeared and showed them an easier route, while commenting that her own mother was in her 60’s, similar in age to the Wander Women; the hiker was obviously surprised to find these ‘older women’ way out there in the wilderness.
Annette Demel (63), Kristy Burns (57), and Lynn Edmiston (63) became the Wander Women when they retired from their jobs in 2015. They sold their houses in Colorado Springs, CO, and took their lives on the road and into the backcountry to explore, challenge themselves, and live to the fullest. Although drawn to all types of outdoor adventure, they are especially known for ventures of long-distance hiking, such as the Appalachian Trail, Colorado Trail (500 mi), Oregon Coast Trail (425 mi), and most recently the Continental Divide Trail (CDT- 3,100-mi). They are planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650-miles) in 2021.
The Wander Women have become social media ‘influencers’ because of Kristy’s skills in creating videos that document their adventures. Their YouTube channel features more than 300 videos with gorgeous scenery, lots of hiking footage, and bits of advice for living fully on the trail or in their RVs. They describe both the challenges and rewards of different trail sections, including pushing the edge of discomfort, feeling gratitude for practically everything —from the generosity of other hikers and trail angels to people who have worked to create parks and protect wilderness, to nature itself.
Recently, I had the chance to ask Annette and Kristy what advice they’d give to women in their 50’s and 60’s who are interested in long-distance hiking, and I compiled their comments into the following Wander Women tips:
1. Have a training base (of working out daily) and find solutions to your body problems
For example, in 2018 they planned to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota, but part-way through Kristy injured her foot. Now, all three Wander Women pay special attention to their feet with daily foot exercises for strength, flexibility, and balance. On the trail they hike fewer miles than many thru-hikers, and stop every two hours to stretch.
2. Develop an attitude of curiosity and commitment to “make it work”
When I asked how they deal with discomforts on the trail, Annette said they try to be curious about how it feels to be slightly hungry, or chilly, or tired, instead of binomial thinking of “this is good” or “this is bad.” They credit their hiking success with the ability to let each day unfold and deal with what comes. This perspective helps to avoid a fear-based mindset (i.e. fear of running out of food or being cold). They have created a structure for hiking and resupply — along with their mantra of “make it work” and curiosity — that works better for them than detailed plans.
3. Carry the lightest pack that you can
Sage advice for all thru-hikers, lighter packs are especially important for those of us with older bodies. Kristy noted that thru-hiking is different from backpacking because it is hiking day after day after day; any extra ounces make a big difference, so why not see how light you can go?
4. Start where you are and keep going
At 50 years old, Lynn was overweight, smoked and had no outdoor skills. She started hiking with Kristy and Annette and worked up to the challenge to hike the Colorado Trail seven years later. She has kept on going ever since.
5. Find your Heart and Soul
When asked what ‘Heart and Soul’ means to them, Annette said that heart is the ‘oomph’ — the effort that you must be willing to put into your journey. Soul is the relationship that you develop with nature, like you belong there. “You build an internal process by being outdoors for 40, 80, or 100 days, walking and walking. Being with self and nature, feeling the repetitive rhythm of both heart beating and steps creates a connection and timelessness. Kristy added, “I go home when I go out there — nature is the heart and soul of the earth.”
Perhaps the Wander Women’s best advice is their personal example of aging gracefully and reminding us all to keep moving, continually try new things, use our brains in new ways (like route-planning and map reading), and spend as much time as possible in nature. I know they hope to see you out on the trail.
“Create joy....surround yourself with beauty and fresh air.” -Kristy Burns
Want to learn more about the Wander Women?
Click here to check out their YouTube channel, and tell them AGC sent you.