Angelique Fish never guessed that her first backpacking trip would become a turning point in her life. Looking back, she recalls her sense of accomplishment after completing that first outdoor venture.
“I hung my bear bag, cooked my food, and filtered my water,” she says. Her confidence rose as she embarked on more hikes and backpacking trips. “I can do this, and I’m good at it,” Fish thought to herself. “I’m getting stronger because of it.”
A Metaphor for Life
On a Canyonlands backpacking trip, she carried all the water she would need for that weekend. “One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. So I carried about 9 or 10 liters, along with my gear.” After consuming her food and water at the end of the trip, Fish left the mountain carrying only half the previous weight.
Similar to her understanding that completing the hike lessened the weight she brought initially, Fish realized that her continued outdoor participation also reduced the emotional baggage she bore after her abusive marriage ended. She soon viewed the concept of completing a hike and “overcoming a mountain” as a metaphor for coping with personal challenges.
“The more I realized that hiking and backpacking could be healing for me, the more I understood that I wanted to give that same experience to other women.”
Women Empowering Women
Fish’s friend, Cindy Vance, accompanied her on that first backpacking trip. She shared Fish’s hope to empower women to discover their strengths and abilities while journeying through the wilderness. As a result, Fish and Vance co-founded the Women’s Wine Hiking Society as a Facebook group. In hopes of helping more women to see announcements of future hikes, they later decided to create a website. By the end of 2019, the group had 400 members. A year later, 2,200 women had joined.
“It’s a testament to how strongly people needed a sense of community after a year of the pandemic,” says Fish.
Because their activities were outdoor-oriented, the group continued to pursue hiking events during COVID-19. Today, there are 3,600 members in the Utah Facebook group. In addition, the co-founders have now created Facebook groups in all 50 states.
The Utah group hosts six or seven hikes each month, backpacking trips, and two annual weekend getaways. They plan to explore Oregon’s wine country in June 2022.
“One aspect that truly makes the group unique is the idea that each hike becomes an event,” says Fish. “We’re a community, and we have an ambassador who guides every hike,” she explains.
No One Left Behind
Fish and Vance coordinate every aspect of preparation leading up to a Women’s Wine Hiking Society event and ensure that everyone knows the starting point.
“We make sure everyone is safe and no one is left behind,” says Fish. “Even if you’re a slow hiker, it’s okay. We will make sure to wait for you. You will get to the top with us.” While some hiking groups might race to the summit, “that’s not us, because we are more social. The goal of our group is to make connections with each other,” she explains. “The whole time we’re hiking, we’re talking.”
After arriving at their destination—whether it’s an overlook or a lake, or a peak—they stop to enjoy some wine. “We do a lot of themed events because we want to make it an experience,” says Vance. “Last August, we did Bloody Marys at Bald Mountain. Or we will do mimosas at Maybird Lake.”
Non-drinkers are, of course, always welcome.
“Sometimes, we will do a potluck where we share ingredients,” says Vance. “We try to have some fun events where people can show up, meet other people, and connect.” In addition, they sponsor occasional Thirsty Thursdays at a local bar or brewery where women can meet and learn more about the group before attempting their first hike.
“It’s amazing the number of women who have found their best friend in this group,” says Fish. “You would think they had known each other for years. We might all start as strangers, and at the end, we are all friends.”
Healing Through Hiking
One woman who hiked expressed that her relationship had recently ended after her husband cheated on her. “She was kind of struggling along,” says Fish. “She’s sharing the story with several women. We’re all right there with her because we’ve been in similar situations and felt the same way.” Such women can tell each other, “I’ve walked in your shoes,” says Fish. “There’s something that comes from having the language to say, “I know what you’re thinking right now.”
The newly single woman’s story brought back echoes of Fish’s own experience. Throughout her 10-year emotionally abusive marriage, she longed to travel. “I wanted to get out and see things—and that was one of the things I wasn’t allowed to do,” she recalls. “I worked two to three jobs at a time, so it wasn’t a money issue, but [my ex-husband] would not allow me to hang out with certain people or travel with them.”
He also demeaned her, Fish recalls.
“My ex-husband told me so many negative things about myself that I started to believe them,” she remembers. ”It started to create this imposter syndrome where I thought I didn’t know what I was doing.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. A technical writer, Fish writes proposals for a construction company that builds all federal construction. She also periodically teaches undergraduate English classes.
“I know I’m an educated person,” says Fish. “Still, when you have someone putting you down every day, over time, it whittles away who you are.” She adds, “So, after we separated, and I had moments of sadness, I would think, ‘Stop. Wait a minute. Why are you crying about someone who called you stupid and lazy?’” Hiking with Vance was just one way that she rediscovered her own strength. “It made me realize that I’m not any of the things he said.”
Was there a breaking point where she couldn’t take anymore and left? “I wish I could say that,” Fish says. “But he cheated on me and left me for another woman. Back then, I wasn’t strong enough to leave.”
Fish feels that, often, women stay in unhealthy relationships because they’re at least predictable. Today she feels “a big thank you” to her former husband for changing her life. “I say, ‘Thank you for letting me go.’” When she started to feel sadness during the breakup, “I would stop and say out loud to myself, ‘Regardless of what he chooses, you’re going to have an awesome life.’ Today, I’m grateful for my experiences because I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing now. I wouldn’t have the empathy or truly be able to speak the same language.”
Serving the Community
Along with speaking a similar language, Women’s Wine Hiking Society members also reach out to the community through service projects. “We want to be good stewards of the trails and the community that we are a part of,” says Fish.
Partnering with TreeUtah, they completed a tree and shrub planting. In addition, they were part of a big cleanup bonanza in Millcreek Canyon.
“Our ladies partnered up and conquered several trailheads in the canyon. We collected eight bags of trash,” says Fish.
A future plan includes serving meals at the Volunteers of America Women’s and Children’s Center.
To help assure a commitment toward attendance, the group charges $5.00 for participation in every hike. Twenty percent of the fee then goes to a charity of the group’s choice.
Creating Circles of Women
Working together “is the beauty of creating community and circles of women,” says Fish. “The belief that women are there to compete with each other goes away.” She feels such a belief was created by society and patriarchy, and it isn’t true.
“It was something to keep us back because when women come together, there’s so much power,” says Fish. “It’s power in healing and creation.”
Contemplating her current role in overseeing the Women’s Wine Hiking Society, Fish concludes, “It’s a beautiful ‘other side of the coin’ to create experiences for other women. To help them find that strength and empowerment on their own. It’s so much bigger than the wine and the hiking.”
Visit winehikingsociety.com to learn more.
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