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with the Ladies Adventure Club

“Women are hungry for this,” says Gillian Schair, a 45-year-old outdoorsy stay-at-home mom.

She craved a community of women who wanted to push themselves and try new things. So, in October 2015, she invited 20 friends to her home in Portland and laid out her concept for the Ladies Adventure Club: She’d do the planning and guiding, and for a $50 annual membership fee, women could opt in to a menu of adventures. Most of the women she invited joined that night. Nearly three years later, the club has close to 200 members and hosts three overnight trips a year plus at least four day-adventures a month, with a balance between free and paid activities.

Founded in 2015 by Gillian Schair of Portland, the Ladies Adventure Club is all about trying new things—from hiking and snowshoeing to archery, birding, painting and meditation. Photo by Shannon Bryan

“I do all the planning, so members just show up and enjoy the adventure,” Schair says, explaining that the club is ideal for someone who wants to try new things without worrying about details like where the trailhead is or how to get the paddleboard to the lake. And they’re supportive of each other. There’s a real sense of safety and non-judgment.

Schair was taking an outdoor leadership course sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club when she met Alicia Heyburn, a licensed Maine Guide from Brunswick, and asked her to co-lead a popular hike to a waterfall near Andover.

“What we ended up doing was having a lead and a sweep—to manage from the front and the rear,” Heyburn says, explaining the club has a “no lady left behind” policy. From that point on, she’s been co-leading the club, which, Schair says, means they can offer more adventures.

The club’s outdoor excursions have included skiing and snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, birding, kayaking and canoeing, archery and outdoor cleanups. Members learned to play squash, rock climb indoors and repair their own bikes.

With adventure being in the eye of the beholder, the club has offered cooking, watercolor painting, yoga, meditation and barre classes as well. During this year’s Kentucky Derby, ladies road bikes—with 6-mile to 14-mile options—and then wore hats and drank mint juleps.

Courtesy photo

“There are a lot of interesting activities that I wouldn’t necessarily do if they weren’t presented right in front of me, already planned,” said Dina Potter of Yarmouth, who has tried archery, rock climbing and a cooking class. “It’s about trying new things or things you might like without putting in a lot of effort in advance, besides showing up.”

Members tend to be in their 30s through 70s, with a couple of mother-daughter pairs in the mix.

“It’s really integrated, which I appreciate,” Schair says, adding that her 72-year-old mother, Carla Marcus of Scarborough, is an active member. “She goes on all the hikes and sea kayaking outings. She’s the person who introduced me to the outdoors and to the idea of risk-taking.”

Another mother-daughter pair is Lauren Dietlin of Portland and her mother Sara Ostrov of Falmouth, whose first adventure was cross-country skiing at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

“I did feel hesitant about my age,” says 73-year-old Ostrov, who moved to Maine two years ago. “But there were a lot of inexperienced people and I’ve been cross-country skiing for many years, so it wasn’t a problem. Besides, they’ll just stick with you if you’re behind.”

On a winter getaway to West Branch Pond Camps, about ten miles east of Kokadjo, Ostrov took photos as inspiration for her oil painting. “The cross-country skiing was phenomenal, and the scenery was perfect,” she says. “I had great conversations and good times and made some acquaintances and friends. The place was beautiful, the company was superb and the food was outrageous.”

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Several club members are new to Maine and looking to find a community with like-minded women.

“I moved back to Maine about four-and-a-half years ago and have found that, at this stage, it’s a little harder to meet people,” says Leslie Tremberth of South Portland. “It’s a really broad range of ages and backgrounds, so these women are people I wouldn’t otherwise meet in my day-to-day life.”

She appreciates the opportunities not only to try new things—like playing squash—but to explore parts of Maine that are farther away than she might venture alone, like an  upcoming three-day trip to Acadia.

“For some people, it has become not just a social group but a group that supports the idea of pushing yourself and trying new things,” Schair says. “I care about women learning to trust and believe in themselves, and that they can grow through challenging themselves.”

Photo by Shannon Bryan

One of Schair’s biggest challenges isn’t one that she sought: Last May she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having blogged a bit since she founded the Ladies Adventure Club, Schair’s musings became more personal, more open and more vulnerable after her diagnosis—pushing her outside her comfort zone. Members responded positively.

“I found this community to be amazingly supportive,” Schair says, adding that women she’d never met before brought meals to her house.

Having learned to open herself up personally, Schair, who is now cancer-free, is staying that way. “I think there is strength in vulnerability,” she says, “and life feels richer.”

For more information: ladiesadventureclubmaine.com

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough who loves to try new things, most of them decidedly not outdoorsy.

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