Sheila the Explorer

If you follow Sheila on Instagram, you will soon realize that she does it all:  climbing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing, skiing, and snorkeling.  She is the ultimate Explorer and we are honored that she took some time to answer our questions.

Who Is Sheila?

I am now in my mid 40’s, having grown up a “tomboy” who liked bugs and snakes, liked going out with my father when he hunted and was part of the college track team. I’m with a guy who shares my love of adventure. We are perfectly comfortable spending a week together outdoors with no bathroom or showers and all the other deprivations you sometimes deal with in the wilderness. And while I can say I’ve had adventures exploring Paris, New York and London, what really gets me going are trips into challenging isolated wilderness environments that carry an element of risk, take us to amazing remote places and there are no other people around to rely on. I climb, hike, kayak, cycle, snowshoe, ski, and snorkel.

Sheila In Brazil

I went on a two-week expedition in the Amazon region of Brazil where we climbed into the forest canopy, and explored the plants and animals of the Rio Negro. Unlike most of our adventures where we go off on our own, this trip was well-supported by guides and we were with a small group of adventurous people who have become our friends. Our senses were constantly overloaded with the sights, sounds and challenging environment of the rainforest. We also recently travelled to the West Coast to climb redwood trees. Tree climbing has become a real passion and we are fortunate to have friends with groves of these ancient giants on their property where we can climb them using ropes and techniques that do no harm to the trees.

Learning While Exploring

The biggest lesson that I have learned on an adventure is that I must have self-confidence. My foundation for self-confidence is gaining the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to become competent at whatever I’m attempting to do. Most of my adventures are physical and mental challenges with no room for cutting corners, rationalizing, wishful thinking, avoidance, denial or panic. For example, before attempting a winter ascent of Mount Whitney, I practiced self-arrest techniques on steep ice drifts on frozen Lake Michigan near our home. While nowhere near as good as practicing on a real mountain slope, I wasn’t going to climb on snow without practicing the basic skills for stopping a fall.  As it turned out, I did come loose on the mountain at over 13,000 ft elevation and fell, bouncing down the icy slope like a rag doll. I knew the usual outcome of this is fatal, either from slamming into rocks or flying off a cliff.  I concentrated on digging my ice ax into the snow, over and over until it held me right before reaching a boulder field. I escaped with only a few bruises. The whole thing was captured on my partner’s helmet camera and you can see it on my YouTube channel.

Adventure Motto

I am a huge fan or John Muir. His saying; ‘the mountains are calling and I must go’ really resonates. For me, adventure is calling and I must go. I’m no adrenaline junkie, but I feel an unexplainable pull to experience challenging outdoor adventures. Things like swimming with whale sharks, hiking across frozen Lake Superior to camp on island in the subzero conditions, climbing into the crown of a giant redwood tree, or crossing a remote section of the Grand Canyon.

I Explore Because…

I Explore because it concentrates my mind…when I’m engaged in a situation where a lapse of my attention could be fatal to me or the guy I love, it clears my head of distractions and leaves me feeling exhilarated at the conclusion. Adventure also helps keep things in perspective. When you’ve spent a night at high altitude in a blizzard or had to scoop scummy drinking water out of a hole in a rock, it’s hard to get all bothered if your co-worker turns the office AC down a little lower than you like or your drink is served without enough ice.

What Are You Most Proud Of?

A lot of the time I spend outdoors is doing volunteer work to help the natural environment. Things like monitoring different plants and animals, collecting seed for habitat restoration, removing invasive plants and working on prescribed burns. OK, I won’t lie: lighting up a big grass prairie is a huge thrill that I would pay to do!

In our area, the county forest preserve district burns in the spring and the fall to maintain the ecosystem of the woods and grasslands.

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