Do you like inspirational chicks? Are you a lover of the natural world? Women Outside is a three-day forum featuring American climber Beth Rodden, mountaineers Dawn Glanc and Angela Hawse, and Outside Magazine correspondent and Durangoan Kate Siber. The event kicks off Tuesday with a chat between Siber and Margaret Hedderman at the Bookcase & the Barber; we spoke to Siber about her dynamic career as a travel writer and how her gender has influenced her professionally.
At your upcoming event, you’re speaking about the rewards and challenges of being a creative in the outdoor industry. Is being a writer AND an outdoors person a difficult discrepancy?
I think there’s an inherent inspiration that comes from being outside. For me, it can be a very introspective experience. So many writers, poets, painters – even if they’re not getting after it on skis or a bike – are inspired by nature. I did a story about how art has helped get the Park Service going, over the last 130 or so years. The first National Park idea came from an artist, Carleton Watkins. Ansel Adams had a major impact on making that idea a uniquely American thing. In the 1800s, people would go to Europe to see the treasures there – and didn’t think there were cool things to see here, too, until the National Parks helped define that.
Do you have any favorite travel pieces you’ve written?
I loved my Texas road trip story because it was so personal. I did a story on the Great Bear Rainforest this past fall, on the British Columbia coast. The story was about this proposal to create a pipeline from the Tar Sands in Alberta to the BC coast. I wrote about how tourism is a more sustainable alternative to some of these boom-and-bust, extractive industries. I love wild, open, remote places like that. I also loved going to Bhutan and to South Georgia Island, which is not far from Antarctica.
Are you able to make a living as a freelance writer?
Yes, it’s been my full-time job for 11 years now. I write about travel, outdoor stuff, science and the environment. I love branching out; it’s not like a regular job, where you’re pigeonholed by what the organization needs. Sometimes there’s this perception that I’m ALWAYS traveling and doing fun things, but I also work hard and spend a lot of time in my office.
Any advice for young hopefuls who might aspire to be travel writers one day?
Sometimes I think people are interested in what I do in a theoretical way. But if you want to get into this, figure out whether it’s a lifestyle you’d actually enjoy. If you do well on a routine, like getting a paycheck every two weeks, want to have some reasonable security in your life, this is not a job that would fit you. If you’re someone who thrives on the hustle … It’s a great profession for people who are self-motivated and passionate about both writing and travel. It’s not enough to be motivated by travel – there’s more lucrative professions you could do if that’s what you want. And you can’t take rejection too personally. Otherwise you won’t last long; it’ll be too emotionally taxing. It’s only human to be disappointed, but then you move on to the next thing.
You seem relatively unafraid to spend time out in the world alone. Do you feel safe in the outdoors?
When I’m camping by myself, I mostly stay in campgrounds. When I first moved out here, I was freaked out by bears or mountain lions. Now I’m more worried about creepy people. Animals are predictable; they have circumscribed sets of behavior, so typically you know how they’re going to react in a certain situation. I’ve felt progressively comfortable over the years. They’re just animals in their environment, doing the best they can.
As a young-looking woman, have you ever felt you weren’t taken seriously in your profession?
In my 20s I definitely did. Joan Didion is a small woman, and she’s talked about how people didn’t take her seriously, but gave her access she might not have gotten otherwise. People don’t see women as a threat. Just being a human being, whatever type of body, skin color or sexual orientation you have, because of those appearances and identities, you’re going to be judged. But you can relate to people on a level that transcends those identities. The outdoor industry can be a little bit of a boy’s club, and journalism, too. Still, you can work within those boundaries. I’ve found people tend to be nice and almost protective when you’re traveling solo as a woman. The best antidote to sexism is confidence and not letting it land. It lands when we have doubts about ourselves, and it’s hard not to. But the more you realize your own worth, the less that stings you.
Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer