For women only, the three-day camp is designed to provide education in outdoor skills in a non-competitive environment. The primary goal of the program is to teach. For me, the goal is to teach more than 20 women the bare basics of kayaking in less than three hours.
The secondary goal is to instill a sense of "team." Since the women are in tandem recreational sit-on-tops, they have to learn to work with a partner as well as in a larger team. Needless to say, I spend a lot of my time teaching them how not to whack each other in the head with a paddle.
Ironically, GIRLteams Adventure Training Camps are the brainchild of three men, adventure athletes Scott Zagarino, Andy Petranek, and Jim Garfield. Zagarino, who has two children -- Sara, 13, and Madison, 3 -- was inspired to start such a venture when one of his daughters' friends asked, doubtfully, whether it was OK for girls to go camping.
When the three men approached her, rock climbing instructor and adventure racer Rebecca Rusch, an Eco-Challenge teammate of Petranek's, quickly signed on and has been instrumental in founding and improving the GIRLteams camps since the first in 1998.
The Rebecca and Andy, both kayakers and outrigger canoeists, are my link to GIRLteams. They introduced me to the camp by signing me up as an incognito kayak-instructor-to-be. Among my fellow campers were a magazine publisher, an art director, a kayak sprayskirt manufacturer (OK, I invited this one), an actress, a couple school teachers, a Web site producer, and believe it or not, an elevator mechanic. We all finished the three-day course scraped, bruised, filthy, and grinning ear to ear.
In sum, GIRLteams is like sleepaway camp for adult women -- except there's no time to make a clay ashtray for your mom. As both an alumna and an instructor, I can highly recommend this adventure training course to any woman with an adventurous soul, whatever her previous athletic experience. And yes, I know the water's cold.
GIRLteams Adventure Training, 2461 Santa Monica Blvd. #120, Santa Monica, CA 90404; 310/315-9663; http://www.girlteams.com .
It began at West Los Angeles' Rockcreation climbing gym, where campers from as far away as New York City gathered at dawn on Day One. By that evening, we had arrived at Isabella Lake and the Keyesville mountain bike trails, where we spent Day Two learning paddling, mountain biking, and map- and compass-reading skills.
During the camp's finale, or Adventure Day, we followed a course, which we ourselves plotted on the map. The course featured hiking, mountain biking, and lake paddling, with a surprise or two thrown in to reward the three teams of women who sweated our way through Day Three's 90-plus degree heat.
I won't soon forget Janet, the elevator mechanic and mother of three, rocketing downhill on her mountain bike with no fear.
Then there was Dawn, with whom I had a meeting of minds on the whole mountain biking downhill thing. After I had made, like, attempt No. 8 on the damn hill, and she had gotten a few kinks on her bike worked out, we both managed to descend without stopping.
In the cooler night hours, when snoozing was possible, Diana had to contend with a skunk outside her tent. She'd never been camping before, but she handled the nuisance with grace. When I told her that shining her flashlight at the little beasty might work against her, she went to sleep. The nuisance, ignoring grace, ate Diana's protein bars anyway.
Danielle was our Adventure Day team's true inspiration, who, having overcome her mountain biking fears during two previous GIRLteams camps, kept us together even as we all wrestled with our bikes and ran out of water. All in all, it was a pretty memorable weekend. I think I'm a better team player and a better mountain biker because of it.
In fact, the mountain biking bug has bitten me. Despite the black and blue spots, despite never having enough water, and despite the hot, dusty, cactus-strewn mountain biking trails, I'm now shopping for ways to combine pedaling and paddling.