By Nicole Gruter | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering if you belonged in the outdoors, you’re not alone. Many women ask themselves, “Am I athletic enough? Am I doing this right?” or, “Do I have the right gear?” Dodgeville’s Alexandra Moritz-Hanson, an outdoor enthusiast and full-time mom, knew she had what it took to help other women squelch those insecurities.
Moritz-Hanson is southwest Wisconsin’s ambassador for Women Who Explore, a worldwide community based in Calgary, Alberta. The organization is dedicated to creating a safe, supportive and welcoming space for women to explore the outdoors.
Women can learn to rock climb, paddle board or experience snowshoeing for the first time in a place of non-judgment. Moritz-Hanson learned about the group while scrolling Instagram, and upon finding out southwest Wisconsin needed a representative, she jumped at the role. She is one of Women Who Explore’s nearly 200 ambassadors across North America and the world.
Growing up in Los Angeles with “parents who are not outdoorsy at all,” Moritz-Hanson feels lucky to have found her passion somewhat by fate. “My mom is perpetually amazed that we spend time outdoors hiking with our kids,” she says. After moving to Utah in high school, she experienced her first backpacking trip and was hooked. “I’m amazed I survived,” Moritz-Hanson laughs. “I was so under- prepared, but I learned a lot from it.”
Now that her children are older, Moritz-Hanson is returning to exploring nature after a long hiatus. “It’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but it’s important to refill your cup and recharge enough for yourself and those around you. [Women Who Explore] makes that decision accessible. It’s essential and empowering to have nature be a part of my life again.”
Co-founded barely three years ago by sisters Lindsay and Jenny MacNevin, Women Who Explore has sparked huge interest from women far and wide wanting to enjoy Mother Nature without feeling intimidated by her. Lindsay MacNevin says, “We’re not gear junkies or athletes. We’re just regular women doing regular things who want to show you anybody can do this.”
Local chapters facilitate monthly outings and affordable weekend getaways, while the co-founders help organize international trips to alluring locations such as Iceland, India, Australia and the Yukon.
Exploring the beauty of southwest Wisconsin, Alexandra has led hikes in Wyalusing and Devil’s Lake state parks and guided yoga on the Governor Dodge State Park beach. She’ll be co-leading a Utah hike this summer, and hopes to include paddling the Apostle Islands, snowshoeing Devil’s Lake and rock climbing at Madison’s Boulders Gym as future events. Moritz-Hanson lets the members know, “You tell me what you want to do and I can make it happen.”
The underlying message of Women Who Explore is that it’s a supportive community for every woman out there, no matter what. “It’s eye-opening to see what happens when women get together in the outdoors. They cheer each other on and want to lift each other up,” says MacNevin. Moritz- Hanson adds, “Everybody deserves to be outside; our goal is to be inclusive. It’s not about how much you do or how impressive it is, it’s about coming together as a community of women who celebrate our strengths and weaknesses while bonding in nature.”