Launching a dream: Outdoorpreneur takes hobby to a 10

Friday, October 5, 2012

She wears Keens, even to work. She favors pants with zip-off legs. Only the tops of her legs are tan. Her car is so full of gear, there's no room for passengers. The tip-off: her ring-tone is banjo music.

These are five of the top ten signs that a woman is into kayaking. And Christie Braswell fits every one of them.

Braswell is the manager of Parts Unknown, a clothing store on North Main and avid outdoors person who likes to hike, bike and kayak. Last week, she gave a preview of the new venture she is launching for women, an outdoor retreat program called Boots, Bikes and Paddles. Designed to help free the creative spirit through outdoor sports, art and nature, it fills a gap for women whose lives are at a crossroads.

"Women who lose a spouse or whose children are grown up ask 'What do I do now?'" Braswell said. "I think what's missing is that transition."

Braswell gave the preview of the 'paddles portion of her program to the Women's Empowerment Group last week. Meeting at the shelter at Lake Leatherwood, Braswell first went over the basics of kayaking. She also talked about how she got involved in outdoor sports at the age of 43, when her children were finishing high school and she was facing empty-nest syndrome.

"A friend suggested we "beef up" for an adventure race: 20 miles biking, 20 miles orienteering through the woods and 20 miles kayaking," Braswell said. "I said, 'Sure.'"

Braswell bought a bicycle and started training, but a bad crash knocked her out of the race and into eight months of rehabilitation. Needing to strengthen her arms and shoulders, she tried kayaking.

"I loved it and brought home one," she said.

She also got her husband, Chuck, and a friend, Dorothy Guertin, hooked. Guertin bought a red kayak for her 50th birthday, and after she got up to speed, the two women went on a three-day trip down the Kings River. They had such a good time, Braswell said, that she knew sharing the outdoors with women was what she wanted to do. Since then, she and Guertin, who will help Braswell run the retreats, have been taking courses and weekend workshops in outdoor survival, primitive camping, orienteering, hiking, backpacking and small arms.

"We're packing, girls, we're packing," she said.

The retreats are not just about sports -- Braswell plans to incorporate art and spiritual renewal into the retreats, including painting, photography, journal writing, yoga, contemplation and prayer. She likes to float in her kayak on a lake and do water colors, journal or knit.

"Serenity, tranquility and peace are hard to find these days," she said.

Before taking the local women down to the water, Braswell covered the top ten pieces of gear a prepared paddler will have. The list includes a dry bag, bilge pump, rope bag (easy to throw from boat to boat), pocket knife, a whistle and a sprayskirt, either half or full, to keep out rain. On her first trip down a river, Braswell went over a waterfall, flipped her kayak and lacking a dry bag, survival kit or quick-dry clothing, made the rest of the trip damp.

"It was a long day," she said.

Braswell said there are no careless moments, the kind that led to her to crashing her bicycle -- on the road or on the river, you have to pay attention to what you are doing. She plans to complete an wilderness first-aid course this fall, and also take a course on knot-tying, then do her first outdoor retreat in the spring. She also plans to offer day hikes, backpacking and a variety of bird-watching and themed retreats. Her long-term vision: to take women kayaking on the Boundary Waters on the U.S./Canadian border -- she just got back from a two-week trip there -- and to Wyoming to climb to Grand Teton, which she has done. But everything the West has is right here in our area, she said.

"There are so many places where you can combine biking, hiking and kayaking," she said.

The ultimate sign you're into kayaking: you buy your granddaughter her own kayak, even though she's not yet three years old nor had swimming lessons. Braswell said she is planning to teach her granddaughter to swim, then take her out in a two-person kayak before setting her free to paddle on her own.

Braswell never did have empty-nest syndrome, she said -- she was too busy getting out of the house.

Braswell is a member of the Women's Empowerment Group, which Melody Purdy started two years ago. Members take turns setting up a meeting place and speaker or activity. Having Braswell introduce the group to kayaking and talk about her new venture was a natural.

"This is something Eureka has needed for a long time," Purdy said. "I'm very excited to see what the future brings."

For more information about Boots, Bikes and Paddles, call Braswell at 479-381-6107 or email BBP is also on facebook.

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