Inspiring Adventurer Ep. 2: Diana Dunnell

The beginning is always today.
— Mary Shelley

Have you ever met somebody and immediately had the sense that your life was about to be forever changed?  That was the feeling that I felt when my friend Diana Dunnell first e-mailed me.  We had never met in person - she only "knew" me via my blog, and one day - on August 11, 2016 to be precise - she decided to send me an e-mail with a few questions about fitness and healthy eating.  I can't describe what I felt that day - only that I knew she had been placed in my life for a very important reason.  

Over the past year, I've had the great fortune to call Diana my friend.  We have hiked together and spent hours chatting.  I've told her my crazy dreams and ambitions, which, at the time, I felt ridiculous revealing to most people (thankfully she has confirmed what I already knew, that I am, indeed, nuts).  My husband and I were even fortunate enough to secure an invitation to her infamous, "Pie Night" (yes - it is as good as it sounds - over 20 pies of all different flavors were consumed).  And, in a true twist of serendipitous fate, Diana introduced me to another woman who would become a transformational mentor in my career and personal life. 

Maybe Diana doesn't realize all of this - and I know that I had to do a lot of work to get to where I am now - but her one simple e-mail message to me on August 11, 2016 set about a chain reaction of events that ultimately snapped me out of a 20 year fog and helped me re-awaken my hibernating creativity.  While she might feel partly responsible for, "creating a monster", the level of gratitude that I feel towards her for the gift that she has given me is something that I cannot put into words.  She was able to see something in me that, at the time, I was unable to see in myself.  I am so thankful for our continued friendship, and I am so honored to share her as this week's TTMIBI (Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch) Inspiring Adventurer.  

Me, Aaron and Diana at Perry Creek Meadows.  

Me, Aaron and Diana at Perry Creek Meadows.  

1. Tell us a little bit about you and your hiking/outdoor interests!

 I was raised in Seattle, but was not part of a ‘hiking’ family.  My first opportunity to go backpacking was with my church’s high school youth group.  You could go the summer before you entered 9th grade.  I couldn’t wait!  That summer could not happen fast enough for me.  We would go for a week long trip each summer.  This was the mid 70’s.  (That’s right, there’s dirt younger than me.)  We hiked with rental backpacks from REI, leather hiking boots, and… wait for it….Levi’s!!  It was heaven and I loved being out for a week at a time.  Because of these backpacking trips, I decided to major in forestry.  Eventually I did work as a ‘grunt’ on some inventory and cruising crews for the Forest Service,  but, ironically, I did not do much hiking in those years.  Unless you count hiking around in the woods five days a week, measuring and marking trees.  Forestry jobs became scarce, so my husband and I left Montana, and headed back to Washington, with one kid already.  Over time, we added two more to that, and I found it very hard to get out hiking and backpacking with three kids.  We did do a little, so at least our kids got a taste of it.  Then in 2009, with my boys involved in Boy Scouts, the Venturing Crew (a BSA affiliated group for boys and girls 14 to 20) that was associated with the troop was forming and they needed a female leader. That turned out to be me.  But the funny thing was, I had somehow over the years of raising kids and working, managed to get pretty out of shape.  This group was going somewhere every month, be it hiking, snowshoeing, rafting, something.  So I had to start training.  I just did things at home - youtube videos, lifting weights I had purchased at Goodwill, and - this proved to be the thing that helped the most - doing set after set of the stairs at Golden Gardens in Ballard.  It worked.  I got in decent shape, and made it to the top of Mt. Adams in August of 2009. 

Savasana on the summit of Mt. Adams.  

Savasana on the summit of Mt. Adams.  

Fast forward to today, and I am sort of back at square one.  I no longer help with the venturing crew, so I’m not getting out as much as I would like.  And I broke my ankle this past February while skiing.  My recovery has been much slower than I had anticipated.  It’s going to be a ‘take it easy’ summer, but I hope to get back into the swing of things and by next summer be in ‘hiking’ shape again.  

For better or worse, my favorite kind of hike involves going up, up, up.  I want to be up high, so I can see all around.  I don’t necessarily like steep trails, but they get me where I want to be.  

2. What's your favorite trail food?

Snickers.  (Sorry, Anastasia!)  But only if I’ve been hiking up some brutal trail for miles and miles.  Then I feel I deserve a Snickers.  If it’s not a kick-your-rear hike, then I always have a couple Lemon Bumble Bars in my pack.  Those things are the bomb and give me the energy I need to keep going.  (I once hiked 6 miles in Hells Canyon having only had a cup of coffee, a Bumble Bar and a lot of water.)  

3.  What's your favorite outdoor experience?  

That’s a tough one because I have a lot of ‘favorites’.  Standing on the summit of Adams, having had to work pretty hard to get in shape to make it up there at the age of 48, definitely gave me a sense of achievement.  The beauty of places like Sahale Arm is very special.  I once went backpacking in the mountains north of Pemberton, BC, and the sheer ruggedness of the area was jaw dropping.  And watching shooting stars out in the wilderness at night never gets old.  There’s always something about each hike I go on that makes it my favorite… at least until the next time I go out.  

On the Sahale Arm, North Cascades.  

On the Sahale Arm, North Cascades.  

4.  What have you learned from the mountains that has had a "ripple" effect into other areas of your life?

 I really feel like I didn’t get into backpacking and hiking until about 8 years ago.  I had hiked before that, but trips were few and far between, very sporadic.  So starting to get back into this in my late 40’s - and now I’m 56 - is a bit harder.  But definitely doable.  So if getting back into hiking is doable, other things must be doable as well, no?  Yes, they are!  I started going to Bikram yoga.  Hard, but doable.  I took up a new musical instrument.  I guess I feel a bit more confident in my abilities.  But that being said, I also feel that being out in the mountains has also taught me that I am not in charge.  Nature is.  Humans are funny.  We like to think that we’re all that and a bag of chips.  But really we’re not.  When I’m out in the vast wilderness, I realize how small I am.  And I’m okay with that.  It’s comforting to know that I’m not 'large and in charge'. I’m a very, very tiny part of the universe, not the center of it.  

5.  What's your favorite piece of gear?

Favorite piece of gear is one I haven’t had the chance to try out yet.  At least not on the trail.  In the mid 70’s, the stove to use was a Svea 123, a classic backpacking stove from Sweden.  I didn’t own one, but they were what we used on those week long backpacking trips.  Several years ago, I found one at a garage sale.  The woman practically gave it to me, telling me she didn’t think it worked.  But that’s the thing about a Svea, you can take the whole thing apart and put it back together, and it should work.  A friend helped me take it apart and we put it back together, and sure enough, it works!  I can’t wait to take it backpacking!    

Testing out the Svea stove.  

Testing out the Svea stove.  

6.  What is your absolute passion in life?  What lights you up when you talk about it?

I’m not sure if I can say I have an absolute passion in life.  I’m more of a generalist.  Which I’m grateful to be.  I like trying new things, and I’m willing to give most things at least a shot before I write them off.  I will say that I really love looking at maps and planning hiking trips.  But I also try to enjoy the trip while I’m out there.  I like to soak up the views, breathe that fresh mountain air and drink that cold, cold water.  In other words, I try to be present in the moment, especially when I’m out hiking.  

7.  Do you have any DREAM trips that you'd love to take?  Where?  What would you do?  

I use to want to hike the entire PCT, but after being the support person for two of my friends who hiked it two years ago, I’m not sure if I want to do it.  (I mailed all their resupply boxes, bought new gear and shipped it, tracked their progress, met them twice, etc.)  Maybe someday.  Right now, I guess my dream trip would be a backpacking trip longer than 4 days.  I haven’t done a trip of much length in a long, long time.  And a non-hiking dream trip is in the works for next winter.  It involves a sandy beach, drinks with little umbrellas in them, and a lot of time spent studying the back of my eye lids.  

One of Diana's favorite hikes - the view from Perry Creek Meadows.  

One of Diana's favorite hikes - the view from Perry Creek Meadows.  

8.  Through the lens of your own life, if you could give one piece of advice to others, what would it be?

I saw a quote from Teddy Roosevelt not too long ago:  “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  So very true.  In this age of Facebook and instagram, it’s easy to get caught up in making sure everyone sees what you did last weekend, what you ate, etc.  Why?  Is that important? And if it is important, why is it important?  Roosevelt isn’t just saying don’t compare yourself with others, he’s saying that comparing yourself to others robs you of your joy.  Don’t even compare yourself with yourself.  Don’t be discouraged that your 50 year old body can’t do what your 30 year old body did.  Be grateful for your 50 year old body.