March 8, 2018
By Vanessa Davids, Fellow Alumna

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Photo by Vanessa Davids

This post originally ran on August 30, 2016. We’re sharing Vanessa’s story again today,  International Women’s Day, as and example of the many women who have found new purpose serving through The Mission Continues’ programs. We need your support to send women like Vanessa to our 3rd Annual Women’s Veterans Leadership Summit in Washington, DC in April. Donate here today.

When I left the Marine Corps, I had my future all laid out. I had big plans for returning to school, having a second child, and supporting my (then) husband’s transition from the military had me feeling like I knew where I was going. Until I didn’t. When my husband became abusive, and I was forced to finally make a choice, I had no idea where my new path would lead. All I knew was that I couldn’t stay a minute longer.

The next few years were a blur of moves, transitions, and adjustments as I got used to the single mom life with two small children. As part of the abuse I endured, I lost a number of things I used to love. Time for hiking and camping, snowboarding, rock climbing, and even kayaking, in the end, was impossible.

Once I was finally free, it took some internal coaxing to get myself out on the trail and back in nature. A tentative solo climbing trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky was a start. Then bikepacking adventures with the kids. And before I knew it, the kids and I were spending our weekends on road trips and in campgrounds. The old me slowly began to return, and I liked her a lot. Our travels allowed me to reconnect and regain the self that had been quashed by abuse for so long.

When the opportunity to move back to the Pacific Northwest arose, I leaped at the opportunity. The kids and I took a three week road trip from Ohio back to Portland, Oregon, with a stop in San Francisco along the way. It felt so good to be back in the land of big green mountains, roaring rivers, and giant trees!

Around the time we arrived, I picked up a pivotal book. Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest To Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, by Michael Lanza would change my whole parenting philosophy. The book describes his family’s adventures traveling to parks in danger of dramatic transformation due to climate change. Already an “outdoor family,” I became determined to take my kids on bigger and grander adventures, to show them and teach them the outdoor values I found so important.

I began my own blog, writing about our experiences as a small family, what worked well, what was hard, and why we continued to travel. Its original purpose was to share our travels with friends and family, and for my kids to look back on when they grew up. It turned out that I loved writing, but my confidence was still abysmally low and self-promotion was not something I felt comfortable with at all.

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Photo by Vanessa Davids

Then, The Mission Continues entered the picture. And everything changed. On a whim and a dare from a fellow Marine, I applied for a fellowship through Mission Continues to work at OutdoorProject.org. I didn’t expect even an email in response. I had no belief that what I could produce was good enough. You can imagine my surprise when I was given not only an interview, but asked to join the staff for the duration of the fellowship.

Starting out slowly, it was a nervous few weeks for me in the beginning. As I’ve been given increasingly challenging assignments, and more leeway to develop my ideas, my confidence has risen to new levels. I am working with a wonderful staff of people who all care as passionately for the environment and outdoor recreation as I do. The discussions are lively and interesting. The flexibility to be a single parent and to continue to travel has been unbelievable throughout the fellowship.

I am now writing about issues I feel strongly about, attempting to engage the public to care for protecting the beautiful natural places that give me so much. Coming into the office doesn’t feel like work. I have the support of two fantastic editors who have helped me to improve my writing and find my voice. I have improved my outdoor photography as well, based on the expert advice from my colleagues. The kinds of changes I’ve seen would have taken me years to accomplish on my own.

When my fellowship ends, I will have a strong body of work to show for my efforts. Where previously I had no confidence to attempt freelance writing work, I am now actively seeking writing opportunities that will allow me to continue to adventure with my two kids.

There was a time when having no set plans for the future would have made me very nervous. Now, I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m excited to see where we visit next! With international travel plans in the works, and trips to Alaska and Yellowstone in mind, wherever we go, it’s going to be exciting!

More about me:  

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2004 to 2009 as an Arabic Linguist. I took an unusual path to service by choosing to enlist after finishing a degree in Natural Resource Management from Washington State University. I am doing my fellowship with The Outdoor Project as a writer/researcher on topics of environmental conservation. My love of outdoor recreation and a passion for environmentalism make this a perfect fit. Hiking and camping with my two young kids served as a tool in my post-military recovery and I feel strongly about protecting the wild places that gave me so much. I currently blog about my family’s outdoor adventures at www.outdoorfamilyproject.com.

 

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