Let's hear it for our volunteer leaders. After all, without them there'd be no trips!
When the tech bubble burst a few years ago, Roger Grissette figured it was time to get out of the business. So the Illinois chapter member and longtime leader took early retirement and devoted himself to leading as many Sierra Club outings as he could. Now, he leads as many as five trips each year-in 2004, for example, he took groups to Montana's Kootenai National Forest, Wyoming's Wind River range, and the Powderhorn Wilderness in Colorado. "It's a huge reward to share the thrill of experiencing exceptional wild places with others," he says. "Being able to spend a week in the company of Sierra Club members from across the country is inspiring."
Grissette is just one of some 700 National Outings leaders-all of them volunteers-whose expertise and enthusiasm help make the program so successful. It's a big job: They scout out the itinerary, arrange transport and food, and shepherd their charges up mountains, down rivers, and across jungles and steppes. Additionally, many must balance their time in the field or behind-the-scenes with work and family duties. Most impressive of all, they perform these tasks without pay-a grassroots tradition that sets the Sierra Club apart from its competition.
So why do they do it? Ray Simpson, a leader and chair of the committee that oversees the trips, sums it up: "Our volunteers work hard out of a sheer love for the land and a desire to share our natural places of beauty with you."
While all Sierra Club leaders share a commitment to the land, their stories are as diverse as the trips they run. Suzanne Swedo, for instance, is a botanist who teaches natural science and wilderness survival for the Yosemite Association and University of California Extension, among others. A leader of many talents, she has written trail guides, wilderness survival guides, and adventure travel guides-in addition to backpacking the mountains of every continent. In 2004, she led trips to the High Sierra, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and Nevada's Ruby Mountains.
Another globetrotting leader, Mike MacFadyen, has traveled to more than 40 countries in the developing world in the last decade, and is involved in helping locals set up fledgling conservation areas. When traveling, the Alaska resident tries to give back as much as he takes away: His family has collected used books from stores in Anchorage, hauled them through numerous airports, and hand-delivered them to schools in Africa. As always, MacFadyen led a variety of outings last year: from Bhutan to Bolivia to British Columbia, from high-mountain treks to family lodge trips.
Then there's Greg Pflug, a son of the South who leads canoe, kayak, and raft trips all across the Southeast. An adventure guide by trade, Pflug spends, on average, 30-35 weeks each year leading wilderness trips. As such, he might take the prize for "busiest leader": Last year, he led or co-led more than 10 trips, including a family canoe trip in the Everglades, a kayak journey through Florida's Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge, and a whitewater rafting extravaganza in the Appalachians.
His advice to participants is simple: "Leave the watches, cell phones, and battery-operated gizmos at home," he says. "You'll know when to wake up, because the sun will be up; you'll know when it's time to eat, because I'll bring you a huge plate of food; you must trust that I'll get you to your planes on time when the trip is over. Now go play!"
This is just a sampling of the leaders who make our outings possible. If you'd like to meet some more Sierra Club leaders, just look for the biographies at the bottom of our brochures. Happy travels!