Category Archives: Adventure

Taking Down The Gunman- Front Sight Self Defense Training Day 2


Ryan’s digging this a little too much. It’s great to see him excited and smiling after copping a dower attitude about work and two months of studying for the CFA exam. But not at my expense. The coach came around to check on us; to see if we understood the ‘superman’ move. We were supposed to extend our arms like Superman as the ‘perp’ came at us with a baseball bat from overhead. One hand would strike the side of his neck, the other would wrap over and around his forearm. Once the elbow was locked you would take your neck hand and administer a palm strike, knee the femur, the groin, the stomach, the head. Once they’re buckled over you switch the position of your hand on his neck, step your leg behind theirs and push him back onto his back and the ground. Except as the coach watched, Ryan gleefully slammed his hand into my neck and sent me reeling before ever completing the over moves. The coach said two things before moving on- “Are you okay?” and “Now you know what it feels like.” Yeah, not good.

And so for the rest of the night I kept my distance.

All of a sudden the Range Master is rapid firing the tactics and moves from wiggling out of a back grab, twisting the perp’s arm and getting them face down on the ground to disarming a gun. It starts to feel more like a demo than an instruction course but I try to keep up. Some of the moves (if done swiftly and correctly) are surprisingly easy.

But it can be confusing. I’m a doer not a watcher when it comes to learning so I don’t get it unless there’s a coach right there next to me to “adjust me”. Depending on where you stand on the mat there can be a huge lag between watching the demo and having a coach watch you. I certainly wasn’t going to practice the wrong way to do something, so with only five or six coaches walking around, there were long pauses in the action. By Day 3 this would be fine; I could use the rest. But tonight I wanted to play. I would grab one the minute he was nearby- “Can you help us?” Their corrections were swift. You felt the pressure to engrain it in your memory pronto because he was already on to the next group. All of the coaches are easy to follow and talk to, there just aren’t enough of them for our group. It should be more like one to six not one to 26. Ryan doesn’t like to ‘bother’ people but if it was simply up to me I would have them around me the whole night.

Perhaps it felt rushed because of the holiday. Fourth of July. Most of Front Sight’s courses are during the day but in the summer when temps loom around 103, classes start at 6 p.m. and end at 12:30 a.m. On the night of July 3 we ended at 10:30 p.m. for a special address by our fearless leader. Ignatius Piazza himself- made a rare personal appearance to address the student body before kicking off the Fourth with the first fireworks display of the holiday at 12:01 a.m. We got a pep talk about our Founding Fathers and what it means to be American. I was surprised to find the aggressive online marketer charming and self-effacing. He actually joked about his constant email campaigns for membership money.


When we stepped outside behind our workout tent we could finally relax and appreciate the end of our two-day empty hand defense course. As I watched the bombs bursting in air the irony hit me. We are celebrating our freedom while we learn to defend it so aggressively. It sucks that others can’t leave us alone. Even other Americans.


Empty Hand Defense at Front Sight Institute

I felt a little nauseous smelling meatballs in a tureen at 11 a.m. As I hobbled down the buffet line at the Saddlewest Hotel I didn’t feel hungry, just abused. And in desperate need of coffee. I’m dragging. We made it straight to Frontsight Thursday without a minute to spare. Vegas in 6 hours? Crazy; but now that there’s an 80 mph speed limit it messes me up in a good way.

Our night courses at the gun training compound were starting at 6 p.m. Sage’s youth class (aka adventure summer camp for 100 kids) was just starting so we quickly signed in, kissed her bye and made our own way to our Empty Hand Defense class without wasting a minute in the 103 degree heat. After signing all sorts of waivers, we were introduced to our coaches. They were like those masters who guide the newbies in some reality show. Martial Arts hall of famers, former military, combat specialists. Basically, tough MFs.

We stretched for nearly 30 minutes and I was already feeling the torque before the punches flew. Uh oh, I’m not in shape for this. I looked around at the class of 100+ Front Sight members. They ranged in age from 18 to 70. Men, women, skinny and large. “You will all be feeling this in the morning,” our range master boomed. Aleve is our friend.

The point of our empty hand defense class is to learn how to get away or neutralize the bad guy- whichever gets us home in one piece. It’s not to crush the other guy. As Front Sight demonstrated several times on Thursday night and Friday, it’s a fine line between defending yourself and getting arrested for assault. They talked to us about being aware of our surroundings instead of “Condition White” (ie Clueless). Condition Yellow – not defensive or aggressive- is what we want; neutral and sure. Confident. A stranger approaches; we practiced stepping back, bringing the palms up and out in front of our chest. “Stand back!” is the first warning. Step back again, “Stand back!” louder for defensive posture 2. Then, into a fighting stance.

We learned the correct body position for jabs, crosses and upper cuts. I tried them all, over and over, switching from dominant side to support side; feeling like a boxer in the Special Olympics.

My arms were sore from punching air but then it was time to punch pads. I held mine tightly for Ryan and yet he still hit so hard I was getting bumped around and scuffed. I switched with a girl next to me so Ryan could ‘fight’ a guy and leave my poor shoulder alone.

Trachea jabs, hammer hits, palm strikes. I was starting to run out of steam by 9 p.m. yet we had only scratched the surface of self-defense. They can only teach the bare minimum in two days. Several students had taken this class before yet none could remember everything. One man told us that if you recall even one maneuver it could save your life.

I really liked the straight fingers to the neck move. I’ll remember that one!

After our break, we worked our lower half with kicks then learned two moves to get us out of a bearhug from behind. Oh yeah, I was feeling the hurt. We drove to the Saddlewest Hotel chatting about how the moves would work in real life. We checked in and despite the two-star surroundings, the bed was soft and inviting. We immediately passed out. It was 2 a.m. and another day was coming on fast.

SheJumps Inspires Determined Kayakers – Part III


We had a pile up heading into the biggest section of whitewater on the McKenzie and I was right on Courtney’s tail. I paddled left to avoid her boat and immediately succumbed to a side wave. I held out underwater for a bit but no one was going to rescue me. I pulled my sprayskirt and swam. Humiliated. But something good happened. I rescued myself and my own boat. I didn’t need anyone’s help.

I kicked it to a safe eddy, emptied out the water myself and got back in. I choked back tears not because I was embarrassed or defeated but because I couldn’t go back and try those waves again. If everyone else could do it, so could I.

I caught my breath and paddled back to the group. The other girls smiled encouragingly. I talked to Lauren and felt better as we approached the last section of rapids. I finally made it without swimming. The cheers from the girls matched the ones inside.

Photo by Desiree

Photo by Desiree










We climbed back into the van for the ride home. I sat quietly listening to the others whose energy was twice what it was on the way in. SheJumps is no miracle drug that will turn you into an instant extreme athlete. However, it does get you amped. It gives you a taste of what that life is like; it enables you to explore parts of yourself you weren’t in tune with while keeping you safe and it plants a seed for continued adventure. It’s up to you to connect the dots.

I loved visiting Bend, meeting the folks at Tumalo and sharing time on the water with some really cool chicks. And I love kayaking whether I’m paddling or swimming next to my boat. At least I know I don’t have to impress some guy with my mad skills or hear him tell me to suck it up.


To learn more about SheJumps, befriend the SJ Girafficorn on Facebook, go to, and follow on Instagram and Twitter with @shejumps and #shejumps.





PART I                                        PART II

Kayaking = Swimming – Part II



We piled into the Tumalo van for the two-hour drive. The lively conversation involved topics like the most magical travel experience you’ve ever had, farmers markets and massage therapy. At the put in, Lauri announced she had forgotten her sprayskirt. Lauren, moments later, couldn’t find the van keys.







Mo set to work building a skirt out of a trashbag and duct tape.









The rest of us hunted for the keys. Lauren felt embarrassed and kept apologizing for putting us out, but we all could relate. This was typical chick M-O. We lose and forget things ALL THE TIME. It was easy to go with the flow, Lauren was with us and not a group of guys.

Twenty minutes later she found her keys-  sitting right on top of her boat!  We laughed but didn’t scold. With Lauri all taped into her kayak we were ready to roll, so to speak. The weather was perfect, the water chilly but manageable in a drysuit or wetsuit, and spirits high. Until…










We paddled downstream and gathered at the first eddy. I stuck close to Mo hoping to glean some gem that would magically turn me into the kayaker I wanted to be. She looked back and said, “There. That’s it. Now you’re doing it.” But in truth I was still apprehensive about the upcoming whitewater.










The next task was to eddy* behind as many boulders as we could that were strewn throughout the coming stretch. I caught the very first eddy and beamed.  I thought eddying was the one skill I did fairly well but there was still lots to learn. My head and self-confidence were a jumble.

That’s when I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Literally.

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I went to eddy-out, into the current, but the rock was too close to my paddle and I flipped, then swam. Mo “rescued” me; shouting for me to grab her boat and keep my feet up in the shallow water as I bounced off rocks. I was ok. The only thing bruised was my ego. I caught up with my boat and apologized for the swim. She said no worries but I began to feel like “a girl”.  We broke for lunch. I laid in the cool water, wishing for a second wind and a chance at redemption; praying the mood would wash over me.


After wolfing down my turkey sandwich from Bend’s Strictly Organic Café, I still wasn’t ready to get back in my boat. The largest wave train of the day lay ahead. I savored the wild blackberries growing on a nearby bush, wondering where my mojo went. The girls talked excitedly about their morning and their renewed love of kayaking. The SheJumps course was a great idea on so many levels. It brought them together, it developed their skills and it took place in a supportive environment.

It was a glorious afternoon and I wish I could tell you that I rocked the wave train but I’d be lying. I swam that too.


*Definition:A river feature formed when the current flows around an obstacle and water flows back upstream to fill in the space left by the deflected current.  The current inside of eddies flows upstream.  Eddies are great for resting, getting out of the current, getting out of the river and scouting.

 PART I                                              PART 3

Learn to Kayak in Bend Oregon – Part I


I woke up at 10 a.m. today. Don’t act surprised. I’m a night owl. And on top of that I’ve been on a whirlwind kayak binge in Bend, Ore. It was time to crash. I imagine this is what visitors to Park City feel when they go aggro over outdoor rec for three days in a row and have been sitting behind a desk for months leading up to the trip. Oh, don’t bag on me for not sitting behind a desk all my life. You get my meaning.


I pulled into Tumalo Creek Canoe and Kayak shop at 5 p.m. Friday after a ten-hour drive from Utah…by myself. No, I haven’t taught the dog to steer yet. His paws won’t reach. The shop everything you could ask for in waterplay- SUPs, tubes, clothes, dog float coats, touring kayaks and whitewater kayak gear. They also do lessons and excursions to places around Bend. In fact, the shop sits on the Deschutes riverbank.

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I had just enough time to unload my boat and the dog before the SheJump introductions and quick pool session to get us acquainted with paddling gear. SheJumps is a nonprofit based here in Utah but rockstar women from all stretches of the U.S. comprise its core. They are dedicated to growing female participation in outdoor sports by running women-specific events. It’s no easy task when most women are good at making excuses for not playing- kids, time, injuries, shopping, partner who whines. Most active women will confess that they got involved with_____ (fill in the blank with skiing, rockclimbing, canyoneering, kayaking, etc) because a guy took them. SheJumps doesn’t want you to wait for “some guy.” They offer basic, technical skills workshops to help women discover the outdoors on their own. The sports may sound extreme but they are perfectly approachable with knowledgeable caring guides, hosts and peers.

When other women and girls are ‘doing’, you don’t have the same excuses you’d make in a group of guys. ‘They’re acting crazy, they’re more experienced, I can’t do that.’ When your peers are surrounding you, you think, “I can do that too.” Whether it’s a bike maintenance, avalanche or fly fishing clinic, the lessons come from nurturing supportive coaches.

The gaggle of six, mostly Oregon-based chicks was immediately introduced to our guides for the weekend- Mo, Lauren and Cait (our SheJumps representative). Cait had attended a women’s whitewater conference and wanted to bring a similar event to Bend. I had seen the Facebook post on SheJumps and immediately wanted in. What’s a 10-hour drive when you can have expert instruction from women, not men? Guys might take offense and think there’s no difference but when a girl’s about to cry out of frustration I need to hear “hang in there” rather than “suck it up”. I can only imagine what male kayakers would think after yesterday’s final day when one girl left her sprayskirt at the shop (a two-hour drive back), another lost the keys to the van and people were swimming right and left!

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We spent Friday evening learning about gear and practicing bow rescues in a small portable pool.








Saturday, we paddled upstream (for hours) on the Deschutes to discuss proper kayak posture, paddle strokes and ferrying from one side of the river to the other. Because of my late nights, I barely had the energy for the tiny section of whitewater at the end of the day. Big mistake. All the other girls not only rocked it but relished in repeating the ferrying drills. My arms were jello so I watched.
















Saturday’s drills were meant to prep us for the final day on the McKenzie River; a class II+ whitewater section. Boy, was I excited. I even tried to get more sleep….


PART II                              PART III

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