Women of Tobacco Gardens July 23rd-29th, 2016

July 23-29, 2016
Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina
Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota

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Lake Sakakawea is the third largest person-made lake (reservoir) in the US. It runs along a 178 mile stretch of the Missouri River in central North Dakota. Here’s Alyce enjoying the view from the bow.

Natural rhythm

A day can quickly turn into a week on the river. Time does not exist here as we have known it elsewhere. In the canoe, a watch is useful only to tell how much time has passed. There are other ways to do that too. Need to know about time? Observe the sun’s position in the sky and the sounds of your stomach. Need to know about travel? Watch what shape the clouds take and the direction the wind moves across the water. Need to know about rest? Pay attention to the feeling in your shoulders in the late afternoon and the thoughts looping through your mind. On the river, how you feel and team morale are more significant than time of day or day of the week.

This is what it’s like to live in a natural rhythm. This is freedom for me. It’s different than moving from one task to the next, waiting for the clock to run out just to move on to the next thing. I’ve lived that way plenty too. I’ve sat annoyed in rush hour. I’ve daydreamed through lectures at school. I’ve crossed out days on a calendar that represent time between what I’m doing now and what I really want to be doing. I’ve been bored, restless, frustrated, and dazed. I’ve felt lost and unsure of myself. I’ve worn myself out by spinning my wheels and trying to gain traction in the wrong places.

When a day turns into a week and I haven’t felt too many of those miserable kind of feelings, I know I’ve found my natural rhythm. From the canoe, I can set my own cadence or follow Alyce’s. I can live according to the senses of my body and the voice that is my intuition. I can hear and follow these things more clearly because I am not caught up in the flurry of distractions that accompany “front-country” living. In the back country, I have to pay attention to the basics – weather, shelter, food, water, and morale. The stakes can be high and challenges arise daily, but in my natural rhythm, I can see more opportunities than obstacles. When I’m free from the captivity of the clock and not needing to constantly keep pace with others, I can make decisions more easily. I can move through time more fluidly and with more confidence.

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Alyce taking a break on the red shores of the lake.

When rhythm changes

The last week came and went in the awkward transition between a natural and a timed rhythm. On Friday, we were hauled across a windy, wavy bay to the safety of Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina. With the help of our friends in a pontoon, we covered the mile-long stretch in minutes. This same stretch would have taken a long, dangerous hour by canoe if we had opted to paddle. This is when time changed. When convenience (which we are grateful for at times) alters your plans and moves you faster than you are capable on your own.

We were treated to air conditioning. There were meals we didn’t have to cook ourselves. We had shelter that we didn’t have to pack up and move every day. We could sleep in until 8:00 – sometimes even later – because the sun wasn’t roasting us through our nylon tent walls. We didn’t have to travel any distance; we just had to rest. We also had to catch up on a lot of work (writing, uploading photos, communicating with the outside world). Work tends to pile up without such conveniences as internet or electricity you don’t have to generate from the sun.

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Lisa and Alyce flank Peg, the owner and River Angel of Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina.

This luxurious hospitality was a gift from our newest friend and honorary “river mom”, Peg Hellandsaas. Peg is the owner of Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina. She takes great pride in taking care of the paddlers that come through Lake Sakakawea. She keeps a cabin open for paddlers to stay in, free of charge, and invites you in like family. We only intended to stay three days and ended up staying for five!

Gifts from the Women of Tobacco Gardens

Peg owns the restaurant at the Marina and employs a staff of 13 women and three men. Over the five-day rest stop at Tobacco Gardens, we got to meet and hear the incredible stories of these people. The women we talked to were mostly pioneers. Many of them have worked every kind of job under the sun including: engineer, farmer, nurse, miner, teacher, truck driver, cook, and server. Then add mothering to the list, as almost all of these women also have children. Some have grandchildren.

Many of the careers that these women had moved through and to were in largely male-dominated industries. One woman we met, Kelly, was the first woman to work on a crew of all men in a gold mine in Nevada. Another woman, Gwen, had moved to North Dakota from Alaska to find work as an engineer for the oil and gas companies. And then there was Peg who traded a life-long career as a nurse to run a marina – something she knew almost nothing about but had the confidence to try. Each woman had her own incredible story.

What all these women had in common was nerve. Some had just found the nerve to move away from home for the first time into a new place. Some had gotten the nerve to enter into a new phase in life. Some had worked up the nerve to walk away from a toxic past. Some were somewhere in between. In just five short days, we were invited into the lives of these women. They shared stories and secrets, wants and fears, and let us participate in both their fun and more serious moments.

Why did these women share so much of themselves with us? I think because we asked. Because we asked and then we listened. We also came into their space in a vulnerable state ourselves. We, travelers of the river, seventy-five days in to a 170(ish) day expedition, were tired and needed shelter from the storm. We, explorers navigating our own paths to confidence, were (and are) searching in earnest for the answers to the questions we ask. Perhaps it was our vulnerability that invited the same from these extraordinary women.

We conducted several interviews and had countless conversations with the Women of Tobacco Gardens. I find these raw moments with other women to be like light at the end of a tunnel. They are the distant shore that, finally, you land upon after paddling for hours in the wind, waves, and sun. They take the right mix of energy and patience to get to and are well worth the effort. The words and ideas women speak don’t have to be particularly profound because the truths always are. When I get to hear a woman speak her truth and feel safe enough in her company to say what is in her heart and what’s on her mind, it feels like they are giving a gift. I love it.

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Beauty, up close.

Positive risks

What we heard from these women were stories about taking risks. Here are a few:

  • Going from only ever getting to hold the flashlight for dad while he fixed engines to being a system operator and then supervisor for an electric company.
  • Hearing a bunch of women laughing in the kitchen of a restaurant, missing that sound only working men, and asking for a job right then and there. Then showing up the next day for work.
  • Moving away from home to a brand new city, a new start.
  • Being the first woman to work on site in a gold mine. Going from being ignored by everyone on the crew to becoming good friends.
  • Telling your kids that you love them and how proud you are of them even when they make mistakes.
  • Letting your kids make mistakes.
  • Walking out on bad relationships that leave bruises on the body, and worse, the mind and heart, and seeking counseling to mend the pain.
  • Taking a risk with a new person who shows you real love and respect.
  • Taking over a business that you have to learn every little thing about.
  • Working from 5 am to midnight and coming home to do laundry and take care of the husband.
  • Doing these things when most of the people around you don’t know what to make of it.

Create or destroy

All of these risks take confidence and all of these risks build confidence. That doesn’t mean you are always confident in the moment though. We asked these women what they thought the biggest barrier to building confidence has been. One theme that emerged was that others have a tremendous ability to help in creating or destroying confidence. This can be confidence in the ability to do a task or confidence in oneself. Either way, we came to the mutually agreed upon conclusion that we all impact each other with our words and actions whether we intend to or not.

We all agreed that other women can be our best friends or worst enemies in the confidence game. One woman “letting off steam” by gossiping or making passive-aggressive remarks can devastate another who experiences the words as insensitive or hurtful. On the other hand, the depth of compassion and the loving wisdom that resides in the hearts of women can create the most profound and beautiful spaces for other women to be themselves and to feel loved and appreciated.

So, how do we get more of the good stuff? How do we tap into the power of the naturally creative (and destructive) female spirit? Part of it is creating safe spaces for women to share openly, without feeling the need to hide. Maybe another part of it happens by changing how we view destruction. When something is broken down, something new can come in to take its place. Perhaps we need to see these spaces after the destruction as opportunities to create what we want. This is not to excuse ill-treatment, unkindness, or abuse; but to look closely at the opening that exists when something is washed away.

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One life ends and another begins.

A tree that has blown down, been stripped of its bark, and bleached in the sun is no longer a tree but can become a home for a seedling to sprout. Maybe someone’s careless or hurtful communication is an opportunity for you to recognize what is important to you and speak up about it. Maybe this becomes an opportunity for the other person to grow as well. Even if it doesn’t go over well, at least it’s out there. If it continues to not go well, maybe you know it’s time to try something new or move on. This can be another opportunity (not that it’s easy).

These women, having experienced so much destruction (inflicted by others and sometimes the self), are still creating beauty in their lives and in the lives of their children and communities. Of course there are arguments, mistakes, failures, and sometimes some people just can’t seem to get along. But when you step back and look at the bigger picture, all of those “failures”, can lead to something new. Tobacco Gardens is a haven created by one woman and maintained by a community of women. Even havens have dark corners, but the power of these women in this place is tremendous. I want them to know that they impressed us as much as they kept telling us we impressed them.

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Lisa, Kyla, Jody, Peg, Alyce, and Mary at Tobacco Gardens Resort and Marina.

Source of confidence

Reflecting on the wisdom found at Tobacco Gardens, I find myself asking: how are my words and actions impacting someone else’s confidence? Am I a source of confidence? Even when I’m in a destructive mood, can I maintain a level of self-respect and respect for my fellow sisters and let the mood pass before acting or speaking? Can I be supportive of someone else building their confidence even if I don’t feel confident myself? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s a work in progress.

Hearing the stories of these women and reflecting on the themes of our interviews, one thing is clear: we all have power. Creating and destroying – it’s what we start doing as pre-teen girls and continuing doing all the way through the years. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes we are totally oblivious.  What is important to recognize is the choice in how to use that power. Confidence can be hard to find and even harder to hold. While you may feel uninspired or sort-of lackluster, you may not realize all the ways in which you have and are inspiring and impacting those around you. We can create confidence by destroying the obstacles, barriers, and limits in our path. We can create spaces for other girls and women to do the same. Instead of competing with each other for confidence, we can support one another. I come back to the question: am I being a source of confidence?

Fear of missing out

We needed to let our bodies and minds really rest after 75 days of intense expedition. We also needed to have some fun. The expedition is fun, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the type of fun that comes from challenge and learning. Its the type of fun that means a lot and lasts a long time, but honestly isn’t always very fun in the moment. This is what is known as Type 2 fun.

We were in some serious need of Type 1, mindless, awesome fun. Cue the jet-ski! Jody gave us the keys and the three of us, along with Kelly and her awesome fiancé, Mike, had and great day at the beach. We went tubing and sped around the lake on a wild, windy, joy ride. We did not take the speed for granted, that’s for sure. Just some light pressure on the gas and we were flying. It was like being on a spaceship compared to a mile-and-half-an-hour, upper body workout in a canoe.

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“Type 1” fun. Thank you so much, Jody Hauge!

I guess it was inevitable that my rhythm would get thrown off while taking time to rest, have fun, and catch up on writing. Now, with all these great and needed distractions from the expedition, I was staying up later, sleeping in longer, and eating greasy food that my stomach isn’t used to. It made getting the things on my to-do list harder to get done which makes me feel uneasy, unproductive.

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Post cards from the river – one way we stay in touch with family and friends.

With all the excitement of meeting so many new and extraordinary people, the fear of missing out had me back on the clock and over-booking myself. I didn’t want to miss the fun, the conversations, the shared meals, etc, and still needed time to rest and work. I slipped out of my rhythm and into the shared time of social and business life. I was out of my natural rhythm, back in to some old, stress-induced habits. I know I feel the best in my natural rhythm on the river, but wanting to accomplish more, though tiring, actually made it harder to want to get back on the water. We ended up pushing our departure a day later.

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The face of transition. Leaving Tobacco Gardens for the wilds of Lake Sakakawea.

Finding Balance

When we finally got back on the water (not until about 11am on the 21st), it was hard to shake the “vacation” feeling. It took nearly two full days to get back in tune with the natural rhythms. Alyce and I talked about the pace of our expedition. We agree that it’s not sustainable to continue to go full-throttle for weeks and then crash for days. It just doesn’t feel good. We need to strike a balance that allows us to travel, rest, write, plan things for the future, and have fun in the moment. Easy, right?

We tend to be tempted to travel during any “paddle-able” weather on the unpredictable and often turbulent, massive reservoirs of Fort Peck, Lake Sakakawea, and Lake Oahe (coming up). We had a lot of good weather on Ft. Peck and ended up burning through our energy without enough recovery. We need to find a better balance between “gettin’ while the gettin’s good”, and giving ourselves time to rest and have fun as we take on Sakakawea and Oahe.

As always, we’ll see what happens. Oh yeah, and one other thing. I do not have Lyme’s disease. I was experiencing a lot of symptoms that were likely the product of expedition exhaustion and fending off a cold. The strange bullseye must have been caused by something else. All symptoms have now disappeared. We’ll call it a Tobacco Garden Miracle.

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Smoke from our fire arcing into the sunset; guitar slung over the shoulder; back in the natural rhythm.

-Lisa

July 23, 2016

Today all I did was sleep and eat. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was from the expedition in general and the stress of the last three days. I am so thankful to be in air conditioning resting all day. It was truly what I needed. Eating at the restaurant and chatting with the women who work there was very enjoyable. Spent time talking with Jody. What a great women. And Peg! We got to chat more today and she is a strong women, running the marina and resort. What a great and much needed true rest day.

-Alyce

July 24th, 2016

Sunday Funday! I spent the morning relaxing and getting a little writing in. We conducted a group interview after lunch. What amazing women, with tremendous life experiences and interesting opinions. Once Kelly and Jody where done working we headed to the beach with them and Kelly’s finance Mike. We got to ride to the beach on Jody’s jet ski! She then gave us the keys and told us to take it for a spin! It is really different going 30 miles an hour on Lake Sakakawea, when we were only averaging about 2 miles an hour paddling on the lake. The afternoon went by way to quickly, tubbing from behind the jet ski and talking on the beach. All of a sudden it was dinner time and we headed back to the restaurant for a much needed hamburger. Once the restaurant was closed we had our second interview with the rest of the women who work at Tobacco Gardens. Some times I get overwhelmed with emotion during these interviews, as I am manifesting my dreams. Getting to talk with women from all over the country, speaking about confidence and the challenges associated with building confidence. I think back to this past winter, while planning for the expedition, thinking about all the women I will meet and hopefully get to interview. Now here I am, interviewing women about confidence. My dreams in action. It is a truly powerful feeling. After the interview I spent time hanging our with Jody and Kelly, not really talking about anything, just enjoying each others company and the night time coolness after the hot day. Another day of river life, fully lived.

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Jody, Lisa, Alyce and Kelly enjoying the fun beach day.

July 25th and 26th, 2016

I spent these days working on posting pictures to social media, writing about the last week and reading about what has been going on in the world. It is always a shock to be out of touch with what is happening around the world and then I bombard myself with reading the news. It can overwhelming, though good to know what is going on while I am paddling on the river. On the 26th we went for a sunset ride in Peg’s ranger. I was not feeling ready to leave tomorrow and expressed a desire to stay for one more day. It was an easy decision to stay and get some more work and rest in.

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Alyce and Lisa driving around in Peg’s ranger.

July 27th, 2016
So thankful for our extra rest day at Tobacco Gardens! I finally feel rested and ready to get back to paddling tomorrow. Though my sleep schedule is way off, staying up later and sleeping in. I am thinking its going to be a little rough to get back into our normal rhythm of up early and to bed early. Though the time at Tobacco Gardens has been incredible and much needed, as we look to paddle the rest of Lake Sakakawea. It is a daunting task to think about, especially with the way the wind can blow across the Dakotas. As the afternoon rain came around, I was very thankful we had decided to stay this extra day. Since Wednesday was the one day the restaurant was closed, we were back to feeding ourselves. We really wanted pizza for dinner and messaged Jody and Peg, inquiring if there was any place that delivered. Jody offered to bring us pizza that night, though she wouldn’t be back to Tobacco Gardens till 9pm. Peg messaged back that she was on her way to us, with pizza in tow. When she arrived, with 4 of the best tasting pizza’s I have ever eaten, she told us that before she got our message she was planning on bringing us pizza! What a women and one of the best river angels I have ever had. Peg has become more than a river angel for us and is more like our river mom! Words don’t express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the generosity and kindness we have received at Tobacco Gardens. Thank you again to all the river angels out there.

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Lisa and Alyce enjoying the time at Tobacco Gardens.

July 28th, 2016
We bid farewell to Peg, Jody, Kali and Mary today, as we finally got back on the water. Our stay at tobacco gardens was excellent and a part of me was sad to leave. We had meet some amazing women and made great memories. Yet it was time to get back I the canoe and see what the rest of lake Sakakawea had in store for us. After picture taking and numerous hugs, we were back in the boat after our 5 day hiatus! Getting a later start than usual, along with having not paddled for several days and the wind blowing directly in our faces, we were not moving fast.

We ended up only paddling 5 and a half hours today, because sometimes that’s all you can do. It was evident that our goal of paddling 15 miles a day to make it to the garrison dam by August 4th was not realistic. Calculated when thinking we would average 3 miles an hour; today we were averaging 1.5 miles an hour. Being back on the water, setting up my tent was great. Taking longer breaks really helps me to appreciate this river life. Amazing sand bar and lots of rock hunting took up most of the evening. Drift wood was plentiful and close to the waters edge, so we built a good size fire, cooked over it and stayed up a little later watching the sun spread her magic across the land. It was one of the best sunsets I have ever experienced. The colors, the pinks, oranges, blues and deep purples, played tag with each other in the sky like children on a playground. Swirling, running, jumping, bumping and mixing together. A true sight to be seen. I am thankful for these river nights.

-Alyce

Reflection questions:

1. Have you ever experienced “natural rhythm” like Lisa described? If so, when? How do you find it? How do you get it back when you lose it?

2. Can you name a woman in your life that has been a “pioneer” in some way? What does she do? What are some of her character traits that you admire?

3. What do you think about the question “Am I a source of confidence?” Do you think you could use that question to help you navigate tough situations with others? How?

4. Who has been a source of confidence in your life? Have you ever told them? What do you think it would be like if you did?

5. Lisa described two types of fun, “Type 1” and “Type 2”. What is the difference between these two types of fun? What happens if you get too much of one and not the other? Or not enough of either? How do you find a balance between these types of fun in your life?

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