Welcome to the second instalment of our Meet The Merinoers series. A few months ago we caught up with Helen "The Walking Traveller" and talked about her love for long distance hiking, especially in Europe, her personal challenge to urban hike 465km in April 2021, and why she chooses to wear merino.
Today we're chatting with Yvonne Shepherd from Women's Fitness Adventures. Yvonne is a certified personal trainer and has a real fire in her belly for helping women discover the great outdoors.
Ottie Merino: How did you start Women's Fitness Adventures? And what's its purpose?
Yvonne Shepherd: Women’s Fitness Adventures began in 2013 after I left a very stressful corporate role. Needing to go on a walk to clear my head, I chose the Great Ocean Walk, which at 110km runs along the South West Coast of Victoria, near the famous Great Ocean Road. Within minutes, 12 women, who I didn’t know particularly well, decided they were coming with me!
And from that walk, they wanted more. So in May 2014, Women’s Fitness Adventures was officially created.
Our purpose is to encourage women to become fitter and stronger for life. As a certified personal trainer, and having worked in women’s health and wellness globally for over 15 years, I knew that this could be achieved by setting an exciting goal.
And what better goal than a walking or hiking holiday with other like-minded women!
OM: We hear so often from hikers there was a pivotal moment where they planned that next big adventure. In your case that moment became your life!
What's the most challenging hike you've done? Tell us about why you did it and what you took away from the experience.
Y: That’s a tough choice of three.
The Overland Track, Tasmania, Winter 2021. We managed to get there and back during the pandemic. The track was extremely muddy, it snowed all but the first day and it was cold–well for a Queenslander. We did it because we could and what an opportunity during a pandemic to literally have this World Heritage Listed region and trail to yourself.
Kokoda Trail, PNG, 2016 and 2018. The first time I did it was for my 50th, and I loved it so much that I took a Women’s Fitness Adventures group back in 2018. The first time I was motivated by the physical challenge and the chance to learn about another culture. The second time I really wanted to share my love of this area with others and immerse myself more deeply in the experience. I think you miss a lot the first time because there is so much going on with your body physically.
Kakadu, Northern Territory, 2017. I did it off track with a full pack. I love the NT! Something about the big open skies and connection to land and self. That getaway feeling from it all. I did this one for chance to go where the tourists don’t. To explore waterholes and rock formations and know that you are one of very few in the world who will get to experience this. The heat was extremely challenging on this one–even in winter. Mornings were for hiking before the high heat (high 30s) set in, so our afternoons could be spent by the water.
Each challenging trail reminds me that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. That you need to be open to change, committed to training for the hike, know your body, and respect the environment.
OM: What a list! The mighty Overland Track would have to feature highly on most keen Australian hiker's bucket lists. The fact that you managed to get there between lockdowns–well played, Yvonne!
If you were stuck in a bush for days, what are the three things you'd absolutely want to have in your bag?
Y: I am assuming we would have all our food and water and shelter covered so here’s my list of the 3 things over and above that.
1. My Luci Light. Powered by the sun and it gives me comfort. It also has a USB port so I can charge my phone.
2. My phone. So I can listen to songs, stories, or make my own notes. As well as photograph and capture moments.
3. Some peanut M&Ms. They are my favourite part of my trail mix. I play mind games with myself and ration them out.
OM: My perfect trail mix recipe–99% M&Ms, 1% the other stuff!
Back to Women's Fitness Adventures for a moment. How do you encourage women who are intimidated by the idea of exploring the bush to get out there and enjoy it? It's an often discussed topic over at the Hiking in Australia & New Zealand group. What sort of feedback are you getting from these hikers after they have done a hike with you?
Y: Your question comes back to why I started Women’s Fitness Adventures in the first place. Inside our community, we have adventures for all fitness levels, all skill levels, and all locations. Our adventures let you opt in for where you are at right now, or for the level you are comfortable with, and our programs deliver the fitness, skills and knowledge needed to successfully complete the adventure of your choice. We understand zero to Kokoda Trail isn't for everybody.
The feedback has been incredible. Our members are stronger and fitter, and successfully completing some incredible hiking adventures.
What started as a group of 12 on the Great Ocean Walk in 2014 has grown into a global community of women who seek fitness, friendship, and adventure from wherever they live. And the impact on their health and wellness is amazing.
OM: Great effort, Yvonne. Anything that encourages people to get out there and enjoy and respect the bush is worthwhile in our humble.
So, you're a merino wearer obviously–else we wouldn't be 'meeting the merinoer', right?
Why do you wear merino? What do you love about it the most?
Y: I wear it because it feels nice on, sits as it should, doesn't cause chafing, and it doesn’t smell. Particularly the Ottie (read my review here)–I don’t get that 'wet sheep' smell like I do with some other merino brands.
Must say with my Otties, aside from it’s functionality, is that they looks good on. Even though we might come out of the bush dusty and dirty, with a quick brush of the hair and change of shoes, we could walk into the café with our shirt on and fit right in.
OM: That's a lovely testimonial. Full disclosure to the readers–we initially sent you a tee to review but then you've gone back and bought a few more.
Final question, Yvonne. And it's been a pleasure. What tracks in Australia and overseas are currently on your bucket list?
Y: My bucket list seems to get eternally bigger the longer we can’t go anywhere.
I have two adventures to do that are waiting for me from 2020–which is a few trails in Iceland and the island of Elba in Italy. I’m hoping to get there in 2022.
In Australia, I’ve done many of them so I am looking to the lesser known, more remote areas, which may be unknown and on private properties. Although I would like to hike ALL the Bibbulmun Trail and explore more of Tasmania.
Internationally–well what isn’t on the bucket list? From Peru to Scotland, France, and the USA. We hiked Hokkaido in Japan a few years ago and cannot wait to get back there either
Perhaps the question should be “what’s not on my bucket list?”
OM: Can relate, Yvonne. Need several lifetimes to do mine! Thanks for the chat.