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Explorer Spotlight: Sarah Giek

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Name: Sarah Giek | Age: 32 | Location: Charlottesville, VA.

What’s your day job?
I’m a high school math teacher. And as if that doesn’t keep me busy enough, I’m also in a post-master’s program at the University of Virginia.

What are your favorite things to do outside?
Just about anything! But mostly hiking and watching the sunset. And when I’m traveling, I always try to get out on the water when I can.

What first drew you to the outdoors?
I didn’t really grow up in an “outdoorsy” family, but I did live minutes away from the shores of Lake Erie. I always enjoyed biking and walking the path at Presque Isle State Park and was disappointed when I moved to land-locked Virginia. But it turns out that I like the mountains just as much…actually, probably more than the water. Over the last two years I’ve really taken to hiking. It’s been a way to challenge myself while providing an escape from the everyday stresses of life. It’s also much better than going to the gym!

What’s your favorite hometown adventure? ...and, almost as important, where’s your favorite spot to get a beer after?
My favorite spot in nearby Shenandoah National Park is Stony Man. But I also really like Bearfence Mountain, Blackrock Summit, and Old Rag. If I’m hiking with friends near the Blue Ridge, we like to stop at the local breweries on Route 151. But when I’m going solo, a quick stop at Jack Brown’s Burger & Beer Joint works for me.

What’s your essential gear that never gets left at home?
My hiking boots! Except that one time they did get left at home (I thought they were in my car…they weren’t) and I went hiking in my Toms instead. Lesson learned.

What’s your favorite trail snack?
Luna protein bars (the chocolate/peanut butter ones) and bananas.

Any go-to soundtracks when you’re hitting the road?
Anything by Lord Huron, Florence and the Machine, the Beatles. But most often my playlist is on shuffle. And I’m always searching the dial for a good oldies station.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened while you were adventuring? And/ or funniest?
I’ve been fortunate not to have anything too scary happen to me, especially since I hike/travel alone quite often. But there have been several times that I’ve come close (or at least felt close) to being stranded – like driving through Death Valley with a nearly empty tank of gas, getting lost in Big Basin Redwood State Park, and being completely alone on a sunset hike at Old Rag.

Who’s your number one adventure partner-in-crime? Who inspires you?
I’m most often hiking and traveling solo, but I’ve got a great group of friends who are always down for a hike when I need adventure buddies! I’m inspired by other women who are willing to step outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves.

What are your top destinations for adventure travel?
I have been visiting the National Parks for the last 2 years and I’m always resisting the urge to return to Yosemite and Glacier. They are considerably different but equally awe-inspiring. Locally, I’m frequently out at Shenandoah National Park, most often waiting for the sun to set.

What’s on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?
I’m planning trips to Maine (Acadia National Park) and Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park) this year; hopefully the Pacific Northwest will be soon after. And one of these days I’m going to make it out of the country!

Show us your most memorable photo, and tell us about it!
This certainly isn’t one of the better pictures I’ve taken, but it’s probably the most memorable. I took this picture 2 years ago at the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park. That trip marked a number of firsts for me – my first big solo adventure, my first time in a National Park, my first time on the west coast, and my first legit hike. And I almost didn’t do it. My original plan was just to visit the footbridge of Vernal Falls, but once I got there, I had to go to the top. Once I made it to the top of Vernal Falls, I started back down the trail, but stopped after only a few feet. I knew that if I didn’t go all the way I would regret it. So I turned around and finished the hike to the top of Nevada Falls. And that’s when the hiking bug bit me. I’ve never turned back since!

And last but not least…What’s your personal motto?
It’s not really a motto, but this quote resonates with me: “Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land. There is no other life but this.” - Thoreau

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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