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Sharing Their Stories...One Camp at a Time

October 4, 2017
By Larry Claypool - OVO Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

"Girl campers...we go places, and we do things."

Those were the words of Janine Pettit, as told by her friend Ginny McKinney.

Pettit and McKinney are frequent campers who travel across this country in pull-along travel campers and share their exploits with others, mostly via social media, and by the campfire, of course. Pettit is nationally known for sharing her camping and travelling stories in her blog - featured on GoRVing.com - and her personal website (www.GirlCamper.com) and podcasts. McKinney writes a daily, faith-based blog called Marshmallow Ranch, both on Facebook and her website (www.marshmallowranch.com). She also writes a branded series (Getting Bolder) on the Sisters on the Fly blog.

Article Photos

Ginny McKinney (left) and Gail Bable look for sundry items in Bable’s Aliner Alite camper while it’s parked at the Beaver Creek State Park campground near East Liverpool during a recent Camp Like a Girl event. Bable is the Camp Host at the state park. Photo by Larry Claypool

McKinney was in this region recently - yes camping - at Beaver Creek State Park's campground, near East Liverpool. She was taking part in a 'Camp Like a Girl' event at the nationally recognized scenic park. Pettit was scheduled to make the trip to Ohio from her New Jersey home, but had to cancel at the last minute. The Camp Like a Girl group was started by Pettit about five years ago. The 'girl campers' group is patterned like the international women's group, 'Sisters on the Fly', which both Pettit and McKinney are members of.

About Sisters on the Fly: (From their website - www.sistersonthefly.com) It's the largest outdoor women's group in the United States. The membership-based community supports women in their efforts to experience the outdoors with a style, color, and passion that's unique to Sisters on the Fly. The organization fosters a network of 9,000+ women and an impressive calendar of events that take place all over the country, year round. "Sister-activities" include everything from fly fishing to horseback riding, camping, hiking, wine tasting and most famously, restoring and touring vintage campers.

As a much smaller group, the Camp Like a Girl group is less structured than the 'big Sisters' group. Twenty-seven campers pulled their personal travel campers, vintage campers, tents or SUVs into the Beaver Creek campground in late September. The Beaver Creek event was hosted by Girl Camper Gail Bable, who leads the "Ohio Campers", as Pettit calls them. Bable also is the Camp Host at Beaver Creek State Park during the spring and summer months. A job she's done for the past four years. She lives in nearby Negley, Ohio.

Bable has a lot of experience camping at Beaver Creek. "I've camped with my family here since I was 10 years old. I just love it," said Bable.

As Camp Host for 'the Girls', Bable does most of the planning for the Ohio-based event at Beaver Creek. She plans events, craft projects, games, themed meals, outings, local trips and more for the group.

"Gail knows how to plan. She's so crafty, and has a heart the size of Texas. She's just good people," said McKinney, who now hails from Macfarlan, WV.

The Beaver Creek event featured crafts, local shopping trips, an apple orchard tour, grist mill and Pioneer Village tour, hikes, nightly campfires, special food nights and several programs (fly fishing instruction, night hike, archery and honey bee demonstration) offered by Beaver Creek ODNR Naturalist Mike Mainhart.

The word 'camping' can mean a lot of different things to many people. Most of us have done some sort of camping in our lifetime. There are; adventure campers, dry campers, backpacking campers, canoe campers, reenactment campers, social campers, glamping campers and more. Note: the glamping style is not in these ladies' vocabulary.

I would put this group in the 'social campers' category. But know this, these ladies do all of the work by themselves. Some call it an empowerment adventure group, and for good reason. Setting up and tearing down a travel camper and campsite would be included in that description, especially without the help of a spouse or family members.

"Women used to be quilting or canning. That's how they bonded. And they had no social life," said McKinney. "This camping, on so many fronts, is helping so many women.

"There's two schools of thought here; some of these women camped as a child or always wanted to camp and never got the opportunity. And here they are," added McKinney.

Camping has taken on a different perspective for McKinney. She has a great story to tell. It's a sad story that she's turned around - sacrificing her ego along the way. Camping and being on the road has morphed into a coping mechanism for her to deal with the tragic death of her husband. It was four years ago that McKinney called 911 from a camping trailer dealership for her husband, who later died in the hospital of a massive heart attack. They were looking through campers to purchase one and tour the country together in an RV. McKinney said they were in the fourth camper on the lot when her husband, Dan, took ill.

Two weeks after her husband's funeral, McKinney went back to the camping trailer dealership and purchased a 16' camper. Shortly after that, in the spring of 2013, she went on a "three-month junket" in the Colorado mountains. At the time they had lived in western Colorado.

"That began my grieving," she said. "I was by myself. Stood on top of the mountain, coyotes howling in a distance from the left and the right. I stood there, screaming 'God why did you take my husband?' and then I yelled at Dan, 'why did you leave me?'"

The following summer McKinney decided to sell her house, most of her belongings and purchased a bigger 30' camper, a new truck and hit the road. For two years she crisscrossed the United States, joining the Sisters on the Fly, camping and telling her story to many along the way.

Another outlet that has served McKinney well in dealing with her grief, and loneliness, was starting a personal blog (Marshmallow Ranch on Facebook) to help tell her story. She shares her thoughts daily on the blog. And the interaction she's received from her readers have been both healing and inspirational.

McKinney said she's met many of her readers in person, as she canvasses the country. Some of those she's met at Camp Like a Girl events.

One local camper at the Beaver Creek event said she found out about the 'Girls' recently through one of Pettit's podcasts. "It was podcast number 43," said Alexis Dowding of East Liverpool, OH. "I looked forward to coming here after listening to that podcast. I grew up yard camping, tent camping at state parks and family camping. I joined the 'meet-up' about eight days ago. It's amazing, the different things they do."

Pettit's podcast #43 featured an interview with Beaver Creek's Bable about her hosting the campsites and Camp Like a Girl events. It was taped in August of 2016.

The fact that Pettit's podcast originated more than a year ago proves the worth of social media for groups like Sisters on the Fly and Camp Like a Girl. Pettit has done 103 podcasts to date, all with different topics related to girl campers, camping, equipment and the outdoors.

Bable said many of the campers she's welcomed to the group, and her campsite, found them through social media.

McKinney agreed that social media helps drive her blog posts, and keeps her motivated. So much that she posts her Facebook blog each day at 4:00 a.m. "Yes, I've had women say it's like reading 'Dear Abby' every day. They get up, get their coffee and read what I have to say," said McKinney.

And McKinney, and 'the girls', will continue to go places and do things...sharing their stories along the way.

 
 

 

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