As the story goes, it all began with a business plan competition for women veterans and a stroke of genius. Not only did Jill Hinton, chief heroine of the Outdoor Book Club in Grand Rapids, enter her highly original concept, she took third place in the amount of $10,000 to get her vision going.
An army veteran and sales copywriter by trade, Hinton went from full-time job to entrepreneur in 2014 and she hasn’t looked back. Initially, she had a good idea, but needed a great idea to make her mark. When someone mentioned women hiking the trails of the Porcupine Mountains, Hinton had part of the hook, but felt the urge to add another component.
“I took something I was passionate about, which was books and reading, and blended it with women in the outdoors,” she says.
Though Hinton admits she wasn’t particularly outdoorsy, she has a newfound appreciation for nature and all that it entails. “Most of my clients want to be more outdoorsy and have a more meaningful experience. They just show up with hiking boots and we take care of the rest, like all the food and equipment,” she says. “I do have a lot of women who are outdoorsy, but they don’t know anybody who does that.”
Her first foray for a group of five was a backpacking trip along the Manistee River Trail inspired by Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” The women shared an empowering experience they won’t soon forget.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” shares participant Donna Wilson. “I love the outdoors, but taking my family on such a trip would prove remarkably challenging. The location seemed — and proved to be — remarkable.”
“It was an awesome experience to be outdoors, fending for ourselves and relying on ourselves,” notes fellow adventurer Christine Smith. “Everyone in the group brought their own strengths to the trip.”
Future travel and tome adventures include a five-day stay in Grand Marais in June to celebrate Hemingway in the Upper Peninsula and a six-day hiking trip in August to see the wolves of Isle Royale in conjunction with the book “Never Cry Wolf” by Farley Mowat.
“It’s very remote. You can only get there by ferry,” Hinton says. “It’s Michigan’s only national park that receives as many visitors in one year as Yellowstone National Park does in one day.”
To partake in Outdoor Book Club adventures, rates begin at $150, with the average fee around $325. More costly excursions include a September trip to Hood River, Oregon in honor of the wildly popular memoir “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed that became an Oscar-nominated film starring Reese Witherspoon.
Hinton also offers meditation retreats and workshops like fly fishing and cowgirl cooking. Group trips can be customized for book clubs, bachelorette parties, reunions and corporate retreats.
Unlike many of life’s journeys, there is no experience required here.
“You don’t have to read the books to go on the trips. They’re a platform for talking about themes in our lives, they’re just a starting point,” Hinton explains. “And I had never been mountain biking or cross-country skiing and I’m just completely falling in love with being outdoors and forming bonds with the coolest women.”
For details, turn to outdoorbookclub.org.
— Jeanine Matlow, Michigan BLUE Magazine
Photography Courtesy Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (bottom center); Little, Brown
and Company (bottom left); ottOutdoor Book Club (top); Crown Publishing Group (bottom right)