For over a decade, Cate Doucette chased winter around the world to ski, from the White Mountains of her native New Hampshire to the slopes of Alaska, British Columbia, California, Argentina, Switzerland, and beyond. But she always kept one eye toward living a more settled life and putting her heart on the line if someone would just ask her to. Like other women who choose or yearn to be in the wilderness, she wrestled to reconcile her outdoor ambitions with society’s expectations of women.
The personal essays collected in On the Run touch on the author’s origins in New Hampshire while focusing on the lure of big mountains in the West. They celebrate the comfort, challenge, and community found in expanses of wilderness while confronting the limitations and sacrifices that come with a transient, outdoor lifestyle.
OSU Press: What led you to experience life outdoors?
Cate Doucette: I grew up in a family that cherished outdoor time. This, coupled with living in the Northern New Hampshire wilderness, helped foster my love of the outdoors. My parents and two brothers also enjoy the outdoors and spending time in mountain landscapes. My more specialized wilderness skills training was encouraged and taught by faculty at The White Mountain School, a small school nestled in the White Mountains.
OSU Press: What has been your experience as a woman in the wilderness?
Doucette: As I detail in On the Run, being in the wilderness has treated me well. I have been fortunate to encounter great companions and support in my outdoor pursuits from every corner. I find being (often) outnumbered by men to be interesting – an unbalance that may be notable but rarely affects my experiences. I don’t draw gender lines and instead look for funny, active, smart, safe, supportive partners to create my outdoor community.
OSU Press: What advice do you have for women wanting to have a deeper connection to nature?
Doucette: Get out! I think that spending time outside helps to grow anyone’s appreciation of the natural world. Also, I encourage joining a community of outdoor enthusiasts—this promotes shared experiences and new activities. Of course, education is also a solid path to gaining the skills and understanding that aid in being comfortable and enthused about an outdoor lifestyle.
OSU Press: What was your writing process like for On the Run and why did you choose to write this book?
Doucette: This book began as I assume many essay collections begin, with a few personal essays. As I built my essays and began publishing in journals and reviews, my ambitions turned toward compiling a collection. I found that thematically, I almost always tackle the search for home and belonging in my work. The vehicles of this search took me into the outdoors more often than not, mirroring my life acurately. The themes of searching for community and accessing mountain landscapes helped me to thread together the book. Once I had the big picture in mind, ordering and massaging the essays to work together was my ambition.
OSU Press: What do you think you have learned from being a backcountry skier and hiker?
Doucette: The lessons are innumerable. I’ve learned that training and preparation are vital, that good companions are the most important part of a successful day, and that being outdoors in these ways is really fun. It has often been the best part of my life. A good day in the backcountry is unbeatable. I’ve learned to look at a peak and pick lines and scope terrain features. It’s not just about being in nature though– it’s about the relationships, the challenges, and the failures. It’s about the taste of cheese that has been in a plastic bag in your pocket. It’s about someone offering a hot thermos of Chai or a piece of fried chicken. It’s about sharing a meal, or a drink – in a bar, in a hut, on a tailgate. It’s about finding myself again and again within the most beautiful places in the world. It’s about the callouses and blisters, the sweat and the tears, and the perpetual search of it all.
OSU Press: What did you have to overcome when writing On the Run?
Doucette: I think it was Dr. Tracy Daugherty who told his students that you don’t have to be the best, you just have to keep writing, and the writers who keep at it get published. This collection took me forever – but I kept trying, kept submitting, kept writing. That was the biggest challenge. I also have one of those special, invaluable writing friendships that help me to overcome all the little obstacles. This friendship helped me to keep going, to see rejections as simply another stepping stone, and to continue long after the structures and disciplines of the classroom have faded.
Catherine Doucette grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She is an avid skier, runner, horseback rider, and hiker. Doucette’s writing ambitions were sparked at St. Lawrence University. She went on to earn her MFA from Oregon State University and has been writing nonfiction ever since. Her writing has appeared in literary journals and trade magazines. She currently calls Pennsylvania home, where the forests are close and she writes in the shadow of Hawk Mountain.