SPOTLIGHT ON MAUREEN DEFRANCE
by Rebecca Sweeton
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A MEMBER OF SOLAR? I joined SOLAR in 1985. I had heard that there was a club in Southeast Michigan that taught rockclimbing. This had been a long time dream of mine. I couldn’t afford to take Outward Bound or a NOLS class while working my way through college. I had to be satisfied with a huge poster of a rockclimber in action on the wall of my dorm room. I was estatic when there was a local club that could “show me the ropes”.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH SOLAR? I was on a downhill ski trip to the Austrian Alps, when I heard about SOLAR. I made up my mind right then and there to look into joining when I returned from my trip. I felt a little awkward when walking into the first meeting (I didn’t know a soul). By the time I walked out of that meeting, I felt as though I was finally home!
HOW DID YOU START BACKPACKING? Although I had been car camping throughout my childhood, I had never backpacked until I joined SOLAR. As a single woman, I was concerned that people would “do things for me”, rather than truly let me learn how to do things for myself. SOLAR provided the avenue I needed. Within the first 1-1/2 years in SOLAR, I took almost every class they offered (Starting with rockclimbing, of course!). Since that time I have backpacked in Japan, Thailand, and many parts of the U.S. This past summer a group of us backpacked for 26 days and completed the John Muir Trail in California (220 miles). It was fabulous.
WHAT HAS YOUR FAVORITE TRIP BEEN SO FAR? Although there have been many, many SOLAR outings that were fun-filled and rewarding, there have been three outstanding trips I have taken with my SOLAR family. Three years ago, over a dozen of us traveled through England and Wales together. The comradery and hiking were wonderful. Two years ago, 17 SOLARites hiked the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermott, Switzerland together. The sites, the people, and the food were all fabulous. This
summer (2006), four of us backpacked the entire John Muir Trail. The scenery was spectacular -- it was the trip of a lifetime.
WHAT WOULD YOUR DREAM TRIP BE? My husband and I hope to take a 3 month trip to Australia in 2009.
WHAT CLASSES WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD TO SOLAR’S CURRICULUM? SOLAR is as diverse as its membership. I have an interest in expanding some of the locations of our classes to fit the nature of what we learn. I’d like to see a multi-day practical for advanced backpacking take place in the mountains of Colorado.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE IN SOLAR? I can only narrow this question to 2 experiences. First, I met my soulmate and husband in SOLAR. We have been married for almost 18 years. Both of us feel that we have put more “life” into those 18 years than in our whole lives.
My second experience involves my SOLAR “family”. I was very seriously injured in 2001, and had to stay in Colorado for a month. I was separated from my husband and family. Former SOLAR friends that had moved to Colorado took me in rather than have me stay in a nursing home. Back in Michigan, SOLAR members set up a “calling tree” to keep up my spirits while recooperating. Those were dark days for me, and SOLAR friends were my ray of hope. Since that time, I have learned to walk again, and even backpack again. These people will be my friends for the rest of my life.
HOW HAS SOLAR CHANGED DURING THE YEARS YOU HAVE BEEN A MEMBER? The types of classes have changed with people’s interests. Other than that, SOLAR has not changed. It always been, and will continue to be my extended family.