I dug out my 2002 Daytimer today. I wanted to see what had been happening in my life when I decided to launch Women’s Adventure magazine (www.womensadventuremedia.com). The words I’d used to describe what I see in the first three months of that year are: chaos, sorrow, winter, doubt, anxiety, and displacement.
My partner and I sunk our money into our first home together, and the contractor was a year behind before he decided to disappear altogether. We lived with a friend, in his basement, for six months. We’d made four moves prior to that, emptying and repacking storage units like luggage. The dot-com world imploded and left me collecting unemployment. My grandmother passed away. I had the first symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. The fog over us metastasized as my partner’s father got ALS, and both my dogs had to be put down. I tried to find work. Every idea I produced, failed.
Once a Prozac-induced spring kicked in, I found not one, but three jobs at different magazines. But they didn’t satisfy me. And I couldn’t settle anymore. In July 2002, as I spread my malamute’s ashes across the mountains where he once lived, I decided to create a magazine I wanted to read—one that had never existed. One that would tug at the emotional core of women’s connection to the outdoors and adventure travel. I described my new vision as “Oprah, With a Backpack,” minus the car giveaways and crying.
We’d turn down diet ads and vow never to run a “thinner thighs in thirty days” article in our pages. We’d give female athletes and inspiring adventurers the spotlight they deserved. But first, I needed money. I decided I’d be willing to jump off the cliff if advertisers agreed to go there with me. So, I made a mock up of the magazine, along with a media kit of proposed rates and demographics (for readers I didn’t have yet, but would!), and rented a copper-colored Kia I called “Penny” and drove her from San Diego to Seattle meeting with running shoe, backpack, sunglass, auto, and energy bar companies. Before a single issue hit the press, Asics, Teva, Woolrich, Salomon, Vasque, Oakley, and notably Title 9 Sports supported the launch of the title (at that time called Dandelion). I formed a team. We started design. We leapt.
Eight years is a long time. I learned (many times the hard way) about every facet of running a magazine. Three years into it, I heard that magazine publishing has the second highest failure rate next to the restaurant business. In our first five years, we had two minority owners, one name change, and countless underpaid staff and interns. Women’s Adventure turned its first profit in year four. In our fifth year, I sold the title to Big Earth Publishing and agreed to continue running it. Shortly after, the economy collapsed, and Big Earth’s commitment saved Women’s Adventure. But the stress of layoffs and the constant reshuffling it took to keep the magazine alive affected my health. Two plaques (MS lesions) in my brain doubled in size within eight months.
My decision to leave the magazine was a relatively easy one, but sad nonetheless. Easy, because I have a staff in place that has handled the magazine in such a way that I’m seriously a non-factor in its success or improvement. I’ve learned everything I wanted to know in my position. I’m satisfied and proud of this title and my role in it. I created my dream job. How many people can say that? And, I didn’t just do it for me. I did it because I believed there were millions of women out there who wanted (maybe even sometimes needed) a title like this to exist. Women’s Adventure is still the only women’s outdoor sports title on the planet. And that’s really something.
So what’s next? I’ll continue to contribute to Women’s Adventure with a regular column and blog (www.michelletheall.com/blog). And, I’ll also keep running the Creative Conferences for aspiring writers and photographers (www.creativeconferences.com). Beyond that, I’m working on a memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, and trying to keep up with our four-year-old son, Logan.
For those of you reading this who are part of our Women’s Adventure audience, I wish you all the best as you follow your adventures. It’s been a privilege creating this magazine and getting to hear your stories over the years.
Women’s Adventure Founder