At Upland Brewing Company, we have a long history of acting with purpose. Among other things, this means we intentionally spend time doing what we love, sharing with our community and extending the Upland family. It just so happens many of the people who drink Upland beer also act with purpose. Amanda Figolah is one of those people.
A Bloomington native who teaches environmental science and biology at Bloomington High School South, Amanda spends her days inspiring students, and as many weekends as she can doing things that inspire her. This includes recently spending 21 days backpacking hundreds of miles on a storied trail in Sierra Nevada, taking in breath-taking scenery and packing an extra Upland beer to share with a stranger along the way.
So crack open your favorite Upland brew and get to know our brand fan of the month. Perhaps her story will inspire you.
How did you get into backpacking?
I have been hiking and backpacking since I was about 15 when a teacher/mentor of mine in high school introduced me to wilderness adventure. I spent my summers in high school on school trips to Isle Royale at Lake Superior and in the Rockies. In college I loved hiking and backpacking in Hoosier National Forest, and post-college I had some fun adventures in the Wind River Range in Wyoming and in Glacier National Park in Montana.
I lost my connection with backpacking when my kids were young, but was able to revive and reconnect with wilderness backpacking this summer du to a Lilly Foundation Grant for teachers. I set my sights on the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada and dedicated the last year to relearning and preparing for this 230 mile adventure!
The John Muir Trail ends with a final climb up Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States! Tell us about that.
I hiked the trail southbound from Yosemite National Park to Sequoia Kings Canyon. What was special about climbing Mt. Whitney was that I reached the summit at sunrise. The night before I camped about 4 miles from the summit with trail friends I had met earlier that day. We rose around 2 a.m. in the silent darkness, broke camp, and hiked with full packs toward the summit. About 2 miles from the summit is a point called Trail Crest where backpackers drop their heavy gear and continue to the summit with a lighter load. It was remarkable to watch the last moments of twilight in the western sky disappear and almost synchronously see light appear in the east. It felt like a race to get to the summit at sunrise and I anticipated feelings of exhilaration upon reaching the top. What I experienced there was the most incredible peace. The freezing cold morning light developing like a polaroid photo minute by minute was paralyzing beauty. Nothing compares to the light in the Sierras.
Sounds incredible! You mentioned gear. You had Upland beers as part of your re-supply buckets. What kind of brews did you have on-hand, and why did you select them for your re-supply bucket?
I re-supplied three times on the JMT (re-supply means I sent three 5 gallon buckets of goodies to three locations along the trail about a month before I left for the trek). Since I solo hiked the JMT, I thought it would be fun to share a beer with a new friend at each re-supply stop, so I packed two of my favorite brews in each of my buckets (one for me and one for a friend). The two beers I packed in each were Campside Pale Ale and Dragonfly IPA.
I have loved Dragonfly IPA for 20 years since I discovered it in college. Upland has been a “go to” for good days, bad days, celebrations, and spur of the moment sunny afternoons. I always appreciated their emphasis on local philanthropic efforts.
How do you try to instill your passion for the outdoors/adventure in your students?
One of my primary goals in teaching environmental science is to instill a sense of wonder and connection with the outdoors. At its most basic level I believe that without love for the environment, people will not fight for conservation. Indiana is a special place and despite our lack of sweeping mountain vistas there is so much to explore locally. My classes spend about three weeks exploring our local watershed and concepts related to watershed management and are encouraged to engage with the environment through adventure and reflection as part of the course.
The more I travel and experience, the more I feel I have to offer my students from those experiences. For example, I can share how I was on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains seeing the snow melt in the higher elevations and understanding in the clearest terms the impact of climate change on these delicate but resilient ecosystems. I will be sharing aspects of my adventure with students this year through a series of events that includes a discussion of how time in nature heals in the most surprising and unique ways. I’m also interested in putting some energy into inspiring and empowering young women to take on solo adventures.
Any plans for another backpacking trip in the future?
Yes, yes, yes! My heart craves another month in the Sierra Nevada. Admittedly it is difficult to imagine going anywhere else because those mountains are the most incredibly beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. It can be difficult to obtain permits in some areas, but I’d like to explore Teton Crest Trail, the Wonderland Trail, and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington. Outside of the U.S. I have my sights on Argentina, Chile, and Peru. In the interim, I’ll be out in the Hoosier National Forest and nearby parks like Red River Gorge every chance I get.
Hope you get the next adventure on the books soon! Anything else you’d like to add?
The JMT trail was more than a physical feat for me. I was granted the money in 2020 and was forced to defer for two summers. In that time I experienced some difficult years, as we all did through COVID-19 This trip revealed truths I never imagined I’d know. I grew stronger and more confident on the trail. I embraced every moment of adversity with curiosity about the inevitable lesson I’d learn. I met some of the most remarkable people on trail and will never forget the kindness, openness, inspiration, and grit in that collection of humans. I felt peace and healing physically, spiritually, and psychologically. I came home from the JMT with new eyes and perspective that I will hold close for a lifetime.
Many thanks to Amanda for telling us about her recent adventure and passion for backpacking! Cheers to you, Amanda!
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
© 2021 Upland Brewing Company
© 2021 Upland Brewing Company