Fresh Take: Interview with Jessica Vozel

Adam Nelson
Founder of the Daggerfish Gear Co. 

Daggerfish is growing, and we’re working hard to make more gear, design more products, and reach more people. As part of that, I’m pleased to introduce Jessica Vozel, who will be writing for the Daggerfish blog and helping to manage our presence online. Like most people, Jess is relatively new to the outdoors, and that’s a good thing: when you’ve grown up camping like I did, it’s easy to forget how confusing and challenging it can be to get started. I’m excited for our readers to learn along with her as she explores different ways of getting outside, and expands her experience of the outdoors.

I sat down with Jess to learn more about where her interests in writing, travel, and the outdoors came from: 


Jess - what kind of a kid were you? Indoor kid or outdoor kid?

I grew up as an only child in Perryopolis, and I was into anything that had to do with imagination. I had asthma really bad as a kid, so I spent a lot of time indoors. I’d still try to go out as much as I could, but I’d spend a lot of time drawing, reading, and writing. I actually started writing even before I could read, making up stories based on pictures in books. 

Where does that desire to write come from?

My great-great-great-great-times-five uncle on my Dad’s side is actually considered the father of Slovak literary realism, so I’d like to think it’s in my blood. But even as a kid, I’ve always felt like time was slipping away, fleeting, and writing was a way of capturing a moment in time and living in it for a while. When I was about twelve years old, my family took a trip to Acadia National Park. It was a huge influence on me, and I started writing stories, even attempted a novel set in that area, so I could keep living there in my imagination. Writing has always been a form of exploration for me. As a function of being in a small town, somewhat protected, writing about places let me explore them and the lives you could live there.

You ran a travel writing business for many years. Have you always been interested in traveling?

The travel bug definitely came from my dad. From an early age, we’d take day trips and the occasional long-saved-for vacation. That trip to Acadia came at the perfect time, at the age when really formative experiences start to happen. We got to that park the day after Hurricane Bertha had come through, and I remember seeing the towering waves, thinking about the incredible power that place had, and feeling amazed by it. I’d beg to go back there, but we didn’t have the money to take trips like that a lot, so writing became a way for me to travel and explore. After college and grad school, I wanted to center travel in my life, and eventually started my own travel copywriting business as a way to make that happen. 

Do you think your interest in the outdoors is an extension of your love for travel? When did that interest start to develop?

I’d been interested in the outdoors since I was a kid, but because of my asthma I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to go. Whenever I did go camping it was with other people, and honestly they’d do most of the work. Then - and this is now a common story - the pandemic hit and I started to feel like I should learn how to get out there and maybe become more self-reliant. I felt the need to pare back to the bare essentials, not just physically but economically as well, and learn what I really needed to survive. 

Without taking a lot of camping trips as a kid, you must have had to teach yourself outdoors skills. What was your experience like trying to learn on your own how to be in the outdoors?

I’m the kind of person who needs to research something to death, which was actually good during the pandemic because...what else was there to do? So I started researching and tried to learn from articles online, YouTube videos, etc. But without someone there to guide you, the research rabbit hole can be endless. In my case, just looking for a backpack brought up these questions - ‘OK, I need a backpack, but I’m 5’1”. How big should it be? What if I want to stay out in the wilderness longer? What is the best one that I can afford?’ It took a really long time to answer those questions, because there’s so much information and viewpoints out there. I started to discover these different subcultures of outdooring, like bushcraft and ultralighting, and thought ‘Well, I’m not already in any of these cultures yet, so what can I take from each that makes sense?’

What was the most challenging part about learning how to go into the outdoors?

One thing I started to find was that a lot of the articles I was reading assumed a certain level of experience and expertise, and were directed to their particular subculture. I felt a little unmoored, like these people were speaking a different language. If I was learning another hobby, like if I wanted to learn to play tennis, the stakes are pretty low. But if you want to learn how to go into the wilderness, you can get the feeling like, ‘If I screw this up, I could die.’ And sometimes the subculture communities can make each choice seem more life-or-death than it actually is.

I also felt like some of this wasn’t for me, both because of my inexperience and, honestly, because of gender. Most articles and videos are directed, intentionally or unintentionally, towards men. Being a 5’1” woman without a lot of experience, I would always default to thinking, ‘I’ll go when there’s a guy to go with me.’ It’s the hurdle of feeling like an observer, rather than a participant. When things aren’t geared towards you, it can feel like you can watch, but not do. 

That said, there are lots of outdoorswomen who I admire, like Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote the book Wild as a result. It might be easier to think about this in terms of yin and yang, rather than female and male. As I’ve gotten older, I started thinking a lot more about what an adult woman looks like. I felt like an adult woman has the yin energy, but also has the yang energy to balance. The archetype of the goddess Artemis is a good example - she’s still a caretaker, but she can wreck some shit if she needs to. 

Tell me more about Artemis - what makes her such a model for you?

Artemis is a Greek goddess, a huntress and the protector of wild creatures and young girls. So she protects vulnerability. She’s the adult feminine protecting the child feminine, and importantly, she’s not a mother or a wife. Artemis is what’s called a “virgin goddess,” meaning that relationships don’t define her. She stands on her own. That’s the energy I want to cultivate for myself, not to the detriment of my other sides, but so that it develops into its fullness. When I go out in the wilderness, I feel at once like Artemis and the more vulnerable people that she’s protecting. The first time I had my pack on and I came to a trail marker where I had to decide where I was going, I felt the internal power to make that choice, and come what may, I’ll handle it on my own.

Being outdoors has always been of interest to me, but I realized that I was always looking for someone else to take me with them. Tapping into this side of myself, what I’ve finally come to see is that I don’t have to wait around for anyone else. 

I’m so excited for you to be beginning this journey, and to be bringing that experience to this company and our blog. What advice would you give to someone just starting to learn how to be in the outdoors?

I’ve always had a bit of a desire to test my boundaries. I think everyone does, to some extent. The thing about that is that you don’t necessarily have to seek out those challenges. The opportunity to challenge yourself will always come to you, and it’s a matter of saying yes to that challenge when it comes. When I started my business it felt like a good way to test my comfort zone, and so I did it even though I was really really scared. It’s the same with learning to be in the outdoors - the opportunity came to learn and grow, and for me, it’s been a matter of taking small, slow steps outside of my comfort zone. 

What I’d say to someone else who’s starting on a journey like this is to look at the long term, and a longer timeline, and remember that taking these small steps will eventually aggregate into greater knowledge. Seeing that those small steps add up to something, even if it takes years, learning, trying, and accumulating knowledge and experience will add up to make you more and more capable.

Anything else you’re working on?

On my website, www.jessicavozel.com, I’m exploring the idea of creative blocks, where they come from, how to overcome them, etc. I think creating is extremely important, psychologically and culturally, and I’m interested in learning more about it and how to develop it with people. I have a contact form there and I’d be happy to talk with people about their experiences with creativity and the frameworks that block it.z

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