Our C-U Women Outdoors series is all about highlighting the women in our local RuggedOutdoors community who are passionate about the outdoors. Meet Michelle Ryan, a local on air personality who is proving that being active and getting outdoors can be fun and very rewarding.
Name: Michelle Ryan
Occupation: On air personality for Mix 94.5 and Rewind 92.5 in Champaign, IL
Tell us a little about yourself:
A native of southern Illinois, I’ve lived in C/U for nearly 13 years, moving here in 2006 for my job with the Illini Radio Group. I’m the midday (9-2) host on Mix 94.5 and also do afternoons (3-7) on Rewind 92.5. While I’ll never be considered a “townie,” our community has most definitely become my home. Having said that, my passion and favorite thing to do is to travel, anywhere and everywhere.
You recently completed a Rim to Rim backpacking trip, what was your favorite part of that experience?
In early September, Jamie and I completed our top (for now) bucket list item — a Rim-to-Rim hike of the Grand Canyon. It was four days and three nights, from the North Rim to the South.
I think my favorite thing about the Grand Canyon was that the views constantly change. Fir trees, blooming cacti, creeks, waterfalls, wildlife (not as much as we’d hoped, though), red rocks, black rocks, the sky at nighht — it was vastly different at any given point of the trip. I also really loved being unplugged. We lost cell service as I was trying to post a group photo from the North Rim… it never sent. Initial frustration soon gave way to the relief of being completely disconnected from the world for four days.
What’s your advice for someone who is thinking about a Rim to Rim trip?
Pack light but be absolutely sure that your group has a way to filter water. When the water main broke, we had no choice but to drink creek water; some hikers we met along the trail didn’t plan and were struggling. Bring plenty of salty snacks. We witnessed a young guy horrifyingly close to death from hyponatremia. He was rescued and expected to fully recover, but a dangerous lack of sodium made it a very close call.
We’ve done a fair amount of hiking but nothing like THIS. The challenge wasn’t really the hiking itself, but the conditions. It was 115 in the shade at Phantom Ranch, and 140 in the sun. If you aren’t super experienced in challenging conditions, go with a reputable tour company. I mean — Jordan cooked amazing food for us and that was incredible. More importantly, we felt safe at all times. If we could do the trip over again, though, I’d probably go when it’s a little cooler.
Besides the Rim to Rim, what’s your favorite outdoor adventure?
Kayaking 5 miles along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula near Munising, Michigan. It was stunning.
Where is your favorite local hiking spot?
Our favorite place to hike as we trained for the Grand Canyon was at Forest Glen Preserve in Westville. There’s a terrific 11-mile backpacking loop that was beautiful and offered lots of opportunities for ups and downs!
You’re also an avid runner. How did you get into that?
Let me be clear that I am an avid recreational runner. Because of bad knee injuries I’d never even run a mile until a few years ago… one day I just decided to try. When my knees felt fine, I kept at it and even did a 5k or two. In 2017, I met and really clicked with a group of girls from a Refinery gym class. We decided to do one of those inflatable 5ks in Bloomington, then the CUSR Cupcake 5k at Parkland College, then the Santa Hustle 5k in Indy. Those “fun runs” really became a thing and they’ve changed my life. Our goal is to complete 19 races (5ks and 10ks) in 2019, and we’ll actually all go well beyond that.
Which race are you most proud of completing?
Inspired by my running tribe, I signed up to run the half marathon during 2018 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon race weekend. If you feel like you could never do this, trust me — it would have seemed WAY beyond the realm of possibility for most of my life, and I was terrified. But I trained all winter with Second Wind Running Club which is a fantastic program, and I did it. I was slow — I'll always be slow — but I finished. I just signed up to do that training again, and plan to run the Indianapolis Mini Marathon in May of 2020.
Which race was the most fun or unique?
I love holiday races, and I think our first Santa Hustle in Indy was my favorite. Picture thousands of Santas in hats, shirts, striped socks, even some beards — no thanks, choking hazard — running through downtown Indy in 19-degree weather. It was fun and lighthearted, yet still a challenge in those conditions! Like most of our races, we laughed hysterically, have great memories and ridiculous photos.
Any tips or advice for someone just getting started in running?
You can absolutely do it. Start slow and stay slow if that’s best for you! Don’t let anyone tell you that you must run a certain pace or be able to do long distances to be a real runner. That way of thinking makes me angry. As my friend said to me this morning while we ran the Illinois Homecoming 5k - “your race, your pace.” It doesn’t matter if you’ve never run before. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you decide to start. It’s never too late until it’s too late. The best thing, I think, is finding a friend or a group to run with you. Find someone who will hold you accountable, and who’ll make it fun. And reward yourself — brunch is our incentive, even though it tends to negate all that calorie burn.
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
We’d like to go back to Ireland and hike the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula. We drove it over the course of a day in 2017, but it takes about eight days to walk the entire thing. Best of all, you spend the night along the way in little towns with B&Bs and pubs and just soak everything in. The food’s not so great in Ireland, but the people, beer, scenery, and the music/culture can’t be beat.
Is there anything you are working on or that you are a part of right now that you’re most excited about?
Not really – just on the lookout for the next big thing. Life is short, and I’m ready. Carpe diem.