Jaye Olender, 56, of Milo, has always been comfortable outdoors. Originally from the town of Grayling in northern Michigan, she grew up 18 miles from the legendary Ausable River, where she spent time with her family recreating all over the north woods and waters. After serving in the Marine Corps as a military police officer, she came to Maine. Now, as a Registered Maine Guide, she specializes in sea kayaking for L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School.
Talking with her recently at her camp on the 42 acres she owns alongside the Sebec River in Milo, I found out just how meaningful an outdoor life has been to her. First, among the many reasons she told me she pursued such a life, was her survival of ovarian cancer.
“I told myself when I was diagnosed that it didn’t matter if I got sick from the chemo treatments, I was still going to be active. Even if it meant using a barf bag during my excursions, it wasn’t going to stop me from going outside and participating,” she said.
Cancer-free since 1982 and a guide since 2000, she has learned first-hand the healing powers of outdoor activity. “The healing aspect of the outdoors is so important,” she said. While some of her clients recognize that, most hire her services for a whole variety of reasons.
“I’ve seen older ladies who want to recreate without having to own or haul their gear, and want to get outdoors for a short duration. A lot of the folks who sign on for guided trips love them, because they don’t have to think of all the logistics that go into a trip. They don’t have to choose a route, make a menu for food, plan which gear to bring or arrange where to be picked up after. They just pay a price and show up [with personal items from a provided list],” she said.
She originally became a guide to find other women to recreate with. That’s when she offered a women-only trip service to her clients. Now, she specializes in women-only trips and has led women clients from all over the world. “Women enjoy the trip more than just getting from point A to point B. Most are satisfied as much with the journey as the destination,” she said.
She has noticed a dynamic in her women-only excursions. If there aren’t men present she says, “The women learn more, the group bonds better, they encourage each other to try everything they can to take away a new skill, and they are free to converse or ask questions without feeling silly. They also are quicker to speak up if they need a more frequent ‘bio break,’ therefore they hydrate better through the adventure.”
She has taken groups that vary in size from as few as three to a group of 14, which is her maximum. Most of her guiding originates from L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School, so one of her favorite places is in Casco Bay. In particular, The Goslings, a pair of islands on the west side of the bay.
“It’s beautiful, has a sand bar, seals nearby and is fairly protected,” she said. The people who sign up for her trips come from a variety of backgrounds, “I’m not sure what the ‘average age’ is, it really is multigenerational. I feel like the boomers are starting to make a reappearance in the outdoors. Of course, their families fill out that spectrum,” she said.
She guides a few overnight trips every season and benefits from the experience because, “I get to know my ‘sports’ better,” she said.
Although she primarily works in Casco Bay, Olender has favorite places inland as well. “My favorite place is Gulf Hagas, because I love to camp and hike in the woods, and I am always drawn to water. I’d have to say that South Branch Pond in Baxter State Park is a close second,” she said.
Olender has built her client base over the past 11 years, but understands that guiding may not provide her much income. One of her guide trainers told her a joke that illustrated her potential income.
“The joke went,” Olender said, “What’s the difference between a guide and a large pizza? Give up? A large pizza can feed a family of four.”
Although getting rich on guiding probably isn’t a great career goal, just spending time outdoors certainly is its own reward. Measured that way, Olender is wealthy beyond her dreams.
To contact Jaye Olender for a guided trip call, 939-6303 or access her on the Web at laughingloonadventures.com