Elizabeth Allen is a local legend in Western North Carolina, but you probably don’t recognize the name. Everyone has been calling her Biz since she was two years old, short for busy, because she never sits still. She’s out on the slopes or rivers with her boys, sharing her passion for the outdoors with everyone she meets.
What motivates you to get outside with your kids?
Being confined by four walls makes me break out in hives, I swear I have an allergic reaction to being stuck indoors. My best guess is that I was a homeless person in a previous life.
Getting outside isn’t just a preferred option. It’s a requirement for me. I am most alive when connected to the Earth. If we want to not merely survive our lives, but truly live, we must be connected with out natural world and I want to pass these values on to my boys, who will be fifteen and seventeen-years old at the end of January.
Did you grow up playing outside?
My parents weren’t into the outdoors so it wasn’t something nurtured in my childhood. It took a long time for me to incorporate adventure sports into my lifestyle.
I was in college at Mars Hill and a few of my girlfriends worked at the Wolf and taught kids how to ski, so I started skiing with them and then worked there.
That winter I met a lot of people in the boating community and they said, “Come out and be a raft guide.”
“Why would I do that?” I asked.
“The parties are awesome,” they said.
So I showed up the next spring and I was terrible at it. After training season, the senior guide told me that everyone enjoyed hanging out with me and I should stay and work doing odd chores. I lived in a parking lot that summer with thirty other people and had the time of my life, sleeping on the top of buses and hanging out around the fire every night. We became a big family.
The following spring I went back and the same senior guide said, “We aren’t getting off the water until you nail it.”
There were tears until it finally clicked. I got enough of the basics down and stayed that season as a raft guide.
Spending time on the slopes or rivers comes easy for my kids because it’s all they know, it’s the normal way to live. Because we went outside as a family, the boys are acclimated to the outdoors.
When did you start taking your kids to the slopes?
I started taking them skiing when they were two. And then I swore I’d never teach them anything else. There was a lot of screaming and not enough drinking.
Once they learned how to ski, they didn’t want to hang out with me so I’d dress them up in super bright colors and sent them out. I knew all the ski patrollers and told them, “Keep an eye on them, spank them if they do anything bad.”
When I became a single mom, I struggled to keep the love for skiing alive in my boys’ hearts and I believed that being on the snow was a tool to give them a deeper understanding of themselves. Two brothers stepped up and sponsored my boys for years by providing ski passes to Wolf Laurel.
Those were pivotal years – those seasons gave my boys a snow family.
How did your boys start spending time on the river?
When my boys were young, I stayed at home with them. After being in such a social environment working on the slopes and with a rafting outfitter, all that solitude left me on the brink of insanity.
At that time, I paddled an Avon Scout, I slapped life jackets on them and piled toys on the floor. I bought them giant squirt guns and paddles that didn’t reach the water, so my boat became a giant playpen.
We started a game of picking up litter. I’d pay them a quarter for anything Styrofoam or can. The boys would ask to stop at these thrash-covered beaches. Now the boys do river clean ups on their own. Looking back, it was a genius way of installing the value of cleaning up the environment, but I can’t take any credit, it was completely unintentional.
How have your boys benefitted from adventuring?
All those guys on the river have become uncles, and now have a mentoring relationship with my boys. Now if I need my boys to know something, I’ll have a friend tell them. Information that comes from other trusted adults is more powerful than hearing something from mom.
Others often compliment my boys because they are self-sufficient in the outdoors. They can pack their own gear and carry their own boats. Safety considerations are automatic for them. And an added bonus is that they can hold a conversation with adults – they’ve had to – they’ve been in ski lodges and riding the lifts with grown-ups. They’ve around in parking lots as we figured out shuttle logistics and spent lots of time on the river with adults.
Has it ever been difficult to pursue your own outdoor interests after having kids?
My boating friends pulled a permit for the Grand Canyon, which is a month-long wilderness trip. At the time, my oldest was just starting kindergarten and I had to miss his first day. I was still married and my boys’ father supported my decision to go. The boy’s grandparents help out too.
I got a lot of flack. People said, “How can you leave your kids for a whole month?”
They had no problem asking, “Don’t you worry about missing out on their lives when they need you?”
That scrutiny was difficult – other people expressed their disappointment with how I lived my life.
I knew I had to go. The first there days were the hardest and I cried, especially at night.
I was the only female paddling an oar boat and the guys had a bet that I’d flip.
The empowerment from sitting at the helm of an oar rig and push through some of the biggest fear I’d ever experienced changed me. I kept my boat upright through all the shit.
We all roll through life with a shred of doubt about what we’re capable of. The Canyon removed my doubt about what I could do.
What advice do you have for other parents, especially single parents?
Letting your kids see you fail is an incredible gift. My kids have seen me struggle. They see me get out there and fall down and watch all the peaks and valleys that come with that.
If they never saw me cry, they might not know that people cry when they are disappointed and that it’s okay to struggle. Most adventure sports require us to struggle in order to succeed – there’s a level of discomfort involved when first learning how to stand on skis or roll a kayak or even tie a knot.
The secret is embracing, not choking, on the idea of being a single parent. When I first became a single parent, I thought my worst nightmare had become my reality. When you’re doing it alone, you have to reach out and incorporate all available resources. We are surrounded by all of these people with amazing gifts to share and a desire to be involved in my boys’ lives. If I had never been a single parent, our community would be much smaller now. Single parenting has been the greatest gift for my family.