On a recent afternoon, Sandra Ballentyne was very excited as her husband dropped her off for a weekend of camping at Fort De Soto Park. It was the first time the 58-year-old retired teacher from Seminole had camped since she was a kid.
She joined more than 30 women, whose ages range from the mid 20s to the mid 70s, on an outing of the Adventurous Woman club, a 7-year-old group for women who enjoy the outdoors. It started out as a group of women who fished together. It grew to become a chapter of "Ladies, Let's Go Fishing," a national organization dedicated to attracting more women to fishing and to promoting conservation. As the local group gained more members — who explored other outdoor activities such as camping, archery and kayaking — it became the Adventurous Woman.
Carol Reed, a 65-year-old from Madeira Beach and one of the original members, enjoys the group because of the opportunities it brings.
"Michele Homer, the founder of the group, had visions for women to excel and look for new adventures," said Reed, a retired administrator for an assisted living community. "She wanted women to have a group where they could try adventures they might not ordinarily try on their own."
Ballentyne did just that. It was her first time kayak fishing with the group, and although she did not catch anything, she learned a lot from watching others. As Ballentyne paddled around, she not only enjoyed meeting with other members and talking but also the freedom to explore on her own.
"The sun, the water, the women — all because they loved what they were doing," Ballentyne said. "It was terrific fun."
During the campout, some members took a guided nature hike, which they learned about from a speaker at one of the club meetings.
Club adventures are for women only, although husbands and boyfriends are allowed to join for two annual events, the after-Christmas party and a fish fry at Reed's house.
A lot of women are intimidated by men telling them what to do when they are fishing, said St. Petersburg's Sue Funk, a 47-year-old project manager for Raymond James and a co-captain of the club.
"Women fishing together are more supportive and help each other out," said Funk, who won the largest slam and lady angler titles in the 2006 Osprey Bay No Motor Tournament.
Ballentyne said men usually assume women know nothing and will try to do things for them. She likes the group because of the acceptance of doing things that are not necessarily thought of as women's activities.
"It's nicer," she said. "You are freer to learn and relax more when fishing around women."
When Funk joined the group, there were about 12 to 15 members. Maybe three had their own kayaks. Today about half of the more than 50 members do. During the weekend at Fort De Soto, 11 women participated in the club's fishing tournament, catching and releasing 62 fish.
Funk said the Fort De Soto campout has always been a favorite trip. Other destinations include Ozello and Matlacha.
"You are surrounded by good people, and you get to unwind from the stress of work and family in beautiful settings," she said.
Ballentyne agreed: "You forget about things that are bothering you, including aches and pains."
Tiffany Kane, a 30-year-old development associate for the Alzheimer's Association who lives in St. Petersburg, joined the club about two years ago. She enjoys the opportunities it brings. She has been camping several times since her first trip with the club and is learning to fish with artificial lures instead of live bait. Last year she entered two fishing tournaments.
"I love that it's a lot of independent women who are not afraid to try something new," Kane said.
They might not like an activity but at least they are willing to try it to find out, she said.
Reed said the goal is for women to feel good about doing these types of activities themselves.
"The club is full of just real people, their arms are always open," she said.
Kane said the club becomes a family as they learn together and enjoy the time together.
"Everyone is my cousin or my aunt," Kane said.
It seems Homer's vision has been achieved.
"Since I joined the club, I figured I could do anything," Kane said.
Carolyn Edds, a Times news researcher, became a member of The Adventurous Woman last year.