Anna Birch & Adventure Links
Getting to Plan B



Suicide, cancer, and lemonade...


For the first time in my life, I wished time would speed up. I ached for the day I would write about this year of reckoning in reflection versus living it. How could I possibly turn this into lemonade?

June 6, 2001 was a beautiful day and you could touch the excitement in the air as our longtime staff made their way back to Adventure Links and we welcomed the new staff additions to our fast approaching season. We were a tightly weaved knit of a company with a passionate dedication to experiential education as our common thread. We were so tightly weaved in fact, that my home served as the office, life center, and community anchor for the company- never dull, certainly never quiet. It was always teeming with life and that day was no different.

No different until the phone rang and in moments, my scream, a lone, startling, and hollow-hearted scream that has not been repeated since cut through the air and stopped time. The news re-positioned my reality and abruptly sent my year on a path of inventing strength and concocting answers to navigate a journey I'd never taken. The news through the phone line was from my big sister "Anna…Dad killed himself. I don't know many details, but he's dead." As sisters we intuitively knew there was nothing else to say in that moment and simply hung up. Stunned and sitting where I had fallen to the floor, I wondered if this is what it felt like to be electrocuted. I inhaled, closing my eyes to elongate the breath as if trying to breathe in strength, reason, and prepare myself for the rest of my life. Little did I know that the strength gained from that breath was to sustain, teach, heal, and prepare me to: stand up, stand out, and stand for significance yet to come.

I held that breath to pull myself back up to launch the two week training the staff were awaiting, and embark on an epic year of assigning optimism to sorrow, raising my toddling and adventurous daughter Audrey, carrying and bringing my second daughter Autumn into the world, guiding my company through its demanding younger years, and inheriting a humbling and foreign label - cancer survivor.

While spinning in the vortex of this perfect storm, I was quite certain I was in the 'crux' of my life- the crux, in the world of rock climbing, is the term for the most challenging and demanding section of a route. Clearly, I hadn't seen what 2009 had in store for me and I was not yet aware of the skills and resilience I would need to re- access within myself. How can the company function without its "glue" being strong and accessible? Glue is the term as my husband kindly coined for my role of holding everything together and being the "why" behind what we lived as a company. Advocating for my own health as I dealt with the surgeries and cancer treatments, guiding a company, and tending to the needs of my most precious gifts, my girls, was something I had to take in pieces and I chose my battles each and every day.


Irony has a sense of humor.

My dad's lifelong battle with manic depression manifested itself in my childhood as a baffling and erratic dance of abuse, anger, and love. Empathy emerged before the age I knew there was a word to define it. I knew with certainty that the internal war my dad waged with his afflicted mind must be infinitely more devastating than the abuse we endured from him. He had to live with himself and, in my mind, what could possibly be worse?

The irony? He was my first mentor. He was a brilliant man, an outdoorsman, and accessed a positive 'manic' for the natural world- it was there that I could understand him and him, me. In the cherished moments of calm in his temperament, he shared this world with me and it was the tipping point for my passion.

This passion turned into a company. The founding premise and heartbeat of Adventure Links is to create and capture the magic that happens by blending the natural world with a series of experiential, confidence building moments.

A pinnacle life moment for me was, only a few months before he died, my dad said to me "Anna, I'd like to be you when I grow up." Alas, I'd made lemonade…

Now- the funny part is that there is a disconnect between this weighty and occasionally dismal tale and the ridiculously optimistic, comical, affable, inspired, and buoyant woman it has created. "Getting to Plan B" is my ongoing realization that the path is not always straight or clearly marked, the unexpected is called that for a reason, and the control of how life changing events change my life lies with me.

Professional Issue

I did not know that 2009 would mark the year that I gathered every last resource of strength, inner fight, and passion to protect what I believed in most. We were under attack on multiple fronts and it took everything I had to survive and "learn" from this year of challenge. In January, we were stricken with the news that our lead director who worked hand in hand with me on the vision and growth of Adventure Links had a malignant and fast growing tumor in his chest. He succumbed early to the rapid growth of the cancer, and had to be rushed into emergency chemotherapy. Watching his battle, seeing the ravage that chemotherapy had upon him, and nearly losing him to a post surgical infection re-calibrated all of us to what is "bad news." We realized that we needed the community of Adventure Links now more than ever to fill his absence and provide support.

It was hard to turn our eye away from the pain at hand to deal with the culmination of a six year plot our neighbor had launched to rob us of our ability to use our land as an outdoor education classroom. To simultaneously watch our director fight for his life while dealing with the immoral attacks of a wealthy landowner who felt our program, nearly a mile away, would impact his land's sale price violated me to the core. We tried desperately to shelter our children, our director, and our company from the stress and betrayal we were experiencing from next door. I stored away the stress, the rage I felt toward injustice led to night after night of insomnia, and finally my body sent out its message that 'enough was enough.' I was afflicted with shingles soon after. However, my pain still paled in comparison to the current demands and the support we needed to provide to our director and the continuing battle to find a way to save our facility.

The tides turned when we learned that a bid was opened to absorb operations of a significant area competitor. I began the six month process of competing for the bid. From the start, I knew I was on my own to win this. Our director was in the midst of his fight to be a cancer survivor, my husband was immersed in fending off the neighbor's attacks and the rest of our team was...taking care of the business!

On exactly the twelve year anniversary of Adventure Links, we learned that we had won the bid for the new facility and amidst our busiest time of year, moved our entire operations and launched our Fall season. Our director won his battle and is cancer free. We've dusted ourselves off and are positioned and passionate for 2010.

Personal Issue

Although it was a year of incredible personal imbalance and I accumulated more questions than answers, I learned something tremendous about where I draw my strength. My children grounded me through the challenges. Motherhood had always made perfect sense very to me. In fact, I will never forget my way of describing 'maternal instinct' to my husband in our pre-children life. I said "You know- I already love them." "Who?" he asked. "My children, I've already got this place in me reserved for them and I love them even though they do not yet exist. Get it?" The blank stare back said it all.

This company has served as my supporting cast and has been the village that has contributed to shaping their lives. I realize that my greatest strain is limiting the stress that pores over into our home and it feels like a daily reward to see them content, wonderfully interactive, full of spirit, and reminding me in their gentle, awesome way: "A lot of kids don't have this great life like we have on this mountain, do they mom?"