gishwhes

What’s a Gishwhes?

Slim chances are, you’ve vaguely heard of this thing called Gishwhes. If you have but don’t quite know what it is, it’s probably because there are people on your Facebook timeline trying to prepare you for what’s to come. You’re confused and a little annoyed by these posts, and that’s okay. I’m here to explain to you what Gishwhes is, what it does beyond turning mundane objects into weird worlds of abstract art, and what you can do to help those poor bastards struggling to find a neighbor with a boat, a pineapple and an iguana on short notice.

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This year’s mascot: Porcupanda.

This year looks to be the last for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen – that weird Gishwhes word we’re throwing around like you know what it means. The hunt begins August 5th and will end on the 12th, which means we gishers are about to get into panic-mode if we aren’t there already. If you know a gisher, you’ve been warned via Facebook about upcoming bizarre all-caps questions regarding the availability of a goat. You’ve been asked if you were interested in helping a team accomplish their tasks since you have access to an art museum or have coffee with a government official. You’ve seen videos about Syrian refugees and infographics about Nepal. But what does all this mean? Why should you care?

The Thing About Gishwhes

I’ve written about my Gishwhes experience before, and recently my friend and teammate Jessica Mason wrote an article about Gishwhes for The Mary Sue. If you’re interested in finding out more about the hunt itself, click those links. But for this particular article, from me to you, I’d like to focus on what we’ve done outside the hunt and what you can do to support a gisher to have the best damn hunt ever. For us, it’s more than just a week of absurdity – gishers are out there to change the world.

One Act At A Time

Gishwhes has accomplished a lot in the past few years. From Guinness World Records to saving tens of thousands of acres of forest in Nepal, Gishwhes has proved year after year that it isn’t just about winning – it’s about putting good out in the world and restoring a little faith in humanity. Last year, stories of Syrian refugees – including one woman paralyzed by a sniper and a teenager who tried to commit suicide so there was one less mouth for her family to feed – brought the Gishwhes community together to raise over $200,000 in the first 72 hours of the campaign. Helping military veterans, participating in blood drives, donating bone marrow and providing much needed supplies to women’s shelters are just some of the ways Gishwhes strives to make an impact.

Gisholarships

There’s no way something as big and involved as Gishwhes could happen without a registration fee. Unfortunately, whether it was the $10 a few years ago or $21 this year, some people who want to play simply can’t afford that extra expense. To make sure as many people who want to play can, there are gisholarships where registrants can also gift a registration to another person, or provide paid registration to someone they invite by email.

My second year gishing, someone who ran a Twitch page was raising money each month for various charities. She contacted me after seeing my Gishwhes blog on tumblr and invited me to watch one of her Twitch sessions where Mercy announced all donations would go to me to provide gisholarships. We were able to provide 8 gisholarships for the hunt, and have been friends ever since.

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This year I was messaged by one of the original gisholarship winners from a few years ago, a member of the Israeli army who looks forward to participating Gishwhes as a fun distraction from some of the harsher things she has to deal with. She asked if we had any ability to provide gisholarships again this year. My team (Team TrashBrigade) happened to have $20 left over from our pool of funds from which we were donating to Random Acts through individual campaigns during their annual event, Endure4Kindness.

After giving that gisholarship and seeing how happy it made the recipient, we decided we wanted to do more. We organized a gisholarship giveaway – we wrote and created art for the Supernatural fandom in exchange for small donations to help us give as many gisholarships as we could. In the end, we had 15 gisholarships – enough to fund an entire team.

Other teams followed our lead and began donating gisholarships after Gishwhes announced they were saving forests of Nepal with every gisholarship. Not only were those donating giving people the opportunity to join in on the madness, but they were helping save over 40,000 acres of forest that is the home to critically endangered animals.

 

How You Can Help Your Gisher

Yes, we’re saps who love helping others and saving rainforests. But we’re also a bit weird. The outcry of Gishwhes is “Death to Normalcy!” and during that mad week, we set aside social norms to just live and exist in a world where being outlandish and extra creative is just how things are. It’s a break from the mundane day to day. That in and of itself should make you slightly interested in helping out a gisher. “But how?!” you cry. “I’m a normal person who can’t recreate a Matisse painting out of legumes!” There are still ways you can help make this last Gishwhes the best ever.

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Last year I claimed Pikes Peak for Gishwhes. I couldn’t have done this, or a few other tasks, without the help I had from my friend Mercy. Remember the lady from the gisholarships story? Yeah. She flew up to meet me for the first time & help me make the best submissions I could for a few days of that week I was home alone and sick while my family was out of state.

Don’t Ignore The Pleas For Help

Listen. We know it’s annoying to be posting about Gishwhes on Facebook as frequently as we do. And we know we sound desperate. But listen. It’s because we are. During Gishwhes, we’re going to be sleep deprived, running on caffeine and sugar highs, experiencing crashes, and sitting on the floor crying surrounded by yarn, fabric, paint, and pizza boxes with hot glue stuck to our fingers. Be kind to us. And if you can, lend a hand.

  • Join In! Do you secretly want an excuse to do something crazy, spontaneous and (maybe) completely out of character? Do you also have amazing photography skills or are really good at holding up a prop just out of frame? Lend your assistance to a gisher friend who is struggling to get a shot. Like road trips? You may get the opportunity to make a “quick drive” to the Grand Canyon. Plus, who hasn’t ever wanted to be an accomplice in 5 minutes of light trespassing for the sake of art?
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TrashBrigade member Christy has All The Holidays At Once in the style of The Last Supper with the help of friends and family.

  • Respond To Our Facebook Posts. Yes you can absolutely share that post begging to borrow someone’s ball gown. React to it. Comment. Share. Tag friends who may know a NASA worker or an Amazon manager. If you respond, it might come up higher in someone’s feed. If they see other people engaging, maybe they’ll read it instead of scrolling past. Activity on a post gives it a legitimacy. Otherwise we sound like a crazy person screaming on a subway car where everyone is just avoiding eye contact. Make your own Facebook posts for your gisher friends asking for assistance. We don’t know what for – but networking and broadening their reach for potential assistance is important for gishers. Your neighbor might have their mother in town who would be giddy to be depicted winning an arm-wrestling contest with someone dressed like Thor.
  • Be Our Second Brain. Know of a really weird place within driving distance that has a page on AtlasObscura?  Remember that a Renaissance Faire is going on that first weekend of Gishwhes? Our brain power drops substantially during the hunt. There’s a lot to consider, a lot to manage, a lot to plan and our brains will practically be melting. If you have an idea for something you see us struggling with, speak up!
  • Just Hang Out. We need company while we’re painting Zachary Levi’s face on a pair of jeans. It gets lonely when you’re coming down off of that V8 Fusion Energy rush at 10pm and trying to decide between Naples yellow and unbleached titanium white for a flesh-colored base. You could watch DVR’d Shark Week episodes or binge Stranger Things while we’re working. Just having someone there can help boost morale.

Take Care Of Your Gisher

  • Remind Them Of What They Need To Live. Because they will forget. Have they eaten anything other than leftover pizza? Drank anything other than Red Bull and coffee? Make sure they’re hydrating. Water is better than soda and energy drinks. If they refuse to hydrate because they don’t want to have to take a break to pee, poke them with a stick until they decide breaking to pee every half hour is better than you poking them with a damn stick to the rhythm of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” incessantly.
  • There’s This Other Thing They Need. Guess what it is? Sleep. Please don’t drug your gisher, but gently suggest that four hours is long enough to spend editing videos and photos and maybe they should close the computer and get a few hours of rest. A well-rested gisher is a better asset to their team than a sleep deprived member with low-energy.
  • Offer To Babysit. Are you free the first weekend? Do you have Wednesday off? If it’ll help, offer to babysit or petsit while they rush off to get some items knocked out. Take their kiddos with you to the pool since you were going anyway. Trust me, there’s a lot of baked goods and returned favors in your future.
  • Don’t Remind Them Of The Real World. This mostly goes for highly competitive teams and sounds harsh, but it’s relevant. They really don’t need to know what Trump did. They know the house is completely trashed. What’s a soccer practice? School supplies can wait until August 13th. Think of Gishwhes week as emergency room rules – is anyone in danger of losing sight, limb, or life? Then it can wait. In the same vein, please don’t ask them non-gish related questions. If they’re at work physically, they’re probably not there mentally. They really don’t have a response for attending Brittany’s baby shower in November. Yes, they saw the trailers for all the DC and Marvel movies released during SDCC. No, they don’t have time to talk about it. They might have a moment to speak with you about Chris Evan’s beard. If it’s not pertinent, pull an Elsa and let it go until next Monday.
  • Mental Health is Important. Be sure that the stress of the hunt isn’t weighing them down. Whether you’re a teammate, family member or friend watching them spiral into insanity, remind them to take breaks and breathe.

Gishers Just Wanna Have Fun

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Team TrashBrigade captain Chandra laughs herself to death in frustration as she tries to escape a wet suit after hours in a borrowed pool getting a shot for an item.

Gishers need all those things we’ve talked about, but they also need to laugh. For gishers reading this: If you aren’t having fun, you’re not going to enjoy the hunt. And that’s the entire point of Gishwhes. You want to have fun, do good and make people smile. That includes yourself. Gishwhes has helped me overcome crippling social anxiety (still working on it, but it was a catalyst for me to go from not leaving the house to speaking in front of rooms full of people – or singing “Hooked On A Feeling” in a Buffalo Wild Wings at lunch time).

Whether it’s your first time doing Gishwhes or your 6th year, or if you’re a friend or family member interested in helping out your poor weird friend who is really, really, frighteningly excited about what’s about to happen, just have fun. Go with it. Put aside everything else that’s happening in the world, take care of your health, go create stuff and laugh at least 80% more than you cry in frustration, because sometimes the cotton balls just aren’t going to stay on the aluminum foil wrapped robot.

So people who are innocent bystanders in this madness, please help your gisher – and gishers, do your best. Because it’s the last year, you gotta go big, whatever that means to you. Just remember to repay your helpers and family who are temporarily displaced by your epic mess of craft things however you can. Cookies and other food bribes usually go a long way.

Whatever your role in this gloriously weird week, even if you’re the official pipe cleaner bender, water-bringer and hot glue stick replenisher, I hope you have the time of your life. And in those hours where you’re too tired and want to quit, remember I’ll be rooting for you. I’m sending you good vibes, telling you to drink water and take your meds, and hoping you get some good sleep. Good luck, friends.  Gish-on.

fandoms as social movements

Fandoms As Social Movements

One of the biggest impacts fandom has had on my life, besides the amazing friends I’ve made along the way, has been becoming a driving focus for doing good.

At the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel at Denver Comic Con moderated by sociology professor Tanya Cook and clinical psychiatrist and professor Kaela Joseph, panelists Riley Santangelo, Anita Moncrief, and Charlotte Renkin commented on the amazing things fandom has done and continues to do with charities and as unique groups making impacts globally and within their local communities.

Wayward Daughters

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Riley Santangelo is a graphic designer who is one of the women behind Wayward Daughters, which started as “Wayward Daughters Academy” with the objective of showing The Powers That Be the fanbase’s desire for better female representation on the CW show Supernatural and has taken off due to the Wayward AF t-shirt campaigns, raising money benefiting charities such as Random Acts and New Leash On Life.

Wayward Daughters has openly discussed the need for dynamic female characters and realistic depictions of female relationships in media, but as a group, the Wayward Daughters community has become much more.

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Kim Rhodes for the first Wayward AF campaign. Photo by Studio56k.

 

Like most social movements, it started a conversation. Members of the community on twitter, spurred on by Supernatural actresses Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, started sharing their stories on what made them wayward. Taking ownership of the word, fans started viewing aspects of themselves or their lives that are dismissed or simply not talked about as a symbol of strength. Overcoming body image issues and eating disorders, fighting cancer, leaving an abusive relationship, and winning over addiction were deemed #WaywardAF, a hashtag that conveys a sense of pride and overcoming adversity. The actresses opened up with their own struggles with life such as overcoming drinking problems, troubles and joys of motherhood, and dealing with impostor syndrome, which created an open dialogue regarding societal pressures and working toward becoming your best self.

 

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Briana Buckmaster and her little one for Stands’ New Leash On Life campaign.

In May of 2015, Wayward Daughters had designed pre-made postcards to be sent to the producers of Supernatural asking for a spin-off including the characters Jody Mills (played by Kim Rhodes) and Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Then in March 2016, Wayward Daughters asked Supernatural fans how interested they would be in a Wayward Daughters spin-off. An overwhelming majority,  88% of respondents, voted “Heck yes!”  When a backdoor pilot called “Wayward Sisters” was announced in 2017, you could practically hear the excited screams across social media.

 

The Supernatural fandom was told it was being listened to, and that meant something. Santangelo felt the Wayward spin-off was a “direct result” of the Wayward Daughters campaign – and she’s not alone. After current Supernatural show runner Andrew Dabb spoke on the long-time coming of this spin-off at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), fans and pop culture news sites continued to congratulate the grassroots movement of fandom for making the possibility of a Wayward Daughters show a reality. “I’m in awe every single day with Wayward Daughters and the fan community that has been created,” Santangelo said in June at the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel. Talking with friend Betty Days, Santangelo recognized the importance of this emerging social movement. “Large companies try to capitalize on fandom more and more,” Days told Santangelo. But fandom is grassroots – something companies just don’t seem to grasp. “We’re gonna use our fandom for good we want to see.”

Santangelo partnered with Stands, Rhodes, and Buckmaster to put out the first shirts. “As individuals we feel like our actions don’t mean very much,” Santangelo said. When people start to come together in something like Wayward Daughters, they feel like they’re making things happen. “The fervor just increases,” Santangelo said with a smile.

Fan Fic 4 Flint

fanfic4flintAnita Moncrief was astounded as the media moved on from covering what was happening in Flint, Michigan. “They thought the crisis was over,” Moncrief said. A community organizer for over 17 years, Moncrief went into Flint as a consultant and now goes in monthly for water drops “to let the people know they aren’t forgotten.”

After seeing the 200th episode of Supernatural, the setting of which was in the disparaged city, she had the idea to link fandom with Flint. Moncrief started Fan Fic 4 Flint, a contest for writers and artists in the Supernatural fandom to raise money and awareness for Flint residents. After synopses are submitted at $10 each, a writer will be given the opportunity to produce a script for Supernatural: The Play, inspired by the one depicted in the 200th episode, to be performed in Flint as a benefit for the community. Artists will have a chance to have their work featured on social media, t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise – the sales of which will go directly to the citizens of Flint.

Moncrief hopes that the collective voices of the Supernatural fandom can return attention to the on-going crisis happening, not only in Flint, but in towns and cities across the nation. She stresses that this is bigger than the city that inspired the movement – it’s an infrastructure problem. “It starts in Flint, but it doesn’t end there.”

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Volunteers involved with Fan Fic 4 Flint’s water drop in May 2017. Photo from their instagram.

Fan Fic 4 Flint is delivering water, toys, diapers, and other necessities to Flint residents and reports news regarding updates to the water crisis on their website.  It’s not only adult fans who are helping out; fandom social movements call out to the young fans and local community youths to get involved as well. Younger teens have a difficult time getting started in activism because they don’t know where to start. Earlier this year, she had 15 kids in Flint doing water drops. They “want to get involved, but don’t know where to look,” Moncrief said. It starts with social media, but Moncrief says these movements go from “online to offline engagement.”

 

Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance

Charlotte Renkin is a filmmaker and cosplayer who is a member of Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance. These two groups are the embodiment of mixing nerds with community action. Members of Nerdfighteria are fans of Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who have extended their YouTube footprint to educational videos in their Crash Course series, SciShow, The Art Assignment, and Sexplanations. No matter what you’re interested in, chances are, Nerdfighteria has a place for you. Renkin describes the group as “close knit” and “the size of a small country.”

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Nerdfighteria’s iconic hand gesture.

Renkin wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “Fans are a force to be reckoned with.” Nerdfighteria’s goal is to decrease world suck, and how they are achieving that goal is through widespread education and activism. On YouTube, Project For Awesome raised over 2 million dollars for charities in 2016. The lending site Kiva has been a platform for Nerdfighters wanting to help small business owners get on their feet in an effort to stimulate local economies around the world since 2008.

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The Harry Potter Alliance strives for literacy education and social activism.

Harry Potter has taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most relevant is that standing by and being complacent in the face of ignorance and tyranny is unacceptable. The Harry Potter Alliance is a similarly global group wanting to engage young people in activism and increase access to books by building libraries, and implementing book drives with the hope to make literacy education services possible. Why are Harry Potter fans so interested in creating global change? Renkin says that the reason these fans are so invested in the social and political climate is that they can see the parallels in Harry Potter to our world and want to help make the world a better place.

Unstoppable Forces

How could these relatively small groups cause so much good to be put out in the world? Santangelo explains that we’re looking at an extremely proactive community. “Fandom represents the marginalized of society.” These fandom movements are made up of women, LGBTQA, neuroatypical, and minorities who band together in order to help not only each other, but anyone who is disadvantaged.

Being a part of something bigger than yourself is something a lot of people want to accomplish, and fandom is a conduit for this kind of action. “It’s really about acceptance,” Moncrief said. The shared interests and values that members of a fandom share are what keeps the fire going to fight for the rights of others. “It takes courage to step out there – to take that leap of faith and say I can do this.”

Fandom isn’t one movement – it’s many. The actions of fans and actors on these shows alike stir up involvement in a way that continuously moves toward betterment of families and communities. “It’s not just one superstar,” Moncrief said. “It’s regular people….it’s going to start showing up in our neighborhoods and our school boards.”

Underestimating a group of people who are, well, fanatical in their beliefs is short sighted. They’re an inspirational force of do-gooders whose efforts are paying off and starting to get noticed. Not only are these fans writing academic papers regarding their shows and fandoms, blogging about representation in media, and kicking ass in Geeks Who Drink trivia, but they are out there on social media and in the community actually making a difference and leaving a positive impact on the lives of others.

Maybe one person really can change the world. Especially if they have a few fandom friends.

 

 

 

How You Gish

Every year for the past four years I’ve dedicated a week of my life to competing in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (gishwhes), which is even bigger and weirder than it sounds. It was started by Misha Collins, actor on CW’s Supernatural and co-founder of Random Acts, a non-profit organization that ensures anyone, regardless of financial situation, can help make the world a better place. Gishwhes is based off of the University of Chicago scavenger hunt, which Collins participated in while attending the university – except bigger and weirder, of course. For a week in August, fifteen people in teams all around the world come together to produce creative content and accomplish tasks in an escapade of breaking social norms, pushing their own boundaries, and spreading kindness. In either competitive or for-fun teams, members try to conquer a list of over 150 items asking for photo or video evidence of someone on the team accomplishing the task. Winners join Collins for a fun excursion abroad; previous winners have gone to a castle in Scotland and sailed on a pirate ship on the coast of Croatia, and this year’s winners will be headed to Iceland. Every year the bar is raised higher for quality of items, and even celebrities are in on it – whether they know it or not.

I always look forward to this week of sleep deprived creative insanity, but this year was remarkably different. Every year, gishwhes has given me something; whether it be a new appreciation for sleep or new friends that have become my extended family, gishwhes has always been a highlight of the year. I’ve never ended a hunt and felt as if I was done playing this annual melee of creativity and boundary-pushing weirdness for good, but besides coming off a three-year stint captaining a for-fun team to join a competitive team as a regular member, this year felt special.

I loved captaining a for-fun team. We always welcomed first timers who wanted to try out gishwhes without feeling as if they were bringing down a highly competitive team with inexperience, testing the waters to see if this absurd event was something that they would want to take a week out of their year to seriously compete. I had a wonderful time, met great people, and was blown away by things my team and others could come up with or would be willing to do, but there were some down sides. For every amazing, hard working team member who made the hunt worth doing every year, there were no-shows, people who didn’t mesh with the rest of the team, or bad attitudes. After trying to run a team while in the middle of moving in 2015 and experiencing a run of bad luck with my lovely teammates dealing with personal catastrophes (2015 was a bad luck year for us, and I still send giant hugs to my team for coming through despite the multiple acts of god standing in their way), I just needed a break. I hated to think that I had gotten so frustrated by the process of dealing with items that needed to be completed last minute and people taking up a space on the team and contributing nothing that I didn’t even want to participate anymore – even though I had so many great for-fun team members. I needed something different to reinvigorate my love of the hunt, and I knew the first step was stepping away from the stresses of captaining a team.

While I was debating on how I was going to even do the hunt, or if I wanted to at that point, a friend and team member from the previous year messaged me to say she was starting a competitive team. The timing felt perfect, so I meekly asked, “Can I join?” It was quite possibly the best decision I’ve made in all my years as a gisher. Taking a cue from a few of my captaining tactics and stepping it up with some serious organization, Chandra went above and beyond prior to the hunt to make sure we knew each other and who was capable of what. And it turned out that our team meshed incredibly well together. We were all crass, either quietly or overtly, and had more nsfw conversations than necessary – which is kind of perfect. Everyone on our team was the perfect balance of competitive and super chill, serious and fun, shy and completely perverted, extremely talented and resourceful. We all-capsed at each other, laughed our asses off, and decided before the hunt actually started that those who could were going to meet up at a Supernatural convention in Seattle next April. Keep in mind that I’ve done this for four years and have great friends that have come out of gishwhes, but there was something about this group  in particular that clicked so incredibly well. Every member, even those that joined at the last minute, folded into the cool kids club. We were awesome. We were trash. We were going to Iceland.

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Our team from L-R starting from the top: Cookie, Christy, Ash, Kai, Steph, Alison, Maddie, Chandra, Danitra, Nicky, Raelee, Janet, Nat, Melissa, and Jess

The 2016 hunt was from July 30th through August 6th. Team TrashBrigade consisted of our captain Chandra, team mom Janet, Melissa, Jessica, Maddie, Cookie, Danitra, Christy, Kai, Nicky, Nat, Alison, Steph, Raelee, and me (Ash). Chandra was the best captain a gisher could ask for. Not only was she supportive and deferred to the team for decision making, she pushed herself to the brink of sanity (never speak of the lutefisk), working with Janet, Melissa, and Jessica (all of which I cannot say enough about) to completely slay a huge amount of items, starting off day one strong by stumbling upon an abandoned train and obtaining a Victorian dress for an item I thought would be hard (classic dumb-Ash). Kai blew us away with her artistic abilities and gave Misha’s mom an honorary TrashBrigade member certificate. Christy did some charity work and created an all-holiday family dinner that rivaled The Last Supper in awesomeness. Nat was so in it that she had to keep herself from berating people at work for talking to her about things that weren’t gishwhes-related and made it onto the news. Maddie, on top of items like sewing cabbage into a cheerleading outfit, uploaded and submitted the completed items at the end of the day. Alison drove over an hour last-minute to have a tea party dressed as a teabag in a teacup ride. Raelee and Stephanie were too sweet and adorable for words, knocking items out left and right. Nicky jogged on an airport walkway, helped wrangle items and organization with Maddie and Nat, and understood twitter better than all of us. Danitra had a birthday party for herself, complete with cake, on a New York subway train. Cookie is a photoshop master, which we knew going in, so she took Matt Cohen’s abs on vacation in the best ways possible. And with my friend Mercy, who flew up to Colorado from Texas to keep me company the first few days of the hunt, I claimed Pikes Peak for gishwhes. I can’t say enough good things about these ladies. I mean, I could, but you would be like, “Okay Ash, we get it! You love them! Moving on!” 

Majority of our team – eight members – were first-time gishers. With such little experience, you wouldn’t expect the quality of items produced and sheer number of items completed. I thought being on a competitive team would be stressful, but as the gish-clock ticked down, I went to bed early for the first time. I wasn’t up at the last minute trying to scrape something together. I was relaxed and felt confident that we had done an amazing job. All fifteen of our members were highly active, kept connected through chat and our facebook group, and worked together to get the best possible item for our team to submit. We cheered each other, stepped up when things weren’t working out, and had so much fun.

Ending this year’s hunt, I can say that this was a completely different experience than I was expecting. Going in, I was nervous and wasn’t sure what to do because I wasn’t running a team. Then I realized what a whole team can accomplish – something I hope my awesome teammates from previous years found in their hunt this year. We’re all exhausted, but we’re still finding ways to make each other laugh in our group chat and putting together bloopers of our mishaps (gishaps?). After seeing what we produced, the good we put out into the world, and with how close our team still is after all the madness, all I can think is this is how you gish.