Recently on my trip up and over Mt. LeConte I saw something that incited rage. I saw the one thing I hate more than anything else when I'm hiking. Trash? Toilet paper strewn about? People hiking in flip flops? Not even close. I saw college-aged girls acting like walking up a hill was the hardest, most soul sucking, worst thing they've ever done in their lives. For more than 4.5 miles this group of three men and three women leap-frogged us on trail. Each and every time we got in ear shot one of the women would be complaining, whining, or generally wishing death upon her boyfriend for "making me do this hike!" As a woman who discovered hiking later in her 20s, nothing makes me angrier than to see women act like they're damsels in distress when in fact they are perfectly capable of doing anything they set their mind to! Here's why I advocate for women to stop acting like they're delicate ladies and start acting like the badasses they always knew they could be.
Despite it being the year 2016, we still live in an era where women are seen as fragile. When I meet people during a long-distance hike or even a short and simple backpacking trip the most common question I'm asked is if I'm scared when I'm hiking. The second most common question people ask me is if I carry a gun. The truth of the matter is I am rarely scared and I would NEVER advocate carrying a gun on a hiking trip. Not only would it be added weight I'm not willing to add to my gear, a gun is not necessary out on the trails. A handgun especially will do nothing in ways of protecting me from wild animals. These answers always tend to shock people and I often get a head shake and a million reasons follow as to why I should be afraid (rape, murder, blood-thirsty bears) and how if I was their daughter I'd never be allowed to do what I do. I always just smile and thank them and go about my hike. I wasn't aware that as a woman in my early 30s I needed anyone's permission to do ANYTHING, let alone do something that brings me great joy! As a hiking guide who does a multitude of trips ranging from hour-long nature walks to week-long customized backpacking trips I have this conversation often.
Lets expand on the topic of being a woman out in the woods. Since the publication of the book Wild and the subsequent movie of the same name, seeing women in the woods is more and more common. While it was estimated only 10% of Appalachian Trail thru hikers were women in the early 2000s, that number is now closer to 25%. My recent week out on the AT in Georgia is showing me the number will be even higher this year. I am grateful for this in so many ways. As a woman who loves backpacking and distance hiking, nothing makes me happier than seeing a duo or group of women out on the trail enjoying themselves and supporting each other. As a woman who loves backpacking and distance hiking I can also tell you that nothing makes me feel stronger, sexier, or more beautiful than the challenge of completing a day on trail - covered in dirt, sweating, and maybe even with a few new scratches and bruises to show for it. After spending several years growing up and into my identity on long-distance trails I've never felt more beautiful and confident in my abilities than I do right now.
While I would have never considered myself an athlete in years past, recently I've come to terms with the fact that I am indeed an athlete, and a strong one at that. Covering near-marathon distances nearly every day for weeks on end makes anyone an athlete. Spending day after day after day in a cycle of cardio makes you an athlete. Challenging your physical abilities for even a weekend at a time makes you an athlete. Crying during your lunch break on a physically challenging day on trail? You guessed it - you're an athlete. I walked 2184.2 miles from the state of Georgia to the state of Maine and still didn't consider myself someone with any type of athletic ability. Backpacking and spending time in the wilderness had me come to terms with the fact that my body is strong and capable of taking whatever I can throw at it. I even recently decided to run a marathon and I'm even considering running an ultramarathon in early 2017. I even have proof that hiking has physically changed my life.
Getting back to that group of girls I mentioned earlier - I get why they acted the way they did. Hiking up Mt. LeConte is hard. It's really hard. They're young and pretty. I get it. My first real hike was an 8-mile round trip to Ramsey's Cascades and I did it because I wanted to impress a boy. I probably acted obnoxious too. We teach girls that it's okay to be whiny as long as you look adorable doing it. We teach little girls that being pretty is a great goal in life. Sure, looking your best is a great thing! Who doesn't want to look and feel great about themselves? But I'm here to advocate for change. I'm here to tell you that we should be teaching girls to get down in the dirt and play rough. I'm here to tell you that we should be teaching girls skills to be self-sufficient. I'm here to advocate for teaching girls we don't have to be afraid and we don't need someone protecting us all the time. If I had it to do all over again, I would have told those girls to quit their bitching, woman up, and climb that goddamn mountain (to paraphrase Jack Kerouac). While it would have been harsh, I can guarantee you that getting to the top and taking it all in would have made their misery disappear instantly.
What do you think about hiking or running alone as a woman? Would you let your daughter take a backpacking trip? I'd love to hear your opinion! Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!