The Saga of A Backpacker
It always starts the same way every time. You pore over your maps, planning the most ideal route. Carefully calculating mileage, timing, meals, everything. The excitement the day before you hit the trail is unruly and incomparable. With your boots tight on your feet, your pack synched to your back, and your spirits high, you hit the trail into an endless stream of possibilities. Every step brings you closer to your destination, every curve in the trail is a new experience, and every day you can feel your body getting stronger. At the end of the trip you look back on your time and know that no matter what, at that moment, that was the best couple of days of your life.
This is how I feel when I go backpacking. This is what makes every painful pass and ceaseless mile completely worth the time and energy I put forth. However, most of what I do is solo. It is just me and the trail and my mind as I trek down to new uncharted areas. Yes, I am alone. Yes, I am a female. Yes, I am young… But no, I am not lonely, crazy, or afraid. This week I thought it was important to talk about the reason why we all go into the backcountry, and why it is important to not put down a solo female hike, and make her feel inferior or have a reason to be afraid.
I recently went on a 38 mile solo journey through our amazing Sawtooth Wilderness. I spoke to so many kind souls, heard stories from other hikers, and learned a lot about myself. However, before I embarked on this journey, I was also told many times that I should not be by myself. I, as a young female, should always have someone else with me at all times while in the backcountry. My question to them, to you, is why? Why should I feel so fragile and afraid to go out into the Wilderness on my own? My answer to that question is simple, and I believe that if you close your eyes for a minute, you will also be able to answer this question in a similar manner. I enjoy my solo trips for many reasons, as I am sure you do as well. Alone time is important for many of us, especially those who work continuously and so closely with the public. This gives us time to answer questions of our own, instead of constantly answering the same questions over and over again, like “where’s the bathroom?” or “where can I camp?” When I go into the backcountry it is to reconnect with my main resource, nature. I go back there in order to find myself all over again, to ask myself the hard questions during the silence of my hike. As I listen to the steady beat of my boots falling against the trail, feel the fresh air brush against my skin, and reawaken every cell in my body I learn to be patient, to be strong, and to be me.
Now this is simply a personal account of my solo trips. So I ask, I plead, that you, male or female, think back to your last solo trip. Maybe it was a walk around the block back home. Maybe it was last week when you took the dog to the park. Or maybe you were like me and decided to trek into the Wilderness for a few days. Think about how that alone time made you feel. Were you rejuvenated? Did you feel awake and calm? Why take that away from someone else, purely based on the fact that you believe they should always be in the presence of someone else? Group trips are a wonderful time as well. So please, don’t think that I am sitting here bashing those types of trips. They allow for you to have someone to share that beautiful sunrise with. You can complain about that wicked pass you are staring straight up at. You can talk about this trip for years to come, and you can split that tent into two packs (which I wish I could do sometimes). However, we have to respect all the other hikers that we come across. Listen to their stories and ask questions.
I did run into people who did give me words of encouragement. Women who said they wish they could have done something like this when they were my age. Men who said they hoped their daughters would grow up to be confident in nature and their outdoor abilities. I ran into groups who were even excited for me. I wanted to write this for you all just as a simple reminder that we have our reasons for being alone. We are skilled in backpacking and confident in those skills. Just like you, we pored over those maps, we calculated those miles, and we planned out every meal. Next time you see a solo female hiker on the trail, give her words of encouragement, not words of doubt.