Personal: Don't let anyone stop you.
What I want you to take away from this post is not my begrudging disdain for the questions I, and many women hikers I know, have gotten. What I want you to walk away with is this statement ringing in your ears and rolling off your tongues, repeat after me:
"I will not tell an aspiring thru-hiker what they should do, how they should do it, or ask them why. I will simply encourage them and ask questions about the things that I do not understand in a polite manner."
In the most benevolent way I would like to remind you of the statement: "Hike Your Own Hike." I will hike my hike and I will prepare in my own way. You will 'hike your hike' or 'live your life' and mind your own business.
Here's what you need to stop saying to [especially female] hikers:
- Directives: Unless asked, don't tell any hiker what to do or how to do it. If I need help, I'll ask! Believe it or not, most embarking thru-hikers have done tons of planning, research, and adjusting. We may not be confident thru-hikers yet, we may need to adjust some things along the way, we may even be out of shape but that does not mean we are not prepared.
"You should ____" "Why don't you _____" "This is how you _____"
- Discouragements: Do not EVER tell ANYONE that they can not do something. The world is your freaking oyster! Your parents raised you on that line, I'm sure, and they may have lost it along the way. Mine never did and I am so glad they didn't. Do what you want, how you want (as long as you don't harm others), and with as much zeal as you can muster. This is what life is ABOUT.
"You can't ____" "You shouldn't ____" "You'll experience ____ out there" "Is ____ on board with this plan?"
- In regards to the trail: stop telling women not to go by themselves (they really are safe out there and are probably completely aware of the risks they are taking); quit pointing out how hard, long, and physically taxing the trail is (we know!!); lastly, PLEASE stop asking if we're afraid.
- Damn straight most of us are terrified and will be terrified at least once out there, but we are being brave and doing an incredible thing. Stop pointing out the negatives and get on our side.
- Safety: The majority of 'unsafe' events (e.g. murder, rape, animal attacks, death, kidnapping, etc.) that happen on or near the trail were because of three main things: 1) Someone camped too close to a trail head and someone from the outside world with a car came in and hurt them. 2) The hiker was unprepared, uneducated, or did not take the proper steps to ensure their own safety. 3) A freak accident occurred and it was very unfortunate but unpreventable.
"It's not safe out there." "You're going alone?" "How will you survive?" "Are you bringing a gun?"
- No you do NOT need guns out there. Honestly, you probably won't even use your pepper spray (but if it makes you feel better then bring it!)
- If you don't sleep on your food, you probably won't attract any animals other than mice.
- If you camp more than 5 miles from a trail head, no one from the outside world is going to work that hard to 'get you.'
- If you are prepared, educated about the wilderness and survival, and you do your damndest to stay safe and survive you will be fine.
- Perspective: I was in more danger (statistically) from both humans and animals while living in Boston or Columbus than I will be on the Trail.
- Lastly, sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes people fall and hit their heads and die. Sometimes a fugitive is hiding out the mountains and you happen to be the one who finds them. Occasionally something you could never be prepared for will happen. All of these things could happen in the 'real world' too.
- One last note on this (for real) STOP TELLING WOMEN TO BE SAFE WHILE TELLING MEN TO HAVE FUN. I have heard time and again (and I'm 90% sure any female hiker will tell you the same thing) that everyone told me to "Be safe" while our male hiker friends were told to "Have fun." You may not realize it, because society has some powerful conditioning skills, but this differentiation is sexist and discouraging.But you can be the one to change that! We appreciate that you may worry about us, but we know we're doing something daring and surprisingly safe. Women can have fun AND be safe! Men can also do that, but women are my point here...
What you need to start saying to hikers [especially women]:
- Words of encouragement:
- "Wow that's an amazing journey you're starting!"
- "I'm sure you'll meet a lot of great people out there!"
- "You're going to make it all the way, I'm sure!"
- "How inspiring!"
- "That's really brave!"
- Ask us substantial questions:
- "What does a trip like that entail?"
- "How long will you be gone?"
- "Are you excited?"
- "How do you prepare for something like that?"
- "What places/states will you be passing through?"
- "What are you most excited for?"
- Express your own interest in our hikes:
- First ask: "I'm really interested, would you mind sharing how I can experience this with you?"
- Ask: "How can I get involved?"
- If you use social media: "Will you be documenting any of your trip on social media?"
I love my family and friends. I appreciate that they worry about me and care about me. But please recognize: the trail is (relatively) safe, I am prepared, just because I am a woman does not make me any less capable, I can do it all by myself.
All I ask: please take a minute to think about what you say and how it affects people.
I say this not just in reference to the trail, but in every day life. You may be amazed at how much your words truly affect and discourage young women.
Be excited for us! Encourage us! And let us find our way for ourselves.