Editor’s note: This piece was inspired by Adventure Journal’s article “Stop Telling Women Not to Go Into the Backcountry Alone” by Krista Langlois. It’s a must read.
I remember the day I became an inadvertent feminist.
I was hiking alone in the Canadian Rockies. It was a rare warm spring day. The hike was steep, with sections that were still snowy, and I was enjoying the challenge of solo pace setting. It was the off-season so there were not very many people on the trail. At the peak I met a man more than twice my age. He struck up a conversation and then suggested we hike down together for safety reasons. I like hiking alone and didn’t feel like making small talk with a stranger the whole way down, but I agreed because I have issues saying no to people. What started out as interest and amazement on his part at the fact that I was hiking and camping alone in the Rockies, quickly turned to creepy admiration and wildly inappropriate flirting (considering the age gap and the fact that I made it clear that I was not at all interested).
At the bottom he asked for my contact info and suggested we hang out later. I declined.
(Ok, I gave him my email – like I said, I have issues saying no to people.)
It wasn’t until later, after a mad speed walk to my car, that I realized how much was wrong with this situation. There was nothing amazing about what I was doing – I was not setting any world records, it was not a first ascent, I was simply a young woman doing a day hike in the mountains alone. There are many women hiking and camping alone all over the world, and there are even more who are perfectly capable of it but choose not to. Why? Ask them!
The amount of interest he showed in what I was doing was not flattering, it made me uncomfortable. His incredulity reinforced the message that I didn’t belong there. As long as we express incredulity at women who travel alone in the backcountry and not men, we subtly send the message that women should not be in the backcountry alone. And yet, the outdoors is for everyone.
There was nothing amazing about what I was doing… I was simply a young woman doing a day hike in the mountains alone.
While I do not want to assume the worst about his intentions, I do know that if I was a 21 year old male hiking alone, he would not have given me a second glance and probably would not have suggested I needed a hiking partner for safety reasons.
When an email arrived a few days later with the subject line “SUPERWOMAN!!!!!!!” I quickly marked it as spam, deleted it forever and then laughed it off later with a friend. But it bothered me. I’m superwoman for hiking and camping alone? Far from it. Sure, there are risks associated with traveling in the backcountry alone. But these risks – injury, getting lost, etc. affect men and women equally, and can be managed equally well by men and women. They are not reason to tell only women not to go into the backcountry alone. Yet women who do face disproportionate societal barriers, whether it’s the well-intentioned warnings of family or friends, raised eyebrows at the visitor center, or downright disapproval and accusations of poor judgment.
I dream of a world where it is just as normal for women to be alone in the outdoors as it is for men, and I think both men and women have a role to play in getting there. Let’s stop marveling at the fact that there are women traveling alone in the backcountry and start asking, why aren’t there more?
Photos and words by Rachel Spruston.