Whenever I talk about hiking or running alone outdoors I get condescending looks and comments that I shouldn’t be doing it alone. But I often feel much safer in the backcountry than I do walking in the city, as do many women. That being said, there is a lot that needs to change in the outdoor space for all women to feel at home there. This week we have 3 stories of women who have persevered through uncomfortable conditions and bigoted comments to explore the wilderness.
In 1955, the first woman hiked the Appalachian Trail; she was 67. Emma Gatewood found solace from her abusive husband by walking in the woods. Eventually, she demanded a divorce, which was then extremely uncommon. Her subsequent decision to hike the entire Appalachian Trail was easy in comparison. Her hike wasn’t an easy process, and she wasn’t immediately successful. She broke her glasses, got lost, and was told “go home, grandma” many times before reaching Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the trail. She was largely unprepared, bringing no shelter to sleep under, but she simply pushed through all pain and discomfort. Gatewood inspired thousands of women to walk in her wake. “The ratio of men to women on the AT is still far from equal, but it’s improving. In 2016, women made up 29 percent of thru-hikers on the AT...” says Cass Buggé for Outside.
REI’s Force of Nature campaign was created in 2017 to help women feel more comfortable in outdoor spaces. I think this initiative is worth talking about because it is not just interested in representation and surface level change. REI is investing 1 million in organizations that bring women & girls outside and hosting over a thousand classes and programs for women & girls. The company also partnered with Outside magazine to create an all women’s issue. This issue features indigenous environmental activist Tara Houska, ultrarunner Mira Rai, and climber Melissa Arnot. If we have to buy into capitalism, we might as well support companies like REI. In a video for the initiative a woman speaks about the men who have torn her down and underestimated her, “we’ve heard these voices our whole lives, but they get quieter the further out we go.”
Can you name an outdoorswoman, a famous woman adventurer? Likely not, but that doesn’t mean there are none. Women explorers have simply not gotten the representation that men explorers have. Sarah Marquis is trying to change that. “Conquering is a dead art,” so Marquis and other modern explorers chase something else. Marquis’ adventures are solely for herself and often end in broken bones. She recently fell down a mountain in the Alps, breaking a rib, and had to hike multiple miles out of the Tasmanian wilderness after breaking a bone in her shoulder. She also has encountered almost every iteration of misogyny, on every continent, but she responds without fear. Once she was forced to scream and run at a group of Mongolian men after they threatened her.
Thank you endlessly for reading! Remember, you are a force of nature.