“Still really scared” is how I would describe my mental state whenever I shut the trunk of the car, giving the fresh pair of undies I laid out to change into upon my return a wistful glance, before heading out for a solo lady backpack expedition. I have gone backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, alone, as a woman, enough times now that I consider myself seasoned and prepared, and yet, I’m still afraid.
Each time I set the goal of a solo expedition on my summer break from teaching, a million social engagements and house projects and garden catastrophes rear up, claiming their rightful place at the top of the priorities pole. I have to straight up street fight off the myriad excuses that scramble into my brain, a tidal wave of incessant, needy lemmings: it’s too hot, it might rain, you need to go to REI again, your pack has that tear in it, you need a new Nalgene, you’re exhausted and need to rest, the book you’re currently reading is too heavy, your boots are dirty because you never oiled them last summer and HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY GO BACKPACKING ALONE WITH DIRTY, UNOILED BOOTS, YOUR FATHER WILL FIND OUT! Plus, you don’t have any clean underwear.
Cheryl Strayed, and please don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed “Wild” as much as the next lady, has left the novice goer-aloner with two indelible images- you can go alone if you start with a ginormous pack at the southern end of the Pacific Crest Trail and if you do venture out solo, you will eventually be confronted by two rural creeps who ring that special bell of fear that hangs deep in every person with a vagina’s soul. And that last image hangs heavy over me each time I beep-lock the car and tuck my keys in my waistline zipper pocket. But, I go. And it’s always beyond worth it. The kind of worth it where I wonder how I even considered not going and how changed my life has become by giving myself this gift that only I could give. And you can do it too. Here are a few ways to get yourself pumped and get the inspirado turnt up.
While “Wild” is truly great, and at the end of her journey, those last lines about “What if I was already redeemed?”, well, they should be written on every woman’s bathroom mirror in permanent marker, this lesser known film can inspire even the most dust-avoidant-at-heart to want to hitch their wagon to a camel. Girl decides to cross Australian desert with just some camels for company. Don’t have a camel? Take your dog. Or a friend’s dog. Animals aren’t cheating; you still went alone. Adam Driver shows up to report and take some pictures. Did I mention Adam Driver? It’s on Netflix right now. Watch it and then pick up a MOON Hiking book for your area.
Take a talisman.
My dad used to go hunting quite a bit. My sister and I would send him off with little notes and small boxes filled with magical items to “help him get the deer” and “protect him in the forest.” He always came back in one piece, not always with a deer, but hey, pretty good for seven year old magic. Wear a necklace given to you by a loved one. Tuck a lucky rock into your pocket. Tie a piece of ribbon in your favorite color to your boot. Just a little something to help you remember you are being watched over and will be more than OK. Sometimes even goddesses need a little protection.
Listen to this poem by Elizabeth Austen.
Just do it already. Then do it again.
Take a weapon.
Whenever someone, well, truthfully it’s always been a dude, has scoffed at the bear spray jangling on the carabiner connected to the strap that dangles over my right shoulder, saying something like “Bear spray? Not many bears up this high,” I smile, nod and say, “It’s for bears. And other things.” A pep talk I give myself is that every urban street I’ve walked down holds a greater danger than any trail I’ve hiked. Rational thinking and pep talks aside, it can be hard to shake the fear that you’ll be the one who rounds the bend to find a foursome of drunk, fisher dudes who did just happen to be motivated enough to hike twelve six packs and a cooler eight miles into the pristine mountain lake filled with rainbow trout. Bear spray, a decent pocket knife, mace, a dog. Any and all of those things could be helpful for a run in with a bear, or, other things.
Sing this silly camp song.
Facing the fear of doing something by ourselves, from sitting in a restaurant alone to spending the night in a tent solo style, inspires fear in the hearts of women. Sometimes, you just gotta’ go through it, ‘cause you can’t go around it, over it, or under it. But once you do, you’ll have reached the other side. And I hear there are lots of roadside diners with cold beers and BLTs on the other side.
Tie a bandana around your wrist.
This can be used to wipe sweat from one’s brow, wipe chocolate from one’s face, soak in a creek and tie around one’s neck if it’s hot, as toilet paper to wipe one’s butt, as a mask in case of forest fire, as a plate to place one’s snacks on and mostly it makes one feel like a backpacking badass.