I tromped my way through the backcountry in the Wicklow Mountains, in Western Ireland, desperately trying to keep up the quick pace of my fellow hikers, who seemed to be skipping easily across the weed-laden, muddy grounds of the valley floor. I was mostly trying not to get stuck in mud, which when hiking in Ireland is omnipresent. While they all carried on easy conversations at a 5-6km/hour hiking pace, I nodded and smiled, hoping my temporary distraction wouldn’t result in my falling over, or sliding down the embankment. One of the group leaders yelled back “careful now, last week your woman* got her leg stuck in the mud up to her mid-thigh! We had a hell of a time getting her boot back!”
I’d returned only a week prior from the Camino, having walked anywhere from a half to full marathon everyday for a month. When I signed up for the 20km hike I figured it’d be an easy go. What I quickly discovered was that my skills were limited to easily paved trails. I could walk a very long distance, provided said trail was well-manicured. I was proud that I could, in the end keep up, and keep my boots. But it was a subtle reminder of the nagging thoughts that I lacked a fair amount of outdoors skills. I grew up camping, particularly on the river. I wasn’t a novice to the outdoors, but throughout my youth I had, in general, allowed others (aka: men) do everything for me. It made sense when I was seven, but it continued into young adulthood. All of a sudden, it was all a bit intimidating, and I never learned. Which is problematic when you have things like “hike the PCT” on your life to-do list.
So when I heard about a backpacking skills trip, run by a super cool company (Trail Mavens) run exclusively for (and by) women I jumped at the opportunity. It seemed perfect, a moderate amount of hiking, paired with a small group of rad outdoors women all improving their skills. I had mild trepidations before departing, not so much about my hiking ability, or even my ability to learn basic backpacking skills, but a bit of social anxiety. I’ve generally found hikers to be some of the best people, and usually, people who chose to spend their time communing with nature don’t tend to be terrible humans. But, as an introvert (who is constantly trying to be more sociable and outspoken) there’s always a curiosity and mild uneasiness. I wasn’t worried they weren’t good people, I assumed they were, but I built up in my mind that they would be somehow intimidating, powerful women who could also skin a deer in their spare time. Which, I mean, they were (with a more humanistic side, and less animal killing). But I didn’t need to have any concerns. The trip wound up being so much better than I could have anticipated (and I had high expectations).And my fellow hikers? Every single one of them was fascinating, kind, bad-ass woman whom I felt lucky to meet.
The trip itself took us to South Lake Tahoe to hike along the PCT for the weekend. Despite living in California, I’d never been to the California side of Tahoe (I’ve also still not been to Yosemite, it’s unacceptable, I know). On the first day, we summited Mt. Tellac, just shy of 10,000 feet with a sweeping panorama of the lake. The stunning views, the thinness of the air, the warm light at golden hour, and the exhilaration of new friends gave way to a sort of delirium. One of those rare moments of pure presence and joy. We had only been hiking a half day, I had only known these women a few hours, but the ease I felt with the group was instantaneous. They were an infectiously happy, encouraging, hilarious, and exceptionally intelligent group of women. They made the weekend one of the best I’ve had in a long time. One woman, after the trip described the experience as magical. She was not being hyperbolic. I left feeling a lightness I can’t quite pinpoint. Perhaps, it was just simple, unadulterated happiness. More, I did walk away from the trip with backpacking skills, and while they certainly need some practice, I feel confident I can plan my own weekend backcountry expedition and do just fine. In fact, inspired by the trip I finally bought camping equipment and have a few trips in the works for the upcoming months. Certainly, “Inspired” is the operative word for this trip.
One of the highlights for me on this trip was when the other women didn’t believe I was introverted (which I most certainly am). Not because there’s anything wrong with being introverted, obviously, but because I’ve been fighting the long battle of shyness and mild social anxiety. So to come off as extroverted seems like an accomplishment. I used to be painfully shy, and awkward around people I didn’t know. I’ve spent my twenties trying to correct this. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important community and friendships are, especially the further we move away from education and set friend-making scenarios. Particularly, with women. In college, I didn’t try very hard to maintain female friendships, and it’s something I’m trying not to repeat. To be fair, perhaps those women just weren’t the right relationships for me at the time, or perhaps, I pushed them away. Maybe a bit of both. But now? Now I work damn hard to keep up the friendships I have with other women, and to make new connections. I know as I get older, as we expand our family, how important the community of women I build around me is going to be. It’s taken a lot of work, but I feel this swell of pride knowing I’m finally feeling socially confident. It helps, tremendously, that these women were just such amazing people that talking to them was easy, I wanted to know more about them. I’ve changed a lot since my early twenties, and this trip was a reminder of how far I’ve come.
Similarly, it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve felt a confidence in being a woman. That I feel strong in my feminist convictions, that I feel like I can hold my own (if not surpass) men at the same pursuits. I have getting engaged to thank for that. For forcing me to question long-held (primarily patriarchal) beliefs, and to slowly instill in me a sense of bad-ass alpha feminism. Meeting other women who are out there doing things was so inspiring, and a reminder how great of a time it is to be a woman. Yes, we have a long way to go for equality. But it’s an exciting time. Its so incredible to see women, like Sasha, the owner of this company, set out and create empowering places for other women. Ideally, of course, we wouldn’t need to empower other women. But we do. And it’s awesome to watch a slow shift in society, and to feel a part of it. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a boy. Not because I identified as male, but because I thought: boys have more fun. This wasn’t instilled by my family, my parents being awesome, progressive, and accomplished, who always pushed me to do what I wanted. But by my social circles, and the fact that in girl scouts we primarily put glitter on things. But now? If we have a daughter (or female-identifying child) I feel confident she won’t feel the same. How could she not? She’ll be surrounded by women killing it in all spectrums of life.
I left this weekend on a high, of joy from the simple pursuit of the outdoors, of meeting new friends, of being inspired by others. I’m excited to build on these experiences, and thankful for the opportunity to go on this trip, and to meet these incredible women. I certainly hope it’s not my last Trail Mavens experience.
*For any non Irish-ism aware, “your woman,” or “your man” is just like saying “this one guy.” You aren’t meant to know who they’re talking about, necessarily, and they aren’t yours possessively. It’s confusing.*