So I decided to feel sorry for myself and whine. It's what I do. But it kinda resonated with many people. I never thought it would. Turns out many women feel the same way I do. Am I comforted knowing I am not alone. NO. I am not comforted knowing other women (or men for that matter) feel so self-conscious in the outdoors. That anyone would is upsetting. Everyone, regardless of gender sexual orientation/identification, age, race, income, region, weight, abilities, etc should be allowed to enjoy the outdoors. Period. Unless they are doing harm, like harassing wildlife, starting fires, or pooping on the trail, the outdoors are free for all to enjoy.
But this is not always the case. Some people are told they are not welcome in one way or another. Like the overweight woman who is told to get in better shape to hike or criticized for using it as a way to lose weight. The Black child who is looked at with suspicion or asked if he is lost. The older gentleman or woman who is asked if their kids know they are doing this. The woman hiking alone who is asked if her husband approves and what about her kids.The female climbing guide who is mansplained. The Black gay woman who worries for her safety because of what she sees and hears on the trail. The lesbians who claim they are sisters because they feel at risk at a campground. I could go on, but you get the idea.
There seems to be an idea of who belongs in the outdoors and who does not. There are ideas of gender, body types, fitness, speed, race, etc. If you don't fit that mold, you are told to change or do something else. Lots of groups also tend to cater to the fitness/speed ideal. While there is nothing wrong with this, little else is offered. Some fantastic groups like Trail Dames and Outdoor Afro exist, but they seem to be few and far between. One of the reasons I tend to hike alone is that I hate that I am slow and struggle. I hike, I have achieved goals, it makes me happy. I may never do book time, but I will make it eventually. By the way, book time is considered slow. Book time being 2mph plus 30min for each 1000ft of elevation. I guess I am glacial.
Even before I started doing the backpacking class, I knew I wanted to help people, especially women, to feel confident. I have to seen women struggle with clothing made for an ideal,or try to get a pack to fit that has been shrinked and pinked. While it is incredibly awesome to have clothing and gear made for women, manufacturers need to realize that not all women are just smaller. And my God, not all of us like pretty soft colors. And YO, we need pockets. Women come in all shapes and sizes. Believe me, I have seen many things to complain about. Many. Lots. However, until people speak up and demand change, nothing will happen. So ladies, started emailing and demand pockets. And ask for color coded straps. Confidence with gear is one thing I can try to do. What happens when they use the gear, I can't control.
I do seem to talk more about women, but the truth is, we tend to get the shorter end of the stick. We are criticized for our weight, appearance, age, gear, relationship status, etc. I am very lucky that I have friends who could care less about my gender or skin color. I am beyond lucky and I know it. I have encouragement and unbiased advice. That is why I feel it is important to provide encouragement, even if it is describing a work around a tough trail. And I guess just doing it encourages others. You know if they see me do it, they feel like they can. Who knows. I just want to end this idea of what is the ideal hiker. The only ideal hiker is one who is prepared with the 10 essentials and knowledge. That's it. You can be male, female, transgender, Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, old, young, short, tall, thin, fat, slow, fast, amputee, wheelchair bound, it does not matter. If you are prepared and knowledgeable, you are a hiker in my book.
So what did I write?
It has to be said, so I am just going to say it. Alabama lady had a point about athletes being the only people able to hike in the Northeast, I say this as a fat, slow hiker. There, I admitted it. I am fat, overweight, by some measures obese. I don't get a lot of exercise because I have 2 jobs and some hormonal thing that kills my energy levels. I have lots of stress and I have a heart murmur. I might have asthma, but I will find out Tuesday. I know these are lame excuses for being fat, but it is my reality. I am just not fit enough to hike. I hiked for 4 hours, but could not get Old Speck. I did work. Getting kids to stay sane for the last 88 minutes of the school year. I drove 4 hours just to get there. And on less than 4 hours of sleep. I know, lame excuses. People with half of what I have do twice that. I do not know why I make destructive decisions not to do at least 30 minutes of cardio every day and eat "bad" food. How can I call myself a hiker when I do not act like one?
If you sense the sarcasm in this, you get a cookie...which someone needs to remind me that I need to buy. Please message me to remind me. I work with women who I know will get discouraged because they are larger or slower. I know what people will say to them because I have heard it before. I know some will spend tons of money and get discouraged. And maybe quit. Which is sad because, umm, hiking is an awesome way to get healthy. Not thin, healthy. Because weight is not the only thing that makes people slow. I have also heard many people say they cannot get onto hikes without the right pedigree. All this makes me sad. The trail has done things for me no gym or medicine could. It cannot replace medicine, or daily walking, but it made a HUGE difference in a life that was spiraling into an abyss. I am a better person because of hiking. I have made many awesome friends from hiking. I always tell women in my classes to find their tribe. It is hard, but essential. I hate that people feel like I often do, embarrassed and not worthy of the trail. And want to know something? After school, I could have gone home and slept. Saving maybe $70 in gas, tolls, and campsite. I could have taken a nap and eaten chocolates. But I drove 4 hours, started hiking late, didn't summit (shameful), hiked down in the dark and rain, and had no fun putting up my tent at near midnight. But I woke up and had tea by a river. I enjoyed fresh air as I began 1 of 2 crazy 8 hour days. I did not try, I did. I got exercise. I did something many will not even think about. I saw what I am capable of, what I am made of. I faced fears and was prepared for the unexpected.
And Ilse made my day. Not bad for a fat, slow hiker. Maybe one day I will be a real hiker. Until then, I will be hiking and backpacking.