I Can Walk Alone….
Next week, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail. If you’ve never heard of it, the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a continuous footpath that runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is approximately 2,180 miles long and travels through 14 states and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the US.
There are a number of ways one can endeavor to hike the trail. Some people go the entire length in one trip; thru-hike. They begin at either the southern or the northern point and they finish when they finish.
I’m a section hiker. I go back to the trail at least once a year, picking up where I left off and hiking the next stretch. I would like to someday thru-hike. But for now, section hiking suits me. I get to return to the adventure every year.
One of my favorite things about the trail, is meeting other hikers. I love to hear their stories and everyone has a story. I’ve met people from all walks of life.
Last year, I met a woman whose trail name was Orange Crush. She was a retired school teacher who had dreamed of hiking the trail ever since she was a little girl. After satisfying the responsibilities of work and family, her husband turned to her in their retirement and said, “It’s now or never. You’ve got to do this.”
And she did. She got her trail name when she was walking through Pennsylvania and two men spotted her from their place atop a ridge. She was wearing a bright orange top and they could see her clearly as she made her way toward them, down into a valley and back up again. She was moving so quickly through the states notoriously rocky landscape, that they decided to wait and see who this person was. When she approached, they were shocked, expecting a much younger hiker. One of the men apparently exclaimed, “You’re crushing it!” And so she was given the trail name, Orange Crush.
A few years ago, I met a group of friends who had been section hiking the trail together for twenty-years. They’d all had careers and kids, but every year, they made the commitment to get together and go. No matter what.
I also met a couple in their 70’s. I met them in Connecticut, but they had been hiking since Georgia. They passed me quickly and left me in their dust.
I’ve met people who are hiking alone, or in small groups, or with others they met and clicked with at some point along the trail. In years prior, I’ve always hiked with a partner. But this year, I’m hiking solo for the first time.
Any time it comes up, the first question I’m asked is, “Aren’t you afraid?”
I know what they mean. They aren’t asking me if I’m afraid I’ll encounter a wild animal hungry for a hiker. Or, if I’m afraid I’ll lose my way. They are asking if I’m afraid of who I might meet on the trail.
I give them the answer I know to be true. I say that I am safer on the trail than I would be walking alone on a city street. Then I think what I also know to be true. I am safer, but I am not exactly safe.
It’s a deflating conversation. But, it’s a conversation I think every woman is accustomed to having in some form or fashion. Because we are taught and we know, that sometimes bad things happen to women who walk alone.
And when those bad things happen, there is always someone who reads the story and says, “Why would she do that, be there, take that risk, alone? She should have known better.”
I hate it.
I hate that alone is considered a risk, because someone else might consider it an invitation.
I hate that when I say, “I’m not afraid” someone says, “You’re so brave.”
I shouldn’t have to muster up bravery and courage to simply walk alone.
I hate that this is my world too, but it’s a world in which I’m often the punchline of a dirty joke. Where my choices and my rights are up for debate and can be snatched away without my say.
I hate that I have, at times, accepted negative attention, because my intuition told me it was safer than standing my ground.
I hate when I say any of these things, there is someone who hears it and thinks I’m being too dramatic, too sensitive. I hate that the statistics say otherwise.
I hate that I am a little bit afraid.
I love that I’m going to walk alone anyway.