Sticks, Stones, and Gender Roles: An Introduction

“Does your husband know you’re out here?”

The group of men laughed, pot bellies rumbling and leftover Backpacker Pantry crumbs spewing from beneath their burly beards. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the rock I had claimed as mine, though it was jagged and uncomfortable to sit on. The men had not offered me a spot in the shelter nor properly introduced themselves. It was as if my presence had rained on their manly parade and would somehow tarnish their vision of what the Appalachian Trail should be.

When I close my eyes, I can still feel the blood rush to my cheeks and the stutter on my lips as I struggled to find an answer. The truth was that no more than 3 days into my Southbound thru hike of the AT, I was struggling with the massive undertaking that is walking all the way from Maine to Georgia. Their laughs, dripping with misogyny, were almost enough to push me to a breaking point. I would later find out that my trail sister, Sun, had also run into these guys. She had decided to rough it the next six miles to the next shelter rather than spend the night dodging their unfriendly jabs.

You can call me Lucky 13.

 And, yes, I am aware that there are bears out there.

My trail name is Lucky 13 and I am a 24-year-old, female, solo, long-distance hiker. When I originally made the decision to thru hike I was working in the beauty industry as a hairstylist and in my short stint in the cosmetic world had already worked on New York fashion week twice. My world revolved around hairspray, hair color, and Jeffree Star’s latest makeup lines. Nobody could quite wrap their head around the idea of the girl who wore heels to the grocery store trekking 2192 miles across mud, mountains, and rivers, alone. I was embarking on that first trip leaving behind many worried and very confused friends and coworkers.

I was drawn to the trail and the idea that everybody is equal there. This is one of the few places in the world that a big-shot New York lawyer and a grocery bagger at Shop Rite are on equal ground and share a common goal: just make it as far as you can. This was a welcome change of pace from a life that relied so heavily on staying ahead of the competition. Knowing this about the trail, I had not anticipated being the laughing stock of three arrogant men in the middle of the 100 Mile Wilderness after dragging my bug-bitten body through 21 miles of the hardest terrain I had ever experienced, which was farther than their 8 miles that day, but who’s counting? (me)

Why I am hiking.

The Appalachian Trail is unique in that it presents a new challenge every day, both mental and physical. I think that plays a big part in scaring people away. The ATC estimates that 3 million people hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail a year. Of that, only 1,100 of those people will go on to become 2,000-milers each season. In the early years of the Appalachian Trail, women made up only 15% of hikers, while in 2018 we represented 1/3 of hikers! I want to play a part in increasing the number of women in these statistics! Our generation is already making waves for equality in all aspects of life, on and off-trail. Women are taking the opportunity to broaden our horizons and blaze our own paths. Hiking is not just for men and it is not just for boyish girls.

Sometimes I think about those men and I wish that I had said something strong instead of retreating into my tent and shutting the flap, but the truth is that I didn’t have to prove anything to them or to my friends and family back home. I was on the trail in 2019 and will be again in 2021 because I want to be, not because it’s easy or expected of me. We can only strive to break the gender stereotype by first changing our own perspectives of what we, as women, are capable of.

The reason that I want to keep hiking, and the reason that I began my blog with this post, is to inspire other young, solo women to get out there and live their lives unafraid of stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Over the course of this blog, I don’t plan to sugarcoat the unhealed blisters clumsily doctored with duct tape, the buzz of a cloud of mosquitos that refuses to be drowned out by my music turned up at full blast, or the endless drudgery that is setting up an already wet tent in a thunderstorm at 5,000 feet of elevation because the shelter is full. I want to show that even the most unlikely of hikers is capable of meeting life-long friends while watching the sun set over Mount Washington. I want to write about smiling through the mud-soaked pain and pleasure of a truly life-changing “walk in the woods”.

Being rugged, white, a man, or a lifelong athlete is not necessary to be a thru hiker. I sure as hell am not. What is important is that you have passion, including those of us whose other passion includes owning every single Morphe palette. You can catch me out there this March matching my trekking poles to my Hawaiian shirt. Old habits die hard.

“A girl should be two things: Who and What she wants.” ~ Coco Chanel, fashion designer
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Comments 43

  • Avatar
    Bella : Nov 15th

    amazing read! very inspiring, especially as a woman and lover of hiking myself!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Leslie Agius : Nov 15th

    Very well written, inspiring and thoughtful. Can’t wait to read of your travels.

    Reply
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    Abbey Road : Nov 15th

    I can’t wait to hear more about your travels!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Alejandro : Nov 15th

      It’s good reads like this that get more people excited and inspired to get outside. Can’t wait to read more!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Amber : Nov 15th

    Great read!

    Reply
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    Bblacc : Nov 15th

    Niiiiiiiiiiice!!!!!!

    Reply
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    Wes Laudeman : Nov 15th

    Great post! Love seeing a more diverse trail! Hope to see you out there in March!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Emma Slaughter : Nov 15th

      Yes! When will you be hiking?

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Wes Laudeman : Nov 16th

        Setting out from Springer March 1st.

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Emma Slaughter : Nov 19th

          Aiming for the same start date. Possibly we’ll see eachother then. Keep an eye out, I wear cow print gaiters!

          Reply
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        Rob : Nov 21st

        I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve hiked my entire life, seen many solo female hikers and none of them were ever treated that way in front of me or told a similar story. Also, there are not pot bellied fatties hiking.

        Reply
        • Avatar
          KinPa : Nov 21st

          Seriously? Pretty much every female hiker I know has a story like this. I do too. Luckily, it’s become more and more few and far between. But seriously, has it ever occurred to you that maybe they don’t tell you about these experiences because you’re the douche canoe that goes ahead and discounts them? Or maybe even one of the dudes that she’s talking about?

          Also, I don’t know how much you’ve been outside, but I see people of all shapes and sizes like. True, it’s a lot harder to be a thru hiker and typically they have a more athletic build (or at least they do by the time they’re done), but I’ve definitely seen bigger dudes and gals on the trail. After having three children, cancer, and getting older I’ve personally been many different weights, but hiked through each one of them.

          Reply
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            Stephanie Allen-Abreu : Nov 21st

            Hi. I don’t know how prevalent the word combo of douche canoe is…but are you by any chance a member of THE BADASS LADY GANG? 🛶

            Reply
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            David Blacketer : Nov 22nd

            Douche Canoe ?

            Reply
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        LadyPoles : Nov 21st

        A whole article over one poor dad joke? Leave your identity politics back in the “real world” and you’ll meet the nicest people on trail.

        Also, dont view everything through a lens of race/sex/orientation. It takes a community to thru hike, too many times ive seen people refuse helpful suggestions due to a chip on their shoulder.

        If i see a woman using poor trail etiquette like trying to bring a food bag in the shelter, i just leave. With articles written like this theres a 9/10 of being called a “mansplainer” or whatever. Its sad that this nonsense has leaked into the AT culture

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Angela : Nov 22nd

          I agree. So tired of the gender/race baiting politics being brought to the trail. Leave those attitudes at home. Don’t hit the trail looking for opportunities to play victim. My husband and I have been hiking the AT as we can. Most people are every good thing you’d want in a shelter buddy. His remark wasn’t misogynistic. She said her friends and family were worried about her hiking alone. That’s a pretty common attitude. No need to turn it into an opportunity to bash the white male. (I notice she made it a point…) So over this crap.

          Reply
  • Avatar
    Alejandro : Nov 15th

    It’s good reads like this that get more people excited and inspired to get outside. Can’t wait to read more!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Helen : Nov 15th

    Excellent! Can’t wait to follow this adventure!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Sunny : Nov 15th

    Love it!!
    Psyched for more to come.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Athena : Nov 16th

    You got this girl! I wish I could pack up and go! I will follow.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ben -trail name Paladin : Nov 16th

    Fantastic read! No trail should be gender specific! Not the AT, PCT, CDT or any other. Hope to see you out there!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Russ1663 : Nov 16th

    Keep after it Emma, a person is at their best when expanding their comfort zone. As for naysayers, their jealousy is their problem. Your strength is your undefeatable attitude. Be fearless, drive on Lil Sister

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Paul Schulke : Nov 16th

    Emma,
    Best of luck…
    Perhaps try less cliches
    (Which is a cliche itself)
    Paul

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Birch : Nov 16th

    As a guy, I f***ing hate hearing stories of intolerance like this on the trails, but we all need women and people of color to keep telling us so we don’t forget how non-inclusive we regularly can be. Thank you for writing about it.

    Reply
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      Caro : Nov 21st

      Rad post, sister! I’ve encountered some of that too but we have to just keep making space for all the wonderful people who ARE out there and let the haters be on their merry way.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Emma Slaughter : Nov 21st

        Yes!! Thank you so much for your comment! We will keep on keepin’ on!

        Reply
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    Sam Cermak : Nov 16th

    You go girl! I hope to see you out there! When is your start date?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Emma Slaughter : Nov 19th

      I am hoping to start around March 1st. Road tripping down there so Im not necessarily married to the date!

      Reply
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    BOS : Nov 21st

    I hope you that you made/make tour trek with carrying that HUGE chip on your shoulder. Don’t judge all us by the behavior of three. I don’t know them and I don’t know you. Did they say nasty things to you?, put rocks in your pack? As a man, if you were in the shelter before me, I would expect to share with you-wouldn’t even ask. And as for talking to you, there may be other reasons. I was more offended by men hitting on women (women were pissed- seen that look on daughters’ faces) on the trail. So maybe silence is a blessing. I hope that you enjoy your trek and I wish you the best. Jerks come in all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and genders, so do nice people. I hope you find more of the latter. You will on the trail.

    Reply
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      Dillon : Nov 21st

      Ugh. Why do you people expect there to be an absence of Assholes on these types of experiences? Its public, difficult and there is not a “Social justice warrior test” to gain access. People are dicks everywhere, and its not just rugged, white athletic MEN. Grow up and accept that the ratio between men and solo females is ridiculous. That alone makes Neanderthals like those guys feel special and tough, which is why they wanted to do it. You may have damage their idea of rugged hard to conquer territory that was making their manly beards feel appropriate. Regardless you “retreating” into your tent doesnt make you special nor them animals. It makes you a hiker. Just go hike and stop looking for some speial kudos because you are a solo female, there were 1000’s before you.

      Reply
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        Emma Slaughter : Nov 21st

        No disrespect but you dont need to be reading an article entitled “Sticks, Stones, and Gender Roles” if this is how you feel. But thank you anyway for reading my post. Maybe next time youll find something that piques your jnterest but if not there are plenty of other bloggers on here for you to follow instead.

        ✌ Lucky 13

        Reply
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        Coconut : Nov 22nd

        Not cool, man. Take a moment to be a better person.

        Reply
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    Mitch : Nov 21st

    I started to tell a women to be careful and she cut me off and told me I was being offensive…..

    I still warned her about the black bear with cubs off the trail… But in general I’ve learned to not make eye contact and keep my head down around women in the woods.

    Reply
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    Bob : Nov 21st

    I have a run in with some trail assholes, I hike on and don’t let them live rent free in my brain.

    This woman – Writes an article about getting offended and apparently thinks about it quite often.

    Smh.

    Reply
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    Ronj76 : Nov 21st

    I applaud you for your passion and your successes on AT, including choosing a solo tent to enjoy your rest without JERKS around spoiling your rest period. Also, the fellow that chastised you is as much as a jerk. I am a 76 y.o man who unfortunately has experienced bullies throughout my travels enjoying similar passions as you. My greatest disappointment in life, realizing in spite of my efforts and my intent, one of my sons has developed into an arrogant bully. Continue to enjoy your passion and smile once you have avoided such jerks and are CVomfortable in your tent. I apologize for my “non-fellow” bearded, jerk/bullies. I wholeheartedly appreciate and respect you!!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Emma Slaughter : Nov 21st

      Thank you so much for your comment. Made me smile reading it! I honestly wasn’t expecting much backlash as I am new to blogging but can’t please everyone, I guess? Thats the internet for you!

      Reply
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    Mark Keegan : Nov 21st

    My sons and I have hiked a couple of hundred miles on the AT and we’ve tan across quite a few female thru hikers. The trail is for everybody even though my wife and I only saw one other hiker yesterday. Shelters and privies in Virginia closed because of Covid.

    Reply
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    Robert Smith : Nov 21st

    You’re clearly a talented writer, but I have to agree that you painting a picture of pot-bellied white men only reflects your hate for a group and detracts from what was otherwise an empowering read. Maybe it was a purposeful click-bait to ride in on the wave of reductive identity-politics; if so good execution on plan. I would have preferred you framed your experience as the one-off it certainly was and tried to express the diversity we find on trails.

    Anyway, your article certainly sparked some lively dialogue, so good on you. I’ll follow.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Emma Slaughter : Nov 21st

      In no way was that the intention, perhaps I should have made it more clear. Good point and great way of looking at it, I will think more about that perspective if ever the topic gets brought up again as I dont want to seem hateful!

      Thanks for the follow!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Raven C. : Nov 21st

      Hi, interesting observations and overall uplifting. I suspect there are bullies on the trail just as everywhere. I’ve been reading up about sex differences lately and have a few related observations why male-female communication often fails. Many men respond to group newcomers with a test of merit, either by the kind of hazing you encountered, or by more open displays of skill, to judge group placement in their hierarchy thinking. Men will typically tease a newcomer to establish the pecking order. They made a joke, however stupid as a form of welcoming; clearly the first dumb & testy thing one of them could muster. On the other hand, I’d bet the majority of women you met on the trail tried to prove that they were sympathetic and understanding by being self deprecating or praising you for something, maybe asking for your help, thereby signaling their socially viability as a friendly in the more typical female approach. Men frequently try to help by fixing and by promoting their own merit, hence “mansplaining” obvious stuff to an expert or asking in direct and (to many a woman) insulting manner if they know what they are doing, because sex typical men need to feel useful to someone to know their place in the relationship. Having grown up with all brothers and many respected men in my family, understanding more clearly how men are communicating and not assuming they’re all just cave trolls will give us a better chance ourselves to understand and be understood in our differences. We all can learn much.

      Reply
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    Robert Sovitsky : Nov 21st

    Don’t worry about a few ignorant men! Easy for me to say since I’m a man ? No one can hold you back ultimately but you. Remember all men are not bad and selfish just as all women are not virtuous! I think you’re doing a great thing by getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself every day! Please take some advice from an old man smile breath the fresh mountain air and don’t let haters and bullies live in your head! Y

    Reply
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    Suzanne N : Nov 22nd

    So glad to see this! I thought it was just me who experienced this misogynistic BS from middle aged white males. I solo hiked the AT in my mid-fifties and experienced it first hand over and over. (Curiously I rarely saw middle aged men hiking solo.) Where is your husband? Does your husband know where you are? Why did he let you do the AT? Aren’t you afraid of the bears? In Connecticut I had a guy in a small town try to scare me with rattle snake stories. Another guy (who was drunk) tried to tell me how to hike the AT although he admitted he had only hiked a very small section himself. After completing the AT I have repeatedly had middle aged men question whether I really hiked the whole AT, some to the point that they quiz me in an effort to verify my story. But when talking with male AT hikers they readily accept whatever they say.
    Are middle aged men really that insecure that they cannot handle confident women who are comfortable in the woods?

    Reply
  • Avatar
    pearwood : Dec 1st

    Emma,
    Cool, says this old white guy.
    Maybe I’ll see you on the trail.
    #AppalachianTrail2021 #Birthday71 #PandemicPermitting
    Blessings,
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply

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