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 When I originally made the decision to thru hike I was working in the beauty industry as a hairstylist and in my short stint in the cosmetic world had already worked on New York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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