Book Review: Chicas on the Appalachian Trail

As any thru-hiker knows, preparing for your first thru-hike means a lot of frantic googling. Hours-long googling sessions, googling questions that lead to more questions, waking up in the middle of the night to scrawl down a question so you don’t forget to google it tomorrow.  It’s a lot. And women have some extra googling to do, usually in the smaller corners of the backpacking internet because there just happens to be less women-specific information out there, although (as you would expect) it continues to grow as the percentage of women that thru-hike continues to grow.

Adding to that growing bank of information is Jen “Chica” Seymour. She and her husband, Greg “Sunsets” Seymour, thru-hiked the AT in 2017 and co-wrote Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail: 100 Tips, Tricks, and Facts. Chicas on the Appalachian Trail is Chica’s solo creation, focused on aiding hikers of the female persuasion.

The goal of Chicas on the Appalachian Trail was to gather the answers to all the inevitable google searches that female thru-hikers may have, both women-specific and not, into one book. As such, the book is a great starting place for anyone looking to thru-hike for the first time. Although it is AT-focused, it’s got useful information for any thru-hiker, from gear lists to personal hygiene to the ins and outs of hiking alone or with a partner.

With a thru-hike already under my belt, a lot of the information wasn’t new to me, but I could easily see how comforting the book would have been had I read it before I thru-hiked. Chica presents information meant to address fears potential thru-hikers might have, from heights to loneliness to snakes to failure. Sometimes the information out there can be dismissive of concerns that feel perfectly reasonable to green backpackers and a nonjudgmental rundown of all worries, big and small, is a long time coming.

Pre-hike, I specifically would have appreciated Chica’s no-nonsense approach to the dangers of other humans on the AT. I feel like much of the talk on the internet falls into one of two extremes. Either, “You’re a female thru-hiking? Alone? Are you bring pepper spray? A knife? A gun? Some sort of hybrid super weapon made out of all three?” OR, “The AT is a perfect utopia free from all the problems the regular world has, including harassment, and my brother’s friend’s cousin’s aunt hiked for like a week and she didn’t have any issues so what are you worried about?”  It was one of the things I felt most uncertain about when I set out, because I just never found a calm, levelheaded female response to it on the internet. I know I would have been reassured by Chica’s approach, which is honest and pragmatic without ever being fearmongering or knee-jerk. She also asks every other hiker she interviews about it, giving the reader a chance to see what a multitude of women each in different hiking situations experienced.

My favorite part of the book is the compilation of interviews Chica does with a series of other female hikers, including those who hiked alone, in groups, with partners, or with their kids. She asks them many of the same questions she already covered, allowing for other perspectives besides her own. It’s so easy to read about someone’s experience thru-hiking and let yourself believe that your experience will play out in a similar way. Interviewing so many other hikers about their experiences not only gives the reader a chance to see the ways people’s thru-hikes differ, but it also gives the reader a chance to see the common denominators that arise throughout. I thought it was a very smart choice.

The book also delves into other women’s issues, from periods to peeing to how do I make my hair not become one giant tangle. She discusses how families may react and the doubts they may have. The first question day hikers would ask me after “Are you hiking alone?”* was “And what do your parents think?” I was 26 at the time of my thru-hike and always wondered why it mattered what my parents thought, but it’s worth noting that women’s families are often more nervous about the idea of a thru-hike and may need some assuring (assuming, of course, you feel the need to do any assuring).

It’s easy to forget, in retrospect, how terrifying it can be to stare down a challenge with so many unknowns. I remember telling myself that I needed to be ready for things I hadn’t even thought of. Nothing combats fear like knowledge, though, so I’d strongly recommend this book to all women ready to stare down a thru-hike.

* Do not ask women you don’t know this, or “Where are you camping tonight?”  I mean, would you ask women you meet on the street where they live and if they live alone?

Find the book on Amazon here
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