Hike Like a Girl: Facing Fears, Empowering Women

When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016, I stopped for a few hours to swim at a lake in New York. I overheard a gaggle of boys in canoes taunting and daring each other to do something by screaming, “Don’t be a girl!” Several moms and and young girls were within earshot, but no one said anything in response to the boys’ insults. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I wanted to yell out“Don’t be a girl? Can you hike like a girl? Because this girl is hiking 2,000 miles!

We Raise Our Girls To Be Afraid

It’s no surprise that the majority of thru-hikers have historically been men. Our society tries to protect girls from the world by discouraging them from getting themselves into risky situations, but this only hurts us more. Boys intuit this cultural bias and associate being a girl with being fearful. But being fearful is not inherent to being assigned female or identifying as a girl. Let me say that again: being fearful is not synonymous with being a girl.

The New York Times published a great article about girls and fear in 2016 that I recommend reading if you haven’t already.

Live free or die!

The main reason I wanted to hike the AT alone is because I knew the trail would teach me how to take risks in a way I had never been encouraged or given the opportunity to learn before. I had so many inner fears — fears of rejection, judgment, being alone, not being good enough — that I needed to face head-on. I knew the lessons I’d take away from the trail would empower me to bring my best self forward for the rest of my life, even if being my true self means being bold and pissing some people off.

Risk-Taking Is Essential

Here is what I learned on my first thru-hike: healthy risk-taking does not require the absence of fear. Quite the contrary. Risk-taking is about understanding when fear is helpful and when it is standing in your way. Sometimes fear is your ally — an intuition that taking a certain risk isn’t a good idea at that moment due to lack of skills, knowledge, the conditions, etc. But other times, fear is a saboteur — a judgment or cultural bias that you’ve internalized that is overriding your own objective assessment of your skills or the conditions.

Me jumping off a 30-foot bridge on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut.

We need to encourage our girls to take risks so that they learn how to objectively assess their own limits and boundaries in the face of fear. Only they can teach themselves how to react in scary situations by walking right up to the cliff’s edge of fear and then practicing navigating there, in the space between comfort and distress.

Imagine what the world would be like if more girls had the support to cultivate a personal practice of risk-taking and intuition-building. How would they respond to sexual harassment? Workplace discrimination? Ecological destruction? What would they create?

PCT 2018 Girl Empowerment Fundraiser

I was blessed with a huge amount of community support when I chose to face my fears and embark on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail two years ago. Now I want to support other young women in embarking on their own personal journeys of transformation, however that looks for them.

That’s why, beginning with my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail on March 25, I will be launching a six-month fundraiser for three amazing girl empowerment nonprofits:

  • GirlVentures, facilitating outdoor adventures for middle- and high-schoolers to build confidence and strengthen bonds.
  • Gaia Girls Passages, providing nature-based mentoring through rite of passage ceremonies.
  • The Girls Empowerment, educating and inspiring teens to find their voice and cultivate self-respect, in part through wilderness immersions.

One hundred percent of what we raise will go to these inspiring women-led organizations. Subscribe to my PCT 2018 mailing list, learn more at janelhealy.com, and stay tuned for the project kickoff. I hope you’ll join me in making a difference in many girls’ lives.

YES to young women blossoming into the brave and intuitive beings they truly are!

Janel Healy

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Comments 6

  • Kathleen Lockhart : Jan 25th

    Keep up the good work Jane. You inspire me as a section hiker and a mother of two young women.

    • Janel Healy : Jan 30th

      Thank you very much, Kathleen! I appreciate your kind words. Keep hiking and being a great role model for your daughters!

  • Dave Michel : Jan 28th

    I’m a 2016er, don’t think we crossed paths. Fantastic post!
    Raised my 3 kids (2 daughters) to be adventurous outdoors types.
    They scare me occasionally, typical parent stuff.
    Hope they thruhike someday.


    • Janel Healy : Jan 30th

      Hi Pitchit! Nope, I don’t think we met. My trail name on the AT was Ninja Hoops. I flip-flopped, which is probably why we didn’t cross paths…? I hope your daughters turn out to be as adventurous as you, as well! Good for you for facing your totally normal parental fears for your kids’ safety and recognizing that it is important for them to take risks and be brave. Best of luck to you and your family!

  • KelseyJo : Feb 1st

    Yes! So much yes! Loved this post.

    • Janel Healy : Feb 1st

      Thank you!!


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