Empowering women to ‘go alone’
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More stories from Andee Erickson
A narrative of my summer spent hiking solo
Women are increasingly choosing to travel alone for their own benefit, yet it’s an idea that isn’t promoted enough. According to a survey The Gutsy Traveler conducted, 73 percent of travel agents polled said more women travel solo than men. A little encouragement can go a long way. Rather than heckling independence, instead, let’s offer tools on how to travel thoughtfully.
I’ve learned a few tricks.
This summer I was determined to teach myself how to travel alone, so during an internship in Utah, I spent my weekends hiking solo around the state’s public lands, preferring the open spaces of the desert. After a long day of hiking, the earth’s red dust always settled into my skin, and I would watch the sun sink behind canyon walls, performing desert shows as the last of the light bounced between the rock. Those were the moments I felt empowered for embarking alone, so I left the dirt to soak deeper into my pores while I slept under the stars.
My weekends were spent either hiking and car camping, backpacking and stargazing or tourist watching after hiking and sleeping in my car along a river (see map). But during the week, when I had a bed with sheets and a place to shower (see map), I scrubbed the desert away and watched as the evidence of my weekend disappeared down the drain.
I kept quiet about how I was spending my weekends to safeguard myself from the scrutiny I was tired of receiving. A few too many had questioned my ability to hike the desert safely and their comments kept me home the following weekend to sit around with an uneasy feeling as I wasted precious time in Utah.
The next weekend I left again without knowing where I’d be sleeping or where I’d be hiking, but I travelled thoughtfully and let someone know when I knew where I was going and when I should be back. While my mom would worry on the other side of a text message waiting for the relief that would come when her 20-year-old daughter responded, I was falling in love with landscapes just as desolate as I was the only way I knew how – alone.
My momma, the woman who told me to do what makes me happy even if it makes her nervous “’cause it’s her job to worry,” is the same woman who filled my bedroom shelves with books of female travelers going alone. Since reading those stories, I learned to hang on to memories of women I’ve met who were hiking alone on a trail because I knew how encouraging those images might be some day.
At the beginning of the summer my best friend and I were backpacking in the Columbia River Gorge, nestled between the borders of Oregon and Washington. It was morning and we were starting our day’s hike crossing rocky streams deep under canopies of damp greenery. As we crossed one of the first streams of the day, a woman not much older than us stood in the river eating a packaged bar and drinking from a bright purple thermos. With a tone of relaxed confidence, she told us she had hiked until dark the night before and rolled out of her tent before dawn.
Once the distance between us and the lone hiker greatened, my friend and I shared our admiration for her independence and joked that we wouldn’t have the guts to do it alone, not when we’re buried under forests with our guards up because we don’t know who or what could be lurking just behind the brush.
Then I discovered security in the wide-open spaces of the desert, and I realized, as a female solo hiker, the site, or the environment I walk in is what determines what I do and where I choose to hike, not how far I am from home or how close the nearest civilization is. Rather than discouraging solo travel, let’s empower other women to take time and find their spaces too, alone or not.