I am an adventurer and I am a woman. I grew up going on outdoor adventures with my grandfather and dad and never thought twice about the inherent risk that comes along with being in the wild outdoors. You adventure because it is what you do and because you love doing it. The outdoors is a part of you, and you're a part of it. And yet, as an adult and as a woman, I am often confronted with the "issue" of being out in the wild alone and whether it is safe for me to be out there. It struck me recently that prior to ever being asked about whether I feel safe being out there alone, I never even gave it a thought. I don’t mind traveling solo, and I always take the proper precautions to be as safe as I can wherever I go. I simply figured that everyone should take those precautions. The bears are not going to choose me over a man just because I’m a woman. The bugs are not going to bite me more just because I’m a woman. The lightning isn’t going to strike me just because I’m a woman. But unfortunately, there are other things to consider besides the wildlife and the weather. There are humans. And this, I think, is where the fear of what might happen should be overridden by seeking out the good of human nature, which is what usually happens. In my experience and the experience of many others who have traveled in the wilderness, people, for the most part, are good and kind and thoughtful. Yes, there are not-so-good people out there, but I have experienced some of the kindest, most considerate gestures from people in the least expected places when I am out there on my bike. So with that, we just keep doing what we are doing, trusting in the good of humanity and in the strength of ourselves as women to go it alone if we want to do so.
When my friend Heather and I decided to ride as much of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) as we could in 28 days, we did not really consider the fact that it was “just us girls” and that we would be an anomaly out there on the trail. It had not even crossed my mind that we were a minority in the world of GDMBR riders and in bikepacking in general. We did all the planning, all the packing, all the prep trips. And then there we were! We were doing it! Before too long though, we started to notice a trend when people would stop and talk with us. “Where are you going? Where did you come from? How long have you been riding? Wow… And your husband let you do this? Oh wow...just the two of you ladies? Oh wow...you sure you feel okay out there without a guy to protect you?” (Yes, we heard all of these things). So, then that makes you start to think, “Should I be afraid? Why are they afraid for me? Is there something out there that I don’t know about?” Since Heather actually has a husband, she would usually respond, “My husband is my biggest supporter in this adventure.” In my mind I'm thinking about the bear spray that I keep in my side holster and why I would need anyone else but that to protect me from any foe that might come along my way. And of course, you wouldn't ever mention your exact destination for the night, because they don’t really need to know that anyway.
When we were around southern Montana, we ran into a fellow traveler on the trail one evening at our campsite. Ahti was from Minnesota and was one of the friendliest people I have met to this day. He approached us and explained that for miles and miles he had been hearing about these two women who were riding the GDMBR by themselves! I mean, here Ahti was riding solo for the entirety of his trip and people didn’t seem to give it a second thought. And yet, here we were and we were doing something amazing because we were women doing it. As Heather and I continued on the trail, we encountered mostly male riders. There were a couple of male and female combos including husband and wife (even an amazing family with a three-year-old kid) and a father and daughter pair, but no other women-only groups or solo female travelers. It made me start to wonder why. Why is this? Why am I not seeing more women out here? I know it’s an epic rugged adventure, but since when did that stop us ladies anyway?
While descending down into Colorado, we ran into some folks that were fully equipped with camera equipment on the side of the road with their bikes. They flagged us down and we stopped to talk for a bit. They were documenting people along the trail with the goal of creating a feature that focused on encouraging minority groups that might not otherwise get out there to experience the beauty that this trail has to offer. They had been hearing about us for miles from others that they had passed. They had been hearing about these two women who are doing the trail, BY THEMSELVES! We answered their questions and talked a bit about our views of women out the trail, encouraging others to get there and experience the magic that is the GDMBR. It suddenly occurred to me that we might be an inspiration to other women who may have been told that they couldn't do a trip like this, or who feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand, or who might wonder how safe it is out in the backcountry of the Great Divide Trail. I also realized that I wanted women bikepackers to be the norm. The female solo traveler or all-women groups should become the norm so that the vulnerability felt with the abnormality of it seeps away and women don’t even second guess being out there.
We should look to the Lael Wilcoxes of the world and be inspired by their strength and their determination, and we should look at whatever adventure we want to embark on and say, “I can do that too!” I hope that some day, when a woman accomplishes her adventure goal, no matter how great or small, instead of hearing, “That was amazing that she did that thing because she was a woman” we will hear, “That was an amazing thing that she did because it was an amazing thing.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I take pride in being a woman, and I hope to be an inspiration for all you women out there who might have been told that you can’t do whatever it is you want to do. The reality is that the more we get out there, whether we are solo or with our favorite group of gals, the more we can shift this dynamic and way of thought that adventuring in the outdoors is less safe for women than it is for men. Women are people. We are adventurers. We are epic. We should feel confident to go it alone and we should feel safe and comfortable in the wild just like everyone else in this world!
Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women athletes and enthusiasts who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments every day. With support from OluKai, KEEN, and Mountain Hardwear and many more organizations, Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2018 and to be a platform for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews to female-focused content from the community to phenomenal gear and travel giveaway packages, each and every article is a celebration of the fortitude, strength, and camaraderie that comes with being part of Women in the Wild.