I met some incredibly supportive people on the trail. But there were also a small number of times when I was called words such as ‘courageous’ or ‘brave’, or where I elicited worry after explaining my travel plans, whilst my male hiking partners were ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’ for having set out alone. And whilst my close friends and family were very supportive, I was met with a similar sense of disbelief and concern by some acquaintances, when I told them that I’d be going solo. This included a guy that I dated for a short time, who told me that ‘I didn’t know what I was I was getting myself into’ and that he was ‘seriously concerned’ about my ability to do it.
During these interactions, it sometimes felt that I was viewed as being in some kind of inherent danger, by the very fact of being female and hiking alone. Never mind that the main threats to my safety on the trail (injury, hypothermia etc.) could happen to anyone and that their likelihood comes down to preparedness and poor luck, not gender.
Whilst these comments are easy to brush off at first, they can start to wear you down, especially against a backdrop of articles in the media telling women how to ‘stay safe’ when travelling alone. Statistically speaking, in countries across the world, and even in times of war, one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be is in her own home. So concern about a woman being alone and far from home actually starts to takes on a kind of sad irony.
The worst thing is that these comments can actually cause you to be a bit afraid and to doubt both your abilities and judgement. After a while, I began to question what it was that I should be afraid of as a solo woman hiker. What were these people worried was going to happen to me? And what were they implying, consciously or subconsciously, with these expressions of concern?
- That I must be ill equipped?
- That I was less capable?
- That I had something to fear from other hikers?
- That I shouldn’t be there?
But the fact is, so long as you are well prepared and able trust in your own judgement and ability, you really have nothing to fear as a woman hiking the JMT alone. Or at least, you have nothing more to fear than anyone else deciding to take on the trail.
Hiking the JMT alone gave me a sense of freedom, confidence and joy that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Not to mention wonderful friendships, memories and cracking pictures. I would urge anyone with a dream to do the John Muir Trail to apply for your permit and start planning. And don’t let the surprise or poorly informed concern of others (particularly strangers) worry you, or stop you from getting out there and doing something incredible.