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Hike Like a Girl Weekend Was Awesome. Now Let’s Make Some Societal Change.

Last week, I wrote in the High Country News about why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.

This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14th-15th, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.

Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?

YES.

On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.

 

A photo posted by Minty Winty (@minty.winty) on

A photo posted by Teresa Baker (@teresabaker11) on

 

Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.

 

A photo posted by JoAnn (@joannkelmaz) on

A photo posted by Katie McGinn (@kerinmcginn) on

A photo posted by Chelsea (@chelkyrie) on

While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.

I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.

Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.

 

A Hiker’s Review of Wild the Movie

 

Four hikers waiting in line outside to see Wild (wearing all our packs and gear…because everyone goes to movies like that, right?)
Four hikers waiting in line outside to see Wild (wearing all our packs and gear…because everyone goes to movies like that, right?)

This weekend, I was lucky enough to see Wild the Movie with three other thru-hikers, Pi (who I met on the PCT), Twinkle (who I met this year on the PCT), and Mr. Gorbachev (who has section-hiked Washington PCT). Here in Denver, Wild is only showing on one screen at a one arthouse theater, making us luck to score tickets, but the movie should be out in mainstream theaters soon. (Had we not been able to finagle tickets, our plan was to claim that as Real PCT Hikers, FoxSearchLight had commissioned us to be pre-show entertainment for opening weekend).

I liked Wild the Book, although my one complaint was that as a hiker, I wasn’t feeling the anxiety and suspense that most readers must have experienced. For the normal Oprah book club reader, there must be thrill in reading about crossing snowfields or climbing over boulders. As a hiker, my reaction while reading the book was “well, I know what she has to do to get out of this situation,” and “Yeah, that happens.”

However, in movie form, Cheryl’s outdoor troubles were pretty fun to watch. The other theater-goers must have found us hikers twisted when we laughed at some of her most harrowing hiking moments (note that we showed appropriate emotion towards her non-hiking troubles).  One example of a time when we got some looks from the audience was when we chuckled at Cheryl’s pack bruises and scars on her shoulders and waist. What the others moviegoers could not have guessed was that we weren’t laughing at Cheryl, but we were laughing with her.

As hikers, our joy in Wild came as laughs of triumph. In watching Cheryl, we knew that we too had been in that position. We, too, had once been that scared and frustrated. What made Wild a joy to watch was that we now know exactly how to get out of that situation (and in fact, now that situation isn’t a big deal anymore).

The real Meadow Ed received the Martin D. Papendick award for trail angels at this year’s American long Distance Hiking Association-West’s Gathering.
The real Meadow Ed received the Martin D. Papendick award for trail angels at this year’s American long Distance Hiking Association-West’s Gathering.

Before I saw Wild, I had been warned by Barney “Scout” Mann, who saw a pre-screening at the Telluride Film Festival, that PCT hikers may find the inaccuracies of the landscapes in the film distracting. Specifically, the movie was shot on private land in Oregon and there were questions about whether the director could have done a better job making Ashland look like Southern California. After seeing the film, to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the landscapes were more-or-less accurate to the trail (with the exception of Northern California—which, really, if they filmed in Ashland, they could have done a better job making it look like 11 miles south of where they filmed). I was specifically pleased to see how much the stretch from Highway 58 to Kennedy Meadows looked exactly like the trail—in fact, after watching the credits, I suspect they may have been able to film on the PCT or pretty close.

I was also satisfied by how accurately Wild portrayed hikertrash life. In a scene where Cheryl camps with other hikers, I was so impressed with the actors playing thru-hikers that I wondered if the casting agent just decided to find real thru-hikers instead of SAG cardholders. Furthermore, early viewers of the film had cautioned me that Cliff De Young doesn’t quite look like Meadow Ed, but I thought Hollywood did a great job of finding a guy who is pretty close, and making him look as he may have in the 1990s. Indeed, the casting on this film in general was phenomenal with even bit parts stealing the show.

Real Live PCT Hikers hired as entertainment for the theater
Real Live PCT Hikers hired as entertainment for the theater

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was shocked by how Wild evoked my memories and emotions related to the PCT. As always, whenever I see a photo or video of the PCT, I’m always surprised by how well I can identify where it was filmed. Even though we as thru-hikers cover thousands of miles, somehow landscapes stick in our minds and bring out memories and emotions in a way contrary to how the brain normally stores information. What alarmed me though, was at the end of the film, Cheryl makes it to Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River. For a thru-hiker, BOG is a beautiful site—the end of a state, the lowest point on the trail, a place where food can be purchased at Cascade Locks. Yet, when I watched the movie, that landscape lost its beauty when separated from my own emotions (including hunger). Instead, BOG was a sad spot along the trail, because it meant the movie was going to end.

Every hiker has started a long trail with a story similar to Cheryl’s, or knows someone like her. While I enjoyed Wild the Book for Cheryl’s writing style and the parts not about hiking, I enjoyed Wild the Movie for the parts about hiking.

How the WILD movie could make the world a better place

Unless you’ve been on trail for the last two years, you likely know that today, the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s book WILD comes out (in select theaters, sorry Bend, OR). Cheryl’s story of her 1996 section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is one of few major blockbuster films about long distance hiking. Not watching movies in theaters is one of the ways that I save money for thru-hiking every summer—but I think with WILD, I’ll make an exception.

There are a lot of WILD haters on the Internet and in the hiking community. Sure, Cheryl is not the best hiker in the world, but I can guarantee that whatever hiker is bemoaning her hiking skills can’t write anywhere close to as well as Cheryl. The way she uses words in the book is an art form such that even when I knew what would happen next in the story—in the hiking world, when a problem befalls someone, there are usually limited options, only one of which won’t end in the author dying—I still wanted to read on.

 

In movie form, I was worried that the poetic nature of Cheryl’s writing would disappear, but everything I hear from those who have seen it already is that the beauty remains. With the exception that that the landscape scenery is sometimes distracting to thru-hikers (who know that “hey, that background is clearly the Oregon High Desert, not the California High Desert”), the storytelling and acting in the movie is supposedly quite moving. The word being thrown around is “Oscar Bait.”

A big concern many hikers worry about is that if a million people watch WILD and even 0.1% of them decide to go hike the PCT as a result, that’s 1000 extra people hiking on the PCT.  Skeptics of WILD claim that these people likely think that Cheryl is a backpacking expert. These people are going to crowd the trail, not practice Leave No Trace, and leave trash and toilet paper everywhere along our pristine wilderness.

I find the views of these haters to be too extreme.

WILD is a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Photo by: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.
WILD is a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Photo by: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.

First, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has been incredibly active about capturing the interest in WILD as a discussion started to practicing responsible hiking.  With the PCTA as the starting point for all information about the PCT, prospective hikers will likely get the information they need to reduce their footprint on the trail.

Second, the Class on 2014 PCT thru-hikers  certainly had their share of WILD aficionados, and for the most part, the ones I met were 30-60 year old women who were eager to learn about how to hike better, safer, and more responsibly. Those who are going to be least responsible (who am I kidding—it’s clearly men 18-24 I’m talking about here) are not really the target audience for WILD.

Lastly, I strongly believe that every person who does a long hike is going to come out better on the other side. Any person who is willing to enter a place and a lifestyle that lets them live authentically—without the distractions of electronics or pressures of money and status—is going to change their world perspective.

Despite the ecological pressures that increased hiking use may have on a narrow PCT corridor (especially the desert), I believe that every hiker who walks the PCT is going to have a changed environmental ethic. Walking a long hiking trail has the power to change how a person votes in elections. It has the power to change how a person spends dollars in the “real world.” It has the power to change what causes people put their energy behind supporting. And, as WILD shows, it has the power to heal.

Each person who hikes the PCT comes off the trail spreading an environmental message and a message of healing to dozens of family and friends who follows their journey. I’m not saying that a bunch of WILD-watching hikers are going to change the world overnight, but the potential impact WILD could have on our communities, our lifestyle, and our world as a whole is certainly not nil.

If WILD has the power to bring us closer to  a world of healed, whole people who value natural places of beauty, (and tell a story that will entertain for 2 hours while eating popcorn), I think it’s certainly worth $10 to see it in the theater.

Everything you need to know about Women’s Hiking Issues

The Trail Show’s Women’s Issues episode is now out–featuring 50,000 miles worth of female-powered experience
The Trail Show’s Women’s Issues episode is now out–featuring 50,000 miles worth of female-powered experience

Whether you’re a hiker, hiker to-be, or friend or family of a hiker, there’s no more fun place to get all the information you need than from the people at the Trail Show. TTS is a podcast that’s been around for over two years with a well-respected repository of all news, tips, and tricks related to hiking.

After numerous requests, TTS finally put together a women’s issue show, the Red Tent Show (yeah, they really did call it that). Instead of the usual hosts, the Red Tent show utilizes the wisdom of 5 accomplished female long distance hikers with more than 50,000 miles of experience. I was lucky enough to be part of that crew (along with Angelhair, Trainwreck, Salamander, and our host, Princess of Darkness) so can give you a sneak peak at some of the topics we covered:

-Safety on Trail

-Women’s Outdoor Gear

-Women’s Hygiene (including dealing with “that” time of the month while on trail and sex in the woods)

– How Men can act better on trail

-Could birth control lead to hiking injuries?

Even though I’ve been hiking-while-woman for 29 years now, I honestly can say I learned a lot of tricks and tips from talking with these other accomplished lady-hikers.

I went into the Red Tent show expecting that we would all have the same advice, and was blown away by how different hikers have developed different ways of addressing the same issues.

To learn more, download the Red Tent show from the Trail Show.

 

The women’s issues specialists

Outdoor Retailer Chic: Latest news in Outdoor Fashion (?)

Clearly picking up on the gender imbalance of OR attendees, Gracie’s bar calls “having a beard” a fashion trend. What about ladies and people like Trauma?
Clearly picking up on the gender imbalance of OR attendees, Gracie’s bar calls “having a beard” a fashion trend. What about ladies and people like Trauma?

I missed the memo on the dresscode for the Winter Outdoor Retailer show. Down puffy jackets are the dresscode here so much that the local restaurants are playing on the uniform to attract customers.

Ladies’ fashion at OR as rocked by the beautiful Liz from Turbopup and some other randos who didn’t realize I was taking photos of them.
Ladies’ fashion at OR as rocked by the beautiful Liz from Turbopup and some other randos who didn’t realize I was taking photos of them.

Meanwhile, of the 25,000 people here, the dress is gendered: men are wearing jeans and trail running shoes while women are wearing tights and high boots.

I guess I dressed like a man accidentally?

Bikini-wearing girls in hot tubs weren’t the only novelty at OR. Really tall men were there for the womenfolk.
Bikini-wearing girls in hot tubs weren’t the only novelty at OR. Really tall men were there for the womenfolk.

Given that there are scantily-clad models walking the floor at OR, the pressure for ladies (who make up less than 50% of the attendees here) to look their best is pretty high. To compensate, I’m wearing my “going out” make up.

Men’s fashion this season at OR features puffies+jeans. Although brightly colored running shoes were common, dress shoes and cowboy boots (see above) are also popular. Either way, a backpack is a MUST.
Men’s fashion this season at OR features puffies+jeans. Although brightly colored running shoes were common, dress shoes and cowboy boots (see above) are also popular. Either way, a backpack is a MUST.

The guy OR attendees here are debuting men’s fashion trends for this fall—“rustic-hipster” with a skinny hipster silhouette thing going on.

What’s up with the guys in suits? Older East Coast types must sell gear, too.

Rumor on the street is the Bureau of Land Management directors at the Show were rocking the suits. DC types…
Rumor on the street is the Bureau of Land Management directors at the Show were rocking the suits. DC types…

Ladies fashion for fall is going towards what the OR Daily calls “demure earth tones,” which IMHO, is no good for taking photos of women in the outdoors (blends in too much with the background). I guess outdoor designers aren’t actually planning on women going outdoors…just looking like they do.

Nothing says clubbin’ and late night like an ultralight pack and softshell.
Nothing says clubbin’ and late night like an ultralight pack and softshell.

Unlike Summer OR (where people actually bring extra clothes and even costumes for going out), the best style for hitting the (mostly) free evening entertainment at the Show is in an ultralight pack.