I have an immense appetite for solitude, like an infant for sleep, and if I don’t get enough for this year, I shall cry all the next.

Henry David Thoreau, 1857

A friend of mine who works in a wellness-related industry and I were chatting a few weeks ago about the benefits of walking.  Okay, to be fair, we were kind of making fun of the idea that you need to spend lots of money on fancy-schmancy equipment and gym dues to be healthful when all you really need is to just go outside and walk.

We both agreed that when we don’t get to walk, we just feel off.  He said, “There is nothing that I love more than going out in the woods alone, and hiking (the mountain near his home).  It’s challenging and just fills my spirit, too.”

My friend, M, isn’t a huge man.  But he’s former military and is well-defined.  I told him how jealous I was at his freedom to just go outside and seek solitude.  As a small woman, I definitely do not feel the same freedom.

I live in Atlanta and over the past few years, we have experienced at least two incidents of violence against women out on trails alone that have really affected me.  The first was the murder of Jennifer Ewing who was cycling a PATH trail called the Silver Comet when she was attacked and murdered.  The second happened in 2008 when young Meredith Emerson was killed while hiking with her dog in the mountains of North Georgia.

After Ewing’s murder, I was sitting with a guest at my workplace and we were waiting for my boss, a man, to join us.  My guest, D, was a triathlete and we were discussing her training and how she fit it in while running her own business.  Our conversation veered to the news of Ewing’s murder, as both D and I frequented the Silver Comet Trail, and we both often went there alone.  (She pointed out that one of the issues with having to fit training in whenever she could was often having to run or bike long distances alone.)

My boss, an imposing six-foot plus tall man, seated himself as we were talking and asked what we’d been discussing.  We briefly told him the news and how it made us wary about being on trails alone.

“Well, just leave your valuables in the car,” he said.

D and I looked at each other, first with confusion and then with mutual understanding, “Yeah, he doesn’t really get it, does he?”

“Um, what they tend to want from us is not exactly something we can leave in the glove box,” I explained, and then quickly shifted to a work-related conversation.

So, having had that conversation six years ago, I was ready this time when my friend M spoke glowingly of the solitude of his mountain hikes.

“You get that I can’t just go out there like you can, right?” I asked him.  “That being out there alone for me isn’t relaxing?  I have to be constantly vigilant.  I can’t fully relax into my surroundings the way you can because my body knows to be afraid.”

He got it.  He understood.  And he lamented that fact with me.

Like Thoreau, I too have an “immense appetite for solitude.”  I love trail running and hiking.  But in order to do them, I have to get my husband to go with me.  We establish a starting and finishing point, and I make sure he knows how long I expect to be.  With three kids now, this is not a tenable solution.

Even if I get a wild hair and go alone, I have to carry my cell phone.  It’s hardly Walden-esque.

As I told M, I love being a woman.  I love what my body can do, what it has done to grow and nurture children, and I would never trade in those experiences.

But every now and again, when I long for the trails and a peaceful escape, sometimes, for just a split-second, I wish I had a penis.

* * * * * * *

Friends and family of Meredith Emerson established Right to Hike to promote safe hiking, a pastime which Meredith loved.  To learn more about the organization, go here.

6 Responses to “To Be a Woman, Walking Alone in the Woods”

  1. on 19 Dec 2012 at 9:53 amK

    The last 6 words of this post cracked me up!

  2. on 19 Dec 2012 at 1:44 pmKristine Rudolph

    Seriously. It’s the only time I have ever for even a second wished I was a man.

  3. on 19 Dec 2012 at 3:06 pmCarl Peterson

    I enjoy walking also, for many of the same reasons that you cited. However, my fears are exaggerated by the closeness to the Rocky Mountains that we have here in Loveland. Having said that, I am beginning to realize that my fears are more about the walks I use to take while I was working, and therefore was out the door before it got light. Mountain Lions, elk, deer could be lurking besides the recreation trail, and you never know when they will get me(probably never), but the dark does something to you. There were times where I had been out walking for 12 – 15months without missing a beat. Now, have slowed down and missed more days than I care to count. And I feel for your concerns as you head out the door, and am constantly reminded of what could happen out there, but vow to get back on the path again and enjoy our wonderful weather, even the snow the hit us today. Here’s hoping you can get out some more with or without a partner, and enjoy the trails.

  4. on 19 Dec 2012 at 5:23 pmKristine Rudolph

    Ah yes, Carl, you have some predators that I would never have contemplated in my urban area!

  5. on 20 Dec 2012 at 7:16 amJessica at ClickAClass.com

    Kristine, I know just what you mean. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Hiking alone is one of my very favorite “happy places,” and it made me nervous for a long time, esp. once the kiddos came along.

    But one day, it just clicked for me. I was out for a pre-dawn run in my fairly urban ‘hood. We have a roaming trio of dogs here, supposedly vicious (but in my heart, I doubt it — I think they’re just scared). I came up on them, and it startled us all. They barked and started toward me; when they did, I turned into someone I didn’t even recognize. (I hate that expression, y’all, so know that I don’t use it lightly.) I remember that my whole posture changed, and I yelled “NO!” in a voice that I’ve never heard before, and I knew in that instant that I had the instinct to fight if I had to. Who knows — depending on the circumstances, I might lose, but I’ll surely fight my best.

    Afterward, I realized the feeling that this is all any of us can do. I’ll take smart precautions and stay out of blatantly stupid-dangerous situations, but if I end up in one, I’ll do my best to fight out of it. My freedom to go where I want for physical-emotional health is too important to give up to fear (and this is the message I want my children to learn).

    It’s not for everyone, but it works for me. So far, so good.

  6. on 20 Dec 2012 at 8:55 amKristine Rudolph

    I feel fortunate to live close to a major university. I feel relatively safe walking there alone in the evenings after my husband gets home. There are a lot of people around and they have lots of those police call boxes everywhere. It’s not me traipsing through the woods, but it’s something.

    It just makes me sad that I can’t satisfy that craving I have to be alone with nature. As nice as the campus is, it’s not the same.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply