“Where’s that fella of yours?”

In the midst of setting up the Go in the pouring rain, I turn around to see an older gentleman standing beside the Jeep, clad in a cotton t-shirt and matching gym shorts. He seems unaware of my discomfort with his presence.

“There isn’t one,” I reply bluntly.

A nervous knot begins to pulse in my stomach. Most conversations that begin with the mention of a guy, a boyfriend, a partner of any sort, usually end up in me getting feisty and defensive. Plus, he’s standing in the pouring rain without even a floppy hat on to at least allude to the fact that he might at least recognize it’s precipitating.

No. Instead, he stands there soaking up every rain droplet like a sponge as he eyeballs my every move.

“I could have sworn I seen one.”

“Nope. Just me.” I say, hoping he picks up on my shortness.

I return to my tasks, hustling now to assemble the rig and disappear inside. I’m tired, hungry, wet, cold, and now, feeling very much self-conscious and alone. There are times when I crave the company of others, and times when I’d rather hole away in the woods or turn invisible. Right now, I’m feeling the latter.

“Well I’ll be damned! It was you I saw then,” he says, suddenly starting to chuckle.

My patience drained, I rip back the hood of my rain shell so he can more clearly see my face, my piercing gaze that, in my mind, says “beat it, buddy.”

“You don’t see many ladies camping out in the woods by themselves,” he says, still smiling. “More power to you, girl.” With this last comment, he nods and winks, turning his back and retreating into the misty fog.

I stand there incredulously, watching him slowly shuffle down the road. He didn’t ask me about the Go, which is usually the first question I receive, oftentimes before even a greeting of any sort. He didn’t ask me what Blue Ridge Outdoors was, or what I was doing as a lady camping out in the woods by myself. Though initially I was suspicious, wary, he proved to be harmless.

That’s been the case for the most part since I hit the road in April. I have yet to encounter an individual who made me feel truly uncomfortable or in danger. While I think that speaks to the good nature of people in the South, in the back of my mind, I still find myself mulling over worst-case-scenarios, escape plans, potential weapons of defense. It sounds a little irrational, but I’m not ignorant of what can happen.

That being said, I also feel that, in general, women are much safer traveling alone than society tends to portray. I’ve received concerns from friends, family members, the boss, even total strangers. Yes, I agree, I absolutely need to keep my wits about me on the road, but not simply because I’m a woman. Anyone traveling alone at any time should be conscious of their surroundings, and I think that’s just the key to mitigating being cornered or ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time: be aware (that and mad judy choppin’ skills – Kung Fu Hillbilly’s got the hook up if you need a crash course).

For instance, I don’t go on a run in an urban area in the evening by myself. Or if I do I tell someone and bring a headlamp. I don’t wear clothing that draws unwanted attention (you’re lucky to catch me in anything but the same Eddie Bauer skort and shirt I rock almost every day). I don’t wear make up. I don’t smell bad, but I certainly don’t smell good either. I don’t go to bars alone. I have yet to camp out in a parking lot overnight.

But these are really just matters of preference, and not so much things I believe that women should not do at all. If you want to don a cute dress, throw on some perfume, a pair of heels, and hit the town solo, do it. Same if you want to pack your bag and hike for days on end. There’s nothing, and should be no one, stopping you.

Recently there have been a lot of TV commercials released that have in some way addressed our perception on women and how the manner in which we treat young ladies can drastically impact their decisions later in life (see the latest Always and Verizon commercials for examples). In a time when, in my opinion, children are over-coddled anyway, I find it particularly irritating when girls are met with hesitance, doubt even, on their abilities to handle the adversities of adventure or traveling solo.

There are amazing women in this world who have conquered unimaginable feats: to mention just a select few, Tori Murden McClure, the first woman and first American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean; Kira Salak, the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea and the first documented person to kayak solo 600 miles down the Niger River; Zoë Romano, the first woman to run unsupported across the U.S.A. and the first person to ever run the Tour de France.

These women are strong. Smart. Passionate. Determined. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and they don’t seem to think twice about diving headfirst into the unknown, solo. What if the way in which we respond to a young girl’s dream about circumnavigating the continent of Africa by kayak deters her from ever fulfilling her potential and becoming the next McClure or the next Romano?

Now, this is not to say that we should disregard the statistics and tell women they have no need to be concerned when traveling alone – harassment of any sort is not an issue to take lightly at all. But I think in general, I’d like the paradigm to shift to one that discourages a sense of helplessness, doubt, and overprotection, and fosters, instead, a curiosity for the unknown, the faith to achieve the impossible, and the strength to do it all with the grace of a woman.

More power to you, girls.