I know I’m not the only gal out there who has more guy friends than lady friends. If you’re an adventurous woman, inevitably, you will find that you’re a big fish in a very small, very testosterone-laden pond.
Now ladies, there are benefits to this, no doubt, especially if you’re in the market for a man of the mountains.
But eventually, you’re going to get tired of the crude, borderline inappropriate jokes that guys make between guys (often on the subject of girls). Eventually, you’re going to resent having some dude help you carry your boat while you portage a rapid or make excuses for you when your legs are pumped and you have to bail early on your weekend ride.
Whether they’re literally intimidating or not, going outdoors with males can sometimes be damaging to a woman’s morale. I remember when I first started kayaking, I was the only girl at my school to really chomp at the bit and take the initiative to go on trips. Though I was able to get on a number of different runs in the Southeast, I never progressed much above class III, and I wonder if that was due, in part, to the fact that I was paddling with a bunch of dudes.
Though I know a number of women who could easily stomp the men in their sport, the reality is that women and men treat their respective sports and their time in the outdoors differently. Women, inherently, will compare themselves to men. Maybe you think you don’t, but gender aside, people compare themselves to other people. It’s not necessarily a healthy thing to do, nor is it very productive, but it’s normal and it sometimes can lead to gaining that extra edge, that extra oomph needed to light a fire under your ass and
man woman up.
But sometimes it does the total opposite. When I saw the guys I was paddling with throwing ends and looping in holes and paddling harder stuff every weekend, I felt very much like they were on some unobtainable level and that by tagging along or trying to push myself to the next level, I would be a burden to them and their precious time out of the office.
For awhile, I stagnated. My outdoor ambitions reached a plateau of sorts. I didn’t realize the value of having adventurous girlfriends until my junior year in college when I spent my fall semester in the Amazon with the National Outdoor Leadership School. Though, like I admitted earlier, I typically have more male friends than female, I walked away from those three months with three of the closest lady friends I’ve had to date.
The last week of our course was trademarked by independent, student-led travel (i.e. backpacking without instructors). Our group had exactly four guys and four gals and the instructors decided to split us up as such for the last week of the semester. We all had the same final destination, the same route, but we had a week to get there in whatever fashion and on whatever timeline we wanted.
[[The following images are from that girls’ time in Brazil. Yes I had short hair. No I don’t want short hair ever again. Photo cred: Kelsey Kuhn.]]
If I could describe those ladies-only days in one word it would probably be glorious.
Everyone pulled their weight. We cooked amazing group dinners, star-gazed till the wee hours of the morning, lounged butt-ass naked by watering holes with no concern for male intrusion, and talked about boys and dates-gone-bad and period woes and haircuts. But we also talked about our dreams for the future, the mistakes we’d made in the past, and our career ambitions (if any).
Though we came from different parts of the world, from the sand dunes of Michigan to the metropolitan hub of northern Virginia to the even larger city of São Paulo, we were all united at that time in our lives by our love of adventure. Those ladies pushed me when I felt like I couldn’t put one more foot in front of the other, carried my weight when I needed to give my knees a break, and inspired me to suck it up when we found ourselves traversing a narrow animal path on a 3000-foot cliffside, battered, bruised, and scared shitless.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to surround myself with like-minded women. My best friend from college (hi Hannah Banana) went on a NOLS trip to the Himalayas the same semester I was in the Amazon, and she’s since thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, traveled to Iceland, worked on a commercial salmon fishing rig in Alaska, and built up an impressive long-distance trail running resumé. In subtle ways, we’ve always competed with each other, both outdoors and in the academics world. But whenever I’m outside with her, whether it’s trail running or climbing, I’m never comparing myself to her in a counter-productive way. Usually, my thoughts are much more positive, replacing the “I can’ts” with “I can.”
Recreating outdoors with other adventurous women creates a support system, a means of gauging your abilities, and the confidence and inspiration to push yourself further.
I recently came across this blog post on reasons why women should go to the mountains with other women. It’s pretty spot on, and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to breeze through it. This topic in particular has been on my mind given that this weekend, I’ll be joining a number of female paddlers on the Green River for a girls’ day on the water. Anna Levesque’s organization Girls At Play will be there promoting women in whitewater and connecting female paddlers in the Southeast. I think it’s a long overdue event and I’m happy to be a part of what will hopefully become an annual event.
If you’re a female paddler and you’re interested in joining us on Sunday, check out the Facebook event for it here.
Though it can prove particularly challenging to find ladies who like to go outside and play, reach out to local clubs, organizations, and even campus outdoor programs for resources. Once you open one door, a thousand more are bound to follow.
Rock on, ladies!
** 10-29-14/post update!
Check out these pics from the event! Over 50 ladies showed up to the Green. No carnage and epic good times! Let’s do it again sometime!