Today I started section hiking the Long Trail. I never feel more peaceful than when I’m miles in to the woods with no one else in sight. When life ceases to make sense I go miles in to the woods where, to steal an oft quoted Vonnegut line, “everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”.
I have always loved the woods. I hiked a lot with my father when I was young. I volunteered as a counselor for a wilderness camp where we slept in covered wagons, seriously, pioneer style covered wagons, and cooked all our meals over a fire. Last summer I hiked all the four thousand foot peaks in Vermont and this summer I intend to hike the entire Long Trail in pieces, some day hikes, some backpacking trips. When I’m in the woods everything feels right with the world.
Today while I was climbing a particularly tough ridge it occurred to me that the woods are a great equalizer. Everyone is the same on the trail. Gender doesn’t matter. Background doesn’t matter, unless it has to do with hiking, of course. On the trail everyone is fundamentally the same. You can acquire skills that make you more adept than other hikers, but anyone can acquire those skills if they work hard enough. The woods are the one place where being a man or a woman doesn’t matter.
Thinking about this made me realize one of the reasons I always feel so free on the trail. Society’s standards and expectations do not exist in the woods. When I’m alone in the woods I don’t care what my body looks like, I only care about whether my body can make it over the next ridge. In the woods I don’t care about maintaining any kind of image. I don’t care what other people think about me. I don’t care about whether I’m “doing a good job” or if I’m “good enough”. All I care about is absorbing every bit of beauty the woods have to offer, and whether I can make it back to the car.
I think all women should spend time in the woods. Put your phone on airplane mode and only use it for photos. If you have a good camera or don’t care about photos leave the phone in the car. Don’t worry about wearing your cute workout clothes. Don’t worry about work or your partner or anything else. Just walk in to the woods until everything else fades away and then walk back out.