I Stopped Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Because of Toxic Masculinity and I Finally Wrote An Essay About It

I’ve left this blog dormant for so many months and I have so many things I’d like to write and publish here, eventually, but today I’m updating for a very specific and singular reason, and that is to talk about toxic masculinity in the long distance hiking community!

When I got off the trail last year I was both vague and transparent about what was happening. Every day since leaving the PCT I’ve thought about writing a version of this essay, but honestly I felt way too nervous to speak this truth.

Eight months later, I’m still nervous. But it’s time.

IMG_8833

Here’s an excerpt from the full piece, Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles Instead of Walking All the Way to Canada:

This is how it goes: I’m huffing and puffing my way up a steep incline. We’re gaining almost 3,000 feet of elevation in just 4 miles, the next water source is (probably, hopefully) one mile away, and my pack weighs 30 pounds, heavy with food I’ve packed out of town. I’ve hiked a couple of miles so far and plan to hike ten more before I set up camp to go to sleep. Other hikers keep passing me; some have smaller packs, some have larger packs. I stop to take a sip from my water bottle and a tall man approaches me, bounding up the trail effortlessly. He pauses to take a break too. “What day did you start hiking?” he asks me. Everyone always asks this question. What it really means: how fast or how slow are you traveling? Did I start before you and now we’re in the same place? Am I better than you are? Maybe he’ll ask some other questions, seemingly innocuous but designed to make one feel less than. “How many miles are you doing today?” “What time did you wake up?” “Are you walking all the way to Canada or are you just a section hiker?” These questions are baked into long distance hiking culture. No one questions why they’re asked or what they mean. Folks just wanna know, so they can put themselves on a roster and decide where they belong when it comes to being a “successful” hiker.

You can read my full essay on Autostraddle.

I have immense gratitude to my editors, for letting me tell this story, to my partner Alley, for holding me up as I experienced this culture in real time and for being my biggest champion always, to the badass adventure women who took part in the Endless Summer Winter Coastal Writer’s Retreat last month for helping me stay brave and for creating a space that allowed me to finally fucking write this essay, and to every single hiker who has messaged me over the past eight months to say me too, I also experienced this, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, thank you for speaking out, I also want things to change.

I think together maybe we can make things change.

Advertisements

What I’m Wearing On The PCT

I’m so weird about clothes. My style is somewhere on the spectrum of girly-lazy-sparkly-pink-sporty-cute-toddler-grandma. Make of that what you will. I’ve definitely gone through shifts in style, as everyone does, and those shifts have been influenced by my body size and shape, where I’m living at the time, trends and fads, what job I’m working, who I’m surrounded by, and how I happen to feel in my heart on any given day. I identify as femme, which is complicated and not what I feel like writing about right now, but I also majorly identify as lazy when it comes to what I wear. I’ve been known to put together an outfit I like and wear it for 10+ days in a row because I just couldn’t be bothered to change it up. It’s not minimalist and it’s not even a middle finger to consumerist culture or anything like that – there’s no great meaning behind it, I’m literally just lazy. (And white, and cis, and a person who has a certain amount of privilege in that she can walk around town in the same black spandex leggings and loose cotton grey t-shirt with no bra for literally more than a week and not be judged, harmed, or treated any differently than I would be if I put on a new outfit every day – maybe people judge me in their heads, but on a scale of what can happen to you for wearing the “wrong thing” in this fucked up world, that is not a big deal.)

Based on the above information, you’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to find an outfit to wear on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am not perturbed by wearing the same clothes over and over in my day to day life – why would I mind doing so on the trail? Answer: I totally don’t mind! But alas, a combination of being fatter than most outdoor apparel companies believe their consumers to be, being a little bit vain in that I’d like to look cute in the photos I take over the next five months, and having no idea how I will actually feel when it comes to heat/cold/anything on the trail has made this task a tiny bit…challenging.

Here’s the outfit I’ve come up with for the first portion of the trail. A challenge on the PCT is that the landscape and ecosystems change so drastically from one portion of the trail to the next that something that is essential for the first 700 miles may be totally useless once you hit the final 700 miles. As such, I’m open to changing my outfit as I go, and I know for a fact that I will need slightly different gear in the Sierra and Washington. This is just the first draft of what I think will work for me.

IMG_4360 (1).jpg

photo by Binky, who told me I looked “soft butch” when she snapped this gem

Continue reading

10 Things I’m Going To Miss While I Hike The PCT

I leave for the Pacific Crest Trail in two and a half weeks, and I’m excited and nervous and ready and unprepared and anxious and thrilled! You know, all the regular feelings you feel before you embark on your very first thru-hike. I’ve been focusing a lot of my blog entries on my PCT Prep, which is obviously super important, but I’ve also been focusing a lot of my mental energy on things that I will miss while I’m gone, and I felt like it might be interesting for folks reading along to get a glimpse of what that looks like, too.

I haven’t seen a lot of PCT bloggers write about this, maybe because it’s implied or maybe because they don’t think it will be that interesting or maybe because it’s a more vulnerable thing to share than a gear list or a resupply plan. There’s also a lot of focus in the hiking community on being mentally prepared for the hike itself, and taking into account that there will be times when you want to quit so you better have a plan to talk yourself into staying when you hit those blocks. And I think that’s valuable advice and very real and important, but I also think it’s bizarre to pretend that I won’t miss a whole bunch of stuff about life off the trail, and it’s not going to help me through hard times on the trail to pretend I won’t miss this stuff or that it doesn’t exist.

I’m very lucky to love my life, and that isn’t going to abruptly change when I set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail – it’s just going to be the background to a very long walk for a few months, rather than the foreground of my day to day existence. With all of that said, today’s post is a break from a look into my PCT Prep, and instead is a look into my brain/heart/soul about what I’m going to miss while I’m on the PCT.

Continue reading

Falling in love with Big Sky Country (via my Canon film camera and my iPhone digital camera)

68410001 (1)

Glacier National Park, August 2016 (shot with 35mm film)

I’d been wanting to visit Glacier for what felt like forever, but in reality was probably just a little more than a year. That’s the weird thing about the narratives we tell ourselves about our Selves – before actually going to Montana I often said, “I’ve been wanting to visit Glacier for forever,” but then I had to step back and remind myself that for a long time I was a city girl living on the East Coast who barely had a respectable pair of gym sneakers, let alone a whole hiking shoe/sock/gaiter system to maximize comfort and minimize blisters on 10+ mile trails. I had not been wanting to visit Glacier for forever. But it felt like I had to the Me I was then, last August. So when Alley and I had the opportunity to take a week-long vacation together, I suggested Montana immediately. Lucky for me, Alley agreed easily, and Diana had time off too, so she joined us. And just like that, I was going to Glacier National Park – a place I had wanted to visit for forever, you know?

Continue reading

PCT Prep: Maps, Dried Vegetables, Gear, and More!

Okay, after writing my last PCT Prep post, I complained to everyone I love about how long it took me and how I’m anxious that my blogging style means I won’t be able to commit to updating regularly on trail. In an effort to get over myself and also to spare my patient loved ones from putting up with my silly blogging complaints, I’m trying out a different style for this post! Here’s some nitty gritty stuff I’ve been doing to prep for the trail, in short list form, without much chatter or ~intense thoughts~ behind it. Ready set go!

Continue reading

PCT Prep: To Do Lists For Forever

Oh my gosh you guys, the responses to my post announcing that I’m gonna hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year have been THE BEST. Seriously, every single person who has reached out to me (or reached out to my mom, hi all of my mom’s friends who are reading this blog now, I am genuinely so pleased to have you here, welcome!) has been so nice and so enthusiastic and it is bringing me so much joy in what has honestly been a pretty dark time!

IMG_2900

Angel’s Rest, March 7th 2017

Spoiler alert, because if you’re gonna follow along with my PCT journey you’re gonna be getting to know me really well, so we may as well get this out of the way now: I wanted Hillary Clinton to be president. I thought she was gonna be. I’ve been really sad and anxious since the night of November 8th. There’s a lot to unpack in those sentences – obviously Hillary wasn’t going to fix everything for everyone, it’s a privilege to have felt safe in some capacity prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration, etc.

But without unpacking those sentences too much, I think I can still write them and have them be true – I have been so sad and anxious since Donald Trump became president. Most of the people in my life feel the same. Finding joy now has been harder than it was six months ago. It feels, in some ways, incredibly luxurious to choose to hike the PCT this year of all years. In other ways, it feels absolutely necessary. I’ll write about that more, I’m sure. But for now mostly what I want to articulate is that I am so happy that I am committing to this hike, and I am so happy to be receiving support and encouragement and enthusiasm from all of you! This blog is for me, but it is also for you. So hi, thank you for following along and being excited with me. It’s a pretty cool feeling to know y’all think this is neat and want me to succeed. Thank you!

Continue reading

An Imagined Conversation Between You And Me About My Upcoming Thru-Hike On The Pacific Crest Trail

img_0998

Hi hello welcome this is the blog post where I announce that I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year! Come on in, I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Hi Vanessa! What’s up?

Oh, not too much. I’ve just become totally insufferable because all I want to talk about 24/7 is the fact that I’m going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year and I leave in just a couple of months and I’m excited and terrified and preoccupied about which sports bra I should wear on this journey!

Woah, what is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650 mile “wild and scenic pathway” that stretches from Mexico to Canada, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington. It is one of three major trails in the United States (the other two major trails are the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail). If you live in Oregon you’ve probably heard of it or know someone (or 42 people, depending on what your social circle looks like) who has hiked it. If you live on the East Coast you can think of it as a West Coast version of the AT, though the trails themselves are actually pretty different.

Continue reading