By the end of the Appalachian Trail, female thru-hikers are not uncommon; however, we are decidedly in the minority at the start of the hike. Even more unusual is the young female who is hiking solo, and, at the time of my thru-hike, I looked considerably younger than I was. As a result, I was rather conspicuous, as I learned on the approach trail.
Before a northbound thru-hiker even sets foot on the Appalachian Trail, he or she has to ascend Springer Mountain through Amicalola Falls State Park. The approach trail begins by traversing the park and then climbs the eponymous waterfall by a series of 604 metal steps. Hiking up Springer feels like a great introduction to the trail, a rite of passage of sorts. (I’m bound to revisit the actual hike of it in another post, but you can see a few pictures of Amicalola Falls State Park and Springer Mountain here.)
Anyway, along the course of my climb of the approach trail, I began to see a response to my being on the trail that would become all too common in the weeks and months ahead.
When I’d find other hikers along the trail, I’d give the usual greeting and either pass them or allow them to pass me. More often than not, they’d do a double take when they saw me and say at least one of the following:
“Are you out here all alone?”
“Good for you, out here as a young girl!”
“You’re a brave little adventurer!”
“Do you need anything?”
“Honey, look at this little girl. She’s hiking!”
At that point in my backpacking career, I wasn’t a complete newbie; I had 400 miles or so under my belt on the Appalachian Trail alone. Being thought of as a brave little adventurer wasn’t really what I was going for, but I took it in stride.
I began to get upset, however, when the friendly exclamations turned into friendly warnings:
“You’re carrying a gun, right?”
“This trail is real difficult. Be careful.”
“You don’t need to get to Maine; just do whatever you can do. It’s awesome that you’re out here at all.”
(When similar comments came from rangers and ridge runners, I became very upset and discouraged, but that’s also a story for another day.)
And, then, as I hiked on, I began being asked how old I was. “Almost 23,” I said, to which the reply was, “Oh, I’ve heard there’s another girl [ranging in age from 15 to 19, in various accounts] out on the trail. You should hike with her.”
After hearing about this girl for a while, I asked someone to describe her. Apparently, she was from Kentucky and blonde and liked horses. Yep, this hiking partner everyone was trying to introduce to me was me.
Just a day in the life, I suppose…