Dear Natalie You’re in Danger

Ask Natalie Banner

By Natalie McCarthy

Dear Natalie,

Don’t you know it’s risky out there?

Signed,

Yourself, and society

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear everyone,

At first, I would have answered this question in one, easy, short, simple word: No.

Dear Natalie You're in Danger

I started hiking in Ohio. For my friends from outside the U.S., or those geographically challenged Americans, Ohio is flat and fairly developed. There are virtually no bears in Ohio, and any other large predator animals have been well hedged into forestlands by development and roadways.  Ohio has more than its fair share of wide open farmland, and quaint, eye-blink sized towns populated by old folks and Amish families, but I can’t say I ever lost mobile phone signal anywhere in the state. In fact, I can sheepishly admit now, I was nearly 30 years old before I realized it was even possible to travel by land to a place that didn’t have phone service.

Dear Natalie You're in Danger
Dangerous, aggressive animal from the wilds of Ohio

So, then, when I decided to start exploring, it never occurred to me that it could be any riskier than a walk through my neighborhood.

It wasn’t until my impending move, for work-related reasons, to Oregon, that I began to fully understand that exploring the outdoors could have some element of danger. Oregon is a state where over half of the land is owned by the government; that’s an American way of saying it is undeveloped and wild. If we could straighten out the state’s undeveloped forest roads and fashion them into one long ribbon, it would wrap around Earth’s circumference with plenty of roadway to spare. I was moving into a place where it wasn’t just possible, but probable, that I would find myself somewhere far removed from foot-traffic, passers-by, and easily navigated, paved routes to civilization. It was prudent, then, to start studying the 10 Essentials, back country safety, and planning for emergencies.  I learned that it could be risky to venture out without a water purifier, emergency shelter, and a box of waterproof matches. I learned it could be dangerous to find myself confronted by a startled black bear if I were not armed with bear spray.

I also learned it was hazardous to hike alone while female.

This immediately did not sit well with me. I started debates about it with – well, with pretty much anyone who would humor me without filing a police report for verbal assault. “What makes me, a woman, more at risk than a man, especially if I’m better prepared?” I asked, and repeatedly, I heard the following responses:

  • “No one sexually assaults men!” (This is a blatant falsehood.)
  • “There are a lot of creepy people in the world.”  (Well, sure, but why are they hiking fifteen miles into the national forest to creep out women?)
  • “I’m just saying, I’d prefer to be out there with someone who’s carrying a gun.” (Okay, that’s your preference, but does that gun-toting someone have to be a man?)
  • “What happens if you get hurt and you’re alone?” (What would happen if a man got hurt when he was alone? Popular movies inform me that I should be prepared to amputate one of my own appendages – not an appetizing thought but hell, I’d do it if it was required for survival.)  

Many people would groan and say, “Ugh, this isn’t some woman thing – no one, NO ONE, should hike alone.” This always puzzled me. I figured, sure, it is always safer to travel in groups, regardless of your gender. Isn’t that how human society started in the first place? The collective is stronger than the individual? That said, certainly people do adventure alone, and not just for a few dozen miles of walking on dirt. Some people climb mountains alone, or row their boat across big bodies of water alone. Some people traipse across continents with only themselves and a backpack. These people survive. The distinct message I was getting was that survival was less likely if these people were women.

Dear Natalie You're in Danger
Photographic proof of how stoked I was to be solo day hiking a section of the PCT

I found myself feeling defensive after a while. By this time, I was well-versed on basic safety, and while I was not wilderness medicine certified, nor an outdoors expert by any means, I definitely was no longer green when it came to hiking the Oregon wilderness. Why did my sheer femaleness make me more vulnerable than someone else of equivalent experience? Finally, when a man repeatedly voiced his (admittedly mild) protests about my solo adventures, I pressed the issue: “Why does this bother you so much?” I asked. “Do you think I can’t handle it?”

“You can handle it,” he said. “I just don’t like the thought of you alone out there.”

That’s when I realized: It’s about love. We women are loved, and the world has sent a very clear message: When you love a woman, you protect her from threats real or perceived. The outdoors and all that we are still exploring is full of The Unknown, and The Unknown offers up boundless potential for threat. Thing is, it also offers up boundless potential for love – love of self, love of the world, love of experience, love of life.

I’ve set out to minimize risk through experience and knowledge. I believe we can never be too wise or prepared, particularly when we are exploring the world. But I’ve also committed myself to conveying – through my own activities – that outdoor exploration is an act of love. I do not get outside to feel like I am starring in my own version of a “woman versus the wild” program. I get outside to fill my heart, to be connected, and to refill my inner emotional wells.

Being alone in the forest is not how I put myself at risk. It is how I offer myself protection. And I want to paint that picture for the people in my life, and for you, the friends who feel this, too.

Dear Natalie You're in Danger

 

With Love,  

Natalie

P.S. – What legitimate, or not so legitimate, safety warnings have you heard? How are the people in your life responding to your quests for adventure? What fears do you feel as an exploring woman? Let us know via message, video, or audio recording (you can use the voice recorder on your phone!), and feel free to share pictures as well! We’d like to include your contributions in future posts. Share via email at AskNatalieColumn @ gmail.com   

Contributors are identified by their first name, but you can request anonymity if you’d prefer.  

 

Be Sociable, Share!

61 thoughts on “Dear Natalie You’re in Danger

  • February 8, 2018 at 12:16 pm
    Permalink

    I’m impressed by your ability to go hiking alone. I’m afraid to walk by myself anywhere, let alone go hiking. I’m glad you were prepared and fought stigmas!

    Reply
  • February 6, 2018 at 6:17 pm
    Permalink

    Its a common question posed on me too as a solo traveler. ‘Its unsafe’. But then being at home is also unsafe. Earthquake might happen, someone might break in… So….. Its ok!

    Reply
  • February 6, 2018 at 6:08 pm
    Permalink

    I laughed so hard at your “dangerous, aggressive cow in Ohio” photo! LOL I agree with you. Everywhere in the world poses some kind of danger. As travelers and campers, we need to stay vigilant. I honestly feel the safest camping. Even if I’m camping alone in the jungle surrounded by howler monkeys and Jaguars I feel safe!

    Reply
  • February 5, 2018 at 9:51 pm
    Permalink

    I’ve never hiked alone (I’ve always been too afraid), but I truly admire your bravery, this has me reconsidering. I think I might try a very short hike alone 🙂 You’ve given me the courage!

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:31 pm
      Permalink

      Samantha, yes! This is so exciting. That’s exactly how I started. I will be interested to hear how you liked it!

      Reply
  • February 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm
    Permalink

    I have never hiked alone and I must say, you are very brave. As I love mountainous locations but always done in a group. Solo hiking must be a fun and adventurous as it must be connecting more with nature. During hikes, you must have encountered many dangerous wildlife species and their encounter is itself a thriller story. Also you have taken beautiful pictures while solo hiking.

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:30 pm
      Permalink

      Thank you! I have to tell you — I often do not feel brave at all. I force myself to go anyway!

      Reply
  • February 5, 2018 at 10:04 am
    Permalink

    I am an avid solo traveler and I will admit that I have never dared hiking on my own. For some reason, I think I will fall somewhere and die. I know that it has nothing to do with being a woman, but I am still worried about the solo part. I considered buying a GPS distrass beacon, and then I go back and say, you are worrying way too much. And at the end I am in a circle where I just decide not to go. I love to hear about how you face this, even if it involved encountering wild cows. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:29 pm
      Permalink

      Jenn, thank you for your thoughts. I can relate all too well. I do have a GPS communication device (Garmin InReach) — gift from my family for my last birthday and a very prudent one. I figure it can’t hurt to have it. I started solo hiking on more popular trails. That’s the step I took to start addressing the anxious thoughts you described. It seemed like a nice compromise between “be totally alone on a wilderness trail” and “stay at home.”

      Reply
  • February 5, 2018 at 1:58 am
    Permalink

    Great post, personally I have never felt scared to solo travel, but it was very brave to hike alone and it reminded me of the film the wild with Reese Witherspoon in where she hikes months on the PCT. once again I really enjoyed reading the post.

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:27 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks Lisa! Doing a long backpacking trip or a thru-hike is definitely on my bucket list!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 10:15 pm
    Permalink

    This is so cool. It’s not quite the same but your feelings remind me of this movie I saw recently called Ovarian Psycos. In it the women were trying to take back their city by biking with another group of women, claiming ownership of their space and not letting it be dictated to them by someone else.

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:25 pm
      Permalink

      I love that! Yes! I think the idea of allowing ourselves to really BE in our space is at the heart of this. Thank you for your thoughts, David!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 8:23 pm
    Permalink

    Very inspiring post! I’ve never travelled solo and the reasons at the back of my mind are always the ones you’ve listed in this post. I agree that these preconceived notions should not stop you from exploring the beautiful world out there. You’ve given me some real travel goals.

    Reply
    • February 6, 2018 at 1:24 pm
      Permalink

      Shaily, I’m so glad this was useful for you! Excited to hear about your travels!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 7:03 pm
    Permalink

    I love to travel on my own but it is a sad fact that the world is more dangerous for women, wherever you go! Still should never stop us from exploring 😉

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm
      Permalink

      I’m glad you’re committed to it!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 4:44 pm
    Permalink

    Brave for you to hike alone. Never go hiking alone if not sure about the dangers surrounding you, if any.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:43 pm
      Permalink

      Good point Stella. Have all the essentials and know your surroundings — that’s key for all of us.

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 3:52 pm
    Permalink

    I love exploring myself and like women who love travelling! I would love to get a click like these

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:44 pm
      Permalink

      Solo exploration is awesome!!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 1:06 pm
    Permalink

    Never been to Ohio, learning it from you that it is quite flat. Your cow is looking quite aggressive haha, not! No one should indeed hike alone, we still believe as much anyone can do it, if ANYTHING happens, who will know where you are and etc if there is no cellphone reception? Be safe in all your journeys.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:47 pm
      Permalink

      Yes, great point! Something I do is inform a friend or loved one of my itinerary and timeline. My family is well acquainted with my “I’m back safe” texts. A female friend and I have even developed a shorthand: “ND,” for “not dead,” LOL. I also carry a Garmin InReach – a satellite communication device – for areas without phone service (basically everywhere I hike). It allows me to send an SOS to local authorities and basic SMS messages to a short list of contacts. I highly recommend it!

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 11:23 am
    Permalink

    After my leg injury..camping and hiking was always the last thing on my mind. But an article like this is inspiring to get back into action.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:48 pm
      Permalink

      I’m so glad, Ridma! I hope to see you out there again soon – and I hope you’ve recovered nicely from your injury.

      Reply
  • February 4, 2018 at 9:39 am
    Permalink

    I definitely get it. Why does being a man or women make a situation less dangerous or more dangerous. The world can be a scary place for men and women. I think it’s up to the individual to determine what they can pursue or not so long as they’re cautious when they need to be.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 11:48 pm
      Permalink

      Jennifer, that’s exactly my point of view, too. Thank you for the validation!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 10:20 pm
    Permalink

    This is a good topic for discussion. At least we are not living in a time in past history where women being alone out of the house in any way was frowned upon. Let alone going on a hike in rough terrain! I think challenging yourself this way empowers many women. Plus many enjoy the alone time. Others may prefer the company of a good friend or significant other. Each to his or her own.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:10 am
      Permalink

      I couldn’t agree more! I was recently chuckling about how this wouldn’t have even been an issue in my grandma’s time — I wouldn’t have been out alone at all!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 8:13 pm
    Permalink

    Great post and so interesting to read about this as we don’t really “do” hiking in the same way over here. I know should I hike alone I would be at risk as I am utterly useless and very unfit!!

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:12 am
      Permalink

      Laura, I doubt you are utterly useless!!! I am curious about the differences in hiking. Could you elaborate? I find this fascinating!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 7:40 pm
    Permalink

    If you’re happy to hike on your own, who are we to tell you any different. As an adult it’s up to you to make the decision about whether or not something is too dangerous for you to take part in. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:13 am
      Permalink

      Agree 100% Steven, and thank you!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 5:10 pm
    Permalink

    Wow! You are an inspiration! And very brave. I admire your bravery, totally! It sounds like such a fun (and very scary) experience! So interesting and really great pictures. I’ve never been on a hike before and don’t think I’d be as brave as you

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:15 am
      Permalink

      Chelsea, thank you and you are really kind — many women do far more adventurous outdoor trips than I do, and their courage far surpasses mine! Are you interested in ever trying hiking?

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 4:26 pm
    Permalink

    I SO agree with you. While it’s fun to hike with a friend I enjoy the solo hikes best. They’re almost spiritual to me in the sense of peace and self-exploration I experience while on them. But then again we “helpless” women should never go anywhere alone without a man to protect us! LMAO. Oh well, maybe one day the world will change and realize women are so very capable of doing anything and everything they want to do. After all, you don’t see men having babies and if a woman can do that, she can do anything 🙂

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:16 am
      Permalink

      Heidi, PREACH. I find my serenity out there too, and call me selfish, but I’m not huge on sharing that!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 3:37 pm
    Permalink

    Great post! I personally have always felt nervous to travel solo for different reasons. But I don’t agree with people passing judgment simply because a female wants to travel solo. I think my main concern is more to do with me possibly getting lost lol!

    Reply
    • February 4, 2018 at 12:17 am
      Permalink

      LOL Victoria, one of my good outdoor buddies has the same issue. When I’m up for hiking with a pal, she’s a great companion so long as I am the navigator!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 8:48 am
    Permalink

    I have been planning to go on a solo hiking trip for years now but could not get the courage to go alone. But after reading your article I think I can manage that now. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:09 pm
      Permalink

      Wow, I am so glad to read that! You can do this! 🙂

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 8:28 am
    Permalink

    Ohio seems like a beautiful place for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts. I can understand what you mean when you broke the myths and pre conceived notions about hiking solo as a woman. Most people pass judgments even without understanding the subject well. Kudos to your spirit for rising above it.

    Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 3:33 am
    Permalink

    Wow, I don’t like hiking, or rather hiking don’t like me. I admire how you did this, and in Ohio. Inspiring, I hope one day, or once in my life I can do this too.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:11 pm
      Permalink

      Hahaha! Hiking is an equal opportunity liker — it just sometimes needs a bit of coaxing. Thank you for the kind words.

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 2:59 am
    Permalink

    I think I am slightly your opposite, but I can still sense your frustration with the ‘females don’t do this’ vibe. My daughter is probably going to be following your example, I can see it already and I’m glad there are people making it easier for her when she gets there by informing the world!

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:12 pm
      Permalink

      Tammy, thank you! And I’m looking forward to sharing solo outdoorsy space with your kiddo!

      Reply
  • February 3, 2018 at 2:00 am
    Permalink

    Yeah you go girl! Hahaha those were some sensible arguments you laid out there about sexism and hiking. Good job of finally conquering that hike and proving to people that women will be just as fine as men on their own.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:14 pm
      Permalink

      Yes! Thank you Kweni!

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 11:32 pm
    Permalink

    Most of the time now I hike with my pack, but in the beginning of my hiking adventures I often went alone. I still relish when it’s just me and the dog. That serene feeling of you and that great big outdoors is therapeutic. It really puts things in perspective. I am one to be prepared and always have deterent,first aid,water, and yes i carry a legal firearm. Hiking for me is not only physical but also excellent for my mental health.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:15 pm
      Permalink

      Ditto, Stella. I love hiking with others (humans or pets), but the therapeutic value of a solo hike can’t be beat.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 10:38 pm
    Permalink

    You are inspiring! Me and my husband are big backpackers and we would love to do PCT and John Muir trails this year! (hopefully :)) I always dreamt of how it would be solo backpacking. It’s a beautiful experience rather than dangerous place for women. I do believe more people need to be outdoor in nature and enjoy!

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:16 pm
      Permalink

      Soonjoo, that is awesome sauce!!! I hope you get your backpacking adventure. And I agree, it’s about beauty and connection, not fear and danger.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 10:02 pm
    Permalink

    Great post! I love hiking! I hike with my friends and sometimes I’ll hike with my daughter too.

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:17 pm
      Permalink

      April, awesome!! Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 9:15 pm
    Permalink

    I get you. It is unfair that we women are always told to be more careful just for being a woman. Though it is true. Shouldn’t stop us though !

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:17 pm
      Permalink

      We are unstoppable! Thank you Kylie.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 8:24 pm
    Permalink

    Your photos are gorgeous! It looks so beautiful out there. You are also much braver than I am as just the thought of bears terrifies me!

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:19 pm
      Permalink

      MJ, don’t get me wrong — I get a wicked case of bearanoia every so often. But the vast majority of the time, they let people alone, and if they are nearby, they’re almost always easily deterred. Statistically, riding in an automobile is more dangerous than a bear. — these are the types of facts I use to banish my bear anxiety! 😁

      Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 7:52 pm
    Permalink

    Super inspiring! My girlfriend loves the outdoors and this is probably something she needs to see. Sending to her now to see what she thinks 🙂

    Reply
    • February 3, 2018 at 2:20 pm
      Permalink

      Roby, thanks for spreading the word and for leaving a kind comment!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *