By Sora Leigh
It’s now been almost two weeks camping at what I’ll affectionately term the “dirt-bag climber” Wrinkled Rock Campground in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota. I would hypothesize that the dirt-bags one sees here are distinctly less dirty than they once were, climbing now such a mainstream sport that the majority of climbers are now “weekend-warriors.” Still, many have taken their dirt-bagging to a semi-professional level, rolling up decked-out vans and truck-camper combos that likely cost more than my reported income this year. From teen to retired, grunge to prep, amateur to athlete, there is one common thread that I cannot help but notice: maleness.
As I watch solo men, brother-brother duos, best bros, and heterosexual couples role in, I can’t but ask, where are the fearless solo womyn? For days at a time I am the only single female on the road. Single females or groups of womyn traveling together climbing, backpacking, road-tripping, or thumbing on the side of the road without a male companion are surprisingly rare. This phenomenon has been so striking on this trip that I wish I had taken a literal tally. My unofficial stats were further reinforced as I searched for the featured image I used this post with the terms “dirt-bag climber.” Finding a solo female was challenging enough that I almost gave up.
Now I better understand the push-back when I tell people I’m travelling alone…I’m the only one doing it! I know the lady dirt-baggers are out there. They are my friends, mentors, and idols. But they are few and far between, and culturally we are barely taking no notice. My big question is, WHY?
If we compare solo travel witg the “hero’s journey,” perhaps we can begin to unravel this question. The Hero’s Journey, as outlined by Joseph Campbell is so well-trod that we barely recognize it, from the classic journey of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey,
to the more modern-day superhero trope.
The hero sets out on a journey, encountering physical challenges until he ultimately triumphs, achieving mastery over the forces of evil and overcoming death. To specifically highlight a “dirt-bag” example, we can look to the travels of Chris McCandless, immortalized Jon Krakauer’s book and the big-screen Into the Wild.
In the case of McCandless (who tragically died in the Alaskan wilderness), the hero metaphorically triumphs over death by overcoming a life devoid of meaning.
The hero’s journey is so often depicted by the male protagonist that when an author or director spotlights the female hero it inevitably strikes a chord, perhaps because these rare references seem to fill a sort of cultural vacuum. For example, Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and the movie by the same name, became a blockbuster hit. Reviews like Adam Chitwood’s crack me up with reflections like: “through Vallée’s confident, dynamic direction and a truly fearless lead performance by Reese Witherspoon, Wild turns out to be an honest, surprising, and unabashedly feminist chronicle of determination and rebirth.” Somehow the casting of a womyn in the hero’s role automatically turns a film “feminist.”
Some have theorized a distinction between the hero’s journey vs. the heroine’s journey, with the former an external journey, the later a “journey within”—think Juno. I consider this a false dichotomy to some extent, as anyone who undertakes a significant external journey is inevitably forced to confront the internal terrain as well. Nicole Franklin highlights subtle differences in the plot of the typical heroine’s journey, for example Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, in which the heroine is not seeking mastery but is just trying to “get home.”
Regardless of your sex/gender, I would postulate that the hero’s and heroine’s journey are necessary life-tools for everyone, which is why I’m concerned when I see a dearth of womyn “on the road.”
Are these cultural hero-tropes, or lack there of, subconsciously impacting womyn who might otherwise venture out into self-discovery? Are womyn more social, and therefore less likely to travel alone? I admit to having experienced bouts of “loneliness” while traveling alone, which were eventually balanced by the gifts of intentional “aloneness.” Or are the social pressures of the well-intentioned but inevitably paternalistic “be careful out there, it’s not safe for a young women like you,” well-wishers simply too strong to overcome? I confess, “you could get raped,” once gave me pause, before I realized this is true everywhere and anywhere.
I think any one of these reasons alone would be too simplistic. Together they may begin to paint the picture of why my single-female rig + canine is so astoundingly standout to so many. I laugh when I address a stranger who asks, “so are y’all from around here?” or “have y’all been on the road long?” as I stand by my truck obviously alone, as if I must have a man hiding around somewhere. Sometimes the inquirer’s eyes whip around, seeking to find a random male on the trail, in the campground, walking back from the bathroom, etc. that I might be traveling with.
As my mother says, “men need to sow their wild oats.” We have a cultural understanding of this archtype. But what about womyn? I need to sow my wild daisies, and explaining this is getting old.
Ladies, do you have a story to share about traveling alone? How do people react? In 2017, why do you think there aren’t more womyn out there?