- Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea.
- If you must do it, you first text at least three people where you are going, so that if you don’t come back they will know where to look for you. You send a text to your mother in Virginia, which is nonsensical but somehow makes you feel better.
- You must choose a trail where there are likely to be a lot of other people. When you pull into the parking lot, you must see at least 10 other cars, or you have to go somewhere else.
- You program 911 into your cell phone and keep your phone open to this page. As you are hiking, if you see a single male approaching, you get out your cell phone and pretend that you have suddenly decided to text someone. But really you are opening your 911 page.
- You wear a hip pack or kavu, with pepper spray and personal alarm attached. Your pepper spray is pink. When you bought it at Academy Sports, you discovered that pepper spray comes in pink – for girls – and black – for men. It is very similar to the pink and blue toy aisles at the Toys ‘R Us. You are so conditioned to identify as “pink” that you choose that one, and only afterwards do you wonder why. You want to pretend it’s for breast cancer awareness, but in your heart you know it’s because you still can’t walk down the boy aisle.
- If you see a single male approaching on the trail, you try to make yourself look bigger. This works for animals. Birds puff out their feathers, blowfish inflate themselves, cats and dogs stick their tails straight up. If you see a bear in the wild, you are supposed to stretch your arms up over your head to make yourself look bigger and taller. Maybe this would work on humans.
- Dogs can smell fear, and bad humans probably can too. Also, they can read your body language. Whether on the trail or on a deserted street or in a parking lot, the trick is to pretend that you are not afraid, or they will see and smell your fear. Stride confidently, squaring your shoulders and swinging your arms. Walk briskly, like you have somewhere to go and people are waiting for you. Pretend you don’t even see the person you are afraid of.
- When you startle at sudden noises or sudden movements, pretend that this didn’t happen as well. Act like you were looking at an interesting bird or scratching a sudden itch. Even when no one else is there, you pretend this to yourself.
- When you see a woman, a couple or a family on the trail, you are flooded with relief. If possible, you secretly follow a suitable distance behind these people. That way if you have to scream, there will be someone there to hear you.
- You take in the beauty that you came for, and it nourishes you. But there is no moment on your hike that you are not hyper-alert for danger.
I wrote my sarcastic listicle because I get frustrated about not being able to hike alone as a woman. I also wrote it, though, because some friends and I have been dealing with a harassment situation, and it has stunned me to realize that most of the men who are aware of it just don’t get it. What they can shrug off as “just harassment” takes on an entirely different meaning when you are a woman and you have either yourself experienced, or had friends who have experienced, domestic and/or sexual assault. We know that it is not silly to be afraid, it is a survival instinct. The only male who has really “gotten” the situation is my husband, because he has been a police officer for 30 years and has seen many examples of how “just harassment” crosses over into violence. His comment was: “I need to teach my self-defense for women class to you and your friends.” I do not mean for this blog to be an “all men are predators” statement. Most men aren’t predators, and I love my male family members, friends, colleagues, and students. I just want men to try to understand what it feels like to walk through life in a female body.
This blog is dedicated to the women who have been my partners on the trail through this dark wood. Because of them, this time I am not hiking alone.