Have you ever taken the time to calculate the value of your unpaid labour? Not just the cooking and cleaning and, if it’s relevant to you, the childcare. I mean everything – paying bills, making appointments, taking other people to appointments, planning events, buying and wrapping gifts. I did recently, and a rough calculation told me it would cost $45,000 (US) to pay someone else to do that work for me. And I’m not a homemaker – I work full time and, trust me, I do NOT clean as much as society expects me to.
Yet, despite the additional work (not to mention the emotional labour) that women take on, there’s a consistent story we’re told: that we’re not as strong as men. We’re not tough, really, or only in our allowed domains, like childbirth. This is particularly true when it comes to messaging about the outdoors. From Hemingway to major brands and international publications, the people that represent bravery and heroism in the outdoors are still nearly always intrepid white men.
When women express a desire to do something outside of this construct, we’re warned off by what appears to be well-intended comments. Those close to us question whether it’s really a good idea to travel the world alone, to go rock-climbing, to become a river guide or, I don’t know, ride steppe ponies through Mongolia.
We know, though, that the strength women show in managing the load in our daily lives, can absolutely be played out in other ways.
Recently, I set out to prove this to myself. I was overwhelmed and exhausted from an intense period of work or, more truthfully, the stress of rearranging childcare and keeping up with life administration while working 80 hour weeks (It’s the book fair, don’t forget to send money on Wednesday! Have you sold your girl guide cookies yet? You have a dentist appointment on Friday, at the exact time scheduled for your client pitch… you know what it’s like). So, I decided to quite literally run away from it all, and spend my birthday backpacking in Algonquin Park, Canada.
I’d never been solo backpacking and although I was excited, I was also quite scared. Several times before the trip, I woke up in the night in a state of anxiety about being alone, in the dark, in the woods, so far from help. That was the point, though – I knew deep down that I was capable of doing this, and that an opportunity to express my resilience would be the mental re-set I needed.
And did I ever have a chance to be resilient. Much of the trip was beautiful – sunlight shining through a golden canopy of fall leaves and watching otters play as the mist rolled across the lake at sunrise. But a lot of it was hard, too. The temperature dropped to freezing and the rain bucketed down as I set up my tent, continuing as I cooked over my tiny camp stove, and into the night. I’m guessing the rain also released pathogens from the ground around my campsite, because the next day, I got sick – really sick. A couple of hours into the hike out, I felt my stomach turn, and my head started to swim. Deep in the forest and alone, I had no choice but to get out. I scrambled up steep, rain-slick walls of granite, carrying 15kg of gear on my back, pausing only to throw up over to one side. I lost the trail several times and strove to remember my high school orienteering skills, navigating the topographical map with a spinning head and fighting back tears. The beauty of the wilderness became a background blur as I focussed doggedly on reaching the holy grail of my warm, dry car.
Five hours later, exhausted and emotional, I slumped against the back of the car, shattered, but proud.
When I set out, I hoped to have an insight into my professional future. I’d been feeling the need to do something more meaningful and more true to myself for some time, but Brene Brown didn’t radiate from the clouds to give me any mind-blowing insights. What I did get, though, was a timely reminder that I’m tough. Really tough. I don’t have an Instagram feed full of all the 14ers I’ve bagged on my weekends, or pictures of the van I spent my summer rock-climbing out of, because I have a city job and kids that I have zero interest in home-schooling. But that has literally nothing to do with my resilience, my bravery, or my right to do things alone, for no one but myself, in the outdoors.
Bravery might look different for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. And I believe that time alone in nature, away from all that unpaid labour, those administrative demands, and the messages that tell us we’re not good enough, can be the best reminder possible of just how tough we women are.
Getting out there alone – safely
I’ve traveled extensively on my own, from the age of 15, all around the world. I love the way that solo travel has helped me to grow as a person, becoming self-reliant, more open-minded and dare I say it, wiser (mostly).
The motto that got me past my fear and into the wilderness was ‘be prepared, not scared’. These are my best tips for backpacking and traveling alone, to keep it fun and safe:
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back, and check in regularly with a trusted friend
- Know your limits: Don’t physically or mentally push yourself beyond your capabilities
- It’s OK to turn around – it’s better to miss out on a goal and come home in one piece. You can always try again another day.
- Trust your gut: If a person or situation seems off, you’re probably right.
- Have an exit strategy: Whether it’s leaving an open path in case a bear enters your campsite, or having an extra credit card so you can buy a plane ticket home, knowing you can get out of an unplanned situation is critical.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ali Wines is an Australian writer and communication consultant, based in Toronto, Canada.
A former lawyer, she prefers the thrill of financial instability that comes from freelance writing and managing her own business.
Ali loves to travel and has lived in four countries. She is passionate about the power of the outdoors to transform lives. She is a member of the Canadian Ski Patrol and leads the Toronto chapter of Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit that brings the outdoor community together to fight climate change.