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What do you think? April 30, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, memoir.
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Added 5/1: I was in a very whiny mood yesterday. I’m tempted to delete this post, but naw, I’ll let it stand. We all have our bad days!

As many of you know, I made a decision in 2009 to come back to the Southern Appalachians—in particular, to be within striking distance of the Smokies, where I had so many wonderful experiences in the 80s. This decision came after the end of a 15-year relationship in Massachusetts, which made me decide that I’d like to start a new life. Since I’ve moved back to the area, I have experienced some absolutely wonderful adventures in the Smokies. But there is something missing now. The way I see it—and this could be just some warped perception—as a 50-something single female bushwhacker, I just don’t fit in. I am quite friendly with a number of male bushwhackers (there are very few other female bushwhackers), but I think they don’t feel comfortable hiking with me. Many are married and have family obligations. For them to go out with a single female seems inappropriate. I can understand that. Even in the situation of several guys bushwhacking together, I think it doesn’t occur to them to invite a single female along—it seems odd, or unprecedented. Therefore, I am thinking that possibly what is best for me is to move on to some place where I can invent my own adventures once again, where I’m not comparing the present experience with past experiences. I’m thinking somewhere out west, where I have spent some times in the past but where I don’t have any strong personal memories. I invite you, my readers, to comment if you have any particular feelings or reactions about this.

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Comments»

1. jay - April 30, 2011

I can say officially that my wife would not “let” (by “let” I mean, she might not say “no” with that word, but she would say no by… basically every other way) me go on a trip with a single woman. So yeah, you are probably on to something there.

Jenny - April 30, 2011

Thanks, I suspected as much. I’m obviously a big marriage-wrecker!

2. Seth - April 30, 2011

Jenny,
You know you are always welcome to hike with me and my compadres. I (and some of my friends) have at times thought it was strange that most of my favorite people to spend a day with in the woods are 30+ years my senior. I realize that it’s a bit different than a bunch of guys with one single female, but I don’t let it affect the relationships that I am so glad to have formed with you and others in pursuit of the freedom of the hills.

I have never truly “fit in” with any group of folks that I hang with. My generation has skewed the definition of peer groups so far I really don’t even think about it in terms that are familiar to my parents and older friends. Hell, my generation’s version of dating is like that too. It’s not uncommon for their to be several guys and one girl go out for a night on the town as a group. The loose term commonly used by people my age “you wanna hang out” can be taken in so many different ways it becomes frustrating and confusing at times.

In situations like the one you are in I would talk to those individuals who you feel are uncomfortable with the thought of hiking with you about the issue. If their spouses are uneasy about it invite them to get in on the discussion and talk it out like intelligent adults.

I’d hate for you to split so soon after getting to know you
I hope that you make whatever decision you think is best for you.

3. Jenny - April 30, 2011

Seth, thank you so much for your thoughts. In some ways I wonder if the ideas of male/female relationships are more positive in the olden days (medieval times) than present days. I can’t help but wonder how many of the new generation would be able to climb that gully beside the Bunion!

4. brian - April 30, 2011

Yeah Jenny, I’d hate for you to head out west as well. You’re definitely invited on any hike I’d want to do unless it’s one I want to go on alone. It seems to me like you’ve been doing lots of group hikes. I guarantee you’ve been bushwhacking with way more people in the Smokies than I ever have. You, Seneca, and Peter are the only people I’ve ever gone out with more than once in the mountains. Two people a similar age and opposite sex who do much of anything together regularly is unusual. But it doesn’t seem to apply for groups, at least my generation. Another issue though may be that areas like E. TN/W. NC are not as transient as some parts of the country. Most people have been in the area for decades and already have their established circle of friends. It takes more persistance to break in. I remember my parents talking about that a lot when they moved to Knoxville from DC which is the opposite situation.

If you’re going to center your social life around an activity as utterly obscure as bushwhacking you’ve got your work cut out for you whoever/wherever you are. Maybe you can recruit women who already enjoy hiking and get them to try it some. In Florida nobody goes off trail hiking at all and not even trail hiking much for that matter. Nobody ever invites me to go hiking. I just try to recruit people I meet who are in good shape and seem adventurous. I say hey let’s all go for a hike sometime and then lead them off the trail at some point in a relatively easy area. Then if they seem game I keep going into more difficult stuff. I don’t say “Get ready we are going bushwhacking. Bring your compass, look out for snakes, you are in for a serious challenge, blah, blah”. This will never, ever work with women and usually not men either. The key is to make it seem official and normal and tell them they are pretty good at it whether they’re taking forever or not.

I’ve noticed like Seth that most people I meet that are really knowledgeable and into hiking are maybe 40s, 50s, 60s. Not sure why, but I’ve read the outdoor industry is actually concerned about decline in the younger generation’s interest.

5. Jenny - April 30, 2011

Thank you so much, Brian and Seth. I am thinking about my hiking experiences and trying to figure out where I should go next, in the long run. Thanks again.

6. Peter Bennett - April 30, 2011

I think the issue of a single woman going off hiking with married men becomes more of an issue with people who or over 40 years old. Maybe it is because older people feel less flexible about their relationships. On the other hand I also think that there must be other women who enjoy off trail hiking. I know of older women who engage in off trail hiking here in Montana. Keep looking for off trail hiking companions, I am sure you will find others like you.

Jenny - May 1, 2011

Peter, thanks for your comment. I haven’t found any particular connection with age in this situation. I have married male friends in their 20s and ones in their 50s, and the same problem seems to come up for both age groups—for most men, I should say, not for everyone. Regarding female off-trail hikers, I know a couple women who used to do it but have dropped the activity, and really not anyone else who shares this peculiar interest. I will say that off-trail hiking in the Smokies is very different than in Montana, due to the vegetation. Many times in the Smokies, the moment you step off the trail, you are immediately dealing with a thicket of rhododendron. It takes a certain mindset to enjoy this, and for some reason men seem to like it much more than women.

7. Amanda Beal - May 2, 2011

I know we don’t know each other too well, Jenny, but I feel a little sad reading this and thinking of you moving away. I love reading your blog posts about past adventures and am always amazed at your bravery and your beautiful prose.

I really enjoyed our Cat Stairs escapade, and while I am not terribly experienced at off trail hiking, I would be interested in doing some more of it. We did Groundhog Ridge recently, and I felt much more confident doing that than I did on the Cat Stairs. Probably my biggest hesitation in hiking with you is my lack of experience and assuming that I would slow you down (which I would). But if that doesn’t concern you, I’d love to join the female bushwhacker ranks.

You’ve invited us on a couple of adventures but the timing hasn’t worked out. I know Adam has really gotten into the off trail stuff lately and would like to join you as well. He keeps talking about wanting to go to Wilson Falls with you. Feel free to invite him on any of your adventures; he and I don’t always operate in tandem, and I don’t have any problem with the two of you hiking together without me.

Jenny - May 2, 2011

Amanda, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I would enjoy bushwhacking with you. Someone was just telling me about doing the Ekaneetlee manway, and I was thinking I’d like to do that sometime before long. I used that manway many times back in the 80s, but I haven’t been back since, and I know it’s become quite overgrown. So that might be a good outing. Adam would be welcome too. Even though I have hiked with you and Adam only that one time on the Cat Stairs, I got the sense that you have a very happy marriage. It’s obvious that you trust each other. Too bad not every marriage is like that. Anyway, as I mentioned the day after I put up this post, I was in a whiny state of mind when I wrote it, and things don’t seem nearly so bad now. I’ve got two hikes planned this week with other people, and I really have nothing to complain about.


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