It’s always the first question.
I return from a solo adventure, having wild camped on my way; pushed my physical, emotional and mental limits; reached new heights and set new sights. There’s mud under my nails and freckles pepper my face. I’m desperately craving fresh fruit and vegetables. My hair needs a wash and the thought of a duvet is too good to be true. My heart is gloriously full. I unlock the door, settle to some food, and start to tell my new stories.
It’s always the first question. Weren’t you scared?
I get it — I do. Wonderful friends, your concern and investment in my well-being are so very appreciated, I promise. The fact that you care enough to check how I might have felt while I was adventuring alone means a lot to me. The fact that you want me to be happy makes me happy. The fact that you worry (although I so wish you wouldn’t) shows me that you care.
But, no, I wasn’t scared. After all, what did I have to be afraid of? I’ll break it down logically. Here in Europe, the single biggest threat to my safety is another human being, statistically a man, with violent or malicious intentions. But if I’m hiking or biking, the odds of me running into another human being are already drastically reduced. And if I do encounter someone else, the chances are that we’ll swap friendly hellos or compare routes, before pushing on with our respective journeys. I have honestly felt safer cycling along a forest road at 11pm in the dark depths of January than I have travelling on a brightly lit subway in the middle of the day.
I have never been harassed in a forest. I have never been catcalled on a hillside. I have never been threatened on a trail. Each of those things has happened more times than I care to remember in the urban realm — trains, streets, town squares — where I am supposed to feel safe, surrounded by other people. But the reality is that, to date, the by-stander effect has caused me more harm than any adventure; indeed, by nature, the by-stander effect doesn’t work in the wilderness.
Yet that’s not to say I don’t ever feel scared. Those who know me can easily testify that I am a sensitive soul. Only recently have I stopped getting nervous when I walk over a cattle grid with my heavy pack on. I still feel the hairs rise along my arms when I leave the warmth of my tent to pee in the night. And climbing big hills intimidates me (I’ve had to sweet-talk myself through many a scramble). But, no, I’m not scared of adventuring alone.
If you must worry on my behalf, here are some good things you can worry about. Will she make it to the pub before they stop serving chips? Will she find a place to camp that isn’t clarted in sheep shit? Will she get caught out by an unsuspecting farmer as she howls pop songs at the top of her lungs on the downhills? (These are listed in order of severity starting with the most serious, so you can take your pick.)
Let me tell you what I’m actually scared of. I’m scared of living in a world where women hold themselves back. I’m scared of a society that lets the hopes and ambitions of its women go wholly unrealised. And I’m absolutely terrified of little girls growing up believing that all of this is normal.
So by my reckoning, the best thing that a woman setting out on a solo adventure can do is to make sensible (ish) plans, leave her contact details and expected route with a trusted friend, then get out there and have fun. Adventure on!
Aileen is a recent convert to the joys of hiking and biking. This summer she trekked coast-to-coast across Scotland (unsupported), followed a few months later by riding 360km from Glasgow to Inverness (solo, unsupported). She’s stubbornly independent. Aileen is not even a little ashamed of her dependence on sugary snacks as a motivational tool (chocolate being the prized item of choice).