Fearing A Walk In The Woods

I have long been drawn to the idea of a long hike in the woods. The Pacific Crest Trail is so close to my home. My older sister used to ask me to hike it with her, as I’ve mentioned before. I have a friend who plots out a solitary hike into the back country every summer, figuring out where she wants to go and getting the needed permit. And then off she goes, with all she needs on her back, up into places like the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I asked her once if she wasn’t afraid, out there alone, and this petite woman looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question.


There are a lot of books about people who have gone off on long treks and I read many of them. Some, that are so popular movies have been made from them, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I didn’t like at all. Some make me laugh, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, although there is a lot in that book that isn’t funny. And then there are some, like Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, where every page is a story that resonates with me, even though it starts out with a terrifying bear encounter.


Another friend of mine recently told me about a hike she went on. Two women, packs on their backs, take off on for a few days on their own, into the wilderness, like it’s just another jaunt around the block.

I even follow a group on Facebook called ‘Fat Lady Takes a Hike’. I thought it would be inspiring. But then I look at photos and think ‘Fat? Her?!?’

And so, like I’ve written briefly about before, I daydream about striding forth, life on my back, to daydream in the forest and find stories in the trees.


Then reality steps in.

I remember the horrible story in the news a few years ago about a mother and daughter murdered on a hiking trail. Experienced hikers, but someone found them out there alone. The murder is still unsolved.

I think about gear. When we go camping we need a big truck. How would I fit all that into a backpack? Clearly I’d have to go shopping for equipment based on weight. I know many people base their needs on how many ounces that cook stove will add to the pack. And I wonder how many ounces my bottle of blood pressure meds weigh, or the pad of paper and pens. The camera. The extra pair of eye glasses.


And what about the pillow? And the thick pad of memory foam?

I think about being old and definitely not the lean hiking type. Aching knees and hips. Sore lower back.

Then my thoughts wander down the path of fear. That would be easily solved by taking along the husband. He knows how to read maps and compasses. He knows how to orienteer. He knows how to tie a multitude of knots. He knows how to cook over a fire. He knows how to fix everything. I’m always, always safe when he’s around. And I’m never ashamed of my limitations around him. I wouldn’t worry about lagging behind or slowing him down or being a hindrance.


But I don’t think he’s ever had any desire to, shall we say, shit in the woods.

Am I afraid to walk in the woods? Not as long as I leave my imagination at home. I love being out in the woods. But I do have an active imagination. What if a bear comes along? What if a cougar stalks me? What if I fall out there and break a leg? What if I got lost?They couldn’t use my cell phone to ping my location and find me because I have a little old flip phone.

What if I got out there and gave up and turned around and disappointed my companion and let myself down?

What if I learned my dream was just that?

What if I failed?

What if I was too afraid to take one more step?

What if I was too afraid to take the first step?

I think I’ll just go reread Walking Home and continue dreaming.


The husband’s office


Wilderness Women…Or Not

My sister has asked me several times to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s become desperate enough that she now asks, hopefully, if I’ll hike portions of the trail with her. My wilderness soul inside jumps up and yells ‘hell yes!’ and then the inner voice pops up. It reminds me of the last time I hiked up a small hill and had to keep stopping to catch my breath. And that was without a backpack.

Hiking Beth

Sister hiking – one of my favorite photos

One of my closest friends talks about hikes she’s going on. My wilderness soul raises a hand and says, ‘me, too!’. And then the inner voice reminds me of how I slow her down. How she has to wait.

A friend posts photos from some woman/sisterhood/new hippy site of young women out in the wilderness with flowers in their artfully messy hair, and long skirts and cropped eco-hemp tops that show flat tummies. Women with no bras, arms raised in freedom, with tiny breasts. None of these photos show overweight menopausal women in that circle of sisterhood.

Another friend runs an amazing organization that hosts seasonal excursions combining things like learning to track, or weaving baskets, or snowshoeing, with discovering the inner feminine energy. My wilderness soul wishes I was rich so I could sign up for one. Then my inner voice points out the requirements, and how even the easy beginner trips involve backpacking and camping in places other than campgrounds. And then my inner voice looks at the gallery and sees no fat women.

So I walk to the river alone and spend time with the trees and the water and feed my wilderness soul.


But my sisterhood soul is hungry.

Phone calls to one sister, or an overnight visit with the other two, or quick check-ins with female friends are priceless. But there’s something inside still starving. Something deep that wants more than a chat with female friends about how life is going or how work is going or what the latest thing is that their family is up to.

I think that something is yearning for the community of women, a circle, a place of discovery and healing. Although, honestly, something like that would be terrifying as it implies letting go, lifting the lid of control. One of those wilderness trips mentioned dancing. Immediately the wall comes up. ‘Nope, can’t dance, can’t do that in front of people’.


In other words, something inside wants more, but the reality is that I love solitude and anything else is too scary. Failure is a big word. Along with fear. And lack of self-worth. And not belonging. And not fitting in. Not being good enough.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a lot of self-confidence, I love my life, I’m proud of who I am in many ways. Just not in all ways.

And I’m not alone in this. There are many women who look at those new-hippy photos and think, where are the real women? Where are those women who can’t sit on the ground without a hand getting up? Who can’t hike an easy trail without their hips and back aching and their lungs huffing and puffing?

Beth 016

One of the best hikes I went on with that sister.

Someone needs to start a wilderness soul-filling sisterhood group for those who don’t fit. It could be called ‘Fat Females in the Forest’ or ‘Old Women Who Wander’ or ‘Discover Your Inner Woman While Camping Close to Facilities’.

I’d sign up.

In the meantime, as a wise friend said, these words hold true for all who feel disconnected. She also said the circle we search for is inside and that is the most difficult circle to join, and the one we need to find first.

Guess I’ll start searching.


Nature’s Circle

Wild Book Review

I live near a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada. One of my sisters wants me to hike it with her. I admit it’s tempting. But I’d have to spend too much money in gear. And find a pack big enough for my bed.

One thing that whetted my fascination with the trail was reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is about his trek along the Appalachian Trail. While he can be a bit hard on the forest service, the book made me laugh.

So when my sister gave me Cheryl Strayed’s new book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was excited to read it. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t carry through many pages.

The author hiked the trail to deal with a life that spiraled out of control after the death of her mother. The book took loss, and put it in a unique setting. The writing is polished, the pace moves right along, and the people she meets on the trail are interesting. And in one case scary.

What seemed to be missing, for me, was balance. Meaning by about two-thirds through, I decided I’d had enough navel gazing (and I have to admit, what felt like whining) and not enough of the trail. When the author finally had her breakthrough in dealing with her mother I felt relieved, as if I could now get on with the business of hiking. Unfortunately the book remained on the same path. I wanted more details than just how heavy the pack was or how many toenails remained at the end of the day.

There are a lot of uncomfortable passages and one scene with a horse that is terrible. None made me think or question or grow. They just made me squirm. And I think the analogy Strayed tried to draw with the memory of the horse didn’t work.

In the places where the author did talk about the trail, she did okay with descriptions. I could see the views and feel the weather. But it felt like a tiny snippet of trail, which then segued into a large hunk of grieving. The problem for me, then, was a lack of balance between outer and inner worlds. Plus the fact that, to be honest, the inner world got a bit tiresome.

If you want a book on moving forward after loss, on a life that was self-destructing and slowly pieced back together, then this might be worth reading, though I found it more self-centered than similar memoirs. If you want a book on hiking in the wilderness, read the Barefoot Sister’s books, or Bryson’s.  His may not be about the PCT but when he realizes his friend just chucked all the toilet paper over the cliff because it was too heavy, you’ll find yourself standing right next to him.

In Wild, I never found myself on the trail.