News & Blogs Instinct and empathy: The challenges female hikers face on the AT (1 Viewer)

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hiking2-1-jpg.50584

Photo Credit: Cory Tiger
INSTINCT AND EMPATHY: THE CHALLENGES FEMALE HIKERS FACE ON THE A.T.
CAPPY PHALEN 24 MAY 19

My instinct told me to run. It also told me not to run while the man could still see me. Feigning calm, I walked slowly away from him and out of his sight. The moment I felt sure he could no longer see or hear me, I ran.

It was spring, and I was hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. I’d been on the move since sunrise, and I’d felt a profound sense of relief when the shelter had finally come into view late that afternoon. The next shelter was five miles up the trail, and as there were only a few more hours until nightfall, I figured this was the one I should call home. I walked in, weary smile, and nodded at the three people inside. But something was off.

A man was talking loudly at two college-age boys whose postures curved into something eerily resembling submission. When I entered, he shifted his attention in my direction, only briefly, and then turned back to face the boys. Avoiding eye contact with me, he began berating women as a collective, asserting that we were f*cking weak and didn’t belong on the trail, and furthermore that we would all f*cking quit when we found out how difficult hiking really was.

I stiffened, feeling delirious. I glanced at the boys, thinking they might come to my defense, but they remained silent, their spines frozen into question marks leaving it unclear what they stood for. At the time, I thought them cowards. In hindsight, I have a bit more empathy. Nevertheless, I felt angry. I didn’t want to camp near that kind of energy, so I told them I’d be hiking on and wished them a good night. I’d just camp somewhere farther up the trail alone, I thought. I’d done it plenty of other nights.

The man had other ideas. He swiveled his head to look at me.

“Oh,” he said, “I’m coming with you.”

On a primal level that superseded conditioning, I knew I needed to get away.

“I’m meeting someone up the trail,” I told him. “Have a good night.” It was a lie, but I hoped it was enough to make him decide against following me.

He replied that he would come as soon as he was finished eating.

“No – I’m going to be late and they’ll be looking for me. Enjoy your food.” I turned to leave. “I’ll catch up to you,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I walked purposefully out of his sight wanting to seem calm and then I ran.

I was not fit. It hurt, but adrenaline helped. When I would get tired of running, I would walk a few strides, catch my breath, then pick up a jog again. Anything to keep moving.

I wanted so badly to stop and pitch camp in the woods, but if he found me, I would be alone and vulnerable.

hikingat1-1-2-jpg.50585

Hiking on AT, Photo Credit: Emily Moore

Driven by fear, I made it to the shelter just before nightfall. There were more than a dozen tents pitched around it ,and I exhaled my relief at the feeling of safety.

I later found out that a man by the same description had been threatening to kill hikers while they slept.

The night with that man had been the most frightening experience on the trail, but it was by no means the only time a man acted poorly during my hike. The week prior, a different man had exposed himself to me. I’d thought perhaps he had just been relieving himself, but then the incident happened again, with the same man, when he had tracked me and waited for me alone on a mountaintop. I told him if it ever happened again he would regret it, picked up my pace and left him far behind.

A few days after those incidents, I made it through the Smoky Mountains in the pouring rain and lightning, and onto the welcoming dry porch of a hostel. I was exhausted and soaked down to my socks. The manager of the hostel sat in a rocking chair under the awning, and I asked him if there were any beds left.

He leered at me. “You can share mine,” he said.

I was not alone, that time. There were three boys who I had been hiking with standing next to me. Two of them laughed when he said this. The other looked a bit uncomfortable, but he said nothing. I was tired and didn’t have the energy to explain why that kind of comment felt harmful to me, so I just shook my head and said that I’d like a different, empty bed.

hiking3-1-1-768x1024-jpg.50586

Hiking on AT (but during different hike) Photo Credit: Shalin Desai

Later, the boy who had said nothing came to sit next to me. He looked ashamed and asked if what the man had said made me uncomfortable. I replied that it had but it hadn’t seemed worth acting upon. He listened quietly and appeared to sympathize. There was one other man in the room at the time. Upon hearing this conversation, he looked up at me and told me in no uncertain terms that he thought I was being “too sensitive” and “needed to just get over it.”

The stories of women on the trail have common elements: obstacles and endurance. There are more stories that need to be heard and it is empathy, not pity, that will move us forward.

hiking1-1-1024x768-jpg.50587

Photo Credit: Machi Provost

A phrase I hear often from men regarding rejection is “she could have been kinder about it.” Could she? If, when I tell a stranger politely I am not interested, he grabs me and tries to pull me into his seat to convince me otherwise, isn’t it understandable that I would be a little more blunt in my next rejection to avoid any confusion? If casual encounters regularly devolve into harassment, isn’t it understandable that a person might be more hesitant to enter a conversation that held all the same cues as previous conversations that had ended in violence, verbal or otherwise? The reasons why anyone who is not straight, white, or male tend to default to self-preservation is often misunderstood by those who do not encounter or perceive threats in the same way.

The man who told me I was being overly sensitive is but a small drop in an ocean of doubt aimed at those who are forced to walk through the world differently than those who look like the people who wrote the laws and formed the structure of society at large.

A hiker was murdered and another maimed on the Appalachian Trail the same weekend I wrote this essay. The behavioral descriptions I could find for the suspect mirrored the man I had met in the shelter perfectly.

The victim of the murder was a male. Ronald Sanchez, Jr. His companion who was maimed was female, and it is likely that she only survived because her instincts told her to play dead. As soon as her attacker was gone, she dragged herself two miles to find help, and upon finding folks willing to help her had to walk another six miles to safety.

I mourn for them. I mourn for the terror that the murderer leaves in his wake. I mourn for the murderer, too.

hikingat2-1-1024x768-jpg.50588
Hiking on AT, Photo Credit: Shalin Desai

The trail is a peaceful place for the most part. But I have read many versions of the sentiment that this is not the trail community. And in part that is true, that such an extreme event is rare. But the trail community – just like every community – has never been as safe for women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized people, as it has for straight white men.

There are good men to balance out the bad, yes. But I need to see more from them.

I reflect upon the men I’ve observed remaining silent, or perhaps laughing, when something unkind was said to or about a woman in their presence. I think of the times I’ve been silent at my own expense because I knew biting back would have cast me as a nag/mood killer/bitch.

authorphoto-1-jpg.50589

Photo Credit: Machi Provost

Women cannot create compassion between the sexes without the help of men – it takes people from all groups looking out for each other to catalyze any progress. Men need to be holding each other accountable for their behavior even and especially when no women are present.

The months I spent hiking were an incredible experience and a privilege. I wouldn’t trade them. But they could have been different. I believe I have made the most of what I learned, but I didn’t need to learn that I am less safe because of my womanhood: that lesson has been clear to me since I hit puberty. What I needed was the reminder that came from the men who showed me empathy, and then I need those same men to learn to be allies in front of other men, not just in private with women.

Edited by Shalin Desai

 
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BirdDaddy

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Great story, epic lesson. I for one agree completely. men there vulgarity and lack of empathy or willingness to stand up for another is BS. I for one experience confrontation quite often pointing out to men that there out of line, but I'll gladly fight a mother fucker just on principle as I'm sure alot of us on here would. Great post Matt!
 
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Matt Derrick

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yeah i think the part of the story with the guys being quiet or nervously laughing kinda hit me like 'ah damn, i've definitely been that guy' cause you don't want to cause conflict or whatnot, but it's important to work past that and start calling people on their shit, even if it makes the group dynamic a little uncomfortable for a few minutes.
 

Koala

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Wow, yea this hit home. This is basically an everyday experience as a female-bodied person. Great article, well-written.
 

kittybutts

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I had a partner/roaddog quite literally tell me that if I did stuff without them I would be sexually assaulted. Men are trash, sorry not sorry.
 
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Matt Derrick

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I had a partner/roaddog quite literally tell me that if I did stuff without them I would be sexually assaulted. Men are trash, sorry not sorry.
while i can't disagree with you overall, i would like to point out that we are not all bad and will in fact work to help you rid society of this kind of bs.
 
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Matt Derrick

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sorry to see you feel that way (in regards to your 'meh' rating) but i don't think it's fair to slap labels on women (i.e. "all women are 100% ***fill in the blank***") any more than it is to say the same of men (i.e. all men are 100% ***fill in the blank***") or do the same to anyone in between (or outside) those ends of the spectrum. i believe equality between everyone is an extremely important thing to strive for, even if it means we need to fight harder one some fronts than others (i.e. squashing misogyny/patriarchy).
 

kittybutts

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I'm not saying there aren't exceptions to the rules, but I didn't make the rules.

Maybe I'd feel differently if the person who said that to me wasn't an admin, lol

& god, do I have so much shame admitting that, but it's an equally shitty feeling to be silent.
 

BirdDaddy

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Lol! I totally get whare @kittybutts is coming from. Especially from an online media point of view, I would be convinced that as a mediator your opinion may be a little biased to keep confrontations to a minamal.
I however am just lil old opinionated egotistical raging male hormone me, and I agree with Matt.
Honestly I dont get along with many men for the same reason were discussing now. There volgure disrespectful selfish unaware of self or plain dont care... it's of my opinion that those men had lazy mothers, bad fathers and or public schools all teach that a woman dosent deserves respect unles she covers her entire body and if she shoes a little skin its provocative.... this is enraging alone. i believe there is a larger picture hare. It takes a discushion like this to wake up the solution. We are the future, I'm 29 and have the ability to mold young and old minds alike and i Intend to to just that, and learn even more. ppl like you And Matt can be great voices. I have been around off and on stp for a long time and feel I have gotten a sense of who Matt is as an indavidual and people respect his word and trust him. That speaks volumes to me. ( I know that dosent mean shit to you... ) Ppl can change. Thoughts, ideas, perspectives, beliefs can all change. And I firmly believe that if you change the way you look at somthing you can change what it is what it does and how others precieve it. It takes people like minded enough with points of views others cant provide, a willingness to step up for what's right and just, the willingnes to set aside past, religion, and the want to change for a better future. There is my 2 cents. Godspeed.
 
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salxtina

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Hey Kittybutts obv I don't know details but I just wanted to say, yeah, it's completely uncalled for for anyone to tell you "you'll be assaulted if you don't depend on me / follow my advice" (I, uh, had a straight woman pull similar shit on me including writing graphic fantasies about how I'd "get myself killed" for my bad crazypolitics) and that's just a power-trip on the other person's part, it's not something that says anything about you at all.
 

Windwalker

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"But the trail community – just like every community – has never been as safe for women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized people, as it has for straight white men."

How is that even true?? I've seen many 'communities' where straight white men have been marginalized.

Hostel Communities, Asian communities like Okinawa Japan, inner cities I've lived in, I cant even describe the amount of hate I've experienced in these communities. I've been targeted, assaulted...wait I'm getting off track.

Historically armed white men in America have been trained and used to protect our communities.

I'm thinking of the waves of white men who were sent ashore in the Pacific Island Campaigns if wwII. (Not sure if there any women who went ashore?)

Me personally was talking to a gal at a bus stop shelter in Phoenix AZ a few years ago and we started talking about the street crime problem. (You know Phx public transportation winds down around 10pm bevause the drivers are afraid to drive any later).

Anyway, she was telling me how frightening it is for her, to travel alone and I said I never have any trouble unless I'm looking for it. And she says "yeah but your a grown-assed man, I would fuck with you either".

Well, that's cool but it's not the fact that in a man that means as much as the fact that I've learned through experience how to watch my back through realize training and real time fighting.

Women can protect themselves as easily as a man if she trains hard enough. You have to pay your dues when it comes to survival and self defense training. Even then you have a mindset at all times.

The person who says 'it could never happen to me' because of my training and practice and experience is the one who finds out otherwise.

To insinuate or suppose that heterosexual white men have a free pass on the trail or in life is preposterous.
 

roughdraft

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"But the trail community – just like every community – has never been as safe for women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized people, as it has for straight white men."

How is that even true?? I've seen many 'communities' where straight white men have been marginalized.

Hostel Communities, Asian communities like Okinawa Japan, inner cities I've lived in, I cant even describe the amount of hate I've experienced in these communities. I've been targeted, assaulted...wait I'm getting off track.

Historically armed white men in America have been trained and used to protect our communities.

I'm thinking of the waves of white men who were sent ashore in the Pacific Island Campaigns if wwII. (Not sure if there any women who went ashore?)

Me personally was talking to a gal at a bus stop shelter in Phoenix AZ a few years ago and we started talking about the street crime problem. (You know Phx public transportation winds down around 10pm bevause the drivers are afraid to drive any later).

Anyway, she was telling me how frightening it is for her, to travel alone and I said I never have any trouble unless I'm looking for it. And she says "yeah but your a grown-assed man, I would fuck with you either".

Well, that's cool but it's not the fact that in a man that means as much as the fact that I've learned through experience how to watch my back through realize training and real time fighting.

Women can protect themselves as easily as a man if she trains hard enough. You have to pay your dues when it comes to survival and self defense training. Even then you have a mindset at all times.

The person who says 'it could never happen to me' because of my training and practice and experience is the one who finds out otherwise.

To insinuate or suppose that heterosexual white men have a free pass on the trail or in life is preposterous.
in reality it *is* case-by-case and everyone is technically vulnerable, but because of the very real advantages (passing for) straight (passing for) white (passing for) males have *in comparison* to everybody else, nobody is going to give a shit about how vulnerable you feel until you actually get your face bashed in/rolled for all your stuff/raped/etc. Something about relativity. Hopefully nothing like this will ever happen to you (and in my ideal world it wouldn't happen to anyone) In any case i advise you to get used to being considered as more privileged..and don't think anyone is *insinuating* you get a free pass, more that due to our present reality, society and bias and physical stuff and all these others variables, that this *status* = the highest on the totem pole. That seems to be the only insinuation, not that it equals a type of invinciblility.
(for the record I'm a straight white male).
 

Windwalker

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"The highest on the totem pole?" That's funny. I was raised in the rust belt where working class and poor black and white migrated from the south and worked in the steel tire and auto industries since the 40s.

Akron Ckeveland and many other cities are filled with neighborhoods of different racial and ethnic groups because of this. There is no white privilege here. That's CRAZY! A black working class neighborhood us the same as a white working class neighborhood. Ny grandfather worked at Firestone Tire and Rubber after he saw the blue waters of the pacific turn red with the so called white privileged blood. He worked alongside blacks and other minorities but mostly blacks and whites.

For the first time in history poor southerners black and white alike had bew cars new houses and sent there kids to schools. A white man didnt pay any less for those things than a minority. He made the same wage too.

But don't take my word for it. There is a good documentary in YouTube about the Cleveland Strangler Anthony Sowell put out by VICE.

The neighborhood where he killed all those women used to be a gem of cleveland and many people are interviewed from that neighborhood who will tell you the streets of East Cleveland used to be like butter.

See, when people migrate, like Hispanics for example they usually end up in the same neighborhoods as those who went before. That's why you have segregated neighborhoods at least in the north.

But because a lot of blacks in the rust belt began to buy into what was happening out west in the 60s, and bought into the lie that they werent being treated fairly, they successfully ran all the businesses our of town with the help of the so called labor unions. Jesus Christ you could earn about $17 per hour black or white in Akron in 1970. This was a heck of a place to live.

And as far as having my face bashed in and rolled for my stuff um that happened at 9 years old living in the inner city of Akron, being the only white boy in my class. There are people of privilege in every society.

Its preposterous to think that because in a male and white I have some privilege, lol especially our on the trail. If anything I tell women when traveling that I am a target because I'm a male; that if anyone is going to do anything to her they are going to gave to take me out first, so let's be aware of that. What that boils down to is having a plan and an escape route for her because if he or they can overpower me, they can certainly icer power her most likely and her staying around to get hurt isnt going to help; instead she ought to high-tail it out of there to safety and call for help if possible. But live. That's the goal here.

So I don't buy into it, this whole white privelege thing, for me. And no one should have to gave there face beat in or be talked for there gear to gain respect. That's not preposterous that's just STUPID.

Watch that anthony Anthony Sowell documentary and come back and talk to me until in really not going to care what you say about it a whole lot. Or anyone else for that matter. I'll never believe or get used to or accept the idea I have anymore privilege than anyone else. Although I'm sure there have been slave owners in the south who have benefited from slavery, yet from what I know about Africa from having been there is that black african warlords hold people in slavery and captivity without our help.

Look at Somalia. I personally was overseas in the same carrier group that allowed food that was rotting on the docks to be disturbed to the people because a warlord was holding it back. As soon as we left he took over again and subjected the people to him. To starvation. That was why we had black hawk down.



We could go on and on with this. Like people say to me about how whites cant be the victim of racism because of white power. Lol. I have red hair and have steroymryped by other whites. Lol but anyway, since obama was president that shoots that theory out of the water. There can be racism against anyone and your just going to have to get used to that I guess. Or not. But to recap; from The 1940s through the 60s black and whites worked side by side in the same factory's and sterl mills, drove the same cars and lived in the same types of houses and made the same wage. No white privelege there at all. Sorry. Do some research into a great portion of recent American history that hardly anyone that soews this white privelege crap will talk about it even realizes.

Now all thos neighborhoods are run down Detroit cleceland akron Pittsburgh. That's what the lie of the 60s brought about. Watch that documentary around 13 or 14 min in? Minorities throughout the rust belt states would give anything tho have those mills and factories. And so would I.
 

roughdraft

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"The highest on the totem pole?" That's funny. I was raised in the rust belt where working class and poor black and white migrated from the south and worked in the steel tire and auto industries since the 40s.

Akron Ckeveland and many other cities are filled with neighborhoods of different racial and ethnic groups because of this. There is no white privilege here. That's CRAZY! A black working class neighborhood us the same as a white working class neighborhood. Ny grandfather worked at Firestone Tire and Rubber after he saw the blue waters of the pacific turn red with the so called white privileged blood. He worked alongside blacks and other minorities but mostly blacks and whites.

For the first time in history poor southerners black and white alike had bew cars new houses and sent there kids to schools. A white man didnt pay any less for those things than a minority. He made the same wage too.

But don't take my word for it. There is a good documentary in YouTube about the Cleveland Strangler Anthony Sowell put out by VICE.

The neighborhood where he killed all those women used to be a gem of cleveland and many people are interviewed from that neighborhood who will tell you the streets of East Cleveland used to be like butter.

See, when people migrate, like Hispanics for example they usually end up in the same neighborhoods as those who went before. That's why you have segregated neighborhoods at least in the north.

But because a lot of blacks in the rust belt began to buy into what was happening out west in the 60s, and bought into the lie that they werent being treated fairly, they successfully ran all the businesses our of town with the help of the so called labor unions. Jesus Christ you could earn about $17 per hour black or white in Akron in 1970. This was a heck of a place to live.

And as far as having my face bashed in and rolled for my stuff um that happened at 9 years old living in the inner city of Akron, being the only white boy in my class. There are people of privilege in every society.

Its preposterous to think that because in a male and white I have some privilege, lol especially our on the trail. If anything I tell women when traveling that I am a target because I'm a male; that if anyone is going to do anything to her they are going to gave to take me out first, so let's be aware of that. What that boils down to is having a plan and an escape route for her because if he or they can overpower me, they can certainly icer power her most likely and her staying around to get hurt isnt going to help; instead she ought to high-tail it out of there to safety and call for help if possible. But live. That's the goal here.

So I don't buy into it, this whole white privelege thing, for me. And no one should have to gave there face beat in or be talked for there gear to gain respect. That's not preposterous that's just STUPID.

Watch that anthony Anthony Sowell documentary and come back and talk to me until in really not going to care what you say about it a whole lot. Or anyone else for that matter. I'll never believe or get used to or accept the idea I have anymore privilege than anyone else. Although I'm sure there have been slave owners in the south who have benefited from slavery, yet from what I know about Africa from having been there is that black african warlords hold people in slavery and captivity without our help.

Look at Somalia. I personally was overseas in the same carrier group that allowed food that was rotting on the docks to be disturbed to the people because a warlord was holding it back. As soon as we left he took over again and subjected the people to him. To starvation. That was why we had black hawk down.



We could go on and on with this. Like people say to me about how whites cant be the victim of racism because of white power. Lol. I have red hair and have steroymryped by other whites. Lol but anyway, since obama was president that shoots that theory out of the water. There can be racism against anyone and your just going to have to get used to that I guess. Or not. But to recap; from The 1940s through the 60s black and whites worked side by side in the same factory's and sterl mills, drove the same cars and lived in the same types of houses and made the same wage. No white privelege there at all. Sorry. Do some research into a great portion of recent American history that hardly anyone that soews this white privelege crap will talk about it even realizes.

Now all thos neighborhoods are run down Detroit cleceland akron Pittsburgh. That's what the lie of the 60s brought about. Watch that documentary around 13 or 14 min in? Minorities throughout the rust belt states would give anything tho have those mills and factories. And so would I.
i get all of that, but the topic is safety on these long-distance trails and that's all I was trying to make a point about.
 

Windwalker

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i get all of that, but the topic is safety on these long-distance trails and that's all I was trying to make a point about.
Speaking of AT safety, I've been half assed looking at hiking it this year and have identified a few areas of concern myself other than straight white men. If anyone's interested? If not that's ok too.

Bears: An unusual amount of bears have been spotted in 2019. This trend will continue in 2020

Hostels/Rest stops: This one has been identified as a place we all everyone might want to avoid. Lol

It's called the Wolf Pen Country Store? I think it advertises or it did advertise as a hostel. It's not apparently. But I think if your a straight white mail they give you toilet paper. Lol.

JK

No, but it would be great to see a good thread about safety issues and how to handle them. And his to plan for them. I am an expert at this hy no means yet I have led people through a few hairy trips, succesfully.
 

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