Statistically the trail is one of the safest places in the U.S., but when a tent is all that separates you from a potential predator, the danger becomes terrifyingly real.
As a 30-year-old nurse who works with terminally ill patients, Julia (who prefers to remain anonymous) asked herself one day what she would be proud of doing if she too were given a diagnosis of only six months to live. Shortly after, she left Pittsburgh to start hiking the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail—a highly coveted peacock feather in the cap of outdoor adventurers. But this epic odyssey from Georgia to Maine proved to be far more challenging for Julia because of one factor. Being female.
The Appalachian Trail is a microcosm of American culture but with far higher stakes. Statistically, women are way safer on the trail than on college campuses or in even their own homes. There’s only one rape reported every few years on the trail and the chance of getting murdered there is 1,000 times less than in America as a whole. And yet, the absence of deadbolts to lock oneself behind or of multiple witnesses around to deter violent men from attacking means the occasional trail creeper can be a million times scarier and more dangerous.
The only thing protecting a woman alone in a tent from that sketchy stranger she previously encountered on the trail or the seemingly cool one she’s been hiking with for weeks is a thin piece of nylon. “I physically ran into a bear,” says Julia, “and I’d take that over running into a crazy drunk dude any day.”
“Despite having overwhelmingly great experiences with trail men, all of the other women I spoke with encountered men, especially older white ones, who either made sexist, condescending comments or made them feel unsafe. I even got ‘smile more,’” Julia says. “It’s exhausting.”