Flying Solo

“Oh! but Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”
“The better to eat you with!”
And scarcely had the wolf said this, than with one bound he was out of bed and swallowed up Little Red Riding Hood.

—The Brothers Grimm, “Little Red Riding Hood”

Fairy tales are supposed to be just that—tales of otherworldly fantasies. Imaginative. Not real. Yet when the tales we are told as children repeatedly star frail maidens falling prey to dangerous male villains, perhaps we begin to believe. 

A few years ago, a Bozeman theatre produced a version of “The Princess and the Pea.” What little girl doesn’t love to imagine herself atop a mountain of mattresses, jumping raucously atop their unsteady sway? But the tale of a girl so fragile that she is plagued by insomnia because of a tiny pea below 20 feather beds? That is not a message little girls should love. 

As women lace up their hiking shoes and make their way toward the wildernesses of southwest Montana, old warnings surface—lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Each time I go for a solo hike, I’m cautioned by well-intentioned friends and family to beware of the dangers lurking in wait for my delicate being—but I love to hike alone. Access to trails around Bozeman is close and convenient, and the ever-changing wooded paths have become familiar and comforting to me since my return to the Gallatin Valley almost two years ago.

This return has brought many changes to my life—one of them being the onslaught of worrying family when I go “into the wild.” In fact, my loved ones only recently stopped offering a ride home every time I walk or bike to my parent’s house just outside city limits.

For the most part, these offers are made out of love and concern—but when does loving protection become inhibitive? Woman or man, safety is the top priority when hiking in southwest Montana. We carry bear spray, food, and water; we use sunscreen and bring extra layers for the varying weather—hiking unprepared is out of the question. And yet, I find that people often worry more about me than my male counterparts.

More often than not, we live in an equitable, post-sexist society. Women can work at any job (though often for less money, but that’s another discussion), wear what we want, and independently support the lifestyle of our choosing. We can join the army and go to war. Yet we often face a wall of opposition when we say we’re backpacking Hyalite Creek trail on our own.

In a community of adventurers of every shape and size, why is there still a stigma against women going it alone? Is a woman’s self-reliance in the great outdoors undermined because of concern? Are we, as a society, still restrained by the archaic belief that women are the more delicate sex, that our self-reliance is un-reliant?

Perhaps the solution to this quandary lies within the wooded paths of South Cottonwood, the gnarled rocks of Sypes Canyon, and the wide-open views atop Triple Tree Trail; because only hiking in places like these, alone with my thoughts, am I able to chisel away at the complications of life.

I will never stop hiking alone, and hopefully, one day, people won’t question my (or my daughter’s) capabilities and competence. Until then, my final argument is this: grizzly bears can weigh up to 800 pounds. Any human, man or woman, is no match for that villain. All we can do is prepare for the rare event that we run into danger in the woods, enjoy the scenery, and forget about the pea under the mattress.