Into the Wild - Page 4
Photo by Rachid Dahnoun
It’s a difficult but beautiful thing to be by yourself (or pretty close to it, as lessons from the first half of my trip have taught me) on an endeavor like this. It is, however, much less attractive that just about everyone I talk to is somehow shocked that I am solo.
“I’d never do that,” says a woman who is, ironically, out for a solo day hike save for the company of her dog and the person on the other end of the cell phone she’s using when we meet. Two other women day hiking together, when we stop for a chat, inquire, “A woman alone? Wow,” and, “Aren’t you afraid?” Perhaps the most amusing is the preteen boy who is on a backpacking trip with his family. He asks, “You couldn’t find a friend to come with you?”
I have plenty of time to ponder the commentary. Perhaps I appear incapable of such a thing? Friend-less, is that me? And, finally, a more defensive, what’s wrong with being alone?
It has taken me days, but I’ve finally developed the perfect retort. My first opportunity to use it is on a man a few miles south of Barker Pass, on the west side of Lake Tahoe, on Day Four. He’s kind of a creeper anyway, the sort of guy that, as a woman alone in the wilds, you stare directly in the eyes, give an assertive hello and keep on truckin’. Creepers don’t have distinguishing appearances per se, but something about them makes your be-careful instincts work double time.
I’ve just passed him, but I can see out of the corner of my eye that he’s stepped to the side of the trail in the quintessential pause-and-chat position for trail users. I have no intention of hanging out, so I continue my mosey. He says, “Are you out here alone?” I don’t stop moving but I turn my head in his direction and respond, “Are you out here alone?”
I must be 30 or 40 feet away now, far enough that my creeper alarm doesn’t beep so loud, so I stop and turn back. The guy’s first reaction is a giant smile. Then he transfers both of his hiking poles into one hand before leaning over and slapping the other hand to his thigh. A cascade of laughter follows. I notice, he’s a bit old and has a little kyphosis, which makes his back curl away from his pack and gives him a vulnerable profile.
He thinks I’m fantastic and I thought he was an ax murderer. Nice, Meghan, I think.
“You have made my day,” he calls out. I give an awkward wave, and we head our own ways.