By: Stephanie Brown
I started hiking a few years ago. Around the same time, I became an ambassador for Women WhoExplore. I grew up outdoors in the summers. I grew up sleeping in trailers with my cousins. I grew up taking my shoes off and running through forests chased by imaginary animals. I grew up with a diet full of grit and sticks. I guess you could say I grew up island wild.
That’s just it though, a lot of us have fond “family camping” memories. However, I would never have called myself outdoorsy. My mother would have never expected me to strap a backpack to my back and disappear to the far corners of the world, largely on my own, for seven months. She also would not have expected me to strap that same backpack on and walk over 75 km in a week. If I am being honest, I didn’t expect it of myself.
The thing is, women are really good at underestimating themselves.
What I have come to realize is that we often create limits in our heads. We imagine what our breaking points are and we don’t ever push against them.
In my early and mid-twenties the separation anxiety from childhood that kept me forever close to home gave way to something new. There was a sense of curiosity that for the first time overpowered the fear of the unknown. This curiosity fueled me to push those limits. Not only did I become insatiably curious about the world and the people in it, but I became obsessed with learning about myself and what my limits were.
That is what Women Who Explore is all about, allowing women to chase after their breaking points and limits to see that they may be a lot farther away than we think.
But, enough about all that, you ultimately want to hear about my break down while hiking…
The Wild Wild West Coast Trail
Along the west coast of Vancouver Island is a trail. It is not a particularly difficult trail, although it can be – especially when mother nature is going through a break-up. Which I can only assume is the reason behind the rainstorm we hiked that trail in.
Let me paint you a picture. Four women, who have just met, are dropped off on a beach by a little boat. As they wave to the driver and smile the heavens open up and a drizzle begins. They laugh at themselves companionably as they turned around to see a four-story vertical ladder to start the trail in the forest above a cliff. Fuck. Sorry to all of the English teachers out there, but some words just carry too much weight not to use.
That was the theme for the next seven days. The next 75 km we spent drenched to the bone. We laughed, we cried, we twisted ankles and pulled glute muscles. We even wadded through rivers when the bridges washed out. We were amazonian.
One thing I have learned with age is that no matter the obstacle that faces us, no matter the amount of fear and doubt we put in our way, women are some of the strongest and most resilient individuals I have consistently met. It breaks my heart to think of the years of my youth I spent judging and being judged by them.
I consider myself blessed to have been on that trail with three strangers, all of which female. I especially thank them for never judging me for my meltdown the day I reached my breaking point.
What happens when you can’t go any farther?
Sometimes it is an injury that stops you in your tracks. For me, on this hike, it was a mental break. After four days of continuous rain, I snapped.
Out there on 5 km of rugged beach, I looked longingly out at the ocean and seriously considered just wading out to sea. I was already soaked through after all. That is when I decided I could not go one more step without screaming at the top of my lungs.
I had held all this rage and frustration in for so long. Not just from the hike but from the stress of being a woman – you all know the feeling. I had spent so many years of my life trying to be strong while pretending to be cute, weak, and non-threatening. I had tried to be smart and professional just to be belittled and underestimated in every job. I was so confused and so lost and now I was in the middle of nowhere, soaking wet, in pain and only half-way done. To say it seemed hopeless is an understatement. I remembered childhood me and I wanted nothing more than to complain to my mother until she took me home. But I couldn’t do that.
I looked out at the ocean and felt the rain soaking its way through my Gore-tex and I screamed. I screamed and I picked up a rock and I threw it. I threw it out of all the anger I was feeling. Anger because I wasn’t effortlessly enjoying hiking like all the women on Instagram. Anger because it was raining. Anger at the fact that, despite all my accomplishments and during this challenging hike, I was still thinking about boys.
I picked up another rock and threw it at the ocean and I screamed at the sky and I took my backpack off. I let it all out on that beach. I let my ugly, vulnerable, shame show. At that moment, I hated hiking. I never wanted to do it again.
But, I let myself have that moment and at some point instead of screaming nothing I started using words.
“You will not break me” was all that I kept repeating. I started to feel stronger. I could feel this breaking point healing. I could feel it closing up like a damn. Somehow I knew it would be stronger because I had given in.
As I stepped back from my breaking point I noticed two of the girls I was hiking with a few yards back. They had come to a complete stop and were just watching me. I calmly put my backpack on and kept walking in the rain.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: emotions are not weaknesses. They are your mental and spiritual side engaging in a hard workout. At that moment I felt pity for any employer who looked down on women for being “emotional” because I realized, I may not go to the gym a lot but I have been working my heart and my soul out more than most.
I am continuously inspired by the women I see coming out to events and meetups with Women Who Explore. I see them nervously trying new things. Sure, physically these hikes may be difficult workouts, but I know the emotional workout they are getting is so much harder. I know the healing power of pushing yourself out there on the trail, and I also know the power of accepting yourself out there.
One of the three moments of sunshine. Sun’s out, pants OFF!