The world is profoundly apprehensive when it comes to women on the move and on their own. Society has it in it’s pretty little head that a woman setting out into the great unknown will be met with a medley of hardships not shared by her male counterparts. Female travelers are viewed as progressive, doomed, and even stupid for flying solo.
When breathing life into my own daydreams about backpacking far-off lands or hiking the Appalachian Trail, the wind gets knocked out of my sails by a common response, “well, you’d have to find someone to go with you first.” And the colors in my dreams fade to ominous ones, get filled with other people’s boogeymen they assume belong in a story such as mine.
In her article, The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters, Vanessa Veselka argues that we can’t fathom a positive outcome for a woman on the road because there is no precedent in American literary tradition, “no cultural narrative for [women] beyond rape and death.”
When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins. When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends.
Veselka explains, we are all seeking something and this search is quintessential to our own human experience. “The Road Narrative” appears time and time again in literary canon, founded on a protagonist’s quest to go in pursuit of something greater than one’s self. From Ishmael to Frodo, Dean Moriarty to Huck Finn…
A man with a quest, internal or external, makes the choice at every stage about whether to endure the consequences or turn back, and that choice is imbued with heroism. Women, however, are restricted to a single tragic or fatal choice. We trace all of their failures, as well as the dangers that befall them, back to this foundational moment of sin or tragedy, instead of linking these encounters and moments in a narrative of exploration that allows for an outcome which can unite these individual choices in any heroic way.
The entire essay has stuck with me and I would highly recommend reading it in it’s entirety. Her words do a far better job than my own in describing to you why I have set out to find and read about women who embark on incredible journeys.
I had been hearing about “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed for some time but after reading Veselka’s essay I truly felt compelled to read it. After the death of her mother and a divorce, Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own.
She would face odds, yes; she would face fears and boogeymen put into her mind by others, but in the end, she was searching for something greater than herself–her quest was to heal. This is a story of heroism. (And her last name is Strayed for goodness sake. How lovely and poetic.)
So, in the name of forging a path for lone women to travel across page and road, I would implore you to pick up a copy of this page-turner. It is at times heart-breaking and others laugh out loud relatable. Over the next few weeks I will be posting some fun, supplemental material that I scouted to elevate my own reading of Strayed’s work. If you’ve read “Wild” before or would like to read it now and join in the fun, pop on back and check it out.
Reading her story may be the first step towards creating an adventure narrative of your own. As Veselka closes her essay, women can no longer waste time justifying our right to tell these stories.
If we have a shot it’s going to be because we stopped asking permission and just started in the middle.