I went backpacking in the Smokies twice and the Grayson Highlands. I hiked all around the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, too.
- Greer ½ marathon
- Cooper River Bridge Run
- and the 15K in DC in early Dec.
It's just days following news of Jennifer Pharr Davis' speed hike of the Appalachian Trail - breaking both the men's and women's world record. She covered the 2,180-mile distance in 46 days and 11 hours.
It's an impressive feat. I'm awed by this woman's determination in fulfillment of her dreams.
It was just weeks after she started out on her journey that I attended a conference exclusively for women about hiking and backpacking. The Summit was a first-of-its-kind event meant to invoke inspiration and confidence in women to undertake their big dreams, especially in the outdoors. The event offered the expected workshops related to nutrition, gear and trails, but it also offered an unexpected and refreshing twist – nature appreciation and taking it slow.
I attended a session focused on nature appreciation and spiritual connection in which the presenter encouraged all of us to “saunter reverently,” a message I have really taken to heart.
I spoke with the Anna Huthmaker the event organizer and founder of Trail Dames, a hiking club for women of a curvy nature, to learn more about her vision for women as hikers and why taking it slow fosters dreams as much breaking records.
Wow, so it’s a big deal that The Summit is going to be in Colorado next year.
Virginia worked out so why not Colorado? There are lots of women hikers out there. We have ten chapters already, and I’m talking to someone in Seattle and someone in California [about starting chapters there].
I don’t want The Summit to be for just Trail Dames. I want it to be for all women. There are a lot of women out there who don’t identify as Dames. Trail Dames is the host.
At the end of the summit you asked what attendees find when they are on a trail in the woods – what it gives them. What does being on a trail do for you?
Being on a trail allows me to be the kind of women I want to be. I wanted to be a woman who does these kinds of things. So every time I’m on a trail I’m closer to being that woman.
Is that what influenced you to start this organization?
Not really. I don’t know why I started it. I know when the idea was formed. I was on the A.T. and this other hiker said I really really belonged. It hit home, this idea that if I belong – so does any other kind of woman. I don’t mind being the poster girl for the non-traditional type hiker I will bring others with me.
There’s an emphasis on the Trail Dames website and at the conference on taking it slow. What accounts for that?
There were two things that hit me when I started encouraging women to hike. Historically they tended to hike with their husbands. Those hikes tended to be goal oriented. I wanted to encourage them to relax and not [feel that they] have to race through it. The second thing is that I want them to enjoy what they are doing. I don’t want them stressed out about being fast enough and good enough. A lot of that was my own baggage, but it fit with other women. Then they can find their own pace. It might turn out to be fast, but they arrive at it naturally – rather than forcing it.
Can you talk a little bit about the support and community of the Dames?
That is what women do best. We are caretakers. When someone next to us bursts out crying in frustration, we care for them. If we take a woman who is unsure, nervous, not sure she can [hike], or [doubts] that she belongs there then you surround her by women who encourage her that she can. It instantly creates this bond that is deep and profound.
At the conference – I made this joke about [singing] Kumbaya, but we could have. We support each other, and people are brave enough to share their dreams with other women. We tend to want to stand up and help each other.
I want to clarify something. I love men. I love everything about them. In no way am I trying to disparage them or keep them away from us. For three years I did bring your man hikes. They didn’t go over so well, so then I hosted “bring Anna a man” hikes.
How would you characterize your hike leadership style?
On a trail, I’m at the back. My biggest goal is that no woman feels like she’s too slow or holding anyone back. [As hike leader] I give out directions; I realize we’re all adults.
Why do you do that?
Because that’s what I felt when I first started hiking. That’s the worst feeling in the world if you’re already overweight and feeling like you don’t belong out there. So it’s meant to prevent that.
In the back we laugh the most. That’s where the best stories happen. The woman at the back is achieving the most when she’s climbing the mountain. The one in the very back who is older or less fit, when she reaches the top, that’s when the real magic happens. I love the feeling like I helped that happened.
What do you hope women who attended The Summit gained from the experience?
I hope they gained the belief that they can really dream big and go for it. There’s nothing in the world you can’t do – if you want to hike the Inca trail, hike the Grand Canyon, go to New Zealand, it’s really just a plane ticket, and a believe ‘I think I can do that.’
If I can make them believe that they belong on the trail. If The Summit can help them believe that they belong on the trail
At the conference at one point you said women are taking over the trails of the U.S. Can you talk more about that?
When I said women are taking over the trails of this country I meant that as empowering statement. As far as I’m concerned, my experience is 100% true.
I’m just trying to make other women to feel proud to be out there. I want them to remember that they’ve accomplished something. It’s a big deal to get out there and climb that mountain. [I want to] promote sense of community, a sense of purpose.
Can you talk a little bit about the awards from The Summit?
That for me was a function of looking toward the future. For the Spirit of the Trail Dames I wanted different chapters to have the opportunity to recognize people. The idea is that the national award will become more coveted. I wanted there to be weight to the event, an importance to it. I don’t want it to be just a bunch of people at a campground.
The Spirit of the Dames award is the chance to recognize someone who never gets recognition. I get recognition, hike leaders get recognition, head dames get recognition. It’s for regular folks.
Before I started throwing out “we’re the only hiking conference for women” I did a lot of research. [I wanted the national awards to] showcase women in excellence in the outdoors. It needs to be celebrated. It really does. What I’m hoping that we get more and more nominations – even among people I’m not aware of. They deserve that recognition and to raise awareness.
What, in your mind, is the mainstream perception about the culture of hiking?
The first thing you think of is someone who is really fit. We think of granola types who are very comfortable in the outdoors. When I started hiking all the books I read and most of what I did was Appalachian Trail based so the community was fairly extreme. I was hanging out with people who did long distance hiking so that became my idea of the norm. I don’t think that’s an impression among other non-hikers. Most other women I run into don’t know A.T. People do assume you have to be fit.
When I ask what are they worried about people talk about needing the right gear or needing to already be fit. You don’t have to be that way to hike. Hiking is just walking on the dirt.
How is Trail Dames challenging this? How does Trail Dames fit into the culture of hiking?
Hikers don’t put such narrow definitions on hiking. People accept everyone else. We put our own limitations on it. People who are out there all the time, I don’t think they care who else is there as long as you’re being respectful.
Here’s the cool thing. Look at you, an extremely experienced A.T. and PCT hiker. The only difference between you and some Dames is that at some point you believed you can do it, and you went out and did it.
I’m trying to take women and say you can do that if you want - inspiring the confidence. A lot of women who come to Trail Dames [hiking] it’s never occurred to them. They’ve got great lives and hiking never occurred to them. It’s putting the option of having a goal of hiking in front of them. Big girls never believe they can do this.
It’s kind of waking up their mind to the idea “ hey, come try this.” They blossom trail wise. They were blossoming otherwise it their lives, too. We just opened the door to this one aspect for them.
They’re identifying as Trail Dames. They’re identifying as this thing.
Let’s talk numbers. How many members and how many chapters do you have?
Nationally there are about 2000. There are seven chapters are on the website – three that started a few weeks ago. Four more made commitments on the week of The Summit.
Technically we have 14 chapters, but ten for sure are hiking. We’re getting ready to have Ohio, Maine, and second Virginia Chapter, in Charlottesville.
Is Trail Dames a bridge for members to other things?
It will depend on the members. When I talk about people coming for a season –it’s a bridge to another part of their life. We have people who join us then become more serious hikers. They leave to more extensive hiking. They go on to riding horses, kayaking, or writing a book. It depends on the member. If it’s a bridge –that’s great too.
Is there anything I haven’t asked?
It’s helping women believe they can dream. Women are identifying as Trail Dames. To me it’s really important to truly give women on the fringes an opportunity. I want to make sure it’s still accessible to everyone – 300 lbs, 70 or blind. There is nothing else accessible for them. Whether they fit my definition of Trail Dame or not, they’ve all come. As long as it doesn’t push out unfit women. It really is for all women.
What are the distances for Trail Dames hikes?
We have a regular Trail Dames hikes that are 3.5 to 5 miles long. Those are very poplar. We have dynamic hikes beyond that can be 10 miles long. They can be strenuous. We offer both equally so there’s a place for everyone. I’ve asked the other chapters to stay in those parameters. Anyone can do 3.5 miles even if I have to hold her hand, even if it takes 4.5 hours.
I moved away from my North Carolina home at the end of 2009. I left for the west, bound for my own love story in British Columbia with a man I thought was “the one.”
The fact that my friends threw me a romance-themed party didn’t seem as fitting at the time as it does now. After all, I was leaving in pursuit of love and romance.
At the time, it just seemed funny and topical. I had just given away hundreds of romance novels, but the gift did not stick. It came back to me so that I was forced to give them away again. The gist of the party was (per my friends who planned it) not only to see me off but also to give attendees romance novels as party favors.
The Saga of the Romance Novels
After my mom passed away, the cleaning began. I took on the sorting, the organizing and the purging. If not because I felt the most capable of my family members (and I am) but for fear that anyone else might be careless and discard something I valued. If any item seemed less than important to me but might have meaning to someone else it was my plan to vet the discard through the family committee before chucking it.
When I unearthed boxes and boxes and boxes of romance novels, I knew no one would miss them. They went first, and without me asking a soul.
I loaded them in my trunk and delivered them to the person I knew had a secret passion for romance novels; it was a “habit” she picked up courtesy of time spent on the middle school swim team. She received them with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning – opening boxes, giggling at the cover art, and browsing back covers. Despite talking smack about the content and the themes (Scottish Highland settings, the young bride, paranormal, and Westerns) the tremor in her voice exposed her elation with the gift. And, I felt proud. There’s nothing better than giving someone something they love, and she clearly loves romance novels.
Her girlfriend was less than pleased with the gift. And this I understand. Because when your loved one slips into a trance – an open-eyed comma where she appears alive to the world but can not be pulled into the moment of here-and-now – you begin to hate that thing that drives the distraction. You hate that book. You hate the fantasy your loved one is living. You hate being second-class to fictional characters. And so, Megan made Elizabeth return the books to me.
It was the best possible scenario. Megan got her girlfriend back. Elizabeth didn’t have to witness the books being “disposed of” unceremoniously at Goodwill before she finished with them, and they reasoned that I now had “party favors” to give my other friends who came to my going away party which was now dubbed a romantic affair.
They made an invitation to the party, complete with picture of a shirtless man with He-Man upper-body strength in an embrace with a woman, her shoulder exposed where her burgundy dress sleeve had slipped off. Her comment bubble reads: “Tapas, Darling, Not topless.” That is how the theme of my party was born.
My friends only ended up taking a third of the party favors I had available. (I’m pretty sure Elizabeth left with three parting gifts.) I schlepped the remaining ones to the used bookstore and was able to sell half of them there, gaining a $17 credit to Mr. K’s. The rest, the final third – undesired by friends and the used bookstore – were welcomed into the open arms of the collection bin at Goodwill. Good riddance.
Do you know how hard that is to say when you are in your early 20s?
People conjure up the hot and steamy sex scenes, and immediately you know they are thinking about you, your mom, and sex!
I often got asked if I read her work. Early on I had to answer yes. I had been trying to support her and provide feedback.
But I was not her ideal audience. I knew nothing about romance novels. I had never read any.
And, by the way, never read anything she wrote that made me do more than blush a bit.
As her confidence in her writing grew so did her connections to other romance writers. She developed a network of authors, editors, critics, and friends. They took over the role of supporting her in ways I had done as she just started out.
But, I heard story lines and character sketches, and knew when the plot took a new twist. I heard when she had a fresh idea for a new paranormal romance set in England. And I loved that she was writing. I was also glad she wasn’t reading the damned things as much. I gloried in the fact that she was using her creative energy; she’s a visual artist, too.
And if I swap between using present tense and past, it is because I do not know if she is here or not. She died in 2008. But I still feel her with me, and so sometimes it is hard to pull away enough to say “she was a visual artist” especially when I live in a museum filled with her vision. Landscapes of coasts and countryside. Birds, flowers, family portraits. A series examining the Civil War. Creation. A textile print. A sculpture of dancers.
Now I have an idea to share in her work, her vision and her creative energy. It's an idea to un-do the romance. Not to shatter her work but to shift its composition. A partnership between me, my mother, and our words.
What do you think of romance novels? Are the cliché? Formulaic? Dastardly? Uplifting? Do they offer truth or a saga?
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|
|From Run 2011, Apr20|