With the recent release of the movie Wild, Lois Pryce (an avid female explorer) wrote a piece about female explorers and why they aren’t often in the spotlight. While describing a scene from the movie where the main character is afraid (due to the fact that she is a girl) Pryce explains that “the scene captures two fundamental truths about the female experience on the road. Firstly, that a woman travelling alone is conditioned to expect the worst and, secondly, that this fear is unfounded because, actually, most people are kind, hospitable and curious. I know this from first-hand experience; I have lived that exact scene (including the husband line) all over the world, from Alaska to Angola to Iran during the round-the-world journeys that I have taken on my dirtbike. I never quite lost my wariness, but my instinct became honed and I learnt to trust it.”
Like all of the solo female explorers in our world, I too have learned to push aside the fears and concerns about my gender that out society has bred into me in order to trust my own instincts and therefore thrive in our kind and hospitable world. The scariest part is not setting out on an adventure alone, but rather not setting out for that very same reason. Pryce goes on to point out that the few girls who have made it into mainstream media (like Wild and Eat, Pray, Love) all set out to adventure in order to overcome something – be it drugs, divorce, or other problems – whereas men such as George Mallory can climb Everest simply “because it’s there.” People constantly ask me why I am doing this, and it’s hard for some to see that I have no reason other than “because I want to.” As Pryce points out: “The common perception is that a women traveling alone and living “dangerously” can’t possibly be doing it for fun, or as a personal challenge or simply to see the world – she must be escaping some kind of personal turmoil… Can’t women just hit the trail because they’re curious about some place they haven’t been before? Because they want to test their wits in the big wide world? Because they crave excitement and unpredictability and want the thrill of waking up to a different view each day?”
Those of you who were with me for my solo adventures know that I started this blog as an attempt to change common perception, to show that there is nothing wrong, or even surprising, about females taking off to live the life of their dreams because if men can do it, why can’t we? And I’m anything but alone in doing it. There are women of all ages and backgrounds doing stunning expeditions all over the world, and have been doing so for decades, and though they aren’t in the media (yet), it’s worth the research to find them because once you do, their stories are incredibly eye opening and inspiring. Pryce once asked why there was no famous female version of Bear Grylls, and a leading talent agent described to her how he had once tried to sell “a memoir by a female extreme marathon runner, which was repeatedly rejected by publishers on the basis that “people aren’t interested in women’s adventures”. The suggestion being that even in the 21st century there is something discomfiting about the image of a gung-ho, capable female. As the truck driver in Wild says to his wife as they sit down to dinner with Cheryl: “Don’t go getting any ideas about joining her.” A wild, free woman is a dangerous concept.”
But the concept of a free wild women isn’t dangerous as I’ve hopefully proven by now, so I’m here to tell you about some of the greatest adventures ever completed, all of which were done by women.
Robyn Davidson – 1,700 miles on foot across the Australian desert
I first ran into “the camel women’s” story a few weeks ago after watching the fascinating movie “Tracks” which depicts this young women’s courageous journey across Australia. In the 1980’s Davidson set out on a nine month journey, on foot, across 1,7000 miles of the harshest terrain our world has to offer, alone except for her four camels and a dog. The best part about it was that she didn’t think it was a big deal, in fact, she didn’t really tell anyone she was going as she just wanted to be left alone. And that’s only the beginning, for the past thirty year she has been studying various nomadic tribes, and has been on adventures of all kinds, including migrating with nomads in India for two years in the early 1990’s. Click here for an article with some of the original photos from her Australian journey, and make sure to check out her memoirs “Tracks” or watch the movie in order to find our more about this astounding women!
Annie Londonderry – first women to bicycle around the world (1894)
Annie Londonerry was the first women to cycle around the world (in 1894), and in doing so, this amazing lady opened the world of cycle touring to me all of these years later. She left, having never pedaled a bicycle before, from Boston and returned fifteen months later a new women. “I am a journalist and ‘a new woman,'” she wrote, “if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.” And boy was she right.
Bessie Stringfield – first back women to ride motorcycle across USA at 19 year old (1930)
Bessie Stringfield, or the “motorcycle queen of Miami” showed the world equality when she became the first African American women to ride her motorcycle across the USA, and later, during World War Two, served as one of the few motorcycle despatch riders for the United States military. Though she is virtually unknown to most, this women is an inspiration as she set out to do what she wanted to do, despite the obvious challenges the society she grew up in laid down before her.
Harriet Chalmers Adams – 20th century explorer and traveler
She traversed the Andes by horseback, traveled extensively throughout Asia, and captivated thousands of people with her National Georgaohic articles and speeches. “I’ve wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration. Why did women never go to the Arctic, try for one pole or the other, or invade Africa, Thibet, or unknown wildernesses? I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked courage to protect myself. I’ve been in tight places and have seen harrowing things.”
These four women are just four of thousands, so make sure to check out WOW (Women on Wheels) for some inspiration from modern female cyclists like myself, or check out this Wikipedia link which lists some of the most accomplished female explorers ever documented.
Our world is a wonderful place, and I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to encourage any solo women to travel by themselves as they will see as I have just how wonderful it can be. We are raised by a society that tells us gals that we need to be afraid, but once we take that first step, we see that the thing we should be afraid of is holding ourselves back due to our gender. Go out there gals, there are thousands of solo females cycling, traveling, climbing, and living the life of their dreams all over the world, and you certainly don’t need to wait for a buy in order to start. Never let being a female stop you, instead, let it enhance your adventures wherever they may take you. Dads, encourage your daughters just as you would encourage your sons, and girls, don’t let some peoples hesitations stop you, by showing others that it’s possible you too are promoting equality.
“We still live in an age when girls and women are told to be pretty, obedient and afraid, where colleges advise female students on how to avoid being raped and we can buy nail varnish that tests whether our drinks have been spiked. It’s been slow progress, but in the last century we’ve got used to women in the workplace, in politics and business, driving cars, owning property, wearing trousers and all manner of activities that may once have been considered shocking. I hope and believe that we will see a time when a woman can set out alone to roam her world freely, without explanation or justification, and without fear.” – Pryce