Before I Could Hike My Own Hike, I Had to Learn to Accept Myself

A chance encounter with a group of friends on an annual, women-only backpacking trip leaves our Colorado Trail correspondent reflecting on how her own life changed her attitude towards the trail.

Photo: Kennan Harvey

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I’ve been spending most of my time on the Colorado Trail solo, and hiking and camping alone for days on end has really made a mark on me, for better or for worse. Being away from the noise of the city has left space open that my mind has filled with both solace and discomfort. It’s empowering, but it can also be lonely.

After I left the Chalk Creek Trailhead near Buena Vista, I spent most of a day leapfrogging the trail with a group of nine women. All of them seemed to be in great spirits, and they acted genuinely happy to see me each time we caught up with each other. With two miles left to go for the day, I rounded a corner and found them camped out together. I waved with my trekking pole and was prepared to hike on when one of them said the magic word: whiskey. What followed was a night full of affirmation, humor and cross-cultural respect.

I’m a 37-year-old single mother with a 13-year-old son. On this hike, I’ve found the space to consider myself in all my fullness: woman, mother, ex-wife, non-profit executive, writer, and more. What I’ve come to realize is that each one of those roles gave me something I needed to succeed on this journey. As a young mother, I learned about making sacrifices with love. By the time I reached my late 30s, I moved with the kind of self-awareness and reflection that only develops with age.

The freedom to be myself, as I define me, is one of the things I find so valuable in femme-specific spaces. That was one thing I had in common with my new friends, who, I discovered, meet every year to hike a segment of the Colorado Trail together.

“I love being out here with a group of women. I leave this weekend every year so empowered and thankful that I have them in my life,” Dana Lapostol of Arvada, shared with me. The women, from all over Colorado, have a varied skill set, which they share freely with each other.

“Learning from men is helpful, but it is different,” said Laurna Kaatz of Denver. “What works for them doesn’t always work for us.”

Hiking solo—without the pressure to conform to anyone else’s expectations—has let me find my own way of being on the Colorado Trail. I try to stay aware of my emotions in my off-trail life, and on-trail, I’m the same way. If I feel like I need to cry, I honor that feeling and allow myself that release. Moving with my emotions instead of against them has helped maintain my center even when the trail became difficult.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently gendered about needing to cry sometimes. But I do believe in holding sacred spaces for my Blackness and also for my femininity. I am not the kind of hiker who feels the drive to push as hard as possible or thinks in terms of “conquering” a trail. I don’t believe that I need to hurt in order to grow. Instead, I view pain as simply one of many different states that I’m moving through on this hike.

Back in camp, I grabbed the proffered flask of chocolate-flavored whiskey and fired up my stove to cook myself a meal. With the day’s mileage over, we made for hungry group—and a jovial one. That night, we would talk about our families, our joys, fears, and losses, the way that only a group of women, in a space just for them, can.