A Book Club takes a Walk in the Woods – by Jill Hinton

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There is something so breathtaking, so remarkable, so…fun about backpacking with women.

Don’t get me wrong, the natural scenery is pretty amazing. But can we take just a moment here recognize that women who backpack aren’t like other women? They’re strong. They’re open to taking risks. They’re pretty much the most amazing thing ever

Or at least that’s what I learned during a 3-day backpacking trip I led the weekend of Sept. 20-22 with five women — three of whom had never been backpacking before. We hiked the Manistee River Loop, a 20+ mile hike that covers the NCT through some of the most magnificent outdoor scenery in Michigan. (The waterfalls! The river! The woods!)

A Walk in the Woods — literally

This trip was offered by the Outdoor Book Club, a little company I launched this past February to help women get outdoors and get out of their comfort zones, while in the company of good books (and book lovers). For this trip, I chose Bill Bryson’s seminal backpacking tome, A Walk in the Woods. Everyone read the book beforehand, and when we rendezvoused at the Seaton Creek Campground, I passed out little care packages that included oatmeal cream pies (one of Bryson’s favorites) and hiking-themed bookmarks.

As the women hefted the backpacks filled with gear (which I had provided as part of the experience) on to their shoulders, the discussions about the book started. We talked about obnoxious trail companions, the rate at which American forests are disappearing, and of course bears. Bryson was notably concerned about bears through the whole book (coincidentally, I’d spotted one the week before while scouting out the trail). In fact, I had invited Bryson to join us on the trip, even though my trips usually are strictly women. His daughter wrote me back, thanking me for the offer, but said her dad was busy in the UK working on his latest book. Bummer.

The trip would have been amazing if the weather had been beautiful and sunny the whole time — but instead, we braved thunderstorms, blisters and even falling trees over the three days we were on the trail. But I’m also pretty sure it wouldn’t have been as memorable if the weather had been beautiful. (During a particularly thunderous 6am storm, I called out to the other women in their tents: “Everyone okay?” I got a resounding “YES! THAT WAS AWESOME!”)

The waterfalls!

How women hike differently than men

It’s not that our technique is different — we put one foot in front of the other, just like the dudes. But we tend to approach the challenge differently: instead of being competitive, we’re supportive. Instead of every man for himself, it’s a time of bonding and creating lasting relationships. Oh, and instead of beef jerky and freeze-dried bag meals, it’s hot, delicious shepherd’s pie, washed down with red wine. (Women definitely bring better snacks.)

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What did we learn that weekend? To find our way out of  the woods, and our comfort zones, even those of us who were experienced backpackers. The women who hiked alongside me that weekend had never have felt as elated, brave and — okay, bad ass — as they did crossing that suspension bridge at the end of the three days. Tired, wet and asking when we could go again.

Jill Hilton

All photos courtesy of Donna Wilson.

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