By Di Westaway | Founder and Chief Adventure Chick at Wild Women On Top
My first taste of hiking was hellish. It came from the world of men... a world in which we raced silently through the bush; no scenic loo-with-a-view stops, no rejuvenating cuppa tea on a lookout, no plunging into icy mountain streams and no frolicking in wild freshia fields. And definitely no delicious nutritious food. Just add boiling water.
We were carrying 23kg backpacks on the Overland Track in Tasmania and the mission was to finish fast. The destination, not the journey. The summit, not the adventure. The time, not the team.
My second taste of adventure was worse. We were out to “conquer” an Andean peak in a “dog-eat-dog” adventure where only “summiters” win. One man won, the rest of us failed.
Magic moments were not on the menu. Laughing till it hurts... snuggling into a warm cocoon beside a babbling brook... sucking dark chocolate roast macadamia nuts from a clifftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset... a helping hand and wise words in a moment of panic. None of this.
There was none of this magic when I went hiking with men.
Fortunately, these wild experiences didn’t frighten me off. I’d had a taste of adventure and I wanted more, but I didn't want to do it like this. I wanted to do it with women. So I reached out to see if other women wanted some too.
But these women were hard to find. Statistics show women are the minority when it comes to outdoor adventure. If you look at most adventurous activities, such as adventure racing, mountaineering, mountain biking, kayaking, surfing and trail running, there are a whole lot more men than women.
In fact, if you go back just 50 years, you’ll find even bushwalking was a man’s domain with men-only bushwalking, climbing and mountaineering clubs. Adventure wasn’t women’s business and women who loved the magic of outdoor adventures often had to do it secretly with women... and in ridiculously inappropriate clothing.
I enjoy the company of men so I tried trekking with my husband. Being a SNAG, he liked magic moments and gourmet food, but things soured when we got lost. It wasn’t his fault. It was our genes. Even though I was more experienced in the wild, I trusted him because he was bigger, stronger and more confident. We argued and got more lost. Then he got a piece of stick stuck in his leg and somehow it was my fault.
So, I learned that women and men are as different in the wild as they are in the workplace. Whether its nature or nurture, women often lack confidence and faith in their ability to face fear and manage risk. And this made me realise that my passion for adventure must focus on women because women want and need extra help to go wild.
For women, it's about the journey, not the destination.
As this year’s International Women’s Day theme is “balance for better”, I feel extremely proud and privileged to be part of a fast-growing community of women who are changing the balance in adventure activities. Women’s only adventure groups such as Travel Play Live, She Went Wild, Adventurous Women, Girls Trek and Melbourne Girls Outside to name just a few, have joined Wild Women On Top in our quest to get more women outdoors, and are working hard to support women in their adventure goals and to share the health and wellbeing benefits with others.
Our mission to inspire and empower women to lead adventurous lives they love through shared hiking adventures strikes at the heart of this theme. Here at the Wild Women On Top head office, our team works tirelessly together to lift each other up, rediscovering their strength and power to bring health and vitality to themselves, their communities, their families and friends.
Hiking in nature makes you stronger, fitter, healthier and happier. And my dream is that one day women will enjoy the same level of participation as men in adventurous physical activities because confidence in your physical abilities is one of life’s great gifts.
In celebrating International Women’s Day we stand on the shoulders of giants to acknowledge all the wonderful gains our predecessors have made over the centuries. And now we’re doing it in the wild.
Here's to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.