If my mom were to have a trail name, my 17 year old self most certainly would have told you it was “Dream Crusher.”
The dream she was consistently trying to quell was none other than walking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, or really any dream that symbolized her young, petite daughter venturing out alone in the world.
When I closed my eyes and envisioned the trail, I conjured images of blooming spring flowers, craggy peaks, dirty, joyful hikers, and ultimate freedom. When my mother set her head down to rest amidst the commotion of the bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia, her mind wandered to the darkest potentialities.
As someone who had never really hiked, camped, or even heard of the Appalachian Trail, my mother’s mind naturally conjured very different images than my own. It felt at the time like she could only see this dream of mine ending in an inevitable obituary. Whether the obituary read that I had fallen prey to a bloody bear attack, a “Deliverance-esque” encounter, a fatal lightning strike, or a venomous snake bite, was unclear. The one thing that was certain was that she had taken an oath to protect me from the moment I was placed in her arms.
I remember vividly yelling mid-sob across the kitchen table, “You just won’t let me go hike solo because I’m a girl!” This was both the exact reason she thought it was a terrible idea and the reason I felt it was so important that I complete a thru-hike.
I come from a long line of city-dwelling women who have lived in a constant state of vigilance and fear. A single oversight, and I was taught that I’d be abducted, raped and murdered (probably in that order). I hypothesize that this intergenerational paranoia has 3 roots; 1) an evolutionary, maternal drive to protect one’s offspring, 2) a socio-historical context of sexual aggression towards women, and 3) the incessant fear mongering of the media. Whatever the root, my mother and grandmother had certainly consumed enough 20/20 episodes in their lifetimes to have a loaded arsenal of examples as to exactly why I couldn’t do “this kind of thing.”
Given my upbringing, It was a shock when my 13 year old self stumbled upon an aspiring female thru-hiker in New Jersey who had walked all the way there from Georgia solo. My mind couldn’t quite comprehend the existence of this radiant, strong woman. Her existence alone disproved a narrative I had been fed my whole life in terms of what it meant to be a woman in the world. Meeting her was the first step in my own wild journey of unlearning intergenerational fear. To her, I’m sure this was just another day trudging north.
I marveled at her hairy, sturdy calves as she ascended the mountain ahead of my summer camp group, becoming an increasingly smaller speck on the horizon. I couldn’t help but wonder how it was that she looked so at peace with nothing but the belongings on her back. I couldn’t help but ask myself how it was that she appeared so much happier and healthier than the groomed women I saw sipping Starbucks in the city with weighted shopping bags dangling from their wrists. Something was stirring inside of me. Someplace in my heart knew that this was the kind of woman I wanted to be. Somehow I knew that this was the way I would stop the cycle of fear and paranoia that had plagued the women in my family for too long.
Fast forward 13 years and 5,000 miles since that fateful moment, and I would now dub my mother with a new trail name; “Armchair Adventurer.”
My mom finding the only shopping opportunity on the Appalachian Trail at the ATC in Harpers Ferry, WV
She learned with time that my adventures were not the foreshadowing of a gory horror film, and that no, she couldn’t hire a sherpa to carry my stuff and protect me. She learned that the majority of the men on the trail would look out for me, not seek to harm me, and that even if she made me carry 3 phones with different cell phone carriers, I’d occasionally not be able to check in.
No amount of adventure books or awe-inspiring photos will ever help her fully fathom why my soul demanded that I walk for 6 months without creature comforts and saunter my way up to Maine. While I carried the three phones and did my best to alleviate her discomfort throughout my hikes, I refused to carry the weight of her fear. It was simply too heavy for thru-hiking.
And with time she vicariously came along for the ride. That ride may have been from her Tempur-Pedic mattress in her wrought-iron four poster bed (that she ironically calls “the enchanted forest”), but she was there with me every step of the way.
Little did I know during my hike that my mom was making me this jacket with patches of every state the trail passes through. Left: my trail name on the AT in 2017. Right: my trail name on the AT in 2015
If you were to meet my mom now and mention the Appalachian Trail she would most likely light up with delight and chuckle. She would then proceed to tell you about the 2,200 mile footpath that spans one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. She would tell you about the quirky hostel culture that surrounds the trail, the docile black bears that inhabit Shenandoah National Park, the brutally rocky terrain of Pennsylvania, and the best spots to send resupply boxes along the way. She may even go as far as to say she herself has thru-hiked this rigorous trail… well kind of. At the very least she has upgraded her trail name from “Dream Crusher” to “Armchair Adventurer.”
Alina “Abstract” Drufovka is a Colombian-American painter and illustrator based out of Philadelphia, PA. She has hiked the Appalachian Trail (2015 & 2017), Pacific Crest Trail (2019) and Israel National Trail (2018). She is also an outdoor professional and hopes to inspire more women and people of color to get outside and explore the trails!
The longest I’ve hiked alone is a week, but the majority of my hikes over the last twenty-five years have been solo. I get the same reaction from a lot of my female friends: “Aren’t you afraid of …?”
The answer will always be yes. I fear the unknown. But living and hiding in fear of the unknown are mutually exclusive. I remind them I’m far safer in the backcountry than I am crossing a mall parking lot. We have a false sense of security that comes from other people being around us.
As I’ve aged and various body parts have taken a greater beating than others, my biggest fear now is my own body letting me down. I fear being injured in a manner that doesn’t require evacuation but saps my energy & will. I know how whiny I get when I’m hurting, and even I don’t like to be around me. I’ve had my share of bad days during which I’m chanting “relentless forward motion” for hours. Even the bad days are worth it, though.
Oof I so needed to read this! Resonates deeply. The fear is real. So is the wild.
What a lovely article! As another mom who could also be trail-named “Dream Crusher,” I totally get it. I tried to pay my son an extremely large amount of money to NOT hike the PCT, but I love his courage and was lucky enough to be able to meet up with him and several of the hikers he met along the way. As my son goes after new challenges, I still worry, but try to temper it with respect for his intelligence and experience.
I admire you so much, not just for following your dream, but also granting your mom the gift of understanding her fears and knowing the depth of her caring for you. People like you and my son inspire me, but so does your mom!! Thank you for sharing this!