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Tag: Tracks

The wasted energy of being a girl

The world is a dangerous place for little girls. Besides, little girls are more fragile, more delicate, more brittle than little boys. ‘Watch out, be careful, watch,’ ‘Don’t climb trees, don’t dirty your dress, don’t accept lifts from strange men. Listen but don’t learn, you won’t need it.’ And so the snail’s antennae grow, watching for this, looking for that, the underneath of things. The threat. And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to quelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.

-Robyn Davidson, Tracks

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Rick Smolan’s photo of Robyn Davidson on the cover of the May 1978 issue of National Geographic.

A few months ago I wrote about various stories of solo female travel and mentioned I’d seen the film version of Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. I’ve finally got round to reading the book now, and it’s even better than I hoped it would be.

This book feels more honest than almost any other personal story I’ve ever read. It has a line, but there are also moments of stream-of-consciousness wandering from that line that remind me of my own frantic scribbles in my notebook trying to capture moments and knowing that no bit of writing really can.

Davidson herself says that her own journal of the trip is made of of letters never sent and random bits of fact sprinkled among longer passages, sometimes thick and fast, and sometimes lacking entries for over a month. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I was getting a true view not only of the bits of an experience someone could remember properly enough, but of a realistic writing process. You don’t get the sense anything’s being hidden here. She doesn’t care what you think, and at times she barely knows what she herself thinks, which she’s straight about every time she notices it happening.

There’s a lot in the book about being so far from humans and societal norms that it’s shocking how fast the need for those conventions fades, and how difficult it then is to grasp when you need to reinstate them. She did a lot of walking around the desert naked and talking only to camels and her dog for ages at a time. She talks about how refreshing it was to not have to worry a lick about being pretty or attractive or anything else typically associated with being a woman because none of that mattered. But regardless of that, once she was back in a city, she realised she couldn’t function in society as though she was in the desert, and it’s kind of crazy to try.

In the afterward in the edition I read, written in 2012 presumably right as they were working on the film, Davidson says she doesn’t recognise the person in the book. That after writing the story and releasing all of it into the world, the memories started to fade and she can only hold on to bits and pieces of something that was so long ago and so far removed from most everyday experiences. I find this to be true of just about every experience I ever have, whether or not I write about it.

The difficulty in writing a travel blog for me is that I don’t ever think it will communicate my actual experience of a trip or a time or anything. What it’s really like is so tied up in the myriad of things that have happened to me before and the current personal dramas and demons running through my head while I’m in a place that what the experience of a trip does to me or means to me is just not something that comes out in words. (I mean, why do you think I write so much about food? At least that’s a thing that everyone can experience tangibly.)

This website is part exercise in self-discipline (it is incredibly difficult to stick to a self-imposed writing schedule, but it’s also good for me), part learning experience, part personal record, and part ongoing motivation to take the first step. As Davidson says, that first step really is the hardest part of anything. It’s so easy to talk myself out of things when I live most of my life inside my own head. I am reasonably strong-willed when I want to be, but writing about all this and telling everyone I know about my plans is probably the main thing that prevents me chickening out.

I was talking to someone I’m only newly friends with in the pub the other night and when it was time for a subject change, he said ‘So, is your trip planned yet?’ which caught me way off guard because I’ve been waffling about what I want lately. But this is why it’s one of the first things I ever told him about, and why it’s something every one of my friends knows I’m thinking about. Because that kind of question is what keeps me straight. It takes the whole thing out of my own head and makes it real. It gets everyone pushing me through the first step.

As for Tracks, I really needed the mental push it’s given me. I needed reminding that I can do something for myself that may turn out completely differently than I picture it, but life will still go on on the other side of it. I highly, highly recommend reading it. (And if you’re not completely in love with camels by the time you’re through, you’ve probably got a heart made of concrete.)

Here’s a few images from the real trip and the film on National Geographic’s website, and some of Rick Smolan’s chat about photographing the trip. Worth a look.

Klara Harden’s Made in Iceland and other stories of solo female journeys

MADE IN ICELAND from Klara Harden

I don’t remember how I originally came across the link to Klara Harden‘s record of her solo trek through Iceland, so unfortunately I can’t properly credit that lead. I saw it around the time she first posted it so there was probably some interweb buzz. And rightfully so. This video has stuck with me. It’s incredibly well done, but more importantly, it makes me feel like I can do whatever the hell I want on my own and it will be totally fine.

This was brought to the surface in my brain again recently because I saw the film Tracks, which is based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir about walking across the Australian Outback from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with her dog and four camels. Occasionally joined by a National Geographic photographer, but mostly alone. It is FANTASTIC. The actual book is now on my list because I want to read the non-film-ified story. But movie version or not, hearing these stories about women is refreshing because it’s so much more common to see films or read books about men going off by themselves into the big bad world. And these two stories are very different, but they’re GOOD. There’s a lot of truth without bravado.

The world needs more stories like these because the world – unfortunately – often needs to be reminded that women are just as capable as men of having these adventures on their own. We’re all just humans. We can take care of ourselves. We can handle nature and we can do it alone if we want to.

Happily, we’ve got another story like this coming our way. Cheryl Strayed’s (excellent) memoir Wild, about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail alone, has been made into a film. In a recent interview, Reese Witherspoon said:

I’ve never seen a film like Wild where the woman ends up with no man, no money, no family, no opportunity, but she still has a happy ending.

And I don’t think that’s to say they don’t exist, but they are few and far between, and SO MANY PEOPLE haven’t regularly seen stories like that.

I’m lucky in that no one ever really TOLD me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. (My family is great.) But when you’re a kid, you pick up on what’s generally accepted in society for girls without anyone having to spell it out for you. Even if you decide to rail against that, it hangs in the air around you. It’s exhausting enough to do the work required to take your own adventure. The feeling that you’re fighting the expectations of an entire society at the same time just make it that bit more of a slog.

Women certainly face slightly more challenging circumstances in solo travel than men. It’s unfortunate but we have to be a little more careful in general, of the public – of men in particular – and differing cultural expectations. And maybe we always will. But letting the world use that as an excuse or a reason to tell us we shouldn’t do something is frustrating and self-perpetuating. By showing more stories of women navigating extraordinary journeys on their own and for their own reasons, we help create a world where people see that as just fine because they see it working. And, importantly, working independently. Not in relation to a man.

I don’t know if I’ll ever walk and camp my way through Iceland or somewhere equally amazing by myself, but these stories make me want to. And they remind me that I can.