The night I camp on this ridge is the first time I feel scared or nervous on the trail.
Not from bears or mountain lions – although they are always possibilities – but from people. Men.
Earlier in the day I passed a group of day hikers. Some of the women stopped me to inquire about PCT hiking.
‘You are alone?’ they always ask, concern in their furrowed brows. ‘Yes!’
“But there are always other hikers there,” I answer happily. ‘Do you have a gun?’ is the usual follow-up question. “How about mace?” “Nope,” I tell them and wave them off.
In the late afternoon I meet a hunter/fisherman who encourages me to chat. He is pleasant and inquisitive, like most day hikers we meet. He asks me where I’m camping that night and I tell him without thinking and then immediately regret it when he says he plans to camp there too. Instead, I set up camp about a mile from there. There are no other PCT hikers in sight, I haven’t seen one in hours.
I’m sitting on a rock eating my dinner away from my sleeping pad when I hear a trail runner approaching.
When he comes into view, he sees my camp and starts screaming – he swears loudly and fingers my sleeping pad. Then he sees me on my rock and yells at me too – most of what he says is in Spanish but the swearing is in English. He is angry, spitting and gesturing wildly. Then he keeps walking. I have absolutely no idea what just happened.
Just as I’m about to go to bed, the hunter/fisherman appears. He stops to talk to me again and then clambers over a ledge, whether to make his own camp or continue down I don’t know. I can’t see him anymore even though he’s only a few meters away. I’m considering packing up and leaving. It’s already dark and I’m exhausted, but these two men really freaked me out.
i stay where i am I don’t sleep well that night and I don’t see either man again.
When I started this trail my plan was never hitchhike alone or stay alone with a trail angel.
Ghost was the first person to drive me (with two other women and one man) to Julian. He’s a well-known trail angel who’s been offering rides for a long time. His advice to us was Don’t rely on water caches and that the women never hitchhike alone, and if need be – to refuse rides from men. It was good advice and well-intentioned, although any solo woman will tell you she’s getting tired of hearing it. Tired of thinking about it, tired of even thinking about this shit.
Like the directive not to go to parks at night, the PCT on how not to be raped or murdered is a litany of warnings for women to be vigilant and to change their plans to take account of the dangers posed by men.
Don’t hike alone. Don’t camp alone. Don’t hitchhike alone. Don’t stay alone with Trail Angels. Do not use public toilets alone. Don’t post your location while you’re still in that city. carry club. carry a knife Carry a gun. Don’t make men angry. Don’t be teasing. In the words of Courtney Barnett, men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.
A police officer once told me that if I don’t want to be raped I should give men an explicit list (preferably in writing) of the things I don’t agree with before things start, you know, so there’s no confusion.
Turns out that doesn’t work, and in a one-person tent in the woods, there’s not much room for objection.
When I first injured my legs, I could barely walk. I messaged a Trail Angel who had his number on FarOut asking for a ride into town.
When I got into his car, the first thing he asked me was, ‘Why do you feel comfortable riding alone with a man?’
I didn’t know how to answer that, so I got in the car anyway. This was a hiker-friendly city, wasn’t it? And my leg got fucked. He took me to his home where another hiker was said to be, although I saw no sign of her. In the car, he kept buying up that most women don’t hitchhike alone or stay alone with trail angels. Cool story bro.
Standing in his kitchen, he told me he was looking for a woman with traditional values and vaguely suggested I could make him dinner that night if I wanted to.
He showed me around the house, led me to his bedroom and bathroom, and offered me to use his shower instead of the guest shower. When he finally showed me the basement where I would be sleeping, I was relieved to finally see the supposed “other wanderer” who was staying with him. I wasn’t that relieved to find that there was no door to the basement and no lock. I didn’t sleep with my ear plugs on that night. In fact, I didn’t sleep. I had planned to stay at this place for a few days while my leg healed, but the damn I was there in the morning.
I’ve heard stories about this Trail Angel from other hikers, and I’ve heard stories about other Trail Angels as well. A wandering angel in a desert town suggested that a woman hiker “strip” as payment for a ride.
Hitchhiking alone is not as easy as it seems when you are a solo hiker. People tell you to “just wait for other hikers to show up and hitchhike with them,” but sometimes that’s not as sensible as it sounds. As it turned out, I hitchhiked a lot alone. And overall I’ve been very lucky. Solo women often pick me up, sometimes with their kids in the car. They always tell me they only stopped for me because I was a solo woman.
It’s a reminder that hitchhiking is just as risky and nerve-wracking for female drivers as it is for hikers.
I was in the Wrightwood-Acton department when James Parillo was spotted in the area. He is notorious for having been accused of multiple rapes and kidnappings of PCT migrants over the past decade, although he has never been convicted. In this section, I received messages from almost every woman I’d hiked with, sharing information – what milestones it was seen at, where it may be now, recent photos and descriptions. Women in towns also constantly warned us that he had been sighted in the area.
One night in Wrightwood I had eaten half a grass biscuit that a section hiker had given me. Everything moved in slow motion for the rest of the night. I went back to our Airbnb with an 18 year old hiker who asked me what to do if she bumped into James Parillo.
Feeling very wise and intoxicated, I calmly explained to her how to rip his ears off – the ears you see are not very attached to the head at all.
This was the section where I started hiking solo, trying to get back on the trail after an injury that meant my trail family preceded me. When I was 27 miles from Acton I realized it was untenable to continue. I could hardly put any weight on my leg. I was 3.5 miles from a major road so I decided to try to Uber into Acton RV Park from there. But there was no cell service.
I asked a middle-aged woman eating a sandwich in her truck parked on the freeway which way Acton was going so I could hitchhike. She pointed to me and said she would like to take me with her, but unfortunately she went the other way. After watching me stand pathetically with thumbs out for a few minutes, she waved me over and then drove 20 miles out of the way to take me to Acton.
As she pulled away from where she dropped me off at the curb, I realized I was in the wrong RV spot. The one closest to the PCT was 3.5 miles from where I was and I could barely limp.
I started limping. Then I changed my mind and went back to the wrong RV park to ask if they had any cabins available. They have not. I tried to get an Uber literally everywhere but still no service. There was no traffic on the road and I couldn’t get a hitch.
After a while, the women who worked the front desk at the RV park obviously took pity on me and came outside to take a smoke break and sit with me.
These women don’t know what PCT is and don’t understand why I’m hiking, but they want to keep me company and warn me about Parillo.
They researched photos and articles for me just because I am a woman traveling alone. A woman offers to drive me to Palmdale to get a hotel for the night when she finishes her shift. She lives on the RV site so at the end of her workday it will be an hour round trip for her.
She makes sure I have a booking at one of the “safe hotels” and I promise her I won’t go out after dark. Neither she nor the woman who picked me up off the street will accept money for gas.
These women will set the tone for dozens of women who will help me over the next few months. They will take me, shelter me and comfort me later.
Sitting in a park one afternoon drinking bottled wine and potato salad with someone else’s spork, another hiker in her mid-30s and I are going to tell a younger woman about the magic of women’s restrooms in bars and nightclubs.
They’re the purest place on earth, we tell her. Everything you need is in there. Someone to hold back your hair when you’re sick, someone to adjust your bra straps when you’ve danced them loose, someone to check your lipstick, someone to tell you you’re beautiful and Yes, really mean it. Someone to tell you that men are garbage and that the incident in the one-person tent wasn’t your fault, even though you couldn’t stop apologizing for it.
This site contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service that you purchase through the links in the articles or ads. The buyer pays the same price as usual and your purchase helps support The Trek’s ongoing goal of providing you with quality backpacking advice and information. Thank you for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Website page.