I stood on a slab of slate, my toes dipping into the edge of an isolated lake. I wore only a bra and underwear. Slanted rays of the setting sun glistened off the still water, broken only by four bobbing heads. I wanted to join them, but the moment I submerged myself… my feet went numb—my lungs constricted. I scrambled out. A chilly breeze nibbled the water droplets from my bare skin; I shivered but remained exposed on the edge for a moment longer.
The week of Babe Crew ended in tears.
I was third to arrive at the trail junction where we let off our loads, cracked a beer, and stretched before the last mile back to the cabin. My load was lighter than usual, but I was still surprised to not be the last one.
After a while, Tits* came stomping up the trail, staggering under her towering pack-frame. Her gear hung off loosely, throwing her off balance. Her eyes were dark, her jaw set in a snarl, her shirt ripped to tatters as if she’d fought a bear. She marched past us and threw down her pack before disappearing behind a few trees where we could only hear her distress.
Candy* wasn’t too far behind, but her face was already streaked with tears. She had torn her shirt in half; the shreds now lay over her shoulders. Their packs were heavy, easily over 100 pounds with the rock-working tools. I had nearly thrown up on the pack-in while carrying the 50-yard, steel cable for the grip hoist which must weigh 50 pounds in itself. I was glad to be carrying the empty lunch bag and buckets—the lightest of our gear—over the steep, rocky five miles back to the cabin.
Apparently, I was the only one in the group who took the actual trail, which is at least a half-mile longer than the shortcut across the river. With the water-levels high and their packs so heavy, each of them had a terrifying story to tell. But they weren’t crying because of fear or pain, they cried for the same reason I cried for the first few weeks of the season: they were ashamed that they weren’t stronger. These women who never complained, who laughed when it stormed, who happily threw an ax into a tree for hours… These women who were the strongest women both physically and in spirit that I had ever met still didn’t think they were good enough.
We finished our hike out together, dropped our packs, and submerged ourselves in the lake, muddy boots and all. Then, we paraded back to the trail cabin with our modified WOMEN WORKING sign as our banner leaving evaporating footprints in our wake. But the boy’s crew hadn’t returned yet, so they did not get to see our spectacular display of tattered and grimy clothes and rats’ nests of hair or our smiles at returning home after a successful week of work.
I’ve never considered myself a feminist, though I’m proud to be female and don’t let it stop me from doing anything. The women I got to work with inspired me in many ways, but their ambitions to be strong seemed a bit misplaced. Rather than praising their own improvements, they continuously compared themselves to the men. They weren’t trying to be strong women—they already were—rather, they were being overcome by the same power play dynamics as the men. This type of feminist isn’t trying to make a place for herself in this world, she’s trying to take The Man’s place. We don’t need women in the roles of men; we need a complete reform of society.
At the end of the season, we took a crew picture. It was tradition to yell at the camera: to raise your ax, flex, and scrunch your face into an fierce, wild snarl—the look of a professional trail worker. We stood on railroad tracks, the mountains rising behind us. We were all teeth and tanned skin taunt with muscle. The men threw their shirts to the side, as did the women boasting their black bras with pride. Before the camera took the last shot, Candy threw off her bra and positioned her double-bit ax before her bare breasts.
From the other side of the lens, you can’t even see Candy’s bare breasts behind her ax.
*Note the trail names used here are not their real trail names, but reflect a similar style, and by no means intend offense. From my experience, there are lots of offensive things said in loving ways between close-knit people. In case you’re curious, over the years I have been called: Ifets, Cloud Whisper, Silent Death, Recycling Guru, Phantom, and Lotto.