When it comes to overlanding, this has truly been the year of the woman. And frankly, it’s about time. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the first year women have been out on the road, not by far. It is just the first year we’ve had such visibility within the overlanding community. Since the beginning of time women could be found on trails, back roads, crossing borders – you name it, they have been doing it. In 1929, Clarenore Stinnes circumnavigated the globe in her vehicle. In 1982, Elspeth Beard rode her motorcycle around the world. The first women’s off-road navigation rally was held in Morocco in 1990.
For years, within the overlanding community, women have struggled to find their place. Until recently, recognition was virtually non-existent. Where are our heroes? At popular events, overlanding skills classes were rarely taught by women or if they were, they were sparsely attended. Magazine writers were all male. Gear companies aimed their marketing solely at the guys. Women who dared to overland internationally had to first push through well-meaning concern that masked messages of weakness, victimhood and fear.
This community, as a whole, simply did not reflect the skyrocketing number of women today defying odds and taking chances. It seems clear to me that overlanding brings together vulnerability and bravery in a way that is inherently feminine. Women are BORN for the road and for the intense feelings of freedom that come with wind in your hair and dust at your back.
Anyone who attended an overland rally this year, has been out on the road or who has been paying attention at all, can see that these heroes have finally begun to break through as equals in a space they have long occupied.
Maybe you found yourself trying to find true north as Emily Miller of The Rebelle Rally taught navigation skills to a packed house at Overland Expo West. Perhaps you asked Ashley Giordano of Desk to Glory how to stop bleeding with dandelions as she dropped some herbal medicine “in-the-field” knowledge at the Northwest Overland Rally. Have you watched the recent all-female episode of “Overlander,” produced by Rachelle Croft of “Expedition Overland,” that once again demonstrated anything the boys can do, the girls can do…I don’t have to say it, you know how the phrase goes. Karin Balsley and myself, of Vagabroads spoke about preparing for a Central American overland trip at the Northwest Overland Rally. Taylor Pawley of Running from Monday presented an Intro to Overlanding class at the Ladies Off-road Network Convention. The list goes on and on.
Online overlanding forums are filled with helpful information and endless experience but for a woman who dares to enter these spaces and post questions or advice, they can find themselves in a minefield of mansplaining and generalized assumptions that they know less or have done less.
Last year, in a popular Facebook group for those planning an overland adventure in Latin America, a woman dared to ask for tips related to managing her monthly period while on a long-term, multi-country roadtrip. The HORROR!! She was quickly met with a barrage of disapproval, disgust and even rude comments.
But any time there is a need to be met, women find a way to meet it. Other resources have begun to surface, aimed at providing similar spaces for these wild women of the road. A Facebook group and corresponding website called “Women Overlanding the World” quickly formed and currently has 1500 members. In this group and the many others popping up, women discuss much of what you would find in the any overlanding forums – car maintenance, tips and skills for the journey, great campsites but there is also a distinctly feminine undertone – these women celebrate each other. They share heartfelt stories about the draw of the unknown, how they have been changed, their fears and loneliness on the road, how to find time for themselves. There is depth and there is connection.
At least once a week, I receive a message from some desperate husband or boyfriend, asking how to get his wife or girlfriend interested in overlanding. My answer is always a simple one: introduce her to other female overlanders. Show her their Instagram accounts and blogs, buy her a book that showcases them, watch a movie highlighting adventuring women, take her to the expos and rallies and attend the women-led sessions with her. Women respond to what they can relate to. This life IS in them. They just may not know it yet.
We all deserve to be inspired by these powerful, passionate women brave enough to embrace journeys to every corner of our wondrous planet. They have demonstrated a commitment to experiencing the essence of life and transcending false barriers and societal conceptions about where women can go and what we should do. They have knowledge, they have experience, they have courage.
With every mile, they stake their claim in this world, on the road and in the overlanding community.
* OutdoorX4 Magazine – Promoting responsible 4×4 adventure travel and outdoor recreation