Sometimes the best inspiration for a girls’ getaway comes from a group of guys.
By Rachel Walker
I will be backpacking around the Maroon Bells with three of my girlfriends the second weekend in August. I know this for sure, even though I’m writing in March as a late-season storm is blanketing the Rockies and the high country is months away from wildflowers and lush meadows. The dates are penned in and our route is all but certain, and I will do anything to bring this trip to fruition. We will be four women without kids, husbands, or boyfriends, and we will roam until the blisters pop on our feet and the sweat in the small of our backs dries into crystallized, salty stains.
And that will be exactly what we want. Hell, it’s just what we’ll need.
Like most women, my friends and I long for hours and days devoted to sunshine, adventure, inside jokes, and impromptu deep talks. We yearn to spend time together in the western landscape we love, to feel singletrack dirt under our knobby tires, to chase each other on runs amidst the turning aspens, to head out for a summer hike to lung-busting elevations.
And yet, we don’t. A decade ago, it was easy to jump in one gal’s Subaru and adventure our way into dirt, grime, camp-stove burritos, and tailgate margaritas. Back then, we were unhitched, unmoored. Today we blame the relationships that turned into marriages, the mortgages that suck up the money we make, and the husbands (supportive, loving men, we assure our girlfriends) whom we hesitate to leave alone for days with the kids. We say we want to plan a girls’ trip, but as soon as the words leave our mouths, our minds race to the dollars and cents. How much? How long? How could we possibly make this happen?
The real question we ought to ask is: Why? (Put another way, why not?) Retreating into the wild with my women friends is what keeps me independent, sun-kissed, and alive. Achieving the liberating and simple rhythm that comes easily in the outdoors, in the company of like-minded girlfriends, evokes a tribal solidarity: We are women, and together we will walk (or ski, or climb, or bike). In doing so, we’ll remember our strength, and ability. When there are no men around, we don’t shy away from the dreary tasks. We pitch tents, fix flat tires, wax our own skis, and solve problems.
Take my backpacking trip with Evelyn in Colorado’s Indian Peaks in 2008. Five days of one foot in front of another, Chloe the Australian shepherd, and packs weighing 30 pounds. On day three, we sidled up to the base of Lone Eagle Peak on the banks of Mirror Lake. The snaggle-toothed mountain towered over the frigid water as ominous storm clouds billowed above. A quick skinny dip, and then we erected the tent and fished out dinner: tortillas, cheddar, dehydrated black beans, and, for an appetizer, powdered soup.
The rain erupted as the lightning illuminated everything. The terrifying crack of thunder nearly broke us in half. Chloe jumped out of her skin before shivering in fear. Evelyn and I were both nervous. I dashed into the tempest to rescue boots and packs from the deluge. She cooked dinner in the tent’s vestibule. We both comforted the dog. Then we started to read out loud as the storm dwindled, taking comfort in the other’s lyrical voice.
I had gotten married five weeks earlier, and I hadn’t seen my new husband in days. Yet there was nowhere else I would rather be than confined in that tent reeking of wet dog with Ev, a true and intrepid friend. We passed the time as if it were red wine. This is not a closeness that could be replicated over coffee, or shopping, or at a book club, or a movie.
In the intervening years between that trip and the making of this August’s plan, my friendships with my girlfriends accidentally devolved into tiny spurts of face time. We posted on each others’ Facebook walls and sent the occasional wistful email reminding each other of our bond. We went months without seeing one another.
And then we went to Alta Ski Resort this spring. It was a rare girlfriends’ getaway, and we stayed at the Peruvian Lodge—a no-frills spot that is more like a youth hostel or a fraternity than a ski hotel. Think: luxe ski shack. At the Peruvian, my two girlfriends and I were the only women, among the 150-some guests, who were there without men. Seriously. The few females in the dining room at dinner sat at tables filled with men, groups of them, who told us proudly that they have been going on an annual guys’ getaway with the same crew for decades.
Talking to those men—on the chairlift, in the hot tub, over roasted New Zealand lamb chops—I marveled at their simple commitment and lack of guilt. They did not overthink their choice. None said they questioned whether they should take an annual ski trip, leave the wife and kids, use coveted vacation time. They had a tradition they loved, and they honored it.
As women, it is easy to succumb to a lifestyle where we put our needs last, fail to make “me” time, and gradually leave the wild world that helped forge our sassy, independent, adventurous selves. We taper off the backpacking expeditions, the off-season bike trips to the desert, the surfing from our thatched-roof home base in Baja. We gradually spend more time in scripted roles we’ve chosen: wife, professional, mother, companion.
Ten years ago, I might have vilified those men at the Peruvian as selfish jerks who shelved their fatherly and husbandly duties at the expense of their loved ones (ah, the days of my omniscience). But now, married, with a baby, a job, and a dog, I admire them. They know something we don’t. And here it is: A person can check out from their family for a few days with their friends and everything will be just fine. The dog will get fed and so will the kids. The person who stays home will stay up all night and have cereal for dinner—and be happy. And the one who takes the trip will return rested and revived.
Which is why, after a day of punishing our quads on Alta’s steeps, surrounded in the steamy hot tub by salt-and-pepper haired men with shaggy chests and backs, we planned our August expedition. Girls-only. It’s going to be demanding, breathtaking, and, with this crew, hilarious.
But just because we aren’t inviting men doesn’t mean we won’t take a page from their book. In the Peruvian, we clinked our wine glasses and toasted our upcoming adventure. And we agreed on one rule: no guilt. We won’t feel bad carving out the time. We won’t regret the effort and money required to plan and take our trip.
Instead, we’ll channel the dudes from the Peruvian. Sure, it’s ironic to take cues from bros on how to achieve the ultimate girl time. Who cares? It’s been too long since I’ve been in the wilderness with my friends. If it takes some prodding from vacationing ski bums to make it happen, that’s fine. I’m counting down to August.
Friendships equal good health. In an Australian study, old people with a large circle of friends lived longer, and women with breast cancer who had no close friends were four times more likely to die from the disease.
If you’re looking for some help with organizing and planning your trip, check out our friends at the Women’s Wilderness Institute!