Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wait....fat girls hike? (Part Two)

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 37, for those who care. So I have just three years to train my body and prepare for this huge goal of mine. Over the weekend Ben and I went to the store to spend some of the money I got for my birthday and start to prepare for my training.

As we walked around the shop I realized that I was an oddity. A fat girl in a fit girl's world. I hate that people look at me like that. Judging me for being in a sport store. How dare I venture out of my house and into the world of outdoor activities.  It isn't the employees of these places who look at me like that, it is only other shoppers.

The truth is, I love the outdoors. Over the years though, the more weight I gained, the less I felt welcome outside of my cage. It is tough to be a fat person who likes to be active and to be outside. People are often patronizing and belittling. They often whisper to their companions or give you a funny look to make sure you know you don't belong. You are not one of them. Why is it that any time someone overweight tries to participate in life that doesn't involve food or sitting on the couch, someone is always quick to make sure they know their place?

While hurtful, these people can't actually STOP me from participating. They can make me uncomfortable, they can hurt my feelings, they can avoid me and laugh at me, but they cannot physically stop me from being outside. They cannot ban me from the outside world and the nature I love to experience. It isn't just the haters that frustrate me or make me feel unwelcome and sized out.

Even manufacturers size me out.

It seems that if you are a larger person, either in build or in weight, the manufacturers of outdoor gear and clothing don't think you matter. It is as if fat people and outdoor sports simply don't go together. They do not make clothing beyond a size 12 in most cases for hiking. They do not make jackets for snow sports or the various types of weather we get when ding outdoor sports that accommodate a larger chest. Even thin I had a hard time finding things that fit my chest, and with the extra weight it makes it harder. You would think that the huge selection offered to women who are under a size 12 (USA) would also be offered to those of us who are over that size. Instead, if you are lucky enough to find a handful of items that DO size over a 12, they are frumpy, homely and plain, with nearly no selection. 2-3 top options (which are just a large square) and maybe 2 bottoms options (in 2 colors and only long enough to hide the parts of your body the rest of the world has deemed "repulsive").

It just doesn't make any sense! Why do manufacturers seem to believe that people who wear larger than a size 12 have no interest or need for clothing that fits outdoor activities? It boggles my mind. As I look through stores like REI, North Face, Dick's and Cabela's I'm rudely reminded of my size and the fact that "my kind" are not a welcome addition to the community. The lack of options for clothing, the limited measurements built into gear for women, often leads me right out the door and back to my couch, safe within my cage where my body offends no one but me.

Manufacturers and stores are still posing that hurtful question "Wait....fat girls hike?" Yes, we hike. We cycle. We swim. We climb. We camp. We kayak. We run. And we need more than a handful of ugly tent-like options for clothing and gear to do it. Maybe if we were not constantly sized out and treated like unwelcome invaders, more of us would want to be outside and be part of a community of health.

Wait.....fat girls hike? (Part one)

I have this dream. A goal that I am determined to accomplish. I mostly likely won't complete the goal by the time I'm 40, but I am aiming to have begun by the time I turn 40. Anytime I tell people what my "dream goal" is, I'm met with a polite but skeptical sliver of a smile. It seems impossible for someone at my current size, with  health issues and a decent amount of metal in my lower spine. But nonetheless here it is:

The Triple Crown of Hikes.

It has been a long time fantasy of mine to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail...all 2,180 miles of it. As I began to move from dreaming about this feat to actually thinking I just might be able to do it, I mentioned it to a few people. While my darling husband was supportive and more than willing to train with me once I was physically able, most people just looked at me through glassed over gazes and stifled their laughter. I could see it written on their faces, the words they wouldn't dare say to my face "Wait....fat girls hike?"

At first I was a bit discouraged. Was I kidding myself into thinking I could do this? And then that discouragement turned into determination. I don't have to wait until I look like the fit women in the magazines. I don't have to put it off until others won't laugh at me for trying. It is ok to be that fat girl on the trail, out of breath and slowly chugging along, gravel and dirt crunching beneath my feet as my body drips with sweat. I know I'll get those looks...disgust, pity and even jokes about me...but I don't have to care. What I'm seeing at the end of my trek is that I'm one hike closer to my goal.

The more I thought about the 6 month journey of hiking the Appalachian Trail in on go, the more I thought about how much I don't think I would want to stop there. Not only do I want to prove to myself that I can do it, I wanted to prove to the world that a former athlete, who gained 100 pounds, had major spine surgery and had to relearn how to do the simplest of tasks on her own, could strap on a pair of hiking boots, load up a heavy backpack and hike until her lungs burned, high into the mountains, down into valleys and reach a physical goal. My body is not dead. My body is not broken. My body has been altered, but it is still far more capable than even I tend to give credit for.

But why stop at the AT? So I decided it wouldn't be just the Appalachian Trail. I want to hike the Continental Divide Trail (3100 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles) as well. Together these three long-distance trails make up that Triple Crown. It might seem impossible, but I'm going to do it. One day I will have completed them all and I will prove to myself that my body is capable of more than I ever imagined it could be again. I will no longer be a "former athlete" I will be a Long-distance Hiker, a Tru-hiker, a Triple Crown Hiker.