Last week I read a wonderful essay by Emily Witt about the hiking enthusiast Simone de Beauvoir (yes, THAT Simone de Beauvoir, the French intellectual and writer), and Witt's own solitary six-day hike through the Maritime Alps inspired by de Beauvoir's memoir, The Prime of Life. Thank you, Emily Witt, for sharing this little-known tidbit about a feminist icon, and for stepping out to test your own mettle in the mountains.
I was late coming to Witt's essay; she wrote it for a mid-October 2016 issue of the New York Times T Magazine, and here I was, responding to the piece with the excitement of unearthing something novel--both Witt as a writer to admire and de Beauvior as an outdoors woman (a fact not on my radar previously).
De Beauvoir lived in Marseilles while in her early 20s, starting in 1931. The proximity of the Alps to this seaside city lured her to log many hours of solo hiking, which she wrote about in her memoir. Like de Beauvoir and Witt, I am drawn to the idea of solitude in nature, especially as a woman tempting the elements and safety, something men seldom consider when heading out alone into the mountains or the woods, though our intent for exertion, natural beauty and quiet time in our own heads are shared. So the fact that de Beauvoir was out there--in her espadrilles and summer dress, no less--this early in modern hiking history, garners my deep respect.
And a little research online shows that female hikers have been there all along. Since the early 20th century, women have taken to outdoor recreation outside of work or obligation (by the look of it, anyway), for enjoyment of nature on its own terms. Though no photos exist of de Beauvoir while on a hike (she was alone, after all), I found photos from her era of other women across the US, Europe and the Commonwealth trekking as she would have.