I just finished reading the current female business manifesto Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. And for the record, two thumbs up. I applaud the way that Sandberg urges us to reexamine gender roles in the workplace. But like most business books - and most books in general - each chapter had me thinking about the trail.


The trail is the first place where I started to think seriously about gender issues. And that is because the trail doesn't see gender. People on the trail see gender. But I marveled very early on in my hiking that men simply did not seem to have much of an advantage on the trail. I will say that on average men might hike a little faster and comfortably carry more weight, but I frequently saw women who were consistent hikers outpace their male counterparts. I honestly don't know if the percentage of hikers (25%) who finish a thru-hike applies equally to male and females. But I would be willing to bet that it is close; if anything, women might have a higher completion rate.

Finishing the trail the first time made me realize that I could do more than I thought was possible. And I could do more than some people thought was appropriate. I was no longer stuck in the mindset that I needed to limit my job and my ambitions based on the fact that I was a women. And even though I always very much wanted to be married and be a mother, I no longer believed that I couldn't have a demanding career as well.

The trail may have taught me not to limit my professional (or entrepreneurial) ambitions, but when I went back to it in 2008 I thought that my best effort on the trail would only be good enough to set the women's record. I had played sports my entire life and was used to being one step behind the boys, but on my way to establishing that record on the trail, I realized that endurance is different from speed or strength. And I DO NOT think men are gifted with more endurance than women. If anything women might have the upper hand! On average we live longer, we hold on to our fat better while requiring a lower caloric intake ( a blessing and a curse), and we are hardwired with a high enough pain tolerance to give birth. (Full disclosure: I had an epidural, I like to save my pain tolerance for the trail.)

Plus, a long-distance trail record is only partly based on physical aptitude. It also requires appropriate research, an amazing team, a positive attitude, spot-on logistics, unwaivering dedication and optimal efficiency. (Talk about good business practices!)
One thing that Sandberg talks about in her book is that if women are going to be successful in the workplace, then their spouses have to be willing to help out at home. And even though Brew was a great source of encouragement and support when we established the women's record, I didn't know just how helpful my husband could be until we went back to try and set the overall record.

Before that summer I did most of the cleaning and most of the cooking inside our home, and I still do most of the cleaning and cooking (I am much better at it than Brew.) But in 46 Days of working together on the trail I saw just how nurturing he could be. He cooked (even though he wasn't good at it), he didn't clean - but that was okay (he did occasionally wash our clothes), but more importantly he made sure I had everything I needed when I needed it, he arranged for people to come and hike with me, he encouraged me, he challenged me, he held me tight when I cried (which happened often), and he helped me up when I fell down.

Setting the record taught me that my husband was an amazing caregiver, incredibly detail oriented, and always dependable. Setting the record also gave us the confidence to work together and parent together in a way we never would have considered otherwise.

Now Brew is my booking agent. He arranges all my speaking engagements. Just like on the trail he makes sure that I get where I need to go and that I have everything I need. He also works me into the ground! (But he knows that's how I like it.) And he shares the parenting responsibilities of raising our daughter. He changes her diaper, he feeds her, he gives her almost all her baths, he holds her tight when she is crying and he helps her up when she falls down.


You know, I think my favorite part of Lean In is the part where Sandberg dispels the myth of 50-50. We can never fully balance work and parenting on a day-to-day basis. Instead we need to think of our relationships as a pendulum, able to swing back-and forth. We always need to be able to support one another's dreams and duties. One of the things that I always tell hiking groups is that they are only as strong as their weakest link. It is the same in the workplace and in marriage. Regardless of whether you are male or female, you have a choice: you can either leave someone behind, or you can help them get there faster and have more fun along the way.