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The Bluepenciler

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I had a bad feeling about how this debate was going to end up, as me and four other men stood at the tailgate of a truck on top of Government Ridge trying to decide who would ride in the back on the return trip home. Remembering the bouncing, jostling journey - mile upon tortuous mile - up that narrow dirt road, I instinctively knew no one would really want to volunteer. They’d all expect me, as the leader of this expedition, to sacrifice my spot up front and endure the heat, dust and bruises among the packs and empty water bottles, dirty boots and sweaty socks, in the bed of the pickup.

Of course, everyone was saying, “I’ll ride back there; no, I’ll ride in the back; oh, I don’t mind crawling into the back.” But no one had made a move to actually climb onto the tailgate and maneuver through the hiking gear into whatever lesser uncomfortable position could be found. Then, at a moment when I was just about ready to do exactly that - really - Irene, sitting in the air conditioned cab of the pickup, said she would ride in the back and began to crawl through the tiny little sliding window between the cab and the canopy. 

Naturally, all us manly men said, “No Irene! You don’t have to do that!” And despite our protests, I thought for sure any one of us was going to reach in there and help open that sliding window just a little bit wider for her.

For a moment there was some concern that she might get stuck between the cab and the canopy, and I bet more than just me thought quietly, “I hope she doesn’t flail her legs and kick me right in the mouth on the way home.” But as she successfully navigated that tricky maneuver into the bed of the pickup, I could see the look of relief on all the guys’ faces. And though I had objected loudest of all, a wave of joy swept over me and I nearly laughed out loud. Actually, we all pretty much laughed out loud as Irene, a tiny little woman, slithered through the tiny little window like a spider. Finagling her way into and out of a box of stuff, twisting and turning this way and that, she then situated herself among the paraphernalia littering the pickup bed.

On the way down we each in turn poked our heads through that window and asked Irene if she was doing okay, as the AC blew refreshingly on our tired faces and weary limbs. Then, facing forward again, bewildered by the turn of events and how five men got to ride up front while the one female in this vehicle was jarred to and fro for more than 15 miles in the back, the expressions took on an aura of amused wonderment.

At one point I remarked, “If some women’s rights activists could see us now! Five men riding in the cushy comfort of the cab while the frail old woman bounces around in the back!”

Cal, Irene’s husband and the one driving the truck (and that’s why he couldn’t ride in the back) was the first to comment on the “frail old woman” remark. It was said in jest, of course, one because Irene is anything but frail. However, she is in her 70s and after hiking several miles along the crest of Government Mountain on a scorcher of a day, there she was taking the brutal ride in the back like there was nothing to it. And two, it was said in jest just to cover up my embarrassment at not having taken my rightful place where she now sat.

Would it have been the chivalrous thing to do to insist Irene stay in the cab while I squeezed beneath the camper shell? Or was it okay, in light of our society’s zeal for equality among men and women in every way imaginable, to stand by and think, “That’s right Irene. Climb on back there girl. You’ve earned it.”

I’ve been hiking quite a bit this summer and some of the hikes have been anything but easy. And often my hiking companions have been women. How did it ever get into my head that men are, from birth, more capable than women when it comes to a physical activity like hiking? More than one of these ladies has outdone me on the trail.

Well, in truth it doesn’t matter - who hikes fastest, furthest, who gets there first, who brings up the rear. Chivalry on the trail is more a matter of mutual respect and simply sharing the thrill of being outside; of admiring everything Mother Nature reveals to us, from the tiniest wildflower to the grandest mountain’s majesty; of savoring the satisfaction of accomplishment. There’s something for everyone on the trail and the best way to enjoy it is by sharing the experience with others, young and old, male and female.

Who gets to ride in the back of the truck on the way home is entirely up to the ladies. A man’s inclination to chivalry demands it.

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Author info

Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

Tagged as:

editorial, Government Mountain, Irene Ryder

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