Bobbi Barbarich

Winner of the Sawtooth Backcountry 2019 Women’s Adventure Scholarship

When I was little, I would explore animal trails that snaked up and down the valley around our house in the wilds of northern Alberta. I was an adventurer discovering new lands; comfortable with being lost, confident that the home I built from branches was sturdy.

But as I grew up, I learned that the valley was stalked by murderous bears, that the creek could possibly swell and swallow me whole, and my shelter wouldn’t keep out the rain, much less someone coming to hurt me. I learned I should never be there alone. The wild was no place for a girl.

When I got older, I started running. I ran because someone said I was fat, because I was expected not to be what I was, because I was supposed to want boys to want me but they couldn’t if I was like this. I did not run on the trails I knew well, where the grass tickled my ankles and the ground underfoot was soft. I ran on the road where people could see me if I
needed help, where my parents could come get me when it was time to do the chores. I ran where I could measure just how far I was going, so I could fit onto a boy’s lap without hurting him.

On one particular day, the road stretched forever in front of me. Heat waves
rippled from the gravel, into the endless blue sky where the raging sun bore into my head. It struck me the road was part of a constructed world. And I realized that running further would not change the reasons why I was running on the road. So I stopped. And I walked home, but I stayed on the road because I did feel unsafe. I did feel I could not go where I wanted, though I couldn’t remember where that was.

Slowly, I felt for the piece of me that was missing. I started looking for it. I
read books about wild adventures that told me this female body was capable of great things. I rode bikes and played roller derby and started my own business and left the man who told me I had become too intimidating for him to love.

I found a river valley in the city with paths that felt impossibly familiar. I
started running again, following dirt trails that snaked below city maps. I learned this body I struggled so hard to confine was powerful. It would carry me through dark forests and onto windy peaks. I ventured safely into shady corners on mountainsides. Not only was I okay there, but it where I could grow, unconstructed.

I found the piece that would get lost in the wild, the part of me that would
find her own way home, was right where I had been told to leave her. And she was happy I’d come back.