Pantywaist !

A hiking post.

A long time ago in a distant galaxy ; actually it was north Wales, it merely felt like a different planet.

A very long time ago i was new to this mountaineering game and i was out for my first solo hike over Snowdon, it was a cool and misty day with low cloud so i had my brand new shiny orange cagoule on ; anyone remember those ? and i was painfully breaking-in my new mountaineering boots…..full grain Galibier Superguides.

About an hour into my hike a strange figure appeared out of the mists of Cwm Glas and as it approached me i could see that it was a small elderly lady in a wool coat, headscarf and carrying handbag in one hand and a walking stick in the other.  Out of sheer surprise i spoke to the old lady and asked her if she was ok : fine, she said in her lilting north-Walian accent and she explained that she was on her way from chapel in Llan-somewhere to Betws somewhere else….her accent such that i didn’t catch the place names.   I asked her if she normally walked that way as she was coming down the track with the peaks of Snowdon behind her and she said why yes boyo i always walks this way from Chapel to my sister’s house.  She said that it was nice to get out for a walk and i agreed : while talking i checked out her hiking apparel, her woolly coat was beaded with moisture, under that i thin i could see thick stockings and worn but sensible shoes….the walking stick seemed a good idea though.    We parted and i went my way feeling rather overdressed and ridiculous in my long orange cagoule, heavy boots and big rucksack.

In 1955 a 67 year old grandmother told her grown-up children that she was going for a walk but didn’t mention where she was going : her walk just happened to be the 2,168 mile Appalachian trail which she went on to walk 3 times in total, the last being when she was 73.  Her approach to equipment was rustically simple : a pair of ‘Keds’ sneakers, a raincoat and a shower curtain which she used as a shelter rolled up in a handmade denim bag which she carried slung over her shoulder.  On the trail she lived on dried meat, cheese and nuts.

Her life story was in fact very sad ; the following account being taken directly from the Wikipedia entry.

“At the age of 19 she married 27-year-old P. C. Gatewood, a college educated primary school teacher, and later tobacco farmer, with whom she had 11 children. Almost immediately he sent her to work burning tobacco beds, building fences, and mixing cement in addition to her expected housework duties.

 Within months of the marriage, he started to beat her, a vicious pattern that continued for the entirety of their marriage. She recalled being beaten nearly to death on several occasions. She survived broken ribs, broken teeth, and other injuries during the abusive marriage.

 When her husband became violent, she would, on occasion, run from the house into the woods where she found peace and solitude. She eventually successfully divorced P. C. Gatewood in 1940; at a time when divorce was more difficult, and after her husband had repeatedly threatened to have her committed to an insane asylum as a means of maintaining control over her. She had 24 grandchildren, 30 greatgrandchildren, and one great-greatgrandchild living at the time of her death at 85.” 

Near the end of her life she met ultralight long distance hiking guru Ray Jardine and she came out with her famous quote     :    “Most people today are pantywaists,” 

According to some accounts she wasn’t the world’s most competent hiker, getting lost several times during her hikes but i love her attitude which was the polar opposite of our ‘safety’ obsessed and gear obsessed modern hiking culture with it’s high-end, high-tec gear , most of which is absolutely useless and doesn’t get you along the trail.  Remember that this wasn’t just before ‘smart’ (dumb) phones and ‘apps’, this was long before mass produced and fashionable hiking gear appeared on the market….where now your £400 jacket , £100 rucksack and more than £100 boots ?

Today, if you just happened to see me out and about in the Tamar valley you might not recognise me for being a ‘hiker’, well that’s because i’m just a scruffy old git in a very old and worn jacket, a well used pair of boots and a walking staff that iv’e cut from a piece of Hazel….heck i may even need a new one this year.

Have fun y’all.


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