I have just read books by two women who went on amazing adventures alone with their animals, one across the Australian Desert, the other across the Arctic. When I realized both never had children, I decided to share them with you. The women are my age now, but wow, what stories they tell.
Tracks by Robyn Davidson, Pantheon Books, 1980
Robyn Davidson is famous in her native Australia for her book Tracks about her 1,700-mile solo trek across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. The book was later made into a movie, and, at age 70, she is still talking about that trip. In fact, she was interviewed last year by Time Magazine to compare the solitude of the COVID-19 pandemic with her experience in Australia.
Tracks is gripping, well told, and inspiring. At 24, having dabbled in various occupations, Davidson becomes fascinated with camels and with the idea of crossing the desert alone. It sounds like a crazy plan, especially for a woman. The first half of the book takes us through her preparations, learning everything she can about camels, finding funding, and convincing herself that she really can do it. It takes two years before she sets off in conditions that would cause most of us to quit on the first day. It’s well over 100 degrees the whole trip. She deals with heat, thirst, wild animals, injuries, deaths, loneliness, and, in the later stages, the press clamoring to take pictures and get her story. But she persists. Her journey takes her through the lands of the Aboriginal people and forces her to face the great divide between white and black Australians. In the process, she finds new strength, and her life is forever changed.
Davidson has had some long-term relationships but never married or had children. In 1996, when she was 46, she was quoted in The Independent as saying, “When I was young, I thought I wouldn’t be a good mother. Now I think I would be, but I’m too long in the tooth.”
She had a deep love for her dog, Diggity, and for her camels, but she treasured her solitude and her freedom. Although she had a partner for 20 years, she has continued to cling to her solitude, favoring quiet and undisturbed writing time.
Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon, Alaska Northwest Books, 2001
Pam Flowers is also driven to travel but in a completely different territory, the arctic, where the temperatures are typically way below freezing. While Davidson walks and rides her camel, Flowers, age 46, rides or walks beside a sled pulled by eight Alaskan huskies on her 2,500-mile journey from the far northwest corner of Alaska to the far northeastern corner of Canada. It’s a white, frozen world where they are in near-constant danger of hypothermia, falling through soft ice, starving, or being attacked by polar bears. Like Davidson, Flowers interacts with the native peoples in the few villages along the way.
Flowers’ trip was the longest solo dogsled trek by a woman in recorded history, but, unlike Davidson, she had no funding and only a few people knew what she was doing.
Flowers has participated in nine arctic expeditions and completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. She has written numerous books, many for children. She has spoken to more than 700,000 students at over 1,200 schools and has spoken at the Smithsonian, the St. Louis Science Center, and hundreds of public libraries. Click here to hear a wonderful talk about her record-setting trip.
Both women have continued to travel. Both wrote that they felt more comfortable with animals than with people. I’m certain they did not consider them child substitutes. They were companions and teammates, depending on each other for survival.
These adventurers don’t speak much of their personal lives. It’s hard to imagine them undertaking these journeys if they had husbands and children. They were drawn to a different way of life, and it seems to have suited them.
If we end up not having children, think of all the other adventures we can try. Me, I don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold, so I’m not following in Davidson’s or Flowers’ footsteps. But I hope to cross the United States by car one of these days. Maybe I’ll rent an RV. Meanwhile, I’ll journey with my fingers as I write and play my music. My point is that if motherhood or fatherhood is not going to happen, there are other amazing possibilities to consider.
As always, I welcome your comments.