I am mad as hell when I read about the attack a young woman who was rowing around Lake Michigan to raise funds for her breast cancer awareness charity. She was sexually assaulted during her 1,500 mile adventure.
Jenn Gibbons, founder and coach of Recovery on Water, left June 15 from Chicago to become the first Lake Michigan solo rower. Her two-month trip was designed to raise awareness for the role exercise plays in the fight against breast cancer.
Gibbons was allegedly attacked in the early morning hours on Sunday, July 22 in an area south of Gulliver along Lake Michigan in Mueller Township, Schoolcraft County, Mich.
I am realistic that there are crazy people out there and bad things can happen to good people. Just look at the recent tragedy at the Aurora, CO movie theater. These events are distressing to everyone, but I’m even madder as hell at the reaction from some of the “Internet Trolls” as we call them. These are the often, but not always, anonymous posters of comments to articles on the web. Many comments have been supportive, but many have been viscous and stated or implied that she “deserved it” for traveling alone as a woman.
Why is it so shocking that a woman would want to forge out on a solo journey anywhere, let alone the back country? I have traveled to Africa and South America alone, climbed Mt Shasta alone, completed a solo 48 mile backpacking trip in four days that included summiting Mt Langley and Mt Whitney. My friends are of similar ilk…Kim Z did the entire John Muir Trail solo – 211 miles in the High Sierra at altitudes never dropping below 8,000ft. Kristina V. hiked from San Francisco to her home in Mendocino traveling 140 miles on foot to get in touch the land where she lives and appreciate the distances we take for granted while traveling by motorized vehicles. They don’t seem like superwomen, freaks, or potential victims to me – they are strong, generous, introspective women who chose to use solo travel to dive deeper within.
Traveling solo requires a special kind of bravery. It’s not necessarily being strong in the face of physical challenges, the threat from natural elements (weather, animals, etc), or enduring the sideways looks of fellow sojourners that can’t hide their surprise of a woman traveling alone (shocking!!!). It’s being alone with your thoughts that is the tough part. Hours and hours slip by as you are hiking, kayaking, climbing alone. You have no one to make idle chat with. There is no one with whom to work through potential issues. There is no distraction from music or TV to dull your senses and lull you into comfort and complacency. There is no one to listen to you express your fears. There is no one to reassure you. You must do this for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong – most of my climbing has been with partners and teams. There is great camaraderie in the mountains and I am a sponge when I am with others – I learn a ton from watching how others deal with stress, I debate the finer points of this piece of gear versus that piece, I analyze different leadership styles as well as my own for future refinement. My best friends have all been the result of bonding in the mountains where life and interactions are broken down to the basics.
But there is something really special about having the courage and giving yourself the space to do a solo trip from time to time…to do something that really stretches you to work through your doubts…and this is not only reserved for men.
I’m ECSTATIC that Jenn came forward about her attack and has vowed not to let it derail her mission to row around Lake Michigan to benefit her charity, Recovery on Water. I’m saddened, however, that this woman now feels the real threat to her safety, will no longer travel alone to complete the journey, and will not earn the title of first person, male or female, to row solo around Lake Michigan. Her brave message on Facebook:
I have always tried to be transparent and honest about the obstacles of this trip in the hope that my openness and vulnerability might give someone strength or inspiration in their fight against cancer, or in pursuing a dream.
I know that I had a choice in telling people about the details of my attack, particularly that it was a sexual assault. To go through this at all, let alone publicly, is extremely difficult. I chose to talk about it in the hope that someone might be able to provide more information about the person who did this to me.
Thank you for the endless amounts of support, prayers, and love. Please know that I am in the best of hands–with my family and in the protection of the Michigan State Police.
I still believe that there are more good people in the world than bad.
I still believe that life is a gift, even when it’s scary and unfair. I still believe that life offers us the privilege, the opportunity, and the responsibility, to give something back, even when people try to take things away from us.
Regarding the trip, one thing hasn’t changed: I’ve still got this. But the trip plan will change in a few ways to ensure my safety.
Most importantly, I will no longer be alone.
Tomorrow, Liv will be trailered to a secure location in Muskegon, Michigan until I can continue the trip on water sometime next week. From that point to Chicago we can ensure my safety on water since we’re confident that there are enough harbors and enough resources and volunteers to make it possible. Because we are unsure that I can be kept safe on the water in the miles between where I am currently and the point at which I will start rowing again, I will tackle them on land.
With thanks to a generous donor and the support of amazing volunteers, later this week I will continue traveling Lake Michigan’s perimeter by bicycle. A support crew will accompany me and ensure my safety day in and day out. When I get to Muskegon, Liv and I will reunite and keep pushing to get to Chicago sometime in mid-August, as we had originally planned.
My chin is up, my eyes are open, and we’re going to get this show back on the road (then water).
Reading abbout her amazing adventure and the strength she has shown in making herself vulnerable and sharing the fact that she was attacked publicly, gives me faith in the human spirit.
But reading some of the comments from the Internet Trolls makes me loose faith in mankind…and most of the worst ones from the first couple of days have been taken down. This is a sample of what remains:
Jerry Renfroe22 hours ago
I know this won’t win me many friends but my gut tells me she’s lying. The whole story just doesn’t add up. For starters, she gives an extremely vague yet poised description of the attack, which conveniently occurred during one of the most remote stretches of her trip, not to mention one of the most grueling. Second, the description of the alleged perp is even more vague as most people who drive Wranglers are 30-something, white and male (most men are also b/t 5’8″ and 6′). Most alarming, however, is the peculiar exuberance she displayed in telling people about it. Why?? Even if she’s telling the truth, this seems like a very odd thing for a sexual assault victim to do.
MCJNY122 hours ago
I strongly suggest that you people stop telling the world about your private life and doings thru these various social media services. Just a suggestion
Rachel Carrera6 hours ago
We, especially women, have to stop detailing our whereabouts on social media sites. No matter what good you are doing.
She should have just shot him. Someone breaks into my boat and my cabin is not getting out breathing, especially in these circumstances. More women seriously need to learn that sometimes we are preyed upon and it’s up to us to take out our attackers. I fmore women were prepared, more guys would be scared.
Posted by: skinny_minny2 Jul-25
helico, I agree that this is detestable and hope that they catch convict and put this guy away, but without testosterone, you nor I (a guy here) would be here.
Posted by: Storck78
These comments all have a common theme that we have seen before in our society dealing with victims of sexual assault – it’s the woman’s fault, she got what she deserved because she was alone or was dressed a certain way, she was outspoken and public and drew attention to herself, she wasn’t responsible by being armed or better versed in self-defense. Where, oh where, is the criticism of the attacker here? The deranged person who tracked her, plotted and planned, and carried out an attack! Women cannot walk around and live their entire lives not stepping out of their comfort zone, preparing for a potential attack, and looking at every male with a suspicious eye.
I am also proud that Jenn is reportedly continuing as an advocate for victims of sexual assault. Continued visibility into the wacky (could have easily used multiple expletives here!!!) treatment can only help illuminate our culture’s continuing perspective that all women are potential victims and then those who do become victims somehow deserve it.
I, for one, will keep an eye on Jenn’s progress and how she continues to be an inspiration working through her fears:
“This is an experience that changes my trip. Because I need to be safer. But it doesn’t mean that it has to become such an overwhelming aspect of what I’m doing that I can’t go on,” she said. “I’m absolutely going to continue and continue to share.”
She admits she’s scared, but said that’s not unusual.
“I get scared everyday,” she said. “I get scared by six-foot waves.”
In the name of Jenn and other victims of sexual assault, and to defiantly ignore all the advice of Internet Trolls, I declare that…
I WILL keep traveling solo in both the front country and back country
I WILL continue to support other women (and men) who wish to do so
I WILL keep assuming that each man (or woman) I meet along the way does not intend harm
I WILL keep broadcasting what I am doing on the Internet
I WILL NOT live in fear.
This weekend I am heading to the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival in Squaw Valley to get my zen on…alone.
I am camping at the Silver Creek Campground in site #28.
Come and get me.