5 Things I Learned Thru-Hiking as a Solo Female
Nowadays, traveling alone as a girl seems to be frowned upon. It’s seen as dangerous and unsafe. We’re told not to go out alone, especially in the wilderness. But why should we hold ourselves back in fear? We have this entire world to explore. We’re powerful, and we’re strong. We can do amazing things, and all it takes is putting our minds to it and then going out and doing those things. The experiences greatly outweigh the risks, and if you ask me, solo adventuring makes you feel pretty damn confident.
As a 19-year-old girl who’s spent a lot of time in the outdoors, I know how it feels to be afraid, to be intimidated, and nervous. But I also know how it feels to get out there on my own and feel powerful, alive, and fearless, and all I want to do is help other women feel that same exact way. Here are a few things I’ve learned as a solo female thru-hiker.
1. Determination is key
Last year in 2019, I was 18 years old, and I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail solo. Before I left for Georgia, people were always asking me, “who are you going with?” It was usually the first question I was asked when I mentioned what I was going to be doing. After hearing my response, most people were shocked. “Are you bringing a gun?” was usually the next question. It became obvious to me then, that the adventure I was about to embark on might be more dangerous than I had originally thought. Regardless, my excitement still overpowered my nerves, and I didn’t let it get to me.
My friends and family were both excited and very nervous for me, but I was so focused on this dream I had of hiking the trail, that my mind felt like it had a steel barrier that stopped me from absorbing any nervous thoughts. Looking back, I realized it was the passion and determination I had to do a thru-hike of the AT. If I hadn’t been so driven towards the goal, I believe I would have been more nervous and uncertain. When it comes to trying something new and big, determination is key. With a strong mindset, nothing will get in your way.
2. Push through the initial uncertainties
What I mentioned above did not stick around forever, though. The nerves didn’t hit me until Georgia, right before I started hiking. In addition to being extremely excited, I began to feel nervous and shaky. As I stepped foot onto the trail and watched my parents drive away, I couldn’t comprehend what I was feeling. There were so many emotions, and I had such a big goal ahead of me, these were only the first few footsteps. Would I even be able to make it one week? Would I make friends? Would I get injured and be forced off trail? So many questions ran through my mind that day and every day that followed.
In the first couple of weeks on trail, everything was uncertain. I had to learn how to live in the woods, how to create a new routine, how to adapt to such a sudden change, how to deal with food, water, and a constantly changing environment. I had to relearn what I knew, almost as if I hadn’t prepared at all. I also quickly learned how to listen to my body, as that can be the most important thing on a thru-hike. I ended up injuring my knees and thought I was going to have to quit. Other people were quitting left and right.
The first 3 weeks were so uncertain, and for the first time, I was nervous to be out there on my own. Of course, there were lots of other people around, and I had begun to make friends, but there was still that feeling, I was out there as a solo hiker, I had to rely on myself, and I was a long way from home and anybody I truly knew. But the uncertainties don’t last forever, and if you can push through them, you’ll come out the other side with more confidence in yourself, and you’ll feel like you can conquer whatever lays ahead.
3. Strangers can become your best friends
One of the things that made me the most nervous when I started out hiking the AT, was talking to so many strangers and people that were a lot older than me. I quickly learned though, that the hiking world has such a tight-knit community, and there was nothing to be afraid of.
Like I’ve mentioned, as a girl out there on my own, I was cautious about my own safety. In the beginning, I paid close attention to who I was around, who I interacted with, and what they were like. My main concern was encountering creepy men and feeling unsafe. But that never happened. Everyone I met was incredibly kind or went about their own business. After a couple of weeks, I was excited to meet everyone, talk to everyone, and I no longer felt nervous about it. I felt the safest while on trail vs. being in town or off-trail.
I also learned that anyone can become your best friend out there, and it’s the hiking friendships that become the strongest ones. Because there weren’t many other 18-year-olds out there, most of my friends were in their 20’s or 30’s, but age never seemed to matter on the trail, and you’d see it everywhere. People became friends with everyone, and we all felt like one big family.
4. It’s empowering to hike alone
For the first half of the trail, I hiked on and off with many people that I had met in the beginning. Dropsticks, Sunshine, Tarzan, Hiker Dan, Pusher, Puma, the Maine Family, and more. I would see them at different points along the way as days passed. I didn’t really have a definite, set “tramily” at that point, and would sort of weave between groups a few days at a time. When I wasn’t around anyone I knew, sometimes for 1-3 days, I would hike alone, and I learned a lot about myself during those times. Once the nervousness wore off in the first couple of weeks, I began to push myself and test my limits. I got my trail legs, I increased my mileage, and I wanted to see what I could do.
I wasn’t alone every day, of course. In the beginning, like I mentioned, I weaved between groups, but for the second half of the trail, I was with my tramily, Joe and Tarin, who I started hiking with in Harper’s Ferry, WV. Most days, we would hike at our own pace, catch up to each other for breaks, and camp together.
There were several times though when I would hike ahead or stay back because I met up with my family at a few different places along the trail. I also got off for a week for my high school graduation, so I ended up being 5 days behind my group. This is when HYOH (hike your own hike) really came in. They were still my tramily, but we didn’t feel we absolutely needed to be around each other all the time. I spent a lot of time hiking alone, and at that point on the trail, there were fewer hikers than there were in the southern states. It started to feel more lonely, people were more spaced apart in distance.
Hiking alone made me gain confidence in myself because there was really no other option. I was hiking this trail every day, and the more I was on my own, the more I trusted myself and my capabilities. It got stronger and stronger as the months went by, and by the time I got to Maine, I was a different person. I felt fearless, and going into the woods alone felt normal, it was my home and my safe place. It made me feel empowered, and strong because I knew I could do it confidently.
5. Women are badass!
The most important thing I learned on my thru-hike, is that women are badass. I met so many solo women out there, and it was inspiring, to say the least. I had never felt confident or strong or badass before the trail, and it completely changed me. It was such an amazing thing to see, girls getting out there regardless of fear or nerves, conquering the good and the bad days, and becoming the strongest version of themselves.
After the trail, I started to get more involved in the hiking community on social media, and I see a lot of women reaching out asking for tips on solo hiking regarding fear or uncertainty. I’ve realized there are a lot of girls who are nervous to get out there on their own, and I’ve gained a new desire for wanting to help them become confident in doing so. I want to inspire and motivate them to try it, to give it a go, and see what can happen! Solo hiking was the most life-changing experience for me, and although it was a thru-hike, I feel as though any day hike can spark that change, that boost of confidence, and I hope to be that motivation for those people, as I too look for inspiration from others.
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