Making Peace with the Damn Bear Bag–the Gift of Solo Hiking

Erring towards the woo

Full disclosure, I’m from Asheville.

I’m a 53 year old woman.

I’ve got transformational coaching and yoga, essential oils and radical forgiveness in my background.

believe2

Yeah, I’m that person. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

I suck at tying knots and hanging bear bags and shopping for “food” at the dollar general.

Erring towards the woo, crystal-toting, tree huggers who shop at farm stands and tend flocks of urban chickens are my friends.

We are gluttons for personal growth, which is one of the reasons I’m even considering hiking from Georgia to Maine. 

Because solo hiking is sure to be an incredible journey of transformation.

That’s why I was thrilled to join an online course called Wild and White Blazing, created by Carla  “Zipper” Robertson who is a thru-hiker, a life coach and a writer here at the Trek.  (Read my review of the course here.)

I met Carla last summer at the Trail Dames summit, a gathering of bad-ass, boot clad women who are also known to hug a tree or two. 

YAY!

At the time, I didn’t even know why I signed up for that conference. 

I wasn’t planning a thru-hike.  I didn’t need tips on digging cat-holes or using a pee-rag.  I’m not a fan of large gatherings where I don’t know anyone and where I’m likely to feel like I’m in seventh grade looking for a welcoming lunch table.

It didn’t make sense, but I just knew I had to be there.

In retrospect, I see that I was supposed to take Carla’s class, “How to Be a Bad Ass when You Don’t Feel Like One.” 

I had to hear her story about her solo thru-hike.

I had to hear her say that she chose to follow her dream even though her husband didn’t share that dream. 

That she had to hike and had to leave him (and the cat) behind for six months. 

That she had no regrets and nothing but good came of that decision to walk solo in the woods for six months.

Even the cat was “meh” about the whole episode and didn’t hold a grudge after she was gone for six months.

That was my story, too (without the cat). 

For my husband, who doesn’t “do” people and goes to the woods to be alone in his happy sacred place, a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail would be like six months of daily trips to the dentist for him.

Excruciating and painful and there was no way he would put himself through that.

I get it…the crowds deterred me for a while until I discovered flip flopping.

But I’ve wanted to do this for twenty plus years.  And I’d given up on my thru-hike dream because I couldn’t imagine doing it without my husband.

Now, I can’t imagine doing it with him. 

I love him and he’s my favorite hiking partner of all time.  And I’ll miss all the skills he brings to the table. Like hanging the damn bear bag.

But solo is my calling.

Hiking solo will support my why.

Hiking solo will afford me maximum personal growth.

Hiking solo will challenge me in all the ways that pairing up would not.

It will allow me to evolve and change in just the ways that I’m needing to grow right now. 

Are people incredulous when you tell them you’re going alone, too? 

I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to imagine.  But then, I’m really good at being alone. 

Oddly, I’m counting on solo hiking to teach me how to be good in community.

This is how hiking solo is going to help me embrace community…

  • I’ll get to learn how to ask for (and receive) help when I need it. 
  • I’ll get to learn how to not to hide out in my comfort zone of aloneness, but how to connect and be part of a community even when I don’t know anyone. 
  • I’ll get to learn how to feel like I belong at the lunch table, eating burritos and french fries and drinking milk through a straw.

For me, the stretch is not in being alone, but in learning to be part of the AT community.

And maybe I don’t want to learn how to tie fancy, hammock hanging knots, but hiking solo will force me to learn those damn knots.  And the secrets of bear-bagging.  And I may not be a better person for that, but I’ll be more bad ass than I am right this second.

All for the gift of going solo and welcoming the learning opportunities that provides.

Other things I’m looking forward to as a solo hiker:

  • Being able to go at my own pace, to stop where I want, ogle wild mushrooms and sketch wild flowers without worrying that I’m holding anyone up.
  • Getting comfortable making my own decisions based on what the trail is offering on any given day.  AKA hiking my own hike!
  • Becoming attuned to what my body needs on any particular day, like sleeping in or getting up early, choosing how far to go in a day, deciding when to take a zero or a nero.
  • Increasing the chance of seeing wildlife by strolling quietly through the woods early in the morning as the light fills the forest.
  • Being responsible for the hard stuff that my husband usually takes care of—mainly the dreaded bear bag.
  • Learning to make peace with the damn bear bag!

What an amazing opportunity for stretching outside one’s comfort zone in every way imaginable and in ways that will (hopefully) leave each of us better in the end, whether we walk 200 miles, or 2,000.

I just hope I can remember what a privilege it is to spend six months on the trail on the nights when the bear bag is kicking my bohonkus.


What about you?  Would you hike alone?  Why or why not?  Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts on the matter of solo hiking.

Also, FYI…

tree-as-friend


P.S.  I love to connect.  Find me on Instagram or on Facebook or at my own website, Ruby Throat Journal, where you can pick up my how-to e-book full of delicious Freezer Bag Recipes or shoot me an email.


Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 10

  • Avatar
    Kate G : Mar 1st

    I am also hoping that hiking solo will help me build my skills at becoming part of a community! But I finally let my shoulder injury convince me to get a bear canister.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Deane Giordano : Mar 2nd

      I remember backpacking in Montana years ago in the Bob Marshall wilderness. We met a guy who was thru-hiking the CDT and he was smart, he had his bear canister. (We sang Joni Mitchell songs at the tops of our lungs to ward off the grizzlies…and there were many). The thing I envied most about his bear canister (other than the giant bag of peanut M&Ms that he had in there) was the fact that he had a little above-ground seat! Silver linings to the bear canister. Hope to see you out there, Kate, telling stories around a campfire (or sharing a table at the AYCE buffet)!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Kate G : Mar 2nd

        Yes, I think I will appreciate having a seat since I can’t really sit up in my hammock. Most importantly, I think it will save me a lot of stress because I am a WORRIER. I’m really hoping I can get used to the higher pack weight. I hope to see you out on the trail, too!

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Kristy : Mar 1st

    I am hiking solo as well. Which has a lot of people worried because I am a woman, but I am not so concerned. I hiked solo for one week in April 2015, and prior to that it had always been with someone. It was wonderful to do exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I had time to think, but it also allowed me to connect with the strangers that I met.

    I am looking forward to hiking solo.. Even when it is hard, even when I am tired… Because in the end, I will know that I can do it.. And I am hoping that being able to learn what I want and like you said ask when I need something will translate to life outside of the trail… That I can stand up for myself, that I am a badass. There is so much going on inside of my head, I am looking forward to clearing it out, crying it out, laughing it out.

    Thank you for your article- from one tree hugger to another.

    k.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Deane Giordano : Mar 2nd

      Hi, Tree Hugger Kristy! Thanks for reading and commenting. I feel like we’ll be as alone as we want to be and in community as much as we want to be. Our choice. Which is delightful. I, too, am looking forward to “clearing it out, crying it out, laughing it out.” Well said. Hope to see you out there hugging trees! Ruby Throat.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Vince Piquet : Mar 2nd

    We spoke before about essential oils. As far as solo hiking goes, many people have asked me why. I answer the same every time. I enjoy and am comfortable in my own company. I also enjoy the company of other like minded folks (With the emphasis on “Like Minded”), however, me time is muey importante! Having droned on for way too long, I wish you continued luck on your journey, and if someone gives you shit about stoppin’ to smell the roses, tell em’ to go play hide and go F/Y. Later toots.
    Vince

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Deane Giordano : Mar 2nd

      OMG, LMAO at this new game you’ve introduced me to! Thank you, Vince. I needed that. xo

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Christine (Nemophilist) : Mar 2nd

    I love your post…..felt like you were writing about me! I’m a little older than you, live near Brevard, and am starting out the same time as you but at Rockfish Gap, SNP. Also leaving my hubby (and cat) at home too! Love your comment that a 6 month hike would be like going to the dentist every day for your husband…..that is exactly how it would be for mine too. Thankfully he is very supportive and I’m so excited to finally realize a 40 year old dream. Maybe I’ll see you out there Ruby Throat, but don’t ask me to help you hang your bear bag, because I suck at it too! Nemophilist

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Deane Giordano : Mar 2nd

      I so hope to run into you on the trail, Nemophilist, because I’m dying to hear how you got your trail name. Good for you for not letting the dream die (and for your honey for supporting you in making it come true). I’m totally rooting you on. Cheers!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Dave " Kodak " Whittington : Mar 4th

    I’m SOLO section hiking this year at the age of 54. I started my section hike on the AT last March with my son and his friend. We started out at Springer and made it to Uniqoi Gap in 8 days, 54 mi. My son ” Doplar” and his friend ” Shaggy” made it 900 mi before they got off the trail. I was 190 lbs with a 40 lb pack. I hadn’t trained st all and needless to say the GA mtns kicked my butt. This year I’m 170 lbs and have been training with a 27 lb pack I live just 20 min from the SNP outside Warrenton, VA so weve got some great hills and the AT. My goal this year is to hike from Uniqoi Gap to Fontana Dam in 9 days. Where last year I averaged 8-10 miles per day and I had one zero day last year. This year I need to average 12 miles per day with no zero days. A lofty goal but I believe I can do it. I have a new passion for hiking and taking photos on and around the trail sharing my pics and hiking stories with friends, family and any that are interested. I’ve even inspired a few to also take up hiking and that’s very fulfilling to me. I’m hiking SOLO this year because I could not find a partner but I know from my 2015 hike that there are many hikers on the trail and your never truly alone. Next year I hoe to have my hiking buddy “Q” join me on my 2018 hike through the Smokies. I hoe to see some you on the trail. Good luck and Hike On Deane?

    Reply

What Do You Think?