“You’re Not Going By Yourself Are You?” Says Everyone to the Female Solo Thru-Hiker
As a gonna-be female solo thru-hiker, I get this question on a daily basis. My answer is the same every time; with a big grin, I confidently say, “YEP! I am hiking solo!”
Oh, the eyeball rolls, corrugator supercilii contractions (clenched eyebrows), and head-shaking motions I have gotten since announcing my plans to hike the AT solo. I get it. The people that live their lives being “safe” don’t understand living in nature for six months. After all, I am subjecting myself to fresh air, trees, soil, berries, bears, raccoons, opossums, mice, ticks, mosquitoes, and all the other things nature has to offer for six months, more or less.
40,000 people lost their lives in car crashes in 2018. One hiker lost his life in 2019 hiking the AT. So, my response to people who look at me incredulously as I admit I am hiking alone is the following conversation:
Me: “Did you drive here today?”
Concerned person: “Yes.”
Me: “Given that more people died in car accidents than hiking, I am relieved you made it here.”
We all take our chances doing things we love. Traveling, skiing, biking, swimming… just about everything can go wrong. But, if we stop doing things we love because we could get hurt, we would all be sitting on our sofas for the rest of our lives. I love hiking, and I love being by myself. I am not going to miss out on this spectacular adventure, and I am not afraid; I am excited!
I am much more afraid of cities than I am of rural areas. People on the AT are of the general same mind-set. They want to get away from the “grind” of society. Those who are out there for other reasons stick out, and they are labeled and watched. Although everyone has a different personality, serious hikers have a respect for nature and one another. Those who have some other reason for being on the trail tend to stick out. Hikers become aware of people on the trail who don’t fit in, and word gets around.
There are many “tools” available to keep one safe on the trail. Most of the ones I am implementing are to calm my friends and family. I suppose I am a much more trusting individual. I want to believe people are good, and that I can trust people. On the 0ther hand, I know that people can be manipulative and devious. So, I have decided to sacrifice some pack weight and carry a few safety precautions.
- I am carrying a Garmin GPS inReach Mini. This will enable my husband and closest friends to track my whereabouts at all times. It also enables me to get weather data and send pre-texted messages to my friends and family. There is an emergency button that I can activate, if necessary, in the event I need help. I am told many people send such devices home due to the weight and non-need. I will assess this as I go.
- I have a good knife that will serve several purposes, including self-defense, if necessary.
- Many people carry whistles as an alarm to signal for help. I am carrying a device that makes an ear-piercing noise when a pin is pulled out. Whistles work as long as you have enough breath to blow them. However, if I am trying to decrease pack weight, I may make and exchange.
- The best safety device I have, however, is one that comes included with my body. Using my own brain to be aware of my surroundings, and make good, educated decisions is paramount. Learning about lightning, hypothermia, dehydration, and various animals can be more important than having weapons. Most injuries or accidents can be avoided by using good judgment and taking appropriate actions given a certain situation.
When people hear me say I am going alone, I think they imagine that I will be by myself out in the woods. That (unfortunately for me) is not the reality these days. Thousands of people are on the trail. I will not actually be alone. The AT is like a community. Everyone is working toward the same goal, and most are eager to help out anyone who needs it.
There are several good articles regarding solo hiking. I encourage my friends and family to read about the AT and what it is really like to hike it. Trust me, I know what I am getting into. The best thing I can do for those who are worried about me is educate them. The following links are to two of my favorite articles:
So, yes; I am hiking the AT solo, and looking forward to the adventure. I will be happy to tell you my tales when I am done!
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You go Gwen!! Never be afraid to do it alone!!
The good thing about hiking solo is you choose who you would like to hike with and nobody if you like, after 300 mile and getting through the Smokies I met two great guys , Underdog and Wondering Dad and that’s when the adventure really began
I very much appreciate the education comment….it is much needed (in a vast number of areas, in addition to hiking) lol GL w/your hike !
Good luck! What all those naysayers don’t understand is that there are always people around on the A.T. You have to really work at it to be alone and you can be with others just about whenever you choose.
I’ve walked 2,000 miles of the Appalachian trail the past 4 years, by myself!! Never felt threatened, worried, scared! I don’t carry knifes, pepper spray, whistles. I have God and don’t want or need anything else. I have 150 miles left, and I might see you on the trail!! My name is Koolaid!! God Bless you!! Enjoy, like I have. Hike your own hike!!
I hear it every time…. Alone? You nailed it. On the AT, you are never alone, we are all there for the same basic reason.
If you let me know when you expect to make it towards the Roan Mountain Shelter, I’ll be there with a meal.
Good luck on your hike! It should be an adventure of a lifetime.
Bty, I carry the inReach Mini, I keep tracking turned off to save batteries and just use it to receive any emergency texts from my wife and to check in at night when out of cell range. It well worth the extra 6 ounces.
Gwen, I hiked solo a four months on the AT last year. People would say “you’re not going to hike alone are you? I would reply, “I’m hiking with friends”. The response would often be “oh thank goodness.” There would be much relief in their voice. In reality, I started alone, hiked part of the time alone, and part of the time with friends I had made on the trail. I got tired of dealing with other people’s fears. And there would be so much relief in their voice. I did not want to attract all that fear to myself. It was much simpler, and I didn’t have to explain myself. Purple Streak
My daughter did the PCT alone this year…March until October. Yes, there is an amazing community on the trail that I am so grateful for. She is a different person as a result of the journey, confident and more caring. Have a wonderful trip!