Breaking Through the Fear

Superior Hiking TrailI felt empowered the moment I declared my time off from work. “I’m going to hike the Superior Hiking Trail by myself,” I proudly proclaimed to all of my coworkers, friends, and family. I honestly hadn’t even heard of the SHT- a 300 mile trek along the North Shore of Lake Superior- until I moved to Minnesota. I had hiked the AT in 2014 with my partner but he had now moved on to other adventures with work. I was in the ‘honeymoon phase’ post-hike where I only remembered the great memories of favorite places, interactions, crazy trials that I can now laugh about; and now I wanted another taste. I forgot about those days where it was just me and my internal dialogue. The hard days when the miles seemed to take forever. No matter, I stock-piled gear and food drops and took one overnight on my own to a small, local park. I felt ready to tackle my first solo hike.

With my pack strapped and my boots laced, I waved goodbye to my ride and set off. The miles came easily and the landscape continued in lush, late summer woods. At long last the shadows stretched out and with no designated campsites the wide-woods were my option for the night. I spent miles looking for a flat spot. No luck. It was late enough that I just accepted setting up practically on trail. I made dinner and went to bed as twilight was just officially shifting and the last daylight evaporated from the trees.
Hiking Boots
That first night I heard movement. Those first rustles had me irrationally concerned and on edge. Then I began to play a game. What noises could I identify? Fear turned to curiosity and then I slept easily. The next night was also uneventful.

The third day is when I encountered the bears. There’s something about facing down a big mama black bear in close proximity by yourself that seems to use up all allotted courage. Thank goodness I met the one other thru-hiker on this lonely trail later that same day and I had a camping buddy for a few nights. When I did go out on my own again I did not have the same peace of mind. The woods felt suffocating and desperately empty of company- the good kind of company. I’m sorry and embarrassed to say that I was not able to break through my fear and instead broke from the trail at the halfway point.

This is a call out to all those adventurous solo hikers. Have you ever had a negative trail experience that shook your mental hike? How did you break through to the other side of that crushing fear? Is a solo-hike even a worthwhile endeavor or should we always expect to share our trail adventures with company in tow?
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Comments 8

  • Avatar
    Roger : Sep 6th

    Nice to hear the honest post

    Reply
  • Avatar
    TicTac : Sep 6th

    Hi Kmeg,
    I also live in MN, and have thru-hiked the SHT – along with section hiking the AT since 1976. I ONLY hike solo, and believe the way to avoid the suffocating sense of isolation you describe is to adopt the mindset that you are part of the natural enviornment, rather than a visitor or interloper. Understand that you are making strange noises (to woodland animals) and surprising – even frightening? – bears you encounter. In that connection, you may find that there is little to fear, and much to appreciate and learn.
    In any case Kmeg, I hope that you continue to stretch and learn. Keep going out there solo, and gain the confidence to BE your experience. And, join the Superior Hiking Trail Association, and volunteer to do trail work on the SHT. There is less than a mile of trail left to complete the SHT to the Wisconsin border and it will be connected to the North Country Trail.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Kmeg : Sep 7th

      Thanks for the encouragement, Tic Tac! I’ll have to explore your concept, “Be your experience” a bit more. I think I could go so many directions from that thought.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Derek Reichstadt : Sep 6th

    Hello Kmeg!

    I live in Minnesota and I thru-hiked the AT in 2014 as a SOBO as a solo hiker until around TN when I started hiking consistently with a couple of friends I made along the way. I also make it up to the SHT whenever I can.

    Even with the experience I’ve had, I still get nervous when I’m tenting by myself sometimes late at night. If I was smart enough to hang my food that night, it’s usually pretty easy to shrug off the fear when I remind myself that the black bears and the mice aren’t really interested in me so much as my food. So I just remind myself that and turn over. I’ll imagine my tent walls as an unbreakable barrier that will keep me safe. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll turn on my ipod and play some music or podcast over the external speakers, to let the animals know that there’s a person around and to drown out their noises on my end.

    Solo hiking probably isn’t for everyone. But it can be a great experience and a sense of freedom in independence. When hiking I marvel at the ability of the mind to disagree with itself and have great discussions in my mind where I’m constantly disagreeing with myself or reflecting on memories. And when that gets old, I’ll sing Disney songs out loud….even when I come across some day hikers who think I’m weird :D.

    Also, podcasts. Nature is great and we should appreciate it. But I find that I need some music/podcasts too to keep myself going.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Kmeg : Sep 7th

      These were some really helpful tips, Derek. I like the idea of playing something on external speakers. Sometimes I worry that I don’t make enough noise out there by myself! Do you have some favorite hiking podcasts you’d recommend?

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Derek Reichstadt : Sep 12th

        Can’t say I’ve listened to any hiking podcasts. Hmm, maybe you and AppalachianTrials should start one, eh?

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Blaise : Sep 6th

    I hiked 5 miles of the trail today (as I plan to section hike this trail before doing an AT thru-hike myself in 2018). This is a great resource for Minnesota. Do you feel the fear you speak about is more common among women?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Kmeg : Sep 7th

      Thanks, Blaise! Minnesota does have some great parks! I don’t think that my fears were ever based on a feeling of gender vulnerability but I do hear from quite a few women who would agree with you that some fears are definitely more present in women.

      Reply

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