How I became a Badass woman solo hiker when nothing about me was badass

I’m Zipper and I hiked whole the AT mostly alone.  

But I was far from a badass when I started. I knew about camping – I’d done plenty of short trips and overnights, and even a 26 day trip in the snowy Cascade mountains two decades prior, but in my mind none of that counted. I’d never hiked more more than 12 miles in one day and that was without a pack. Who was I to believe that I could thru hike the entire Appalachian Trail?

In my mind, badass women were super-athletes. They were marathoners. Triathletes. They’d played sports in school. They weren’t afraid of falling down, being scraped up or bruised. They had mental and physical conditioning I lacked. In my 41 years on the planet I had managed to to avoid ever having stitches or a broken bone. I didn’t know much about pain.

Inside me was still a skinny little girl who was always picked last in gym class, who was uncoordinated and lacked strength.  I knew I’d need to up my badass quotient. Here’s what I did:

Pre-hike Badass Preparation Steps:

I learned more about my body. I paid attention to it in new ways, searching for the athlete inside me. I worked with a trainer, went to physical therapy to strengthen my knees, and walked everywhere I could. I swam laps in an outdoor pool through the winter, telling myself that if I wasn’t willing to get in a cold pool, how did I ever think I was going to endure the physical trials of hiking the AT? I got on the “staircase to nowhere” at the gym with a fully loaded pack, and climbed and climbed. I deepened my yoga practice.  I paid attention to the food I was eating, regarding it as fuel. I learned to stay hydrated rather than forgetting to eat or drink until noon.  

I spent time camping alone. I knew I wanted to hike solo, so I figured I’d better find out if a night alone in the woods would scare me to death. I found out I was fine and that earplugs were perfect for blocking the little rustling sounds so I could sleep.

I welcomed discomfort. I stopped waiting for the water to warm up in the morning when I washed my face. I proudly carried heavy loads, considering anything uncomfortable part of my training.

I did my research. I studied about gear. I made the lightest choices I could. I tried all my equipment and learned how it worked. I made sure I could carry everything I needed.

Once on the trail I took further steps to badass-hood.

I trusted myself. I decided how long to hike, where to stop for breaks and where to camp. I set my pace, followed my maps, and survived when I thought I’d gone the wrong way or when it was hard to tell where the trail continued at a road crossing. I figured it out and kept going.

I savored hiking alone. I loved being quiet in the woods by myself. I could see or hear someone coming from a long way away so I was never surprised. I learned to feel confident and comfortable on my own in the woods, and I saw so much more wildlife because of it.

I grew resourceful. I made do with what I had. I sewed rips in my gloves and repaired tears with duct tape. I improvised a wind screen for my stove and came up with creative garnishes for my pasta dinners.  

I managed my energy and learned to read the energy of a group. I learned to emanate a grounded calmness when coming into camp. I knew I was self-sufficient so I didn’t need to feel fearful, defensive or seek validation from others. That made it easy for me to be comfortable crammed into a shelter with a half dozen people I’d never met before or gathered around a picnic table with a group of weekenders all cooking dinner.

I took my time.  I didn’t do a 20 mile day until my fifth week on the trail, and I never hiked a 20 mile day in New Hampshire or Maine.  I rarely hiked faster than two miles an hour, and often more slowly than that. I learned that I didn’t need to rush.

Achieving badass status:

I remember the moment I finally felt like a badass hiker. It was the day after Halloween in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains on the final southbound leg of my journey. That morning I decided to keep wearing my “costume” jewelry that I’d picked up at Dollar General – a giant purple jeweled heart necklace and earrings.

Here I am sporting my badass jewelry while bonding with a lost bear dog.

Here I am sporting my badass jewelry while bonding with a lost bear dog.

For those last three hundred miles I proudly wore that jewelry every day like a badass talisman. I finally knew for sure that I would finish the trail, and could call myself a badass thru hiker.

On Springer mountain I topped the ensemble off with a tiara. My journey to badass was complete.

Summiting Springer Mountain

This is my story. Yours will be different. But I promise you this. You’ll naturally become a badass on the trail. You can’t avoid it. Your body will become more solid, your mind more capable. Your instincts will improve. Your senses will sharpen. You’ll naturally know where to place your feet when you’re rock hopping and you’ll be able to fly over challenging terrain. You’ll know exactly what you need and relish your ability to provide it for yourself with what you’re carrying on your back.

Cheers to being a badass, however you make the journey!

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Comments 26

  • Avatar
    Heart's-Ease : Nov 20th

    Inspiring! Thanks…

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Nov 21st

      Thank you so much! 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Patti Phillips : Nov 21st

    Great write-up Carla! Love it!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Nov 21st

      Thank you, Patti! <3

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tiffany Taylor Korrigan : Nov 22nd

    I’ll be joining your club of badassery this next year 🙂 so exciting!!!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Nov 29th

      Awesome, Tiffany! Congrats!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Lillie : Nov 27th

    Thank you Carla! I’ll be on my way to Badassery in June 2015!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Nov 29th

      Fantastic, Lillie! Exciting!

      Reply
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    Kerri : May 1st

    I needed this so much today Carla! I am a 35 year old single mom. I have loved the idea of being a hiker for so long, but have ever done more than 3 or so hours. Yesterday I did 16 miles in one day, up an old mountain- On a very rough and rocky trail where I was constantly dodging huge mud holes and trying not to trip over big rocks. Today I am sore, my hips and knees hurt, but I am planning another hike next weekend. I was feeling a bit down despite completing my hike yesterday because if I am this sore now, how will I ever do the AT after my son graduates like I had planned? You give me hope I can be the badass hiker I want to be. 🙂 Thank you!

    Reply
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      Carla Robertson : May 2nd

      Hi Kerri! Congrats on your 16 mile day – that is fantastic! And yes, you can definitely be a badass hiker – I would say you already are well on your way! Cheers!

      Reply
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    sharon : May 1st

    Great and inspiring article/story. Funny i was just commenting on how brave you women are to hike alone. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to do this. I just havent known where to start. Thank you for giving me a beginning and starting point.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : May 2nd

      Hi Sharon! So happy to offer some inspiration – love that this gives you some ideas of how to start – it’s definitely a process but you can be a badass in your own way and you will amaze yourself with what you are able to do!

      Reply
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    Lisa (aka Jeeper) : May 2nd

    Thank you soooo much for this!!! I am 41 and seeking my own badassness. I hike every weekend 12-17 miles on many trips, but never less than 8. I hike solo, with dogs, or my bad ass 61 year old fearless mother. Again, thank you for this…it hit home for me.

    Reply
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      Carla Robertson : May 3rd

      Fabulous, Lisa/Jeeper! I was 41 when I hiked the AT!! Sounds like you are well on your way to a badass journey and how lucky to have a badass momma too! My mom is 80 and still hiking! 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Melissa : Aug 15th

    Wow! Your pre-trail efforts were plenty badass, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Aug 16th

      Thank you! I really wanted to give myself the best chance possible of being as ready as I could be, especially since I didn’t have a track record of being an athlete.

      Reply
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    Lindsay : Aug 15th

    Thanks so much for this! I’m 36 and solo and plan to hopefully can achieve the full trail by 45. I worry I’m not enough of a badass. This was inspiring, we can achieve it if we want to….and why is everyone in such a rush? The AT is the same no matter what speed we go.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Aug 16th

      I agree that there’s no need to rush. I’m definitely not fast, but I get there eventually!

      Reply
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    lora davis : Aug 15th

    Thank you! Very inspiring. Tears are stinging my eyes. 🙂 I want to be a badass too. I’m 70, heading out on a 70-mile solo on the Colorado Trail next week to check my badass quotient. Thinking of thru-hiking the A.T. next summer but I’m also thinking of thru-hiking the CT since I live in Colorado. So many trails, so little time.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Aug 16th

      Wow – the Colorado Trail is badass! High altitude is always a challenge for me and my sea-level thin blood! 🙂

      Reply
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    Karin : Aug 16th

    Stingy tears here as well, so inspiring. I look forward to being bad ass myself and thanks to woman like you I feel the fierceness within. Buen Camino! Karin, no trail name yet, but looking forward to airing one!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Aug 16th

      You will do amazing. It’s such a great feeling going out and figuring things out on your own. Best wishes!

      Reply
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    Cundy Lambert : Aug 16th

    I loved your badass story! I kive in the New Orleans area and just recently attempted a 2 week section hike of the AT starting in Damascus NOBO. I failed at the end of my first day and was rescued by strangers. I THOUGHT I had trained well enough but had not. My main issue though was I am Type 2 diabetic and for some reason could not swallow food all day. I hiked for 7 hours and only made it 7 miles in, falling short of the first shelter by 2 miles. Because my sugar was so low my muscles were shaking and rubbery and I was misstepping often when earlier my steps, although slow, were sure. I since have learned about those gels that athletes use and I have found one without caffeine but loaded with complex carbs which would have gotten me through.

    I am determined to try again, but I have a better picture of what to expect and where my weaknesses lie. I had only been on day hikes before except for a weeklong hiking trip to Big Bend in January 2015. BTW, I am almost 60, and besides diabetes I have osteoarthritis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia…but, I am determined that in my next trip, I will be axbadass, too! If you ever plan some hiking experiences nearby and would like company, I would love to join you! I can be quiet if you prefer to contemplate nature as you hike!

    Reply
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    nikita : Aug 16th

    The website listed in your bio has expired. Do you have another one?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Carla Robertson : Aug 16th

      Oh my! Thank you for letting me know – it’s fixed now! 🙂

      Reply

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