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.
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.
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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