An Honest Response to “Are You Hiking Alone?” From a Young Female
Nine times out of ten, this is the first question I am asked when I tell people I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Luckily, many people are familiar with the trail thanks to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, so I can usually skip the part where I say the trail is 2,650 miles long and takes approximately 5 months to complete. Before anything else is discussed, I have to answer the question– “are you hiking alone?”
How the conversation goes
Me: I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!
Person: That’s so awesome! Are you going alone?
Me: Yes, I am!
Me: But I’m starting with 49 other strangers and I’ll have a GPS tracking device just in case. A few thousand people do this each year, so I’ll never actually be alone.
Why I don’t like responding to this question
I do understand and appreciate that many people ask this question as a concern for my safety. I am a young female venturing into unfamiliar territory in the backcountry. When I respond, “Yes, I’m hiking alone,” people’s facial expressions and their long pauses make me feel like I have to justify this journey every time.
When I am put in a position where I have to justify my solo hike, I feel insecure. I feel like I don’t belong on the trail by myself. It causes me to question all the research I’ve done and time spent to prepare my body, mind, and gear. Ultimately, it shakes my confidence and creates hesitation, causing me to rethink my decision to hike the PCT. This has happened enough times for me to want to write this blog.
My final justification to the question
Many outdoor enthusiasts have gone down the YouTube hole of watching other adventurers explore their bucket-list destinations. Thru-hikers usually go down at least one YouTube hole every week in the months leading up to their hike. Although these stats are not cited anywhere and I made them up, my point is thru-hikers have done extensive research before hitting the trail.
My personal research, in fact, includes at least one YouTube hole a week. In addition, I’ve looked at maps, dangers of each section, how to use my Garmin Mini In-Reach, towns and resupply locations, and much more.
I will be starting the trail with at least 49 other strangers, thanks to the PCTA’s permit process. I will meet countless people while I’m out there. I will never take a hitch-hike alone and will usually camp with other people. Most importantly, I have a smart head on my shoulders and I feel confident in my ability to make good judgment calls to prevent unsafe situations. If a situation does arise, I know I can think on my feet and respond quickly to make the safest call.
How I wish people responded
Instead of asking, “Are you going alone?” straight away, I wish people took a moment to explore and understand the whole picture of a thru-hike (and yes, I can be more considerate too). Here are a few ways I wish people responded:
What are you most excited for? Many people report they are most excited to meet the fellow hikers out there– the thru-hiking community is something special. This is where you can inquire about approximately how many people your hiker will be with on the daily and discover that no, your thru-hiker usually won’t be alone.
I can only imagine the research you’ve done! Odds are, you yourself have gone down a YouTube hole researching something, whether it be a home improvement project or a large purchase like a car. Your thru-hiker can talk for at least 20 minutes about all the research they’ve done.
How can I track your journey? Many thru-hikers have social media or a blog that they share pre-trail prep and on-trail progress. You can learn more about their preparations and see where they are at once they start. It also shows you are invested in their hike.
Where can I learn more? Because of the research they have done, they can probably list 3 YouTube or social media accounts of previous thru-hikers. Do your research and look these people up– you will get a better idea of day-to-day life on the trail.
Belonging in Outdoor Spaces
I have been fortunate to have access to outdoor spaces my whole life. More importantly, I have felt safe in outdoor spaces most of the time— a privilege not everyone experiences.
Others may receive different responses to the statement “I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.” I hope my thoughts and experience serve as a small reminder that there is work to be done in further creating a sense of belonging in the outdoors.
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