In my last post, I talked about the fears I had leading up to my first solo overnight. As I said in yesterday’s blog, I wanted to show the fears and planning prior to the trip, and then to report the outcome.
“I know I can do it. I’ve just never done it before.” ~Me to Joyce, the woman shuttling me to my starting point.
I hiked fourteen miles last weekend – splitting it into two roughly even seven-mile days. If you’re interested, the route was northbound from Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap on the Georgia Appalachian trail. There were two shelters along that route, one at Low Gap, about 4.4 miles from my starting point and one at the top of Blue Mountain, which was roughly 2.2 miles before I got back to my car. Even if these shelters had been placed more centrally on this section, I would have probably opted out of staying at them.
I saw about an 8:5 Male to Female ratio both days of my hike. Except for me, none of the women were overnighting. I’ve seen solo female hikers before. I’ve even met a few through-hikers. But I always found it a little weird when my friends and I go out and people are like “Women! Yay!” Now I understand it a bit more.
I figure there were six men staying at the Low Gap shelter, based on who was already there when I stopped for lunch. Sounds like there were four men at the Blue Mountain shelter, from what Wild Turkey said. I’m glad I opted to camp at large in the middle of nowhere. I saw one hiker after I set up camp, and he was the last person I heard or saw until I passed a southbound through hiker early Sunday Morning.
When that one hiker passed, it occurred to me that he had no idea whether I had a hiking partner inside my tent. He would have had to really take stock and look around to figure out I was alone. This bolstered my spirits all the way through dinner.
I made a very silly decision to go camping on a New Moon. There was no moonlight. No starlight with the cloud cover. No ambient light from the world around me. The only light I had came from the screen of my phone (with which I texted updates to my husband along the route), the fire I’d let burn down before it got dark, and my headlamp.
When I first crawled into my tent, the sound of the dead leaves falling onto my rain fly made me jump. I joked in a text to my husband that I was going to cut a hole in my tent with my hatchet to attack a dead leaf. After I got used to the pattern of the sounds – the roar of wind across the forest in the distance, the creaking of branches, and then the final flutter of leaves onto my tent – I was able to calm down. The fox making womanly noises in the forest, and the owls were the only thing I heard until a hawk called for its breakfast just before sunrise.
It was just like camping with my girlfriends, only quieter. And there was really nothing to do after I’d eaten dinner and hung my bear bag. (I forgot to pack a book.)
I have a pretty steady walking pace. I knew how far I’d gone by checking the time. I usually hiked a 30 minute mile. I got a little off on the second day because the up was SO MUCH up to get to the top of Blue Mountain, and because the steep drop into Unicoi gap is treacherous. That rocky switchback straight-down scramble would be hard in mid-June. It was extra-tricky because of the layer of slippery fallen leaves that blocked the best spots to step from view. I can’t imagine if there are northbounders in the spring who have to do that in the snow. It would be really scary.
Was I ever afraid for my safety? I was a little worried about falling on the drop to Unicoi. But I took it slow, and worried less about pace, and more about footing. I never felt threatened by any of the other hikers. I usually felt welcomed by them. Or they just ignored me, which was fine with me.
I will very likely do more solo hiking. I enjoy going out with my friends, and I think there’s a place in my heart for the solo hike as well. For me, the key was to keep the physical challenge of the hike to a minimum. I never pushed beyond my limits, I was never racing the clock. There was plenty of water along the way. I think I would probably wait a good long while before I tackled a really challenging hike by myself.