A Woman Hiking Alone – BEFORE – Observing Fear

My intent with this post is to show the mental process and the things I observe about the concept of going on my first solo overnight. I want to show the fears and planning prior to the trip, and then to report the outcome.

I have been jonesing for woods time. Haven’t had more than a few hours and a few miles in the woods since July, and it’s time for a real hike. I need the deep silence of the woods. I love the idea of seeing the N. GA mountains in the fall – getting to see the colors and smell the leaves. Especially while the weather is still crisp and gorgeous.

Last week, I threw out the idea about hiking by myself. A solo backpacking / overnight.
The thought of hiking solo excites me. What will my pace be if I have no one ahead of me? Will I get to see more wildlife? How many breaks will I take if there’s no one waiting on me? When I go hiking, when I trail behind and walk in silence, I usually get great story ideas and insights. Will I have a series of walking epiphanies as I traipse through the woods?

When I think about it on my own, I get excited by the idea. I love the idea of tackling 13 miles of the Georgia AT by myself. It feels big. Huge. An adventure. Something I have never done before. Something I had never before considered doing.

The prospect of hiking alone makes me nervous.

I’ve seen plenty of solo women hikers on the trail. Not as many as the guys, true, but there are enough of them to show me it’s clearly possible. I’ve been out backpacking with just one other woman on a few occasions. Was that really so different?
Things that scare me about a solo hike:

  • Other hikers (rape)
  • Bears
  • Accident / injury and no one to help me
  • Gear failure and no one else to share supplies with
  • The general unknown of it. I’ve never done a solo overnight. Will I be able to sleep?

What I notice about my fear, though, is that it is stirred up by the people who tell me how dangerous it is. I’m only afraid when people I know and trust tell me to be afraid. Why do I trust myself more than these people trust me? My husband has had the same basic reaction – he’s only afraid for me when someone says “You’re letting her do that?!?!” Without their opinions, he was excited for me. He wanted me to take precautions – and be sensible – but he knew I could handle it. I find it fascinating that the fear only kicks in when other people tell us I shouldn’t do this thing.

We are both confident in my ability to deal with whatever comes up. We’re both sure that this is a thing I’m capable of doing smartly and safely.

And we both get a little nervous whenever someone else tells us we aren’t nearly nervous enough.
I’m taking reasonable precautions. I am carrying mace, and probably a bigger knife than I normally carry. I’ll have my usual bear-bagging stuff to deal with any animals. I will carry a first aid kit, an ace bandage – all stuff I normally pack “just in case” anyway. I figure I might not sleep so well, but that will also depend upon the campsite I select.

I will have my phone for whenever I have bars (I might not have cell coverage much of the way). I will have a charger in the car, and a spare battery pack on me. Brett has my map, my itinerary, and access to Zipcar if he needs to drive north 2 hours to get to me in an emergency. He has the contact number for the woman shuttling me from my car to my starting point.

I chose a route that is pretty remote from crossing roads. This was deliberate. One of the times the AT gets the most uncomfortable is when locals drive up to a shelter and use it for a bonfire / drinking spot. It feels exposed to use a campsite like that. And extra exposed if you’re a woman hiking alone.

I chose a route that would give me lower-than-my-limits mileage on both days. I also looked at terrain and water availability, the rules about at-large camping in the area. I wanted to be sure I’d be able to logistically do what I want to do without really straining or pushing my physical limits at all. Let this be an emotional challenge – not a physical one.

I chose a route on the Appalachian Trail – first to add a few miles to my total count (I’m at 180 or so right now, this will bump me up to about 194 miles), second because this is a section of the AT that my hiking buddy has already done – she’s probably not going to want to redo it. And third, because I’ve never been on the AT where there was no one else around. Even at its most remote, the AT is a pretty heavily traveled footpath.

I decided to go northbound on the AT because the through-hikers (if there are any) will all be southbound and finishing up their long treks. This means that I will briefly see friendly faces (and people I could potentially ask for help, if I were injured or something), and that they will be headed in the opposite direction (therefore less of a rape threat). I will still have to keep an eye on northbound section hikers like me, but this does limit my long-term exposure to other people.

I won’t post this blog until after I’m back, and I won’t post the particulars of my route on social media before I leave. This is because of potential imaginary stalkers who might feel compelled to follow me into the woods when I’m at my most vulnerable.

I’m pointing all of this out – these fears of being raped, stalked, accosted – because it is another thing I’ve noticed about the fears. When I talk to other people about it, the men think about injury and bears as the greatest potential problems. All of the women (including me) think about rape as the greatest potential danger in walking alone in the woods for a weekend. This is a difference between being a man and being a woman in our current world, and it’s worth highlighting.

What made Brett stop worrying? 

The Wednesday before my hike, I hopped off the train a little early like I usually do. I like to get the steps. I enjoy watching the city wake up.  That morning, as I walked through a still-sleeping nice part of midtown, I noticed something strange. First, I passed a grizzled white man leaning against a building, smoking a cigarette. That, in and of itself is not that unusual. Then, ahead of me (right in front of Starbucks), a black man in a preppy burgundy jacket and a navy blue ball cap looked south down the road toward me, and nodded. Is he nodding at me? I glanced around to see who he might have been communicating with, and noticed that the smoking man was now following me.  At the same moment, the black guy – looking all around and especially toward me – slipped around the far corner of the Starbucks (and away from the windows).  I turned and stared at smoky, who immediately stopped walking, and leaned back up against his wall.  Then I walked past where the other man waited for me. I turned and stared at him, too, as I passed.  He didn’t move. His expression dropped.  I kept walking.

I walked to work without incident. This little episode served to prove to both Brett and me that I’m not a victim. I’m not someone who is oblivious to threat. And when threatened, I don’t present an easy target. That’s not going to stop everybody, but it will stop most. For everyone else I have mace and a hatchet.

As I reread and edit this post the night before I leave, I’m still a little nervous, but the nerves have given way to excitement. I’ll spend about 20 minutes packing in the morning (I haven’t put water in my pack yet, or gotten it all smashed in there properly). I feel ready for my adventure.

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One thought on “A Woman Hiking Alone – BEFORE – Observing Fear

  1. Pingback: A Woman Hiking Alone – AFTER – Getting Perspective | . A.K. Anderson

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