On Solo Hiking [as a Female]

The further out I go, the quieter my mind gets.

I listen as the water fills up my third water bottle — knowing how the sound changes as the bottle fills, I pull it away from the cold flow right as it reaches capacity.

I silently pack my daypack — with about twice as much food as I will need, an epipen, wallet, keys, a few extra layers of clothes and a hat.

I scribble a note on the counter with the time + trail that I am headed t0, because that’s what people do and I leave the house, grabbing my muddy Merrell boots from by the door.

Once outside the sun is just starting to burn off the overnight frost. I sit on the cold ground in beside the front door, half of a protein bar in my mouth, lacing up my boots.

Throwing my bag in the passenger seat, I drive the 10 miles to the trailhead, saying a silent word of gratitude for having this playground in my backyard.

At the trailhead I clip my pocket knife to the inside of my sports bra for close keeping. I adjust my daypack 12 times until it feels right. I switch layers twice. I stand at the car for 5 minutes debating which clothes could just stay in the car.

And then I hike.

As an early morning hiker, the trail is usually empty. I listen to my boots crunch the still-frozen grass as I enter the deep woods.

I think about my week, my fears, and a little about really big bears.

But, with each step my messy mind gets a bit quieter.

The trees around me shrink in size as I gain altitude. The sun, now fully up, shines down hard as I crest into an open field. Sweat drips from my face as I remember to strip layers and drink water.

This is my favorite tree on my favorite trail.

Descending back into the deep woods I feel everything.

I feel my feet — remembering that my hiking boots aren’t my favorite shoes. I feel my legs, screaming from the last hill we climbed, and I promise myself to stretch my hamstrings when I get back to the car. I adjust my daypack for the 300th time.

And then I remind myself that these thoughts are all my mind distracting me from the real feelings.

I block out the physical, and concentrate on mental feelings. I let them drift in and out of my mind as I climb rocks, hop across streams, and step through mud.

I stuff down negative body-image thoughts.

I feel strong and fully inadequate all at once.

I smile about things that are going well, and I hurt over things that could be different.

But most importantly, my mind is quiet.
The quiet accomplishment of being here. Of being outside. Being somewhere wild. Being alone.

As the miles past, the trail gets more crowded.

I wonder if people judge me —for hiking solo as a female.

Sometimes I catch their eye and look away quickly, hoping they don’t notice I’m alone.

Other days I hope they do. I flash a tired smile, saying yeah, I’m here.

I have an enormously healthy dose of respect and fear for nature. For its relentless furry, for its power, and for its beauty.

But for the first time in my life, I am not afraid to experience all of that alone.

Just me. My water bottles. My daypack. Sixty-two days worth of food.

To experience the dark, the quiet, and the wonderful places my mind goes when I have trees around me, blue sky above me, and dirt below my feet.

To go on hikes for miles and miles with just me because I am strong.

I have the extreme pleasure to share the ups and downs of this journey with some wonderful folks over at Support Driven — an online community for Customer Support Professionals. Right now we are focusing on writing for us, and have put together a fun writing challenge. Feel free to join us — we’d love to have you!