Are you questioning whether a solo hike is for you? Maybe you’re afraid of being “alone in the woods”. Or are others trying to persuade you that it’s dangerous to hike the Appalachian Trail alone? Guess what!? Statistics are very much on your side. You’ll be fine! You may have heard the phrase, “hike alone, together”. This phrase defines a northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Don’t believe me? Check this out! Daily chart of 2017 and 2016 hiker starts from Amicalola State Park The link offers proof that you’ll be surrounded by others. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for a journey of less crowds and more solitude, you may want to consider an alternative hike, such as flip-flop, because as a NOBO, not only will you not be alone, sometimes the trail and overnight spots may be so crowded that you will wish you were solitary.
The Appalachian Trail is much safer than commuting to work daily or walking along a city street. This link to a page on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website describes some safety tips to consider when embarking on a solo journey. According to the ATC, “Although the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is safer than most places, it is not immune from crime. In heavily used areas, A.T. “ridgerunners” and “caretakers” act as roving eyes and ears for Trail managers and for public education.” We ridgerunners are out there, and we’ve got your back! Our primary role is to protect the trail and ensure that you have a delightful experience on it. Don’t hesitate to discuss concerns or ask questions if you run across a ridgerunner or caretaker.
Stay Hyperaware of your Surroundings – As a solo female thru-hiker in 2015, there were a few techniques and practices I adopted to ensure my safety. The number one principle you will learn in any self-defense class to be applied in every situation is to stay hyperaware. Keep all of your senses unaltered and available. If you must have music during your hike, consider using only one earbud. I know, I know, the sound quality of your tunes might suck, but it will be worth it when you hear the foreboding music of a well-camouflaged Diamondback Rattle Snake in time to avoid stepping on it. A cool feature of the forest is that it creates its own beautiful music. Enjoy the sounds and the silence of nature as part of the experience you are seeking!
Multi-use tool…bear spray! Once you’ve increased your situational awareness by eliminating sensory disruptions, if you need more empowerment, consider some kind of weapon. I use the word “weapon” loosely. A gun or machete would not be your best choice of tool. They tend to be heavy and have a better potential to hurt you than to help you in a moment of panic. Trekking poles make a great alternative! Personally, I chose to carry bear spray along the trail as a comfortable multi-use defense tool. Bear spray comes in a 12-ounce can and is similar to pepper spray. It has the power to down man or beast. Of course, I never had to use it for bear or man, so I will save it for next time. The sense of comfort it provided me made it worth carrying the extra weight. Just be sure it is in a side pocket and within reach in case the need for it arises.
Trust your gut – Always, always, always TRUST YOUR GUT! Whether you can verbalize a reason or not, if your gut is wary, you should be as well. If you meet someone on trail who gives you the slightest feeling of discomfort, mention your marine boyfriend or your friends who are coming up behind you, whether it is true or not. Put distance between you and the potential threat, and as soon as you run across a group of hikers, keep yourself in close proximity to them. Hikers watch out for one another, especially the tight-knit community of thru-hikers. If you feel uncomfortable, share it with someone else so they can be another set of aware eyes and ears.
A few other tips – Signing the hiker logs in the shelters along the trail is an important way to leave your mark at each location too, and in the extremely rare case that a hiker goes missing, it may be the tool that aids in ultimately locating the missing person. Report suspicious activity in the log books as well. If you are able, switch your cell phone provider to Verizon. During my thru-hike, I found cell signal nearly every single day in 6 months so that I could check in at home and let family and friends know of my whereabouts and future plans. If you have other providers, even AT&T, your coverage will be more sparse and you may go days at a time without having signal at all. In this case, you will have access to a town every 3-4 days, so reassure your family and friends that you’ll be in touch as often as possible and keep them updated on your travel plans.
Safety requires common sense. Is a tough section of trail ahead? Are you feeling uncomfortable for any reason? You will find many friends within the first week of your journey. Throughout the length of it, it’s amazing what our trail provides! Hike alone together. If you want to hike solo, do it. You’ll learn so much about yourself in the process.