I started hiking with a group, a formal group – the kind that ‘advertise’ everyone have a pack with all the essentials: medical bag, layers of clothes, extra socks, shelter material, headlamp, matches, etc. I’m not demeaning these groups; being prepared is smart hiking even if it seems like ‘overkill’. And hiking with a partner or in groups is also wise. But we can’t all prepare for every situation nor can we accomplish what we want if we wait for the best circumstances to arrive.
I got a good hiking foundation and learned a lot from hiking with groups. However, even living in a hiker’s paradise it soon became apparent that, if I wanted to get out more, I’d have to go solo, my schedule just didn’t jive with those of hiking groups – which was usually on weekends. It was a little daunting at the beginning. I feared breaking a leg, getting lost and envisioned other misadventures that I’d heard befall other lone-hikers. But after the first few short, well-traveled trails, I got my nerve on and started to just enjoy the hike.
As it turns out, hiking solo isn’t really all that rare among our species. There are probably a lot more adventurers with the same limitations on their time as myself. Since I started hiking on my own I’ve encountered many other hikers, men and women, young and more mature, with or without a ‘guard dog’, (with or without appropriate gear or adequate water and shoes too!). I learned very quickly that I really enjoyed the solitude; I could hear (besides my own heavy breathing) birds singing, the wind blowing, sometimes something rustling in the woods (squirrels usually but I have seen deer and bears), occasionally some distant truck but more often than not…quiet…
~~~~~~ the absence of sound ~~~~~~
In a world of noise pollution ~ which is how I describe almost every aspect of daily life including relaxing in my own back yard ~ getting beyond it is heaven. I almost cringe when I make plans to join a group (and I’ve backed out every time, not necessarily for that reason). I love conversation, not gossipy talk but real discussions. And I like learning about other places, trails, experiences that other hikers have had. But there is something about hiking alone in nature that is so rejuvenating.
I’m a lone wolf. Even when I have been in a group, I spend over 90% of my time listening to the conversations of others so, in effect, from the perspective of other hikers, I’m almost not really there. The other reason for my aversion to group hiking is the responsibility to others; being on time, car-pooling, basically…following the leader. I’m not ‘hiking my own hike’ when I am conforming to the pack.
So, as I think about backpacking the AT, I still have not decided which way to go: NoBo or SoBo? That’s the topic of a future post.