In December of 2005, I announced to the people in my life that I intended to hike the Pacific Crest Trail the following year. The very first inquiry from about every single person I told revolved around finding out who I would be hiking with.
At the time, I blew it off as just naivety about the PCT. I knew I wouldn’t really be hiking alone. I knew there would be 200+ other people out there on the same narrow strip of tread who would be watching out for me. It wasn’t until several months later that I came to the realization that people were actually hung up on the fact that I would be hiking alone as a female. And, it was even more shocking to me when it occurred to me that the people hung up on it the very most were female themselves!
I’m not quite sure how I ignored/missed the societal memo that said that women shouldn’t be in the woods alone. It just never occurred to me. I am grateful for that, though, because I see how debilitating that memo has been to women. How many people has this fear kept from living out their dreams?
Don’t get me wrong, I do not go out into the woods ignorantly. When I hike alone, I have some strategies I employ that may not even occur to men, and are likely overly cautious. For example, I never camp within 1-2 miles of a road crossing, I never hike with both ear buds in at the same time, I avoid dating my online trail journal accurately to avoid stockers, I almost always lie about having a gun when asked, and I always leave my trekking poles accessible as a weapon, even while sleeping. But, here is the bottom line: if you look at the actual risk involved in hiking alone vs. almost everything else we do in the city on a daily basis, we cannot ignore the fact that hiking alone, even as a woman, is actually pretty low risk.
If that isn’t convincing enough to set aside your fears and get out and hike, consider these additional statistics from my first solo thru hike. 1) In 2006, there were only about 200-250 people who attempted to hike the PCT northbound, compared to over 1000 people nowadays. 2) I was out for 146 days total. 3) I camped alone only 3 nights, and each time was by choice.
Last year, I hiked the Bigfoot Trail, which overlaps with the PCT for 40 miles. In the 2 days I lingered on the PCT’s tread, I probably met 60 northbound (NOBO) thru hikers (and 10 SOBOs). In fact, I found it difficult to pee, as there was always someone there! Had I been injured or sick, I would have had to wait longer for my hiking partner than for the next thru hiker.
Here is my advice, for what it is worth. If you want to do it, do. Don’t worry about what others think, not everyone will get it. Don’t dwell on the illogical fear. I am very confident that once you get out there, it will be no time before you experience a change in perspective and once you do, you will feel unstoppable.