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First of all, what are the dangers of hiking alone?

I. If there is a critter who decides to munch on me, there is no one who can go for help.
II. If I become injured or violently ill, there is no one who can go for help.
III. If there is a moon-mad human, I am more at risk if I am alone.

I. Critters with Munchies
Along the AT the largest risks are from bears and snakes. However, these risks are pretty small. Bears tend to shy away from humans and most of the danger comes from habituated bears that learn humans are a source of food. So practicing proper bear safety technique really minimizes this danger. And then even when a black bear gets the munchies, humans are usually not attacked directly – it’s usually more a case of loss of food and gear.

What do I do if a snake gets the munchies?
First of all, be smart and don’t provoke any snakes. Many snake bites occur when people attempt to handle a snake. Watch out for the presence of snakes in their favorite sunning and shady spots and heed their warnings. If a bite occurs regardless, keep calm and slowly walk out. Do not try to suck the venom out but keep the heart rate low if possible. The snakes present along the AT are generally unable to kill an adult human with their venom.

These are still risks, but that the risk to life is low and the likelihood of occurrence is likewise low.

II. Becoming injured or violently ill
Breaking a foot, ankle, leg or other propulsion component is a big problem when you rely upon that locomotion device to get to medical help. Have you seen the movie “127 Hours”? Good movie that tells a true to life cautionary tale. If you’re solo, don’t take risks like climbing in a slot canyon where no one will even know to look for you. This one is easy. I like to call it: “don’t do stupid stuff.” Practice good lightning safety, don’t climb free solo, don’t try to cross a raging river. And forget about challenging Mr. Bear to a boxing match. If he accepts, he will win, I guarantee it.

One of the major contributors to illness is poor hygiene. So practice good hygiene. It sounds like it might be difficult on the trail, but it’s easy enough to bring along some alcohol or baby wipes and make sure your hands are clean before eating or touching a mucus membrane. Simple.

Another contributor to illness is water borne pathogens. This one isn’t bad either. Choose good water sources and where the quality is questionable, treat it with chemicals or ultraviolet light. (I recommend that you treat ALL of your water unless you are very confident that the water source is reasonably pure. Animal feces in the water upstream could ruin your day and your week.)

I could still come down with appendicitis or something else life threatening, couldn’t I? Absolutely I could. That could happen to me right now as I type this. The likelihood is very low but the possibility exists. In that case, it’s important to know when and how to bug out. Having a First Responder course under your belt helps for knowing when to bug out. Carrying a map and knowing both your location and the location of the nearest exit helps for knowing how to bug out.

Okay, so here we have: risk to life and limb from injury is moderate, the likelihood of occurrence is low; risk to life and limb from illness is moderate, the likelihood of occurrence requiring an evacuation is very low.

Frankly, aside from lightning and high winds, these sources of risk don’t scare me much. There are methods to  decrease the likelihood of occurrence. And when I’m solo I take fewer risks.

III. Moon mad humans!

Wait a minute…I might qualify as moon mad. Let’s redefine this as ‘creeps.’ Here are some things that I use to keep myself safe:
Trust your instinct. If something feels wrong, extricate yourself from wherever you are. To help with this, don’t set up your camp before you meet your camp mates. That way you can always say ‘I’m just stopping in for water,’ and proceed onward to camp somewhere else. If I’m really weirded out, then I won’t let the creepy human know I’m alone. And because I depend so much on my pack and its contents I won’t leave my pack alone unless I really trust the people with whom I’m leaving it.

All that being said, I have never had trouble with creeps and I love my fellow humans. Err, I mean like. Love might be too strong. But I love you for reading this, really I do! So can you come watch my pack for me while I go free solo that cliff to box Mr. Bear at the top? I hear there are poisonous snakes up there and I might even see a lightning strike up close.

The man known as Meriadoc the Halfling and/or Eric Azriel recently hiked every mile of the A.T. and wrote about it along the way. He also took that pic up above. Check out his blog right here!

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