These days everyone seems to be afraid to do anything alone. Maybe they can go through life that way, but if I had to wait for someone to do things with me, I’d never get to do anything. Especially when it comes to adventures like long-distance backpacking or bicycle tours. I know few people who would want to do those things, and the ones who do are stuck in jobs or situations they can’t get away from.
When I announced my plan to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, everyone wanted to know who was going with me.
They were shocked when I said I was going alone. They just “knew” it was too dangerous to go alone, especially for a woman.They’d “heard” that people had been killed out there on the trail. I actually got tired of hearing about it.
My usual response to those fearful people was to point out that people get killed in my hometown, too, and we’re not afraid to walk down the street. I stated that if they drew a line on a map between any two towns 2,000 miles apart, there was likely to have been murders along that route.
People heard me, but they didn’t really understand. My parents finally stopped fussing too much about it when they realized they couldn’t talk me out of it, but they didn’t fully relax until they had come to meet me along the trail and met some of the other hikers.
Then they realized the other hikers were real people, too, and that we all looked out for each other.
I wasn’t really out there alone. When given my trail name, other hikers knew me or knew of me. They knew if I was ahead or behind and when I was likely to reach town. If hikers don’t show up as expected, other hikers notice and backtrack to check on them.
The point is, you can start an Appalachian Trail thru-hike by yourself, but it is hard to be alone out there. Especially if you’re beginning and hiking during the normal season and traveling northbound, you will meet up with other thru-hikers the first week, if not the very first day. Most of them will become your “group” to the end.
Prior to my thru-hike, I was too intimidated to do much of anything alone. How much of life had I missed out on because I always needed someone with me? The hike changed that. I
had the guts to take the first step — pushing myself out there alone. And even though there were other hikers close by, the trail gave me just enough solitude to gain confidence in myself. I now take doing things alone for granted, and I no longer feel like I miss out on life.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail alone? Don’t let that stop you. Just go.
Nancy Shepherd is the author of My Own Hike: A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail. As an accomplished thru-hiker she also maintains her own site at www.appalachian-trail-thru-hike.com/
My alarm goes off. I get up and sleepwalk to the shower. I squeeze some face wash into my hand, and the smell reminds me of the travel size face wash I carried with me on the trail…