AREN’T YOU AFRAID?
That’s the question I hear most when I talk about Long Distance Hiking, especially the hikes that I do alone. The short answer is “no”. I have been lucky enough to encounter bears, panthers, coyotes, wild hogs, rattle snakes, coral snakes and many other less intimidating critters, and I have always felt awe, never fear. It’s difficult to explain the connection that I feel to the natural world after a couple of weeks out in the woods alone. I often hike with others, but the hikes that I enjoy most are those I take alone.
One memorable hike on the Appalachian Trail started at Standing Bear Farm in Tennessee with 6 hikers for the first 10 miles, 4 hikers for the next 70 miles, 3 for the next 30 miles, and then only me for the next 201 miles. I met many interesting people on the trail, but generally stealth camped away from shelters. My first day out alone was a 2300’ climb in 98° heat and I was feeling bit sorry for myself till I came across a gorgeous timber rattler. I let the snake bask in the middle of the trail seemingly forever, till I became impatient and scooted it gently with my hiking pole. Must be that he was accustomed to me by then and wasn’t a bit threatened by my prodding. I was plenty tired by the time I picked a secluded spot to put up my tent and, as I usually do, fell asleep by about 8PM.
I was fortunate on this hike, to have a couple of friends day hiking the same stretch, using my car and theirs. I didn’t see them every day, but enjoyed them popping up in front of me from time to time. On those days, I would come to a road crossing and my vehicle would magically be there with resupply and usually some goody or another from them. On July 4th I found red white and blue cupcakes, some apple juice and a small American flag. The juice went to Sun Ray who was running the trail and happened upon me as I was eating a cupcake. He was both hungry and thirsty and hurriedly finished the cupcakes and washed them down with the apple juice, then he disappeared. I hiked with the flag for a couple of days, and left it hanging at Overmountain Shelter. A fitting place, I thought, in light of the Overmountain Men and their contribution to the Revolutionary War.
Hiking alone I have a simple routine of pitching a tent and packing it up again in the morning. There are no conversations, no decisions, simply me and all that I hear, smell, feel and see around me. I notice the snail on the tree and the ants in the leaf litter. I hear the birds both in the canopy and in the brush; I’ve come to know many by their song. I notice the patterns in the waving of the leaves, the smell of the distant rain, of the moist ground, the blossoms. I am part of it all. Then I walk. My mind is not working out problems, not rehashing yesterday’s developments, not planning or making lists. I just walk. I am at peace.