It pained us to see a news story some years ago about a young woman that was murdered on a “hiking trail” in Winter Haven.
The trail in question was a paved rail-trail connecting Winter Haven and Lake Alfred. By by the comments on the TrailLink website, it passes through an area where trail users don’t feel safe.
Having walked bike paths solo for many years to collect Florida Trail information, it was a reminder that heading out there alone, especially in an urban area, is a much bigger risk than hiking with a friend.
How, as a solo hiker, can you soften that risk? Having hiked alone for many years, here are some of the methods Sandra has personally used.
Know Where You Are Going
Research the destination. Is the trail in an urban area? If so, what surrounds it? Is it in a very remote area?
If you don’t feel comfortable as you’re driving to the trailhead, follow your instincts and move on.
If you’re on a linear trail and you don’t like where it’s headed, turn back.
Check In Before and After
Call or text a friend or family member before and after taking solo hikes, just as a safety precaution. It’s best to do so well before arriving at the trailhead in case there is no cell service.
Assess The Risk
If you arrive at a trailhead and don’t like what you see, don’t step into a situation in progress. Leave immediately and call 911 or local law enforcement.
Over the years, we’ve done that for reasons ranging from illicit dumping and vandalism to indecent exposure, prostitution, and cruising, mostly in urban parks but sometimes at remote woodsy trailheads, too.
Be aware of your surroundings. This goes for visual sweeps of your surroundings in urban areas as well as along the footpath itself.
It’s best NOT to wear earbuds in the woods when you are alone. You want to hear what is ahead of you and behind you, and especially what’s near you. You won’t hear that rattlesnake if you’re listening to iTunes.
Have a Plan
What would you do if someone tried to do you harm? Or if you saw an alligator on the trail? Or a pygmy rattler? Or if a branch fell and hit and injured you?
Think through your response to problems well in advance of them happening. By doing so, you may change some of your own behaviors in response.
Instead of burying your phone in your pack like you would when backpacking with friends, you’d want to keep it close at hand in airplane mode while hiking alone.
You may want to carry a hiking stick when you hike solo, even if you don’t normally. They are handy for more than just support.
Sandra has used hers more than once to scare off an alligator or snake from the trail, simply by staying at a distance from it and banging the stick on the ground.
While it’s safer to hike with a friend, that isn’t always possible. Don’t let the lack of someone to hike with keep you from enjoying the outdoors.
Just be aware that it’s your job to watch after your own safety when you’re taking a walk in the woods. Don’t let “what could happen” mess with your head and spoil your hike.