By Jessica Shouse
What if? What if? What if? As a mom, wife and female that loves to hike alone, I am often asked, what if something happens? Aren’t you scared? What if you see a bear? (I have, and lived to tell about it). I’ve had people tell me I am crazy & insane. I’ve had people ask, “your husband lets you go alone?” Yes, yes, he does. More on that in a minute. People politely inform me of all that could go wrong. Wrong turns, sprained ankles, wet clothes, no clean water, etc.…
Guess what? I know. I know all the things that could go wrong. No, I’m not scared. Do I have moments of fear? Of course, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But for the most part, being on the trail, alone in nature is very comforting and very soothing. The majestic mountain peaks surround me like a big protective hug. There is a specific point when driving on Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park that comes to mind. You turn a corner and then, bam! Hallett Peak, among other towering beauties, emerge and a sense of calm and safety rush into me and I’m reminded that all will be okay.
Sure, there are risks. There are inherent risks in everything that we do. Think it’s not a risk to get in your car to go to work or ski down your favorite slope? I try to be smart and prepare for every hike despite the risks. I do my research. I am a smart, college educated woman. I can hold my own. I check conditions and study trail maps before I depart. I always do an inventory of my bag; ensuring I have all the essential safety and emergency items. I always tell at least one person my plans and I try very hard not to deviate from those plans. I make sure to have my special good luck charm with me on all my adventures. My son has a little transformer action figure, Bumble Bee. As I was preparing to set out for a solo hike one day, Jacob brought Bumble Bee to me and asked if he could go for a hike. I obliged. I made sure to take lots of photos of Bumble Bee that day, just for Jacob. He loved seeing those photos! Bumble bee has been on every adventure since and as silly as it sounds, he makes me feel a little safer out there on the trails. People also love seeing him. I receive lots of comments about him. He rides right on the front of me in a little elastic strap on my pack. He has an awesome front row view to some of the best scenery in the world. I will be sneaking photos of him in future posts. Now if you see him, you know his back story!
History and society have told women for years and years past that we shouldn’t be alone in the city, let alone in the mountains! In fact, National Park Service jobs used to be “men’s only.” A bunch of bull if you ask me! There is scientific evidence to show that female solo hiking is not more dangerous than hiking alone as a man. 80% of search and rescue cases involve males… Back to my husband letting me go alone. Let me make one thing clear, I am way too strong & independent of a woman to let a man, or anyone, stop me from achieving my goals. With that being said, we have a very solid relationship. We are equal. No one is above the other. We respect and support one another 110%. He is supportive of me hiking alone because he knows how much I enjoy it and how much it means to me to connect with nature. He has seen first-hand the benefits it has provided me. And, hey, as they say, happy wife happy life right?
Sure, I was a bit scared on my first solo hike. But the more & longer solo hikes that I do the more & more I realize I am just fine out there all alone. I have learned so much about myself! That I am capable of anything I put my mind to. That I am a strong, brave, powerful and wise female. Hiking solo has become the number one thing I do to help manage stress and my anxiety. What better way to get rid of all that toxic energy than by putting your hands in the soil, wading your feet in a cool river, feeling the tension blow off your shoulders in the wind. I love being in the woods alone. Perhaps one of my favorite things in the entire universe is to find a nice flat rock next to a river or lake and bask in the afternoon sunshine for a good hour. Sometimes I listen to my favorite songs, sometimes I pull out my favorite book and many times I simply lay still, enjoying the serene stillness and calmness that life does not often provide us.
Did I mention the boost of self-confidence that comes from hiking a new trail alone? Solo hiking has taught me to acknowledge any fears of doubts I may have along the way. Then I think of how amazing the views are going to be once I reach my destination for the day. Those fears and doubts are quickly cast aside. Now, I am not suggesting that we throw all fears away. Sometimes those feelings we get are trying to tell us something important. My advice, trust your instincts. If something just doesn’t feel right, take action. I have had to cut a long-awaited trip short because unpredicted thunderstorms quickly rolled in. With many of my preferred hikes being at 9,000 ft evaluation or higher, lighting is a serious concern. That day I continued on for a few minutes despite a few very strong claps of thunder, not wanting to ruin the day. Where there is thunder, there is lightning… I had a brief conversation with myself and was quickly reminded that the risk at that time was not one that I was willing to take. I quickly turned around and headed back to the car. Good thing, because not 5 minutes later the skies opened and it started to rain a torrential downpour with multiple lightning strikes recorded in the area.
Solo hiking has trained my brain to be able to handle all sorts of tough situations in many areas of my life in a much more calm and positive manner. Being alone allows me to savor every moment. To enjoy every ray of sunshine and every inch of powder blue sky. I can stop to take it all in as much or as little as I want. I can take a nap and breathe in that crisp clean mountain air for as long as my heart desires. Being alone on the trail is paradise to me. A very crucial & important part of my self-care routine. Sure, there are risks. I’m not trying to deny that. However, risks result in rewards. No risk, no story. If we never take risks and challenge ourselves how will we ever grow? How will we ever know what we are capable of? A quote comes to mind, “You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there’s no joy living your whole life on the ground.” So ladies, lace up those boots, grab your backpacks and go on a solo adventure. I promise, you’ll be hooked and will be begging for more.