What I Learned Hiking Alone for the First Time

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This has been my most active summer in terms of hiking. I’ve done a short trail or two nearly every summer for the past few years, but early this spring I realized how good hiking is for me.  It improves my mental and emotional state almost immediately. I have a limitation on what kind of works outs I can do right now, and hiking more this summer has been an exceptional way to stay in shape without putting too much stress on my body. Once I realized how good hiking made me feel I wanted to get out onto longer, more difficult trails, but at my own pace.  I wanted to test my endurance and strength, but I was honestly afraid to go out with another person because I was worried I might hold them back or slow them down and they would regret choosing me as a trail partner.

Earlier in the summer, Holly was telling me how she wanted to go on a solo backpacking trip and I was immediately jealous of the idea. As she told me more about her plans over additional coffee dates my jealousy grew so strong that I realized it was not jealousy at all, it was inspiration. I was inspired to take my own journey and work through some of my own fears using my new BFF, Mother Nature. On a Friday in July I decided that I needed to go camping alone, and by the following Thursday, I was in the car heading to Mt. Tamalpais. Finding a last-minute campsite in mid-July is quite a task. I had no connection to the location, I simply chose it because Bootjack Campground is a first come, first served site that didn’t require hiking into with gear.  In fact, I could see my car from my campsite and I could hear the road the entire time.  Oddly, I felt a sense of safety and comfort from the sounds of the road, particularly on my first solo camping trip, especially as a woman.

Talking into the camera driving

I left my home Thursday afternoon feeling frazzled and anxious.  I drove on roads I’d never been on before. To calm my nerves I talked into my camera phone (hands-free!) on the drive, almost discussing my feelings with myself. I was also very concerned that I might drive two hours and come to a campground that was completely full and my personal growth journey would be ruined. Luckily, I pulled into the parking lot and found the site to be completely vacant.  I had the place all to myself for the first hour.  And in that hour my world turned around and I was relaxed, confident, and even more inspired.

As I observed people stream into the campsite I found my self suddenly aware of my solo status.  There were a couple other solo campers, men, but no women that I could see. My brain started spinning like this:

I wonder if they all think I’m a loser because I have to camp alone.  But maybe they think I’m strong and awesome because I’m here alone. I hope nobody feels sorry for me. I wish I could tell them I chose to be alone. Wait, why do I care so much about what strangers think….seriously, woah…..why do I care so much?

Bootjack campground site 2

In addition to having the time and space to just step back and watch my chaotic thoughts form, I noticed how often I picked up my phone, how much of an urge I had to connect with somebody familiar.  I had to actively resist texting people just to feel companionship.  I wanted to pursue this anxiousness around being alone.  Other than a short good night conversation with my husband, I was pretty successful that first night.

Good Morning! Hot coffee before I hit the trailMy first night’s sleep was not the best, but I was still feeling rested and excited to hike the next morning.  I started the hike with headphones and quickly realized that my mind was still racing and I needed to take away the distraction of the podcast I wasn’t paying attention to anyway (any murderinos out there?) and just watch and listen to my thoughts.  About a mile in, I could physically feel the endorphins and positivity increasing in my body.  I struggle quite a lot with depression, and in this moment I was keenly aware of the fact that I was nowhere near depressed. Despite the length and difficulty of the hike, I was genuinely so happy and feeling more clear-headed than I had in years.

As I got to the bottom of the hike I was unsure of how to get to the trail to go back up to my campsite. I was tired and sweaty and hungry.  I also felt a little afraid that I couldn’t make the hike back up, and then I remembered that I had all the time in the world because I was by myself.  I stopped and ate and figured out where to go next and then found my way to the trail back up to camp.

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The trail up was hard and my back hurt and my knees ached. I passed lots of people coming down as-as I was going up and they all seemed like they were hiking effortlessly while I was a big sweaty huffing puffing mess.  I felt so vulnerable several times as I hiked back up, but the beauty of the trail helped. I coached myself all the way back up that damn mountain:

You don’t have to go any faster than you want to.  Take one step at a time. Pick your feet up, pay attention to the trail.  Breathe in, breathe out.  This trail is steep and you are tired, but you’ve got this. Breathe in, breathe out. Stop and look around at the beauty around you.  Take photos, enjoy the journey. Breathe in, breathe out. Pick up your feet. Breathe in, breathe out.

Being kind and gentle with myself made all of the difference.  I returned to camp exhausted, sweat-drenched, and massively proud of myself.  My exhaustion made me afraid that I was probably not up to the task of hiking the next day.  I started to worry I’d never be able to backpack because you have to hike multiple days in a row.  I was too tired and too happy to spend much time on the thoughts though.

When I woke up the next day I felt amazing.  I was sore and still tired and I had a blister, but I knew I could do more hiking if I wanted to.  By that point, I was pretty tired of my own company and craving companionship so I headed home in the morning, but just knowing that I was capable of way more than I anticipated was incredibly satisfying.

Overall, I was reminded that I am so much more capable than I give myself credit for. I learned how often I reach out for attention. I’m very aware of how addicted I am to my phone. I’m getting really good at watching my own thoughts too.  This experience gave me insight into myself that I was able to use all summer long to continue to become the best, most happy, version of myself.

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Even after completing my Mt. Tamalpais hike I was still nervous to be vulnerable with Holly – one of my very best friends – and on our next hike (Horsetail Falls anyone?).  I chose to be brave and vulnerable and told her that I had to honor my body and my pace.  Funny thing, when you are open and honest with the people who matter in your life, they typically have your back. Horsetail was fantastic. We hiked the shit out of that trail.

Have you ever been afraid to try things because of how you might be perceived? Have you found any methods for conquering those fears?  Share your story! Comment below or drop us an email! We would love to know the ways other people use nature to conquer and explore their fears!

Love,
Kathryn

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