The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Backpacking (page 1 of 9)

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

Let’s Run Away with the Tiny-Mes!

(If you are new and haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

The Tiny-Mes apparently don’t like dreary, gray Ohio winters. (Hmmm…just like us!) They disappeared not long after we finished our fall backpacking trip. Winter doesn’t want to let go around here, but the Tiny-Mes showed up recently, just in time to help plan our next adventures. (I asked where they had been. All they said was “someplace sunny!” They won’t say if it was snowy sun or sunning on a beach. Either way, we are glad to see them again!)

At the first hint of spring, we start dreaming and planning. So many possibilities! So many directions we could go! So many people we could reconnect with! All of us love to study maps…

This year it looks like we will make an Epic Road Trip to son’s graduation in Montana. The Tiny-Mes had to get passports—we are headed into Canada to explore the mountains! Plus there will be a summer Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure in Vermont with a friend or two. And possibly, another fall trip to TN to fill in a section of the AT that we missed last year.

Now that we have a general plan, it is time to get out the guide books, the maps, and the computer. I’m sure I’ve told you before (HERE and HERE) how much I love making detailed plans and itineraries! As always, I have to cut out about half of what we dream of doing.  Hubby encourages our wanderings…but wants us back home sometimes! HA!

Next, it’s time to pull out all our gear from the storage closet. We check to see that everything is clean and in good repair. We figure out what needs replaced or what we hope to upgrade. The Tiny-Mes decided try out a hammock this year. They say it will be the perfect piece of gear for a road trip.

We can’t wait to get back to the Great Outdoors! We love wandering and exploring new places. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you. May can’t come soon enough…

The Tiny-Mes urge you to consider sponsoring my upcoming training to become a Forest Therapy Guide. YOU could win the drawing on May 7th to have your own personalized Tiny-Me join us on our summer backpacking trip! Wouldn’t it be fun to vicariously adventure with us? Find out how to support me HERE. Get the details about the drawing HERE (scroll down to $57 level).


The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

New You, New Name…What’s in a Name? (Part 2)

It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…

In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…

Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings

Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.

Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:

BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!

(from iNaturalist.com)

BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.

IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.

OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…

(photo from an ebay listing)

PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!

So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Christmas Gifts–All Year Long!

The presents are opened; the food is eaten; the relatives have gone home. The Christmas holidays are over. But the very best gifts of Christmas don’t have to be packed away until next year. We can enjoy them all year long—especially by spending time outdoors!

May HOPE, LOVE, JOY and PEACE be yours, all the year through!

Some families and churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit on the wreath, reminding us to focus on the true gifts offered to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Even for folks who follow other religions (or no religion at all), each one of us longs to experience these qualities in our personal lives. Daughter and I have discovered that being in Nature gets us away from the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily living. Time in the woods brings us  these simple gifts:

HOPE: Anything feels possible when we head outdoors for adventure. Even when the trail is difficult and we have a bad day, we comfort ourselves that tomorrow will bring new beauty and fresh challenges. Out here there are always reminders that nothing is so dark that light cannot shine into the shadows…

LOVE: Being outdoors helps us experience different facets of this gift. We better love the earth itself when we spend time in Nature. For us personally, our love for the Creator God grows when we experience the beauty around us. We deepen our connections with others as we overcome challenges together. (Yes, even when we want to kill each other…we are still building relationship! Haha!)

JOY:  We are often reminded of this verse while we are hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; (Let the sea roar and all that fills it); Let the field exult and everything in it; Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Psalm 96:11-12) One particular morning, we were in awe to find this tree, singing for joy with arms raised toward the sunlight!

PEACE: Even science affirms that we need time in the woods to lower stress and counter the noisy, hectic world in which we live. It is never completely silent in the woods, but the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, wind blowing, and water flowing are calming, soothing noises. Sometimes we talk or sing while we hike together, other times we savor the peace that surrounds us when we walk in Nature.

As we put away the decorations of the Christmas season and look toward the beginning of a New Year, let’s make more time to get outdoors. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of Christmas all year long.

(I would love to hear which gift you want more of in the coming year. Please share your plans for spending time in Nature in the coming year by commenting on this post!)

What’s in a Name? (Part 1)

When backpackers meet another hiker on the trail, they commonly stop for a few moments to chat. Rather than ask “Where are you from?” or “Where do you work?” conversation tends to be hiking specific. “How long are you out here?” Or, “How far are you heading?” If coming from different directions on the trail, the hikers often exchange info about upcoming obstacles, how well the water source is flowing, or what wonderful restaurant is in the next town. They also exchange names. But these are not names you would overhear in your local coffee shop!

Long distance hikers use “Trail Names.” This allows a level of privacy or even protection when meeting strangers. Eventually, if hikers run into each other again and again at evening stopping places, they may share contact information to catch up with each other in an upcoming town or to keep in touch post hike. Sometimes they reach a point of sharing “real names.” It’s funny, though, that there are a few hikers I text with occasionally off-trail, but still have no clue what they are called in real life!

There is some controversy about whether a trail name must be given by others or whether it can be personally chosen. In the long run, however, the origin really doesn’t matter. Once the hiker starts using the name, it becomes their identity on-trail.

Finding the perfect name for characters she imagines is very important to my daughter. She gets very upset if a name doesn’t match her ideas of what is proper or right. Because of this, we decided to choose our own names before starting our first long-distance hiking adventure. She chose “Andowen,” an elven name from a Lord of the Rings role playing game she enjoys. She felt the name perfectly fit what we were doing because, of course, “Elves belong in the woods, Mom!” 


It took me longer to choose my name. For years, I used “Mama Duck” on-line because when my kids were little I was like a mama duck with a line of ducklings following behind. I thought about using “colorfulheart,” my current online name. Neither of those quite fit my imagined role while hiking. Finally, I decided on “Story Seeker.” Wherever I go, I look for stories—ones I make up about what I see and do, and ones I hear from others. Time in the woods gives great scope for discovering new stories to share with friends like YOU! (This Native American story-teller figurine was given to me years ago by a friend who recognized my role as story-collector and story-teller…) 

 
This explains how we got our names. In a future post I will tell stories of the trail names of other hikers we have met on our adventures.

Hiking with Friends

“But doesn’t she miss her friends?” This is one of the first questions asked when I tell folks that I take my teen daughter with me on extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. The short answer is “yes!” But it’s not a complete answer. I think most of us out there miss friends and family back home. That doesn’t stop us from hiking. In addition, as we meet others on the trail who share our passion, we often discover new friends.

“You’ve got a friend in me, When the road looks rough ahead, And you’re miles and miles, From your nice warm bed, You’ve got a friend in me” – Randy Newman

It is common to spend most of our days hiking alone in the woods. Because Andowen and I  choose to stay in shelters whenever possible, we find social time in the evenings. (Click HERE to read a recent post I wrote about this.) It is surprising how often deep conversations happen around a supper table or a campfire. Part of the reason is likely the natural intimacy that occurs because of shared trials and triumphs. We understand each other in ways our friends back home do not. In addition, there is a sense of confidentiality. After all, we may never meet these hikers again. Even if we do run into each other further down the trail, everyone introduces themselves with “trail names” which allows us to keep our personal identity private. (I will write more in a future post about these names we use while hiking…promise!)

One of the delights of backpacking the AT is that we meet people from every walk of life. Beyond the shared passion for being in the woods, there is great diversity of age, experience, values, and beliefs. At home they are CEOs or custodians who would never talk to each other but in the woods it is refreshing to discover that there is rarely a “hierarchy.” There may be different levels of experience, but everyone out there faces similar challenges and carries comparable gear. This equality contributes to feeling both free and empowered.

It is not uncommon to run into certain hikers again and again as we leap-frog each other down the trail. Sometimes this just adds friendly faces to our trip. Other times, we choose to exchange “real-life” information so we can connect off-trail. On our first trip in Fall 2015, we evacuated to my sister’s house to avoid a hurricane. (Read about it HERE.) We brought two hiking friends with us. We are still in regular contact with both Blaze and Beetle. One of these years, we hope to visit and/or hike together again!

Sometimes we meet a hiker just briefly but still choose to exchange information to keep in touch. Diva is someone we met on our first trip and kept in contact with via facebook. We have tried a number of times to meet each other on the AT, but busy lives are hard to coordinate. Finally, Diva helped us take my mom on a birthday adventure this summer. And we spent a week with Diva and her friend at the end of our trip this fall. We have a few other hiking friends we hope to someday join for backpacking fun.

We like to talk about our AT adventures. (What a surprise, right?!) Occasionally, a friend wonders about joining us. Usually, they don’t have time or don’t have gear or don’t have support from their families. Sometimes we just smile and nod…knowing we have a good friendship off-trail but that it probably wouldn’t work well to be in the woods together. Other times, a friend or family member does indeed join us for a week of adventure. We loved having my middle daughter with us in Virginia in Spring 2016. We enjoyed the companionship of a new friend for a week this fall. And we are trying to coordinate schedules to introduce another friend to backpacking on a possible trip to Maine next summer. Wanna join us? Let’s talk!

Back to the opening question in this post…”don’t we miss our friends back home?” Yes, we miss them terribly sometimes. But we know our family and close friends are strong supporters of our wandering. They patiently listen to us blather about the trail when we are home. They follow our adventures as we post photos and stories online (and call when we have cell coverage). And they sometimes visit or send packages to encourage us along the way. We couldn’t do any of this without the emotional and financial support of hubby/daddy. (Read a post about wonderful support HERE.) We can’t wait to get to the woods for a new adventure…and we can’t wait to get back home to our friends and family. 

AT Memories and Possibilities–Final Words from the Tiny-Mes

When we are on a long backpacking trip, we are homesick for friends and routines left behind. And when we get home, we are homesick (trail-sick?) for the adventures and the simplicity of backpacking.

Our (tiny) hiking pals regularly remind us of favorite places we enjoyed along the Appalachian Trail.

Tiny S most enjoyed the challenges posed by jumbled boulders or fallen trees. It was a fun puzzle to figure out whether to go over, under, around, or through the obstacles. (See another blog post about this HERE.)

Tiny A frequently talks about the fun she had playing near the streams. The rocks and roots overhanging the water were perfect to climb on. The cold water was a great way to cool off at the end of a sweaty day of hiking. And the sound of flowing water lulled us all to sleep at night.

Both Tiny-Mes agree that they don’t want to miss next year’s adventure in the woods. They plan to join us again when we head back to the mountains to hike more miles of the Appalachian Trail. There are rumors of a trip to Maine to complete the 100-mile Wilderness. Or possibly a repeat visit to see the wild ponies in Grayson Highlands. Or maybe the new challenge of a few days of winter camping.

We have been home for a few months now. We love our small town in Middle America. We treasure chatting with friends when we unexpectedly meet them running errands around town. We enjoy reading books, lounging near the cozy warmth of our fireplace.

Memories and Possibilities. We cling to them as the weather gets cold and winter approaches. Time to plan our next adventures!

More Adventures for the Tiny-Mes

It’s all well and good to have (tiny) hiking pals who are remarkable similar to each of us. They love being in the woods, they crave adventure, they enjoy meeting new people, and they thrive on trying new things. But…sometimes similarities can cause problems. Tiny A and Tiny S are also outspoken, persistent, and strong-willed, just like us. (Some might even say sassy, stubborn and rebellious!) On this trip, they occasionally got bored with hiking day after day and wanted to go off on their own to explore new possibilities.

The first sign of trouble was when we reached the Eastern Continental Divide along the Appalachian Trail on the top of a mountain in SW Virginia. Tiny A has always wanted to learn Spanish and insisted she was going to take a boat down the streams and rivers, cross the Gulf of Mexico, and head for the Yucatan. Tiny S wanted to spend time at the beach and decided to follow the waterways until she reached the Atlantic Ocean. We told them it would be too difficult to build a boat up on a mountaintop. They gave in but sulked the rest of the day…

A few weeks later, Tiny A and Tiny S decided to prove us wrong. They found a lovely stream and jumped aboard a leaf-boat while Story Seeker was getting water. I caught them just in time, before they were swept away from shore into the swirling current.

At one point, the Tiny-Mes decided they wanted a break from a forest filled with tree after tree, all looking the same. They were tired of the drought and resulting severe lack of drinking water. They were grumpy about the noise and the dangerous footing caused by so many dead leaves on the ground. Tiny A and Tiny S found an area of luxurious leafy plants, sat down and refused to move unless we promised to take them to a jungle. Sorry, Tiny-Mes! Perhaps that’s a trip for another year!

Eventually, the Tiny-Mes tried a new tactic—appealing to our interests outside of backpacking. Knowing how much Story Seeker finds peace when walking through deep caves, Tiny A and Tiny S found some caverns to explore among the tree roots along the Appalachian Trail. We had to remind them that size differences prohibited us from joining them for their hours of spelunking. (They supposedly found wondrous stalactites and stalagmites…but we will all just have to take their word for it! Maybe next time they will take a camera with them!)

Tiny A watched Andowen making fantasy weapons out of wood. One afternoon when we got to camp, we discovered Tiny A taking sword-play lessons from a local elf. She claimed that when she got as good as Andowen, they could get off trail and spend time at a Renaissance Fair. Andowen loved that idea…but I meanly insisted we had to finish our current adventure before going somewhere else.

Next, Tiny A and Tiny S tried to convince Andowen to join them on a fishing expedition. They had forgotten that she had no proper gear to catch a fish, so she was able to avoid getting caught in that particular fantasy. She has wondered if we could bring some hooks and fishing line on our next trip. Tiny A is certain it would be an excellent alternate use for Andowen’s sturdy staff!

We thought we had finally convinced the Tiny-Mes that this trip was all about backpacking. They seemed to regain pleasure in our trek. But one day, the Tiny-Mes disappeared again. After some backtracking, we found them in a rocky area. They were enjoying some climbing and rappelling. When we asked them why they ran off without telling us, they reminded us that unlike them, we are both afraid of heights. True! We had absolutely no interest in joining them for that type of adventure!

Eventually, the Tiny-Mes quit arguing and disappearing on a search for new adventures. They claimed they would stay with us and hike without complaints. After I bribed them with the promise of publicity, they agreed to let us know next time they found an exciting distraction. That’s why I took these photos and am publishing their exploits on my blog!

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Alone in the Woods?

If the idea of spending months alone in the woods intrigues you, backpacking the Appalachian Trail is not the right choice for you. Contrary to what worried friends and family imagine, you will not experience day after day of dangerous solitude. At times, you will be surrounded by people…

The original vision for this trail was a place of respite for the many big-city dwellers along the East Coast. It certainly meets that goal. In the past few years, 2-3 million people set foot on the AT annually.  Popular sections get downright crowded on weekend days when visitors come out for a few hours or a simple overnight.

Like most overnight hikers, we aim for a shelter each night. We like the ease (laziness?) of throwing our sleeping pads and bags on the wooden floor. Others prefer to pitch their tents nearby. Everyone appreciates the often-found “luxuries” of a picnic table, a nearby water source, and an outhouse.

When hikers gather, stories are told and tips are shared. Some nights there is chatter and joking around a campfire. Mornings tend to be hectic, with hikers all focused on grabbing breakfast and packing up their gear. Occasionally the nightly conversation has been deep enough that new friends gather for a photo together before going their separate ways. For most of us, this social aspect is part of the joy of a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.

Do you need more time away from people? Even when evenings get crowded, it is easy to spend most of the day by yourself. You will only occasionally pass another hiker. You can choose to hike at your own pace. If sharing the adventure with a partner (like daughter Andowen and I do), walk on your own for most of the planned daily miles, then meet occasionally to check on each other and enjoy a snack together. Savor those hours of quiet, immersed by yourself in nature!

Do you long for solitude? Do you dream of traveling alone? Consider a backpacking expedition on a different long trail such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. Both of these trails are much more remote. Hundreds of thousands of people use the PCT annually. Even fewer set foot on the CDT.

If you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail but occasionally need more than a few daily hours of hiking alone, consider backpacking on a more remote area of the trail (such as in Maine). Or simply plan to camp away from shelters for a few nights. We greatly enjoyed the nights we slept beside waterfalls or beautiful streams.

Now you know the truth. Tell your family and friends to stop worrying. When you choose to adventure on the Appalachian Trail…you will rarely be alone in the woods!

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