Ok, the title of this post is a lie. I’m already looking at doing another solo thru-hike in fall 2016. But I’ve scaled back my previous ambitions of a Hayduke Trail solo to something smaller, the Colorado Trail. This is for a few reasons, the main one being because I remember: I was miserable on the AZT. I was miserable because I was lonely.
As much nostalgia and good feelings as I have toward the AZT (see forthcoming post), as much as I am inclined to remember the positive and forget the negative, I cannot forget the loneliness. Now, true, there was only one day on the entire AZT where I didn’t see a single other human being. Only one day! But most days, human sitings were from a distance, or in passing. I encountered many hunters, some mountain bikers, some people out for the day to shoot bullets into hills – most of these encounters were near road crossings. Overall, I saw very few hikers on the trail. I would go days without having a conversation with anyone but myself. For the first week or so, it was exciting and even kind of exhilarating. But it got old fast. By the middle-end of the trail, I actually went out of my way to talk to strangers. Like, in a stupid way. I put myself in situations that could have been dangerous. I don’t think most women in their right mind would approach [alone] a camp of big, scruffy male hunters in the middle of nowhere and strike up a jolly conversation. Yet I did this time and time again, always aware and cautious of potential consequences, but too desperate and longing for human contact. Maybe I was lucky nothing bad happened, or maybe there was not actually much risk, and we as a society teach women too much to fear being alone amongst strange men. I know I was lucky in that all of these men wholeheartedly welcomed me into their camps and were unanimously curious and awestruck at my solo journey.* I left the man-camps feeling strong and feeling like I could make it to the next trailhead, or town, or whatever. I needed reassurance. Especially toward the end, I needed someone, man or woman, to tell me I could do it. Telling myself I could do it was not enough. My hike was successful, but my foray into immersive solitude was a failure.
But I learned, and that is what is important. I learned that, even though I am more introvert than extrovert, I still need people. I need people with whom to share experiences, to reflect on those experiences, to feel those experiences together. I have a strong connection to nature, but even nature cannot fill the void that solitude creates. There is a time and a place to seek solitude in wilderness, and for me that is not 50 straight days in the desert. That’s a little bit too long. (Mad respect, though, to the many, many hikers out there who gladly venture solo for days on end.) Don’t get me wrong, I loved parts of the AZT and I have no regrets. I am so glad I did the hike, and I would go through all of the struggles and good times again, in a heartbeat.**
*Their reactions made me feel empowered but also sad that what I was doing was not more….normal. Lots of women thru-hike, but I think one would find that many more men than women choose to hike alone. Both sexes have to contend with the dangers of wilderness solitude, such as exposure, lack of access to resources, wildlife encounters, etc. For men, it ends there. Women have other factors to consider. Namely, rape. Let’s face it, even the most remote wildernesses in the lower 48 are frequented very often by people. A disproportionate number of those people are men. Encountering an unknown man alone in the wilderness…. yeah, you get the idea. Women have every rational right to fear men in the wilderness far more than bears, mountain lions, or any other creature. This is the sad, sad truth about our world that even the fairytale never-never world of thru-hiking cannot escape.
**And I am forever grateful to the friends, family, and strangers that endured my interminable grumbles about the trail.