“Distrusting our capacity to be alone, we too quickly look to others to save us, often from ourselves,” writes Sarvananda in Solitude and Loneliness: A Buddhist View.
Hiking alone often gets a bad rap. What if something bad happens? Well, what if it doesn’t? Some of my most memorable and meaningful hikes have been solo. In the wilderness, with only yourself and the land to think about, you quickly master the art of “being present”, something that is way too easy to avoid these days.
The upsides to hiking alone are many, and powerful. I didn’t realize this until after my first major solo hike. That experience came about largely by accident, when I was sent to Phoenix on a business trip. I had been doing quite a bit of day hiking with friends, and figured while I was in the area that I would take advantage of it and do some hiking in Arizona. I quickly decided I wanted to see Sedona, a place I had always heard great things about. Once I started consulting maps, I realized that I would also be within reach of the Grand Canyon, another place I hadn’t yet been.
So I planned and executed a trip and my trip went exactly as planned, maybe even better. I chatted with people along Bear Mountain in Sedona who told me their son was working at the Grand Canyon and did the route I was planning. They bolstered my confidence that I could do it. Along my hike up Bright Angel Trail, I met another solo hiker who was doing the same route I was. We started chatting and ended up finishing the hike together. If I had been hiking with others, I doubt we would have stopped to chat with other people and I would have missed the opportunity to connect with someone doing the same unusual thing I was doing at the same time on the same day.
So, based on personal experience, here are my top 5 reasons you should (sometimes) hike alone:
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With temperatures climbing into the 40's here in Wisconsin, it was either time to hit the beach or trek the trail. We opted for the latter.
Heading out to one of our favorite area segments, Loew Lake, our daughter started the hike a bit whiny and requesting to be held. Of course, that all changed when the first blaze came into sight. Even though it has been a few months since she last visited the Ice Age Trail, bopping blazes for her is like riding a bike.
We enjoyed checking out the tracks, investigating the pine needles, and testing out different walking sticks. I am also glad our mandatory pit stop at every bench now consists of only a snack rather than a diaper change.
We weren't the only ones out on the trail. In our hike, we met a stunning Siberian husky, stepped to the side while a dad pulled two boys on a sled, and enjoyed giving love to a dachshund named Huck and a black lab named Hank. Huck and Hank on a hike. Love it!
Luckily for us, the blaze bopping season has only just begun.
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I along with a few of our Hiking Forward Correspondents are taking to the woods on January 1st to help in leading New Year's Day hikes. This is a great way to start the year off outside and help those around you to enjoy what nature has to offer all us on day one.
I will be leading my local Sierra Club's Stone Soup Hike in Central Illinois. Everyone brings something for the two pots (one vegetarian and one meat). The soup simmers over open fires as we all hike. When we return we share in the soup, fellowship and great conversation. The hike has continued to grow each year and become a family tradition for many.
According to the National Association of State Parks Directors almost 28000 participated in First Day Hikes throughout America's state parks hiking over 66,000 miles total. The family nature club that I started in 2012 has held a First Day Hike annually since it's inception. This year is no exception, on January 1st I will be leading a First Day Hike with the South Mississippi Family Nature Club along the Black Creek Hiking Trail.
First Day Hike – Friday, January 1st, 2016 – 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Hosted by the Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Get outdoors and begin the New Year with a hike at Lapham Peak. First Day hikes take place throughout the nation. Be part of this celebration of the country’s parks and trails. This moderate level family friendly hike will be about 3 to 4 miles in length. Dress for the weather. Bring snowshoes and hiking poles if you wish. Park fees will be waived for the day. The hike will begin from the Hausmann Nature Center parking lot. Warm up with hot beverages and snacks at the Center afterwards.
Are you planning on hiking on the 1st day of the year? Comment below and let us know where you are hiking.
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Being a fan of hiking and the national trails scene, I knew I couldn't skip trekking some of the Pacific Crest Trail as we headed west. Luckily for me, the trail meandered through Mount Rainier National Park, just a scenic hour-long drive from where we stayed.
Back in the Badger State, we are frequent visitors to the Ice Age Trail. With diversity in the landscapes offered and route difficulties, each trip offers up a new adventure. When we visited the Great Smokies, we made sure to hit up the Appalachian Trail. The segment we traveled was pretty rocky and treacherous, but quite memorable. Now that we knew we were within sixty minutes of the Pacific Crest Trail, there was no turning back, though our hike did not go as planned.
Trail signage is always an issue. I must admit that the area of trail near my hometown is well-taken care of by a group of volunteers known as the Blazin' Babes, so I am probably a bit of a signage snob. My wife and I like to compare the signage of different trails and parks we visit, and honestly, it can get frustrating at times. This was definitely one of those times. Luckily, just off the parking area, there was a small sign labeled PCNST, for Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. From my research, we would start on the PCNST, embark off on a scenic loop trail known as Naches Peak, before returning to the PCNST to complete the journey. Through poor signage, inattentiveness, or a combination of both, it didn't take long before we found ourselves a bit lost. Not terribly lost, but lost nonetheless. The once wide trail had become quite narrow and unmarked.
The path was most certainly trailblazed by previous adventurers as it was by no means the easy to moderate trek promised by the trail information sheet a ranger and provided us.
Getting lost can bring out anger, annoyed feelings, and tension. However, the "Positive Peter" nickname once coined to me was able to squeeze some much needed lemonade out of a seemingly sour lemon. I kept a smile on my face, remembering that sometimes getting lost just provides an opportunity to find yourself.
We found a few other things as well, including another pair of mountain goats. We enjoyed watching them from afar and checking their progress throughout our unintended excursion. I also found a stunning yellow flower all alone in a field of rocks and roots.
Eventually, we decided to retrace our steps and see if we could find where we originally aimed to explore. It wasn't long before we found our initial error and regained the path to the promised land, or at least the PCNST.
I am sure glad we did. While the Naches Peak loop was very uphill and our already tiring legs had hiked a bit more than we had planned for, the sea of green and magnificent mountain views eased the aches and pains coursing through my legs.
Eventually, the endless climb came to a flattening out and we were greeted by a number of other hikers and a sign. We had made it back to the Pacific Crest Trail. Though connected to the previous trail, this trail felt different. The air was fresher. The rocks were prettier. And oddly enough, the terrain was ridiculously easier. It felt flat. It felt more open. It felt more comfortable.
We took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the area on this hazy and cloudy afternoon. Though the original route was altered by factors in and out of our control, the end result made all the missteps that much more worth it. I enjoyed my short stay on The PCNST. I'll be back again.
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I was in a band in high school. I know, you’re thinking ‘that’s where I’ve heard his name before!’ We were called Sweet Crazy Money and it consisted of myself and three friends. These guys are some of the best men I know now. Two or them were brothers and are still my best friends. But at the time I was mostly friends with the older brother Andy and hung out with Brent the younger brother almost exclusively for sports and band stuff. The friendships with these two would prove invaluable for, among other things, my love of hiking. See when Andy went off to college in Kentucky I hung out with Brent much more. 10 years ago I took my first real hike. It was one of the high points of my manhood.
Brent had read the book Wild At Heart by John Eldredge. He too had realized the woes of Florida life and our lack of elevation. So, he declared that he was going to climb a mountain. Five friends were joining him and I, one who relishes awkwardness because I just never feel it, invited myself to join them. The 6 of us were off into the great unknown, literally, we just drove north.
Now that I have kids an itinerary is crucial. Back then we went until we saw a mountain and a path. All I know of the location of this trip is that we were in Sapphire, North Carolina. And I only know it because of the YouTube video I made. It has it in there (I’ll post the link to the video at the bottom. It was made in 1847 so go easy on me for the editing. I think I was using DOS back then). My father signed me up for Cub Scouts and I had been on fishing trips were I’d traversed a creek or two. But up until that point in my life I had never been on an actual hike in the forest. Here’s how much of an idiot I was: 1) I bought brand new work boots for the hike. Hey, I had no idea what terrain lay outside to borders of the Sunshine State. Could be Georgia, could be Mordor. 2) For food I packed 5 raw potatoes (I’m Irish. Sue me.) and 5 cans of soup. In other words, I packed 45 pounds of food. Did I mention I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with? No? Well, I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with. The hike was a hilarious 5 miles. I say hilarious because at one point I thought we had gone two miles and looked over my shoulder to still see our car roughly a few hundred yards away.
The trip itself and the company were spectacular. Just some dudes who went from Boys to Men (That’s what we should have named the band! Man we blew it. No wonder we came to an end of the road). We had to cross two suspension bridges very Indiana Jones style. One morning I spotted an otter living it up in the mist of the river. I made friendships for a lifetime that I truly felt were cemented on that trip. I lived with two of the dudes in college. I went to 3 of their weddings and even DJed one. Mind you I’m not a real DJ, but I can make some magic on the ones and twos. Two of them live in different states but when they come in town I give a free basketball clinic just to remind them who the boss is.
Down side, Brent got an amoeba in his cornea that he found a few weeks later and almost lost his eye…what a wuss right?! On the way out I actually had to walk backwards because of the blisters that had formed on my heels courtesy of those sweet new Walmart boots. 0 star review by the way. We stayed 2 nights and when I left my body was a broken vessel of pain. The only cure was Burger King and big ups to the King for setting me straight. When I got home I made this video to solidify the memory. I watch it a few times a year. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m writing for this blog. It’s the reason I find solace on the trail. It’s the reason I look forward to the open air. Eventually, it will be the reason my boys and I log hours, see mountains, and eat trout we caught in a river we cook on a fire we made.
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The warning signs were provided in the Mount Rainier National Park paperwork. Avalanche. Volcanic activity. Bears. Cougars. Rock slides. Tree hazards. I especially like the advice of "fighting aggressively and aiming for the eyes" when learning how to fight off an attacking cougar. Though reading the park map and scouting out our hike was serious business, my wife and I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of all of these issues combining to wreak havoc on our nature time. We also reminded ourselves that we didn't have to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else.
Final inspection of the hiking options for the day plus a little insight from a park ranger led us to Comet Falls. We were certainly not disappointed, though our quadriceps and ankles might tell you differently. The park ranger did mention parts of the trail were moderate to strenuous. Next time I take a trip to the mountains, remind me that moderate on a mountain trail is different than moderate on a Wisconsin trail.
My wife and I began our trek on the rocky terrain, avoiding a rainbow of rocks and spiderwebs of thick, gnarly roots on our gradual and meandering ascent to the falls. As my wife mentioned, "climbing is worse than walking." Still, besides the exhausting exercise, our hearts were pounding because of the amazing views and a few unexpected treats
Now your definition of treats and my definition of treats may differ. You may think chocolate or adult beverage. My wife and I think animal encounter. Well, at least when we are hiking. Don't worry, it wasn't the predatory kind. As we approached a few other stalled hikers, we noticed why they were taking a break. Across from the ridge was a sole mountain goat. He seemed quite content on his ledge, which this picture gives little justice. One slip and bye bye goat. Did I mention those hikers were also from the Badger state? This is our second trip to a national park in the mountains. Both times our first hike took us to a waterfall. Both times we met fellow Wisconsinites on the hike.
Before we left for the hike, we were given a tip from the ranger. She mentioned that on the Comet Falls trail, there was a misleading sign that led to many missing out on a wonderful waterfall. There was a sign that read Comet Falls with an arrow and the words 200 feet. Interestingly enough, the arrow pointed right to a log bridge. On that log bridge, I snapped the first picture below. Nice waterfall, right? It was a nice waterfall, but it wasn't Comet Falls. Not even close! The ranger noted that many people interpret this sign as pointing to the falls when in fact it points to the bridge, which is supposed to take you across to the connecting trail. The trail that takes you to Comet Falls. When she said it was misleading, she wasn't joking. We crossed the bridge and noticed the trail seemed to vanish. It seemed most people took those falls as THE Comet Falls and turned around from there. Luckily, I was listening. As my wife and I used our trail eyes to find the real falls, we were blown away by the much more magnificent view shown in the second picture below. The ranger stated these falls fell nearly 360 feet from the ledge above.
The trip to Comet Falls was an amazing and at times painful introduction to Mount Rainier National Park.
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The list of items one prefers to take trekking is endless. With so many variables involved (distance, terrain, climate), what you should have with you is arguably subjective. However, the bigger reason that most hikers are out there in the first place is to achieve value fulfillment. Put aside all of the physical gear you might take with you when you enter the wilderness, and for a few minutes spend some time asking yourself whether or not you truly take the following things with you each time you go. Or, if you truly ever have?
First, a clear mind. Many of us find nature in order to unwind or decompress from a busy week. While we certainly achieve that through the physical and emotional stimulation of a hike, we’re using most of the hike to clear the week’s adversities instead of using the majority of the hike to fully absorb the serenity around us. Take time to clear your mind before you start hiking, and imagine how much more powerful your senses will become!
Some may have difficulty understanding how one can accomplish this, but it can be simple. You have to recognize your values in order to honor them.
Defining one’s values can be difficult. For most we think of the immediate answers, “Family,” for example. “Family” by itself is not a value, it’s the place you find value. The root value is more likely love, loyalty, or safety, for example. Perhaps the easiest way to recognize your values is to ask yourself what drives you crazy. What you value is almost always going to be the opposite of what makes you anxious. For example, maybe you have a particular aversion to individuals who fail to use a turn signal when they drive. This might suggest that you value self-awareness; how your actions affect others. Honor that value. Find a way to be self-aware in a way that positively affects someone else. Honor your values and clear the adversity before you even step onto the trail. Not only does this free-up your senses, but it also keeps you focused and more alert, thus safer on your trek.
Second, the ability to dance in the moment. I’m not suggesting that you break into the “moon walk” on a hike (I may have just dated myself), but rather that you take in everything you’re seeing. Stop and appreciate the sights and sounds around you.
Most of us find this a natural part of taking a break along the trek, but how often do you randomly stop while in full stride just to look around? You might be amazed at what you see, hear, or smell. Fulfill the senses. Especially with an ecosystem that is constantly in some form of change or evolution, what you’re seeing today may not be the same a few years or even a few months from now.
While you’re at rest with what’s around you, it offers another opportunity to recognize how it ties to your values and how you can honor them. This becomes much easier to do if you’re already of clear mind. It validates your purpose for being outdoors to being with. Allow yourself time to dance in those moments.
Third, champion yourself. Before you walk off of the trail at the end of your hike, take a few minutes to recognize what you accomplished. Be proud of the miles you crossed, the hill you climbed, or the milestone you reached. Most importantly, be inspired by the time you spent respecting yourself and honoring your own values. Be happy with what you saw, smelled, or heard. Realize that you spent time that day with nothing more than what makes you who you are, your core values. Treat yourself like a champion and you’ll feel like one.
None of the three things I have offered are tangible items needed for a hike. More importantly, they are the intangible necessities. The psychology of our individual purpose and motivation. If you’re able to enter a hike with your mind already clear, endure that hike with your mind tuned-in to your values, and complete the hike by rewarding those values, I can promise you that you will have experienced an entirely new level of trekking, and being outdoors in general. You will have truly experienced your values. You will have achieved self-fulfillment.
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