Appalachian Trials recently posted a link to an article written by fellow hiker Maggie Wallace – ‘8 Questions You SHOULD Ask a Thru-Hiker‘. In the article, she eludes to the ‘annoying’ questions that thru-hikers are repeatedly bombarded with.
Being a female and endeavoring to completing a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail seems to generate genuine concern about my well-being. Maybe the feeling is not genuine is some folks case, but definitely casts doubt in the minds of those who will never understand why I would want to do something like this. Although this fact comes with it’s own set of annoying questions, the one single question that never fails to be asked by anyone I’ve mentioned the hike to is:
Q.: “Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone?”
A: “Yes. Yes I am.”
My short answer is simple. The long answer is also simple, but begs you to go beyond the niceties of social conversation and think about the question you just asked.
If I were flippant, I would immediately respond, “Wouldn’t you be afraid of hiking alone in the woods for 2,200 miles?”. I dare anyone to say ‘no’, because you would only be kidding yourself. Anyone in their right minds would have at least a bit of apprehension. I’m not a robot and I’m not a hero (and even heroes can be afraid), so of course, I’m afraid.
Let’s look at the series of questions that follow that dreadful first question (I would say about 50% of people who asked the first question ask these questions):
Q: “What if you run into a crazy person?”
Q: “What are you doing for safety?”
Q: “Are you bringing a weapon?”
Q: “What will you do if you get attacked?”
Q: “Why don’t you find someone else to go with you?”
Q: “Why do you have to do this by yourself?”
Q: “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Although I know that the intention is not so, those questions feel like an attempt to undermine what I’m trying to do. I can hear the uncertainty in their voice and see the disquiet in their eyes. This is something that I’ve chosen to do after long, hard deliberation and months of preparation. It is not something that has been entered into lightly and it offends me for anyone who really knows me to have any doubt in their mind that I haven’t thought this through. Every day I think about the things that scare me and that alone is daunting. However, if every time I chose not to do something out of fear, I would remain stagnant and never truly accomplish anything fulfilling. It’s doing that something in spite of the fear that makes your accomplishment all that more rewarding.
So, about running into a crazy person on the trail…well, I’ve actually been committed before, so technically, who’s the crazy one? I feel a lot safer in the middle of the woods with other hikers, bears, coyote, trees, critters, and bugs than I do walking down the street in NYC. I don’t see any need to bring a weapon on the streets of NYC, so why would I have any need for a weapon out in the woods? If I get attacked, I’ll fight back. I can be a force to be reckoned with so be warned anybody looking to throw down in the middle of the woods! I don’t need anyone else to slow me down or for me to keep up with. Nobody has ever given me anything, I’ve always done for myself so why not do this too by myself? And finally, I’m absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent committed to doing this. There will have to be some misalignment in the stars to stop me now.
What am I afraid of? I have a list and although some of them are unfounded, they still haunt me nonetheless:
- Getting disoriented and hiking the wrong way and walking miles before realizing it
- Too many people on the trail
- Lightning storms and my only cover being thin nylon
- Being beaten up by hail
- Flash floods
- Hunger-induced neuroses
- Fatigue-induced neuroses
- Having my depression relapse
- Having to quit
- Wanting to come home
- Not wanting to come home
- Post-trail life
- Nighttime unknown critter noises (like that creepy footfall that sounds like a Sasquatch)
- Losing toenails
- Getting a parasitic infection (anyone ever watched ‘Monsters Inside Me’?)
- Trail monotony
- Finally looking my age (the outdoorsman effect aka looking ‘weathered’)
- My lack of culinary creativity
- Sliding off the mountain
- Getting washed away while trying to ford a river/stream
- Not being able to find water
- An apocalypse and me being the last to know
- Things I haven’t thought of
So, Yes. Yes, I am. I’m afraid and I’m doing it anyway.