I started writing a reply to OneKidsMom's blog entry, www.sparkpeople.com/mypa
, realized my reply was going to drone on and on, so I figured I'd put my comment in a blog entry of my own. And because this is so long, I don't expect anyone to read it.
I became an avid skier and hiker in my 30's. With the exception of trips and leading hikes with the Mountaineers, I was almost always alone. By choice. part of it was scheduling: I didn't want to be limited by other peoples' school or work schedules. I also didn't want to worry about my pace being too different than my companions'. The biggest reason, though, is that I'm kind of a loner.
I love meeting up and talking with people on the trail. I always enjoy chatting with people riding the same lift chair. But I was quite content to do the working part by myself.
When it comes to hiking, people frequently focus on the dangerous aspect of a woman solo hiking. I was always careful: my overnight trips rarely involved the weekends, when the woods are more crowded. When I talked to people, I always told them I was meeting up with other people (a lie), and always lied about my destination. I camped out-of-sight of others. Even for day hikes, someone always knew where I was and when they should expect an "I'm off the trail" phone call. That was usually my mom, who also had a list of what gear I carry (so the search and rescue folks knew I'd be able to survive several days without help, even in the winter), what trail # I was on, what map it was on. (Like me, Mom loves reading maps. It let her join me, vicariously.)
I did have a couple of close calls, but those were with nature. Both came in the spring, after a very snowy winter. (Mt. Baker broke the record with over 1300" of snow. That's more than 100'.) In one instance, I'd dropped my back to search for a good camp site. Crossing a snowfield, my left leg broke through the snow and I sunk in up to my hip. The spring sunshine warmed the boulders under the snow, causing the snow to melt from below. I was amazing lucky to fall into a pocket, rather than hitting one of those boulders after dropping a few feet. In the worst case scenario, I would have shattered my ankle. I would have had to crawl back to my pack and crawled into my sleeping bag and tent to keep warm for the night, and then attempted the trip back down 2500' to the trailhead. I always carry an ice axe (I've even carried it into the Juniper Dunes Wilderness), and it's long enough to serve as a cane. But I can't imagine how much pain I would have been in, how much more damage I would have done, and how long that would have taken me because, as I mentioned, it was during the work week when the mountains are pretty empty.
The other close call came, again, when I was looking for the perfect camp site. I was crossing a partially-snow-covered bog. I was within a few feet of solid ground when one of my feet sank in up to my knee. It took some time to extricate myself from the bog without losing my boot. Once I was out, my priority was finding a camp site that was level and not in a depression. It was raining lightly when I first arrived. The rain got heavier, and turned to snow before I got my tent up. I got into the tent, into dry clothes, and into my sleeping bag. I cooked dinner in the vestibule of the tent so that I didn't have to get out of my sleeping bag. (Eating was a must. Food enables you to stay warm. I was badly chilled already, and I didn't want to risk hypothermia.)
My worst back country experience happened when I had someone around to rescue me. We'd snowshoed in the night before. It snowed another foot overnight. I woke in the middle of the night nauseous and with a horrific headache. Vomiting felt like someone was driving ice picks into my forehead. The next morning, my companion Marie packed all my gear for me. Fortunately the trip was all downhill, but I could barely move. Marie finally gave up on staying with me. She hiked all the way down to the car, then back up to me. She took my pack from me and kept me moving forward. She helped me into the car, and when we got to my house, she almost had to lift me back out of the car. Over the years, I told her she saved my life. She scoffs. She tells me how scared she was, and how amazed she was that I kept going. I told her repeatedly that if I'd been alone, I would haven't gotten out of my tent. I would have just lain there until someone found me. (And since my mom knew exactly where I was, it would have been within a day or two anyway.)
The lesson I learned from those three misadventures is Kim Does Not Go Into The Backcountry Alone When There Is Snow On The Ground. But I didn't give up solo hiking. The absolute stillness of the backcountry is worth it. My friends who worried about the "bad guys" were not solo hikers. I'd point out I'm more at risk in a mall parking lot. My then-boyfriend agreed. As he put it, someone looking for a victim is unlikely to go into the backcountry to find one, especially since any woman he encounters is likely to be fit enough to kick his ass.
I had an epiphany on one of those hikes. It was my first solo overnight. I encountered a guy on the trail. We chatted. He was headed down the mountain- he'd been caching supplies for an upcoming overland trip. I told him I was headed for Copper Lake, the most popular lake on this particular trail. In reality, I was headed for Malachite Lake - less picturesque, frequently snow-covered into August, more solitude. I told him my standard lie that my faster-hiking friends were coming up the next day. And of course, I had my ice axe strapped to my back and my 6' walking stick in hand.
That night, safely tucked away at Malachite, I kept thinking of the what ifs. What if that guy was a bad guy? What if he came looking for me? What if he realized I wasn't at Copper Lake and figured out I was at Malachite?
That's when the epiphany came. The voice said, "That guy is a wild card. You've done everything right. You cannot control what he does. Let it go. Stop living your life in fear of what some random stranger may do." And so I did.
Here's the crazy part: a few years after we met, the man who is now The Hubs was hearing me relating this story to friends. The Hubs said, "You know, I've heard you tell that story a couple of times now, and I think I'm the guy you met on the trail. I remember I was preparing for a trip from Big Heart/Little Heart into the Necklace Valley. I'd been caching food up around Big Heart. I was headed back down to Trout Lake, and I met this woman on the trail. We talked for a while, and then headed our separate ways. And all I could think of is, 'What if she finds my caches and steals them?'"
It's entirely possible that guy that spawned my epiphany is now The Hubs. The guy on the trail was white, about my age, pale complected, wore glasses. I have no reason to doubt that it was him, but what an amazing coincidence that would be!
But now that I'm married, I rarely hike alone. I don't backpack alone, because it would make The Hubs crazy. I ride alone a lot, but that's because I'm more interested in riding than he is. I don't ski alone because I miss The Hubs, and it just isn't as much fun without him.