Mornings In The Woods: Walking Alone

Today I saw a turkey running full speed up a grassy hill, head waving haphazardly back and forth like he was being chased.  It was a hysterical moment in my morning and I found myself laughing loudly between NPR segments.  I’m convinced he was just happy it’s spring.  As I write this, pink petals are flying past my window and the weeping cherry is dressed in its finest form.  The pale pink color reminds me of my wedding dress.  The other day I walked in the woods on a trail covered with wildflowers, deep purples of wild delphinium, tiny star flowers, whites, pinks, bluebells, wispy wild geraniums, and so many others I haven’t learned to identify yet.  The leaves haven’t sprung from the trees, but nature is showing how ready she is for warmer days.

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On the mornings when I can drag myself out of bed in time, I head down to one of my favorite local trails.  Two and a half miles of hills that meander through a pretty wood.  Sometimes the temp hovers in the 30s, this morning it was 44 degrees, and in the next weeks will perhaps shyly approach a steady mid-fifties.  I’ve finally learned the twists and turns of this trail, when there will be a road crossing, when the last gasp-inducing incline is reached and the ground levels out to begin a steady downhill.  There is one area of the trail where a pileated woodpecker lives.  I hear him often and have even gotten to see him in flight, a shock of red accompanied by black wings and a distinctive white stripe.  One morning I startled three deer who hopped away, white tails waving behind them.  Nature!  There is such peace and at the same time such frenetic activity happening all around.  I can’t get enough of it.

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One of the first things people ask me when I tell them I hike alone is, “Don’t you ever get scared?”  I do get scared when a squirrel jumps into a pile of leaves right next to me, but if what’s being asked is actually, “Aren’t you afraid someone’s going to rape and kill you while you’re alone in the woods?” my answer is no.  I’ve never felt threatened in the woods, I’m aware of my surroundings, and everyone I’ve ever run into has been a fellow hiker or trail runner whose main reason for being in the woods has absolutely nothing to do with me.  In fact, I often see other women hiking/running by themselves on the mornings I go.  I’ve been to a few REI thru-hiking classes taught by women, and it’s always some creepy old dude who looks like he barely made it to the entrance of the store from his car who asks the young 20-something female if she ever felt unsafe in the woods.  The answer has always been no because that creepy dude asking the lame question couldn’t handle the trails that badass young woman has hiked.

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Are there unfortunate circumstances that happen to hikers in the woods?  Yes, of course, and you can go online and find them and truly freak yourself out (yup, I have done this, it’s a stupid thing to do).  But in all honesty, my main concerns when I’m hiking involve staying safe around wildlife and not getting lost.  Rob and I have seen bears and moose on our hikes, so when in the Smokies, we now carry bear spray for safety even though this may be a totally unnecessary precaution.  I also keep a sharp eye out for snakes because we have copperheads and rattlesnakes in TN and that shit scares me more than some middle aged dude in the woods with a pair of trekking poles.  Staying on trail is also a big deal to me because there’s this one trail we’ve hiked a couple of times where the blazes are far apart and there’s no worse feeling than being in the middle of trees that all look the same wondering where the heck to go next.  Staying safe is a priority for any hiker, but being scared to go out into nature for fear of being attacked is not how I want to live.

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There are several podcasts I’ve been listening to lately about the outdoors, but my ultimate favorites are Sounds of the Trail and the Dirtbag DiariesSounds starts up again in May and will be following several hikers as they hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.  Last year, this podcast inspired me so much because it was amazing to hear the journey of a woman my age on the AT, but also the hikers she spoke with were on these incredible emotional, mental, and physical rides, and were getting such rich revelations from the whole experience.  The Diaries is another awesome podcast that is more about the outdoors in general than specific trails or just hiking.  The stories reflect peoples’ experiences with nature, how it’s affected their lives, and the adventures they’ve had.

Also, this is the season when winter gear goes on sale!!!  I’ve seen $349 down coats going for 60-75% off retail price, Steep and Cheap is having great sales, and Backcountry Gear recently had a 30% off of Big Agnes sale and I finally got my backpacking tent footprint for $20 less.  Basically, never pay full price for anything because you can always find deals online.  My only exception to this rule has been purchases from REI, like our backpacks, camping stove, and things we wanted to have time to test out and make sure they were keepers.  REI allows you to return gear for up to a year from when it was purchased and if you are a member, you get 10% back on full priced items.

All this to say, it’s exciting to see spring taking hold and it gives me a new hope for the rest of this year.  Upcoming adventures include trips to Vermont, the Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain National Park, the east end of Long Island, Asheville, NC, and hopefully more that hasn’t yet been booked.  I leave you with this lovely John Muir quote:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he [she] seeks.
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