By Chloe Rambo
It’s a life of rising early, slipping on your shoes and walking step by step to the next destination you’ll sleep. Map in hand, carrying all your possessions on your back with only a dirt-covered trail reaching for miles in front of you, all will agree it’s an adventure like no other.
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail currently holds the limelight following the success of thru-hiker Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” It is a hiking trail reaching from Mexico to Canada, snaking along 2,663 miles of California desert and mountain range, Oregon rains and meadows and Washington State evergreens. To some, it’s a challenge deemed unconquerable, to others, it’s a fantasy adventure more wild than not.
While it is difficult to judge exactly how many hikers start and finish the entire trail, the Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates 700-800 hikers begin, while only about 60 percent complete the 4- to 6-month long excursion. For hikers like Heather “Anish” Anderson, the deep back-country wilderness is a place of pure comfort – another home for the heart and the soul. “The wilderness is my home and my cathedral,” Anish says. It’s a place of meditation and inspiration, and there are few experiences as immersive as covering more than 2,000 miles on foot. “It is not a frightening place, it is one of immense beauty and experiencing it is one of the most wonderful parts of life.”
Tips for Hiking Solo:
While hiking in a group or with a buddy is considered to be the safest way to experience the great outdoors, hiking alone can offer an unparalleled experience for the mind and soul. Here are a few tips to stay safe in the wilderness, yet still enjoy your solo time.
Plan well. Gathering your chosen maps, compass and water source guide is an important first step, but actually knowing how to use them is vital. Before you head out, practice using your compass and map at your home – locating compass bearings in an unknown area can be difficult, but could save your life in an emergency. Know how much food and water you’ll need, and plan your hike accordingly. Also, always plan an extra meal or two.
Understand the importance of safe water treatment. Many of water sources on the PCT are shared with livestock and wild animals, so proper treatment is necessary to ensure a happy and healthy hike. Water pumps, drip filters, Aquamira purification tabs or even iodine or bleach are all valid ways to purify your water, but be sure to do your research on which method will work best for you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say even though a water source may look pure, it probably isn’t. Be safe and purify every source you use.
Pay attention to your instincts. The trail is generally an incredibly happy and safe place, but it takes just one pernicious soul to ruin the experience for others. If your gut isn’t jiving with setting up camp next to a particular individual or group, then move on. Being on the trail is all about trusting and listening to yourself and reconnecting with those valuable instincts.
Practice meditation before you leave. One of the most disturbing things about being alone in nature is the quiet – it’s a thick, sometimes scary type of quiet unrecognizable to most. There won’t be any police sirens or traffic noises, no background music or “white noise” we often take such comfort in. Hiking alone can be really, truly quiet. Practicing meditation in a comfortable, quite place can help both your mind and your body find solace, rather than unrest, in such quiet.