I read quite a bit about hiking and backpacking. Um…yeah. That’s how this aspirational section hiker learns. I tend to gravitate towards hiking blogs and journals, and read thru-hiking books when one catches my fancy.
And I will, on occasion, see a local news story online about hiking basics or some such topic, and I’ll give them my readership out of curiosity. This past week I saw two articles, in two different online newspapers, in two different states dealing with the topic of enjoying hiking. And both, to my surprise? chagrin? put on their respective lists, “Don’t hike alone”.
That’s anathema to me. As a solo runner, I always appreciate my time alone, pounding the pavement or slipping through the trees. Ditto hiking. Granted, I’m not against hiking with a small group of others or with a partner, as my two most recent hikes suggest. But I’ve always preferred the thought-provoking solitude and flexibility of pace provided by solo hikes, even when I was just beginning. Shoot, my first hike was a solitary six miles into the rugged-for-a-newbie Hundred Mile Wilderness on the AT. Admittedly, I was well prepared from a physical and equipment standpoint, thanks to trail running and a fanatical desire to read everything in sight about a topic of interest. I had my ten essentials. I had extra water and food. I had Permethrin soaked clothing and appropriate shoes.
Maybe these two reporters just decided to err on the side of caution? Not everyone is in post-marathon shape like yours truly. Or prepares so diligently for the simplest of hikes (See: Mother and daughter survive hiking ordeal in New Zealand). Maybe they fear injury, or attack by domestic two-legged or wild four-legged animals. Still, when an emphatic “Don’t hike alone!” makes the list, I feel for those who will take that completely to heart and never experience the joy of the solo hike.
To each his or her own. HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike). However, unless I have an incident that sours me on the idea, or I specifically ask someone to go along, I’ll continue to hike alone…
When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to Virginia and looking forward to hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in this state, many of them had the same initial reaction: venomous snakes! Having lived eleven years in Missouri and run on various trails, I’m no stranger to the occasional copperhead. I may even have encountered a timber rattler or two; I blasted past several diamond-patterned slithery serpents without stopping to identify their type.
But during the decades I lived in Maine, I only recall seeing three snakes. And there are no venomous ones native to the frozen tundra there. So I’ve grown complacent over the last six years, knowing that any “squiggly stick” I encounter is overwhelmingly likely to be just that.
The other morning I was out for a run in my new home state and, in the early morning light, approached a squiggly stick in the middle of a quiet street. At first I wasn’t concerned, then I remembered where I was and slowed. As I grew nearer, I was able to identify the critter stretched out on the asphalt in front of me: It was a squiggly stick. Relieved, I booted it to the grass and kept on running.
It was an important reminder that I’m back in the land of venom-totin’ pit vipers. And not every squiggly stick I encounter will be one, especially when I strap on a pack and head to the lush greenery of the Virginia woods…
My previous two posts displayed, in photographic detail, the gradual onset of spring as it dropped onto my favorite local running (and now hiking) trail. This week I had planned to hike and shoot part three, which would show the snow completely gone from both the approach road and the vast majority of the woods track.
But my scheduled hiking day also featured the running of the 121st Boston Marathon.
All marathon runners know and appreciate the history of Boston whether or not they’ve actually run it. We’re all familiar with the story of Kathrine Switzer, the pioneer who snuck into the field as “K.V. Switzer” and literally battled her way to the finish line as the first woman to officially conquer the famed point-to-point course. The name John A. “Johnny” Kelley, finisher of 61 Bostons, is revered among marathoners. Personally, I cruised the last ten miles of the 2000 edition with a dear friend (RIP “Rocket”) running his first of ten Boston Marathons, was heartbroken and made anxious by the bombings in 2013 (I knew six people running the race that day), and bounced up and down on my stool and choked back tears at the local Buffalo Wild Wings the following April as Meb Keflezighi conquered a talented group to become the first American to win Boston in over thirty years.
So on the day I had planned to do my third and final hike in the “Buzz off, snow!” series, this former marathoner ran instead. I did manage to run on the woods trail, and it would have been interesting to photograph the stark difference in snow/ice cover from last week to this, but Monday needed to be about honoring my departed friend “Rocket” and those lost and injured in ’13, and about reliving the emotional triumph of watching Meb turn onto Boylston and race towards history.