NEVER HIKE ALONE? 

I have faced, accepted, and conquered many of the psychological challenges associated with living, traveling, and exploring alone. But there’s one – I guess you could call it physical or environmental – challenge that still gets in my way, and, frankly, it’s the one thing that still makes me feel resentful about being alone.

Bears. Well, more like bears and cougars and snakes and wolves.

Over the course of my adventure, I’ve felt many of my fears and insecurities subside. But the fears of running into wildlife while hiking alone have only gained in strength over my many months of solitary wandering.

I used to not be scared at all to hike alone. I remember that woman at the visitor’s center in Sun Valley, Idaho who was somewhat shocked to hear about my travels and wondered aloud about my safety. I had no idea what she was talking about and found her comments to be amusing. Over the months since that time, though, the fear has grown, and it now accompanies me on nearly every trip I take into the woods. In response, I either make up stories to convince myself of my safety or I try to ignore the fears …and keep going.

The story I’ve been telling myself lately is that bears are hibernating and that I have a good few weeks (or months?) of safety left. And I’ve tried to convince myself that if bears are hibernating, cougars must be too. The cougar story hasn’t quite worked, so instead I’ve tried to believe that cougars wouldn’t be interested in eating humans. But that just leads to vague recollections of REAL stories that I’ve heard about hikers meeting cougars and….I think about something else instead.

Because it’s raining so heavily today, I opted for a walk instead of my usual Saturday morning run. Just on the streets right around where I’m staying. During my walk, I met a nice man and his adorable and sweet chocolate lab, who both live in the neighborhood on random weekends when they come up from their main home in Vancouver. I asked him about a flier I’d just seen indicating that there is a bear in the area and recommending that people NEVER HIKE ALONE. I asked what he knew about this, and he told me that there are bears all the time in the neighborhood, especially when the weather is fairly warm as it is now.

He lives right across the street, so his neighborhood is mine. I walk to my car all the time in the mornings when it’s dark. I sit on my porch without a care. I’ve hiked alone nearly every day since I’ve been here.

No, I don’t carry bear spray. I only have a tiny one that fits on my key ring. And I figure that I would have to get right up close to a bear and carefully spritz him in one eyeball to have any effect. Not gonna happen. Yes, I can purchase an expensive (!) full size can of spray, but what am I really going to do?  Carry the big thing around with my finger on the trigger at all times?  No. So, then…if I do run into a bear and have the big can of spray somewhere on me other than in my hand, am I going to have the equanimity in that situation to actually calmly grab it from wherever it is and position myself to effectively use it in time?  No.

I think not. So I move forward, taking the risk of hiking alone and knowing that if I were to cross that path, I’d be in a tough position. I move forward, saddened by the limits to my strength in solitude. I move forward, feeling frustrated that my freedom is not complete. I move forward, on edge and in fear.

But mostly I blissfully believe the stories and go on my merry way.

IMG_8482The only bear I have seen so far on my adventure…just outside Glacier National Park

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8 Responses to NEVER HIKE ALONE? 

  1. Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

    I’ve been hiking alone for 20 years (I’m female) and would have it no other way…I love to encourage all women to enjoy the wonders of going your own pace and enjoying the solitude of it. There have lately been some bear, cougar, and wolf sightings in my area…this has given me some pause. I carry a small bottle of pepper spray, but as you said I’d be lucky if I could “spritz him in one eyeball,” LOL. While I have zero desire to be eaten by a wild animal, I’ve decided if I’m going to die on the trail then at least I’d die doing what I love the most. Here’s to going on our merry way!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thank you so much for sharing, my no shrinking violet friend!! i’m glad to know that i’m not alone out there! i have been thinking lately of playing music from my phone while i walk. it will break the beautiful silence that i love most, but it might help me not scare a bear, which would probably be preferred for both of us. btw, check out the “the girl who goes alone” poem read by Elizabeth Austen… https://vimeo.com/78439954 it will give you chills, it’s so amazing!! watch until the very end… i’m gonna treat myself to it for the 100th time right now… 🙂

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    • Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

      What an awesome video! Thank you so much for the link.

      Everyone I know is horrified about my solo hikes, which I’ve done for over two decades…you’d think they’d be used to it by now. My parents are still so angry about it I can’t even discuss my adventures with them. Solo men on the trail always seem shocked when they come across me, which I find rather amusing, since they’re alone too (a perpetrator with a gun could kill either one of us easily). I do, however, think my petite size could make me more prone to animal attacks, but thus far I’ve never even seen a bear, cougar, or wolf in 20 years of hiking…I don’t really want to either! At various times I’ve considered getting some tinkling bear bells, but in the end couldn’t tolerate the idea of my solitude being interrupted.

      I’ve enjoyed reading about your adventures…happy trails!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ain't No Shrinking Violet says:

    Hey, one more thing. Last night I was reading up on animal attacks and discovered something interesting. Only the occasional attack was done on someone alone…most people were killed when they were out with another person, and even more were separated out and killed when they were in groups of people. Overall there have been very few fatalities, and most were in Alaska. So see? Being alone is only a small part of the equation, and not a very important one at that.

    Just trust me on this research, and don’t bother looking at online articles yourself…they sort of leave you with bad images in your head. Ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Violet –
      Apologies on the delay in responding. It’s been quite a week! And you know, ever since I made this post, the discussions about hiking alone and wildlife have only increased…to stay me even more! But I so appreciate how much you empathize with the situation – and for your research on the topic! Yes, I will definitely just trust your research and won’t go doing it myself. 🙂 I know there are so many factors that go into the equation…one just never knows. I’m feeling grateful right now that my next destination has no large mammals….so I will hike to my heart’s galore!!
      Tamara

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I prefer hiking alone myself…never once thought about running into a bear, but then again, they don’t live in my neck of the woods. But hiking alone helps me get in touch with nature and find inner peace without distractions…just stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. No bears in your neck of the woods (pun intended?? 🙂 )….then go for it! I will look forward to that next week. Hiking will be so much sweeter, I’m sure. And I completely agree that it’s the connection with nature and the silence and serenity of it all that makes it the special experience that it is. The other day I tried to prevent against bear attacks by playing music from my iPhone pretty loud. It just was not the same… 😦

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  6. Pingback: My Month as a Hermit! | THE TRAVELING RABBIT

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