So, one big dream I’ve always had is to do an epic solo backpacking journey; a big through hike on the Appalachian Trail. It’s no surprise I love to solo hike; breathing in the solitude while in nature is pretty much numero uno on my list of self care. So I’ve daydreamed about an epic through hike since my teen years. My sister and I got backpacks for Christmas in 1985 and we went on our first backpack trips the next summer. We did a couple more backpack trips as a family, an epic sister trip in my early 20’s, and hubs and I have done several trips since we’ve been married. I’ve had the bug since that Christmas in 1985, but it wasn’t til the last few years when I started toying with the idea of solo backpack trips actually being a possibility. Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoy overnight pack trips with others, but the idea of a trip in solitude….well, it was a challenge that I just had to do. And, if I am ever gonna get to my big dream of epic solo AT hike, I bettter get to some smaller trips to see how it goes.
Here’s the thing: when I started telling people my plans to do a solo trip, I sometimes got the response “wow, that’s awesome” but usually I got looks of horror and shock, and lots of questions about my safety or “why in the world would you wanna do that?!” Honestly, I had no good answer…I”m not really sure WHY I wanted to do it; I just did, I just HAD TO. So I evaluated the concerns; there are of course safety concerns for any solo hiker at all times. The fear of injury and inability to get rescued is pretty much paramount for any smart adventurer. Others were concerned that, as a woman, I was at more risk of being attacked or not being able to defend myself, or simply that I would appear more vulnerable. And frankly, my biggest concern was the cold….I am no expert at starting a fire by myself and my personal body temp tends to run a little on the cold side so I was worried about surviving the colder night in a tent by myself. There are other concerns such as simple loneliness, but that wasn’t top on my list. I also had concern about my physical ability because the summer I decided to do this, I was still recovering from running injuries and my right hip flexor and IT band were giving me constant fits…I had been limping for about 7 weeks already with little progress. And, a barrier I always deal with is not having enough time off work for an epic journey; at least not a very long one. But despite my fears, the 2 people who know my abilities the best, my dad and my husband, thought it was a no-brainer for me and encouraged me to go for it. And frankly, I knew I could do it.
Here was my solution: South Manitou Island on Memorial Day weekend. I love South Manitou Island and I’ve backpacked there before, just never alone. It was close enough in Michigan that I could do it on a long weekend. it’s far enough away that it felt like an epic journey to do solo. It is an island that required a boat to access so the likelihood of an ax murderer stumbling upon on my tent in the woods was slim (everyone knows ax murderers don’t wanna be trapped on an island either…too hard to escape capture). It is a national park so I would be registered with park rangers which meant someone knew where I was and would send a search party if I didn’t show up when I was supposed to show up at the end of my trip. And I had options for how far I could hike depending on on how my hip and leg were holding up. The island is also big enough for solitude, but small enough that I would run into other hikers which solves both the loneliness issues and the risk of being injured and undiscovered. It was the perfect way to start small on my big dreams.
So, I spent some time working on my fire starting skills, I did my research, reviewed my “backpacking lists”, I packed light and re-packed lighter, and finally packed even lighter (none of which were light enough), and I went for it. I drove up early in the morning, hopped on the boat (ok, there wasn’t a lot of actual hopping with that heavy pack strapped on me), and started my adventure.
(Dinner by the bay; didn’t even have to make reservations)
It was the epic journey I had hoped. I had adventures, I had things go wrong, I had soooo many things go right, I had hours of solitude, and I made friends. I got all kinds of kudos for doing this alone from other hikers. I was in the middle of the unloading line with a group of 10 guys on a bachelor party trip and I won first place for “lightest pack” (mostly because they had a LOT of beer in theirs). I met up with a whole hiking club and spend some time hiking the island and exploring the lighthouse and discussing the benefits of polarized glasses (duh) with them. I was idolized by an 8 year old named Tess and her 5 year old sister Josie, who followed me around a lot. I overheard Tess and Josie’s dad talking to them about me, saying “see, she is here by herself, I told you that girls can grow up and do anything they want to.” I almost froze to death in the tent the first night and I survived the first night by making fires, drinking hot water, and walking a couple miles in the moonlight just to keep warm. I survived the 2nd night by hiking back out to the ranger station and borrowing an extra sleeping bag (I have survived subsequent nights on trips by having BETTER GEAR).
I got fires going enough times to eat hot meals (if you can call ramen noodles and oatmeal “meals”) and to warm up rocks to go into my 2 sleeping bags. I took pictures, I hiked for miles, I sat on the beach and read Agatha Christie, I climbed the lighthouse, I made more friends, I had more quiet solitude, I ate a lot of Snickers. You get the picture. My hip and leg were in excruciating pain only about 73% of the time and they held up just fine. It was amazing.
(As you can see, the extra sleeping bag made my 2nd night much more comfortable).
I hope I will do more and more solo backpacking in the future. I am still dreaming big. But for starting small, I had the time of my life.
Welcome to my home. Please bring beer.