tips

Ask Liz / Tips for your first solo hike and how to get over the fear

Q: Any hot tips for your first solo hike...and how to get over the fear?


HOT TIPS ON GOING ON YOUR FIRST SOLO BACKPACKING TRIP

  • Tell your "team" of supporters exactly where you're going, when you're expected to come out, and contact information for the nearest ranger station. Here's an example. Make it easy for them to find you in case they don't hear from you.
  • Take a personal locator beacon (PLB) if that makes you feel safer. REI has a nice breakdown here.
  • Start small. For your first solo backpacking trip, try going to a more popular location or just for a day or two just to see how it feels. As you get more comfortable with being alone, try for a longer or more isolated destination.
  • Have a game plan for when/if you get bored. I've been alone many times and sometimes I'm like, "hMmm..what should I do?" If you're prone to getting bored, maybe think about some ideas beforehand. Here are some ideas:
    • Journal
    • Watch a flowing body of water
    • Take a nap
    • Read
    • Do some yoga
    • Daydream
    • Stretch
    • Clean your nails  :) 
  • Do you have any tips to offer? Comment below!

OK, LET'S TALK ABOUT FEAR.

I'm hearing more and more stories of women going on solo hikes and enthusiasm about women wanting to go on their first solo backpacking trip. It's awesome! And at the same time, there's been a rise in voiced concerns and fears about going out into the wilderness alone as a woman. I don't know all the answers, but I can share from my own experiences of solo backpacking.

First, take a moment: What do you fear most about going on a solo backpacking trip? 

  • Getting physically injured so badly and not being able to call for help?
  • Getting harassed or assaulted by some scary dude?
  • Running out of food or water?
  • Something creeping around in the dark?
  • Being lonely?
  • Getting lost and wandering in the wilderness until you eventually...
  • ...get eaten alive by a bear?
  • _____(Fill in the blank)_____

To sum it up, it seems the most, if not all fears have to do with one's SAFETY.

When I went on my first solo trip (which oddly, also happened to be my very first backpacking trip), I was so scared. Even though I was only 30 minutes from home and 1.5 miles from my car, I was afraid of all the stories my mind made up about the unknowns. 

I think it's natural to have fears about being alone in the woods. I feel like our lady minds are particularly good at coming up with some scary "what if" scenarios and act (or not act) on them. We humans are oriented to self-protect so going out into the unknown alone raises all those red flags. It's like you have this innocent thought, "I think I want to go on a solo backpacking trip," and all of a sudden, every internal siren is triggered and it's all ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER! in there. And then you tell your parents and they're all, "ALERT!!DANGER!ALERT!!DANGER!" except, this time out loud. It makes sense, females have been socialized to fear a lot of things. 

Here are some suggestions to get over your fears:

  1. Practice thought experiments to help you get to know your fears and where they originate from. Think about your worst case scenario. Got one? Now run with it. Ask yourself why you're afraid of it. Dig deeper until you get to the core of the fear. Then ask yourself what the opposite of that story might be. Thinking through the opposite version of the story is a helpful tool because it puts things into perspective that no one story is the Truth.
     
  2. Read stories about other women's solo tales. There's power in learning about other women's stories and how they've gone before you. It's emboldening! Here are some inspiring women to look into: Grandma Gatewood, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Liz "Snorkel" Thomas, Mary Moynihan
     
  3. Trust yourself. A large part of getting over fears is to trust that you're smart, capable, and have the ability to deal if something goes wrong. Part of this might mean learning a few things. For example, taking a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course might empowering. It was for me. I loved it so much, I became Wilderness-EMT (WEMT) certified. (Note: WFA is a 2-day course vs. WEMT is a 3 week intensive)

What helps you get over your fears? (Comment below!)


How to eat a whole apple

Mmm, yum! Fresh fruit on the trail is such a treat. Sometimes I wish I could have a juicy watermelon whenever it gets hot and dusty, but I know that ain't happening. I won't take anything that leaves any kind of remainder, like watermelon rind or an apple core. I would have to pack that out and why would I carry extra weight if it can be helped?

I'm not about to eat watermelon rind, but what if you could make the apple core disappear?

True story: I had never considered eating the ENTIRE apple before I met an experienced backpacker who talked about eating the whole apple as if it were nothing. Well sir, for this suburban-raised girl, that was not even an option. I was like, "He's crazy." Well....that was until I tried it and thought, "K, he's not crazy, but I don't like this one bit." 

Yet, I now eat my whole apple (when backpacking) and I'll tell you how I do it so you don't make the same mistakes I have.

SQS-Apple.gif

HOW TO EAT A WHOLE APPLE

  1. Take the stem completely off. Twist twist twist until the whole things comes out. (If you forget to do this, it's okay, you won't even notice it in your pack out trash bag.)
  2. Wash the apple thoroughly.
  3. Don't leave the core for the end. Eat through the apple from one side to the other side. That way, your last bite is a good one. (If you decide to eat around the core and save that for last, it's a truly unappetizing process. I did that the first time because no one ever told me how to eat a whole apple!)
  4. When biting into the core, get a good ratio of apple meat mixed in there so you don't only taste the seeds. 
  5. PRO TIP: Beware of biting into the hardened parts (aka: endocarp) that encases the seeds. It can get stuck in between your teeth yo!

Honestly, you might not enjoy this process. I still don't, but I tolerate it so I can take an apple or two on the trail as a delicious juicy treat. I never regret eating an refreshing apple on the trail while my trail mates eat dry nuts. ;-P

What fresh fruit/veggies do you want to take on the trail?


Chanell's Story / You've answered my questions, and now what?

This is an ongoing series on chanell, a black woman who's documenting her journey of going on her very first backpacking trip. If you're joining now, you can start here


Thank you Liz for all the answers to my questions! I don’t know why I didn’t think about bears, especially because I did watch Grizzly Man. It must be due to the fact that I’m assuming all the places I want to travel too are bear-free. I guess I’ll see if that’s true!

CHANELL'S RESPONSE, PART I
First, that gear check list is super organized but feels a bit overwhelming. I don’t have most of the things on that list. Right now I’m thinking, how much of this list do I absolutely need to purchase? Luckily, I have a number of friends into camping and backpacking so I think the “sleep system” will be the easiest thing on my list.

LIZ
My initial question is, "What about the gear checklist is overwhelming?" Is it because you don't have most of the stuff on the list or you don't know what it is or something else? If it's you don't own most of the stuff, I've created a pared down version of the essentials I think a beginner needs on their very first backpacking trip. Keep in mind that you don't need to take all these things if there are amenities available to you. For example, you might not need an extra bag for soiled toilet paper if there are pit toilets. (Phew!) Research beforehand is key. 
GearChecklist_Simplified.jpg

CHANELL'S RESPONSE, PART II
Second, I’ve always wanted to explore Big Sur. I think I went once in college for what turned out to be a very uncomfortable camping trip. My tent was set up on top of twenty million rocks, so I didn’t get a good night’s sleep for two nights! The outhouses were super gross (to me) so I ran in, held breath, and peed as quickly as possible. And I didn’t want to hike so I just hung out around the camping area (and missed out on the waterfall and swimming hole)! Other than the great people, the trip was pretty dismal. Since then, I’ve driven to Big Sur a couple of times and have been astounded by its beauty and proximity to the water. I’d love the opportunity to be in that space for a couple of days. While I’m not attached to Big Sur (I’d certainly consider other places near bodies of water) I’d want an easy hike for my first time around though, nothing to crazy.

LIZ
Having a bad camping experience sucks! I know what that's like so I'm sorry you had that experience. But it sounds like it hasn't completely deterred you from wanting to go again. (Awesome!) And it also sounds like you really want to be near water. Is that the ocean more specifically? Or does a river or lake work too? 

Big Sur is awesome for sure. I'm thinking it might be kind of fun for you to go to Sykes Hot Springs, but it'll be about 10 miles in and 10 out which could be a challenge depending on your fitness level. Unfortunately, it's gotten really crowded especially on the weekends. The other option that might be awesome is going to Point Reyes - one of my favorite places on earth! There's a fairly easy backpacking trip you that'll lead you close to the ocean. I just searched and it looks like there's availability in the next month. [Search: Coast Campground, "Walk to"]. I've stayed at campsite #1 and it was a bit exposed, but I liked that it was centrally located. I would go with sites 1, 2, or 3. 

CHANELL'S RESPONSE, PART III
I did like the plug for free gear (which I’m pretty sure I can also borrow from some friends) but again, I’m wondering: do I need to buy everything under pack essentials? Do I need a stove? I’d like to do this trip solo or with one other person so I don’t want to overburden myself.

LIZ
You don't need to buy everything under pack essentials. The gear checklist is a pretty thorough list of stuff I take on almost every trip. Check out the pared down list here. As for the stove, it totally depends on if you want hot food. So for example, if you want hot coffee in the morning or a warm meal at the end of the day, you'll want a stove. If not, you can eat dry/cold foods and be perfectly fine. If it's an overnight and you don't want to carry a stove, I say go simple and eat no-cook food. I can make some suggestions for food for an overnighter when we get there.

CHANELL'S RESPONSE, PART IV
Next question: I’m leaning towards Big Sur (but I also plan on doing some research for other parks near large bodies of water). I’m hoping to carve out a weekend in mid November. Once I have a place in mind and a general time I want to go, what do I do next?

LIZ
After you have a time and location, I would recommend thinking about how many days you're going to go and how many miles you think you'll want to hike per day. If you're thinking 5 miles or so, it will put some parameters on what trails to take and what you'll be able to see. You can start by searching sites like The Outbound, EveryTrail, or even just googling "backpacking in _______". Honestly it might confuse the heck out of you - it confuses me every time I look for backpacking trips! But when you find a trail that meets your criteria, you need to: 
  1. Find the ranger's # for the area you want to go to
  2. Look into permits and secure them
  3. Nail down dates to go
  4. Get a sense of the weather to prepare accordingly (ask the ranger when you secure a permit)
  5. Finish getting the rest of your gear
  6. Think about what you'll wear and wear it on practice hikes
  7. Practice hiking with your pack partially loaded so you can work out kinks

Once you've decided on your location and route, let's take it from there! You have about a month before you have to go, and that can go by real fast. Love that I get to work with you through this Chanell! I admire your will and determination to forget something new for yourself.  

xoxo,
Lizzy

Safety / Ticks are gross. Period

Ugh, I can't stand ticks! They're disgusting. But dealing with them is often part of the package of being out in the wilderness, especially during the spring when they the conditions are just right and they're ready to feast. This season, be prepared to avoid ticks.

But first, a rant:

  • I can't stand the way they are so damn ugly. 
  • I really dislike how you can only kill them by completely obliterating them. (Squeezing them doesn't work. Last time, I literally smashed one apart between two rocks so it would die.)
  • I really really dislike how they transmit diseases (especially life-altering Lyme Disease).
  • Last one: I hate how you can't feel them crawling on you! Ahhhh!

Source: http://albany.mosquitosquad.com/albanys-tick-identification-disease-control/

Ways to avoid ticks

  • Stay on the trail
    Since ticks are hanging out on leaves, grass, branches ready to hitch a ride feasting on you, try to stay in the middle of the trail away from brush. 
  • Use repellent
    Spray 30% (or higher) DEET on your clothes to repel ticks from even wanting to climb onto you. You can try natural lemon eucalyptus oils or sprays too or go treat your clothes and gear with permethrin. (Here's a great step-by-step on how to apply permethrin to your clothes.)
  • Go tick hunting
    This means that you check yourself thoroughly ALL OVER your body. Ask someone to help check your backside and areas that you might have a hard time seeing. Because you usually can't tell if a tick is crawling on you, it's a good idea to check yourself each night and when you wake up if you're in a tick-infested area. (Don't forget to check your neck, scalp, and private areas too!) 
  • Wear light clothing
    The dark-colored ticks are easier to spot if your pants/tops/socks are lighter colored. Plus it's cooler when you hike.
  • Remove ticks immediately
    If you see one on you, don't freak out (but I always do). With tweezers, grab the tick as close to your skin and pull gently and steadily. Don't twist it off, just pull it slowly and directly out. You don't want to aggravate the tick. Once it's out, clean the bite as you would an infection (soap and water) and monitor yourself. 
  • Have a dog? Be EXTRA THOROUGH
    If you're hiking with your dog, you know that s/he's bouncing all around off trail. It's very possible that it's carrying ticks. Check your dog not just for it's sake, but for yours too.

Did you know that author Amy Tan has Lyme Disease transmitted by a tick bite? Her story on Humanthologyis quite compelling.

Beware of ticks! Check yo'self!

Lighten Your Load / Repackaging your products

It's all those little things, those micro moments, micro seconds, micro bottles, that really matter in life. ;-P That's why you should repackage what you can.

Case in point
On the left, I have a bottle of REI's travel sized sunblock. I bought this years ago and have refilled it for my backpacking trips. It weighs 2.2 oz (for a bottle half full) and even that amount is plenty to last me a few trips. Way to go Liz! 

But wait, what's that on the right weighing only 0.6oz?
It's sunblock, repackaged into a tiny container with just what I need plus extra. In fact, it was more than I needed! The awesome thing about repackaging the sunblock was that it's more likely to fit inside the waist belt pocket of your pack (assuming you have one), which means you're more likely to apply it at the frequency you need.

Let's look at another example. 
I reused an old micro bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some castille soap in there to use as toothpaste and anything else I'd need soap for (there isn't much). As small as this bottle is, it was overkill for the amount I needed. I only use 1-2 drops of soap as my toothpaste to avoid over-sudsing. Next time I'll use an even tinier dropper. Can't wait.

Next time you get a tiny bottle, consider saving it and reusing it to repackage for the trail. Doing this will give you such an appreciation for how little we need, and of course, a lighter pack.