I remember sitting down on a busy beach at the end of the third day of my hike and wanting to quit. I was solo-hiking the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada and taping a radio documentary while on the trail. Covered in sweat and with a knee that felt like it was being stabbed with every step, I wasn’t in a great state.
And I couldn’t quit. Not only was I technically on the job, but I had boldly claimed that there was nothing that could stop me on that 300km journey.
How could I back out now?
I’m lucky the pride and stubbornness that set me out on this trip were the same qualities that made me finish it. I’m glad I did, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been different if I approached with a different attitude.
What I took away from the experience were skills I’ll use on my next big trip in the fall. It may sound cliche, but the mental journey you take on a long hike is bigger than the physical one. It’s important to train yourself physically and mentally for the hike.
From my experience, here are a few moments to prepare for on your journey:
Not Everyday Is Going to be Instagram Perfect
We all have the image in our head of being John Muir blissfully trampling along in the woods and up into the mountains. While there are certainly moments where you’ll feel like you’re floating on a cloud, there are equally as many moments that you’ll feel you’re sinking in quicksand.
There are going to be days that it’s raining, when you have to climb uphill for hours, when a blister has formed on top of another blister. There are days when you’re just going to want to quit solo-hiking.
For me, those low days were not when I was feeling physically exhausted, but when my anxiety was getting the best of me. The outdoors is usually a place for me to recharge my batteries, but the stress of finishing the hike and finding people to interview for my documentary…sucked.
And that’s ok.
Preparing yourself for that, mentally, is key to setting your expectations of the trip. Nothing that is worth doing is easy and it takes a certain individual to want to test yourself on a long hike. And, I learned a valuable lesson in needing that time to disconnect…and that sometimes you take on more than you can chew.
But those low moments just make the amazing moments seem even more amazing. Turning a bend, such as this one on the way to Quidi Vidi, and realizing you only have 15 minutes until a shower and ice cream is a beautiful feeling.
You’re Going to Get Lonely
There are some amazing people on the trail (and some not so amazing people…it happens), but there will be hours or days when you won’t see a soul. Luckily for me, the East Coast Trail goes through a number of communities, so I wasn’t alone for days at a time. But, I was alone for hours at a time.
If you’re not used to it, being alone with just your thoughts can be scary.
I trained for months before my hike to prep for those quiet moments. Plus, podcasts can help fill the silence. There were still some times when my thoughts were racing and other times when I was so bored. I was getting texts from friends and family (and pictures of my dog0. I was missing the comfort of a familiar face.
One day I remember coming off the bridge at La Manche. The trail was packed with clean, relaxed and chatty people. On the other hand, I was carrying 50lbs on my back, was covered in bug bites and starving. I hiked that section of trail the fastest, just to be alone, again.
So, don’t pray away the quiet moments. That alone time is why you went on a solo hike, so take it as time to reflect and to disconnect.
I don’t care who you are, you’re going to cry at some point on the hike. And I don’t just mean from pain or exhaustion.
All of the emotions come out when you’re hiking alone. You’ll feel frustrated and elated and sad and overwhelmed.
Have you ever released tension in your back and felt nauseated from the release?
It’s kind of like that.
I remember sitting down at the end of the most difficult path on the East Coast Trail. I was crying from relief that it was over. That day felt like all of the stress from the hike, from the documentary, from my personal expectations, were all released in one go.
The benefit to solo-hiking is that no one else has to see these moderate meltdowns.
But if someone else does, who cares?
You’re doing something difficult and amazing and it’s not like the strangers walking by know who you are. This is, again, as large of a mental journey as it is a physical one and you should embrace that.
It’s OK to Quit Solo-Hiking
I’ve already mentioned how my pride and stubbornness brought me through this trip. In hindsight, I’m lucky my knee issues didn’t cause long-term damage.
We think that if we quit, we have failed ourselves and others. But if you’re physically hurt or if conditions have deteriorated or you’re just not feeling it, then quit! You’re out there hiking for no one other than yourself. Pushing yourself to do something you don’t want to do is ridiculous.
At the same time, an important step before you even plan for your hike is to just ask yourself: why are you doing this?
If it’s to impress people, then don’t go. I worry this is part of the reason I did my solo-hike. If I’d let that go, I would have enjoyed it even more.
Do this hike for you and remind yourself of why you’re there in the tough moments.
In the fall I’m solo-hiking 100 miles of wilderness along the Appalachian trail up to Mount Katahdin. The terrain is more difficult and it’s completed self-supported, even though it’s shorter than my previous thru-hike.
I’m solo-hiking both for myself and to raise money to develop a therapeutic outdoors program for women. I’m creating this course for those with a history of trauma and/or mental health issues. Watching the journey these women will take will life-changing for them and for me.
Raising money to help those women reach moments of self-discovery will make the misery, the loneliness and the tears worth it.
Happy Trails XO
What keeps you from solo hiking? Share your thoughts in the comments below.