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Old 06-02-2008, 08:40 AM
atomic_poppy atomic_poppy is offline
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 25
Default Women hiking alone/concerns about the night

This year I'll finally be able to start my sectioning, and I'll be starting in Virginia for the convinence of hiking relativley near my home. Since I'm a teacher and grad student, I'll have access to long weekends this summer to hike usually leaving Thursday night and getting picked up on Sunday night. My husband doesn't have this luxury, as he works in construction, and in construction, when the work is there, you have to do it. Additionally, he has joint issues and can't handle more than a short overnight.

I know many of the safety tips for hikers going it alone, including not telling anyone you're alone, not answering "odd" questions, and I've read the (very helpful) thread on hiking safety. I've also taken self-defense (granted it was several years ago now).

Despite all this preparedness, I'm still not super-confident about hiking alone. It's not the daytime hiking that makes me nervous, it's sleeping alone on the trail. (Truth be told, this is one of the reasons I started the hiking with dogs thread.)

So, my questions are:
1. How populated is the trail in Virginia (especially Shenendoah) in June and July? (I actually trust hikers more than the "outside" world, so I'd feel much better if there were a few hikers to bed down with each night.)
2. How safe does it "feel" out there (especially for us paranoid-types)?
3. Do you have any suggestions/further discussion on how I can make myself feel better about going it alone?

Thanks in advance!
"The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough." Emerson, Nature
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Old 06-02-2008, 11:15 AM
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double d double d is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Northern,Il.
Posts: 415

Atomic Poppy, my one advice to you is to set up your tent at night away from the trail (and don't set up camp near paved roads). How far away is up to you, but I would say about 75-100 yards is fine. Use alot of common sense, maybe bring a small radio (with headphones) to listen to as your body/mind begin to fall asleep at night. Also, don't let your mind think of the worst case situations, your car ride to the AT is more dangereous then the trail will ever be. Also, when you meet people on the trail who don't look like they are hiking (wearing jeans, no backpack, ect.), tell them that your husband is just behind you. I'm sure there will be good, sound advice from others here at TP that will post more detailed information, but I know I would want my wife to feel safe it she had to go hiking alone. Just think of the wonderful privacy you will get, you can stop when you want, sleep when you want, view nature at your own pace, ect..ect.., so you will do fine, just use alot of common sense.
"For The One's Who Had A Notion, A Notion Deep Inside That It Ain't No Sin To Be Glad Your Alive" Bruce Spingsteen
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Old 06-02-2008, 11:24 AM
gsingjane gsingjane is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Guilford, CT
Posts: 889

Hi AP, here are some things that you could think about - maybe, or at least they work for me. First, and over-arching, it's important to remember that criminals go where it's easy to commit crimes, and this isn't the trail! Many sites can only be reached by fairly arduous climbing or scrambling, oftentimes of several miles, and many people, including criminals, aren't in shape to do that... especially when the potential payoff is what, somebody's old pack? Remember, too, that unless someone saw you at a road crossing and specifically stalked you into the woods, a potential wrong-doer wouldn't even know who, if anyone, was at the site. He might hike all the way in there only to find nobody home. If it were you, wouldn't you rather break into a car or an empty house?

Second, in terms of sleeping, it may well feel more secure to tent. That way, unless somebody sees you going into your tent, they won't know whether it's you or a 200-lb. football player they're attacking. What's a potential rapist going to do, go from tent to tent peeking to see if a woman is there?

Third, and feel free to disagree with me on this one, earplugs can really help sometimes, as can Tylenol P.M. There ARE lots of rustlings and scufflings around all night long in the woods, and a mouse or chippie can sound like Godzilla. I know you may feel that you want to stay up and listen to see whether anything is coming, but, frankly, by that point what are you going to do about it anyway? Maybe better to just get a good night's sleep because things will definitely look calmer in the morning.

Finally do remember that your fellow hikers would undoubtedly protect you in the event of an attack. The safety of one is the safety of all, and I cannot imagine that, even if there is one other person at the site, he or she wouldn't leap to defend you. I know I sure would.

Take care and enjoy your hikes!

Jane in CT
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Old 06-02-2008, 11:39 AM
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whisperingwind whisperingwind is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Salina Kansas
Posts: 922

It's been said many times over, hikers of the trail become family, whether you know the person or not. And this time of month in Shenandoah, you more than likely will never be alone. You will meet those you can and can't trust, and your gut instinct will tell you this.

As Double D said, tell the person your hubby is right behind you. That usually deters any problems. Also along with your more than likely to run into problems driving to the trail, than actually getting into trouble on the trail. In any issue, if a problem can't be solved, walk away. I think the most problems anyone will encounter are petty theft, mouthy day-hikers, ticked-off thru-hikers, and drunk rowdy folks. Your chances of getting in any trouble? My guess is slim to none.

My advice for the helping(or at least try) you overcome your fear is this. Remember, you are not the first female to succesfully hike the trail(in your case,a weekend hike), and you won't be the last.

You won't be the first person(male or female) who has had a fear about being alone in the woods. Always remember, there is always someone nearby who will come to your aid. If you have to, stay in front of a group of TH'S, that way you can be telling people coming toward you, "My friends are right behind me." This stranger is'nt going to know any different.

And thats just my 2 and 1/2 cents.

Don't let fear overtake your plan, get out there and do it.
A bad day of hiking, is better than a good day at work.
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Old 06-02-2008, 01:33 PM
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7Sisters 7Sisters is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: PA
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[QUOTE=atomic_poppy;4374] It's not the daytime hiking that makes me nervous, it's sleeping alone on the trail. (Truth be told, this is one of the reasons I started the hiking with dogs thread.)

Oh mannnnn - and we know where that one led to!

I've been thinking about this question and have a couple points and than a personal confession.

The points to make are around safety:

1 - stay away from shelters with easy road access if you're the only backpacker at the shelter.
2 - until you get a level of awareness about the trail, stick to an itinerary and let someone know where you're going to be.
3 - be confident when speaking to people, but don't give away plans like you're alone and how many days you're out for.
4 - come into the woods with your street smarts

Personal confession:
It took me a real long time to get comfortable sleeping in the woods. For a while it was my least favorite part of the trip. I'd lie awake listening to everying in the woods and be just completely scared it was someone sneaking up to do me harm. I would rarely have a good night sleep and would fall asleep as the sun was coming up.

I eventually had to just trust that I would wake up the next morning and would consiously say to myself if something is going to happen, it's going to happen and it was a calming thing for me to accept a level of "fate" and just close my eyes and listen to the birds and think about my family at home. It became a discipline, but was not easy.

Now I love the solitude and thoroughly enjoy the night - it means I don't have to carry a pack.

Hope this helps in some way.

You may also speak to Angewrite as she solo thruhiked last year.

Peace be with you.
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Old 06-02-2008, 02:02 PM
bowmankenw bowmankenw is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Franklin, NC
Posts: 127
Default Security on the trail

Here are some other things to consider.

When you come to a shelter and there are people already there, take your pack off but donít unpack anything. Just sit there and check out whoís there and whatís going on. Act as if you might be continuing on up the trail. You might even ask whatís up ahead on the trail indicating that you might not be staying at the shelter but just resting before you continue. Once you get a feel for the people there make your decision whether to stay at the shelter or not.

Road crossings:
If you know there are good people behind you and you come to a road crossing where there are questionable people you could wait for one of your hiking ďfriendsĒ to catch up and cross with them. But I donít think this will be generally necessary.

Donít tell:
Of course donít tell anyone where you are going. Just say, ďI havenít decided yet."

Criminals are lazy. Thatís why they're criminals. In general a criminal isnít going to hike Ĺ a mile into the woods to get you. Theyíre too lazy for that.

Enjoy your hike. You should be all right.

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Old 06-02-2008, 02:54 PM
atomic_poppy atomic_poppy is offline
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 25

Thanks for the support, all. I definitely plan on keeping someone aware of my itenerary (and will probably keep a cell phone turned off and in my pack to let the hubby know if anything changes, since he is my ride home, after all). I also definitely plan to tent the whole time (or at least carry one, in case there are no shelters with friendly hikers in them).

I'm glad I'm not the only one. I guess I just need to take a few deep breaths and accept that the only way to do this is to spend the night alone. And I do want to do this (in another life, with more time and money, I'd be solo thru-ing instead of sectioning), so there's only one way to get it done, and that's to jump in.

Hopefully there will be a few people I can touch base with in July when I start doing the solo section weekends either from here or that I meet once I'm on the trail. I know once I have a few allies out there, I'll feel 100% better!
"The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough." Emerson, Nature
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Old 06-02-2008, 04:47 PM
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LIhikers LIhikers is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Long Island, NY
Posts: 3,079

You've already got a bunch of allies out here.
Keep us all up to date and we'll all give you any support we can.
That's the way it works.
Heck, let me know when you make it up to the NY/NJ area and my wife and I just might join you if you'd like company, who knows.
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Old 06-02-2008, 09:27 PM
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Tangent Tangent is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Nashville, TN
Posts: 671

I'd like to add when tenting, walk back to the trail and see if you can see your tent. I always try and make sure that if anyone were coming down the trail, they wouldn't be able to see me.

Now for something a little more extreme. I'm not paranoid, and I know some of you are thinking it.... ok, maybe a little. I have my SEAL knife where I can get to it when I'm sleeping. it's always on my left side, at the hip, just off my thermarest. Just knowing that it's there, even though I know and hope I wouldn't ever have to use it, lets me sleep a little deeper at night.

Besides, anyone who would attack a hiker would have to be wary of getting at us at night. Some of us are armed to the teeth!
The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.
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Old 06-04-2008, 09:27 AM
Journey Journey is offline
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Jackson, WI
Posts: 2

I am also a solo female section hiker. This summer will be my fourth section. I consider myself a rather independent person, but my first night alone in a shelter, I was scared. It didn't help that while reading the shelter register every other entry was a warning of some sort about a skunk, porcupine, mice, etc. I hike with my dog, and was just as concerned about him getting sprayed by a skunk as anything else. After listening to every tiny noise and imagining the worst for a few hours, exhaustion won out. When I woke up the next morning, completely unscathed, I realized it wasn't as bad as I imagined.

Something else that works for me is to bring along a paperback to read before I go to sleep. It is something I do every night at home before I go to bed, so the routine is comforting. At first I didn't want to bring the extra weight, but for me it is worth it. There are nights I am too tired to read, but for those evenings I'm alone in a shelter, it keeps my imagination at bay. (As long as I didn't bring along a really scary book--learned that one the hard way!)
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