I begin to ascend out of the dirt parking lot. It is early and I do not pass anyone on the trail. All I can hear is the shrill call of a Steller’s Jay in an otherwise quite forest. The early morning dew helps to keep the dust down, but later, when the sun heats up the landscape, I will be covered in a film of it. As I continue up the trail the sound of my own breath and footsteps fills my ears. I begin to let my mind wander as I set off – mile after mile in a meditative trance. This is why I love to hike alone.
Hiking alone in Southern California is a relative term. On a nice summer weekend the trails surrounding this crowded region are filled with hikers. It is rare to travel more than a mile without passing some sweaty smiling face on the trail. Still it is possible to find less traveled routes, and if you are lucky enough to have a week day off you can enjoy almost any trail in relative solitude. Since setting a goal to hike 30 peaks this year I have been hiking nearly every weekend. I have been hiking with my husband, and with good friends, and although I enjoy the distractions and conversations that come with hiking with a friend or group, I have found that hiking alone creates a new experience on the trail.
When hiking solo I do not have to worry about setting a pace or keeping up. Sometimes this means I cover ground quickly other times it means I am able to take my time to investigate a trail side boulder or unknown bird call. I can take as long as I need composing a photo of a leaf or push myself to my limit to reach the next saddle. Selfishly I don’t have to share the views or little wonders on the trail. Everything I see, everything I experience is mine to lock away and hold precious. When hiking solo I begin to absorb the outside world and it is only a matter of time before my mind starts to wander in. It’s incredible how much insight our subconscious has if we just take the time to listen. I fill my life with distractions. Sometimes the idea of just sitting with myself is terrifying. What sneaky thoughts might creep out when I allow my mind to open up. When I hike alone these thoughts start to come to the surface. With nothing but miles to walk what better time could there be to tackle the issues that plague my mind. Whenever I have a problem in my life, or a question I need answering getting out on the trail always seems to clear things up.
So although I do enjoy hiking with friends, I will still seek out the solitude that only solo hiking can give. I will actively pursue that sweet rhythm of nothing but my heartbeat and the fall of my feet on the trail.
PSA- If you do hike solo make sure someone knows where you will be and what your plan is. Stick to your plan. Bring plenty of water and snacks a headlamp and a first aid kit. There is nothing majestic about getting lost or injured.