On Monday, in a moment lacking inspiration, I offered to answer some or your questions. In no particular order (except the order in which I felt like answering), here we go!
Adelaide of Dressed in Dirt asked: Ok, here’s mine: when did you first start hiking solo and what motivated you to do so?
My solo hiking was borne out of necessity, and a desire to not be a wimp. Oh, and a need to keep up my image as a cool, independent woman who backs down from no challenge. Back in 2004, I graduated from law school and found out that I had two and a half months between taking the bar exam (at the end of July) and starting my job (mid-October). While my first thoughts were to panic about availability of cash, my second thoughts focused on travel. Immediately, I seized upon the fantasy of driving around the United States, especially since I had really only ever seen the eastern seaboard, Denver, and Chicago. Going alone was a little scary, but I thought I was up for the challenge…and after all, who else could leave their jobs/families for 6 weeks and go with me?
But what to do while driving around? Realizing I had to find some way of picking where I was headed, I thought about different themes for the trip, and immediately knew I wanted to visit National Parks. I wanted to hike. But…I had never been hiking alone. Was it safe, especially since I’d be in unfamiliar places all by myself, thousands of miles from anyone I knew? Was I physically capable? Did I have any idea what I even needed?
And there it was. A challenge. I sort of thrive on challenge. Telling me something can’t be done — or that I can’t do something — is a sure way to make me find a way to do it. I decided that I could hike and camp alone if I set my mind to it. The best part was, if I hated it, I only had to turn around and drive home. So I did my research, mustered up the courage to ask a lot of questions of the helpful REI clerks (who were, really, all too happy to walk me through the stores and help me try on backpacks and show me different types of hunting knives, I might add), and gave it a try.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or herstory? No, I didn’t just say that.
Sara asked: We’re moving out west this summer (Albuquerque, to be exact). Neither Bryan nor I have ever spent any time in that part of the country, and we’re looking forward to exploring it. Other than the grand canyon (which neither of us has ever visited and will only be two hours away), any good suggestions for day/weekend camping/hiking trips? Any favorite places in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, or souther Utah?
Oh dear. How I love the West. How I love, love, love the West. This could spawn an entire series of posts. And since that’s the kind of idea I like, I’ll launch into that in the near future. For now, please consider the following:
- Southern Utah is my favorite hiking destination yet. Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon are spectacular, amazing, incredible, and totally different places only an hour and a half from each other. See my two posts about Zion, and also reader Andra’s blog about her recent trip that included both parks. On the Utah/Colorado border is Moab, Utah, home to Arches National Park, another one of my favorites. This is desert hiking at its finest. Between Moab and Bryce are Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. With smaller parks as well, southern Utah is a playground for campers and hikers. I’m not sure if it’s a weekend from Albuquerque (a day’s drive or so), but it’s worth a trip.
- In Arizona, there are a few suggestions I could make (aside from the Grand Canyon, which is a given). First, you might want to check out Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is between you and the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been, but there are self-guided and guided hikes, and a campground. Second, this isn’t a hiking or camping destination, but you’ll definitely want to go see Meteor Crater, which is also between you and the Grand Canyon. It’s a very well-preserved…yes, meteor crater…and it’s really really really big. I promise it’s not as kitschy as the website makes it look. Third, try venturing into Oak Creek Canyon by Sedona, Arizona in the Cococino National Forest. Tons of hiking, fishing, camping, and watersports available all over the area.
- Ah, Colorado. I haven’t spent much time in southern Colorado, so you’ll have to check it out and report back. Or maybe I need to do some “research.”
- Finally, New Mexico itself. I haven’t spent any time camping or hiking in New Mexico. I meant to, but on my road trip New Mexico was where I blew out a tire on the highway and ended up spending the night in a teeny little town, eating at a Denny’s, and then getting a new tire when the tire shop opening in the morning. Check out the NPS page for New Mexico for ideas; there are quite a few National Monuments, including Petroglyph, near Albuquerque.
In any event, enjoy Albuquerque. When am I coming to visit? Or meeting you at one of these places? 🙂
Dad (yes, my dad) asked: Tell us about your youthful adventures at Alton Jones, Chewonki and backpacking in Ireland. And don’t forget Mark Trail.
Well, that’s not a question, Dad. Those are suggestions. But they are much appreciated. I’ll share one anecdote for now, and file these ideas away for future posts.
When I was maybe fourteen, my ninth grade class spent a week camping at Chewonki in Maine. I was not a camper back then. The woods scared me. Animals scared me. Dirt scared me. Bugs scared me (okay, bugs still scare me). One night, the girls in my group were misbehaving and hanging out in one of the boys’ tents. Eventually, everyone fell asleep. Except me. I realized I still had my contact lenses in, and had to take them out if we were going to spend the night. So after debating with myself awhile, I very carefully snuck out of the crowded tent, made my way in the pitch black forest to my own tent, located my lens case (in the dark…I couldn’t find a flashlight), removed my lenses (in the dark), and proceeded to try to make my way back to the boys’ tent (in the dark, now without my lenses, meaning I was basically blind). I was trying to walk quietly, to not wake anyone up, and slowly because I was mainly guessing where I was going. I put my left foot down onto something that felt weird and soft — and it moved! It ran. I am not kidding. I caught myself, choked back a scream, and ran myself — over a small sapling and smack into the platform with the boys’ tent. Trying not to panic, I climbed into the tent and settled myself back in. Of course, me banging into the platform had woken up everyone inside the tent, and we girls decided to go back to our tent to sleep, so we wouldn’t get caught in the morning.
To this day, I don’t know what I stepped on. A raccoon? A skunk? I don’t know, I don’t care, and it scared me silly.
Thanks for the questions, everyone!
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.