But you don’t have to be, because I’m here to help you not make the mistakes that I made when I started out hiking and camping solo.
On Wednesday, I posted this photo, of me at the end of my very first solo hike, on the teeny, easy little Door Trail at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I asked you what was wrong with the picture — in other words, could you tell from this photo all the rules I was breaking and mistakes I was making?
Well, you guys did great! It’s a little embarassing, but here are the answers:
- I’m wearing the wrong shoes. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing Teva sandals. Why are these wrong? Let me count the ways. First of all, they don’t provide the support needed for “real” hiking. Second, they leave my feet (including fragile toes) completely unprotected. They might be cooler than boots, but jagged rocks and sticks and rocks could do a number on my poor exposed feets. Because this was a very short, easy hike, this wasn’t really a problem. Would I do it again? Not if I had never hiked the trail. If I knew the trail well, I might, but without knowing the lay of the land, that was dumb.
- I’m not wearing a hat. This is open, arid land. There ain’t no shade anywhere in sight. A hat is really really really a good idea. But even worse…
- I’m not wearing sunscreen. Now, you can’t see that from this photo, but trust me, it’s true. I didn’t get too burned. I actually think I had put on sunscreen that morning, but at this point it was early afternoon and it was time for some more.
- I’m wearing the wrong shirt. Yes, that is a cotton t-shirt. I like that t-shirt. But it isn’t hiking-friendly, particularly not in hot, arid, South Dakota in August, when I was sweating just standing around. This isn’t a fatal mistake. I spent years hiking in regular old t-shirts before I discovered the wonder of wicking, and now I live in my hiking clothes in the summer. But since we’re picking out things I would do differently with the experience I have now, this goes on the list. Oh, and Josh is right: while somewhat minimal here, lighter colors and the desert are usually better companions.
- I’m not carrying my first aid kit. Oops. Now, I have said it isn’t strictly always necessary to carry your first aid kit, if you’re doing a really easy, short hike that you’ve done a million times and there’s a decent population there with you. I don’t bring my kit when I traipse around Walden Pond, for example. But here, in a part of the country I knew nothing about, on a hike I had never done, which could have rattlesnakes (something that wasn’t even a little bit on my radar at this point), not carrying the kit is stupid. Thankfully, this was such a short hike, and there were a fair number of people there, so I wasn’t really in any danger from this mistake. The next hike I did, immediately thereafter, however, I was the only one on the trail, and it involved climbing. Not having the kit there was especially especially stupid.
- As Dad and Deborah noted, I also don’t have a pack. This means my water is limited to my Nalgene bottle, and I don’t have any of the other essentials with me (cell phone, whistle, compass, etc.). For this hike, again, it was short, easy and well populated, so it wasn’t a problem. But for the next hike, what was I thinking?
I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I pulled off the main road and into the trailhead parking lot. There were a lot of people there. I was so excited, because I knew this was going to be my first hike of the trip. I got out of the car, pulled my hair into a ponytail (it was very hot), and grabbed my Nalgene bottle. I went to the trunk and looked at my hydration pack, which was filled with hiking essentials, and my boots, and then I looked at all the totally non-hiking dressed people headed out on the trail, and decided it was all overkill.
I was sort of right. The Door Trail is very simple. The first part is handicap-accessible, for goodness sake. But in retrospect, and especially when I headed out for the Notch Trail, I should have geared up. If I didn’t want to fill my hydration pack with water, or if I didn’t want to carry too much, I could have at least put the boots, sunscreen, and hat on.
Here is another photo of me, from several weeks later. As you can see, I was learning my lessons, hike by hike, trail by trail:
This is on a hike in Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah. As you can see, I’m more appropriately geared. Those are pants (and yes, I did see a rattlesnake on this trail). I’m wearing a hiking shirt, and a hat. I am wearing sunscreen (though you probably can’t tell). I’ve got my hydration pack filled with 2.5 liters of water, first aid kit, cell phone, compass, etc. etc. etc.
Thanks for playing. Remember, we all make mistakes when we don’t know any better. My goal is to help you avoid them as you embark upon your own solo journeys.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.