It’s Not Rocket Science

22 02 2012

Originally published October 26, 2009

As we discussed last week, when you’re camping and hiking (and road-tripping) on your own, your own observations, thought and instincts are your best tools.  You need to look around, be aware, and make judgments about the right balance between adventure and safety.  There isn’t going to be a Twitter update (or even, ahem, a useful blog) to tell you when the group at the local watering hole poses a specific danger to you, or whether that grizzly bear up ahead on the trail is content to keep out of your way.

That might sound a little intimidating.  Can I really think on the fly, you might ask?  How will I know if my instincts about someone I meet are steering me right?  How do I tell if the campground is a safe place for me to stay tonight?

I’m telling you today to stop questioning yourself.

You’re smarter than you think, and not everyone is evil.

You know the old saying: Common sense is a misnomer, because most people don’t have it.  Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not precisely true.  Common sense is common, it’s just that a lot of the time, people don’t bother to use it.

iStock_000010540973XSmallWe live in a world where information comes to us through countless sources.  Television, newspaper (whether in paper form or online), books, ebooks, radio, billboards, podcasts, magazines, Google reader, email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and in tiny digestible bites on that little screen in elevators.  While wandering through our environment, we get information from stop lights, digital temperature readers, weather forecasts with icons of sun and rain, traffic reports, and subway announcements.

We rely so heavily on external sources of information, in conclusory format, that we’re spending less time and focus on internal sources of information: our own senses and observations.  I’m guilty of it too — when I wake up, I check the weather on my iPhone and often don’t even look outside until I’m ready to walk out the door.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t come to our own observations and conclusions about the world around us.  It’s just a muscle that most of us don’t have to exercise in our daily lives as we go about our routines.  So exercise it.  Look around, see what you notice.  Test yourself.  Get used to being observant and reaching conclusions based on your observations.  You can do it — it’s a survival instinct that naturally exists.  It’s just that most of us are lazy in our comfortable routines where we don’t have to be so vigilant most of the time.

iStock_000004361536XSmallFurthermore, while there are dangers out there, and while being cautious around people you meet while camping and hiking alone is smart, not everyone is evil.  While the stories of solo female hikers disappearing or running into trouble because of unsavory characters are frightening, they aren’t actually the norm.  They’re the exception.  In fact, most people you will meet aren’t evil.  They’re like you — interested in enjoying the outdoors, having experiences.  They might be downright good samaritans.

It’s good to be cautious.  It’s necessary to use your common sense.  It’s smart to not blindly trust everyone.  But give yourself — and others — a chance.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Your Gut’s Telling You to Run, Run. OK?

22 02 2012

potential023

Originally published October 19, 2009

BUFFY: What did your instincts tell you to do just then?

RONA: Block his attack, keep him off balance, gain the advantage…?

BUFFY: No, they didn’t.

RONA: They told me to run.

BUFFY: Vi?

VI: They told me to run. They’re still sort of telling me to run.

BUFFY: Don’t fight on his terms. Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Potential”

We all have instincts.  Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone you don’t know, and started to feel like backing away?  Something was telling you — signs the stranger is putting off, something he/she said, something you’ve noticed but haven’t consciously considered yet — that this person wasn’t trustworthy, or the situation wasn’t safe.

When discussing hiking solo as a woman — or traveling solo as a woman — there are a lot of “do’s and don’ts” to consider.  While some of these rules are phrased as absolutes, all of them can be broken if the situation warrants.  When to break the rules — or how to make decisions about something that isn’t covered by the rules — is something that you can only do by considering your situation and balancing the risks and the benefits of each choice.

Here’s one example: I have read solo female travel guides that advise women to never reveal that they are traveling solo, to always have some excuse, like they’re catching up to your group, or waiting for a husband/boyfriend.  This isn’t a bad idea, at least as a fallback.  The trouble is, it’s difficult to maintain (what if you’re at a restaurant, eating alone, or you’re walking behind a group on a trail, by yourself, etc.).  Also, it will deprive you of one of the great joys of traveling alone: meeting people.  That’s why it’s not a rule on my list.  However, it falls under the umbrella of Rule Number Three:

For God’s Sake, Use Your Head: Instincts Are Your Best Tool

Like with anything else, there is a balance here.  As a default, not revealing you’re solo status is wise, at least up front.  But sometimes it can’t be helped, and really, all you need to do is pay attention and trust your gut.  Don’t trust everyone blindly, but there’s nothing wrong with making friends while you travel, as long as you’re using your head and taking other precautions.

Here’s an example from my own experience: One day, I drove to Moab, Utah, with the intention of pitching my tent and spending the next day at Arches National Park.  When I arrived, however, I found that the park’s campgrounds were closed for renovation.  The private campgrounds on the side of the main highway made me uncomfortable.  They were exposed (as it was, after all, the desert), and there weren’t any tent-campers, only RVs.  It took me about thirty seconds to decide I didn’t want to risk being the only tent on the side of a major road, and I pulled into the Comfort Inn (or it might have been a Motel 6, I don’t remember).

Would anything have happened?  Probably not.  But there was something about the situation that said “don’t do it.”  And so I didn’t.

Several nights later, I had no trouble having a couple of beers with an older couple from California while watching football at a local bar (Pats v. Colts, season opener) and sharing with them that I was on my own.  I was camping that night, and I was just careful not to say out loud where I was staying — or even that I was camping that night — and since I was staying at a quite crowded campground, I was very comfortable.  My caution was less about the couple I was hanging out with (they were really nice people), but more that I didn’t want someone else to overhear.  In that situation my instincts were giving me the go ahead, with caution, and so I did.

Sharing your solo status, and meeting people, is only one example that falls under this rule.  Some solo female travelers don’t touch a drop of alcohol while traveling alone, afraid it will impair their judgment.  That’s a personal choice you have to make, but I wouldn’t advocate willingly impairing your judgment while traveling even if you were with a group.  Or in your home city, for that matter.  You may be in a more comfortable place, but there are still risks.  It all comes down to using your head — don’t do anything willfully stupid, and trust your gut.

The bottom line is that you have a head.  Use it.  You have instincts.  Listen to them.

Or, as Buffy says:potential051

Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?





Can’t Is A Four-Letter Word

21 02 2012

470px-Henry_ford_1919

Originally published October 5, 2009

I am looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.

— Henry Ford

When I was a kid, teachers would often say: “Can’t is a four-letter word.”

This never made any sense to me.  Of course “can’t” is a four-letter word.  Just count the letters, it’s obvious.  It just didn’t make any sense in context.  The statement always came up when I (or some other student) claimed they couldn’t do something like long division, spelling a long word, climbing the rope in gym class (okay, that last one was me).  It wasn’t until much later, when I figured out that “four-letter word” was another way of saying “swear word” that I got it: “can’t” is a dirty word, because by saying you can’t do something, you’ve assumed defeat.

The attitude factor of success is a well-known topic of inspirational speeches, articles, and self-help guides.  When researching this post, I was looking for some key quote from some key historical figure who accomplished some feat that the world said couldn’t be done.  There are a lot of them.  I chose the Henry Ford quote above because I thought it was funny, but history is replete with tales of crazy individuals who had some dream and were told by everyone that what they wanted to accomplish was impossible.  Without those crazy people who ignored the word “can’t,” we’d probably still be living in caves.

In the end, your confidence that you can do something does not guarantee success (Amelia Earhart, how are you doing these days?).  However, your confidence that you can’t do something guarantees your failure.  Which brings me to the second Good Stuff principle:

Don’t Assume You Can’t Just Because You Never Have.

Last Monday, we talked about Rule #2 (Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities).  However, it’s important to remember that when realistically assessing your abilities, don’t limit yourself to things you’ve already done.  What you’ve already done can serve as a framework for what you’re comfortable taking on while hiking and camping solo, but it doesn’t have to be the outer boundaries.

Push yourself, just a little bit.  If last time you hiked four miles, when you see a five mile trail don’t assume you can’t handle it (you probably can).  If last time you only brought along ready-made food, don’t assume you can’t have a campside cookout (you can, and we’ll talk about food soon).

If last time you hiked with a group, don’t assume you can’t do it alone.

Give yourself a little credit.  If you don’t, no one else will, either.





Anything You Can I Can Do…Maybe

21 02 2012

rosie1

Originally published September 28, 2009

Yes, we can.  (Wait, haven’t I heard that somewhere recently?  Nah…)

I live alone, and one thing I have learned is that while I can do many things (rewire an electrical socket, figure out a plumbing problem, use a drill, kill any manner of bugs without freaking out), there are other things that I just can’t do on my own (hang a fifty-pound chandelier from the ceiling in my dining room — thanks, Gary and Erik).

The simple truth is that, as an average woman, there will be things of the physical sort that are just more difficult for us than they would be for a guy.  Maybe a couple of us could handle it, but the whole point of this blog is to talk about solo camping and hiking.  As I keep saying (so it must be important), the best weapon you have as a solo hiker is to be aware of the risks and be prepared to handle them.  So that brings me to Rule Number Two:

Don’t Confuse Enthusiasm With Ability: Realistically Assess Your Abilities and Plan Accordingly

This rule could also be called “Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities.”  What it means is that I think it’s great if you want to camp out on your own and tackle the outdoors because your boyfriend/husband teased you that you wouldn’t last ten minutes without your manicurist once you chipped a nail.  However, I don’t suggest that you decide to prove him wrong by shouldering a fifty-pound frame pack and hiking twelve miles into the back country that is known for its aggressive population of grizzlies, if you’ve never slept outdoors in your life.

Solo camping and hiking is not the time to attempt some grand feat that you’ve never before come close to even considering, when that could land you in some serious trouble.  If you go with the boyfriend/husband (or a girlfriend, or your mom, or whatever), then at least there’s someone around to help when you realize that you need to dump half your pack or else collapse from fatigue.  There’s someone to encourage you when your muscles start screaming.  There’s someone to go for help when you step wrong and twist your ankle.

Rule Number Two doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself.  It simply requires that you realistically assess your abilities and limitations, and plan accordingly.

The key here is being realistic.  Are there some women who can rebuild a transmission?  Sure.  I’m not one of them.  Could I learn?  Probably, but right now I can’t do it.  When I was on my road trip, I knew that if something happened to my car, I’d have to get help.  When my tire blew out while I was flying down Rte. 40 in New Mexico, I called AAA to come and help.  Good thing, because the guy was also able to direct me to the nearest town that had both a hotel and a tire place that would be open in the morning.

Just be realistic.  Don’t be afraid to push yourself, and try new things, but have an escape plan ready in case you need it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Oh, the Places You’ll Go

20 02 2012

691-1

Originally published September 18, 2009

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I promised that I wouldn’t talk only about the don’ts and the warnings, and so here we are, finally, at the first post about The Good Stuff.

But, Her Side, what exactly is The Good Stuff?

Why, I’m so glad you asked.  The Good Stuff is the other side of the Rules.  In the Rules, we’re talking about things you should think about, prepare for, caution against, and learn about in order to make solo camping and hiking as safe as possible.  And you do those things, making this activity safe, so that you can go out and enjoy yourself.  So that you can leave your worries at home and focus on…wait for it…

The Good Stuff.

The first one is very simple.  It’s so simple, in fact, that you’re probably going to roll your eyes.  Ready?

The Power is in the Possibilities.

I know, I told you it was simple.  But just give it a second, let it sink in.  While you’re taking a moment, look at this photo:

DSCN0293

by joanarc4.

That’s Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  Pretty spectacular, right?  Oh, wait.  While I’m thinking about it, here’s another one:

DSCN0585

by joanarc4

That’s the Great Smoky Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.  You can really see why they’re called that, right?  Oh, just one more, for the heck of it:

DSCN0413

by joanarc4

That’s the Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.  Yes, there you hike in the river.  It’s amazing.

So have you thought about the possibilities yet?  Hiking lets you see incredible views, be in incredible places, and feel incredible things.    And that’s just possible locations you can find yourself when you hike.  Why should you have to wait to gather a group to explore those possibilities?

What are some other possibilities?  I know that when I set out on my road trip, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I was worried I’d be lonely, or not be able to handle the driving, or take care of car problems, or handle the physical activity.  You know what?  I found out I could do all of those things.  When I returned to “normal” life, I was suddenly more confident that I could handle all the ins and outs of daily life on my own, too.  So another possibility is conquering your fears, squashing your insecurities, and getting to know your own capabilities.

It’s a rush.

One more thing, and then I’ll let you think of your own possibilities.  I’m going to quote Dr. Seuss again:

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the [gal] who’ll decide where to go.

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Where do you want to go?  It’s YOUR decision, when you hike and camp solo.  So what’ll it be?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Risky Business: Not Necessarily

20 02 2012

risky_business

Originally published September 10, 2009

Last time, we talked generally about risks inherent in solo camping and hiking, primarily that any risks you face while camping and hiking are heightened because you may have no one around the help you if you find yourself in a difficult situation.

Life is full of risks, however.  Driving a car is risky, and yet many of us do it every day.  We minimize our risks by being cautious, requiring drivers to be licensed, discouraging risky behavior with civil and criminal penalties, and making cars as safe as possible through the use of seatbelts and air bags.  We also avoid increasing risks through our own behavior, by not driving while intoxicated or on medication or while sleep-deprived (at least, I hope we avoid this…you do, don’t you?  Yeah, I’m looking at you, with the margarita glass in your hand and salt on your lips…).  We are taught to be extra cautious in these situations: if you have any question about your ability to drive safely, don’t try.

That brings me to my first rule for safe solo camping and hiking:

Knowledge is Power: Learn the Risks and Take Precautions

We’ll talk a lot about the risks.  We’ll talk a lot about precautions and preparations and how these preparations, just like obeying traffic rules and wearing seatbelts and not driving drunk, can make solo camping and hiking safer.

So what are some of the risks?  This list is not exclusive, of course.  I haven’t listed, for example, “Getting a concussion when a stray parachuter lands on top of you” or “Making a fool out of yourself when you run into Billy-Bob Thornton” (hey it could happen…in fact, it might have happened to me).

  • Getting Lost
  • Injury (twisted ankle, gashes/scrapes, broken limbs)
  • Wild Animal Encounter (snake bite, bear/mountain lion sighting)
  • Sudden Change in Weather (drop in temperature, rain/snow)
  • Heat Exhaustion/Dehydration/Over-Exertion
  • Meeting Unsavory Characters/Being a Target

For every risk, there are preparations and precautions, such as:

  • Maps/GPS/Distress Signal Devices
  • Cell Phones
  • Telling someone where you’ll be
  • First Aid Kits
  • Knowing how to handle an animal encounter/Being aware of surroundings
  • Having the right clothing/equipment
  • Knowing the weather forecast and packing accordingly
  • Visiting the ranger station for trail/campsite updates and cautions
  • Having enough food/water and knowing your own limitations
  • Being cautious around strangers and choosing the best trails/campsites to minimize the risks of solo female travel

This may seem like a lot, but most of it is really common sense, and the volume of risks to be aware of/prepare for shouldn’t discourage you from getting out there and enjoying nature.  Stay tuned for the first post about The Good Stuff, the encouraging counterpoint to the Rules.  Up first is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go: the Passion is in the Possibilities” so stick around.

In the meantime, what are some risks that you have encountered or that you worry about when you camp and hike solo?  How do you prepare for these things?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Let’s Recap, Shall We?

20 02 2012

Since we’ve been quiet on here for a while, I’m going to roll on back to the beginning of Her Side and repost each of the Rules and the Good Stuff Posts, and then finish off these lists (we have one Rule left to discuss and two Good Stuff!). We’ll start today and do one of each each day for the next couple of weeks, after which it’ll be all new content!

Think of it like the “Previously, on the [insert your favorite television show here]” moments at the beginning of each week’s episode. So, without further ado, “Previously, on Her Side of the Mountain…”





You Might See Whales

9 02 2012

On Tuesday, I told you about a walk I took on a short hiking trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve. One of the reasons I kept that visit brief was because I had other plans: I wanted to get out to the Cabrillo National Monument as well.

Statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

I have a thing about National Parks. in 2004, when I was driving cross country, I made the decision to make hiking and camping in National Parks the theme of the trip. This was partly because it was an inexpensive theme. Camping = cheaper than hotels, and a National Parks Pass was only $50 at the time, providing unlimited admission to the parks. But I fell in love. The sites themselves are amazing and well-maintained, the visitors centers are good, and the rangers and volunteers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and informative. While on the trip, I bought a walking stick and proceeded to cover it with medallions from the National Parks I visited.

See?

This isn’t all of them — some didn’t have medallions, especially the smaller sites, but then a couple of years ago I discovered the National Parks Passport. I love collecting things, so this was awesome for me. I don’t have some Ahab quest to get stamps from all of the sites (there are 391-ish, depending on the source), but I do like to collect them anyhow.

Which was why, on Monday, I decided I just had to visit a National Park site while I was out in California. Some day I’m going to do a California National Parks trip, and go to Joshua Tree and Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic and…

Back on topic. Cabrillo National Monument!

The Monument, which was established in 1913 to commemorate the life and explorations of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, is at the tip of Point Loma, just past the naval base (so, a good place to see men in uniform as a bonus). Juan came to the Americas in the early 1500s, and in 1542, he set off from Mexico on an expedition on behalf of Spain to claim land and (surprise!) find a route to the Spice Islands. (Those explorers, so intent on getting spices.) On September 28, 1542, Juan and Company landed in a harbor he described as “a closed and very good port.” This very good port is now San Diego. Thus, the Monument in Juan’s honor.

From the well-staffed visitor’s center — which has a gift shop/information desk, a museum, and a theater, as well as snacks and restrooms — walk up the path to the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. You’ll be treated with a spectacular view of downtown San Diego on one side and the ocean on the other.

After that, walk up the hill towards the Point Loma Lighthouse. You can go inside and see rooms laid out as they would have been when a lighthouse keeper lived here with his (or her! they had female keepers here too) family.

Continue past the lighthouse and up to the Whale Overlook, where, if you’re lucky, you can do some whale watching. I stood there a while and didn’t see anything, but I’ve also had so-so luck on whale-watching trips, so maybe it’s just me.

Then you can loop back down and venture onto the Bayside Trail, which is a 2.5 mile walk descending 300 feet to the beach below. It’s a little steep, but not terrible. I walked on it a little ways, but decided not to do the whole loop because of time.

If you’re looking for something a little different, there’s also an exhibit on old defense systems, and tidepools to visit. Cabrillo is a small site, but the rangers there are as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as anywhere, and you might see whales! It’s worth a visit if you have the time.





Sometimes you feel like a walk…

7 02 2012

I’ve been out in southern California for the past week, scouting the area as a potential new residence. While much of this time has been spent visiting different parts of San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, driving around, getting the feel of the place, I couldn’t leave without trying out the local hiking. The problem? I found that on my last day in the area, after nearly two weeks of traveling (I was in Austin, TX before this), I was sort of exhausted and not really up for the preparations or the doing of a long, difficult hike.

What I really wanted was a walk in the woods, or something like the woods. I asked around, and four separate people told me to check out Torrey Pines State Reserve for some easy, short hikes with fabulous views. Several others told me to check out Cabrillo National Monument, and I have a thing about National Park Service Sites. So I decided to do both. Today I’ll give you the skinny on Torrey Pines, and on Thursday you’ll get a recap of the visit to Cabrillo.

Torrey Pines is an easy 30-minute drive up the coast from San Diego, just north of La Jolla. The drive itself is pretty, especially once you get off of I-5 onto Carmel Valley Road. You enter through the North Entrance, pay your $10 all-day access fee (or find parking on the beach or on the road, if you can…I didn’t because I wanted to drive up into the park).

I decided on the Guy Fleming Trail, because I had another stop to make. It’s short, only ~2/3 mile, and mostly level, with only some brief climbs and descents, and a few stairways.

The first thing that worked for me about this trail was the views. I was promised fabulous and I indeed got fabulous. Going clockwise around the loop, you’re immediately greeted with a sweeping ocean vista, as the trail runs along the side of a cliff that drops down to the beach below. The waves at Torrey Pines are spectacular, and mesmerizing to watch. I found myself stopping every fifty steps or so to just look out at the water for a while. There are two designated “viewpoints,” but the entirety of the first half of this trail could be considered a viewpoint.

As an added bonus, there was a pod of dolphins just off the coast, so I watched them playing in the waves for a while. Then, I noticed that the birds — whatever kind they were, I didn’t have my binoculars and probably wouldn’t be able to tell anyhow…gulls of some kind? — were surfing. Seriously, they were gliding on the edges of cresting waves, and it looked like they were having fun.

The second half of the trail was inland, so the views were of the town of Del Mar instead of the ocean, but it was still pleasant. There were also some fun sandstone features, and I learned that the trail is named after the man who made Torrey Pines a state reserve in order to save the trees, which are a rare five-needled pine tree.

In all, the hike was nice, if merely a walk. It was perfect for what I wanted, and I could have spent hours just watching the ocean, so I felt like I got my money’s worth both literally and figuratively.

One word of caution: the road leading up to the trail is littered with people jogging and stay-at-home moms walking gigantic baby carriages. Because the road winds, it is hard to see the pedestrians lurking around corners, so please please obey the 15 mph speed limit, and go even slower around those hairpins.