Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking

July 15, 2016

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

“It’s a seven-mile hike-in, you know?”

That was the second time the park ranger had mentioned the distance I’d have to trek in order to get to the rustic campsite I had booked for my first ever solo backpacking trip at a state park near Ann Arbor.

Was that skepticism in her voice? Or was that my own skepticism sneaking in, making anything anyone else said sound skeptical?

Either way, we both had a pretty good reason to believe that this wasn’t going to end well.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had hiked seven miles. And I had certainly never hiked seven miles with a full pack on.

And those seven miles were just for the hike-in.

The hike-out for the following day was  five miles — five miles which the trail map indicated were full of “Serious Hills.” I imagined the hills grimacing at me very seriously, possibly while mumbling Very Serious Hill things under their Very Serious Hill breath.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

The Serious Hills.

“Those are the Hills from Hell,” the park ranger tapped the map where the “Serious Hills” were. Now the Very Serious Hills were very seriously grimacing and mumbling at me from the fiery pits of the underworld.

Well, great.

I stuffed the hiking map into my new hip pack. My hip pack was just one of the many new things I found myself buying before going solo backpacking — all things that I’d never thought I’d buy, like moisture-wicking pants, and, well, this:

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

Within minutes of starting my seven-mile hike, I was sweating so much my sunglasses kept sliding off my face and I was struggling with my new hiking poles.

The hottie Australian I’d watched in the Youtube video entitled, “How to Use Trekking Poles (Like a Pro)” had assured me that the poles would “just feel natural.”

Maybe hiking poles feel natural to Australians, who are probably born with hiking poles in both hands to help ward off alligators and just in case they want to go on a walk-about when they learn how to walk. But they didn’t feel natural to me.  I kept on swinging them in the wrong direction or tripping over them or dropping them and then having to pick them up while risking toppling over.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

Me & my not-so-natural hiking poles

I also couldn’t quite get the hang of my new hydration pack — which is another thing I never imagined I’d buy in my lifetime. I mean, it’s basically a big Ziploc bag with a tube attached to it that you’re supposed to drink out of like some big, hiking baby. Is drinking out of a tube also supposed to “feel natural”? Because it doesn’t. Like, not at all.

In addition, there was the problem of the mountain bikes. Oh, so many mountain bikes! And they were all heading in my direction.

While the park ranger had made a point of mentioning the seven miles I’d have to walk in order to get to my campsite, she never bothered to mention the seventy-billion mountain bikers I’d have to dodge in order to survive those seven miles.

Plus, it didn’t help that the path was usually nothing more than a narrow deep ditch up the side of a “Serious Hill.” Also not helping: the fact that the mountain bikers were not stopping. Or even slowing down really.

So as soon as I’d see a mountain bike heading full-speed in my direction, I’d have to scramble up the side of the ditch, propelling myself forward into some foliage, hoping that it wasn’t Poison Ivy or seething with live snakes.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

The narrow ditch that was the hiking path.

Somewhere around Mile 6, everything started to hurt — my feet, my left knee, my right shoulder where my backpack strap kept on digging in. I was sure my hottie Aussie Youtube hike instructor had a video on how to properly adjust your pack so it doesn’t dig into your shoulders, but I hadn’t watched it.

I didn’t even know if I could make it the final mile to my campsite, let alone the five miles it would take to get back to my car the next day.

I started to pay attention to all the roads I passed, telling myself I could always hitch a ride back to the parking lot if I needed to. Of course, this would probably mean being kidnapped by hill-people and being forced to live the rest of my days in a rusty cage. But even this sounded better than walking another five miles with my backpack on.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

Contemplating hill-people kidnapping versus trekking another 5 miles with that pack.

I finally made it to the campsite, where I was reminded that tents don’t just put up themselves even though you’re super tired and EVERYTHING HURTS AND OH GOD WHY AM I EVEN DOING THIS WHEN I COULD BE AT HOME ON MY COUCH WHICH DOESN’T REQUIRE ANY ASSEMBLY AT ALL BEFORE I SLEEP ON IT??

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

Dear tent, Please learn to put your own self up. Okay?

Luckily, dinner was easy. And surprisingly tasty for something freeze-dried and prepared in a bag. I suspect there were a lot of chemicals in this thing — delicious, adventurous, life-affirming chemicals.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

Mmm… dinner in a bag.

The next morning I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought I would. I didn’t feel good, exactly, because my definition of good doesn’t involve all the muscles in my legs screaming at me like they’re on fire.

But I didn’t feel like I needed to risk hill-people kidnapping in order to get home.

On my five-mile hike-out, all the stuff that felt weird and awkward and totally unnatural the day before didn’t feel quite as weird anymore. I swung my hiking poles a bit more easily and was able to drink water out of the plastic tube without choking so much. Even dodging mountain bikes started to feel more natural — as natural as anything can feel when you’re scrambling up the side of a ditch in an effort not to be squashed.

Fear Friday: Solo Backpacking / Unbrave Girl

At the end! Finally!

When I finally made it back to my car, I felt tempted to stop by the park ranger’s station and show the skeptical park ranger I had made it.

But that would have required my walking all the way across the parking lot — a parking lot which somehow looked longer and tougher than any of the twelve miles I’d just hiked.

This was a Very Serious Parking Lot.

Possibly a Very Serious Parking Lot from Hell.

I decided I had better not risk it.


Have you ever tried solo backpacking? What was the hardest part? 


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On July 15, 2016 at 11:48 am Sandra L. said:

    OMG, you are so brave! I mean that sincerely. I can’t even imagine walking three miles. I don’t know what three miles even looks like.

    Those hydration packs remind me of “Dune.”

    Have a great weekend!

  2. On July 15, 2016 at 11:19 pm Rebecca said:

    Good Lord. Bowing down to you. That was an amazing feat, Sally, good for you!

    I do walk miles wearing a backpack while sightseeing, but all that’s in it is my laptop, devices, water and lunch. Maybe a sweater. Less than ten pounds, anyway. So I always have huge respect for those who carry huge packs filled with their necessities. I’m still working on the perfect two bag rolling combo for constant travel through civilization.

    As it happens, I’m in the woods, myself, at the moment, and enjoying it hugely. But it’s easier in a 30′ foot RV, even when there is no electricity and someone has to leave once a week to dump and fill up the water tanks. (My sister, it’s her RV.)

    We were thrilled to find a beautiful free campground, though I had to buy $200 worth of additional cell data and $60 worth of fuel, in order to work while I’m here. I have to run the generator an hour a day to charge my laptop and we hate the smell of gasoline. Still, it’s all so worth it, especially when deer wander by.

    We forgot to get beat spray, though. Did you ever get any? Can you recommend some? We will only be here another week, but I’m sure there is more in our future.

    Hope to hear of more solo camping adventures from you. The first time at something like this is supposed to be the hardest and you came through with flying colors. Wishing you all the best.
    Rebecca recently posted..On the Road Again

    • On July 16, 2016 at 9:52 am Sally said:

      Your RV situation sounds awesome! As for bear spray, I have yet to buy any. My sister (who lives in bear country in upstate NY) seems to think all bear spray is a joke (she’s tough like that). But I’ll probably buy some before my big hiking trip next month — at least for the peace of mind.

  3. On July 15, 2016 at 11:21 pm Rebecca said:

    Get. We forgot to get bear spray. Any recommendations welcome.

  4. On July 16, 2016 at 12:16 am Leslie in Oregon said:

    What you describe would be an apt description of every one of my backpacking trips…except that you did not include a minute (or any) description of what those serious hills were really like. Your story reminded me of why I usually backpack with a partner: (a) a partner can help me keep walking through the urge to give up; (b) the tasks involved in setting up and breaking camp are shared by two people. That you completed your first backpacking trip without either of those advantages is a tribute to you! A word about those mountain bikes: check to see if Michigan prohibits mountain bikes from any of its hiking trails. My city and state do, and I’ve found that it makes a huge difference not to have to cope with bikes on the trail when you are backpacking (even if the trail is not in a ditch). Oh, consider trying your next backpacking trek without the hydration pack and the hiking poles…drinking from a water bottle gives you moments to catch your breath, and a long stick picked up along the trail can serve just as well as hiking poles (if you need either). Congratulations on your first solo backpacking trip…you overcame some daunting obstacles, Leslie

    • On July 16, 2016 at 9:48 am Sally said:

      I honestly prefer hiking by myself because I like the solitude (I talk for a living — I like being able to have a day or two on the weekend when I don’t have to talk to anyone) and I like the feeling of empowerment I get from doing all the stuff by myself. Plus, I’m a slow walker even without a pack on my back, so I like being able to go at my own pace without feeling like I’m holding anyone back.
      But I could see the benefit of a partner when it comes to having someone else put up the tent! In fact, when I got to my campsite, some guy at the neighboring site volunteered to help me put it up and I was SO TEMPTED even though every feminist, girl-power bone in my body was screaming, “No! You can do it yourself! You don’t need no man to put up your tent!” 🙂

      • On July 16, 2016 at 9:50 am Sally said:

        As for the mountain bikes, it seems that a lot of the longer trails in the state parks allow them, unfortunately. Luckily, the longer hike that I’m doing next month is in a national forest, and I’m pretty sure mountain bikers are not allowed.

  5. On July 16, 2016 at 4:45 am Leyre said:

    Awesome trip! I really like hiking. You should get one of the 2 second tents. I know we have them here in Spain in a store called Decathlon.

    • On July 16, 2016 at 9:43 am Sally said:

      A 2 second tent sounds awesome, but I’ve already spent about a billion dollars on new camping gear so I guess I have to stick to what I have! My tent is actually quite easy to put up — only 2 poles and 5 stakes — so it usually takes me about 5-10 minutes depending on how tired I am. My old tent had like 20 stakes and the rain-fly was impossible so it took me FOREVER.

  6. On July 19, 2016 at 10:27 am Misty said:

    Amazing and terrifying… I had an anxiety attack and was filled with courage all from your post!

  7. On July 20, 2016 at 9:44 am Choi kun fook said:

    You are a brave girl. Your energy can power a small town. Miss Sally, well done!

  8. On March 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm Steven Rocks said:

    Hi, smart girl Sally! It’s really amazing article. Will help me a lot for my next travel tour. Thank you for sharing with us. Looking forward to getting more post from you.


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