I've been processing my last solo trip for a little while, which was to Wildcat Hollow in Southeast Ohio. I love Wildcat. It's challenging with elevation, lots of spots to stop, pretty, has bug out points, and is perfect length for a weekend. That's why I love solo-ing there.....correction....LOVED solo-ing there.
The last time I stayed there I was down in the spooky-ass valley. I got there as dusk was falling, the camp I wanted to stay in was taken. So I'm in the mostly overgrown, super creepy camp spot. The ONLY spot I get icky vibes off of. Of course. And it was cloudy. SO ZERO LIGHT.
Whatever, I'm badass and awesome, so I just trundled off to bed with Lucy, my mostly fearless companion....and a book on tape to drown out my own imagination.
Let me say I felt pretty comfortable. I wasn't *super* creeped out, just my own imagination running wild. I fell asleep, feeling good. And then was awoken at 1:30ish to light beaming in my tent. WTAF. WTAF. WTAF. Bear spray in hand, I peered out. First thought was aliens. Second thought backpackers coming in late after work. But I could see them on the trail, about 40 feet away, flashlights in hand and stumbling along, no packs visible. Roads intersect Wildcat and they seemed drunk or high, so I guessed they were out there to party. My campsite was overgrown, and it was very foggy, so I figured they didn't see me (Lucy just crouched low to the ground and stared, not barking for once lol). I waited about fifteen minutes, prayed I wouldn't have to pee, and then snuggled back to bed with Lucy. Quite proud of myself, I'd like to mention.
Then the FUCKING GUNSHOTS STARTED. Two in the morning, and close. Like, it could be the guys kinda close. And not one or two, like 20 or more. I noped the fuck out after that. Lucy was losing her shit, terrified. I was afraid but not terrified, but I wasn't sticking around. I jammed everything in my pack, called my dad to come meet me at a random road, and hiked four and a half miles out.
There were a lot of things that ran through my head - one dude just murdered another and I was going to see a body that night (drug deal gone bad? illegal dumping? all of those things are present down there). Or, more likely, two drunk dudes illegally poaching deer. Didn't wanna run in to them doing that, either. I grew up 20 minutes from there. Not folks you want to run in to.
It was legit scary. But I'll tell ya what - I didn't panic. I assessed the situation, deemed it no longer safe to remain, and got myself out of the situation. And I don't feel bad for bugging out. I go in to every solo (and regular bp trip to be honest) with a solid foundation of what to do if shit hits the fan - what are the ways out of the woods? Who do I call? Do I have a means to get help if I can't get out? Do I have a means to survive the most obvious situations until help arrives?
These are all questions you should ask yourself - and have answers to - every time you go out in the woods, whether to hike or backpack, alone or with others.
In the weeks following my bug out, quite a few folks in my hiking groups have mentioned staying at Wildcat and the significant amount of gunfire they heard while there. Not just me. It's frustrating, but also good to know.
I WILL be solo'ing again, and I'll post some of my theories at another time.
What's the worst thing that's happened to you at night while backpacking? Solo or with others? How did you overcome it?
For my first solo backpacking trip this past weekend, I went to Wildcat Hollow in southeast Ohio. A number of folks mentioned how much they want to do an overnight, but the idea of being out at night alone really freaks them out.
First, I am a HUGE scaredy cat of the dark. Despite my age, my imagination still completely runs away with me at night. Whether in my bed or out in the woods, I can imagine all matters of ridiculousness (and some not so ridiculous possibilities).
It all started many years ago, when I was about 5, when my father would drive down the wood-lined dirt road to our farmhouse. He'd suddenly stall the car and say to lock the doors, the Gamork was in the woods (from the Never Ending Story), and then pretend to not be able to restart the car. Needless to say, it absolutely sparked my life-long creativity and story-telling....and also freaked me the fuck out about the dark.
So how did I manage to get out there and make it through the night? Between Tin Can Man, coyotes, and no fire? And how the heck did I build up to doing it in the first place?
There was a couple of freaky things going on that first night alone in the dark. The most realistic problem were the coyotes. They were really howling. And not too far off. In Ohio, even in daytime, you have to be careful. They'll come right after you - or your dog. Luckily, they just freaked out my dogs (who knew enough to stay quiet), and never got that close to camp. But their yips were definitely unnerving.
I never did get a fire started, I got to camp RIGHT at dusk and all the wood was super damp. It just didn't happen. So it was a dark, quiet night at the beginning.
I was actually doing okay, until....Tin Can Man. It was SO weird. So at like one a.m., there was this weird, scraping noise from the direction of the trail. Like someone with a bag of cans and other, heavy stuff. They'd pull it, then it would stop for a second or two like they were resting. The dogs and I were like WTAF, and I didn't even poke my head out. Lasted for about 20 minutes until it was way down the trail. It was really unnerving. Next day, the ladies at the camp before me passed me on the trail and I asked about it. They were still up. Apparently, it was NOT my imagination, but a dude on the trail with a load of scrap metal from the weird shanty down that sits abandoned deep in Wayne (though there were folks there when I passed it...the ladies said the squat there, but I'm not sure if they were squatters or campers). So there was that. I was glad I had dogs and mace, needless to say.
So how did I stay calm and carry on?
1. (I think this was most important) I wanted to keep hiking over the winter, which with working full-time, that meant night hiking. I didn't realize it at the time, but it really acclimated me to being in the dark and every time I went out, and nothing happened, I got a little more comfortable.
2. It was a full moon at Wildcat, again not planned, but I think it helped tremendously being able to see without a light.
3. I downloaded several books on tape and several t.v. shows, and played them throughout the night, so the weird night noises didn't bug me or the dogs. I did have a battery pack to recharge my phone, and I think without the shows, I would have really just FREAKED out, because my mind would have focused on scary stuff.
4. I found a camp site on top of the valley, so I had cell phone reception. It was comforting knowing I could still reach the outside world.
5. My dogs were freaked out and needy, and I had to comfort them, which weirdly enough made me not worry myself. Cause they NEEDED me. Lel.
6. Sometimes, I would repeat a phrase from Stephen King's book, IT: "He thrusts his fists against the post and still insist he sees the ghost." I repeat it until I stop thinking about whatever it is I was thinking about.
7. And finally, my WANT to get out there, to go backpacking, to DO IT, got me out there. With no end in site for COVID, I didn't want to pause more of my life than I had to, while waiting to go with friends.
So that's it! That's how I got through the night. Seems like a lot, but it all really seemed to help. I don't think I'll ever LIKE sleeping alone, in the woods, and in the dark, but I now know it won't stop me from doing what I want to do. Everyone's different, but hopefully one or two will help get you out there solo!
Did you face any obstacles to your first solo overnight? Any tips or tricks? Comment below!
The video at the top of this post is how I envision night hiking - always ready to FLEE. As the days begin to cool and the temperatures drop, the sun dips out of sight faster and faster.
And it's *F83king* scary.
I normally hike alone, which as a misfit hiker, already puts me on high alert thanks to the unique hazards that poses.
This post is specifically about night hiking for beginners......who hit those dark and dusty trails all alllooooonnnne.
If you have an active imagination like I do, you literally think the worst the whole time. Aliens. Monsters. There are two reoccurring images that constantly pop in to my head as I'm hiking in the complete blackness of the forest. First, that I'll turn around and there will be someone just standing on the trail, legs slightly apart and head cocked, and they'll be staring at me. Not moving. Just standing.
The second image is that someone will come running full sprint through the woods at me, like in "Get Out."
The third is it will be like the Blair Witch and I'll stumble upon a cabin in the middle of the woods.
The fourth is I'll be walking, and just keep walking. And walking. And walking. And the trail won't go anywhere. Okay, so maybe more than 2....
The dark has always been an awful and terrifying thing for me, every since my father terrorized my fragile five-year-old mind by stalling the car out on a wood-lined dirt road and yelling about how the Gamork (the monster in the Neverending Story was about to get us. He'd then "manage" to get the car started and would careen down the road to our house. You know, tender moments of parental bonding that last a lifetime.
But as the sun fades quicker, I don't want to find myself limited to hiking on the weekends. I want to still be able to go after work.
So what do I do to prepare myself mentally and so I'm physically safe when I'm out hiking alone?
1. Headlamp: I bring a lightweight headlamp with me, and I make sure I have extra batteries. I use the Black Diamond Spot Lite 160, from REI, which was a cheap $26.00 bucks and has done me well.
2. Know Thy Trail: I wouldn't recommend doing an unfamiliar area in complete darkness. Does it take some of the scary fun out of it? Yes, but losing your footing on some loose shale and snapping your neck falling down a cliff will ALSO put a damper on the fun.
3. Choose Carefully: The trails I head out on at night are ones that are moderately difficult, but not crazily technical. As a night-hiker beginner, I only do trails at night if I've hiked them a number of times in the light, after reading reviews and having an idea of the general safety of the area. I also familiarize myself with the wildlife, so I know what's going to be scuttling around me. Why take chances?
4. Cell Phone: I carry a fully charged cellphone with me so I can call for help if I need to, and it gives me a backup light. If you're going in to really remote areas, get a personal GPS - to figure out the right one for you, check out this article from REI.
5. Implements of Safety: get a small canister of pepper spray. I won't link what I have, because it doesn't have a keychain/way to connect it, and I wish it did. Make sure you can attach it somewhere, because the one instance I really needed it I couldn't get it out of my pocket in time. Pepper spray will help defend against coyotes, dogs, wayward hilljacks, etc. I carry 2 to 4 oz. I also carry a small knife. Though the rule of thumb is if someone/something (i.e. Pennywise) can get that close to you, you're probably &^%$$ anyway.
6. Hike Buddy: Make sure someone knows where you're going, when you start, and when you plan to be done. Every. Single. Time. If nothing else, they talk you down when you see crazy *&^% on the trail at night (see image on right)
7. Hiking Poles: I always use hiking poles, especially in the dark. Helps me keep my footing, and has saved me from tripping and falling a number of times.
*Always take your regular gear, too, like water and a map.
Once I'm on the trail, I check behind me at regular intervals (about every 50 feet). I don't wear ear buds for my book on tape, for two reasons: so night runners, etc. will know there's someone else around and so I can listen more acutely. I also keep an eye out upward for any potential deadfall (branches or trees about to come down on my head).
You want to be extra careful during hunting season, that some yahoo poaching deer doesn't mistake you or your dog for the big kill of the season. Be sure to check local park pages to see what's in season and when. At night, consider reflective gear, too.
Some folks like to turn off their headlamps and hike in complete darkness. That isn't me. Besides my imagination, it's a safety issue for me, as I hike in areas with a lot of rocks and tree roots. And monsters that I want to be able to see coming.
If you're like me, and your imagination can carry you in scary, unhelpful directions, have a phrase you can repeat to redirect your attention. I like a line from Stephen King's "The Stand" - He thrusts his fists against the post and still insist he sees the ghost.
And finally, have fun! Night hiking isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to try it, it is a TOTALLY different experience.
I'll be sure let you know if it gets any less scary!
Do you hike at night? Have a good story of terror in the darkness of the trail? Have any additional tips for hiking at night or have a question? Post away or contact me here!