I've started hiking again. Usually alone and for many hours. I live in a fairly rural area of NJ with lots of wood and lakes, and I have the usual black bears and the occasional snakes. I've only ever seen one venomous snake in my entire hiking life and that was a gorgeous copperhead sunning itself in some open brush. It sounds like a strange thing to use the word gorgeous, but that's what it was. In all its copper-toned glory, it lay there sleeping, unaware that I almost stepped on it. I admired it for a few heart-pounding seconds and left that "coiled world of hurt" alone.
Most recently I bumped into a youngish rouge of a black bear. He was big and looking mean, protecting something dead he was eating. I was hiking along the edge of a lake, scrambling over some large boulders, and saw him just as I was summiting the last boulder. I must admit that my first thought was to jump into the lake, not that it would do any good, but my adrenalin was pumping. He looked at me and snorted. I look at him and said in a loud strong tone, "I'm going to leave you to your lunch, have a nice day." I carefully moved down the other side of the boulder and again down a familiar path. Every few minutes I stopped and looked behind me, making sure he wasn't following me.
While these encounters can be scary, the most dangerous of all is injuring yourself. People often ask me, "are you scared to hike alone? What if something happens?" I usually tell them that I got myself into the woods, and I can get myself out of the woods. The question is how fast and in a safe manner.
Just this weekend I was preparing for an 8-mile thru-hike (I'm training for my 10 mile thru-hike). I was going to explore a local section of a trail that I had never been to before. I checked my trail map, packed some water, grabbed my hiking stick, and told my wife I'd be home in about 3 hours.
It was around 10:30 AM when I got to the parking lot, the sky was blue as can be and the fields leading up the trailhead were still dewy. It was a great day for a hike. I grabbed my backpack and hiking stick and went down the new trail. I was 30 minutes into the hike when I stepped in a hole covered with leaves, twisted my ankle, and promptly fell. I landed with a hard thud.
My ankle seared in pain. I sat there on the ground for a few minutes struggling through the pain till I could get up. I had hiked in about 1/2 of a mile and by the looks of how fast my ankle was swelling, my hiking trip was over. There was no way I could huff my way the next 7 1/2 miles. So I turned around and painfully hobbled my way back to the parking lot. Ouch!
Lots of things can happen when you're camping or hiking but it often occurs to those that are careless and unprepared, but in my case, I both prepared and being careful. It was just plain bad luck.
Will I continue to hike alone in the wilderness? Yes. Could I get injured again? Hopefully not, but anything is possible. Are you scared? No. Nothing scares me in the wilderness, not the wild animals, not bad weather, and not injury. You just have to take the right precautions and make the right decisions. You must not be afraid to live and get out there, this sprained ankle is nothing more than a battle wound for living an adventurous life.
One final paragraph of advice: [...] It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.
So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.
Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.