As a woman, I’m often asked why I take solo hikes. Why be on your own? they say. Aren’t you afraid to go hiking alone?
The answer is both simple and complex. I hike alone for the serenity and quiet of the journey. Being afraid doesn’t come into play. Being out in nature allows me the time to contemplate my next move. When I hike with others, I’m too focused on being in the conversation and keeping up with the group, and it doesn’t allow me the time to slow down and focus on my thoughts.
Nature offers something that being indoors simply can’t. It is motivating to walk among the trees and tramp along the trails, focusing on nothing more than the path ahead. You notice the shape of broken tree branches, how a blade of grass reacts to the wind flowing through it, and how clouds form into shapes and images. You hear the various bird chirps and identify them by their distinct sounds.
It is magical to be out in nature alone, noticing everything you miss when you’re in a group.
Solo hikes allow me the time to stop and jot down my thoughts and set priorities for the week ahead, but it is also my time to exhale from all the phone calls, planning, and complexities of the world around me. No other space offers me what nature does. It’s my reward for not losing my way and giving in to the constant badgering of a world that expects you to conform to its expectations. Nature provides a bridge between that hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and the world we long for when we are caught up in a whirlwind of appointments and commitments. It offers a space where you can be still and in tune with yourself. Nature doesn’t take notice of your gender, your race, your abilities, or your faults. The only thing that matters is that you leave the space as you find it.
I often refer to wild spaces as my cathedral — not in a religious way, but in a spiritual sense — my place to lay my burdens down. Being in nature provides me with a way to connect to something greater than myself, nonjudgmental and welcoming to all.
Have you ever walked the valley floor of Yosemite, or stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, alone? I invite you to try it. It’s amazing how you can feel so small in these spaces, so insignificant compared to the beauty and grandness that surrounds you. There is something invigorating about feeling the oneness in the wild spaces that surround you and encompass you completely. There you stand, completely vulnerable to the elements around you — and yet, you feel at peace, even serene.
For me, solo hikes are one of life’s necessities, sustenance for the soul. This may be confusing to some, but I am unapologetic in my love of exploring alone. Some may see it as being too introverted, or anti-social, but it is in fact empowering to embrace the beauty and wonder of relying on your willpower, in spaces that you may be in for the first time, learning your way as you go, being unafraid to travel a new path or to experience life in the wilderness.
I encourage you to find that path, that outdoor space that brings you to the brink of tears, as you gaze out at its beauty. The wonderment of nature is there for all to see; and it’s ok to experience it alone.
Teresa Baker is the founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience, a project encouraging communities of color to get outdoors and embrace their natural surroundings. Her hashtag #HikeLikeAGirl went viral, encouraging hundreds of women to hike solo for the first time.