Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Sweaty Betty all views are my own.One of the things I’ve felt limited around is the idea of hiking alone. In the times I’d done any kind of walking on my own that was not in close proximity of a lot of other people, I’d felt completely nervous and scared. Why was it that hiking with others made me feel so much safer? Why did being with someone else mean it was ok?
When Sweaty Betty and I partnered, I was delighted to work on a series of blog posts about gaining confidence as a woman alone in the outdoors. The idea both excited me and made me feel terrified, but it gave me an amazing incentive to challenge my limiting beliefs around why I felt so unsafe.
I decided that like everything else I’d ever tried to accomplish in my life, I was going to step ladder and build from the bottom up. Starting with a hike in an area that I was relatively familiar with, that wasn’t crazy long and was relatively close to the city would allow me to build up the confidence I needed to try something more advanced for my second one and something even more daring for my third. I was nervous but excited. I was excited to see how this would open me up, how I’d grow, what I’d learn and what I’d think about when I was out of my head so much.
I sat down for a coffee with someone a couple of weeks ago and told them excitedly about what I was about to do. As if on auto pilot, their response was ‘just make sure you’re careful’. This proved my point exactly. It also gave me even more ammunition to do this and to help other women who want to feel more freedom to get there and feel it.
Of course, hiking alone is riskier than hiking with another person. In terms of being attacked, it’s incredibly unlikely, but still, we have it ingrained into us from such an early age. The fear is what holds us back, not the reality and the truth is that people are generally not in more danger in wild spaces. It almost feels like centuries old social norms have to be broken in order for people to feel comfortable going it alone outdoors.
What I learnt on my first solo hike was that it was all about trust. Trusting that I’d be ok, trusting that I was capable of finding my route.
I set off on the trail nervous. I felt ridiculous to begin because I was constantly looking at my map, even though the trail was straight for a while with no turn offs. I decided to try and trust myself a little more, and stopped looking so frantically every 30 seconds.
I realised I was so terrified of getting lost or getting into this perceived danger that I was second guessing myself and that had a big part to play on my confidence.
I thought I was doing really well at mapping. ‘I don’t need to keep looking, it’s all fine. Oh wait, I’m now on the wrong path.’ Suddenly, the path I was meant to be on had just gone away. Vanished. Then my signal went and I realised I hadn’t actually got an offline map. The trail I had planned out seemed to just float on an empty map. Great stuff. I felt like an idiot. I was annoyed that I hadn’t checked, but I think in the nervousness I’d overlooked this.
I decided to stop beating myself up and come up with a solution instead. This was absolutely a learning curve and I felt grateful that I was here and not somewhere a few hours drive away. It made me realise just how much I’d come to rely on whoever I was with to guide us. I made a deal with myself right then and there that I was going to start learning mapping. But it wasn’t my fault that the trail wasn’t there, it happens. What matters is how I learnt from that. I was proud of how I dealt with the situation. Somehow, even though I know I’m strong, I still doubted myself. I still doubted whether I’d actually be able to do this. It would have been easy to give up right then and there, all of 20 minutes in.
Instead I decided to find another way. To try again.I headed back down a little lower and my gps sprung back to life. I decided now would be a really good time to make sure I could see my map properly, so I took that opportunity to actually make sure the offline map was downloaded.
I found another route and decided to give this another go, I had an article to write after all. What became obvious to me as I walked was just how scared I was about actually hiking on my own. I’d had it pushed and pulled into me from an early age that I needed to be careful and that it wasn’t safe to do certain things alone. I realised that in some ways I’d relied on Matt so much to ‘keep me safe’ that I’d forgotten that I used to do anything before I met him.That started a whole string of thoughts where I questioned why exactly it was that I felt Matt kept us safe and why I was safer with him than on my own. The truth was, there was no real answer.
‘Wow, this path is steep. I wonder if it’s going to let up any time soon? I can’t stop staring at my map, I’m terrified I won’t be able to find my way. I need to put my phone back in my pocket and trust myself. What if the map magically goes away and I can’t find my way back?’
What if? What was I scared of? Was I actually scared of this or was I afraid that I might actually realise I could do this and that I’d spent years blunting my potential with limiting beliefs?
Annoyingly, I felt like the latter was probably true.
Then something started to happen, I started to enjoy myself. I felt the most peaceful I’d felt in days. It was so nice to hear the sound of nothing, alone. I felt that feeling of joy that I’m constantly trying to tap into. I realised I was doing something that I’d had reservations that I wouldn’t be able to do.
Then the worry came back. It was like a merry-go-round. I started worrying if I’d be able to find my way back, but I realised that turning back now would not lead me to feel more confident. It wouldn’t give me a block to build on. It wouldn’t give me proof to the contrary of what my anxious thoughts were telling me.
I knew I was close enough to home that even if I did get lost, I’d most likely be ok. My signal dipped out again and I worried.
I flirted for the next 10 minutes between obsessively checking my phone, worrying and enjoying what I was doing.
I realised how sad it felt that I didn’t believe I could do this alone. I wanted to call Matt.I refrained.
I needed to concentrate on what was good. But why did my gps keep dumping me on a different trail to the one I was on? I decided this wasn’t my favourite day, but nether the less, I persisted.
Every now and then I had a moment where I looked at what was around me and I enjoyed it. I saw it for what it was. I got out of my head and into my body. I felt happy, I felt soothed. I realised that it wasn’t that scary after all. I realised that I was safe.
What I’d forgotten to notice amongst all this worry was that I’d actually achieved my objective, I was hiking alone. I hadn’t turned back, nothing had gone wrong and the things that had been teething problems I’d learnt from.
Soon enough, I had gotten to the top of the mountain, and, I hadn’t gotten lost. It felt so uncomfortable stretching myself to do this but when I got to the top I felt this huge buzz that wasn’t unfamiliar to me.
It was kind of amazing on the way back down when I felt accomplished just how much my logical mind kicked in. For example I noticed how much more trust I had in my navigational nose, I trusted my instinct and I wasn’t checking my phone so much. It was also amazing just how much easier going over those undulating hills felt on the way back. It was almost as if the positive energy had given me more bite.
I felt really strong, I’d spent so long sitting with the uncomfortable feelings that I was just able to rationalise it. ‘I won’t feel like this forever, it’s just a small part of my day’ I thought. I found myself having some beautiful, creative thoughts that I genuinely don’t think I would have had if I was deep in conversation with someone else. I started to realise why people do this alone.
I looked right then at all of the times in my life where I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone when, at the time, I felt awful. But it’s that sweet spot that is created through pushing and stretching that makes you grow. It’s necessary.
Soon, I was back at the start and I’d even been able to find that last bit without checking the map on my phone.
A thought for you to ponder that I had whilst hiking
It’s amazing how we can learn to do a job and after a certain amount of time see ourselves as being good at that job. We might even become an expert in our chosen field. We spend time focusing on this, and because of that focus become good through practice. So why is it that we forget that all new things we want to do in life are just the same as the first day of your job before you know how to do it?
What I learned
Stay in your own lane, don’t compare your progress to others. Stop putting yourself down by looking at other people’s achievements. We all have to start where we are, that is the only way we can move forward in anything.
It’s not always going to feel amazing. Growing and stretching yourself can feel absolutely awful. Chaotic, messy, painful. But in order to see what you’re actually capable of, it’s about staying curious and being kind to yourself. The sweet stuff will come after the push.
It’s not about being fearless it’s about being brave. It’s about sitting with those feelings of being uncomfortable, and then again, and again…
Be kind, if you feel resistance consider your bigger goal.
Spend some time making sure your maps work!
If hiking alone, it’s a good idea to let someone know where you’ll be going, the route you’re planning and when you’re likely to be back.
Spend some time at the end of your hike looking at and making a list of all the things that went well. This is a great way to build your confidence and help you get out there more!