It seems like there are some days when I see more bears and snakes than people. I have to admit though, I was surprised to find myself in line behind a snake at the privy. I thought about trying to pick it up and move it, but it didn’t seem worth it. I waited for it to do it’s business and move along… It took its time slithering up the stairs and around the throne before slowly lowering itself down towards the base of the privy. From there I envisioned it slithering under the base of the seat and just waiting there for me. I knew that it wasn’t likely, but still decided that I’d feel more comfortable doing my business in the woods.
Folks often ask me if I get scared hiking by myself. For the most part the answer is no. Most of the wildlife seems just as scared of me as I am of it. There is also a community of other thru-hikers that are out here sharing this experience with me, and we all look out for each other. I typically hike alone all day and meet up with other hikers when I break for lunch or make camp for the night. I do sometimes get lonely or a tad nervous when I find myself alone in camp at the end of the day.
The other night I pulled into a shelter at around 5:30 pm to make camp. No one else was there yet, but that wasn’t unusual since I usually leave camp first in the morning and am the first to make camp in the evening. This shelter was awesome, but only 0.1 miles from the road. The downside to shelters that close to the road is that *anyone* can get there easily (even if they are starting out drunk). The shelters near the roads are usually trashed, covered with graffiti, and littered with broken bottles and cans. Staying at the shelters near the roads makes me nervous… Especially when I’m alone.
I decided to cook my dinner and wait until other hikers arrived before unpacking my pack and setting up my bed. I was hoping to sleep on the lower level of the shelter if other hikers showed up, but decided that I would brave the series of rungs that led up to the loft if I was alone for the night.
By 8 pm, I was done with all of my chores and ready to start thinking about sleep. No one else had showed up yet, so I settled into the idea that this might be the first night on the trail where I would *actually* be alone. I put my backpack on and went over and looked at the rungs going up to the loft. I swear it was slightly over hung! With my backpack on, I felt like one of those monkey in a barrel toys climbing those rungs. I would cling to a rung above me with one arm and then awkwardly swing an arm and a leg out so that I could grab the next rung and cling to it.
Once I made it up into the loft it was quite nice. It also seemed like an easily defensible position. No more than one person could climb those rungs at a time and I seriously doubted anyone could do it without me hearing them. Also, unless somebody climbed up into the loft, there would be no way to know that I was hidden away up there.
I set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bad and then changed into my pajamas. I was still feeling nervous about being so close to the road, so I got my knife out of my backpack (which was on the floor beside me) and strung it around my neck. I’ve slept with it as my necklace a few times before and it’s better than any other security blanket I’ve ever tried.
Even with my trusty security blanket knife, I was still feeling a bit nervous. I hate sleeping that close to the road. Perhaps I needed a second security blanket? I remembered that my pepper spray was still in my backpack. I took it out and wondered how I could have it on my person as well. If for some reason I needed it, I didn’t want to have to fumble for it in the dark. My pajamas (long johns) didn’t have any pockets so I tried tucking it up my sleeve… It fell out. I tried tucking it into my waistband… I was uncomfortable and kept sliding down my leg. I tried tucking into the ankle cuffs of my long johns… It fell out. I tried tucking it into my ankle socks… It didn’t fit. I lay there for a minute wishing that I had an ankle holster for it when inspiration struck. My parents had sent me some tall socks (I hadn’t been wearing them because they gave me heat rash on my ankles) that would be perfect as an ankle holster for my pepper spray! I changed my socks and sure enough the pepper spray slid into the top of the sock and stayed exactly where I put it!
Feeling armed and dangerous I curled up in my sleeping bag and prepared to sleep. As soon as I was settled in and comfortable I heard a truck pull into the nearby parking lot. Not long after, the unmistakeable laughter of drunken teenagers started rolling through the hills. I sighed… groups of drunken boys/men were the exact reason I hated staying in shelters/campsites near the road.
The peals of laughter got closer for a while, then drifted further away, and then closer again. I stayed curled up in my sleeping bag, just listening. I felt secure in my fortress and my ability to deal with any situation that might arise. Eventually the laughter died down and I heard the truck roar away.
I was, quite happily, alone again. The whippoorwill began its nightly song and I drifted off to sleep.