I went hiking several times by myself this week, in a popular county park, three trails, totaling maybe 5 miles (with sharp inclines, in the woods). The first time I had my mace, so felt confident, but the other times I didn't have mace and I don't own a cell phone, so felt a bit creeped out when I passed lone male hikers (I hauled my butt quickly through the trail, lol). My husband is a little worried that I hike by myself, but the trails are usually pretty populated. So, women, are you ever freaked out? Do you hike alone?
It sounds like you are sticking to popular routes. If that's the case you are probably just fine.
My husband works for the National Park Service and I used to as well. Before kids, I used to hike alone all of the time. On a few occasions I realized I chose trails unwisely. Once I ran across a bear and no one else was around. Good thing I had my dog! Another time I didn't realize how secluded a trail was, it took a long time to drive to the trailhead and so I went on alone. A few months later a story hit the news that a mother and her 20 something daughter were murdered on that trail!
Also, I have worked in an emergency dispatch center for a National Park and lived in a few others. When/if people get hurt in the backcountry it takes a LONG time for care to arrive, sometimes it is by helicopter, other times it is by carry out litter. It always seemed to come as a surprise to people who needed care in the backcountry that they would have to wait, sometimes overnight, for assistance.
So, what I am saying is, carry bear mace if you choose to hike alone. Stick to popular trails. Always let a few people know what time you are leaving and what time you should be back. For sure carry your cell (I have never had one and they are pretty important). And then enjoy the outdoors! It's really nice out there!
I do not hike alone. BUT. I am not of the opinion that it's particularly smart for ANYONE to hike alone in secluded areas. I grew up in an area with bears and mountain lions being a threat, so besides the human risk factor there was wildlife to consider. Also, physical accidents (falling, etc.). I may be paranoid, but I prefer going with someone.
Take your dog, or a bunch of dogs. They'll love you for it!!
And if you don't have a dog...borrow a friend's. Then your friend and their dog will love you.
I wouldn't let being along hold you back from enjoying the outdoors, but you are right to be thinking about how to protect yourself. This year several girls from a nearby university were attacked in abduction attempts on a popular jogging trail, and that really reminded me that there are real risks, no matter how unlikely. For both males and females, I would recommend my mom's new people-and-animal-risk-aversion tactic: she keeps a can of bear spray strapped on her hip, in plain site. It's pretty regular around here to be carrying bear spray, lots of bears, cougars, and dog packs to be wary of, but I think it also sends a message when she is hiking by herself that she does have something on her that would make an attack riskier for the attacker, and just more inconvenient. Since adopting this method several years ago, she has even had to use it twice, both times on dogs, so it does have a practical safety aspect. It's a relatively reasonable investment for peace of mind I'd say!
Intuition is best tool you have.
I've been jumped in the city, and never in the woods, but I suspect there would be some crossover. I knew something wasn't right a good 20 seconds in advance, and was able to move from walking on the sidewalk to a few feet to the right the parking strip, and that slight intuitive evasive maneuver was enough that the person who jumped out of the alley at me didn't manage to get their arms around me, and almost fell down stumbling as they lunged, and that bit of confusion flustered them enough that they ran off. Once I realized they were coming at me, I just remember trying to stare them down and standing up taller, I was totally frozen for a few moments. I think I got really lucky, and will never ignore that uneasy feeling.
I've started out on a few trails, and thought, "Nope!" and turned my butt around, sometimes not even hiking that day because I was too spooked. But more often than not, I've felt perfectly at ease out there, and love saying, "Hi!" confidently to people as I pass them, I think walking around with a feeling of generalized fear can also get in the way of real intuitive warnings. The defensiveness of fearful existence is visible in body language or shakiness in someone's voice, and easily picked up on by other people, and even worse it can act as a beacon for creeps. So I refuse to give into random fear and worry whenever possible, so I can be present and size up my surroundings without having to fight through the mental distractions.
I hike alone on established, well-traveled trails. If I'm hiking in a wilderness area or on an unpatrolled area, I hike with at least one buddy, because if I took a fall or got into an accident, I'd want to have someone there who could help get me back to civilization or get help. I -have- hiked alone, and motorcycled alone across country -- but when I do that, I always put together a "flight plan" and a check-in plan. At the outside, I go 6 hrs between check-ins. That way, I'm never more than 6 hrs from someone knowing that I'm in trouble.
Alone, male or female isn't the wisest thing. Even if it's not people or wildlife, a simple move could render you immobile. At the very least, leave an itinerary and make sure people know where you are going.
I love hiking out alone with my dog. I always take pepper mace and a phone. I have altered course upon seeing something that didn't please me. I usually do hour long to half day hikes in the nearby foothills. I want to hike, so I do, its like meditation in motion for me and company would bring it down a notch. (Although its great on occasion).
That being said, since I started hiking alone: I have met a murderer fresh off killing his wife (I am not joking about this), have been chased by a man in his underwear (He was barefoot -so I was the clear winner), been followed nearly home, and had numerous run-in's with large wildlife and rattlesnakes. On the opposite spectrum, I met my husband by hiking alone (he was hiking alone with his dog).
There are no bears in the Netherlands (or mountains) but I'm always hiking/walking on my own through the countryside. I avoid people as much as possible when I can and i'm never afraid of men i come across. I would hate to live in fear like that :-(
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