I recently took to the woods alone for the first time. When I started my car preparing to return home the first thing I noticed was that the radio sounded way too loud, even though the volume was normal when I left it. I turned the knob, shielding my ears from the Cardi B song, when all of a sudden I “got it.” This is what happens when you spend time alone in the woods.
For the past few weeks I’ve been pouring through Jennifer Pharr Davis’ book, Becoming Odyssa, trying to understand what people get out of thru-hiking 2,180+ miles along the Appalachian Trail. Davis had a similar experience the first time she went into a super-store in Virginia. Having seen mostly woods and hostels since leaving Georgia, she was overwhelmed by the “tsunami of scents, sounds, and colors that crashed down. . . ” .
I didn’t need to hike hundreds of miles to feel the effects of unplugging. Just 2.5 miles on the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail was enough. The woods were scary at times. Everything was amplified. I would hear a lumbering black bear but then realize that it was only a squirrel playing in the leaves. I spotted 15 or so deer prancing single-file towards a pond in the distance. Despite being camouflaged, they couldn’t hide from a set of eyes that had been focusing on nothing but forest for the past hour. I even noticed when the stagnant stream that followed the trail on my right began to babble about a quarter mile later.
It seemed like the forest made everyone friendlier, which in turn made the trail more approachable. The person that diverts his eyes in the grocery store will speak on the trail. I passed smiling couples walking dogs. I laughed with a woman prodding a reluctant and stubborn horse to cross a muddy path. “You go on around us” she ushered. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
The blue trail markers kept their promise and got me back out safely. I returned home renewed and energized — like I had been let in on a big secret. Not only did I find this beautiful space only miles from my home, but that one peaceful hour put me in the mood to welcome the next 23.
There’s no doubt that everyone has heard terrible stories that make us reluctant to walk alone in the woods. But if you are smart and take the proper precautions (e.g., know your route, leave an itinerary, track your location, and match your trail with your physical abilities), I promise that the benefits will outweigh the fear. Find a safe trail and walk it alone. Don’t miss out on the secret!