It happens every time I go hiking, whether I'm at the trailhead before the hike, at the summit of a mountain or somewhere along the trail. It's nearly always a woman who asks the question, "Are you hiking alone?" When I answer yes, the second question is always the same, "Aren't you afraid?" The answer is complicated: yes and no.
Like many solo hikers, I love to hike. Like many solo hikers, my partner isn't a hiker. As a result, most of my hikes take place during the week on my day off, when most people are at work.
The beauty of nature surrounds you while hiking in the woods. Regardless of the season, there's always something to see and enjoy.
Related article: Hiking Virginia: McAfee Knob
Am I afraid of running into a bear? Yes, a little. A snake? Yes, a little more. A rabid bobcat? Yes, a lot. A psychopath or sociopath human being? Yes, most of all. The two-legged stalker worries me much more than any of the four-legged creatures in God's universe.
But life's not about living in fear. Life is about facing your fears, staring them down and conquering them. Life is about exciting adventures, new experiences and embracing the journey. Yes, it's true that I can see beautiful butterflies by just stepping out of my car at any wayside along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, or sometimes even walking into an urban garden.
But I can't catch a glimpse from the parking lot of the blue skies of Virginia as I near the end of a challenging uphill hike through the green tunnel...
And moments later look across at endless mountaintops and valleys from the top of the world in Shenandoah National Park, with the clouds seemingly just beyond my reach.
I can't count the times I've wandered along on an unknown trail leading into the woods, not knowing what's waiting...
And, after a short hike, have found incredible vistas waiting for me.
But the resilience of nature can be seen too, as an area ravished by wildfire slowly returns to life.
There are lots of little things to find when solo hiking too: a cluster of butterflies beside a lake.
A chipmunk on a rock deep in the woods on Limberlost Trail.
A tree that seems to be beckoning you to come closer.
The flowers of spring and summer growing wild in the woods.
Your reward after a long downhill hike may be seeing the majesty of nature in a waterfall crashing down the rocks.
After hiking to the summit of Sharp Top Mountain, you'll feel the same sense of wonder and awe these two children felt...looking down on the world below.
Wonder and awe aren't just for little kids. You'll meet other hikers along the way -- both young and old -- who share your love of nature.
Sunrise and sunset hikes are especially pretty, no matter where you hike.
As a solo hiker, there are many trails I love. I'm always excited when I come to a suspension bridge deep in the woods.
Many solo hikers have a favorite spot to just stop and take in the views. Mine is this boardwalk beside the creek along a little wooded trail minutes from home.
Give it a try. There's nothing to lose. Follow that trail into the woods. Who knows what's waiting.
Hike quietly through the forest and you may be surprised by what you'll find.
Whether it's winter at McAfee Knob...
Or springtime in the James River Face Wilderness...
In the middle of summertime along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park...
Or as the colors of fall paint the woods along the Fallingwaters Cascade Trail...
Come on out to the forest. Allow time to delight in the beauty of nature in surround sound.
Spend enough time on the Appalachian Trail and you may even run into a thru-hiker or two, heading north from Georgia to Maine in spring or south from Maine to Georgia in summer or early fall.
I may never hike the 2,160 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, posing in triumph at the summit of Mount Katahdin. But I will enjoy the adventure and excitement of solo hiking bits and pieces of the A.T. and other trails for as long as I'm able.