About the Author: Hi there, my name is “Z”, I am a queer solo female hiker from California. I run around the local ER as a nurse a few days a week. I love rock-climbing, bouldering, nerding out on DuoLingo, and being a crazy cat lady of one. I believe outside is for everyone, and I am passionate about making the wild an inclusive place for all. You can see what I’m up to on Instagram @The_Wandering_Z.
To see more posts from Z, click her name above!
It has been 24 days since I left the Appalachian Trail.
24 days and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it.
Everything that happened. I remember looking out the window of the rental car as it took me away from Monson.
Watching the thick Maine trees whirl past me, wondering if I had made the right decision.
The tears came fast and my chin quivered,
the familiar stories started to whisper in my ear
stories that I’m weak
that I’m nothing
that I failed
what a F*&^ing loser
the overwhelming feeling of embarrassment crushing me in that car
I know these things aren’t true
They are old stories that come up when I feel vulnerable
And boy was I vulnerable.
I took a deep breath and put a hand over my heart
Just as I am now.
I’d like to tell you the story of what happened.
It was day seven
And I was feeling really good
Which was a welcomed change
The previous six days were incredibly lonely for me
I hardly ever saw other people
Some days I’d see two nobos –maybe-one in the morning and one at night
The bugs ate my hippie ass alive but at least they were there
But day seven was different
Day seven I saw people
I had a sweet afternoon lunch with two other sobos
I laughed and heard others laugh
I felt connected
To the trail
To the tiny little community that I was starting to see
I felt hopeful and strong
It was a really good trail day
I was making my way up one side of White Cap Mountain when I got to Logan Brook lean-to around 530p
For the first time there were other people there
And I KNEW them-kinda
They had an early campfire going
I sat down and had a snack
Looking up at the rest of the mountain behind me
“It’s just one more mile to the top” I muse
I was still buzzing with endorphins of my good day
“I think I’m gonna go for it” I say out into the space
I wave to the camp, and I’m off,
Climbing my way to the top,
but not feeling as alone anymore,
When I get to the top
And I can’t believe my eyes
The view is amazing
An ocean of rolling green waves
Over the gnarly rooted underbelly beneath
I am elated by the view and the open space that surrounds me
And the wind, oh the wind! the wind dances across my skin so freely
It doesn’t get trapped in the thick of trees
Another welcomed change from the Green Tunnel
****[insert text tone]*****
*gasp* I have service!
I grab my phone and I call my partner
I enjoy hearing the surprise in his voice as he picks up
God it feels good to talk
To not have my InReach in one hand pointed at the sky, and my cell phone in the other just to send a few words
I tell him this
And look over at my backpack
At my shoulder strap where my I clip my Garmin in
Immediately all that wonderful breezy air is gone
My heart is in my throat before it plummets into my stomach
My Garmin isn’t there
In the flash of a second I know
I know it’s gone
I don’t need to take my backpack apart
I know it’s not there
Memories of the day start to flash through my mind
Every time I threw my backpack down for a water break
Every time I rested it against a boulder
When I last used my InReach map
I hadn’t used it much that day
It was a great day, I was grooving, I didn’t use it to map much.
Oh my god, how could I lose it?!
It’s always bouncing around on the carabiner on my chest
How could I not notice it was gone!?
My partner is still on the phone
My mind has twenty tabs open as I tell him
“I think I lost my Garmin”
“it’s not on my pack and its always there, it’s gone”
“Have you looked in your pack?”
“I never put it in there, I know it’s not there”
I feel a tornado of irritation and anxiety
I don’t want to explain what I already know
He’s asking me questions as I’m pacing on the mountain
I don’t really hear what he’s saying
Because now I notice the sun
It’s hanging lower
It’s later than I thought
The sweetness of the summit is gone
I have 5 miles to go before I’m at a safe spot to camp
Not just 5 miles
5 MAINE miles
5 WILDERNESS miles
I’m going to have to hoof it, and pray, and hope for the sun to linger longer than it should to make it there before dark.
I rush my partner off the phone
“If you don’t hear from me on my Garmin in a few hours that means I really lost it, and you won’t hear from me for like 3 days I still have that much to go to get out of here”
I hang up.
I hurriedly text my mom who will most certainly lose her mind if she doesn’t get my nightly InReach message that I’m in for the night and okay.
I send it, and I throw on my backpack
Clipping in as I hurry over the rocks of the summit.
I hike as fast as I can
But it is hard
Maine is like nothing I have ever experienced before
It is technical, and rocky, and filled with roots, and steep climbs up, even though you are going down. You just can’t fly through it.
I have to stop to catch my breath, and I curse myself when I do.
Every second feels important
And every second I’m not moving forward feels like an eternity lost.
I run in short bursts when the terrain will let me
I know that sound means I have service
But I don’t stop
Because that sound also means I’m still at high enough elevation to get a signal
It’s not a good thing
I keep my pace but pull out my phone
I call my partner again
“I have an idea, can you please text my InReach number with my address and say if found please call this number”
“I can do that, are you okay?”
“I’m mad at myself but I’m fine. I have to hurry, thank you, bye”
I try and gauge where the sun is but the trees are so thick I can’t really see where it is in the sky now, I’m afraid to look at my phone, but I do. It’s 7:30p.
The sun sets later in Maine than back home, but I know I probably have less than an hour of daylight left.
I start to panic.
As I’m hoofing it I realize that if I really lost my Garmin that means I have no way of communicating with home. I can’t talk to my partner. I can’t talk to my best friend Lauren.
Losing my Garmin isn’t just an insanely expensive mistake
It means I lose my human contact.
My community that helps stave off the loneliness on the days when I see no one.
If something happens to me tonight I don’t have my SOS button on my Garmin to get help
I am crying-panicking as I hike
Realizing what all my Inreach was providing for me,
And how losing it all makes me feel
I don’t know how I’m going to do this
I stumble over a rock but I don’t fall
I suddenly feel fragile and very mortal.
Be careful. I say aloud to myself.
The color of the trail is changing.
It’s not just the shade of the trees.
The sun is setting.
I look at my phone
I am full on losing it at this point, but I keep going.
My phone still in my hand, another miracle bar of service.
I hit call on my partners name again.
My words are incomprehensible
I can’t stop to catch my breath
I can’t stop to calm down and sound normal
I’m wailing, I’m panicked.
This is what its like to be deranged.
“I just dropped a pin on my map, can you look at tell me how close I am to camp?!”
My partner’s voice is calm, but I can hear his worry through it.
He’s trying to make sense of the words I’ve attempted to say and what I’m asking for.
The trail is getting darker.
“PLEASE! I JUST NEED TO KNOW THAT I’M CLOSE, THAT I’M CLOSE”
He’s trying to comfort me over the phone but I’m too far gone for that.
I’m losing my shit.
I fall going downhill on a boulder
My left knee strikes the hard surface
I’m on the ground.
I’m actually on the ground.
My panicked body still gripping the phone in my hand.
“I JUST FELL! I HAVE TO GO!”
Run. Scurry. Panic. Hike.
I truly feel deranged. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I alternate between my crying, panicking self
And my voice of reason
Talking to myself out loud
“It’s going to be okay, you have everything you need”
I blink through the tears
I fall again on a steep staircase of rocks
The pain is so bad I feel it through all the adrenaline
I know I’m bleeding but I can’t deal with that right now
I get up.
Hiking through my limp, I get to a semi-flat area.
I can’t deny it anymore.
This is happening.
In a few moments it will be completely dark.
I have to get ready.
I take off my backpack and hurry to find my headlamp, the headlamp I almost didn’t buy.
Because I don’t night hike. It terrifies me.
I quickly put on my cold weather clothes, I turn on my solar lantern and attach it to the back of backpack before putting it back on.
I turn on my headlamp and look at the trail.
It’s pitch black except for my little beam of light.
I’m not crying anymore.
I’m not saying anymore comforting words aloud.
I am quiet and terrified.
This is my nightmare. My greatest fear as a solo female hiker culminated.
Injured, alone, really really alone, no service, no Garmin, higher elevation, no way out, in a designated wilderness area, AT NIGHT.
Looking out at the trail like this scares me.
But I know I can’t just stand there.
I walk towards my fear.
I hike differently now.
I am not running and blubbering.
I am quiet and focused.
Pausing periodically to scan my surroundings with my light and listen.
There are no places to stealth camp alongside the trail.
And I don’t dare get off the path to find one deeper.
I start to feel hopeless on top of everything.
Maybe this tent clearing doesn’t even exist anymore, it’s grown over.
Maybe in all of my craziness I passed right by it and now I’ll have to hike even further.
A snapping noise has me stop.
I listen there for a minute. Nothing. Keep going.
A snapping noise again…and something else
I don’t even care if it’s a serial killer at this point, I just want to be around another human.
The glow of a small fire peaks through the trees, and I hear laughing as I walk closer.
“Is that you Polka-Dot?” a man’s voice
“Zayda?” a woman’s voice
I recognized both of them, they belonged to the only two people I actually knew on trail.
“Hi, ummm full disclosure, I’m going to go ugly cry in my tent, I’ll see you later”
I walked down to the clearing
Pitched my tent
And went inside and cried as quietly as I could to myself.
It was over.
My nightmare was over.
Exhausted, and in the comfort of knowing others were around me, I fell asleep.
The next day, is a story for another time.