From thru-hiker Jan LiteShoe’s July 31, 2003 Trail
“My friend Cosmo, fresh from the annual App.
Trail Conference meeting, passed along a bit of Trail maintainer humor,
a sign to post at trailheads. It would read:
"NOTICE TO ALL TRAIL USERS"
The Appalachian Trail is a dangerous place.
There are poisonous snakes, bees, bears, unpredictable weather, hazard
trees, rocks, roots, bumps and humps in the Trail, thieves, murderers,
drunks, vagabonds, areas that are slippery when wet, areas that will
make you wet, areas that are always wet, bridges, rivers and streams
without bridges, hunters with guns, hikers with guns, drop-offs,
jump-ups, unmarked road crossings, unoccupied structures, untested and
possibly contaminated water supplies, lightning, and many, many other
situations that may cause death or permanent disability. You may become
hypothermic or hyperthermic, or contract any number of diseases; you may
suffer a heart attack, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, carpel tunnel
syndrome, tendonitis and sore knees; or you may die of thirst.
However, the Trail is, according to available
statistics, safer than virtually every community in America.
Sojourn at your own risk, and by your own unaided efforts."
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
If I made a list of everything that could go wrong on an
adventure like this, especially to a solo female runner, I might be too paralyzed
to even start! In fact, that is part of the draw to challenge myself in this way
– an element of risk, enhanced excitement.
Yes, I have some concerns about my safety on this run, but
I can’t let my fears stand in the way of my dreams.
Ultra runners as a group like to “push the envelope” of
their physical and mental capacities (and I suspect it’s not just when we run).
One of the reasons I retired at age 50 was to be able to experience more of the
physical challenges I was unable to do when I was working full time – while I
still had the physical ability to do them.
This Appalachian Trail Adventure Run is one of those
Everything I’ve read and heard about females hiking solo on
the Trail indicates it is considerably safer there than wherever a woman LIVES
and DRIVES in her “real life.”
WHAT ARE MY REAL RISKS?
People tend to think first of the human and animal threats
on remote trails. Some friends have even suggested I carry a gun to protect
There is probably more risk to a female hiker/runner from
potential two-legged predators than the four-legged ones (or ones with fangs).
Male thru-hikers themselves are usually safe, and they tend to be protective of
female thru-hikers. I’ve been warned to be most careful of people who are
hanging around or hiking at or near the trailheads, ones who ask too many
questions or show too much interest in my itinerary, and anyone who just makes
me feel creepy.
The MAIN threats to my health and safety are ones that
people don’t always think of first. Fortunately, I have some control over them –
severe weather (particularly lightening on exposed ridges), narrow trails next
to precipitous cliffs, slippery rocks, flooded creeks, dehydration; contaminated
water; bee and insect bites (e.g., Lyme disease); and probably others I haven’t
even thought of yet.
WOMAN'S INTUITION AND INSTINCT
Other than knowledge of the risks and how to prevent or
overcome them, common sense and instinct are my two best weapons on the trail,
regardless of the source of the threat.
There are times when listening to my gut will take
precedence over listening to the rational side of my brain.
Because of my unusual way of traveling the AT, however, I
should have less risk than women who are back-packing solo:
- I’m not staying in shelters
or a tent along the trail.
- I don’t have to hitch rides with strangers into towns
- Jim will know my exact itinerary every day, and will run
with me as much as he has time to.
- We plan to use two-way radios to communicate when we can
(or cell phones), and carry phone cards, a tip from another hiker with a crew
(to call a third person who can convey a message from/to us if other means of
communication don’t work). We are having problems with both the radios and
cell phones on local portions of the AT where we train, so we need to
investigate other possibilities.
- My male Labrador retriever will be with me many days;
he’s friendly but protective – who in their right mind would mess with a
muscular 80-pound dog?
- I have access to medical care, clean clothes, hot
showers, and nutritious food every day.
All of these things reduce my risk of infection, illness,
In order to protect myself from as many environmental and
human hazards as possible, I’ve tried to educate myself about things that CAN
happen to me and learn ways to prevent them from happening in the first place.
For example, I have read the information in the ATC guidebooks and other
wilderness survival articles, read quite a few thru-hikers’ trail journals,
corresponded with several female AND male thru-hikers, and recently took a
refresher self-defense course with the local police department.
Hikers tend to watch out for each other on the AT. Trail
registers at frequent intervals also help keep track of folks. I intend to sign
every one, partly as a way of tracking my progress, and partly as a safety
measure. (The trail registers are a great way for thru-hikers to keep up with
each other; they’re the equivalent of a daily newspaper for folks living on the
Trail for months on end.)
So I don’t exactly have my head in the sand, ignoring the
risks inherent in an adventure of this sort. But I admit I am excited about
overcoming these and other obstacles along the way. Except in ultras, I
don’t often get to use “survival skills” in our modern-day world, especially
since I retired.