A chorus of birds surrounds me but, oddly, I can make out each individual call as if there were no others. A magpie, directly above my head, lets out its distinctive song. Flame robins and fairy wrens tweet and flutter in the dense scrub surrounding the track. The screech of a lone cockatoo abruptly cuts through.
As I feel the gentle breeze brushing my face, I hear it rushing through the leaves of the tall eucalypts. Then, suddenly, a loud creaking sound which seems out of place. I look around to find the source and notice a fallen tree, rubbing ever so slightly against another that broke its fall. My nostrils fill with the smell of damp leaf-litter, and a smile creeps slowly but uncontrollably across my face.
I realise that my shoulder, neck, and jaw muscles have loosened. My footsteps, breathing, and heartbeat are in sync. The colours of the bush seem brighter than before… For the first time in weeks, months even, I’m completely present and in the moment. Connected, once again… This, in itself, is reason enough to hike alone.
Don’t get me wrong, hiking is a great social activity. Sharing my love of the natural world with my favourite people is something I take great pleasure in doing. It’s even an excellent way to get to know new people; a shared experience stimulating deep, wall-breaking conversation. But to fully experience a place and give in to its power, hiking alone is the only way.
If you’ve never tried it before, seriously, get yourself out there. If you’re still not sold on the idea, here are four more reasons you should give it a try…
1. Make your own plans and stick to them.
Want to start early and see the sunrise from atop your favourite peak? I don’t know about your friends, but most of mine wouldn’t think much of this idea. It’s hard enough to get everyone in the car and leave town on time when you want to start hiking at 10am.
2. Go at your own pace.
I find hiking much less challenging when I can set my own pace. I’m not saying it always has to be fast, but going at whatever speed I feel at the time seems to cause me much less fatigue.
3. Stop to take a photo whenever you damned well please.
If I want to spend 15 minutes lying in the dirt, trying to get the right lighting and angle on a mushroom, I don’t need to hear the impatient groans of my fellow-hikers while I’m doing so.
4. Feel the blissful lack of responsibility.
When I take my mates hiking, I’m pretty much always the most experienced in the group. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, I feel a responsibility for those I’m walking with. When I’m solo, I’ve only got my own safety to think of.
Some might call me irresponsible for encouraging this, but I’m not saying you should hike solo without taking the necessary safety precautions. As I’ve said before, you’re putting your life at risk when you hike without company or access to emergency communication. There are plenty of stunning places you can hike that are covered by most mobile networks. So get out there and enjoy yourself sensibly.
Are you a solo hiker? Do you think solo hiking is irresponsible? If you have anything to say, please leave a comment below.