I LOVE to hike solo. It’s my way of making sure that self-care features strongly in my week to week life of being Mum and Wife, running Wild Women Events, creating content for my blog and keeping things at home ticking over in a semi-organised fashion.
Self-care comes in many forms, right? We are all unique and wonderfully complex beings with different needs that must be met in order for us to feel well and fulfilled, inspired, nourished, motivated and functioning as social beings. Along with a good old rant in my journal, long, hot baths with a book in hand, solo hiking is one of my main go-to methods for taking care of myself. I don’t see the time spent alone in the hills as indulgent (I’ve fought the internal battles over this one many times!), but as a necessary component for keeping me both fit and healthy and sort of sane! My family undoubtedly benefits massively from my solo hikes too; I’m a way nicer person to be around when my own needs have been met and my own passions enjoyed than if my own time-out to recharge is added to the bottom of an endless list of demands on me and my time!
For me, getting to the hills regularly for a wander on my own is now non-negotiable; I schedule in hikes, often leaving at 5am to be back for the afternoon school pick-ups and head off for a few hours stomping solo in the Mournes. I love it! It gives me space to think, gifts me with beautiful scenery to inspire me, it’s my conference room where my one-to-one planning meetings with myself take place, it’s where I go to check-in with my body, to ground myself, to reconnect with my own thoughts and the whispers of my body. So many of these things are put on the back-burner in the noise and busyness of life and besides barricading myself in the bathroom for hours on end with a scented candle and a good book it’s the one place I can go to when I feel that my energies are running low and be revitalised!
While I wander amid the beautiful heathers and over wild and undulating terrain my body is being strengthened and supported. This is hugely important to me as someone who has suffered debilitating injury, severe menstrual issues and illness over the years – never before have I felt so strong and full of energy as I have these past few years and I put that down to my commitment to making time in my busy life to move my butt and go walking! As a Mum of 3 I have also been to the dark depths of postnatal depression and without doubt getting out into the hills both with my family and alone has played a precious role both in my recovery from PND but also in continuing to support of my mental health.
Lockdown has been hard on us all, whatever our walk through life looks like, and I am certain we have all felt the impact of the fear, restrictions, social disconnection and constant bombardment of information on our mental wellbeing. I missed my trips to the mountains for nearly 4 months and really felt the difference in my mind. I struggled so much to find an outlet for all that I was feeling and experiencing and was so grateful when travel restrictions eased-off. Returning to the mountains was like returning to a long lost friend. No words were needed. I simply fell into the welcome embrace and allowed them to comfort me. To soothe my fractured mind. To bring me back to myself. I’ve never experienced that feeling of being held and cared for so deeply anywhere else and wonder if, in the silence of the hills, God’s voice is heard most clearly. With the beauty of creation all around me it makes sense that I’d be tuned into His voice and reassuring words of hope.
I get asked quite a lot if I get scared going for long solo hikes on my own along with well-meaning warnings to ‘be careful’ and ‘don’t go alone’. The honest answer is that yes I do get scared sometimes, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
I don’t fear being on my own in the wilderness of the hills. Group hikes with my family and Wild Women Events are great and I truly love those experiences for a multitude of reasons. But, to go alone is a totally different ball-game. Only alone do I tune into my own thoughts, the untangling of so many things vying for attention in my mind happening gradually as I stride along, setting my own pace, no one else to worry about or consider. It’s just me and the mountains. I pause when I want. Often laughing out loud at the pure majesty of the scenery – I can’t believe my luck sometimes when I get a space all the myself – I feel so rich that I get to savour views, watch the sunrise, witness a red kite soar overhead, feel the wind on my skin…if only for a few hours…
I don’t fear danger from other people either. In my own years of experience hiking in the Mournes and beyond, most people you meet along the way are friendly – either nodding a brief acknowledgement, kindred spirit to kindred spirit, and continuing on their way, caught up in their own thoughts, or, they pause awhile for a natter about the weather and the route we’re taking.
Of course I am well aware of the risks associated with any outdoor activity that is set in a remote location and I don’t suggest that just anyone takes off to the mountains on their own without some experience of hiking in a group. I would also suggest that it’s worth considering what you will need to wear and bring with you in case you find yourself in a tough situation. Things I never leave without are a first aid kit, map, whistle, fully charged phone (bear in mind reception isn’t always strong in the mountains), water, food, waterproofs and layered clothing. I always ensure that my husband knows of my planned route and I check in with him regularly about my progress when possible and makes sure he knows my estimated return time so that he can check in with me too. Being prepared as best I can gives me peace of mind that I can enjoy the hike and should something go wrong, which can happen, that’s the reality of mountaineering, know that I am equipped to best of my ability to deal with it. There are lots of good courses around now to gain some essential mountain skills and they’re well worth considering if you intend to go hiking alone.
The thing I perhaps fear most of all is my own limitations – the weaknesses of body and mind that are part of being a human being on this earth. As mentioned, several injuries have made me conscious of areas in my body that are what I call weak-spots and prone to damage if I ignore the warning signs and push-on too hard! But, in part, that’s also why I love to hike solo. I want to look after my body and mental wellbeing, to keep working on and building-up strength and mobility that will support me as I get older. Being in the mountains is the one place I feel truly full of vitality and at my fittest and strongest – it’s where I feel fiercely and wildly alive and attuned to my physical experience as a woman in the world – to be present in my body feels immense and powerful. In that wild and rugged, unpredictable outdoor space my body and mind are being looked after in so many ways too; both in seen and understood ways and in unseen and mysterious ways! For me personally it’s all at once a physical, emotional, creative, inspiring, spiritual, mental, connected, reconnected, disconnected powerful experience and each time I go it is unique and I’m continually learning about the landscape and myself. I think that’s why hiking is such an addictive sport – it manages to enrich my life in so many ways and when I go to the hills solo I’m just me – Kelly – a free, loved, accepted, open-hearted, precious and valuable wild-woman – living my best life – what a generous gift of nature!