Mara here. As someone who hikes alone most of the time, I love this post by Ambassador Madelene! She has sound advice about the realities of stepping out of our comfort zone and risk assessment. So what helps us show bravery while implementing smart risk assessment?

Call me a coward if you want but I don’t do things that truly scare me. If something makes me nervous, I reason through my the probability of it going horribly wrong and if I have a solid reason to believe I won’t get hurt, then the backpacking trip, raft excursion, ski line or day hike is a go!

In the outdoors, we often talk about bravery and getting outside our comfort zone. I don’t think I actually ever push myself that far and I’m OK with it. This not to say that I never try anything new or don’t adventure but that I create a framework for my adventures whether they are an easy day hike or solo backpacking trip that make me feel safe with the adventure.

In my work as a wildland firefighter, I am constantly running through risk management assessments. I try to figure out how to accomplish a task with the least amount of exposure to risk for myself and my crew. Admittedly I am terrible at implementing this in my personal life and it is something I am trying to get better at. This past winter, I drove two hours through terribly snowy roads and occasional whiteouts to ski at a fancy ski resort where I had a free ticket on my one open day that week. I caught myself wondering why I was risking so much for an afternoon of skiing. I had simply become numb after a winter of snowy roads and figured that was how all roads were.

I have moved towns over a dozen times in less than a decade and so the one constant I have is exploring the wildlands surrounding wherever I found myself. While there were many lonely times, I had my adventures to fill the void. Perhaps needless to say, I usually hike and backpack alone.

It is through building in a few safety nets that I feel comfortable exploring the woods, deserts, and mountains of this country on my own. Even before a simple trail run, I think of what could go wrong and try to prepare for it. Especially in the winter, when I am running on ice and snow, I worry about a twisted ankle and a slow hobble back to my truck or being stuck outside in the cold. With this scenario in mind, I bring a small first aid kit with sports tape, an extra layer, a small emergency blanket and a bit of extra food. This gives me the confidence to head out into the snowy woods. Perhaps, I am over prepared but I would rather not need these items instead of needing them and not have them.

As I was moving to southwest Colorado, I had a handful of short backpacking trips planned in the canyon of southeast Utah, a place I had only previously explored with a more experienced friend on day trips. Knowing the area was under a historic drought, I made sure to stop at ranger stations and talk about specific locations where I could find water. Unfamiliar, with canyon navigation, I had maps downloaded on my phone in addition to paper maps so I could follow along and make sure I didn’t get lost. Lastly, I gave my parents a very specific time when they should expect to hear from me. These little steps gave me the courage to backpack alone in an unfamiliar landscape.

Unless you’re an adrenaline junky, instead of going all out and scaring ourselves why not take care of ourselves and enjoy it. I believe with careful planning, we can expand what we feel comfortable with little by little and push ourselves. Playing with the edge of our comfort zone and having a fun time pushes that edge farther and farther out. Remember, we all have a different way of approaching these things and so we need to support our hiking partners wherever they are. Eventually, we go from being uncomfortable about being alone in the woods to relishing days of solo backpacking or whatever our goals are. Just one woman’s take on exploring the outdoors.

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