[cdt-l] Solitude Log

Brett blisterfree at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 19 00:56:54 CDT 2007

Ginny wrote:

>>Brett - I'm not as organized as you are<<

Eh, I'm not that organized on my hikes. The Solitude Log was 
cut just last week. I didn't fell this one in the woods. :)

>>In 2006 the most we went was three days (in southern NM) 
>>without an encounter, and rarely did we go more than 24 
>>hours without some kind of meeting - usually jeeps along 
>>the roads, sometimes motorbikes or horses on the trails, 
>>very rarely other hikers.<<

No question that vehicle encounters are way up. And few of 
us would probably disagree that vehicles spoil the sense of 
solitude in a big way. In other cases, though, solitude - 
and its opposite - are harder to define.

>>On the AT I saw a lot of wildlife - so even on the edge of 
>>suburbia, I felt like I was deep in the natural world, 
>>even if it wasn't wilderness.<<

I think this is probably a fair way of defining solitude in 
realistic terms. For long-distance hikers, here in the lower 
48, achieving "utopian" solitude - day after day of no signs 
or sounds of mankind - borders on impossible. This is one 
reason I struggled to narrow the definition of solitude on 
the Log. Ultimately what we seek is mainly the sense of 
connection to the natural world that is heightened by a 
sense of detachment from the world of man. And the ability 
to achieve this is probably a good indicator of the overall 
health of the natural environment we're traveling through, 
even with the unavoidable, hopefully muted reminders of 
reality here and there.

>>One wrecker of the illusion of solitude that I've noticed 
>>a lot lately is
plane traffic. <<

I also address this in the Log, basically excluding plane 
traffic from the list of things that disqualify a "full-day 
solitude" experience. It's ubiquitous and unavoidable over 
the long haul hike. What I find interesting, though, is how 
plane traffic - jet sightings, contrails, engine noise - 
doesn't really spoil my sense of solitude. In a certain way 
it actually enhances it. Perhaps it's the reminder that life 
is traveling by at its usual clip, society is out there as 
always but yet it's out of reach. The jet knows nothing of 
me below, and what I know of it is merely abstraction. It's 
a similar feeling to gazing upon distant city lights from 
some lonesome midnight perch. There is a context to both 
experiences that facilitates contemplation, rather than 
demanding a reaction - an emotional response - like with an 
in-the-face vehicle encounter.

Train noise is similar to plane traffic for me. With trains 
especially, hearing that distant whistle and low-register 
rumbling imparts a sense of purposeful travel - something 
moving relentlessly, restlessly across the land - sort of 
like us hikers. It's almost a communal experience.

A military jet, by contrast, is pure machismo screaming 
overhead. One man's ego doing pointless circles on the stage 
of the military-industrial complex. Or so I would perceive 
it from the trail below. The "personality" of the encounter 
has much to do with how it is processed emotionally, either 
positively or negatively.

>>On our brief stint on the GET we saw people every day - 
>>but we were in the very popular Superstition Wilderness. 
>>One thing we learned a long time ago, if you want 
>>solitude, the wilderness areas are rarely a good place for 
>>that.  Everyone loves the wilderness.<<

As for human encounters, the Superstitions can go either 
way, depending on the season, the weather, and the specific 
trails. I've generally encountered few others on my GET and 
AZT hikes. My sense is that overall, given the proximity to 
millions of people, the Superstition Wilderness receives 
very light backcountry use, much lighter than any number of 
Wilderness areas in, say, the Colorado front range or the 
Cascades of Washington.

The GET passes through around a dozen Wilderness areas, 
either FS or BLM. Excluding the Superstitions near PHX and 
the Sandia Mountain Wilderness near ABQ, the "everyone loves 
the wilderness" conventional wisdom just doesn't hold in 
this region. I've never seen a wilderness more wild than the 
Apache Kid in southern New Mexico, for example. Bear and 
mountain lion encounters are far more common than seeing 
fellow humans here. There are more lion kills than boot 
tracks on the trails, it could be argued. A number of 
factors would seem to be responsible for the solitude 
potential in this region, but I suppose that's another 
discussion. ( see: 
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/grand-enchantment-trail/message/96 )

CDT hikers in the Gila usually get a dose of solitude, 
especially if avoiding the roadwalk options. As elsewhere, 
it's the frontcountry use that's expanding. Backcountry use 
throughout this region is waning, frequently along with the 
condition of trails.

- blisterfree

>>In 2006 the most we went was three days (in southern NM) 
>>without an encounter, and rarely did we go more than 24 
>>hours without some kind of meeting - usually jeeps along 
>>the roads, sometimes motorbikes or horses on the trails, 
>>very rarely other hikers. << 

More information about the Cdt-l mailing list