50 Hikes 50 States–Ohio

We had a wonderful time hiking in Kentucky, and I reminisced, often with tears in my eyes, about the fun times I had with my dad over thoroughbred races. With Ohio nearby, I continued this crazy 50 Hikes 50 States Project on my own with a hike in Cincinnati.

Women Hiking Alone in the Woods

Let’s talk about hiking alone. Whether male or female, I don’t recommend it, yet I encourage it at the same time. I know that’s contradictory, and let me explain.

I believe that hikers can fall into two categories: those who think the woods are a fun and adventurous place, and those who think dangers and boogie men lurk in the woods. Either way to think about the woods is fine, but being comfortable in the woods comes much easier for Group A than Group B.

I’m in the Group B category. Perhaps because I am female, or maybe because my family wasn’t big on family camping, scary images of the woods were drilled into me. The woods are full of scary people doing scary things to scared people. This is why I don’t watch scary movies that invariably seem to be set in the woods! I only wish I’d had positive, let’s-go-to-the-woods experiences growing up, but I didn’t.

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By the way, I think cities also host two types of people: those who think cities are fun and exciting places and those who think cities are full of scary people doing scary things to scared people. I’m in Group A. Suffice it to say, I’m a city girl trying to become comfortable in the woods.

Be Prepared When Hiking Alone in the Woods (or Anywhere)

Which takes me back to my contradictory explanation. For me, hiking alone allows me to confront any fears I have about being alone in the woods, invites me to open up my thoughts in creative ways, and minimizes distractions from conversations. When I start a hike by myself, my anxiety levels are very high. During the first twenty minutes I run wilderness first aid scenarios through my mind and how I’d rescue myself if I got hurt. I mentally practice my self-defense training to be prepared for the boogie man who is sure to attack me.

But then, after about twenty minutes in the woods, nature’s chi has seeped into my soul, and I begin to relax. This is when the real magic starts to happen.

But it takes lots of effort. And honestly, it’s not easy.

Thus, I usually try to find someone to hike with me when I’m in the woods. In the city, I’ll walk and urban hike all day long by myself. Yet in the woods, lord help me, I grin and bear it.

A few things to remember when hiking alone in the woods:

  • Always have a safety plan. Know what and how you would rescue yourself if you were on your own. (Take a wilderness first aid class!)
  • Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you don’t have this person available, make friends with someone on the trail, preferably a couple, who will keep an eye on you.
  • Sign in to any registers at the trailhead so the ranger team is aware of you.
  • Always know where you are and how far you are from the last landmark. If you became disabled, you can use this knowledge to report to those looking for you.
  • Don’t trust your cell phone or GPS device. Always have a map and compass with you. (Take a map reading class!)

Of course, if you’re out on a well-marked trail that is frequently trafficked, you may not need all of these precautions. But at least be sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back. Have a plan in place with you friend if you don’t show up.

Fairies in Mt Airy

This is how I found myself at 1500-acre, Mt Airy Forest park in Cincinnati. I arrived to a closed Visitors Center on a Saturday morning where hunters were gathering in the parking lot to head out on the first weekend of deer season. The hiking options didn’t look good. Yet I continued to drive around the park until I found a few folks just coming off a trail. Their hiking poles gave them away.

I stopped to chat. They were from the Cincinnati Parks Foundation Hiking Club, and they had just finished their weekly Saturday morning get together. If only I had arrived a few hours earlier! I explained my predicament, and they joyfully shared their love for Mt Airy and a beautifully highlighted map of the available trails for hiking.

They offered up that I should hike “the orange arrows” on the Beechwood Trail. I would avoid the hunting grounds, see the best of the forest, and get a good workout on a moderate trail for about 3-4 miles. I asked about hiking alone; should I be concerned? They responded perfectly, “Not any more than anywhere else.” I made friends with another couple about to hike a similar path and headed out.

The Best Treehouse Ever

I made a first stop before I even started the trail. At the trail head, Cincinnati Parks, in conjunction with a whole mess of super organizations, has built a tree house for all called Everybody’s Treehouse. The Mt Airy Forest invites all sizes and abilities to journey along this magical treehouse’s elevated walkway into the gorgeous tree top of 12 trees. I did my own little dance in the treehouse to activate the fairies of the forest that I needed to watch over me on my solo hike. From there, I headed down to the trail head and was off.

Down a curated trail of giant steps into the creek basin, I followed orange metal arrows on trail markers attached to yellow poles with the letter E on them. After going through my mental gymnastics mentioned above, I finally settled into the hike about 20 minutes in only to find out I was not on the trail. I somehow managed to get off the trail and onto the disc golf course.

I double backed.

And found my orange arrow again. My husband, a native Buckeye, weighed on my mind as I thought about all the things I know about Ohio. (Native tree: buckeye. Red state that launches the presidential primaries. Big university. Odd shape. Capital is Columbus…) I decided to focus my attention on finding a Buckeye tree.

Not a Buckeye

A quick search on google showed me what to look for, and from then on, I scanned the bark on the trees, the leaf fodder on the ground, and every acorn-looking nut in my path. I never found a buckeye. When I told my husband, he laughed. In all of his years living in Ohio, he’s only seen two or three.

While hunting for buckeyes, I found myself again on the disc golf trail. But this time, I had arrived at the Nati Disc Golf Center in the middle of the park. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I quick look at the map told me to walk the park road just a bit and to look for a yellow marker to my right to continue on the orange-arrowed trail. Thanks to the Hiking Club’s map, I was on track.

Back into the woods I went to finish my lollipop hike. Across the creek and up the stairs I climbed. And miraculously, not only did no boogie man get me, but an adventure of fairies and tree houses marked my fun time in the Mt Airy Forest in Cincinnati.

The Perfect Lunch

Being by myself has its benefits, including getting to choose a restaurant just for me. Yelp helped and found me the perfect place, Whole Bowl. Vegetarian or vegan, the menu is simple, the delivery streamlined, and the food tasty. My bowl of beans, rice, avocado, cilantro, olives and sauce made for the perfect finishing touch on a delightful day.

Have you ever hiked by yourself? Tell me about it below in the comments.

Next up on the 50 Hikes 50 States adventure, West Virginia.

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)