Kristen is a self-proclaimed (Portland-based) turtle-speed ultra runner, easily distracted by birds and mushrooms on the trail. Fan of running up mountains, or in circles, or in circles around mountains.
- Have you always been comfortable adventuring alone?
No, but to be fair, I didn’t do a whole lot of adventuring before I moved to Portland! I moved here from Chicago three years ago. I was working at REI, and when I first started a co-worker of mine (who I didn’t really know yet) announced that she had just done her first solo backpacking trip. She said it was “scary as shit but it was great!” She’s one of my very good friends now, and I credit her with putting the idea of solo-adventuring in my head (Thanks, Laureen!)
- How has your comfort level evolved over time?
I’ve slowly grown more comfortable with going out alone over time. There hasn’t been an “ah-hah! now I’m comfortable!” moment, but each time I go out I gain confidence. There’s always the threat of wildlife or a human with bad intentions or bad weather or an accident, but if I let the fear of all those things overwhelm me I would probably never leave my house. I like to revisit places I’ve gone by myself, and then slowly add in new places. The more I get comfortable with the places I’ve been over and over again, the more I feel empowered to go new places on my own. I’ll also visit new places with friends, and then feel more comfortable going back again on my own.
- Do you adventure alone because of preference or necessity?
Adventuring alone started out as a necessity — I moved to Portland 3 years ago and didn’t know many people. Three days after I moved here I drove out to the Gorge to hike Hamilton Mountain by myself — and then realized no one knew where I was so I texted some friends back in Chicago to tell them where I was, just in case. Three years later I’ve formed a very close-knit group of friends who are almost always down for an adventure, whether that be camping, an “MMFTAH” (Moving Mildly Faster Than A Hike– a term a friend and I came up with while slowly running Eagle Creek), or a long run. Sometimes I still like to go out by myself — I think it’s important to learn how to push yourself alone (especially on long runs). Sometimes I like to go out by myself just to prove that I can do it.
- Describe a solo adventure.
I just got back from one! I had been wanting to see the Painted Hills out in Eastern Oregon. I drove the long way down there — East on I-84 and then down. I spent a lot of time in the middle of nowhere and ended up on some dirt roads I didn’t mean to be on (don’t always trust Google when it says it’ll be faster!). After hiking to some viewpoints at the Painted Hills (worth the drive!) I drove down into the Ochocos and camped at Walton Lake for the night. The trail I had planned on running the next morning was closed, so I had to adjust my plan a little. I wish I had had a more detailed map of the Ochocos with me, so I could have picked out a different trail — there’s no cell service out there so I couldn’t use my phone to research. I ended up driving to the Mirror Lake trailhead and hiking Tom, Dick, and Harry. I hadn’t done that route in a few years and the views are totally worth it! After that, I headed into Timothy Lake to camp there for the night. It was a good mix of exploring new places (Eastern Oregon) and places I had already been a few times before (Timothy Lake).
- What steps do you take to ensure safety when adventuring alone?
I know and plan as much as I can before going. If I’m going to be running or hiking, I always bring my little bag with my 10 Essentials (easy to throw in my hydration pack or backpack!). I either print out maps or screenshot maps and directions and keep them on my phone. I prefer paper maps because, you know, phones can die. I never assume I’ll have cell service, so I want to make sure I can get from point A to point B without my phone. I try and find any recent trail reports — if it’s somewhere in Oregon, Mazamas, Girls Who Hike OR, and the local running community are all great resources. I tell someone where I’m going and when I expect to be back– plus my roommate and I just added each other on “Find my Friends” on our phones since we both like to adventure alone! I research what wildlife I may encounter in the area. If there’s the possibility of bears I pack my bear spray (but I hope I never have to use it!).
- What would you tell someone that is nervous about encountering wildlife?
As a person who is generally very nervous about encountering wildlife, I think knowledge is power. The first ultra I raced in the Pacific Northwest (Silver Falls 50k) the girl in front of me saw a cougar. It had never even occurred to me that I could run into a cougar during a race. I went to a really great “Trail Running Safety” seminar at the Mountain Shop last summer, and they talked quite a bit about the steps to take if you encounter a cougar or a bear. IRunFar (with Illustrations by Semi_Rad) published an article recently about what to do if you get bitten by a snake on the trail, and it was completely different from what I had always assumed you do (spoiler alert– do NOT try and suck out the poison!). Hopefully, you’ll never have to use any of what you learn about wildlife but knowing what to do if you do encounter them helps put me at ease when I go out.
- What is the scariest part of adventuring alone?
I think people are the scariest part…and I know that’s terrible to say…but I worry a lot about people with bad intentions. I struggled a lot with that while I was trying to train to run in the dark last summer. I kept imagining murderers behind every tree and it would get my heart rate going like crazy. I think it’s something that’s programmed into us as women from a young age, that people can hurt us, and we should watch out. I try not to let it stop me from going out, or to ruin my time, but it’s, unfortunately, something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. The good thing is, for the most part, all of the people I’ve encountered while I’m out adventuring alone have been great! It’s sometimes a little strange adventuring alone as a woman…it definitely attracts attention. People will always ask “are you here by yourself?” and when I answer yes they say, “oh that’s so brave!”.
- How has solo adventuring changed your confidence outside of trail running?
I think so, yes, in that it has made me much more comfortable with being uncomfortable.