Yvonne Naughton is a doctor and running coach out of Anacortes, WA. Her proudest accomplishments have been the opportunities to be a part of the Irish trail team at both the World Championships in Spain in 2018 and the World 24-hour Championships in Belfast in 2017. She can be reached on the Team Run Run website.
- Have you always been comfortable adventuring alone?
Definitely not! Initially, I was nervous about getting lost, strangers and wild animals. But I just started with manageable distances on local trails. I either ran with other people who knew the trails or made sure I researched the route and had a map with me. Sometimes I might get off course but as long as I had a map I could figure out where I was or double back. Since then it’s gotten a lot easier with GPS tracking and smartphone apps which allow you to follow maps in real-time. Over time I just kept branching out, researching and exploring more trails and found it’s not really that scary to adventure alone as long as you stay on known trails and aren’t heading completely off the grid and into the backcountry!
- Do you still experience fear when alone on the trail? If so, how do you manage it in the moment?
On a couple of occasions, I’ve had that rush of adrenaline and flight or fight response with a near animal encounter, but I just try to stay calm and remember what you’re supposed to do in these situations. If I’m by myself I’ll sometimes talk, sing or whistle as I go along the trails just, so any animals hear me coming. I’ve not had any negative experiences with other people on the trails and I don’t tend to be fearful of that. My only experience being on the trails at night is in 100-mile races. Sometimes I make myself nervous thinking about being out there alone but in the moment its actually very peaceful, just you and the beam from your headlight and I tend to feel a sense of empowerment out there in the wilderness by myself.
- Do you adventure alone because of preference or necessity?
I mostly adventure alone because of necessity. I love it when people can join me but if there’s a trail that I want to run I’m not going to postpone doing it because no one else is free. I’m totally happy with my own company. I can go at the pace that feels right for me. I also like to take lots of photos when I’m on new mountain trails and I don’t feel guilty about holding other people back if I’m on my own.
- Describe a solo adventure.
I wanted to get in one last Mountain adventure last September before the weather changed so I decided to head to the Cooper Loop trail in the North Cascades. I planned to do an out and back to the fire lookout rather than run the whole loop. No one else was available that weekend so I decided to go solo. The weather wasn’t the best! It was overcast and rainy, but I decided to check it out anyway. After driving two hours to the trailhead I piled on my rain gear and pack and headed off. Despite the rain, the mountains were beautiful and moody. I decided to take the one-mile side trail up to Hannegan Peak about 5 miles into my run. At the top I stopped to takes some photos and a few short videos of the fog swirling around the valley. Very quickly I noticed that the visibility became quite reduced and I’d gotten cold on the exposed peak. It was time to head down and warm up. Luckily, I’d packed another long sleeve top and dry gloves in ziplock in my pack. Once off the peak, I started to warm up. I decided to push on towards the lookout, another 5 miles away. Along the way, I bumped into two hikers on their way back to the trailhead. They told me they’d come across a momma bear and her cub on the trail about a mile back and that she’d moved on when they made some noise. Of course, they cautioned me to be careful. I let them go and for a minute I paused on the trail and considered calling it a day! But I felt good, the rain had eased off and I really wanted to make it to the lookout. I pushed on, whistling and singing out loud to give any wildlife a good heads up that I was on the trail. Eventually, I made it to the lookout without bumping into momma bear! After taking some photos and snacking I headed back along the trail in the direction I’d come. About two miles from the trailhead I met another two male hikers heading in the direction I’d come from for an overnight trip. They mentioned they’d heard about me, the girl out running the trail by herself and commented that they were glad I’d made it back okay!! Me too guys! But seriously, I was just fine! I wasn’t helpless because I was a solo female out in the wilderness!
- What steps do you take to ensure safety when adventuring alone?
I always research the trail ahead of time. I like to know the current trail conditions and have screenshots and sometimes even paper maps and directions. I make sure someone knows exactly where I’m going. I take a battery pack to charge my phone, so I have it available if there’s cell coverage. I always make sure I’ve enough hydration and nutrition and carry a water filter and the hikers ’10 essentials’ for long summer adventures. When adventuring in more remote areas I think a satellite communication device is a good idea.
- What would you tell someone that is nervous about encountering wildlife?
Know what you’re supposed to do in the various different situations. Carry bear spray. Always make some noise as you travel along the trail, so animals know you’re coming.
- What is the scariest part of adventuring alone?
The scariest part is just being unfamiliar with a new trail. Once I finally get to the trailhead and get moving any nervousness settles down and I really start to enjoy myself. Once I get to the summit or turn around point I tend to have a great sense of achievement and then I really enjoy the return journey.
- What is the longest adventure you would consider doing alone?
I’d love to try a long thru-hike but would probably like some company for that kind of adventure. Not because I’d be fearful of being out there alone, but I think that would be the kind of adventure that would be best shared with a good friend.
- How has solo adventuring changed your confidence outside of trail running?
Well, adventuring certainly requires preparation, motivation, determination, perseverance and a little craziness, qualities that come in handy in any life situation! For me, I feel like I developed a kind of quiet, calm confidence. You learn what it takes to do a long adventure run or summit a mountain and fine-tune the process. The same skills that it takes to this can be applied to other kinds of life adventures. When you have the right skill set and know how to use them you’re so much more confident in any kind of difficult situation.