When my day job offered me an opportunity to travel to Boise, I jumped right on it. Besides the exciting work opportunity, I was very excited to get to see a new city! Time was very limited, so I decided squeezing in a nice hike in or close to the city after landing would be a great introduction to the city.
I am fine exploring foreign-to-me areas armed with only a smartphone. However, this admittedly was my first time hiking alone, which set up some new challenges. For one, sunscreen. Boise was HOT and embarking around 4pm meant the sun was scorching and I knew I wouldn’t catch any hard-to-reach places. Flying with hiking gear was also a new challenge, as I had to bring a laptop as my carry-on and shove my pack and shoes in my suitcase.
So I packed a hat and sunscreen, shoved clothes into the gaps left in my behemoth suitcase, and selected Hull’s Gulch. Like a dutiful hiker, I informed people of what trail I’d be doing for safety. I see a lot of comments from solo hikers about safety, and I’ve never felt like my life was in danger hiking, but figured I should set a good example for the blog and do my due diligence. As I embarked, my head was on a swivel. A little creek was next to me for the hike, beautiful blue and maroon wildflowers, tons of new bird calls and songs. This is great! I thought, as I planned out what my post about the hike would be like.
Then, the reality that it was 88* with no shade and very little breeze set in. It was HOT. I thanked my lucky stars I insisted on bringing my beloved 3L Osprey hydration pack instead of a drawstring bag with just one liter of water, and gulped down my water with gusto. It remained hot. Negative thoughts started invading my brain. I’m pretty sure I missed my ears with sunscreen, said one. I 100% did not put on any SPF below the shoulders, said another, as my calves began to feel like they were burning. How much water do I have left? said a third. The notion of taking pictures was abandoned as I just wanted to finish. I had the genius idea of dunking my mesh hat into the creek whenever the trail got level with it, which immensely helped, but I started thinking with every step Am I there yet? I asked a passing biker how close I was to what I thought was the halfway point and he said a quarter mile. I could do that. He then warned me of a coming wind and dust storm. Good, I thought. I could use a breeze.
I had found conflicting information on length of the trail, which is always fun. Hull’s Gulch is a VERY large numbered trail system, and I soon saw many off-shoot paths were not labeled. The map posted at the trailhead was not well-marked either–no “You are Here” designation. So when I had gone over 2.5 miles with no end in sight and an unclear path forward, I paused. It was so unbearably hot and it looked like my ‘loop’ hike was not a loop according to the signage, so I wasn’t even sure where to go next. I made the executive decision to turn around.
I instantly felt 1000 times better. The temperature seemed to calm down a ton, a nice breeze rolled in, and like a horse headed back to the stable, I picked up the pace and felt a spring in my step. Now I know why so many female hikers say they cry when they hike solo! I thought, feeling silly for my minutes-earlier temporary freakout. Now I can enjoy the trip back. I was wrong.
I heard a rustling sound–no big deal, hear them all the time hiking at home, or maybe a biker was coming up on me. But this rustle then hissed. Time suddenly accelerated into light years. As the hissing began, I took a step forward and looked down at the source of the noise–a black and white, coiled, tail-shaking rattlesnake, inches away from where my foot just was.
In the words of my friend Heather, I screamed and noped the eff out of there. I booked it. I also noticed that it wasn’t my imagination–the temperature was way down and the wind was now carrying dust with it and getting seriously blustery, and the trail had cleared out. I had exposed ankles (no room in suitcase for hiking boots, just shoes), and no cell service. I realized things could be dire if I got bit by one of Mr. Rattler’s friends, and given the impending storm and lack of people on the trail I might not be found until it was too late. Panic set in.
Now, I am sure there are some of you who are reading this and chuckling, Aww, widdle rattle had you scared? Talk to me when it’s a bear/mountain lion/wolf or something *serious*. You’re damn right it had me scared! I’d prefer close encounters with none of those critters–from a great distance at Yellowstone or behind glass only, please. I will fully own up to being a bit of a wuss and terrified of pain–and there’s nothing wrong with that. In Tofino B.C., I sang a song out loud to scare away the bears and cougars they warned me of at the trailheads, and I employed that strategy here as well. I had my eyes trained on the trail and shrieked at anything that moved, including leaves blowing in the storm. The worst part was that when bikers came by, I’d have to pull off the side to let them by, which was terrifying to do once I knew what was potentially lurking there.
I have never in my life been so excited to smell cigarette smoke on a trail–I was almost back to my rental car. I raced inside and noticed by now there was a wall of darkness enveloping the area and the dirt road was hardly visible from the wind. After texting my boyfriend to let him know I was alive, I saw how deep I could have been in had I not turned around when I did:
Again, some experienced hikers are probably laughing at my foolishness and cowardice here–but I am writing this for those who are casual hikers who might not ever think dayhiking could be dangerous. I am so grateful I wasn’t wearing headphones and turned around when I did, and urge all of you thinking of hiking solo to do the same and always tell people where you are hiking (the exact trail, not just “in the Cascades”) and what time to expect you back by.
To those badass men and women who hike solo all the time, I salute you. I am not worthy. If I hike alone any time soon again, it will be on a well-known trail–one with no rattlesnakes.