I’m an avid hiker and have hiked all over the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Canada, New Zealand, and well, just about everywhere I’ve ever visited. Many things have also gone badly when I’ve been hiking. Too many times to remember I’ve missed a turn and gotten lost, had a bear suddenly approach me (only once, thank goodness), been without water or snacks when I needed them, been without cell phone coverage or a map, had the weather turn suddenly, and these are all things off the top of my head that have happened.
I’ve lived and learned by my own mistakes and I’m writing this post in the hopes that you may also learn from my mistakes. Yes, sometimes things go wrong even when you’ve done everything you could to prepare but as they say, a little preparation goes a long way. Of course you should always try to be prepared well in advance before you even leave for your hike, not when you’re standing at the trail head or arrive at the parking lot. Here are some things you can do to prepare.
You should first check the weather forecast to make sure a storm isn’t supposed to blow in or something like that and make sure you’re appropriately dressed for the temperature. If you’ll be hiking up a steep mountain for example, the type where there’s snow at the top even though it’s sunny and warm at the bottom, bring a jacket and even gloves and a hat depending on the circumstances. And please, women, make sure you have appropriate shoes, meaning no sandals (unless they’re Chaco or others meant for hiking), no high heels, and absolutely no flip flops. I hate to single out the ladies but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women wearing shoes clearly not meant to be worn when hiking.
Bring water and snacks if there’s even a slight chance you’ll be out for more than an hour. I’ve found it’s always better to have it and not eat or drink it than not have it and be dying of thirst or hunger. Other good things to bring include a small first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, emergency blanket, and bear spray if there are bears in the area.
Download a map of the area in Google maps so in the likely event you don’t have cell coverage you’ll still have a map of the area. If you can’t do that pick up a paper map of the trails or print one out before you leave. It’s also a good idea to choose which trail(s) you’ll be hiking before you go out. If you’re going to a national park, check out https://www.nps.gov/index.htm or if you’re going to a state park, look that up online to read about the trail lengths and difficulty. Another good source is https://www.alltrails.com/.
What if you’ve done everything you possibly could to prepare in advance and something still goes badly on your hike? Now what? It depends on the circumstance but I’ll give you some examples of what can go wrong and what you can do.
One of the most common things to go wrong on a trail is people get lost. You miss a turn or aren’t paying attention and wander off the trail. This happened to me when I was pregnant and hiking in Arizona (I was in my first trimester and not even showing then). My husband and I missed a turn and the next thing I knew I was looking down a sheer drop. We slowly back-tracked the way we had come and after a while saw where we had gotten off the marked trail. Of course this works best if you’re not wandering off-trail for very long but still, do your best to remember your surroundings and try to back-track the way you came.
This brings me to another thing you can do to help prevent yourself from getting lost in the first place: pay attention. When you’re hiking, it’s easy to just get lost in your surroundings and before you know it, all the trees look the same. This can be very dangerous, however, if you do get lost and have absolutely no idea how to find your way back. If you know you’re not very observant (or even if you are) you can leave markings along the way so you could potentially follow them if you needed to. Some great ones that don’t harm the environment are chalk marks on trees, rock piles, pinecones, or sticks piled in specific ways set by you that you will remember. You also need to pay attention to the trail markings set by who ever made and maintains the trail. If you start off on a trail marked with blue diamonds, you need to stay on that trail.
If you find yourself taking much longer than you expected and you’re getting dehydrated, if you brought along a LifeStraw or other type of water filter, you can use that to safely drink lake or river water from. Never drink water straight from the source without first filtering it because it could have microorganisms that can make you sick. No one wants to have diarrhea or stomach cramps when they’re hiking. Unless you’re an expert at foraging, I don’t recommend randomly picking wild mushrooms or berries because again, they can make you sick if you don’t know which ones are the edible ones and which ones are poisonous.
Another good thing to bring along is a space blanket. These fold neatly into a little square so they don’t take up much space in a backpack but they can literally save a life. For example, say the person you’re hiking with falls into a river accidentally and the water is freezing. You can whip out the space blanket and wrap it around them to quickly warm them up. It’s also good to have if you find yourself so lost you can’t get back to your car before it gets dark and you have to spend the night on the trail.
My final word of advice is never go hiking alone unless you’re a thoroughly seasoned hiker, know first aid and personal safety, and have a way of contacting others in the event of an emergency. If you fall into that category, I suspect you won’t be reading this blog post, however.
What about you? Have you been on a hike and things went badly? Do you avoid hiking because you’re worried about the dangers?
Thank you so much to everyone that asked questions in response to my post Ask Me Anything! It was a success and you all asked some thought-provoking questions. If you missed that post, I thought it would be fun to have people ask me questions related to my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which I just finished in November 2021.
I’ll type the questions in the order received and put my answers after. Here goes!
Q: When you first set your 50 state goal how long did you think it would take?
A: Although I ran my first half marathon in 2000, I didn’t set my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states until some time after that. I believe it was somewhere around state number 3, when I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 when the idea to run a half marathon in all 50 states began forming in my mind. That same year I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina and had signed up to run the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I found out I was pregnant. Since I had been running half marathons for a few years and had no underlying health conditions my doctor said it was fine to run the race in Arizona, plus I was only about two months pregnant then. I didn’t run another half marathon until 13 months later when I ran the Columbus Distance Run in April 2006 but at this point I definitely had the goal to run all 50 states. Knowing I could run 3 or 4 half marathons a year (but most years it was 3), I knew it would take several years for me to finish and I was fine with that. At that point I estimated it would take another 14 years to finish, which would have put me finishing in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and that pushed back all of my races a year so I ran my last race in 2021, 21 years after I ran my first half marathon.
Q: Did you set aside some time to actually see something of all the states? What was your favorite non-running find?
A: From the beginning, I always wanted to incorporate as much time as possible into seeing some of the states I was running a race in. I knew that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run as many states a year but it was important to me to not just check off the boxes. For most states I tried to spend a week in the area, preferably after the race and sometimes I spent more than a week in the state. I was lucky enough to spend an entire three weeks in San Diego when I ran the half marathon there, which is the most I spent in one place when I went there for a race.
My favorite non-running find is a tough one. There were so many little towns I went to that I never would have discovered if not for the races I ran there. I absolutely loved Woodstock and Quechee in Vermont but also Newport, Rhode Island and the nearby little towns, and tiny little Thayne, Wyoming not to mention Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. I guess I’d have to choose Rhode Island. It’s the smallest of the United States but is filled with such beauty and is an undiscovered gem in my mind, although I hear the summers are filled with New Englanders. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who told me they were going on vacation in Rhode Island unless they had family there, which is a shame given what a cool place it is and so many people have never been there.
I also ran some races after speaking to people I knew who ran them or reading blog posts on them. Those that come to mind are the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Missoula Half in Montana, and Bayshore Half Marathon in Michigan. These all lived up to the hype and were indeed great races (plus cool towns which made them perfect racecations).
Q: How did you train for the different conditions (ex: hills, races at altitude, humidity)?
A: Living in central North Carolina gives me some variety when it comes to weather and running conditions. We have hills, heat, humidity, and even ice in January when we inevitably get freezing rain. The only thing we don’t have that was mentioned above is altitude.
One of the first things I would do when deciding on a race was check the course. If there were going to be substantial hills I made sure to incorporate hill repeats in my training. If there were going to be rolling hills I would run my long run where there were rolling hills. I ran several races during summer months where it was hot and humid. Since the heat really kicks in here in May, for those summer races I had been running in the heat for long enough for me to have acclimatized for those races (typically it takes a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the heat). I personally feel like I never really get used to the humidity and the only thing I can do to prepare for that is to make sure I run with fluids and am fully hydrated in the hours before I even step out the door to run.
When I was choosing half marathons in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming or any other state with high mountains one of the first things I looked up was the elevation in the cities where the races were. I purposefully chose races that were in cities with some of the lowest elevations in those states. I also read that it takes most people at least a few days to acclimatize to high elevation so I would fly into those states a few days before the race.
Almost as soon as I landed I started drinking water like my life depended on it since water helps with getting used to high elevation. One of the hardest half marathons I ran was in Boulder, Colorado even though it didn’t even have the highest altitude (around 5400 feet vs. around 6000 feet in Thayne, Wyoming). I think the difference was the course in Boulder was around a reservoir and was relatively flat compared to the course in Wyoming that had a fast downhill start for the first few miles and leveled off after that.
Q: How did you balance being a mom, working, having a social life, et cetera with a regular training plan over so many years? How did you keep up your motivation to train even when you felt too busy or tired?
A: Ah, the old life/balance question. I’ve always had a full-time job since I graduated from college and I’ve been a mom since my early-30’s so there was only a brief period where I didn’t also have to work and take care of my child in addition to getting my training runs in. Honestly, I don’t think most people can achieve a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re pursuing a huge goal. The best that most people can hope for is to have what I’ve heard referred to by others as “seasons” in life. For most people it means you have periods where you focus on your goal and other periods when you cut back on your goal a bit and focus on family and work. For me this literally meant spring, summer, fall, and winter where I would be training for and then traveling to a race during the spring, summer, and fall months then I would take most or much of winter off to rest, recover, and catch up.
All of this doesn’t mean I just ignored my work and family obligations because I was training for a half marathon but I did make running a priority in my life or it never would have happened. From the start I made it clear to my boyfriend who later became my husband that running wasn’t just something I would do occasionally but it was a huge part of my life. If he would have had a problem with me going for a run, we never would have lasted more than a week.
Likewise with my daughter, she grew up watching Mom go for a run and it was just “normal” life for her. She also traveled to the majority of my races with me, even when she was a baby, so that also became “normal” for her. She thought all moms traveled all over the United States for half marathons and ran for an hour or two on the weekends with other runs throughout the week. I know this because when she was in grade school, she told me all that. She said she had recently realized most moms didn’t do this and most moms she knew weren’t like her mom when it came to running and travel. When she was old enough she began running races too, working up from the 5k to the half marathon.
Like I mentioned earlier, by making running and specifically running a half marathon in all 50 states a priority in my life, I always had the motivation to train even when I felt too busy or tired. It helped that I also knew how much running helps my mental state and I’ve always come back from a run feeling better than when I started, even if I was tired when I started. Finally, I’ve always given myself some grace when it comes to running. If I had to miss a 40 minute run because I had to take my daughter to the doctor or I had to work late at work and was exhausted I knew in the grand scheme of things, it would be fine to not run and I wouldn’t suddenly lose all of my fitness. If it would have ever happened where I was consistently missing runs (that never happened), I would have had to take a good look at what was going on in my life and re-evaluate if training for that race was truly a good idea or maybe I should push it back to another time.
Q: What made you choose the half marathon distance vs any other distance?
A: I’ve always felt like the half marathon is the perfect distance for me. It’s just long enough that it’s a challenge and keeps me in good shape but not so long that I am utterly destroyed afterwards like with the marathon. Plus training for a half marathon is much more manageable than for a marathon. I’m also not a big fan of 5k races because if I’m going to truly race them, they’re HARD! I do like the 10 mile distance even though I’ve only run one 10-miler but I am signed up for another 10-miler this spring.
Q: Did you do specific training when you planned for races in western states with higher elevation?
A: No. As far as I could tell when I looked around online about this there really is no way to prepare yourself for running at higher elevation unless you can spring for a hyperbaric tent to sleep in beforehand. I would arrive at the races a few days before the race and drink tons of water, like I mentioned above. I also should have mentioned I lowered my expectations of any finish times for those races and was pleasantly surprised when I finished much faster than I would have predicted at some of them.
Q: Did you ever miss a flight?
A: Yes, but since I always worked in at least one extra day before a race it always worked out. I remember when I flew to one race (I forget which but it was a western state), there were severe thunderstorms that caused major airline delays and cancellations. I was supposed to have a layover in Denver and arrive at my destination that evening but all flights out of Denver were cancelled that evening so I had to stay in a hotel and fly out the next morning. Because of my buffer, I still made it to the packet pickup on time and everything was fine, other than missing some time in my destination.
Q: Does your work have an unlimited vacation time policy?
A: Not unlimited but it is generous. I’ve been at my job for 21 years and I now get 5 weeks of vacation. After I hit 15 years I got bumped up from 4 weeks to 5 so I’ve always had plenty of vacation days. Plus I get 11 days off for holidays that I can use as flex time. On top of all of that, I can roll over something like 30 days of unused vacation time by the end of December to the next year. With all of that being said, I’ve always eventually used every single day of my vacation time and not lost it at the end of the year even during the beginning of the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling, thanks to being able to roll over time to the next year.
That’s all of the questions I received. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions. That was interesting for me and hopefully to you all as well!
Did anyone forget to ask a question you’d like to ask now or did you miss my first post? Feel free to ask here.
I’ve been an email subscriber to Scott’s Cheap Flights for a while and when I saw he had a book out, I checked right away if my local library had a copy, and I was happy to see they did. If you aren’t familiar with the website, you just sign up for their newsletter and choose which plan you prefer. https://scottscheapflights.com/
The plans are limited, domestic, and elite. Limited plans are free, domestic plans cost $49/year, and elite plans are $199/year. Limited members get all of the international economy class deals each month from up to 5 airports. Premium members get best economy deals from up to 10 airports, including domestic deals, Weekend Getaways, and Mistake Fares from your home airport. Elite members get all the benefits of Premium in first, business, or premium economy class. Elite members can also receive Mistake Fares from any US airport and get deals from unlimited airports in the US.
Scott Keyes book is a fairly quick and easy read with great tips and information for new travelers or people who aren’t aware of all of the tricks available online for saving money on airfare. I’m not new to finding airfare deals but still found the book useful for me with some things I had forgotten and some new information as well. The book is 275 pages including the Conclusion, Acknowledgements, Notes, and Index.
For those not familiar with Scott’s background story, he found a nonstop business class ticket from New York City to Milan, Italy, which would normally cost $850 for $130 in 2013. He began finding other phenomenal deals like this over the years and family, friends, and co-workers began asking him to help them find deals on airfare. One thing lead to another and Scott Keyes eventually started the website which today has over 2 million subscribers.
The book is divided into chapters including reasons why everyone should take vacation time, how cheap flights can lead to happier trips, smarter ways to search for flights including being flexible when searching, some history on airline pricing, flight-booking myths, overtourism, and ways to maximize your vacation. I felt like the chapters flowed smoothly and the layout made sense. It was interesting to read how airfare is determined now compared to how it used to be determined.
Since the book was published in 2021, it also includes information about COVID-19. For example, in the myth-busting chapter, he addresses the myth that flights are only cheap because of Coronavirus. He counters this with the fact that many factors that drive airfare down such as jet fuel being cheaper now predated the pandemic and many things like more efficient airplanes will just continue to get better and in turn airfare will continue to drop. He gives the example that in 1948 a TWA flight from New York City to Rome cost $848 roundtrip, which is the equivalent of more than $9000 in today’s dollars; that same flight today can be found as low as $248 roundtrip.
I was surprised to read that according to some studies on travel, people will get more enjoyment from anticipating a vacation than being on the trip itself. When you plan a trip well in advance you actually spread out your happiness and enjoyment longer and gain more than if you take a last-minute trip. You also tend to have better memories of a vacation if you schedule the best for last. I noticed a long time ago when I would ask my young daughter what her favorite part of the vacation was, she would inevitably just name the last thing we did on vacation, even if it was something small like getting ice cream on a trip to an amazing place like Hawaii. Now I completely understand why she would do that.
There are countless little tips and tricks in the book for every kind of traveler. One of my favorites is the Greek Islands Trick where you want to go to a place like Santorini in Greece from New York City but airfare is around $1500. Meanwhile, flights to Athens are much cheaper (historically as low as $300); when you’re that close to Santorini, flights from Athens to Santorini are less than $50 roundtrip. You easily save over $1000 just by flying into a different city than you want to end up and tack on a short flight from there. How much time you spend in Athens is up to you.
I actually did the Greek Islands Trick when I went to Crete, Greece several years ago. Flights were much cheaper to Athens than Crete so I just flew into Athens and spent a couple of nights there before flying to Crete. There were also ferries from Athens to Crete that were cheap options but they weren’t as fast as the flights and the priority for me then was time over money, plus it wasn’t even a huge difference between the flight and ferry. Of course the Greek Islands Trick can work on any destination and not just Greece.
There’s also a discussion on the differences between airline miles and credit card points. Scott explains how miles and points each work, the differences between each, and when you should use cash, points, or miles. There are also instances when you can combine cash and miles with some airlines. If you know the conversions and calculations to make for each, it’s easy to figure out if one is a better deal than another.
No matter what your level of travel may be, I recommend reading this book and getting on the email list, especially if you fly internationally at least some of the time. If you only fly domestically, you can still gain some knowledge but all of the deals on Scott’s Cheap Flights are international economy airfare with the Limited Plan. The Premium plan includes domestic in addition to international economy flights so if you don’t mind paying for this plan, you could potentially save much more than the price of the plan in a year.
Have you read this book? Do you get emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights and if so have you ever gotten a great deal that you booked? Have you used the Greek Island Trick to fly somewhere?