GUESS WHAT. I did it. I went on my first solo hike out here in the PNW.
It wasn’t epic. It wasn’t hard. It was barely 4 miles. But it was scary. And I was on a mountain named Cougar Mountain. It wasn’t until halfway through my hike that another lone hiker told me she had seen an actual cougar out there before and it was good to carry poles even if they weren’t needed. I ALWAYS carry my poles and this was the one time I didn’t. I may have had a slight wave of panic in that moment.
There are some things that scare me. Open water. Ghosts. Hell, I used to be scared of dogs. But then there are actual reasons for these fears. Like drowning because I don’t know how to swim. Or growing up Catholic meant death sent your disembodied soul floating around with unfinished business if it ended up in Purgatory. And when I was very young I watched a dog grab onto my older brother’s face and not let go until his lip was hanging from his chin. (He’s fine, he still has his lip.)
So being out in nature—alone—definitely scared the crap out of me. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest 4 years ago, I dove into hiking right away. Mainly because we had a seasoned pro guiding us and showing us the ropes. Most of my other hikes under my belt have been with my significant other, who has always been my guardian and keeping me out of harm’s way. I can count on one hand where I had finally felt comfortable enough to go without him and instead with a girlfriend or two that I trusted.
But going alone. That is where I felt I was crossing over into a situation where I wouldn’t be able to predict what might happen next or feel insulated by familiarity. It kind of makes me laugh at myself, because I have been on quite a few long distance bike rides out here back when I was training for the Seattle to Portland ride and found myself feeling extremely far away from home. But having the bike meant I could get out of somewhere faster and being on roads meant having a decent signal on my cell phone. I’d like to think of myself as a very independent woman. But there was something so different about this.
A million questions ran through my head before I dragged myself out of bed that morning to go on this hike. Would I be able to defend myself if someone tried to attack me? I’d like to think so. If something happened to me, would I be able to safely make it back? Hiking has never been my strength so I am always the slowest, what if I had to move fast and escape? If my mother found out I was going out by myself, would she be super pissed? Apart from the dangers of other people (and my mother’s disapproval), of course, there was nature itself. Trees falling. Cougars. Landslides. Earthquakes. Slipping on a Banana Slug and off the side of a cliff.
When I was 16 in high school, I found myself going on my very first international trip without my family. It was with my classmates and teachers. The only other time I had been on a plane was when I was one and was flying to the Philippines, but I have no memory of it. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my mother while she cooked and confessing to her that I was considering not going because I was afraid to get on the plane. I asked her, “What if the plane crashes in the ocean?” My mother, in her very motherly fashion, didn’t bother to stop what she was doing or look away from the stove. She simply said, “Life will leave you when it does, there is nothing you can do about it.” It was the first time my mother had told me not to fear anything outside of the walls I was sitting in. It was also my first lesson in overcoming fear. It helped me understand to take chances instead of missing an entirely new experience.
I thought of that moment as I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead. As I pulled into an open parking spot I looked at the car to my right and noticed the window smashed in. I am pretty sure I yelled, “NOPE” out loud to myself, but I looked around and saw there were other people starting up and some trail maintenance workers around. I blew out a big breath, took my valuables with me and followed a woman with her dog up the trail. Eventually, I found myself alone. I stopped looking around for dangers and looked up at the trees. I watched the fog roll in and out. I watched as the sun broke through for a few minutes to light up the forest. And then I realized that the experience was more valuable to me in this moment than ever. My brain stopped fussing over what could happen and I just wanted to stop being afraid of taking chances. I wanted to be brave.
And I was.
Feel free to read the trip report on wta.org.