Three or four what-seem-like lifetimes ago, before I can remember, my soul formed a deep and persistent connection with wilderness. Not just connecting through a picture or a picnic in the woods, but that experience of walking long and far in to the quiet emptiness, carrying everything I need on my back, without needing to turn around until I'm good and ready. And in the many lifetimes that have ensued since this first realization and connection, I have felt this something-like-a-craving to be out there as much as possible. In fact, every free moment.
Of course, life ensued and bills, kids, a big job and...sigh...responsibilities that have slowly chipped away at free moments and opportunities and motivation. When the kids were little we made concerted efforts to take short trips into the backcountry; them carrying their teeny light packs. Our first trip was just a mile and a half but so important to show what it's like to be away, self sufficient, with only what's on your back and only your two feet to get you there; away in the blissful, quiet, starry wilderness.
Over the years the kids have found their own joys and interests and we have become so BUSY! It’s not just school and work, it’s school and practice and family and keeping the house and our family in working, at least semi-organized, order. With this elective, privileged busy-ness, a free weekend is rarely available. And, admittedly, I have succumbed to the comforts of an easy life, with a soft bed, a neighborhood grocery store, and our very own car(s!). So on free days we default to laziness, ambivalence and recovery; something like being a sloth…sooooo sloooowwww, can’t move any faster, must take a break and…. do nothing. No structure! NO!
With this mindset, taking the time to prep and execute a long walk into the wilderness is nearly an impossible sell. Tucker, especially, rejects the idea of using any one free weekend to carry a heavy pack, sleep on the ground and be away from his screens and friends. I realized last summer after all the snow had melted and the nights no longer dipped below 20 and the excuses dried up, that I had no chance. Despite Kenedy’s interest in adventure, we would not be able to find the time and I just didn't have the energy to convince and remind Tucker how good it feels to challenge yourself. And in order for me to answer that internal call to walk far and deep into the wild, I’d need to go it alone. So I set a goal for myself: to get off that that cushy couch, do the research, find the courage and start backpacking (safely and responsibly) all by myself. And so I did.
This summer a free Saturday night opened up and I announced that I was going. All by myself. I picked a trip within an hour drive of home, with very close access to civilization, within cell range, and on a trail with a good number of people. The weather forecast was nearly perfect and the first set of campsites was not-too-far, just in case something went wrong and a nighttime walk out was necessary.
I was afraid and I'm not really sure why. I've solo hiked hundreds of miles and backpacked hundreds of miles with at least one other human (including all by myself with 7 year-old Kenedy). I think the fear was partially about being a woman alone in the wild (but still near other humans), partially about being alone in case of a physical emergency (but really, if I'm going to die, this is how I want to go) and partially about being lonely (and, yes, I'm an introvert but maybe not that much). But I swallowed my fear, made it to the trailhead, hoisted on my very heavy backpack, and walked up the trail until that lovely rhythm of movement drowned out the doubt.
And, I did it! I walked up that trail, through the forest, past the ponds and pitched my tent in the wilderness: all by myself. (Well, with my trusty sidekick Juneau, who was also afraid and kept me awake for a good chunk of the night.) And now that I've ripped off the proverbial band-aid, I deeply hope for more solo backpacking, if necessary, to tackle big goals that I still, in these middle years, have for myself: like thru-hiking the Colorado Trail or the CDT or the PCT. Wish me luck and strength and motivation.