I wrote most these words sitting in the sun of my campsite, the late afternoon light illuminating the moss hanging from the tree branches around me.
Getting to this moment was a battle. It has been quite some time since I ventured out by myself overnight, and this is only the third solo trip I’ve attempted, with the first one ending with me passed out on the trail. (It has taken some time to work through that fear.) My nerves are fire – the two young men I passed early on potential predators, the young couple looking at my car at the bathroom stop miles away from here are potential meth heads on a car prowl. The evidence of elk suggests that a mountain lion could frequent the area; an aggressive bull elk could also take me out. My logical mind knows these ideas to be the anxiety that I wrestle with all of the time, but the intrusive thoughts don’t end just because I recognize them. It’s a dull buzz that occasionally shoots adrenaline into my system. I know this feeling. I just have to let it be.
This, on a perfect, sunny, warm April day with no bad weather in sight. On a well maintained trail I know well. I knew heading out it would be a mental battle to go because of the hesitation that kept rising; I chose my conditions carefully to at least edge me towards success. This was a mental training that I needed to take on for the season to come; I could feel the tendrils of fear that were starting to plant themselves in my psyche. It was time to start pulling at some of those roots so that my goals wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of life this summer.
My nerves have been frayed by the year long quarantine, by too much Trump and Q-Anon, by the uncertainty of living through a pandemic and becoming too comfortable in hermit like routines. The long process of emerging needs to start sometime, so I have deliberately chosen to push myself out of comfort and onto the trail to overnight by myself. Moving through these anxious thoughts. Finally, warm sun on my back, gentle breeze in my hair, the sound of the Lewis River a gentle beat – in this moment, I feel fully alive. Capable. Brave. Despite, or perhaps because of, the mental games I have had to play to get on the road, get on the trail, commit to staying out.
It’s so easy to surrender, to give in to the fear in the name of safety or responsibility or a hundred other viable reasons your mind will throw at you. I nearly turned the car around several times today. I seriously considered turning around at several points, and then I nearly gave in to the thought of not setting up the tent once I found a suitable spot – safe, if not a bit ridiculous in its level of hiddenness. Even as I sit here, fully reflective of how good it will feel to achieve this goal, my mind is wondering if my car is safe. My car! As if it were some living thing needing protection.
We meet ourselves when we venture out alone. When I have an actual adventure buddy with me, there is always a small part of me that is acting – being a little bit braver, more enthusiastic and kinder than I might be by myself. You don’t suggest turning around because there might be a killer loose in the woods like the one on a podcast you recently listened to (Do not listen to true crime podcasts about mysterious trail disappearances and murders! Unless you want to freak yourself out.) You smile and laugh and use the companionship to quiet the anxious thoughts. But alone, you are the only one you answer to. And it is here where you meet your fear, your laziness, your tendency to whine or be mean when conditions don’t work out exactly as you wish them to. It’s an opportunity to show up for yourself and the things you say you want. Are you kind and encouraging to yourself? Do you let yourself down and give in to the fear easily? Do you give yourself pep talks or tongue lashings? What kind of adventure buddy are you to yourself?
My solo adventures have been opportunities for me to become kinder and more gentle with myself, and I learn something new every time. Today I was more patient; I recognized my fear and gently encouraged myself to keep going (progress!) but I also said that it would alright if I decided to go back tonight. I’m slowly learning.
Big smile for morning coffee. I had done it.
That evening, I listened to the Further. Faster. Podcast with Jenny Tough, a solo adventurer who is working on a project that involves crossing mountain ranges on the seven continents. She talked about being your own best adventure buddy, the kind of person that you would want to bring with you. It’s a great listen on this topic.