I found this website by accident and right away I felt like I wanted to become the author’s friend. She did such an amazing job, I registered for the free online workshop: The 10 essential elements for adventure. Over the next 20 days, I will receive an email every other day, with one take home message and a homework. I got the first email yesterday in which she urged me to try something new.
I’m not new to hiking. In fact, I busted my knees on the many hikes I did in the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains, the White Mountains in the USA and in the Eastern Townships, the Laurentides, and Charlevoix in the Belle Province. I have hiked a little Out West too, while I lived there. I even hiked in Chamonix, France, in Bavaria, Germany, and in Gran Paradiso, Italy, which was a bit technical more like mountaineering. But I have never hiked at Parc Regional Chaudiere Appalaches and, I thought, I have never hiked by myself.
Turns out, that’s not exactly true. While hiking yesterday, I realized that I have hiked by myself here and there. As I put one foot in front of the other, I had time to reflect on the hikes I did by myself that I had forgotten. And most of them are even recent hikes, over the summer. I guess I never stopped to appreciate the things I have accomplished, and underestimated myself all along. It occurred to me that, when alone, I mostly did day hikes in busy areas, which some could argue is a good idea. I just never have backpacked by myself. This is funny because most of my friends think of me as a bad-ass outdoorsy chick who’s afraid of nothing. My friends who are outdoorsy and who stick around long enough probably have a more precise opinion of me, and my limits.
Hiking alone always makes me queasy. I’m afraid of bears or cougars, depending on where I hike, and I’m afraid of killers and rapists hiding in the woods waiting for the lone female hiker (am I the only one thinking about this out here?!). In case of either eventuality, I decided to pack my bear spray – this is a necessity Out West and I brought mine along when I moved back Out East (funny how we always say “Out West” and “Out East”, when are we ever “In”? But I digress). I expected to be alone on the trails, as it was a rainy cold autumnal day in the middle of the working week. By the time I read the challenging/motivational email, sipped the last drop of my morning coffee, packed my backpack with a down jacket, snacks, water, toque, and gloves, it was noon. I popped my head through the door-frame of my dad’s office to tell him where I was off to, and out I was (always tell someone where you’re going in the outdoors by yourself).
Because I set up to leave so late, because I expected to get there late (early afternoon), and especially because the sun sets quite early at this time of the year, I opted for an “easy” 6 Km in-and-out, 650 m high, completely bald summit offering a 360○ lookout point: Mont Sugarloaf, not to be confused with the one in the USA. I found the information kiosk by accident. I didn’t expect there would be one and I was even more surprised it was opened. On a Wednesday. So late in the season. In such a remote region. The young woman at the information desk helped me find the trail-head. The fact that she (a woman) seemed totally unfazed by my being alone and late reassured me. We chatted a bit about bears, ways to scare them off, and we shared lots of smiles. It invigorated me.
To say I didn’t see anyone on the trail would be a lie. It’s so rare to be totally isolated in such a densely populated province, I find. But I saw no other hikers. As I rested after a slightly steeper section, I heard voices. After a while, I saw two men emerge from the woods, with a chainsaw on their shoulder. They were here to fix parts of the trail. I continued my hike up, eager to get away from them.
I’ve gone through a lot lately, emotionally, and it took a toll on my physical oomph. So I found the hike hard at times, especially toward the end when it got steeper and muddier. At one point it started snowing. I congratulated me for bringing around my down jacket. I always bring it. Even in the summer. Most of my friends make fun of me, but I never ever regretted it and I even converted a few of them. Finally, I got to the top and was rewarded by a magnificent view. I snapped a photo, but it didn’t translate well.
My biggest reward though was the sound of the wind waltzing with the wind-scorched spruce trees at the edge of the cliff. It was the sound of remoteness, of fulfilling loneliness. I have heard that sound a few times already. Mostly on cliffs, hung in my harness, while belaying my climbing partner, perched somewhere between 50 m and 200 m on a rock face. It can be a very scary sound, but in those occasions, just like at the top of that little Appalachian mountain, it was sublime. I closed my eyes and let my breath join the wind in its dance. After a few minutes, I opened my eyes and felt the cold seeping through my toque and pants. Time to head back down.
I saw the two men working on the trail again. This time, I stopped to talk a little. My little moment at the top reconciled me with their presence. I thanked them for their work, and promised them I would tell everyone to go visit their park. On the road back home, a breath-taking sunset rewarded me. The region is renowned for it. Again, I snapped a photo that doesn’t do it justice at all.
I can’t wait for my next “homework”, this was such a great new adventure for me. This little pause allowed me to recognize that I have been braver than I remembered in the past. It gave me one more anecdote to ponder on when I will be facing bigger challenges in the future.