I was talking to a couple of friends today about my upcoming trip to Seattle and my plans for a solo backpacking trip when I’m there. They asked me why I even wanted to go out into the wilderness by myself, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure. All I know is that after Jeff died, the idea took hold of me, and that every time I had an upsurge of grief, the idea came back even stronger, and now it just won’t let go. (The desire for such an adventure is a common reaction to grief.)
One woman said it sounded as if I were running away. Well, yes. Of course I am. But then, I am also running toward something I can’t yet imagine. When I explained that the trip is a spiritual journey, a vision quest, the other women said she hoped I would find what I was looking for.
Am I looking for something? I don’t know. Do I expect to find something? Not exactly.
“Aren’t you afraid to be out in the wilderness by yourself at night?” they asked. Well, sure. But I think that’s sort of the point. To feel the breadth and breath of the night. To be aware of danger but at the same time bask in the vastness. To be afraid and in awe of the very world we live in. We’re used to thinking of the wild world as our own backyard, and yet the world exists in and for itself, without a single thought for the oh, so arrogant humans who live on the surface. Perhaps a respectful fear is a good thing to cultivate — at least it’s a recognition that we are not the center of the universe or the galaxy or even the world. In many respects, we are superfluous. If we did not exist, the earth still would continue revolving around the sun. If the earth weren’t here, we’d be . . . nowhere.
I try not to have any expectations. I know it’s dangerous to be out there alone. I know even experienced wilderness hikers get lost, get hurt, meet up with dangers — not bears so much, but clouds of mosquitoes, lightning, corroded trails, raging streams, and unleashed dogs are all very real dangers. And yet, I can’t let my fears dictate my future — otherwise, I’d never leave the house. (Being a crazy cat lady sans cats is as realistic a fear as any of those I might encounter on the trail.)
So maybe what I am running away from is that untenable future? Maybe what I’m running toward is a way to change what seems fated?
The way I see it, only good can come from seeking the goal. (Not necessarily the trip itself, but the push toward the trip.) Using hiking poles is helping my miracle arm. (The one that was broken in twenty-five places but now acts mostly normal.) Carrying a backpack is strengthening my body. Projecting myself into possible unpleasant situations is strengthening my resolve. Research is stretching my mind. Eating a clean diet is making me healthier.
At least, that’s the theory.
I’m still a long way from actually doing the trip, but every time I go to ballet class or saunter with my pack or forgo a sugary snack, I am taking another step on the trail.
And that seems as good a reason for planning on going out into the wilderness by myself as any other.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.