From “Impossible Dream” to “Why Not”?

I’ve never been much of a group person. I do things alone and sometimes with one other person. The most group-ish thing I do is dance class. I used to go out to lunch with a group, but those people don’t lunch together anymore. I used to walk with a group a couple of times a week, and I even hiked with different groups on the weekend, but the walking group is pretty much disbanded, and I found hiking in a group to be frustrating and dangerous. Groups HIKE. I s a u n t e r. They go fast and purposeful. I go slow and stop frequently to smell the air or take a photo or enjoy a particular vista. Then I have to hurry and catch up. Sometimes they take a break and wait for me, and then as soon as I catch up, they continue along the trail, leaving me with no break. Often, they bring their dogs, and sometimes the dogs harry me or try to push me over a cliff. (True.) One dog wore a bell that about drove me nuts. Why go out to the wilderness to listen to the quiet and be assaulted with the constant tinkle of that dang bell? Even worse, if I hesitated at a stream crossing, people would try to help and I would always get wet. Or they’d try to pull me up an incline even if I didn’t ask for help. Or yank my arm if I struggled to stand after sitting to rest instead of letting me find my own purchase.

Nope. Too dangerous.

I realize there are problems with hiking alone. But there are problems with living alone. Sometimes we simply have no choice. We do what we can.

Before I took my cross-country road trip, people told me I shouldn’t do it — my car was too old, I was a woman alone, it’s too dangerous, etc. etc. etc.

Well, I did the trip. More than twelve thousand miles in five months. And yes, the car broke down — one time the battery went dead, another time a piece of fuel line that was supposed to have been replaced hadn’t been and all the gas leaked out, and a third time, the VW mechanic who changed my oil in Wisconsin put in the wrong grade — it was way too thin, and my car kept vapor locking when I drove through hotter climes.

The most traumatic thing happened when I was with someone — I fell down the stairs backward and scalped myself — but it wouldn’t have happened if I had been alone.

Now that I’m talking about a solo backpacking trip, people are again telling me I shouldn’t do something. They remind me about my destroyed arm. Well, yes, that fall did happen when I was alone, but it was in the middle of the city, and I wouldn’t have been in that dangerous parking lot if it weren’t for other people. (Left to my own devices, I do not go out at night.)

Oddly, the arm thing makes me more determined on a solo backpacking trek, maybe because I have proof of how quickly one’s life can change. If I had someone to go with, I might not go alone, but if it’s a matter of going alone or not going at all, I’m going. What else am I going to do? Hide in my room lest I suffer another injury?

Besides, the point is to be out there alone. To connect with the world, to see if I can handle the immensity — a sort of spiritual journey or vision quest.

My eventual goal is to do one of the iconic hikes, probably the Pacific Crest Trail since I know someone in each state along the way who might possibly be able to help. From what I hear, though, there are so many people on the trail now that it is almost impossible to hike alone. And there are trail angels along the way, willing to help PCT hikers.

Meantime, a three-day solo journey, accompanied by a satellite phone connected to people who would come rescue me if necessary, is as safe as it’s going to get.

All this is still in the maybe, could be, possibly stage. And yet, I can feel the change in me, the change from “impossible dream” to “why not”?

Years ago, when I first thought about hiking one of the long distance trails, I thought it would be so uncommon that if I wrote a book about my experience, the story would propel me into bestsellerdom. Unfortunately, the trails have become so common and the stories so ubiquitous, that the only way to get noticed is if I were to screw up and embroil myself in a lot of drama, and I have no intention of doing either.

With enough research, preparation, and luck, my book would be just a ho-hum story of a woman who decided to hike the PCT and did it.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

The Mature Adult and Hiking

I received an early Christmas present yesterday. Well, technically, it wasn’t early, I just opened it early. I figured since I was grown up, I could either act like a mature adult and save the present until Christmas or act like a mature adult and do whatever the heck I wanted, and I opted for the latter. And it was the perfect time to open the gift and the perfect time to enjoy the book. (Since I love this particular gift giver’s wrapping, I wrapped another book in its stead, a perfect example of having one’s gift and reading it too.)

The gift? The Creaky Knees Guide to the 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington. Isn’t that a perfect gift to prepare for my May adventure to the Pacific Northwest? Most of the hikes listed do seem easy enough for these creaky knees, but some seem difficult even for the pre-creak set. Eight miles round trip with a 2,880 elevation gain? Yikes!! Not a beginner slope for sure.

Just because a hike is easy, it doesn’t mean getting to the hike is easy. In one case, the directions call for a drive of 14 miles on a washboard road, and then another 3 or so on what sounded like a barely navigable dirt track. That is simply not an option for my poor ancient VW. The bug looks pretty and runs well, but the welds holding it together are 46 years old. Yikes, again.

And then there is the little tidbit I found in the book about a private hiking club in Washington with $5,000 a year dues and a mere 63 members. The sole purpose of the club? To stealthily grade, or rather de-grade the roads to their favorite trails, making the roads all but impassable, in order to keep the trails to themselves. More yikes.

The most daunting part of the book is the admonition against solo hiking. This isn’t the first time I have encountered that rule — every single tip sheet for hikers talks about the dangers of solo hiking. Apparently, “do not hike alone” is the number one rule. For everyone, of course, except solo hikers, who love being out by themselves. Yes, things do happen to solo hikers. Bad things. But bad things also happen to people walking in the city, solo or otherwise. (It was in the city, in a parking lot, that I fell and had to endure the absolute worst injury I ever suffered.)

I’ve already broken the solo hiking rule (being the aforesaid mature adult and doing whatever the heck I want) — I’ve hiked a couple of hundred solo miles (not all at once, of course) in various wild places, and many hundreds more walking in the Mojave Desert — the rather tame part close to town, though rattlesnakes and coyotes and jackrabbits carrying jackknives do abound.

I won’t give up solo hiking, no matter what the rule, nor will I give up my absurdly impossible dream of a solo backpacking trip on one of the iconic trails. Hiking in a group is too dangerous, at least for me. As a straggler who hikes my own hike, stopping frequently to drink in the ambiance or to take photos of nature’s artistry, I often have to hurry to catch up to the group, and so end up going much faster than I feel that either I or the trail can handle. And there are too many times groups cross creeks or rivers that are more than I want to attempt, and usually some well-meaning folk end up trying to help and merely land me in the drink. And if I hike in a group, I have to hike when and where they choose, regardless of what I might want. There is definitely a place for companionable hiking — I have done many hikes with others that were enjoyable — but that is not the same as being alone with the world, feeling connected to the world, breathing in the essence of the world. Of course, the first time I meet a cougar, I’m sure I will rethink this lofty position.

Meantime, like any mature adult should be, I am safe inside, comfortably ensconced in my armchair, reading about hiking in far-flung places and dreaming of being out in the wilds.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.