Friday, May 8, 2015

Adventure for one: My first solo hike

Blue larkspur bloomed beside the trail.
The sunrise through the woods was glorious Sunday morning. It was going to be a stunning day in the Columbia River Gorge, and I needed to get outside before my work week began again. I was itching to go hiking.

Quickly completing the most pressing tasks on my to-do list, I considered who might be my hiking buddy. One friend was still out of the country, another was visiting her aging mom across the state and yet another was not feeling well. What other friends were hikers and could go on short notice?

In my old life, I hiked first with my husband, and then with my husband and children. But now I am alone. And then it hit me: Why not hike alone? Although I walk the trails in town alone all the time, driving out to the Gorge for a solo hike was a first for me. It would be a gigantic step in my journey of paddling my own canoe.

I changed into my Keen hiking boots, and packed my backpack with water, sandwich and apple, sun hat and sweatshirt. I was ready to head out the door when I recalled two women who recently were stalked--one even grabbed--by men on trails in town. In my head, I heard Dad's cautious Kentucky drawl reminding me to "be careful" every time I left the house. In fact, he still warns me to "be careful!"

As a precaution, I zipped my fixed-blade knife into my pack. My knife isn't an enormous Crocodile Dundee knife, but just having it in my pack made me feel safer. Then I grabbed my sturdy wooden walking stick--which I also could use as a weapon--and headed out the door for my first solo hiking adventure.

As a single woman, having the confidence to go places on my own is a necessity. I've been divorced for five years, so I'm used to being alone. Having the courage for solo adventures doesn't come naturally to me. It's something I've learned to do. It requires me to be comfortable in my own skin and to enjoy my own company. After practicing, I do enjoy my own company. I've pushed beyond my comfort zone to get out, go places and do things. I've taken solo day trips to the beach, road trips all over the Northwest and have worn my little black dress to community dinner events sans a man on my arm.

Even married women or women with a committed significant other should be prepared for the inevitable: the majority of us outlive our male partners. In some chapter in our lives, we women most likely will be alone.

Although I'd hiked that trail before, it was almost as if it was my first time on the trail. Instead of talking to a hiking buddy, I had the luxury of paying attention to my surroundings. I found a shriveled trillium long past its bloom, but the blue larkspur grew profusely along the trail. As I stopped at a meadow, a pileated woodpecker flew past me and landed on a tree.

After gradually climbing to the viewpoint, I was rewarded with a stunning view of the Columbia River Gorge. Sitting on the ground under a tree, I ate my lunch at an exclusive table for one with a river view. Another solo hiker, a seasoned woman like me, entered the clearing and gazed at the view before us. We gave each other a knowing look and smiled.

After gaining elevation as I hiked through the lush woods, I reached this viewpoint, 
where I ate my lunch and dreamed great dreams.