She Hikes Alone

The radio station scratches its way between white noise and broken words as she sets out to the trailhead. The mile markers tick by slowly, 100… 99… 98… her launch point is 84.8. Her daydream and silent joy on the road is interrupted by Google Maps reminding her to drive 13 more miles. The views are sometimes sweeping. The trees tower over the road and the few pull off areas expose vast land — either scarcely populated or precisely inhabited with dense green trees. She notices how the trees look perfectly plush when looking down upon them.

Their arms are extended; she rolls closer and decides they are harmless. Their scrawny bodies somehow support their overly sized backpacks and extended arms. She stops to pick them up. Only mile markers before was she curiously wondering how successfully she herself could hitchhike here, within the national park boundaries. Seemingly kids, — too weak to do anything harmful, and too innocent to know how dark the world is — only once does she consider this a bad idea. The drive with company seems shorter than she anticipated. At 84.8 she pulls into the turnoff and the two strangers get out and stand on the other side of the road to continue to hitchhike.

She enters down into Black Rock alone. Unintimidated by the trailhead and lightly colored trees, she sets off with confidence. Within only 100 feet of the trailhead, she tenses up in her shoulders as the sounds of civilization shrivel up into the dense nature with every step. Her self talk begins, as it typically does, and she tirelessly analyzes the rationality and irrationality of her self-induced and element-induced fears. She loses the ability to think rationally and everything is compellingly a threat to her safety.

For several minutes she is fully consumed by the fear that she is not safe and will not be safe if she goes further from the road. The fear itself restricts her thoughts and she fixates on the fear of bears roaming and mountain lions stalking, causing her to stumble on the trail and to look back constantly. Unexpectedly, a positive yet simple thought enters her mind and she starts to search for known truths about nature. She reminds herself something she knows to be true—that God created nature to be enjoyed. She begins declaring her love for nature, the green colors, and the birds as her eyes scan the horizon for darkly colored animals amidst the bright green and her ears appreciate the cicadas and the chirping birds behind the acute ear for rustling in the brush. Her mind moves between hard analytical thoughts to soft prayerful sentences, and her body tenses up or relaxes accordingly. She notices that saying a prayer does not necessarily calm her, but when she believes what she is praying, she feels her body relax and her comfort increase.

With great practice and convincing, almost in proper conversational and argumentative form, her thinking evolves to now include topics beyond the hike. It took 45 minutes to recognize that she is growing physically exhausted from the mental exercise. She is able to extend her thinking beyond the tightly restricted thought and stretch her mind. She is able to articulate her unspoken frustrations in life out loud and her desires to seek creativity. She speaks out loud. She is, for a moment, not afraid that her voice will attract unwanted company. And, the fear still creeps and lurks, and then ultimately demands her full attention again.

As she nears the end of her hike, disappointment sets in. Her time in nature is shortened because her mind had convinced her earlier that hiking was no longer safe for some reason, even though she had already hiked (and survived) 45 minutes out on the trail. Relief comes over her when she returns to the car (and that it is not stolen by the hitchhikers, which she had decided was a very plausible reality) and agrees to properly prepare herself for any solo hikes in the future.

As she drives down the same road that brought her to Black Rock, she cracks a smile and dribbles a giggle as to acknowledge that although insanely frustrating and exhausting, she did accomplish something this day: She successfully went on a solo hike, and survived. To her on this day, hiking alone was 5% exhilarating and 95% fear inducing.

Good job girl!

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