One Step at a Time

21 March 2016

This weekend I embarked on hike #10 of my 52 Hike Challenge. I went solo for this hike, and decided to tackle a trail that I've done with a friend before. Because of the rain, I knew another waterfall hike was in order, and what better than a familiar, waterfall-filled hike? So at 9:30am I set off with my gear and headed to do the Triple Falls Hike. 

I lucked out with the weather, as it barely rained during most of my hike. There were a few other hikers out, though not nearly as many as there would be if it had been sunny. Instead, there were just enough people to make me feel okay about hiking alone in case I needed to call for help, but not so many that I did not get the solitude I sought.

Let's talk about solo-hiking for a moment. I've done a few solo hikes before, so it's not a huge terrifying thing to me. I have done a lot of things solo in my life, so it was pretty natural for me to take up hiking without a companion. Initially, it didn't seem like a big deal. But, as with many things, as the first time drew near and I started considering all of the logistics, I realized just how scary it can be to hike alone. What if I fall and injure myself and I don't have cell service? What if I come across a predator- human or animal? What if I get lost? These are all legitimate fears when hiking alone, but nothing that a little preparation and being smart cannot mitigate.

One of my greatest accomplishments was hiking Dog Mountain all on my own on a hot Summer Monday. I think I came across 3-4 other hiking pairs, so I was really on my own for that hike. For those who are unfamiliar, Dog Mountain is a steep, strenuous hike and is a known thigh-burner. Temps were set to hit the upper 80s/low 90s, so I brought as much bottled water and coconut water that I could fit in my pack. I wore shorts and a tank top, my trusty hiking shoes, and trekking poles. I was as prepared as I could be, and as determined as ever. I did my best to hike as quickly as I could before the temperature really started to soar, but also keeping in mind my finite water supply. I had only one moment of fear on that trail, and it was when I heard some rustling in the forest behind me. What I was afraid was a bear or cougar turned out to be a lovely deer. By the end of this hike, I had tackled my fears while accomplishing a physical feat of which I felt incapable.

All of this to say that I have done an incredibly challenging hike on my own, so hiking alone shouldn't scare me any more. But it still does, to an extent. However, the fear is not enough to deter my hiking plans. Besides, when I'm hiking a trail that I've done before, that I recall not being a big deal, the fear is pretty minimal.

My hike this past weekend, though, turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated. The first hiccup presented itself in the form of a fallen tree in the middle of the trail along a cliffside. I had two choices when I approached the tree: either climb over it, or crawl under it. As I assessed the climbing over option, I saw that the spot where I would need to plan my feet on the other side was slippery and sloped down the cliff. Given that I was alone, I decided that the risk of slipping and falling down any number of feet was not a smart one, so I opted to crawl under the tree. I took off my pack, squatted down, and hugged the tree as I passed under. Mission accomplished, even if I did get a little muddy.

The second challenge came in the form of a bridge with a warning: only one hiker could cross at a time. Apparently the bridge isn't terribly safe, but safe enough if only one person crosses at a time. It dawned on me then that the first time I hiked this trail with a friend a few years ago, this sign made us a little nervous. The fact that it was still there made me all the more nervous. Since there was a group of people nearby, I at least felt some confidence in knowing that if I fell, I could call for help and they would hear me. Needless to say, I crossed the bridge without incident.

My third and greatest challenge took the form of some steep switchbacks on a slick and rocky part of the trail. Climbing up them was not the issue for me, but as I ascended the trail, my mind started racing with the panic of knowing I would have to descend these very same switchbacks. With each upward step, I thought to myself "I'm going to have to walk back down this part." For me, there was no going back, there was no balking away from the switchbacks- I came to see Triple Falls, and by golly, I was going to make it there, whatever it took. I've hiked Dog Mountain on my own, gosh darn it! So I put my legs and trekking poles to the test and I climbed, then proceeded further along the trail. I came across yet another fallen tree (there were many of this trail- all obviously fallen within the past few months), and this time had no option but to climb over. Thank goodness for trekking poles for making the job easier. I made it to my destination, enjoyed the view, took some photos, and headed back the way I'd come. 

With every step I took back toward the switchbacks, my mind was teasing me and telling me how difficult it would be to descend the trail. Luckily, a couple of younger guys passed me on the trail and I stayed not too far behind them so that once I got to the switchbacks, I knew there would be someone to hear my cry for help should I fall. But that cry never came. When I came to the steepest part, it was nowhere near as bad as I had made it up to be in my mind. It was still scary, but I took each descent one step at a time. There is nothing quite like hiking solo to force your mind to be present, and I was never so present as in this moment. With each step, I focused my mind, chanting to myself, "one step at a time."

Hiking is a great time for reflection and truly getting to know oneself. On this particular hike, I learned a valuable lesson about facing challenges. I learned that when I set my mind toward a destination, I have a strong will and determination and will tackle any obstacle that comes my way. I learned that sometimes my mind lies to me, and tries telling me that I can't do things. But most of all, I learned that I am capable of facing any challenge, and that all I need to do is take things one step at a time.

You can follow my hiking adventures on Instagram @seekingwaterfalls


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