People backpack by themselves all the time, but when you've never done it, it can be a bit daunting. I was comfortable day hiking alone, but the the idea of backpacking alone was different. First, I didn't have all of the gear, but secondly and more importantly, I didn't know if I was mentally up for the challenge. This last weekend I went on a day hike and I revisited the place of my first solo backpack trip, and it brought back memories...
I decided I would go on my very first backpacking trip alone in August, 2014. I made the decision sometime on a Friday afternoon, did some quick research, found a destination and right after work I hopped a bus to REI. I needed a few things in order to pull this together.... like a tent... and a stove... and some other essentials. I walked into REI in skinny jeans and high heels and suckered in a sales associate for help. $400+ later I had what I needed for a successful outing. I put my tent together that night on the floor of my living room/bedroom ( ...studio life) and then I opened up the Jetboil and attempted to read and follow the operational instructions. Terrified that I might blow myself up, I made my friends Wes and Jason Face Time with me, so they could teach me how to use the darn thing. True story.
The next morning, at my own leisure, I packed up and hit the road for Park Butte Lookout. I made it to the trailhead about 1pm on Saturday and it was just starting to lightly rain. Confident in the latest weather report, I put my boots and backpack on, and off I went. My far fetched hopes of being able to stay in the lookout that night were quickly squashed by a sign that read "Lookout closed August 16-17 for painting and maintenance". Lame, but oh well... that's why I bought a tent.
Now, I could have just taken the trail 3.75 miles up to the lookout, but I decided to veer off on a side trail, for some extra distance and additional scenery. I knew the two trails would meet back up a few miles later. For whatever reason it seemed logical at the time, even though it had already begun to rain harder. After about two miles, I was soaked and wondering why in the heck I was A) outside B) on some side trail when I couldn't see a damn thing C) neglected to purchase a pack cover the day before. Needless to say, I was in a great mood. After another half mile or so I stopped in the middle of the trail and just stood there, thinking. I began hiking again, but stopped a couple minutes later. I took my pack off and at sat down. "Is this what I want my first solo backpacking experience to be? I'm a big girl... I made the decision to do this, but I'm also mature enough to admit that I don't HAVE to do this." I literally sat there asking myself questions like these for a solid 15 minutes... and with those thoughts, I got up, put my pack on and started making my way back towards the parking lot.
It didn't take long before I stopped, yet again.... and stood there. With a frustrated sigh, I turned back around and started heading up the trail. I made the decision to at least get to the main trail junction. Then, I would decide which direction to go. If the weather had shown any sign of improvement by the time I got there, I would keep going. If not, I would head back down to the car and be satisfied with the amount of effort I'd put forth. Would you believe that just as I was approaching the main trail I saw a patch of blue sky? Well I did.
Park Butte, HERE I COME!
That chunk of blue sky lasted all of five minutes before it disappeared and started to rain again. "You've got to be kidding me." I'd committed though. A mile later I reached a campground... which was full. I asked the campers if they knew of any other spots further up, and was told there was one campsite that was probably still open just before the lookout. Onward and upward. Another half mile on the trail and there it was... the open campsite. I put my previous night of practice to use, got my tent up and started the Jetboil - this time without the help of my buddies. The weather may have blown, but there I was... backpacking all on my own, setting up my own tent and boiling my own hot water. I heard voices up ahead, most likely coming from the lookout that I still couldn't see. With my dinner in hand, I headed up to check it out and meet the painters that were staying there.
This very nice elderly couple invited me in, and began talking to me about the unexpected weather, their painting and maintenance projects and the history of the lookout. They had been taking care and helping to maintain the structure for years. They told me to have a look around.... and reminded me to just to be careful of wet paint. The lookout was absolutely charming, both inside and out - with it's wrap around porch and windows on every side. If only I could have seen out of them. I started to heading back down to my tent and just then, the clouds began to part...
I know photos never fully do moments like these justice, but I'm confident my words will do even less. It was beyond incredible and everything I had experienced up until that point seemed so trivial. I watched the sun go down with a sense of gratitude that I hadn't experienced in a long time, and I felt special... the folks at the campground below never broke out of the clouds. They never got to see what I saw that evening.
I went to bed once it was dark and awoke to clear skies the next morning. I successfully boiled water again for my coffee and breakfast, broke camp and began hiking out. I was proud of myself for my thought process the day before and proud that I'd pushed through it, because it was absolutely worth it. Sometimes the clouds never part, but when they do... even for a short period of time, it makes you feel like you were supposed to be there. You were supposed to be reminded of something... beauty, your own personal strength, magic, God... something. For so many reasons, that was an experience that I will never forget.