going it alone

Solo wilderness trips are so different from heading out there with a friend. Setting off into the woods alone has a sense of surrender about it.

Solo wilderness trips are so different from heading out there with a friend.

Setting off into the woods alone has a sense of surrender about it.

You are more at the mercy of nature and your own folly because of the lack of a companion to help you out, entertain and support you.

Everything you see and do becomes more intense when there is nobody to share it with in that moment.

I had always been drawn to the idea of solo wilderness trips and the unique experience they ought to be. But my first forays into the wild all by myself were not much fun at all.

Feeling very vulnerable out there by myself, my senses perceived a possible danger behind every tree, in every sound and shade.

Far from being pleasurable hiking and paddling excursions, it was extremely exhausting. Even more so because the day’s anxieties gave way to imagined horrors of night, when I lay trussed up like a turkey in my sleeping bag, a cold sweat breaking out at the slightest sound or most prolonged silence.

It seemed idiotic to the rational part of my brain; surely a lone woman is more at risk among people than out in the wild, and yet my imagination turned me into irresistible bear bait every night.

But I very badly wanted to get to a stage where I was able to truly enjoy doing wilderness trips on my own, and figured that maybe by simply doing more trips alone, I would over time be able to prove my gut feeling wrong with the hard evidence of statistics: having not been eaten on X amount of trips, there could not be much danger in it.

One weeklong hiking trip finally started to change things for me.

The first three days were the usual tense walking experience, followed by fairly sleepless nights.

I was totally exhausted and the next night decided to try the one piece of equipment I had so far only lugged along without using it: ear plugs.

Reasoning that the chances of a bear choosing me for a bedtime snack were as good as nil, and that should there be some animal messing around my camp, I would surely wake up despite the ear plugs, I inserted the wads of silicone into my ears and was immediately listening to nothing more exciting than cranial plumbing.

Drifting off into a deep and long sleep, I had strange dreams of the tent being held like in a cradle by the underground roots of the two trees I was camped between, and of moose and beavers discussing this hiker who was scared of all noises.

The next morning saw me well-rested, thanks to the earplug manufacturer, and eager for the next night.

I wasn’t suddenly transformed into a confident solo trekker, but had begun in a new way to realize that all the plants and animal around me were even more aware of my passage than I was of their presence, and that their main interest was to just do their own thing in peace.

That trip’s remaining days and nights passed in an ever increasing exhilaration at finally getting the hang of this solo thing, with many moments of apprehension still sprinkled in to remind me that I wasn’t a fully fledged hermit bush runner yet.

Since then, it has become more a consuming desire than a stubborn quest to go off on a trip into the wild by myself every year. Even now that we live in the bush and although I spend a fair bit of time alone as it is, I have a need to do these sort of pilgrimages.

There is something about leaving the relative security of the cabin and its attendant comforts, severing myself from my partner and all people, something about trustingly sleeping in a flimsy tent surrounded by the buzzing, chirpings and cracking in the night, that cannot be experienced otherwise.

It turns me into just another animal moving through the woods, dispensable and unimportant, when there is no other person to constantly pull me back into the human realm.

Maybe solo wilderness trips are a fragment of our by now all-but-forgotten struggle to regain paradise, to remember how and where we fit in with nature — how things were before we vanquished this planet in our breathtakingly arrogant perception of ourselves as the crown of creation.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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