In June of this year I flew to Victoria BC to hike the notorious West Coast Trail with my friend J who I met on an Outward Bound Women of Courage trip in 2015. It was 75 kilometres and 6 days of the most intense physical and mental challenges of my life. It was also my very first backpacking trip. I have a lot of women to thank for developing my adoration of backpacking, and J is highest on the list. However, you would think, with all the bruises and breakdowns, that after WCT I would never want to backpack again (I may have even dramatically declared that). But after a month of recovery, the longing to immerse myself in nature, the urge to walk away, revisited me.
I keep a wishlist of the hikes I want to do, and the La Cloche Silhouette trail, a 78k backpacking trail in Killarney Provincial Park, was highest on the list, due to the sheer beauty and 3-hour proximity. The Silhouette trail is very popular and the sites are private, so it books up quickly. Given that my timeframe was very narrow and I was calling only 3 weeks in advance, my intention was more to accept that I wouldn’t be able to do it this year, than to actually book the trip. However, after some fumbling and several phone calls, I spontaneously reserved 6 interior sites for a week in September—solo. Apparently it was meant to be, and soon.
There was a lot of gear I didn’t have (including a tent) and a lot that needed some attention or upgrading, so I was a bit of a mess leading up to the trip. This is an intense trail for a solo and I’d only done a couple nights in Algonquin’s Western Uplands trail solo previously. I didn’t feel ready and the time skipped away as I alternated between a zen-like acceptance of whatever awaited me, and lost-breath panic attacks that I would somehow fail.
My friend S (and her two dogs) drove me to the trail on the day of my embarking. I bought a map and she cut out the important stuff—the 78k trail outline—discarding the rest to save every gram of weight. Gifting me with generous hugs and a lovingly crafted letter, S sent me into the woods at 2pm for my seven-day solo trek in the Killarney mountains.
Cave Lake (7k)
I commenced the hike with a huge smile on my face, which is kind of my thing. I am thinking “I’m going into the woods, I’m going away, away.” I love to be alone, and I love to hike. There is something so primal about backpacking. Everything you need, you carry. You don’t need anything you don’t have. You are prepared for any eventuality, if you are competent, and you have a very achievable, though difficult, mission every day: get home. Home being the next campsite on your list. Eat, filter and drink water, and hike. Take breaks, love the trail, take photos, hike. Take care of your feet, your pack, and your heart—and hike. And then arrive—filter water, unpack your pack, set up camp, cook, eat, drink your water, use the toilet box, filter and drink more water, have a fire or not, throw up your bear bag, get into your tent, write about your day, reflect, try to sleep, go pee, wonder about noises, sleep, wake up, use the toilet box, filter water, eat breakfast, pack up, hike. Every day.
It’s that, just that, and so much more than that.
The first day was beautiful, 7k to my first site. Despite the short distance, the journey took me 3 hours. The terrain was interior woods, roots and rocks, familiar to me from my experiences in Algonquin. Still, the flora was slightly different, the lakes more pale but bright blue due to the acidity from previous nearby mining operations that produced massive pollution that created acid rain and killed many of Killarney’s stunning lakes. This creates an eerie effect of transparent lakewater with no living creatures within.
It was on this day that I first made my way onto the expansive granite and quartzite rocks that make the Silhouette so distinctive. I have always felt very drawn and connected to stone, the bones of the Earth, so this trip held an additional layer of meaning for me: a way to be as intimately connected to the Earth as possible. As I walked over these rock protrusions, I was excited and a little unnerved by what was in store for me. Distantly, I could see white ridges peaking out of verdant forests.
When I came across a beautiful small lake, I decided to stop for the first time and eat something, hydrate, and read the letter from S. I cried a little from the love and sincerity in her writing and from the sheer distance I felt from my loved ones. But it wasn’t a sad cry and I was energized by her belief in me, so I continued on.
There are always moments during solos where you wish someone was there with you. Often it’s just an instinctive reaction, a desire to share experiences with someone. To say, “Look how beautiful,” or “how am I supposed to get over that?” A need for reassurance, encouragement, or just acknowledgement: you are here, you are real, I see you. When you are alone, when no one witnesses you, you have to trust in your own existence without feedback. You have to believe in yourself. It’s the hardest thing to do, some days. That day on the hike, I saw massive uprooted trees, I walked over a tricky beaver dam, I hiked alongside and between lakes. The terrain got pretty rough and with my guidebook saying this section was a walk in the park, I tried to fend off the anxiety of what was to come. My intention for the hike was to live beautifully in each perfect moment; not to predict pain or keep space for fear, nor to ruminate negatively on what was or focus on what came before.
My first campsite was absolutely lovely. It reminded me of the campsite they brought me to for my solo day on Outward Bound—a huge, sprawling site, mostly rock. I was surprised by two things: the first being a designated spot for my tent, boxed in by logs and filled with sand and tree mulch; the second was a little marker on the tree indicating ‘washrooms’, or rather, a toilet box. I hadn’t been expecting such luxury!
I sat on the smooth granite that sloped into the dark blue lake, took off my boots and socks, and rested my body and brain. I ate a bit, filtered water, and just allowed the experience of aloneness. After a while, I built a fire with the extra firewood left by the previous campers and made my dinner (dehydrated Pad Thai). It was the night before the full moon and it was so bright I could barely see any stars. As I sat with the fire, I heard a wolf howl in the distance but I didn’t feel afraid. I had already found trust.
Threenarrows Lake (15k)
My second day included 8 hours of hiking. The morning seemed to race by and I made good time, until I got to The Pig, which is a huge and arduous portage portion. It’s uphill, seemingly endless, over rocks and small boulders. As J can attest from the West Coast Trail, I am not very steady on rocks and don’t seem to make very good foot placement decisions for whatever reason. It was one of those times you simply put your head down, bring breath all the way to the bottom of your lungs, and power through. Halfway up this intense section, I took a break and put moleskins on my feet and had some food. Then I continued on, step after step. It seemed it would never end, every peak a false summit. At the top, I felt exalted, but that was short-lived, knowing that downhill can be just as brutal. I absolutely cannot fathom carrying a canoe as well as gear over that terrain—yet, the lakes are worth the effort to see.
Because much of the trail is on rock ridges, and there aren’t trees to nail the blazes to, there are often only stone cairns directing the trail. On the way down the portage, I missed a cairn leading the trail into the woods, and made my way down to the lake. Without knowing yet I’d gone too far, I filled up my water bottle and rested for a bit. When I tried to find the trail, I couldn’t. I’d followed the portage to the lake but there was no hiking path. I made hesitant starts in many directions but finally enlisted my guide book, which told me to watch out for the often-missed cairn off the side of the portage. I trudged back up the portage for a bit until I saw the marker and got back on path. It’s important when planning your day of hiking to account for misses like that, as well as frequent stops to rest your feet, eat, and filter water. A predicted 6-hour hike can easily reach 8 hours with all things considered. Each day my highly accurate fitness tracker reported at least an additional 4k of walking over the course of the day.
The second half of the day was an intense slog. There’s often a point where you stop enjoying the trail and you just want the day to end, and unfortunately, this point came early. I also was sure I’d missed the sign for my campsite because my hiking estimate was so off and it was getting late, but I finally saw it and pretty much crashed into my site. It had a beautiful view of Threenarrows Lake but was across the lake from a cabin so that intruded on my sense of seclusion (I don’t think it was occupied, it was more the visual of civilization). It also had what is described as ‘steep water access’ which in practise looks like me clinging desperately to the cliff side with my arms loaded with water bottle and filter, clothes to rinse, and a pot to fill.
There was no toilet box here and no gift of leftover firewood gathered, so I ate half of a very terrible dehydrated meal and some hot chocolate and went into my tent early. I remember this night not being a very good one for my mental state—I was physically exhausted and nervous about what was in front of me. I was also very anxious about the number of nights alone I’d committed to.
It rained through the night which added to my dread about the next day. It was the longest day in terms of distance and promised to be the hardest as well, and now we were adding rain to the mix.
Shigaug Lake (16k)
I had saved (or had not been able to finish) some of the previous night’s dinner for breakfast, but I could barely swallow a bite, so I was committed to packing out this half-pound mush. I packed up camp in the rain and was on the trail by 7:15am. Because I have a quality pack and a good brain for systems, my backpacking habits and routine are excellent. I know where everything is in my bag at any given moment, and I have a sensible order in which I do things to create a well-balanced and accessible pack. I don’t say this to brag, though I am very proud of the fact that I can close up camp, from wake-up to on-trail, in an hour and twenty minutes. I say it because I believe it’s important to be as prepared as possible and be confident in your ability to find things quickly. I do still change things to optimize my systems and I adapt to the new way if it’s superior. Taking the time to do things even when they’re annoying (like putting your rain cover on if it looks like it will rain, getting up in the middle of the night to pee when you’re warm and cosy, stopping to filter water when you still have half a litre) pays off in the long run every time when you’re on the trail. It’s one of the main ways to take care of yourself when otherwise your self-care tends to suffer a bit.
So I had my rain coat and pants and pack rain cover on, and the rain slowed to a constant drip through the tree canopy after an hour or so.
This morning provided me with one of the most difficult lessons I knew I would have to learn. When preparing for this hike, I wasn’t worried about wildlife or injuries, knowing that I am prepared and cautious, but I was very afraid of getting lost. The markers for this trail are not exactly top notch, and there are some wildlife paths trails that are just as well trodden as the actual backpacking trail. I found myself in a similar situation as the day before—I was walking downhill and assumed the trail continued to the bottom of the hill. In both cases, there was a marker leading off to the left while the trail appeared to continue on straight. At the bottom of the hill, there seemed to be two options: one leading into a tall-grassed field where the trail branched into many directions but none clear enough to be the right trail, and another leading into the woods. This trail was well-worn and even had a lost hat hanging from a tree branch, a clear indicator that humans used that trail. However, there were no blazes—yet, there were many stretches without blazes because the trail is so obviously trail. As this one seemed to be! I hiked for about a kilometre, no more, before coming to something of a plateau. When the trail entered this area, a unique assemblage of tree branches and a, intricate spiderweb caught my eye. As I attempted to follow the trail, which by now was worryingly faint, I went to the end of several false trails, always finding my way back to the plateau. After maybe thirty minutes of trying all possible routes, I concluded this was definitely not the trail. I wasn’t sure how far back the actual trail was, all I knew was the hill I’d descended that branched into two options was my last previous certainty. To my dismay and rising horror, however, I couldn’t find the plateau and therefore the trail that had led me there. It had happened so quickly, I’d been sure I’d been keeping track of my whereabouts enough to at least find my way back to the plateau. But I couldn’t. I picked another centre point and circled it, trying to find anything that appeared familiar. After twenty minutes, I found my way back to the plateau (it’s usually just a matter of things not looking the same when you try to go back the way you came), but from the plateau I couldn’t find the trail! At this point I’m feeling very lost, it’s so easy to lose trail when the trail isn’t actually trail at all. I’m checking my map and compass, and it appears that I could simply bushwack north for about 400m and not only find another loop of the trail but save myself a couple kilometres because of cutting through the loop. However, I am not that confident in my orienteering and was absolutely terrified of being lost, knowing now that I was already significantly off trail. (If I had attempted that, I would have been well and truly lost, because I was not in location I believed myself to be). I stopped, breathed deeply, and said aloud, ‘But how did I get here?’ And I tried to look around with new eyes. My gaze settled, amazingly, on the spiderweb and unique branches, and after retracing my steps from there, at last I found my way back to the wildlife path, and hiked back that kilometre to the hill. It turned out the trail was neither the path I’d taken nor the grassy field, but an abrupt left halfway down the hill. All told I spent about an hour lost and hiked about 3 kilometres off trail on a day that promised another 15k.
In addition to this already rough morning, my feet got wet because I hadn’t waterproofed them since the West Coast Trail. I also got my period and I had no supplies with me. I normally bring my menstrual cup but I wasn’t expecting my period—that is, until I was driving into the park and before I lost service my period tracking app sent a notification telling me I would get it in a couple days. So I used a quickdry washcloth but it was far from ideal. The third day was a real challenge for a number of reasons, but it also yielded some of the most rewarding sights and experiences. For example, I climbed up the face of a 30m waterfall, literally straddling the cascading water on slippery granite. I also came out on beautiful peaks and saw lakes and valleys of trees just on the verge of changing colour.
It was about 5pm when I came to the side trail for my campsite. The side trail was 800m so I knew I wasn’t done yet. At the junction, there were 3 men and a woman taking a break, and I asked if they were staying at one of the campsites (there were 2) and they said no. I began down the side trail and ran into a woman who was with their party. She’d gone all the way to the end of the side trail to my site to check and see if it was occupied because their party overestimated how much they could do—they had another 5k until their designated site. I’m glad they didn’t try to set up there—it would have been quite the shock when I showed up. I felt huge sympathy for her, though—she added another 1.6k to her hike for nothing. I learned later that they camped on a portage. Not sure why they didn’t take the closer site that remained available, but I was so glad to have the lake to myself. It was the most beautiful experience. This vast, crystal blue lake, absolutely transparent to the bottom. That site was the northernmost on the entire trail, and I fell in love with it.
I ate my dinner and rinsed some of my clothes, but the site was shaded by then and they didn’t dry much. I also tried to wash up there, but I didn’t bring any kind of scrubbie so I didn’t feel very clean. I wanted desperately to swim but I felt this strong, strange aversion to this clear water and I just couldn’t bring myself to get in. It’s interesting because the lakewater I’m used to is quite opaque which is indicative of life—yet, you can’t see what you’re getting into! You would think that would be more unnerving. But the clear water just freaked me out so I didn’t swim at all on my hike.
It occurred to me that I would have swum if I’d had someone with me. As I get settled into my tent that night, I began to think about what it would be like to live as I was forever. To be that nomadic, to have nothing more than a new site to look forward to. Then I wondered what it would be like to never see another human again. I scared myself with that line of thinking because I knew with certainty that if I were to never see another person again, never have the opportunity to talk to someone or be held or know love, that I would kill myself. I got very upset and missed my loved ones a lot. I learned later that this type of thinking is not unusual when you are solo, and given this was the longest I had ever gone alone, it shouldn’t have surprised me that my train of thought could become dark. Now if it happens again I am prepared for it, but I wasn’t then and I found it hard to shake.
Silver Lake (13k)
Depression weighed on me that morning and I hiked without much thought other than foot placement. The morning started with an incredibly technical rock climbing portion that I loved and hated at the same time. It was still wet from the rain and was very slick, and included some tricky scrambling. Those are the moments that give the greatest sense of accomplishment, though, and my spirit brightened with the knowledge that my body is powerful and capable. I ran into the group from the night before on one of the long ridge stretches, and they offered me some food. As I had not quite packed enough food and was anticipating at least one day without anything to eat for lunch or snack, I took them up on the offer, believing them when they said they were glad to lose the weight. I had cheese, mustard and mayo tortilla wraps and loved every bite. The women also offered me panty liners when I mentioned my washcloth fiasco. However, they were the thong-style panty liners so they didn’t do much other than save small sections of my underwear from the blood. Was she really wearing a thong while hiking? Eek!
That group and I leapfrogged a few times, and though they welcomed me to join their party since our destination sites were adjacent, I opted to hike solo and tried to maneuver it that they could get ahead of me, but they took longer breaks so I always caught up. I did welcome the offer to take a photo of me, the only non-selfie of the trip!
Although it didn’t rain until the last thirty minutes of that day, everything was very slick and I fell about 7 times. Luckily I’m a very good faller so I didn’t hurt myself. Many steep pitches dotted the day, bringing me out onto long stretches of gleaming white ridge with unbelievable views. Many areas were very difficult to climb and took all my concentration to traverse. When people realize that I am hiking solo, I get a lot of comments like ‘crazy girl’ and ‘good for you’, always with the undertone or outright statement that they couldn’t do it. But the truth is, with the right incentive, you could do the trail solo, backwards, and blindfolded. And the reward for doing it solo for me was more than enough to outweigh any potential negatives. I had to know I could do it.
When it began to really pour down, I put on my rain jacket and had to take off my glasses because I couldn’t see anything otherwise. Of course it wasn’t just simple terrain, I still had to climb over rocky ridges, moving at a slow pace because the risk of a fall was huge.
Then I wasn’t quite sure about the campsite markers and couldn’t tell if my site was on the way to the other site, or further down the trail, so I added another ten minutes trying to figure it out before taking off my pack and checking my guide for instructions. It was further down the path so I passed through this massive granite canyon covered in moss. My site was close to the trail and it stopped raining about the minute I set up my tarp! This site was absolutely stunning and although I could see and hear the other party as they shared the same lake, I felt comforted by their presence as a stark relief to the negative way I’d felt the night before. I took some lovely photos there and randomly checked my phone reception—turns out I had reception so I sent a few texts to say I was all right. I had hot chocolate for dinner (I only brought 5 dinners despite having 6 nights, because I figured one night I would probably be so exhausted or it would be raining and I would just crash. Obviously this is a terrible idea and you should bring one extra meal, not one less, than you think you’ll need). I didn’t sleep that great because of the other group’s noise but I just read my book (How To Supress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ) and took the time to organize my things. Every night I would write a synopsis of the day, which I am using to create this fleshed-out post. I really recommend this for hikers, even those who don’t plan to expand on it, because the way you feel in the moments on the trail are hard to recall when you’re off it.
Proulx Lake (11k)
When I was planning this trip and purchased the guidebook and reviewed maps, I somehow misread which days would have which features. So I wasn’t able to hike the sidetrail to Silver Peak, the highest point in the park, because that day was already incredibly long. I also misjudged which day would have the Crack, a tricky climb down over huge crumbled rocks, though that turned out for my benefit as it fell on a shorter day.
This day held some very memorable experiences. First of all, I ran out of water. I use a water filter and carry a 1 litre water bottle. Upon researching the trail, I noted my concern about pack weight and got the advice to leave my 2 litre water bladder at home because there was plentiful water on the trail and it would be better to carry less and just stop more often. This may have been good advice for spring, but it was terrible for fall. Even the stream on the map had dried up. I hiked about 7k without any water and that is so dangerous. The day never seemed to end. It was hot and sunny so that added to my dehydration. My body was weak and tired, and at one point I even lost my vision for a moment. Before it got to that, though, I was sitting on a ridge facing a trail (unusual for me, normally I would sit perpendicular to the trail, not staring right at it) and I saw a black bear amble down the trail toward me! It was my first experience seeing a bear that close, and I rose to my feet and in a loud voice told the bear to go away—and I clanged my hiking poles together. It didn’t acknowledge me at first but then seemed to see/smell me and it took off into the woods. From this experience, rather than fear or panic, I received a sense of wellbeing and a feeling that everything was going to be all right—despite having no water.
There were massive steep pitches that day and I took them very slowly, knowing I wasn’t at my best. My side trail this day was about half a kilometre, and I made it to my site without fainting or anything though I doubt I would have made it much longer. The thing is, if I had felt I was in real danger, I could have left the trail and made my way down to a lake, as there were lakes in almost every valley. Yes it would have been tricky bushwhacking, but I wouldn’t have died. So while my thirst was never an actual emergency, it felt dire at the time because I doubted my ability to carry on and even getting to a lake would have been very dangerous for a number of reasons. Still, I made it to my camp at 3pm, the earliest so far, and carefully made my way down the steep water access to the lake, another crystal clear one that I had all to myself, and filtered and drank a litre of water, then filtered another. I cried because of the relief from the fear but also because in that moment I experienced something very universal, something that I am incredibly privileged to not experience often, if ever—the experience of thirst. My heart broke for those who knew that fear every day. I carried that sensation and that empathy with me, allowing it space in my heart because it’s important to be grateful and to acknowledge our privileges.
Again, this site was absolutely stunning, with white peaks and cliffs facing me and still, turquoise water. I made a video sitting on one of the rocks and hung my wet stuff out to dry. I took the time to organize and clean my belongings, having rushed to pack up most mornings due to rain or needing to get on the trail quickly. It felt so nice to have the time to take care of my things and hang my clothes out to dry. I ate dinner early, and around 7:30pm it began to rain, so I called it a night early and sat in my tent listening to the thunderstorm and whipping winds, thinking about my family and reading the letter from S and my book. I had only one more night after that and the next day was only 7k including the Crack. I wasn’t thirsty anymore and I had seen a bear. The world was so beautiful and I felt like a beautiful part of it.
Sealey’s Lake (7k)
The next morning was so leisurely. I knew that my destination site was shaded and I didn’t want to arrive there too early because it wasn’t as lovely as the one I currently occupied, so I took the time that morning to dry my tent, fly, and tarp, and put my clothes back out to dry. I took the time to meditate and reflect and be grateful for this altering experience. By the time I packed up it was 10:30am. I didn’t know what the day held so I was hesitant to stay any longer. My pack must have been at least two pounds lighter without the dirt and water that had saturated most of my stuff. By now, my body was accustomed to the weight and to the activity, so I was in really good shape.
I got turned around on the ridges that day, which wasn’t hard to do. I heard someone coming so I waited and as we chatted I learned they were going the same direction as me, so I waited for them to get ahead and I followed them. They’d mentioned they’d gotten lost as well, worst than I had, so I felt a bit better about my own scary moments. Their issue was, they’d went the wrong way when leaving their campsite in the morning, and started travelling backwards. The trail really does look very different from the other direction, so this isn’t that hard to manage. They’d stopped and talked to other hikers who’d said, so you’re going counter clockwise? And they said, no… Turns out they were. Yikes—and on an already very long day.
Most of the day was ducking on and off ridges as I approached the Crack. When I finally got there, there were lots of tourists and dayhikers. I felt very awkward seeing people after so long of not really interacting with anyone, and I didn’t really take any pictures, just kind of rushed through. I did get a little lost, again, and asked for help and was shown the way. The Crack wasn’t difficult so much as you had to be very mindful of your footing and pole placement. The main part only took about fifteen minutes and I absolutely loved it. However, that section continued downhill for a really long time over loose rock and I fell a couple times. I would have loved to do it alone, but I was surrounded by many people. One woman said she really admired me. The couple I saw from that morning I ran into again, the guy was being really short and snippy with his female partner because apparently she had missed a directional ribbon (why this was her job and therefore fault, I don’t know—he obviously missed it too) so that was really uncomfortable. I talked with her for a bit about hiking poles. I should have told her to dump the asshole! A hike like that really reveals a lot about people—it’s important to heed that information when you learn it.
As I gradually left behind the dayhikers and continued on the more moderate path to my last site, I ran into the only female pairing I’d seen on the trail so far. I never saw another female pair/group, or another solo female. I want women to know you can do this on your own! We belong in the wilderness—it’s our home.
When I arrived at the site, I went to get some water and had the hardest fall yet. Up and down the Crack, in and out of ridges, down steep water access, I never fell as hard as I did that day on a moss-covered rock with a very slight incline. Of course! The water there was so questionable. It was obviously a beaver-dammed lake and my filter was being so touchy, it was jammed. I was really fighting to get any output. One more day might have seen the last of it! I also ran out of food and toilet paper that night. I had a chocolate mudslide for dinner (it’s hard to find vegetarian meals so I had dessert instead and it was freaking delicious and totally destroyed my stomach and kept me up all night).
I had a fire here because again someone had left firewood, but I was so unimpressed with the previous campers. They left plastic food packages in the firepit (unburned) and garbage strewn around the site. I packed it all out but I was so pissed. Leaving dirty food packages can put the next camper at risk of bear visitors, and leaving me to pack out garbage when my pack is heavy enough is just not okay. Pack it out!
I could hear civilization by now, being only 5k out from the trailhead. I also had a battle with a domesticated chipmunk that frustrated me. It just reinforced the truth that the deeper interior you go, the wilder and more beautiful things are. And that’s why I hike. Not to prove something to other people, not to punish myself. But because I want to see and know nature that hasn’t been often seen and known. Because the hard you work for something, the greater the reward. Because as a person who often feels alone, life makes more sense when I actually am alone.
I really struggled with my bear bag that night. It took me many tries to get it lifted into a tree, and then next morning I had to cut my paracord loose because it was so tangled—so much for leaving no trace. I stayed up that night with the fire until it burned everything down. I wanted my last night to stretch on, even though I was very homesick and missed my mom and friends and my cat. I almost went to bed without writing in my log, but I got back up to do so. I also finished my book that night. I heard many loud noises in the night and actually got up at one point to check my food bag because I was sure I’d heard it fall! Not sure what was crashing around in the woods but they made a lot of noise. Went to sleep with the triumph of having hiked 70+ kilometres and feeling like a total badass.
Everyone who’s backpacked knows that the last day will feel like the longest day. Even though this 5k was a breeze in terms of terrain, it seemed to drag. I was nervous about how early it was because I was getting picked up and wasn’t sure my mom would be there by the time I got out. I tried not to worry about it but my mind kept circling back to it. The last day held many beautiful sights, and though I was out of the white quartzite ridges and back into grey and pink granite, the lakes and rocks were gorgeous and I took a lot of photos. I met someone on the way out and was able to pass on some wisdom. I didn’t rush but took my time and really acknowledged my journey and witnessed the trail in a present and grateful way.
The last stretch became a little intense and after climbing some steep root sections, I came out into the Killarney campsites. I immediately saw a handwritten sign with my name on it saying Welcome Home and directions where to find my mom. I walked a way to the beach and she saw me and gave me a huge hug and we both cried.
She was painting by the beach so I regaled her with some of my stories while she finished her piece. A park ranger pulled his truck in front of her view to collect garbage and she gave him a hard time and he moved his truck forward, and I laughed my ass off. Then we bought some souvenirs and ate fried food and took the long way home.
Inside, I’m still not sure how to reconcile these two worlds I’ve experienced so intimately. When you backpack, you carry everything you need on your body, like a snail. You have a system that makes sense. You are hyper aware of your body as a home—you don’t see yourself from the outside through an external gaze, the way women are trained to do. There are no mirrors, in fact, you are only an amalgam of senses and feedback. Then suddenly you are Seen again, and you think about what others think of you and the impact that your appearance and words have on others. You are not alone anymore.
When I’m backpacking, especially alone, I feel confident, competent, triumphant, lonely, strategic, aware. It’s a little harder to access these feelings when you’re in the other world, the world where your home stays in one place and you circle it. Life is a little less linear here, a little more mundane. But it also keeps the people and animals I love so dearly and the comforts I enjoy—so I never walk away for too long.