An Overview of the Women’s Movement in 2016

Read aloud at December 6th event – Day of Remembrance and Action

In the face of women’s continued oppression, it’s important to reflect, just as we’ve done here today. As women are multifaceted beings, we can both mourn the women whose lives were taken this year, and all years, and also demand changes to make our society one that values women and supports women.

As a feminist, I often give thanks to the internet (which wouldn’t have been possible without Hedy Lamarr or Ada Lovelace and countless unthanked women).

The internet fosters connection between women all over the world. Only a generation ago, we had no choice but to accept as true all the things we were told about women in countries other than our own. But now we can speak to those women directly. Rather than feeling like we have the responsibility to ‘save’ other women, we now know we only need to use our respective privilege to amplify their voices.

I believe this direct conversation with global sisters has really changed the movement. Hopefully you are familiar with the term ‘intersectionality’, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, which gives name to the particular ways oppressions can compound exponentially, meaning the oppression a black woman faces, at the cross section of race and sex, is different than that faced by a white woman. Added to that are other unique oppressions, such as mental or physical ability, class, sexuality, and more–and all of these experiences manifest differently, and co-exist differently. Acknowledgement of this is vital to women’s liberation.

In that spirit, I invite you to travel the world with me while I identify some of the major women’s movements of 2016. I’m sure you’ve heard of more that I don’t address, and I encourage you to take to your social media, your dinner table, or your town hall steps, to discuss these events.

In the United States, the water protectors at Standing Rock have been camping since April to join together against the Dakota Access Pipe Line. Rallying under the truth that ‘water is life’ and the hashtag NoDAPL, Indigenous women have been at the forefront of environmental protests since colonization. In October, Sky Bird Black Owl gave birth to her daughter, Mni Niconi, alone by choice, at Standing Rock. She says, “Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways.” Regarding her decision to give birth alone, she says, “I’ll birth where I choose. It’s not for any man to tell me where I can have my baby.”

Her experience is a perfect example of why intersectionality matters. While the fight for birth control and abortion access is imperative to women’s equality, this battle manifests differently for Indigenous women who are still fighting to have children on their own terms, without judgement, intervention, or interference. I’m pleased to be able to announce that this particular route of the pipeline has been effectively shut down, but the efforts against this pipeline and all pipelines that threaten water, food security, and sanctity of human and animal life must continue.

Another longstanding movement that has made global headlines is Black Lives Matter, which began as a reaction to the racist murder of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2013. Like Indigenous women, black women are battling for the right to access to equal education and treatment, both legally and socially, for themselves and their children. The founders of the movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, offer the energy, unity, and clarity that women are known for in justice movements. Garza states, “[#BlackLivesMatter] is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.” Even in Canada, in Toronto, the carding system has been likened to ‘stop and frisk’ and disproportionately impacts black women and men. White people have a social responsibility to use our privilege to decry these racialized outrages and support the voices of black women who have not even been granted the slowly-gained rights that white women have.

Moving now to Poland, on October 3rd, tens of thousands of women and allies walked out of their jobs, workplaces, and homes to join rallies at the parliament building and at town and city squares across Poland. The hashtags for strategizing, communication, and journalism were  #czarnyprotest and #blackmonday. The protests are a response to Poland introducing a barbarically restrictive abortion bill, where victims of rape and incest would be forced to give birth, and no exceptions made for fetuses with severe life threatening impairments, or mothers facing death from carrying to term–the law also criminalizes doctors for advising women of their rights. Women all wore black to protest the loss of their dignity and security. This massive and rapid organization was planned entirely on social media and by word of mouth.

Now we look at Argentina. On October 19, more than 50 organizations collaborated to demand justice after the brutal fatal rape of 16-year-old Lucia Perez. Using the hashtag #vivasLasQueremos (which means “we want them alive”), women flooded social media and took to the streets to share their devastation and demand a cultural shift. At the time of the protest there were 170 documented murders of Argentinian women that year. But these protests spread across the world, to strike against gender violence in Chile, Uruguay, México, Paraguay, Guatemala, Spain and France, all countries with high rates of femicide and structural inequality. The rallying cry across these countries and more was #niUnaMenos (“not one more”).

On October 24, Iceland staged a walk-out protest, again organized primarily over social media. Women walked off the job at 2:38pm to protest the 14% wage gap. This happened on the 41st anniversary of Iceland’s famous ‘women’s day off’ when 90% of women stopped all work, at home and at their jobs, to protest wage discrepancy and unequal treatment.

Then on November 7th France also had a wage-gap walk-out protest. Women left work at 4:34pm to bring attention to the 15-20% wage gap that French women contend with, with the reasoning that as of November 7th at that time, women effectively work for free for the remainder of the year while men continue to earn money. This event was started by feminist publication Les Gloriueses, and had the complementary intention of drawing focus to the unpaid second shift that women do at home, childcare and housework. The hashtag for this was #7Novembre16h34.

Let’s bring it back to Canada. On March 24, Jian Ghomeshi was handed a not guilty verdict. This highly publicised trial brought all the old rape myths out to play, and feminists spent the intervening months writing poignant and powerful thinkpieces. It seemed to many, like recent election results, that there was no way patriarchy could win this one. But when the verdict came down, it prompted an immediate march to police headquarters in Toronto, with women chanting ‘We believe survivors’. The case highlighted many legal biases and entrenched woman-hating written into the law. Women’s advocates began a renewed push for a trauma-informed justice system and for ‘balance of probabilities’ onus rather than ‘beyond shadow of a doubt’. #webelievesurvivors continues to be used for women all over the world sharing their stories, naming their abusers, and offering support to victims of rape.

The reason I read the hashtags out was to showcase how very powerful technology and social media can be when women use it to organize. There are concerted efforts to keep women off the internet, with credible threats, doxxing, harassment, and stalking. I propose this is because, at least in part, the power of women’s solidarity is a tangible threat to patriarchy. So to combat that, I also propose that women take to the internet in droves in ways we never have before. Start a blog, write political posts on your personal pages, get on twitter anonymously and speak your truths.

Uplift other women’s voices. Take it offline, too. Start a rally, a vigil, a protest. I promise you, even if you stand solitarily, you’ll never be alone. But more likely, you will have sisters standing with you. We don’t have to drive to Washington, or Toronto, to march–though if you can, do it! We have a community of women who need support right here in Muskoka. And if I’ve learned anything from my life online, it’s that our struggles may look different on the surface, but oppression works as a united front and so must we.

I’m honoured to leave you with the words of Emily Doe, the 23-year-old woman raped by Brock Turner. She says, “When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. I hope that by [my] speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere.”

 

Disclose – A Poem

The differences always sit in the details
In the degree
Because it was your boyfriend
But it was her dad
and you didn’t tell the police
but she had
and you felt horror, shame, helplessness
and she can only say ‘…it was bad’

you want the freedom to rage with her
it’s okay to tell her that
and you’re right there with her when she says,
what they all said:
listen, he isn’t just local filler
he’s a pillar
and anyway
it’s not like he’s a killer

you never knew how much it could ache
to hold space
you see her tears and you’re reminded that
the ocean hides 90% of an iceberg
and what she can show you, right now
is the 10% glinting in the sun
and maybe you’re kind of the like the sun
half desperately shining your light

it’s just too bad you had to fight

but mentor hand her your sword
because she’s the warrior now
you’re making the trade for a new kind of weapon
your voice
and while you stand fierce beside as she battles
you hold her
soft
in your heart when you speak

West Coast Trail (75k Backpacking Trail)

20160621_064344.jpgJ and I met in 2015 in the Rocky Mountains on an Outward Bound Women of Courage trip. That trip really awakened the awareness that I am hugely capable and braver than I ever knew. Not only did I try amazing things like a tree-top ropes course and via ferrata and ziplining and walking over waterfalls—but I was emotionally present and vulnerable about abuses I’ve suffered. I cannot thank Outward Bound—or the universe, or whatever was behind it—enough for rooming me with J, another lesbian and outdoorswoman. She and I became incredibly bonded under the circumstances and after our trip was over, we grieved the loss of our in-person connection but committed to seeing one another again for another adventure.

I had no idea that adventure would end up being the West Coast Trail—an incredibly demanding 75k hike on Vancouver Island, world renowned for its intensity and features like cable cars and 50-storey ladders. I’m not sure I’d even heard of it before J brought it up as an option. I learned that it was actually her dream to hike this trail—and here I was, agreeing offhand because it sounded cool and I wanted her to achieve this goal she’d set for herself. To say I had no idea what awaited me would be a generous understatement. I did some research but the truth is, it was all pretty overwhelming so I just agreed and helped as best I could while J organized most of the trip. I spent a few months training in the gym and making some major purchases like a backpack. Despite feeling like the day would never come—and I was much more excited to see J than I was to hike—it arrived abruptly. I took two planes, first to Vancouver and then a quick hop to Victoria, where J was waiting. It had been 9 months since we’d seen each other, though we texted and skyped frequently.

J had rented a car and we had a hotel room for the first and last nights of the trip because we had to catch a 6am bus for a 4+ hour ride to the trailhead. It all went beautifully smoothly and I owe J major gratitude for arranging everything. We had a blast that night, packing our bags and catching up and just being our ridiculous selves. I doubt either of us got any decent sleep. The next morning we repacked again and returned the rental and made our way to the bus. There were maybe 15 people on the bus, all opposite sex couples or groups. We were the only female pair, I believe. J got some sleep on the bus and I mostly just looked out the window. Because the Pacific Rim National Park, which houses the West Coast Trail, is a temperate rain forest, the humidity is heavy in the air and the trees are dappled in moss hanging from their limbs, with the understory consisting of massive ferns unlike anything we have in Ontario. It was June and green as far as your eyes could see.

Despite our very early morning, we didn’t get on the trail until almost 3pm due to the mandatory orientation. There we met a female solo, and I let her know how impressive I thought it was for her to make that trek alone.

Michigan Creek (12k)20160621_152929

Initially the trail was fairly easygoing, maybe at one point even wide enough to hike side-by-side. Our intention was to get to Darling River that evening, 14k from the trailhead. We came upon ladders almost immediately, and because we were fresh and adorably naïve, we were excited. J was dealing with a fairly fresh shoulder injury and some other health issues, and I was a beginner backpacker with a 44 pound pack, so we knew we had some obstacles to contend with in addition to everything the trail threw at us. The ladders were initially difficult to navigate, with our hiking poles and unwieldy packs.

We ran into a group of three guys finishing the trail and congratulated them—they were not impressed. And on day 6, I would understand why, but at that point, the excitement of the challenge and being with my dear friend kept me energized. We stopped to take photos and enjoy the incredibly unique waterfalls on the trail. I also had a battle with some kind of blue bird trying to get my snacks (we both lost that fight). Someone had built a hammock from fishing net so I was all over that. Unfortunately because of the way humans have absolutely flooded our oceans with trash, there was lots of refuse on the beaches and it broke my heart to see.

However, due to the late start and increasing difficulty of the terrain, we had to stop off trail and make our dinner. It was already almost getting dark and we still had about 5k to go. As we were waiting for the water to boil—her meal was spaghetti and meat and mine was mashed potato soup (hard to gauge boiling water when you’re pouring), I heard the sound of a woman crying. I immediately jumped up and ran toward it—J later told me she thought it was a maimed animal and thought I was not clever for running at it! But it was the female solo, absolutely sobbing. I invited her to sit with us, and she explained how she felt she was in over her head and didn’t realize how difficult it would be. We took in her gear—dayhiking boots, a lifestraw as her only water treatment, a small pack with lots of stuff adhered to the exterior. Yes, maybe she was not prepared. But we did our best to boost her, telling her she was capable of tackling whatever the trail had to offer. And I believe that to be true, but I’m glad when we found out later she decided to camp for a few days and turn back without finishing the trail, because it got exponentially harder from there.20160622_121022

I think that event was sobering for J and I. We hiked from there in relative silence, and J’s health issues were giving her some trouble so our pace slowed even more. We decided not to attempt to get to Darling River, and camp at Michigan Creek instead, which was 2k closer. On WCT, you don’t need to book where you camp, everyone camps on the designated beach areas wherever they can find space. It is in no way private on the more popular beaches, but it’s easier on the trail and means more people can hike on any given day. It was getting dark by the time we arrived, and once we took care of our nighttime routines and put our stuff in the bear bins and used the composting toilets, we were so ready to crash. Our feet were aching, our back in agony, our knees stiff. And that was only day one!

Every night in the tent we would go over the guidebook and read what we’d covered that day and what awaited us the next day. We’d made okay time but we really needed to believe that we could do better the next day with an earlier start since we’d added 2k to the following day if we wanted to stay on track for the rest of the hike. We reassured each other that we could do this—that we were having fun—that we were going to be okay. But I think both of us felt a bit like that solo woman: maybe just a touch in over our heads.

Tsusiat Falls (13k)

20160622_102827It took us an average of 2 hours every day to pack up camp from wake-up to on-trail. That included making breakfast and filtering water, as well as packing everything into our bags and making sure our poor feet were taken care of with moleskins, padding, and tape.

We were right back into ladders and intense trail that day, though the first 4k or so were on the beach. Don’t be like me and believe the beach walking will be a joy compared to the interior. It’s a horror, to be honest. Your bag and body weight make you heavy enough that you sink six inches with every step, and the terrain changes from sand to small pebbles, neither any easier than the other. The sand closest to the ocean is packed down a bit more, but you run the risk of getting smacked by a wave. There is no real way to make this less awful—stepping on rocks as they show up or stepping in someone else’s footsteps seems to be the only minor relief. The way we hiked from North (Pachena Bay) to South was supposed to be easier to harder, which is why our plan was to end with shorter days, but we both agreed the North end brought its own challenges, including the fact that we had crazy long days while still adjusting to our heavy packs and adapting to the challenge of hiking after not having done so all winter. Would you rather hike intermediate terrain for longer, or expert terrain but shorter distance? It’s one of those scenarios where the one you would rather do is whatever one you aren’t currently doing…

This day brought amazing lookouts and beautiful sights. I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean img_2165before so it was such a joy to experience that. Yet, this was undoubtedly our toughest day. It was the first real exposure to the infamous mud sucks of the WCT. You’d be making okay time and then be confronted by a lake of mud. Sometimes other hikers had strewn logs or rocks in the mud to give stepping stones, but these were tricky to navigate, slippery, or floating on top rather than stable–and often you’d end up in the mud just as surely as you’d done it on purpose. In order to protect the trail, it is important to stay on the trail—but as a hiker whose priority is dry feet, I’ll admit I would often plough through the forest surrounding the mud bog rather than attempt to cross it. The sheer skill and calculation it took to cross literally countless mud sucks that could easily come to your knees was mentally bracing. The bogs made it impossible to keep a good pace, and there were days we spent more time in mud than out of it.img_2021

We experienced our first cable car to cross a major river—I believe for the first one we went one-at-a-time (J disagrees but I don’t mind being an unreliable narrator). Some cars allow for two-at-a-time—but DON’T. Trust me. So you load the small metal cage with your bag and get in yourself as your partner holds the car in place. Then you let go/get a push and gravity+momentum takes you about halfway, then you need to grab the cable hand over hand and pull yourself the rest of the way, hopefully with your partner helping out and pulling with you. When you arrive at the other end, your partner is holding the cable so the car doesn’t move as you disembark. Then you repeat the process and get your partner over. Always secure your hiking poles! (Just ask J why. One of hers went flying overboard and SOMEHOW—I didn’t see how, just heard her tromping through the bushes—she got it back. Apparently it involved dangling over the river from a tree and using her other pole to snag it.)

There are some stretches where you have the choice between beach and interior, but mostly you are forced inland because of impassable headlands or forced to the beach because of impassable interior. We meandered in and out of the forest for most of this day, and we were interior for the final push to Tsusiat Falls. I can’t remember what time this day that it started to rain, but because the temperature and precipitation change so frequently, I’d opted not to put on my rain gear (don’t be like me). I just wanted to power through—but I made myself so miserable doing this, and I became much less useful to J when we arrived as a result.img_1940

It was almost 9pm by the time we got to Tsusiat Falls. We were soaking wet, aching, cranky, and still it rained. We (and by we I definitely mean J) tried to set up a tarp to cook under. I needed a few minutes to recalibrate because I was just in the lowest mood. I was hard on myself for everything I could think of, but especially for letting J down. Eventually I had to leave the tent and try to help with dinner, but because of the rain and the dark we couldn’t get the stove to work. We decided to just eat some snacks and call it a night. J was at her pain tolerance threshold and had to go into the tent, so I took our bear bags and went searching for the bear bins. They are normally fairly easy to find, especially when you see other people filing in that direction, and features like that are marked with washed-up buoys hanging from trees. However, there were multiple access points to the campground from the trail and those are also marked with buoys, so I wandered up and down the site looking for the bins with no luck. It was dark and pouring and I was just beside myself. I actually called out in the direction of some tents, ‘Can someone help me find the bear bin?’ but no one responded (most hikers would have been asleep by then!). There was one spot I was sure the bins would be, so I climbed over massive slippery logs only to find nothing but forest. I sat on a log and cried (now, I tie my paracord to my bear bag and long before I reached that point I simply would have found a tree to hang it up, but that never even occurred to me that night). I saw someone coming and asked them if they knew where the bins were—the guy said they should be just beyond the logs. Sure enough, I follow him into the forest and there appears to be nothing but then I see a knotted rope sitting on a super steep muddy pitch.

I am crying with happiness now. The guy says he can bring my bags up and then I can find a spot for them, but I’m like, nah. I’ll do it! I came that far. So I climb up the pitch with one hand on the rope and the other gripping all our stuff and finally put away the bags. What an brutal night…

When I got back to the tent, J was doing a little better. We comforted each other and I think we were both wondering how the fuck we were going to do this. But we didn’t talk about quitting. We went over the guidebook and went to sleep.

Dare Beach (14k)

Because we made it to Tsusiat Falls the previous night, we had made up the two kilometres we’d lost the day before. That experience prompted us to not try to decide where we would camp the next day (the best options being Carmanah Point and Bonilla Point, about 19k and 22k away, but more likely Cribb’s at about 16k. Maybe you can see where this is going…).

The West Coast Trail has some of the most impressive infrastructure I’ve ever seen on a trail. There are hundreds of bridges and upwards of sixty ladders, cable cars, big composting toilets, and kilometres of boardwalks, all designed to make the trail accessible as well as protect the unique ecosystem. Most trails form as a result of walkers seeking the easiest path, but the WCT is different because it originated as a rescue trail. Shipwrecks dotted the coast and many lives were lost. Lighthouses were eventually created, after which the trail became recreational, but before that, the First Nations in the area created the trail to access the beach and assist those injured by the collisions. So the trail actually follows the paths to the most difficult-to-reach places, which makes it incredibly arduous to hike.

Despite the fact that it was June and the rivers and creeks were swollen with water, at one point J and I got pretty low on water. We knew there was some coming up at the Narrows, so we weren’t too worried. You need a boat ride to cross the narrows, for which a permit is necessary. J had us all set! We raised the buoy to indicate we needed a ride, and I was about to get us some water but the boat didn’t take long at all to arrive so I put the stuff away. There was a little boy on the boat, very curious, so we chatted with him and the driver. On the other side of the narrows there was a restaurant where they served crab burgers and other snacks. As a vegetarian and as non-drinkers, we decided not to stop there, but we sat on the dock to filter water. The little boy comes up to us and asks us what we’re doing—so we explain. J jokingly asks him where he gets his water. “From the kitchen!” No such luxury for us. The kid runs away and comes back a minute later and asks us again what we’re doing and we say we are making drinking water. He says, “But that’s salt water!”img_2075

J and I just about died laughing… I checked—yep, we were filtering ocean water! And the kid was the only person of the MANY who saw us who told us what we were doing. Oh well. We try not to worry, though now the next water source is quite a haul away. One of the hikers stops us on our way out and gives us about half a litre of water, for which we’re really grateful. Then the boat driver comes out and asks us if we’re really out of water. Pretty sheepishly, we admit to it. He takes 2 of our bottles and fills them with that lovely kitchen water—with ICE! We are so grateful, we just got saved. And ice, no less.

This section is almost entirely boardwalk for a multiple-kilometre stretch. We’d passed a couple women that morning who’d advised us to make up time on the boardwalks and traverse them as quickly as we could. At first, we enjoyed the relative ease of the boardwalks, not having to worry about where to step every moment, but the impact of our feet on the hard wood actually made the boardwalks pretty painful, and while J made good strides with her long legs, I was missing the cushion of the forest floor.

WCT has markers every kilometre, which I simply didn’t have the eye for. I missed most of them and usually only saw them when J pointed them out. We didn’t really make that great of time on the boardwalks, especially since we stopped for about an hour to take advantage of the sun and dry out all our clothes and gear. The rain and humidity really saturated everything. When we packed up, we were definitely lighter.

It stayed sunny most of that day and though our feet weren’t in very good shape, we were in brighter spirits. However, the day was rapidly winding down, and we didn’t have much left in us. J suggested we stop at a lesser-known beach and camp there rather than tackle another multiple k. It turned out to be the best decision ever because the beach, though it was designated camping, was absolutely deserted and we had it all to ourselves.img_2094

We had a lovely little fire that night and though we struggled with that, and with hanging the bear bag, we got J’s boots slightly dried out (although her insert got a little too close to the fire and warped a bit) and really enjoyed our quiet, early night. Something unusual about WCT is that you are given tide tables and you have to monitor them very closely in order to not get stuck out on the ocean shelf or have your camp wash away in the middle of the night! Unfortunately for J, I didn’t know how to read the tables, and I have an anxiety disorder, so I made her check and recheck and reassure me multiple times that we weren’t going to flood. We didn’t, and I had probably the only good night’s sleep on the trail.

Walbran (13k)

Recharged from our awesome night, J and I set out early for another day of slogging on the beach. Although the beach is beautiful and the sound of the ocean is hypnotic, the sand is rough going and tough on your body, especially knees and hips. But again, when you’re on the sand you’d do anything to be interior, and when you’re stumbling over roots and rocks you crave the sand.

We had a couple near misses this day. Huge logs are scattered everywhere on the beach and you have to scale them. The day was a touch rainy so they were pretty slick. At one point J was trying to make things easier for herself and literally dragged a massive log into a creek so she could try to cross it to avoid the difficult journey I made over a log jam, but I think her shoulder lost her that battle and she ended up trudging behind me.

J is a Calgary woman and a mountain hiker, whereas I’m Ontarian and roots are more my thing. She could hop over the rocks like a freaking gazelle and I’m choosing only the most unstable rocks to place my feet on! So she crossed a rocky ocean creek with no difficult and got a bit ahead of me, and I fell in the creek, hard on my ass (which I didn’t feel at the time). One boot went right into the water, and my water bottle slipped out of my pack. I also lost a hiking pole! My brain when into recovery mode and prioritized for me: stand up (not easy when you’re on all fours with a 40+ pound back), get your foot out of the water, grab your pole and use it to get the water bottle back. I did all this efficiently, terrified that I was going to have a soaking wet foot (few things I hate more, and they can actually be dangerous).

Miraculously, I didn’t have a soaker (thank you waterproofing and gaiters!). I yelled at J to stop so I could elicit some sympathy and give her a pretend hard time for almost letting me get swept out to sea.

It was also that day that I slipped on a rock and hurt my ankle, folding foot to shin. This time, J bounded over rocks and was at my side in seconds. I breathed for a moment and decided it was okay. We took off my boot and stretched it out and I had no significant pain. After a while, I would notice my Achilles tendon getting a little tender, but tightly laced boots helped ease that and I never really noticed any issues. But there were many moments like that throughout the hike that made me realize how very dangerous this trail is and how easy it is to injure yourself.

A guiding light for the past couple days and especially that day was knowing we were going to stop at Chez Monique’s, a semi-permanent structure by Vancouver Pt run by an older woman and her partner. Monique is famous for her ‘spirited’ nature, which we experienced in force. We ordered veggie burgers and I needed mine with no tomatoes, and J with no onions—and we were told in no uncertain terms how inconvenient that was because the mix was pre-made. J is a little tender-hearted so she took this kind of hard, but if I’m paying $22 for a veggie burger I think it should be awesome! And it WAS. And Monique apologized to us for the roughness and chatted with us about her life and experiences, so all was well. It was the messiest, most delicious and satisfying veggie burger I’ve EVER experienced. While at Chez Monique’s, we met a male pair who were getting a boat ride out—it was one of the only points where you could evacuate in a non-emergency. This guy was not even much of a hiker let alone a backpacker. His pack was upwards of 50 pounds and he was a safety inspector, so he had a lot to say about how dangerous the trail was and how we should all be clipped in for the ladders, and on and on. Obviously not the place for him! But J and I were just fine, feeling like we could tackle anything.

We made good time on the ocean shelves when they appeared but the majority of this day was spent booting through sand and pebbles. It was probably 6:30pm when we saw the beach spotted with campers that would conclude our day. Yet, between us and the destination was a creek that we’d have to cross on foot without our boots. We were beyond exhausted and in sheer agony from the feet up. We took a break before the creek to get up some courage. J crossed first and then me. I’d decided, for whatever reason, to go barefoot, and every step almost destroyed me. The current was strong and the water freezing. Wear your camp shoes when crossing creeks, for mercy’s sake! I’m so freaking stubborn.

We actually got applause when we rolled into camp. Because you camp communally, you end up seeing the same people over and over. Most people leave camp by the time J and I would wake up, so we got a reputation for being later starters (well-earned). And it was our habit to take a long lunch break, sometimes even cooking midday. So yes we were often quite late getting to camp, but we always got there! Walbran was a lovely site across from some water-worn caves. We were invited to share a fire with a couple, but J declined on my behalf because I was not in the space for company. We made our own fire and enjoyed one another’s company, but I can tell at that point J is not in a good headspace and I’m slightly worried about our ability to complete this. Her feet were an absolutely wreck and her shoulder was killing her, and that’s just the beginning. Still, I’m thinking one day at a time, and in that moment we were fine because we were ‘home’, we were together, and we were on the WCT! We crashed early, though the other campers were pretty disruptive. I hardly spend any time around men and when you add drinking to the mix, it was very uncomfortable—especially as a large group camped right in the path to the bear bins and bathrooms. Please be respectful when camping communally. If you are drinking or intend to be boisterous or stay up late, seek space far from the rest of the group. And snoring is illegal. Ha!img_2158

Camper Bay (9k)

Every morning we awoke to fog and mist, sometimes enough that it seemed to rain. So we were packing away wet gear and almost never really drying out.

If I haven’t mentioned ladders in a while it’s because I’ve repressed the memory—rest assured there were ladders every day, some more daunting img_1914than others. At one point we could see the tan face of a near-vertical earthen slope, rising up through the trees. We would have to descend before we could cross a suspension bridge and climb up the longest assemblage of ladders on the entire trail. We spent a long time taking photos and goofing off on the bridge (though I convinced J not to try to swing her legs up onto the rails—come to think of it I feel like I spent a good chunk of time trying to stop J from doing things that could result in our evacuation). But inevitably the climb had to be tackled. My routine was usually to take our poles and climb up, stopping halfway before finishing, breaking on the plateau and waiting for J, and then going up another set (or she’d go first, similar routine). There was nothing to do but scale the ladders. They weren’t difficult in and of themselves (speaking for myself; J’s shoulder injury img_2185obviously made them quite painful), it was more the knowledge that you don’t get kilometre credits for going straight up. Some ladder sections were so intense we were making about an hour per kilometre. This is why a short distance day could still mean we didn’t make it to camp until 5pm. It was long after the monstrous ladder section that we came upon another cable car.

Around here we attempted to go two to a car. Our impressive weight carried us pretty far but that weight also worked against us in a big way. It was exponentially more difficult to bring ourselves across the creek together than it was one at a time.

We enjoyed some stunning waterfalls and had a nice long lunch at Cullite Cove beneath another cable car. Because the location was so lovely, with pebbled water access and glorious sunlight, we saw a few other hikers, including an older couple who caught out J while she was ‘having a bath’, and a younger couple blasting music loud enough that we heard them before we saw them. It takes all kinds on the trails…

Despite the challenges of the trail and the physical discomfort, J and I have a blast together and are absolutely unstoppable once we get going. I did ask her at one point if she was thinking of having to bail out, and she said it was ‘50/50’ at that point. But we continued to check in with each other and that percentage never swayed to the majority; I think we just needed to acknowledge how very difficult it was and how significant the pain was. Actually after that, I think the trail let up on us a little. We both agreed that the second half felt like a relief compared to the first. We are very strong women and skilled hikers—it was the relentless distance that really did us in. Now the trail had become more technical but covering less distance, so we were in a better place.

The campground that night was lovely; a creek meandered through it and we were adjacent a massive cliff wall with the forest behind us and the img_2211ocean to our front. J had my back again when a couple men asked if they could camp next to us—she told them she thought the tide would hit them so better not! We had a glorious fire again that night. I felt pretty emotionally drained and I took a few moments to myself in the tent. When I am solo, this is part of my routine—to set up my tent and sleeping area and just stretch out and think, let my feet recover a bit before making dinner and doing the evening chores. However, J’s routine is to power through all that and then relax at the end of the night, so we did run into some conflict there—all resolved with communication. All told, J and I work really well together. We are gracious with one another’s ‘faults’, very supportive and communicative, and have a foundation of love for one another that makes it easy to spend time together. If you want to know what someone is really like, hike the WCT with them.

That night was really indicative of J’s love (and patience) with me. She was beyond exhausted and I made her calculate the tide tables at least twice to assure me we could spend the next day on the beach without getting stranded. There was one spot, Owen Point, that you had to make it through by a very specific time, as it was the lowest point and the tides could catch you out. We had the option of hiking the next day interior, and that had been our plan all along because I’d been so nervous about the tides, but I got an urge to go oceanside and J accommodated that, indulging my need to hear over and over that we would be okay. We crashed hard that night, knowing we had only one more full day on the trail.

Thrasher Cove (7k)

The first challenge of the morning was a cable car, and now that we knew solo was the way to go, we had no trouble. I loved the cable cars because they were different, like I loved the ladders before I did eight thousand of them. But like the ladders, you don’t get credit for very much distance in the cable cars compared to the time it takes to get across!img_2228

After a couple kilometres mucking through the woods, we moved out to the beach. Much of the day was spent on the ocean shelves, and it was a sunny, beautiful day. We made good time crossing it and saw all kinds of marine life that I’d never seen before. J entertained herself by pretending to fight the crabs that scurried everywhere, and I just tried to keep my feet dry. The issue with the shelves was you could get soimg_2242 far and then have to turn around to find another path because it was suddenly become impassable. So it was not exactly a direct route. We had to cross surge channels as well, which J leapt across and I hemmed and hawed and passed her my pack and paced back and forth to find the narrowest part. I have short legs, okay! And an affinity for staying alive.

We also saw a precious baby seal stuck in a tide pool. Other hikers were scaring it by approaching it and I told them to leave it alone, that the tide would come and free it eventually.

img_2259We reached the absolutely stunning Owen Point in time and I was so, so glad I’d changed my mind and we could experience the utter beauty and unique segment of trail. Well, at that point I was glad. My existential crisis was just around the corner. We had another long lunch break, on the beach this time. J set us up with the tarp for shade and we rested and made food and relaxed. We’d weaved through huge caves carved into the shore by the waves, and the trees and rocks were so special here. It was the moments like those that made it easier to forget the roughness of the rest of the days. It’s so important to remember why you’re hiking—what’s in it for you? Do you just want to be able to say you did it, or do you want to find presence and gratitude and connection?img_2283

After Owen Point we were hiking over medium sized rocks. If you’ll remember, rocks are not my forte. The rocks became boulders and became even less my friends. With my short legs and uncertainty, my brain was constantly engaged and calculating. Truthfully, it was more the exhaustion of my brain than my body that got to me. Because I had to go slow in order to feel safe, the day wound down and the tide started to move in. Yes, we’d passed the important low point, but the tide was inexorable and we still had to make it out of there by a certain time. Afterward, J would take issue with what the trail guide called ‘passable’, because eventually the tide pushed us up against the inland wall and we were scrambling over the highest, most awkward and dangerous boulders, with all the easier options now underwater. Logs were perched across many of the boulders, but I would often opt to dip down and go the hard way rather than cross a log atop pointy rocks. There were places we were straight-up scrambling boulders bigger than houses. At one point, I finally made my way up a particularly tough segment and I had to sit down and cry. J asked me what I was feeling and I answered, ‘Tired and scared.’ I was tired of having to calculate every potential path, and I was scared of falling and getting hurt. It was relentless for many hours and I’d had enough.

After I hydrated and rested and talked it out, I was okay to continue. It was difficult to gauge how far along we were on the map—we kept thinking the campsite was just around that peak, no, the next peak!

Finally the boulders got smaller and we had more space on the beach to maneuver. Then, randomly, we saw two guys without packs—and they asked us if they could camp where we just came from. I wanted to laugh, knowing that if they didn’t have packs it meant the camp was close. J told them no, there was no camping around the corner, and we finally rolled into camp. People mentioned they were surprised to see anyone come around the corner—and we realized the camp mostly consisted of people coming in from the other end of the trail!

We passed a large group of men and one of them said, “Hey girl!” to me and I ignored it—being a woman, surely he wasn’t addressing me? But he shouted it again and said there was a free area behind his tent that we could camp. I said, “No,” and kept walking, and J told him we were opting to see if we could get a bit more sunlight where we settled down. J and I later had a talk about the repercussions, real or perceived, of being rude to men, and my defense was he was rude to me first, but I regret that she felt it put her in the position of placating him.

We really struggled with the fire that night and another camper actually brought us a log covered in smoldering coals, and believe me I was polite to him! It was really nice and we got our fire going beautifully, and sat with our backs against a log watching the fire, processing the insanity we’d gone through, and watching the ocean breathe with us. We were simultaneously glad the trail was coming to a close, and sad because it meant our time together was almost over.

Trailhead (5k)

This day.

So in order to get to Thrasher Cove there is a one kilometre ‘side trail’, so although there was only 5k on the map, we had to add another kilometre, which was all uphill. It was an intense morning, and my body was just done. I experience this all the time and it remained true on WCT: when your body gets the message that the hike is almost done, it gives itself permission to basically fall apart. So all the pain you weren’t letting yourself feel, all the disorientation and weakness, comes rearing forward. I fell more on the last 5k than the entire rest of the distance and J took a brutal fall as well.

We just kept going up, up, up, and when you thought you were at the high point, you’d dip and then have to ascend still more. We were making like 1-2k per hour, we were muddy and messy and we kept passing pristine, innocent day-one hikers going in, always telling us ‘you’re almost there’. I wanted to scream! We’d pass a marker and my jaw would drop in horror—I’d been sure I’d missed one or two and surely we were farther ahead? And the terrain was really rough, our knees were just aching and swollen and ready to give out.

I won’t belabour it, but that last stretch was a doozy, as they say—the kind where you just resign yourself to it, put your head down and let your body take over. AT LAST we saw the final ladder—the steepest and longest one by far. As soon as I hit the ground, I dumped my pack and sat down. J, a little more mission-oriented, lifted the buoy to signal we needed the boat.

We boated over to the trailhead once a few more hikers showed up, and there we parked our gear. We had some time before the bus was scheduled to arrive. We cleaned our gaiters in the water and saw some seals! Then we bought t-shirts and we told that there was a place that sold french fries! We booked it over there and ordered fries, and J ordered bannock, and we ate like we never had before—and I ate some of J’s bannock and it was literally the best thing I’ve probably ever tasted, so then I ate more (I’m lucky she likes me). I saved her leftover homemade butter and the rest of my fries, and ate it all later.

The bus ride was stressful because there were people on it trying to catch a ferry and they were all in a panic and I wasn’t very guarded due to spending a week with only one other person, someone pretty in tune with my emotions. Now I was back in the other world again, where it felt like the bus was a freaking rocket ship and colours flashed neon and everything was just a bit much.

We made our way to the hotel room and showered and texted our loved ones. Then we ordered pizza and gorged. It was a fantastic way to end our adventure. Especially the clean sheets and fluffy pillows! J and I processed our journey but mostly just appreciated our last moments together.

The next day we cabbed to the airport and heartbreakingly parted ways, not knowing when we would see each other next, but so grateful for the experiences we’d had together. I think, emotionally, I didn’t really walk in that other world solidly for some time, but existed in the liminal space between nature and civilization, never really knowing where to place my feet.

But I figured it out again. Somehow, I always do.

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La Cloche Silhouette (78k Backpacking Trail)

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.

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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.IMG_0111.JPG

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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.img_0128

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.img_0126

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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.img_0157

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.

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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.

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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!

20160918_133026That 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.img_0225

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.20160919_102210

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.img_0258

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.img_0265

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).img_0279

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.

Trailhead

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.

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