Greetings Octoberians! (Is that a word? My brief surfing through google indicates that it might be, but also seems to indicate that it refers to either a.) people born in October or b.) people graduating in October. It’s unclear. Nonetheless, I am evoking the word simply to indicate ‘those of us alive and walking through October, together, right now.’ So… if you’re reading this chronologically… that means you! Well done. Or also, I suppose people in future Octobers… who are reading this in October… I digress.)
Historically, October is one of my favorite months. For starters, nature decks my favorite color palette, I love the crisp weather, I enjoy the haunting days, and I like the food. Furthermore, there’s the anticipation of all the glorious autumn/winter holidays ahead. And as it turns out, I tend to love anticipating the things I love, almost more than I love the things themselves. Octobers are just the best.
October accolades aside, forewarning… if you couldn’t work it out from the title… this is going to be a long babble about me hiking. Prepare, if you’re into that, or abort as you see fit. But also, there are some pretty pictures so even if you’re not into hiking hopefully it will still bring you joy… and you can just skim through the following to see pretty things. Farewell.
For the rest of you, who are still here, starting back in May of this year I decided that I wanted to do a 52 Hike Challenge. I heard about it on Instagram, I believe, and it sounded like it would be just the kind of thing I was into. I like having projects that I’m working on, and this one was particularly appealing. Essentially the goal, as stated on their website, is:
THE 52 HIKE CHALLENGE IS A GLOBAL MOVEMENT INSPIRING YOU TO TAKE A PERSONAL JOURNEY TO DISCOVER THE PHYSICAL, MENTAL, AND SPIRITUAL BENEFITS GAINED THROUGH HIKING ONCE A WEEK FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ALL AROUND THE WORLD ARE TAKING THE CHALLENGE TO HELP CHANGE THEIR LIVES IN A POSITIVE WAY, ONE STEP AT A TIME.
This isn’t a massive stretch for me in general because I already love being outside and hiking. As I’ve already detailed, last year was the summer of the state parks in which I set out to see as many interesting State Parks as I could over the course of the summer. Due mostly to school and money, this meant that I’d drive somewhere in the state once or twice a month. So not quite every week, but it certainly kept me exploring. But this project instantly struck my heart as even more appealing due to what I saw in this clip.
For me, getting out in the earth has always been the place where I have been able to knit my spirit back together, and find my way through transitions. I knew even before I started, this summer would mark another massive life transition for me, as I graduated from my Masters degree program and entered into the next chapter of my life. But I also knew that my internal landscape has been changing a lot over the last few years, as hopes and dreams have shifted around, and I know of no place to more assuredly find my footing (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) than on the trial.
In reality, the commitment is mostly to keep myself motivated to go do the work particularly on the weeks when I don’t feel like it.
Originally, I thought I would save this post till I was finished with the project, however the project is extensive enough in it’s nature, that I think it might be better for me if I made some ‘as I go’ updates.
As of last weekend I finished my 13th hike. That means I’m a quarter of the way.
So, without further ado, here are the first 13, and some of the things I learned on the way.
Hike 1: Kendall Skyline Road (I hiked a little over 9 miles… so not nearly the entire road) — July 8, 2018
- Wins: I planned to start the first week in July, but my parents were visiting and so I didn’t manage to get on the trail until the 8th… but I DID make it. So… basically the win was, I started when I intended to start? … almost? Ok, it was a day late to technically be in the first week… but is anyone really judging this other than me…? No? Ok, cool. So, I started! Yay me! I’m calling it a win!
- Lessons: Everything else about this hike felt completely pointless. Don’t get me wrong… it was a pretty day, and the hills were green, and the sky was blue… and I did enjoy walking along and thinking my thoughts. But otherwise? I didn’t pack enough water, so I was dehydrated. I forgot sunscreen, so I was sunburned. I hiked for 4 hours with almost no shade. I thought from looking at the map that I would be able to make it to this fire lookout that’s up the road, but I parked way too far away. However, since the Forest Service claimed on their website that this road wasn’t suitable for passenger vehicles…and I am a paranoid soul, I thought I could just park and walk… and thus avoid losing my muffler! Good plan, right?! So I did it. And it might have worked if I was willing to y’know, sleep walk my way there all through the night. (Apparently, I suck at determining distances on maps.) I totally underestimated how far it was, so basically I walked 9 miles on a forest road, got dehydrated and sunburned, and turned around. Mmm wait, I know…. I promised a “lesson.” But I’m not sure what the lesson here was, other than… pack more water? Be a better map reader? Don’t suck? And also… maybe poke around and see if you can read trip reports that indicate how badly you really need an off-road vehicle? I’d love to say I totally learned my lesson … but sadly, all of these problems will be themes later. (Stay-tuned for continued failure reports on all of these notes.) I also… embarrassingly (or not?) hid in the woods on two separate occasions, when I could see that trucks with bro-dudes (male humans) were driving by. Yes. … I’m a scaredy cat… and even though I’m an empowered, solo, female, hiker…?! When I’m on more isolated trails, away from other people, the scariest things I run into aren’t rattle snakes or bears (both of which I have ran into, by the way…) the scariest thing I run into in the woods …are the bro-dudes (these are a particular genre of male human, by the way, defined here as a group of male humans with the tendency to say a lot of ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ in their daily conversation. These tendencies also indicate a propensity for male-superiority that is paternalistically presented as being in the best interest for females despite any evidence to support this myth, and shows up most commonly in the game world, occasionally the hunting world, and most frequently on… Reddit and Twitter, and ubiquitous in every comment section the world over. As bro-dudes are not always entirely distinguishable at a distance from other regular male humans, given that they are primarily recognizable only in conversation, my hiding in the woods may have occasionally — or entirely — been an action of hypervigilance. But it is 2018. Woman can’t be too careful.)
Hike 2: Red Top Lookout, July 15, 2018
- Wins: This was a gorgeous view! It was also my first fire lookout (I’ve been obsessed with visiting one forever.) And it was probably compensation for my previous lookout failure. (See above.) I got to spend time talking to the volunteer who was there for the weekend — which was funny — and took lots of pretty pictures… and successfully hitchhiked for the first time in my life … ! winning..? (more on that below.)
- Lessons: Yeah… again with the forest road paranoia. So, this one was actually entirely doable, but it was this gravel road up a mountain for about 12 miles, and there was this drop off, and no turn around, and only one lane… and I was freaked out a bit. Also… my phone told me ‘arrived at destination’ (lies.) So I found a barely tolerable turn around, parked, and started walking. Except again with being soooo far away. This time thankfully, not too far away, but WAY farther than I needed to be. Enter… hitchhiking. A nice lady (I hoped) from Seattle, pulled over, and gave me a ride to the trail-head. Her name was.. forgettable, apparently… but let’s call her Suzanne for the purpose of this post. She wore what I’ll call a “hiking bonnet” …because I’m not sure what else to call it… and gave me some extra water (even though I actually had packed enough.) Thankfully, I wasn’t sooo far away from my car, so I was able to walk back down when I was done (adding only a couple extra miles.) I did however have another encounter with bro-dudes , when I came upon a couple cars on the road that were pulled over, and the bro-dudes were down off the road, in this meadow area … and digging? It was unclear. Sadly, as mentioned above, this was a narrow road and there was no where to hide. Which I realized with panic, as I saw leaned up against their trunk… a rifle. No joke. Just left their gun there on their trunk… as they went off the road to dig… in the woods. Yeah, … I’m sure it was all totally normal, and legal, and fine. Or it was until they came running at me, grabbed the gun, shot me, and buried my body in the woods — and all this is just being recorded by my ghost. Ok, yeah … nothing actually happened except me trying to slink by on the far side of the one-lane road, undetected. But yeah, you wonder why I’m paranoid? I have no lessons here. Lookout was gorgeous. And I’m still alive.
Hike 3: Mount Fremont Lookout, July 28, 2018
- Wins: This is going on my list of most favorite hikes in the PNW. Another lookout, because I was clearly compensating for previous failures. But it was red-letter all the way.
- Lessons: Hike this one again. That’s the only lesson I can think of. This one is going on the repeat list. It starts in the 6,000 ft range though, so probably need to drink more water. On the water note however, with an aside that has nothing to do with the hike…. driving into the park I got stuck in this ‘entry line’ that was moving slow, and ended up sitting in my car for an hour. This would have been fine under some circumstances but I’d already been driving for four hours and had to go to the bathroom soooo bad by the time I got there, that I was totally uncomfortable. And that was before I got to sit in my car for an hour. I was contemplating every possible thing… running into the woods and doing my business (despite the fact that I was in a line of cars and would clearly be able to see me?) Or parking my car and running to find a restroom? I also at one point tried to figure out if it would be possible to somehow pee in a plastic bag, without anyone around me being able to see? … Yes, I’m talking about THAT level of desperation. At one point the passenger in the car ahead of me, got out of the car and walked up the road to see what the hold up was. The lad returned (a guy… probably not a bro-dude, about my age…) and so I poked me head out to ask him how far we were from the ranger pay station. He told me it was just around the corner, and we were only moving so slow because there was just one person there. To which I blurted out, completely unsolicited: “Thank goodness! I have to pee so bad I’m about to cry!” To which non-bro-dude laughed awkwardly… and slowly backed away towards his car. Yes. That happened. Finally, I arrived at the pay booth, and asked where the nearest restrooms were. The kind ranger pointed, and I pulled over anxiously…only to not see the women’s restrooms anywhere, and find only men’s porta potties with a paper sign on them that read “men only. Women’s restrooms are still open.” And being the decent human that I am, I ignored the sign, and made a run for those “men’s only porta’s” and proceeded to empty what I can only assume was the entirety of at least one Great Lake, into the facility. I may be woman, but my bladder couldn’t care less. The rest of the day was amazing (save that moment when I once again ran into the poor guy from the car line… y’know, the one to whom I made the unsolicited confessions, about the state of my bladder? Yeah him. Anyway, I saw him and immediately had to pretend like I was a different person …or maybe not a person at all, as I superstitiously… ducked behind … a parking cone… yeah, it was the only thing there, and don’t say you can’t hide behind a parking cone because I’m pretty sure I pulled it off. I’m sure he didn’t see anything that added to, or enhanced, his previous impression about me as a person. Mmm this may be why I hike alone. Mission accomplished.)
Hike 4: Bennington Lake, August 4, 2018
- Wins: One of the nice things about this project is that it’s not really a marathon kind of thing– it really is about just getting out in nature, and moving. The only requirement is that you do something longer than a mile. And yes, you’re allowed to repeat hikes if you want. This is all good news, as this is a familiar hike, close to home. While I have been using the project as motivation to encourage me to find new trails, I’m still happy to go back and visit the basics. And this was full of August glory.
- Lessons: Sometimes we push ourselves, sometimes we keep it simple. And that’s ok too.
Hike 5: Maxwell Lake, August 11, 2018
- Wins: My first alpine lake hike of this challenge. Also many of the hikes in the Wallowa’s push the reasonable limits of what one might call a day-hike so I wasn’t sure if this one would be doable? But it was completely doable, and beautiful. I finally tried out my lifestraw water filter for the first time and I didn’t die. This is a definite win. (although, having to use it because I ran out of water…again…? Less so.)
- Lessons: Yeah, I did that thing where I hiked too far, and too high, with too little water. Oy. Elevations that go above 6,000 ft. really require extra water. And if I don’t hydrate enough at this elevation, I definitely get a headache. Also, hikes that cover this much elevation are a great time to bring my trekking poles! Which I annoyingly forgot on this day. At one point the trail got so narrow, and so dusty, that I had to squat down like a two-year-old, and crawl my way across the trail, basically inch-worming on my butt … because I’m pretty much terrified of heights. Yes, for real. To which a reasonable person might ask… why are you hiking in the mountains? and that person would be reasonable. And all I can say to that is, but have you seen how beautiful it is? Sometimes we do scary things, for pretty reasons.
Hike 6: Whitman Mission, August 18, 2018
- Wins: Glowy August Magic.
- Lessons: I wasn’t sure I could manage to get over a mile at Whitman… but they had some new trails mowed down and so I actually put in a couple miles. Very relaxed and full of late-summer-vibes.
Hike 7: Tamanawas Falls, August 25, 2018
- Wins: This little, magical, off-trail, waterfall, that was actually way better than the waterfall at the end of the trail.
- Lessons: Sometimes the thing you think you’re hiking too is neat? But also crowded, and y’know… ok but just ok. And it’s actually the little side detours, that you stop by on the way back, that have all the magic. This trail wasn’t too long, and was pretty moderate… some boulder trails towards the end. But the highlight was definitely this little Middle Earth looking cove.
Hike 8: Jubilee Campground, September 1, 2018
- Wins: This hike was one of the first hikes I discovered, after moving to Walla Walla in 2011. I’ve now been there at least three times, however, the first time I drove up there, I was going through so much anxiety at that point in my life, that I was terrified the entire drive. I know I’ve went on a bit about being nervous on forest roads, but the roads I reference are actually roads that really are narrow, and scary, and can at any moment fall into off-road-vehicle roads (remember Suzanne from above? She was totally scared too, because these roads frequently hold more adventure than the hike itself.) That said, the road to Jubilee is not that road. It’s just a gravel road, that usually easily holds room for passing cars. No steep drop-offs. It’s not really that scary. But I was terrified the first time I drove this road. It’s nice to drive out there now and say that it was a relaxing drive, and a relaxing hike.
- Lessons: Anxiety is a real beast, and it will convince you of things that are not reality. And even if your rational brain knows it, you may or may not be able to convince yourself that it’s true. Thankfully, anxiety can also be a season, and life looks very different when it’s gone.
Hike 9: Lake Ingalls, September 8, 2018
- Wins: Where do I begin? This was the second alpine hike that I did, and this one was stunning. IT also was the hardest hike I have completed in a while. Remember the whole fear of heights? Very relevant as I scrambled my way up the last section of trail. This one scared me, and I’m also planning to put this on my repeat list.
- Lessons: Major lesson here is –just keep going. Slow and Steady. We can do hard things. There were several points, in the last couple miles, where I totally lost the trail. Once, I thought I’d found a trail and went down it for a while until I realized that it was not a trail. The second time the trail emptied out in a field of boulders and disappeared. I could see the trail on the other side, but wasn’t really sure what the path was to get there. I probably walked in loops for about ten minutes until FINALLY someone else came along. I was planning to follow them (and their little dog too) but the three of them (dog being 1 of the 3) were as lost as me. Actually, I don’t know if the dog was lost. Do dogs get lost? I’m not sure. Anyway, lesson being, it’s way more fun to be lost in a herd than it is alone. Finally we found our way, which included a scramble back onto the trail we lost. The rest of the trail was spotted between bounders, and finally ended with a longer scramble up to the lake. For those not familiar, scramble here does not refer to eggs, but is rather the term ascribed to non-technical rock climbing. It’s the kind of trail where you use your hands as much as your legs… but you don’t need ropes. You probably wouldn’t die if you fell, but also I would advise … don’t fall. As I am a short-legged human, I made full use of my entire body, and decided to do a full-body climb, to the top. As I arrived at the lake, my blue jeans (yes, I hiked in jeans?) were covered in dust to which a woman of long-limbs said to me, after giving me the look over, “nice pants.” And I still can’t decide if I think she was mocking me, or making a joke with me but if you can’t tell, does it really count as laughing with me? Really? looking for a friend? But I did make it, and it took me forever, and I made it back. And all in all, the point is, we can do hard things. Sometimes we have to use our entire body to do it, but we can do hard things.
Hike 10: Bennington Lake, September 15, 2018
- Wins: Another Bennington Lake hike –but I took a side trail that I don’t often take. I was in a really good mood for this hike– but I didn’t start out that way. This was definitely one of those days where I had to hike my way to feeling good.
Hike 11: South Fork Walla Walla River Trail, September 21, 2018
- Wins: This hike is another one of my favorites, that I discovered early on when I moved to Walla Walla. It follows the river, on and off, for several miles. I’ve hiked it more times than I can recall at this point, but it’s always life giving.
Hike 12: Gold Creek Pond Trail, September 29, 2018
- Wins: This view, for lunch.
- Lessons: This felt like a big failure. This was not the lake I drove to hike. The lake I wanted to hike was a much more impressive hike and I was pretty sure when I woke up that I was going to be able to bring it. Yep. It felt like that day. So I drove to the forest road, and didn’t panic as I drove several miles down the road, even though it was at times narrow and steep. But then… Google Maps said ‘sharp right’ and I turned a sharp right onto this ridiculous forest road… and the sharp was not a joke because it was more like a sharp U… and then it turned into one of the worst roads I’ve looked at. It took me about three turns of the wheel, and one thump of the floor board, to realize that this wasn’t going to work. Ugh. So, begrudgingly I turned around. But the problem was I didn’t have another plan. I bungled around on AllTrails trying to find something else, but instead turned up this road to what turned out to be another possible trail. I found this one on AllTrails and was really excited because it looked nice. I got out of my car…walked to the trail, and started down it but eventually, not too far into the trail, it dumped off into a stream crossing. And it didn’t look really easy. Not as hard as some of the streams I crossed? But also, not super friendly. I watched some people slowly make their way across, but when I got down there I pretty much chickened out. For real. I did try taking my shoes off thinking I’d wade, but this resulted in slipping and bruising my foot on a rock, and so that was a bust too. So eventually, feeling short-legged, and defeated… I turned around and went back to my car. At this point it was getting late, and I needed gas, so I had to go find a gas station… which made it even later and so I finally pulled up this really simple, paved hike, around a lake. And when you’ve been scrambling up trails and crossing boulders… and then transition to a paved lake? It just felt like a failure. But, also, I’m not sure why. I did hike my 2 miles. The view was stunning. The fall leaves were gorgeous. And I got to listen to several audio books while I was driving. All in all, this is a win. And most importantly, when I went home I did a complete scan of all the lakes I had on my “want to hike” list and checked them for ‘road’ to see which ones people had problems with. I removed several where people said they wouldn’t do it without a truck… and so hopefully? This one is an actual lesson learned.
Hike 13: Snow Lake, October 6, 2018
- Wins: This lake is reported to be ‘heavily trafficked’ most of the season that it is open (which sadly, isn’t that long) … and so I’ve been putting it off as long as I thought I could, hoping that I would miss the summer rush. Thankfully, I managed to get a hike in before it was completely snowed over, and while the trail was busy, it was not crazy (like… I found parking for instance so… there’s that.) And it was entirely worth the wait. This hike might be my favorite hike so far. I don’t know when I’ll get back, but I am leaving it on my repeat list for sure.
The best thing about the project so far: The best thing about this so far is that I’m being challenged to hike every week and even though I’m going back to regular hiking places, I’m also trying to find as many new hikes as I can. The constant new discovery is fantastic, and has challenged me to up my game when it comes to hiking, planning, and preparing for these trips.
The hardest thing about the project so far: Driving to the hikes I want to hike to. And getting up early enough to make it to the trail. I’ve had several 4 am departures… and driving four hours after a long hike is exhausting. Obviously I don’t have to do that, but it’s been fun to see new hikes… so I probably will keep doing it as much as I can.
What I’m learning about myself: A lot of the joy for me is in learning to trust myself. Solo hiking can be a lot– I have to carry everything I need. I’m the sole navigator (so when I get lost? It’s just me.) I have to watch for animals. I have to watch for people. Most of the people (and animals for that matter) are generally pretty friendly. On the more trafficked hikes, outdoor folks are some of the best people you’ll meet. I frequently have really great conversations with strangers on the trail. Even if these are short, they are fulfilling, because we’re both out there sharing and enjoying the experience. There is also the joy of pushing myself on the harder hikes, for more physical limits. As a former fat girl, I learned very early how to not trust my body. In many ways I have struggled to move past that. Solo Hiking pushes me to physically find my limits — sometimes this means I have to listen to my body and know the difference between pushing it to the point where I need to pull back, versus pushing it to the point when I need to just push through. There are times when I have to listen to my fears, and realize that fear is a good thing… and trust my instincts. But also, sometimes fear is just fear, and I need to simply pull up my big-girl panties and push past it. I think if anything is clear from the above, there are a lot of failure reports — and as frustrating as it can be, being wrong sometimes brings more growth than having success. As someone who is still learning how to trust her body, solo hiking is a huge part of that process for me. And also, as someone going through transitions that are otherwise full of the unknown, and different kinds of scary challenges, it’s nice to have this really physical way to process everything. It’s also nice to realize that sometimes the process of going, even when I’m not where I intended to be, is still beautiful and inspiring in it’s own way.
How I’m growing practically: Some of these are the hardest hikes I have taken on, as a solo hiker, and so I feel like every hike I’m learning new tips and tricks or ‘things that would be better next time’ lessons. Everything from water, to elevation limits like, the fact that my hydration needs change substantially over 6,000 ft., or that trekking poles are a godsend coming down a steep trail (or on slippery slush/snow, as I found out on my last.) And sometimes, the lesson is in the failure. Of the above hikes, I feel like about two of them really went as planned… and the rest? Lots of learning, and sometimes even disappointment. I think a huge part of this for me is learning to find the beauty and appreciation in the journey, even when it doesn’t lead me where I thought it would.
So that’s my first 13. I’m not sure how the rest of the winter will look, but I have a list of trails I’m still wanting to see. Until then, I’ll try to keep my unsolicited bladder updates to a minimum, and also… keep myself hydrated.
Happy autumn, Octoberians.