“This seems like a bad idea.“
When you’re hiking alone and you begin scolding yourself out loud, it’s usually a good idea to stop and rethink what you’re doing.
What I was doing was scrambling up a pretty steep rockface, with a sheer cliff drop to my right.
Hm, I thought. Surely this isn’t the actual trail in this sweet little hike.
It wasn’t, of course. I’d stopped for lunch at a beautiful overlook, ate a cheese sandwich while watching hawks soaring above and dragonflies hunting just in front of me, then followed what seemed like the trail to the summit. I’d had a bit of a chat with another pair of hikers who’d obviously also done the same thing, saying that they couldn’t find the summit, that the path had just ended.
Turned out, both of us missed the correct path — along with the couple who came along after me, as I was making my way back to the lookout. The actual trail was, of course, much less treacherous, and led to an amazing view, complete with a sweet doggie memorial. Which two doggies came along and enjoyed as I sat and ate an apple.
I’m privileged to be in BC, on one of the magical Southern Gulf Islands. The west coast has always been the most grounding place for me — give me a run around the Stanley Park Seawall and I’m instantly at my best — and I made the somewhat complex decision to get a second covid test (negative), get on an airplane (face shield and mask, extra money for more room), and spend just over two weeks near the sea. I rented a cunning little tiny house and I’m spending my days writing, reading, hiking, riding my folding bike and sleeping. Storing up reserves for whatever the winter holds.
It feels hard-won, sitting here on my little wooden porch, as pine trees drip sticky sap onto the table I’m writing on. Finding pathways that aren’t as simple as they should be, like my hike yesterday. The directions I found online to the trail didn’t mention that there are two trailheads, just how to get to the “easiest” one — which meant riding my folding bike with the tiny wheels up up up up a looooong hill. And the directions to follow the road “to the top” didn’t say what to do when I reached a T-junction, and I went the wrong way, peering at rough paths into the woods to try to figure out if any could be deemed a trailhead, if I squinted. (Of course, if I’d just looked down the road 200 m the other way, I would have seen the cluster of parked cars that is a pretty sure signifier of a trailhead).
When I found it, I locked my bike loosely to a tree (preventing mischief, not theft — it’s not that kind of place), and set off, covering at least 300m before I realized I was still wearing my helmet.
Hiking like this — even with wrong turns — in an unfamiliar place? This is where I can breathe again. This is where I can breathe through, let slide, the anxiety and worry of so many people around me, the fevered politics, the sense that the world hasn’t stopped tipping upside down. Where I can promise to Susan, by text, with a laugh, that we’ll go to Paris “when the war is over.”
The trail up the wee mount (more than a hill, much less than a mountain) was, actually, simple to navigate — once I paused and thought about it, actually looked at the map that clearly didn’t tell me to inch along the end of the cliff face. And it was peppered with little hidden “faerie doors,” with notes and offerings from kids.
As I ate my apple at the top, I noticed it was astonishingly tart and sweet, and looked at the little sticker. Ambrosia, a breed we don’t get at home. Apparently a cultivar developed in BC in the 1990s. Perfection. Like the open, wide, fresh space around me.
I’ve hiked and ridden alone in many countries, and I often end up fussing between my loose interpretation of the map and what’s right in front of me. That’s a fancy way of saying I’m often a little lost. Yesterday, I was reminded that when I breathe, when I just pull back and think, I’m not lost. We are not lost. We are strong and we have what it takes to navigate whatever the fall and winter hold.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is so grateful to be on the west coast for a couple of weeks.