Looking back on the hiking year that was 2014 a few things stand out as highlights. Mostly though, it’s hard to believe another year is behind us. When I reflected on what’s new or different for me now than in past year, the following jumped out:
I learned GPS! I am not a real gadget person, and the learning curve was steeper than I expected. However, after many trials and some practice geo-caching thrown in, I can now use the basic functionality of the GPS unit for recording tracks and navigation. I’m cautious not to become overly reliant on GPS (not least of all because I rarely pack a spare set of batteries) but having the ability to see where you’ve just come from and which direction you’re headed has made me a more adventurous hiker on our local north shore trails. There are so many small side trails and spurs that I never used to take, but now if I can see on the GPS that they appear to head back in the direction I want to go I chance it and have made some new and more interesting loops.
I now know the true value of gaiters! Gaiters were always that piece of gear for me that seemed to be going a bit too far into hiker-geek territory. Sure, for insanely muddy trails like the Juan de Fuca I could see it, or in really deep snow, but for just hiking around on the North Shore? I wasn’t convinced. Yet still I bought a pair of OR Crocodiles this past year and now you won’t see me hiking without them. So what changed? A few dicey creek crossings where between the Gore-Tex and ankle coverage of my gaiters, I stayed blessedly dry. Muddy, melty times in the spring where my gaiters got completely filthy but I managed to go without washing my hiking pants which in turn helps them retain their Scotch-Guard treatments and last longer. Stay tuned to see whether I get into wearing them all summer on bare legs with shorts. There is a lot of nasty Devil’s Club around…
I’m a stronger and more confident solo hiker! Hiking alone always seemed off limits to me as something that was too risky and better left for other people. After a lot of time spent “unpacking” this notion (if you skip ahead to the next section you’ll see that I really did get philosophical this year) I came to realize that a lot of my hesitation came from some pretty heavy socialization around what girls and women can/should do with or without the company of a male. For example, if I tell people I want to go alone to the mall on my day off no one blinks, but as soon as I say I want to go walk a trail on Seymour it’s a big issue. Of course, hiking alone does carry inherent risks, and I don’t want to downplay that at all. But what was happening was I was selling myself short on how experienced and knowledgeable I am when it comes to the outdoors, as well as how sound my decision making is. I don’t go into areas alone that I don’t know well. I don’t go hiking if we’re headed into a bad weather patch, or a period of high avalanche risk. If I see heaps of fresh bear scat at my intended trailhead I turn around and go do something else. In short, I already wasn’t a big risk taker by my very nature, but due to the aforementioned lifetime of patriarchal pooh-pooh, I was missing out on something I really wanted to experience. Well rest assured ye feminists, in 2014 I hiked solo just about as much as I did with others. And I loved it! From small loops on the Bluffs at Seymour to a winter summit of Unnecessary Mountain where the only footprints were my own, I’ve learned a great deal about navigating and staying safe when there’s no one else to watch out for you, and enjoyed a lot of serene moments in the woods to myself. I’d like to note here that although I do feel I was held back as a female in this area I never felt this from my partner, Mark. Mark has been the biggest supporter of my outdoor pursuits from day one. He believes in my ability, honours my curiosity and enthusiasm even as I prattle on for the 50th time about the same trail or mountain, and is the best gear advisor I could ask for!
I got all philosophical! Ok, you already gathered this from the previous section, but this year I also had some deep insights in another direction: The attitude of gratitude. We hear a lot about gratitude, and how it can help us live in the moment. I always was aware of how good I have it in life, but never felt that I lived in gratitude. I realized this year, that hiking and camping help me be present in gratitude on a regular basis. What I mean by this is that I came to appreciate shelter and warmth on a new level when I’m safe in a tent in a heavy rainstorm in the Utah desert. I came to truly appreciate a hot meal after a big hike in the snow. Sinking down into my car’s seats after removing my 60L overnight pack after a long hike out from Russet Lake at Whistler makes me thankful to have something soft to rest my aching body on for a moment. You don’t have to hike or camp to have feelings of gratitude and an awareness of being thankful for the basic comforts of life. But in our busy modern times I find it easy to take things such as a warm meal and bed-bug free sleep for granted, even though I work with people struggling with the kind of poverty that is hard to think about. So without preaching, I encourage you to find something in your life that makes you deeply, almost tearfully, thankful, and to do that thing often. It’s made my life better than I could have known.
I wish you much joy and adventure in 2015.