This is my adventure in Self-Discovery…
Back in January, when we all start pondering our life’s’ goals and direction, I decided to finally read the book “Wild” by Sheryl Strayed that I had told myself I would read and had been sitting for 3 months. Reading that wonderful piece of american literature stirred up something deep down inside of me. Not all of the book was relevant to me but the idea of going it “alone” on an adventure to find yourself did. So for the first time in my life I decided to spend my birthday alone.
I was turning 31 and had never spent a birthday by myself. Always surrounded by family or friends. Always the typical dinner or breakfast out where I made small talk and my mother gave me a handmade card that she would make in her craft room. Nice, and made me grateful, but alas, boring. But this year was going to be different. With some planning and guidance from my father (and my parents loaned me their Santa Fe since my little Beetle is too dilapidated and old to make the trip) I planned out a 4 day road trip all over Washington State. I gathered my sleeping bag, my tent if needed, some clothes, my hiking boots, food, my iPad with the movie “Wild” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (another wanderlust favorite!) on it and my camera.
On April 1st I drove the near 8 hours from Port Angeles to barren but beautiful Palouse Falls. I got there at about 4pm and it was sunny, warm and dirty. I put my boots on, grabbed my LowePro camera backpack and started the hike to the falls. With each step I took I felt empowered that I was doing this alone. I was on my own time, had no safety net, not even cell service, hiking towards a massive waterfall that at one point I almost lost my footing which would have made me fall to my death but caught my balance, praise Jesus! There was a waterfall behind the big falls, which entranced me to sit for a near half hour taking pictures and just immersing myself in its fierce rushing beauty.
When I got back to my car it was 7pm and I was getting the back of the car ready. I had decided to sleep in the back rather than pitch a tent. I wasn’t sure who or what would be surrounding me that night so I played it safe. As the sun was getting lower and it got darker my nervousness and blatant awareness that I was alone was palpable. I watched Wild while waiting for it to get really dark to take some nighttime photos, and really to keep my mind off the random cars that would arrive sporadically. As I lay there watching, the movie was even better than I thought it would be and implored me even more that I had done the right decision to do this.
At 11pm I crawled out of my car into the frigid night (it was April after all) and set up my camera to attempt night trails, still need practice. Before I got back in the car I decided to put my headphones on and danced in the moonlight to the sound of First Aid Kit’s song “Walk Unafraid” from the “Wild” soundtrack (do ya see a theme here?). It was like the whole day was just to get me to this point of utter surrender to the void of uncertainty and solitude. Accepting my fear of being alone. I found myself in that night sky as the moon shone down on me. If there wasn’t for a car in the distance, which had people sleeping in it as well, I probably would have howled at the moon like Cheryl did on her PCT hike.
Now it was around midnight and decided I needed to get some rest, another long day of driving tomorrow. So I crawled into the back of the Santa Fe. If you have never slept in the back of a Santa Fe before, let me tell you it is not all it was cracked up to be. Hard, awkward, and in April, cold as hell. Took many tossings and turnings to finally fall asleep around 1am. As the sky brightened I woke up at 6, with a sore neck and back, but proud and happy that I had made it through my first night and that no human or animal had decided to kill me in my sleep.
I got my things together, took a much needed pee and started to drive off. I was listening to some songs from Tony Anderson’s “Seasons” album (Grace, Dwell & Colorado Nights) as I drove away with the sun in my rearview mirror. At that moment it felt like God’s glory was surrounding me and had kept me safe through the night. I had never felt so empowered and so at peace as I did in those 20 minutes. It was my first sunrise I was awake for in a very long time.
As I headed back west that day. I wanted to find this random location in a tiny town called Lind, WA. It was an abandoned train trestle. I had no clue where it could be, there was no address, I just had to see if I could randomly stumble upon it. After about 2 hours of driving in the wrong direction, getting lost, and then suddenly realize I was an hour outside of Lind, I said the hell with it and moved on. I had bigger things to do.
As I drove west, I went though Wenatchee. I tried to stop at this Garden that my father had told me to visit, when I finally found said place (Ohme Gardens) I was 13 days too early for their season to start. I would love to have walked around and explore, but for now I would have to stick to the photos that I found on Google. After feeling cheated, I got headed back on the highway and headed to Leavenworth. I had been there a couple times before but always with my husband.
Another thing that happens on road tips when you’re alone is eating alone. As a society we [normally] see eating alone as sad or weird, or awkward. At at least that is what I was taught. I took this opportunity and embraced it. I found myself ordering a polish hotdog from the famous “Munchen Haus”. All around me there were couples or families and I was the only person alone, but I was enjoying my food so much that I didn’t give two shits that people were looking at me. Maybe it was because I was REALLY enjoying that hotdog.
After another hour of perusing shops, buy a bumper sticker for my Bug, I decided being around this many people was too much, and I left. As I heading to my next destination, I took my father’s suggestion and took the scenic route up to Lake Wenatchee. Lots of twists and turns, I slowly rolled through a tiny town called Plain, which lives up to it’s name. As I found my way around and getting closer to the lake I was in awe of this beautiful place and made sure I got a camping spot close to the famous little island. But before I set up camp (it was very empty this time of year so no worries of losing my spot) I decided to go explore some back roads.
I found what was very rough road to drive, but after 10 minutes of wondering where the hell I was going, it finally took me down to a tiny secluded camping area on the opposite side of the lake. I figured this would be a good time to take some pre-birthday selfies. If you know me at all, I never show more than my face usually, but I figured it was time to do full body. It took awhile to get some good shots (an hour), but I managed to capture the wildness I was feeling. After making a damn fool of myself I headed back to my camping spot. I decided to explore the area some more and found a log next to the water and sat in the sun, and cold wind to enjoy my solitude again.
Giving in to the need to answer the call of nature, I headed back to my car, hopped in and drove to a tiny convenience store I had seen on my way in. Bought some beef jerky and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade in a huge 20oz can (as a pre-birthday celebration) and an awesome vintage thermos I found for $8. I headed back to the site and thought, “I am starting to stink, it’s been two day, I need a shower!” After walking down to the showers, got all ready to go, and…nothing. I remember saying “why the hell won’t the water get cold??” Then I realized, stupidly, that in the state of Washington, at state parks, you have to now pay $0.50 for 3 minutes of hot water. I said “Fuck that! I only got pennies” and figured I could find a shower tomorrow. I’m a hiker, I’m use to being stinky for days on end. If Cheryl can do it, so can I! So I climbed back into the back of the car again, with some more padding this time and watched, “Mitty.” before drifting off to sleep.
My second night in the back of the car, a little less scary. I woke up at 5am this time to make sure I got shots of the island before sunrise and after the sun started to drench the trees in golden morning light. It was 28 degrees outside too as I attempted to get shots with my camera and my fingers were going numb, I would go back and forth to my car at least 3 times to warm up before continuing. I was determined to capture the morning of my 31st birthday.
From 7 am to about 1 pm was spent driving more west, getting lost, stopping to take photos of myself standing in snow at Stevens Pass. I have NEVER seen snow on my birthday, so I made sure to stop and experience that. I finally found my way to Granite Falls to see the elusive “Ice Caves” that I kept hearing about. After stopping at an Alpaca farm for directions I found what I was looking for, just in time for a photo shoot. I am a photographer and all I wanted to do for my birthday was take photos of a people. When I arrived the girl, and my friend, Andria gave me this insanely delicious treat for my birthday. Funny thing is that that small gesture meant more to me than anything I could have gotten from my parents or husband because it was so unexpected, sweet and just because she knew I was going to be alone on my birthday and she wanted to know how special I am. I honestly almost cried.
The day was cool, and sprinkling. Andria and her boyfriend Alex were accompanied by her family. Sweet, sweet family. It was a fun day being around them and despite the weather I managed to capture some beautiful photos of these two love birds (which will be blogged next!) and reminded me of when I was young and in love. After the session we hiked back down from the ice caves (which were stunning and I highly recommend it) and I decided to head south to North Bend, making a quick stop off at Snoqualmie Falls. Yet another place to check off my list.
It was about 4-5 o’clock at this point and wanted to treat myself for my birthday dinner. After some driving around for a half hour and Yelping on my phone, I found Boxleys, a jazz pub. I got a seat at the bar, and watched on a TV the live music that was playing in the other room. I ordered a drink and dinner, while waiting I discovered myself acting more out going than normal and talking with the strangers sharing the bar with me. Some gal pals hanging out, and a nice couple enjoying a date nite. I even shared my drink with both because it looked so good and vise versa. I discovered I am more outgoing and friendly when I am by myself. As if being surrounded by family or my husband or even people I know makes me more quiet and reserved. Makes me think I would do very well if I were to travel abroad.
After I was thoroughly full from my chicken burger, I was determined to get a cheap hotel room and get in a nice hot bath. Yelping again, I found some place near Rattlesnake Ridge so I could get there early in the morning. Felt so good to take a nice hot bath. I had collected a lot of dirt, but I proudly wore it like a badge the whole time. The only thing that was hard about this whole trip is I slept terribly the whole time because I am so use to having a warm body next to me. That last night was better than the 2 before it, but knowing my husband wasn’t there still made it a bit hard to rest peacefully.
At 5:30 I got up and made my way over to the Rattlesnake Ledge trail. I have become an avid hiker in the last year but I had never done a hike of this length and ascend alone. At first it wasn’t that bad, it was nice discovering a new area. There was more, a LOT more, people than I had ever seen on a hike. But I didn’t let them passing me get to me like I always do. I could go at my own pace, and not feel competitive. In the last half hour I was struggling pretty bad to keep going and I very quietly sang my favorite old hymn (As The Deer) to myself to keep going, or at least what I could remember…
“As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship thee
You alone are my strength, my shield
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship thee”
I had to keep in mind that I was doing this hike for myself and for my hiker loving grandmother and for the wild spirit that Cheryl had instilled inside me. I had brought myself to this situation, to this struggle, to this hike, in the rain, on a cool April Sunday morning. Finally getting to that summit, looking down and knowing I had done all that I planned to accomplish on my trip was so gratifying, and knowing I had the strength and gumption to do it alone made me realize I was more brave than I ever knew I could be.
I decided that instead of heading straight home I would head back up to the Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley and see all the beautiful flowers. I had not been in over 7 years, but I have such a history going there with my parents as a child. Besides the over abundance of selfie sticks, and going from being almost alone to being surrounded by 8,000 people it was a wonderful day. I still can’t believe just how much I did in just 4 short days. All by myself.
One adventure down, what’s next?!