So, I quit my job. And not because I had a new job, or for graduate school, or for any legitimate reason whatsoever. I quit only because I knew I didn’t want to do this work any more. So I just quit, deciding to take some time off before launching into the next thing for me.
The first thing on my bucket list is a solo backpacking trip, just me and my dog (a dopey black lab named Ned) and five days in the wilderness. I felt like I needed to spend some time alone in the wild to heal, to grow, and to let some of the madness of five years at the Public Defenders Office bleed out of me into the mountain air. Which sounds nice, right? Restful? Restorative?
Or terrifying. Maybe. Depending. See, the thing that I realized is that I’m afraid of sleeping alone. Ha! So why do I think solo backpacking is a good idea for me? Because I am a fool, obviously. I also do not understand why this hadn’t occurred to me previously, either. I was totally oblivious of this until I went on an overnight trial (to test out some of my gear) and was so terrified all night that I did not sleep. I lay awake in my tent listening for small noises and imagining what terrible things might be causing those noises. All night. I would tell myself,
Carol, that is the rain dripping off the trees. You know it is. There is nothing out there, and even if there is, odds are that it won’t bother you and your dog.
No, it’s bears. Rabid bears that have teamed up with cougars to come after you.
It’s not bears. Rain. It’s rain. You know what rain sounds like and that is it.
But I wasn’t listening to myself. I just kept thinking of absurd scenarios involving bears that would never ever happen and continuing to not sleep.
So I hiked out at 6am, exhausted and miserable. I got home and slept it off and thought about my backpacking plans. What the hell was I thinking? But, you know what I decided? To go anyway. Because, as I said, I am a fool. A stubborn fool. I’m not going to let Afraid Carol make decisions for Bold Carol. Even if I make both of us miserable in the process. And I think I want to refer to myself as Bold Carol from now on. Maybe Carol the Bold. I haven’t decided yet.
Now I’m planning to do Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail (with Ned), over the course of five days and four nights. I get occasional little jolts of panic as I plan to sleep alone, in a tent, for four consecutive nights. Maybe it will cure me of my fears, or maybe it will be one long nightmare of sleep deprivation and terror. Either way it will be an adventure. Something to write about, and as Calvin’s (and Hobbes’) Dad would tell me, it will build character.
Did I mention that I leave in two days?
I’m almost done preparing. This morning I spent hours mapping and adding up mileages and picking my campsites. Then I did a little online research and found this brilliant little app which makes all of that work I did totally unnecessary. It’s like the google maps of backpacking trails. I just need to make sure my phone doesn’t run out of battery… and a friend graciously allowed me to borrow his portable charger to bring along. Right now I’m about to bike to REI and buy bearspray, you know, just in case. I also need bugspray, for keeping slightly lesser creatures than bears at bay. At least I’m not afraid of bugs. Or snakes, heights, spiders, or joint pain! Not afraid at all!
I’m not even really afraid of bears and cougars during the day. It’s just sleeping alone in a tent that gets me, and I think it has more to do with the unknown than anything else. At night you can’t see what’s coming and that unnerves me. Right now that feels like a particularly uncomfortable thing because I’m dealing with so much uncertainty overall. I don’t know I’m going to do after taking this time off. Also, my miserable sleepless overnight was compounded by the fact that the mountain was covered in mist—I basically slept in a cloud. I couldn’t see more than fifteen feet off the trail and walked through what I christened as Creepy Meadows 1-4 before making camp (I also appreciate the metaphorical significance of not being able to see the trail ahead and not knowing where life will take you). But anyway, the uncertainty of nighttime, the whole not-seeing-what’s-coming problem, was doubled that night. So I’m hopeful that with a little luck and some clear, dry weather, I might have a better experience this time. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. Maybe I’m a fool.
Either way, I expect to have a whole lot of extra character by the time I get back and I’ll be sure to share it with you when I do. That is, if the cougar-bear nighttime hit squad of my overactive imagination doesn’t get me.
Carol the Bold