Me, Myself, and the Mountains: Part II

"My name is Kat and I am a 25 year old female living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A few years ago I was diagnosed with major depression. This is my blog, and this is my story. I hope my experiences inspire others, help end the stigma surrounding mental illness, and remind you that you are not alone. Check out THEOBSESSIVEKAT."

If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you. -Fred DeVito

(I highly recommend reading Part I first…)

After an extremely challenging year and a half, I began to grow tired of making excuses for why I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do; of constantly relying on others for my happiness; and of waiting for my life to turn around.

So – in an attempt to make up for a ‘shitty summer of 2016’ (and after realizing my friends weren’t sold on the idea of hiking in the backcountry as a fun vacation), I made the decision to go on a trip through the Canadian Rockies…

Solo.

Lose My Mind or Find my Soul

Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. –John Muir

In the span of 9 days, I visited 4 national parks and 2 provincial parks, travelled 2626 kilometres during 30+ hours of driving, and hiked over 130 kilometres with 3500 metres of elevation gain.

Every step was worth the blisters; every backcountry mountain view was worth the bruises from my pack, every sunrise was worth the sleep deprivation, and every mosquito bite was worth the evening meals by the water (except for that time one bit my eye and it swelled to twice it’s normal size…).

Last month, I not only challenged myself both mentally and physically, but I witnessed some of the indescribable beauty this country has to offer. Amongst the towering peaks, the tall trees, the alpine meadows, and the pristine waters – the stress and anxieties of day to day life dissolved into the fresh mountain air.

Throughout the duration of my trip, I had ample time to reflect on the difficulties I’ve faced over the past year and a half. Looking back, I am genuinely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn, grow, and rediscover my independence.

I can quite confidently say that without them, this trip would not have happened.

I’ll be honest – despite my obvious excitement and excessive planning, I was pretty nervous for this trip. I had no doubt in my mind that I could survive in the backcountry just fine, but as someone who can’t switch my brain off in the context of busy everyday life, spending over a week alone in my head seemed like a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, the morning I set off in my little white Nissan Versa rental car, I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing…

… until about seven hours later when I stopped at the ‘Taco Club’ in Revelstoke for dinner and it hit me full force that I was about to spend nine days alone in the wilderness.

What in the hell was I thinking?

On the verge of the first of my (three) predicted mental breakdowns (none of which happened btw!), I (very briefly) considered turning the car around and heading back to Vancouver.

But I didn’t.

The Rambling Thoughts of an Overthinking Solo Traveller

I’m going to spare you from all the details of my trip (with the hopes that you will actually read this entire post…), but here are just a few of the things I learned from my time alone:

Day 1: Singing your heart out in the car is really fun (until you hit traffic and people start judging you). Drinking cider by a river in the mountains tastes pretty damn good after 8 hours of driving and a near mental breakdown. Getting the last campsite in the whole park is a win.

Day 2: Hiking to 2400 metres by 730 am and having a whole mountain to yourself (not counting the marmots and squirrels) is a pretty incredible feeling. Being the first on a trail means your face is definitely going to get covered in spider webs. Oh, and sleeping in the car is uncomfortable AF.

Day 3: Moose are cool. Mountains are cool. Cheap hotels are cheap for a reason. Being hangry is a real thing that happens, and sometimes ordering Dominos pizza and devouring it in the car on the side of the road is totally acceptable (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself).

Day 4: Wildfire smoke is bad. Hiking alone for 30 km in a day probably isn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had. Flat forest trails are really boring. Signs with pictures of scary grizzly bears on them make you even more scared of scary grizzly bears. Taking your boots off after nine hours of walking with 50 pounds on your back is literally the best (although your feet probably won’t smell like flowers).

Day 5: Zero degree rated sleeping bags are essentially useless when it goes below zero degrees (yes, this actually happened in July). When everyone is still sleeping you can take as many self-timer photos as you want without feeling weird about it (not that I would know). Putting sunscreen on your own back is hard – even the spray kind. Whoever thought of backcountry happy hour is a genius. Rest days are never actually rest days.

Day 6: Going two kilometres the wrong way downhill sucks. Offline GPS is a godsend. There are a lot of Americans in Canada. A campground should not be called “Marvel Lake Campground” if it’s nowhere near Marvel Lake. Mosquitos are the worst.

Day 7: Hiking back to your car at 3 am with headlamps is pretty cool – granted you’ve made friends to do it with. Red Bull doesn’t actually give you wings, but it’s definitely useful when you need to drive six hours and have been up since 3 am. It’s awesome when your friend is in Jasper on your way through and is willing to accompany you for the last two days of your trip. Sleeping on gym mats in a room with 20 other girls is worse than sleeping in your car.

Day 8: Elk are cool. It doesn’t matter how many pre downloaded Spotify playlists you have, it will never be enough for 2600 kilometres of driving. There really is such a thing as too much caffeine. Poor vehicle acceleration and passing semi-trucks on a two lane highway makes for exciting times. Literally everything is funny when you’re exhausted. Driving for nine hours and hiking for three hours in one day is not recommended. Company is nice sometimes.

Day 9: When the fun is over, reality hits hard.

 Alone but Not Lonely

And you, you scare people because you are whole all by yourself. – Lauren Alex Hooper

Now that I’ve subjected you to the random and useless knowledge I accumulated from being alone for a week, I’m going to get a bit more serious and share what else I learned.

Let me be frank – although I’ve experienced my fair share of difficulties, I’ve also lived a pretty privileged life thus far. Irrespective of the (annoyingly) frequent references to the book “Wild” when telling people about this trip, I’m not going to pretend that my sole intentions were about healing and self-discovery and finding myself.

I mean I kind of really just wanted to go hiking in the Rockies…

But – to be fair, as the planning progressed and the idea shifted to reality, it really did become more than that.

After a few significant life transitions, and what I consider a temporary ‘misplacement’ of my independence, travelling through the backcountry solo was an opportunity to come to terms with the less than ideal experiences in my life that have shaped me into the person I am today.

The many hours I spent alone in my head didn’t bring me loneliness, anxiety, or stress like I thought they might.

Instead, they brought me confidence in myself, my abilities, what I have to offer, and what I want in return.

They brought me acceptance of who I was and who I’ve become.

And above all –

They taught me that I’m more than okay on my own.

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