(Disclaimer: Actually being lost in the woods isn’t cool. Be prepared, know where you are going, and always support your community’s Search and Rescue. We are lucky to have them.)
Hike #8 | ?m Elevation Gain | ?km Hiked
You know when you suggest a hike to a group of friends who you’ve never really hiked with before – and then you realize that you don’t really know where you’re going? Yeah. That was this hike. But it’s also pretty much my whole life. I have a rough idea, a vague image, in mind and I’m searching for it, but probably not by the shortest route possible, certainly not without more than one detour or wrong turn, and definitely not without some less than ideal conditions.
More often than not, when I go hiking I have a set goal and a map in hand. But in my life, no one has ever handed me directions. Instead, I’ve spent most of my time wandering off route. I’ve hit dead-ends, retraced my steps, and made my own path. I’ve also stayed too long at comfortable and pretty viewpoints, only moving on when the sun sets and leaving becomes unavoidable.
I used to be ashamed of the meandering route that my life has taken. I would look at the peaks and alpine lakes being bagged on Instagram – on the houses purchased, babies birthed, weddings celebrated – and be concerned that I was actually lost. But I’m not. Now stay with me here because this idea is about to get a little off-track.
When my dad died we had three memorials for him. Three. And believe me, they were all necessary. At the time that he passed, he and my mom split their time between Bamfield and Mexico and he was an integral part of both communities. But the third memorial was in West Vancouver at my uncle’s house. It wasn’t somewhere that we had spent a lot of time. A lot of the people were family – my dad’s family, and some long-time friends that I knew. But there were people I didn’t know, plenty of them. There were people whose names I had heard in some of his stories but had never met. He had an ex-wife and, I’m sure, ex-girlfriends who came. It was a house full of people who loved my dad enough that despite the years they had gone without contact, they wanted to celebrate his life. Their time together, regardless of where it landed in his timeline, was that valuable.
This was how I came to understand that our lives aren’t linear. We aren’t on a point A to point B conveyer belt, along which we collect our degrees, promotions, husbands or wives, and children. If anything, the majority of us – like it or not – are travelling along a dirty frayed string full of knots. Each tangle, deviation, extended stop at a lookout, holds a meaning that does not diminish over time. And when we have our hearts and heads looking too far into the future, too fixedly at one goal – or worse, at someone else’s goal – we can miss the importance of all the stops along the way. Instead of relishing these experiences, they can feel like steps or speed bumps, or scratchy pieces of unforgiving salal bush instead.
Now, you may look at my life and think that I shouldn’t be giving advice – and I’m pretty sure the girls who I hiked with on this particular day were thinking I shouldn’t be leading any hikes either, but I will say here what I said when we arrived at our first overgrown viewpoint that was bisected by some power lines, “take it in ladies, because this might be the best view we get today.”
It wasn’t, and we pushed on. But we didn’t know what would come next. We forced our way through dense bush and made our own trail. We got scraped and bruised and we topped out in a little clearing that doubled as a modest summit and was surrounded by trees that offered no views. But it was a new place that we hadn’t yet been. We took a spur in a different direction and meandered around the mountainside, only occasionally having to double back and try a new way. And then, most unexpectedly, we stumbled across the viewpoint that I’d had a vague memory of from visiting years before. It was a beautiful unencumbered view of the ocean. It was the kind of scene that Instagrams are made of – and we had it all to ourselves to enjoy.
On our hike down, we found the original wrong turn we had made. With the confidence that only true happiness in our experience can bring, we laughed at how hard it was to miss. And yes, the final viewpoint would have been just as beautiful if we had taking the right turn and gone straight there, but our day wouldn’t have been as full – and I wouldn’t have had much of a story to tell if it had been that easy.
(And no, the girls haven’t asked me to plan any hikes since then. . . )