It is a mid-July day, and the sun is beating down on me as I hike the Eagle Oval loop on the Methow Valley Ranger District. I am on the fourth day of my first solo hitch of the season, one that has me chasing ridgeline after ridgeline in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness area. I am cresting a steep hill and find my mind wandering to distract myself from the challenge. I think back to how I felt when I started the hitch, how uncharacteristically stressed I had been. There had been so many things that felt unresolved in my personal life before I left, and I had felt anxious knowing that I would be helpless to find solutions while in the backcountry. I had been overwhelmed, worried about what I would miss in the lives of friends and family while I was away. As I settle into a steady pace, I feel these old concerns falling away from me, one after the other. Each footfall, each switchback reinforces this: that whatever may come to pass, I would not trade my memories for theirs.
I crest Oval Pass and become still instantly, not from fatigue but instead from the awe that strikes me so squarely. I had felt that same ping of amazement several times that day as I progressed through the loop, wondering each time how Eagle Pass, then the Summit Trail, then Horseshoe Basin, then Tuckaway Lake could in turn be grander than the last, but Oval Pass stops me clear in my tracks. I look around, look everywhere, trying to memorize each curve, each jagged edge, each hue in the landscape, but my focus cannot be turned away from the faint whisper of trail leading away from me along the ridge eastward. I follow it for my lunch “break” and arrive at Greys Peak. Being there feels so powerful. I feel empowered being there.
In solitude, you become whatever you make of yourself. There is nothing to hide behind. Whatever pretenses or veils you willingly or unwillingly put up for others disappear. Solitude affords you the chance to be closest to your authentic self. It allows the mind to wander. Thoughts and feelings drift in and out that you don’t have to dismiss, no matter how simple or complex. You can sit with them awhile.
I sit with my thoughts often. I like to journal. It allows me to process my thoughts and experiences. I get to relive them on the page and feel closer to them. On hitches, I write every evening to unwind, though this hitch, I run out of space in my journal with a few nights out still to come. I find other ways to quiet my mind. As the sun sets over West Oval Lake later that day, I sit along the shore and trace shapes along the water’s surface, watching how the golden light of the fading day plays off the patterns and ripples in the water. When there is only moonlight, I return to my tent and close my eyes, listening. There is the incessant buzz of mosquitos and horseflies, hovering over the thin mesh of my tent. Then the splash of a fish breaking the water’s surface to catch the insects hovering there. The soft hush of the summer night’s breeze. The flittering wings of the dark-eyed junco I had seen flying around earlier that evening. These are the sounds I fall asleep to, after a beautiful day spent on a walk with myself.