WHAT I LEARNED BACKPACKING SOLO

About a month ago, I packed all my gear into my sturdy blue backpack for a four-day trek on the Na Pali Coast. By myself. There was no room in my pack for worries or potentially bad outcomes. It was packed full.

Upon zipping every pocket closed, I felt my first surge of nerves. The day before leaving, I was finally overcome with routine questions a girl traveling by herself might contemplate. I had no one else to rely on if something went wrong; hell, I wouldn't even have cell service. I would just have my brain and 40 lbs of dry food, camping gear, and wool socks strapped to my spine. In the days of buying my plane tickets, training my leg muscles, and testing out sleeping bags, I had no fears. Now, they were flooding my brain and I suddenly forgot how to swim.

But my trip was planned, and there was too much to look forward to to have me questioning everything. So worries aside, I got on a plane, made my way to the trailhead, and just started hiking. At no point had I been given a moment to question my trip. Or even admire it. But all that changed once I started lugging myself up a muddy mountain in the Hawaiian rainforest. 

With each step (left, right, slip, left, right, stumble, right) I could feel my brain starting to swell. WHY DID I DECIDE THIS WAS SOMETHING I SHOULD DO? WHAT AM I TRYING TO PROVE? I know I'm physically strong, so it's not about that...I know I like to hike, definitely not about that. Looking around at the picturesque sight of blue water and sky, I was pleased. But still, only partly. 

Now...I often do this. I plan an adventure I know I'll love, keeping myself busy with maps and plans, and before I know it, I'm alone on a mountain craving hot cheetos and someone's company. I already know I am a people person, an extrovert, an overly-energetic giraffe; and now in Hawaii, the only person I could expel that energy on was myself. And the trail.

Personifying the trail with each step I took, it became my constant. My ally. The only thing I had to focus on. Without even realizing that was what I was doing, my breath became steady and my mind regurgitated all my worry into power. Into fuel. 

After six hours of hiking alone on a scorching hot ridge, with only a few inches between myself and a plunging cliff into the ocean, I reached my destination. It was so sudden. It happened so fast! My worry had turned to breath, my breath turned to meditation, and my meditation led me to an empty beach in Hawaii. At this point, I was beginning to understand and respect my choices.

The hardest part for me was letting everything go, and just enjoying the trail and the beauty it came with. I was expecting some kind of monumental shift in myself, just from getting to the trail. But the growth came from each step I took. I began forgetting everything I left back home to focus on my steady feet and my surroundings. It was a gradual shift that I had to earn, not get handed just by showing up. Sure, showing up was important, but that's not what got me to Kalalau Beach on the Na Pali Coast. My feet did. My breath did. My mind did. 

Because I was alone, I was able to reflect inward so easily; I took note that my existence away from the world of cell phones and career goals was completely different. None of that mattered on the trail. Yes, I would welcome it back into my life when I returned, but on the trail I was able to connect with the most pure, unaltered version of myself. I became the girl that I had forgotten about. And after this experience, I'll never be able to forget her again.