Shakedown: Going Alone
Soon I will be off. Off on the trail. Off the grid. Off my bed and onto the bare earth for miles and miles and miles.
The closer I get the more intense my emotions become. There is so much unknown. Not feeling prepared enough, I keep reading blogs, watching documentaries, and peppering past hikers with questions. Somehow I come away feeling like I know even less than before as I compare myself to all those who seem to have it down.
I needed to get out of my head. I needed to fill up my pack and hike. It was time for a shakedown to test my new gear and to remember my love for backpacking and exploration. Research can only do me so much good.
Joshua Tree National Park was the perfect spot. It is just over an hour from my Mom’s house in Southern California and there are lots of short trails and places to camp. I loaded up my pack as if I was embarking from Campo and drove to the northern part of the park where I hiked part of the Boy Scout trail.
It was my first time hiking with a 40 pound pack. My first time hiking alone on a trail I didn’t know. My first hike in the desert heat alone with my thoughts bouncing in the heat waves.
“Wow, I am doing this big thing!”
“Heat. Heat. Heat.”
**shrieking in the wind
“I am alone.”
“I am alive!”
I hiked six miles through sand, over rocks, in canyons, and up crests and my tumult of thoughts followed a similarly diverse terrain. During this time I tested my Garmin inReach GPS only to realize I had only set myself as a recipient of preset messages. In clear terms, my check-in texts were only going through to my own email (whoops). Thank goodness for a test run!
My big floppy purple hat kept the blaring sun out of my eyes and thankfully all the kicked-up dust didn’t sneak in through my socks. I am feeling more confident with my gear! As I settled into my state of gratitude I took more notice of things around me like rabbits and lizards darting through the brush. When large boulders provided spots of shade I reveled in those darkened patches, knowing that those will be few and far between on the southern section of the PCT. I soaked in views of rocks and more rocks and I was soaked in a full-body sweat. I hummed a hodgepodge song of things I saw and felt (probably good I was alone.)
In the afternoon post-hike, I wandered around the town of Joshua Tree, where I picked up a few nifty patches. My favorites being “what stands in the way is the way” and “it’s fun raising my vibrational frequency.” I already sewed them onto my backpack!
After moseying through the park, stopping every few minutes to get out and climb around on the jumbo rocks, and checking out cool viewpoints, I made camp beside several huge white tank granite rocks. While prepping dinner and settling in for the night I took note of a few last-minute things to remember to pack: a garbage bag, Ziplocs, tissues, toilet paper, and… vegetables! A vegetarian without vegetables is a very sad being.
The environment also alerted me to a few things:
Rock: My Nemo Hornet two-person tent is semi-freestanding and relies on stakes to hold its full form but I camped on an impenetrable rock coated in a feeble layer of sand. Without being able to use my stakes I relied on rocks to hold down the corners of my tent, giving my temporary home a rustic vibe. Also a shaky vibe. If I was trying to put a cute spin on the look I could say my tent possessed a real “tough-to-pin-down-nomadic-free-spirited-super-earthy-freaky energy” but really my tent was just not very stable.
Wind: I have never camped in crazier wind conditions. The winds thrashed my already super-earthy-freaky tent and without myself and my pack inside it threatened to tumble away. I bunkered down and barely slept with the rattling of gusts causing my rainfly to batter against my tent. Eventually, my tiredness won out and the tumult turned to a lullaby. And thankfully my tent stood the tests of the terrain!
Before I became enraptured with reading thru-hiker blogs I hadn’t heard the term shakedown. In the hiking world, a shakedown means testing your gear and going on a trek before a long hike. My short time at Joshua Tree wasn’t a full test of everything, but I was able to take note of several food preferences, last-minute buys, and how to better hike in hot conditions. Best of all I camped alone and showed myself I can!
However, my sorta-shakedown still wasn’t able to shake off a feeling I have been battling with since leaving Kauai — _____. I am leaving a blank where a blanket term that encapsulates my big feeling should go if/when I find a suitable word. It is along the lines of freedom. Needing it, missing it, going about finding it in new environments, and hating it for the way it sometimes makes me feel so distant from people and places I love.
This same feeling has me both elated and nervous about my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am elated because of so much freedom, especially going alone. I am nervous because of so much freedom, especially because I’ll be alone. So much time and space just for me! So much time and space just for me. Yes, sometimes my thoughts are this repetitive and contradictory in their sameness and exploding simplicity.
What I know for now is this: on Kauai, I stepped away from what I mapped out to be my normal life. I lived in a bungalow without electricity and worked with the earth. It was the absolute best experience of my life. The bigness of love and light set me free. Now I am choosing to hike my dream hike. Again I am picking a route fostering freedom because I know there is so much learning and growing and frolicking and overcoming to be had in the wild. I need to have faith that I am on my right path, a path that happens to be across the greater part of the state of California.
My day in Joshua Tree rekindled my enthusiasm for being in nature. It helped calm my nerves. For now, I can keep feeling all of my feelings, even the ones that make me uncomfortable, and know that I am where I need to be. So my shakedown didn’t shake out all the nerves, I am going to let that go. I can accept that nerves are a part of the journey, and stay grounded in my dream. Oh, and remember to pack the essentials: toilet paper and vegetables!
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