I have done a ton of hiking road trips in Western Canada and the US. It’s hard to narrow them down to “bests” since each has had its unique charms and brilliant trail moments. But one stands out because it was my first multi-day, solo road trip for hiking purposes. I somehow survived four days with only my own company on and off trail, which I assure you is no small feat. I saw beautiful sights. I hiked my ass off (quite literally, as I lost almost 10 pounds in four days). I did all of this in the Grand Tetons back in 2010, and it was magic…except for the “death barn”.
Side note: What’s the death barn, you ask? Well, I was “upgraded” from a cushy condo surrounded by other human life to a converted barn in the middle of nowhere when the condo rental I had originally booked fell through at the last minute. There is something disconcerting about staying in the middle of a giant field, in absolute darkness, where every noise is amplified by a thousand. It was the epitome of a 48 Hours murder mystery scene. I slept on the couch with the TV on and a swiss army knife next to me every single night. I’m not even joking a little.
Onto the good parts of the trip:
–I challenged myself mentally: It is always more nerve-wracking solo hiking in unfamiliar or new places. Despite this, I hiked four days straight, often on trails with very few signs of other humans. I pushed through all the moments where my mind was screaming ‘turn around! you should not be alone out here!’. In doing so, I learned I can cross streams (though I hate it), my fear of being mauled by grizzlies is completely unwarranted, and that a little solitude never hurt anyone.
–I challenged myself physically: Way back in 2010, I wasn’t accustomed to hiking distance or significant elevation. Over four days, I probably hiked about 55-65 km and on trails that averaged 1000 m of elevation gain. At the time, this was huge. I got stronger, I got faster, and I got more confident in my hiking abilities.
–I discovered the magic of US ice cream assortments. Seriously, if you live in Canada you probably know that we are denied the best of Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs ice cream. This trip was back in the days when Canada didn’t even have chocolate peanut butter Haagen Dazs–positively archaic. I may have bought a pint of chocolate peanut butter along with a giant bag of ice just so I could transport it from Jackson to the death barn without it melting in 30 degree heat (it survived). There was also pineapple coconut Haagen Dazs and my beloved Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. Yes, this was all in a few days. Get off my back! I was hiking a LOT! And I like my ice cream.
–I survived the death barn: I am still convinced there was an ax murderer hiding behind this one inexplicably locked door. I am certain had I stayed one more night, he would have made his murderous move. You will never convince me otherwise.
–I saw so much beauty. So, so much. I had lived among some of the most beautiful mountains in the world for two years at the time I took this trip, and I was still in awe of the Tetons. There’s a stark contrast to the Tetons that I haven’t seen elsewhere. They rise suddenly and dramatically out of the flattest of plains, towering over you in all their jagged glory. In their presence you feel small, and you feel the tremendous power of nature.
Adventuring solo isn’t for everyone. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d do it now. But if you can get into the groove of quiet contemplation and appreciate the calming nature of solitude, you can find peace and reflection unlike anything you’ve experienced.