The thought of going on a solo backcountry hiking trip terrified me, which is exactly why I knew I needed to do it. Although I had lived in the BC mountains for most of my adult life, I was still scared of the possibility of wildlife encounters gone awry or being caught in a vulnerable situation as a woman alone in my tent.
My fear reflected a deeply held belief that I wasn’t capable of defending myself if something were to happen. Perhaps this was true, I wondered. Maybe I needed to take a self-defense class or learn Jiu Jitsu? If it came down to it, I could always make a desperate attempt to arm bar a bear or rear naked choke-hold an intruder.
Instead, I decided to face my fears by walking head first into them. I put some of the time and energy that I spent worrying about predatory attacks into increasing my wilderness awareness and education so that I could understand the best methods of self-defense against animals (and humans) and increase my likelihood of proper decision making under pressure.
I practiced grabbing my bear spray quickly and efficiently and learning how to properly discharge it depending on wind and weather. I learned breathwork techniques to use as a calming agent when my imagination went into hyperdrive or if I was called to action. I knew these tools would empower me to feel more confident, courageous and competent when navigating the backcountry. Plus, they were easier to learn than that arm bar.
In short, I decided to take responsibility for becoming more capable.
A month later, I donned my overnight bag and crossed the bridge above Slocan River, turning north towards the Evans Creek Trailhead before disappearing into the woods. The path was well trodden and lightly trafficked, leaving ample opportunity for a truly solitary experience. I could see civilization falling away behind me as I traversed the trail, threading the shoreline of Slocan Lake and the dense Douglas-fir forest that edged the Valhalla mountains.
I knew the seventeen kilometre journey would be just long enough to feel like I was far away from humans, while the light whirring of cars on the distant highway would simultaneously settle my nerves.
Rife with technical terrain, slippery roots and boulder-sized rocks, the trail crosses loose, scree slopes, weathered woodwork and slick green mosses, all while undulating from craggy rock outcroppings down to the lapping waves of the lake and back up again.
The shifting scenery coupled with the erratic elevation made for a mentally engaging hike. Having to focus on my footsteps encouraged my mind to wander a little bit less. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look over my shoulder a time or two or ten, just to be sure.
When I arrived at the creekside campspot, I built a small fire and watched the flames flicker until dusk began to settle. I knew that if I wanted to mitigate any “what's-that-in-the-bushes” concerns, I ought to tuck myself away before dark. So I did.
The evidence of morning came searing through my tent walls and I shot out of bed, insanely proud of myself for having slept through the night. I could hardly wipe the smile off my face. I brewed a fresh, black coffee and relished every sip as I sat in the sun baked sand of the beach.
I packed up my gear and said goodbye to this remarkable place, knowing it would forever be etched in my herstory. I felt like a markedly different person than the one who walked in yesterday, still a bit shaky and unsure of herself. As I waltzed my way back to where I had begun, I had a newfound sense of self in my stride.
Though I hadn’t had to ward off any grizzlies or chase away intruders, I felt infinitely more courageous, confident and competent and even a little bit lighter, having lifted one more layer of fear off my life.
To follow along with the adventures of Ali, please see @thisisalibecker and thisisalibecker.com.