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Patricia Kolberg | 05.15.2017

I've come full circle in over 30 years of hiking. When I tell people I go by myself, I get one of two reactions:  If it's a woman, she’ll ask, “aren’t you afraid?” If it's a man he’ll say, “you shouldn't do that.” I don't think either response is out of the norm. As women, we worry all the time about our safety, and men think it's their job to provide it.

When I first started hiking in my early 20s, I had a faithful companion with me. His name was JR and he was the best dog ever. I could go anywhere with him, and we frequented the Columbia River Gorge together. In those days the Gorge was pretty quiet, and we could spend a whole day hiking and not see another person.

JR, the best dog ever.

After one long hot slog up to Angel's Rest, I bought him a backpack so he could carry his own water. He never quite got the hang of it, not realizing it made him wider than normal, and many a time he "took me out at the knees" when running up behind me. I kept him on his leash, and he was always happy to go. If I wanted to spend time framing a picture, something a hiking partner may not have the patience for, JR was content hanging out with me. As I’ve told many, “I can tell the dog to sit and be quiet, I can't tell my husband to do that". 

As all our four-legged animals do, JR eventually got too old and arthritic to go. We had a younger dog by then and I used to sneak out of the house with her, feeling sad and traitorous leaving him behind. Unfortunately for me, the next dog proved to be no JR. She came from a rescue group with some serious issues and was not safe around other dogs, attacking them when they went by. I kept her on a leash, but by then the Gorge was filling with people who didn't do the same with their companions. I heard people ask all the time, “why do they have to be on a leash?” or say, “My dog is friendly, he doesn't need one.” Maybe your dog is all that, but I couldn't enjoy taking my dog because she wasn't. No longer could I set up my tripod and linger as long as I needed; too many people, too many dogs, and no more relaxing.

When I couldn't go with the second dog, and my husband was not always ready to head out, I heeded all those who had said, “it's not safe” or “you shouldn't do it.” I stopped hiking and I lost a great part of happiness in my life. 

Taking on the trails solo.

I started hiking because being outside refreshes my body, mind, and soul. Looking for that photo, whether of a large waterfall or the smallest of flower buds, keeps me ever present, enjoying, appreciating, thriving. I don't know if it's age or our overly connected world, but I find I need the quiet time in nature more now than I did back when JR and I went out. A desire to be in nature fuels me as much as my photography does. I have recently started hiking again by myself: I am cautious, I stay to well traveled trails, I pay attention, and I have fun. Most recently when hiking a few weeks ago, I had to keep reminding myself that I could stop whenever I wanted and linger as long as I needed; I now hike by myself and only have my inner clock to pay attention to.

I hope to travel back to most of the trails JR and I visited, and I will remember him as I go; even after all these years, I miss him very much. I also hope to embark on some new adventures; I've always wanted to see the Escalante, and I think it would fill both my camera with photos and my soul with joy.

#WomenInTheWild

Comments

I am so sad as I reread this piece written just a few short months ago. Because of the irresponsibility of others, revisiting all my favorite hiking destinations in the gorge, will never happen. All the hopes of seeing things again, now a little older, and maybe wiser has vanished. It is so heart breaking to see the utter and total devastation that is occurring in my favorite get back to nature area.
Here are a few photos taken just 36 hours before everything came flaming down. I went on a hike Sunday morning, on a whim. I went up Multnomah Falls to Weisendanger Falls and sat by the stream to eat a snack. It was beautiful, and now I fear lost.
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