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.
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.
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.