Growth in Going
Typically, simply stepping onto Treaty 7 soil helps me feel at peace, so when I made plans to set off on a 30km overnight hike on Nut Point Trail all by myself, I had big expectations. I was fresh off a break-up and ready for a grand revelation about my place in the world. I imagined myself journaling on the shores of Lac La Ronge and taking in the crisp fresh air and fall colours after a contemplative 5-hour hike, with deep thoughts and big ideas coming at me as steady as the waves.
That is not what happened.
La Ronge has seen well above average rainfall this year and the Sunday and Monday I had marked on my calendar were going to be no exception. I debated holding off until next summer when I could pick a warmer, drier weekend, but something in me told me I had to go now. I packed lots of layers to keep me warm and dry and borrowed some lightweight gear from friends to make up for the extra weight. I was as ready as I’d ever be, I told myself, and headed north.
Though this would be my first time camping in the backcountry alone, that wasn’t the part that had me the most nervous. I’d spent over two dozen nights in the wilderness in 2018 and knew I was well prepared for one more.
The actual hike, however, had me much more anxious. I had only done hikes of this length twice, and they were both with daypacks. I remember feeling totally exhausted after those days and they weren’t followed up with a second, equally as difficult hike the next morning. The furthest I have travelled with a loaded pack is about 5km and each time I was left with bruised hips and collarbones and a sore back. I really had no idea how I was going to complete 30km in 24hours.
I arrived at Nut Point Campground in La Ronge just after noon. The gates to the campsites were closed for the season, so I had to park outside them and walk an extra 500m to get to the trailhead. I laced up my hiking boots (and ankle braces because my years of injuries playing volleyball and basketball have taken their toll), pulled up the hood of my rain jacket, and started on my way. It was only lightly misting when I started but I didn’t even make it to the trailhead before I had to stop and put my rain cover on my pack.
It rained constantly almost the entire first 7 and a half kilometres. I kept to a routine of hiking for 50 minutes and resting for 10 when I found a good tree to duck under with a somewhat dry place to sit. I get low blood sugar quickly when I’m active, so I brought lots of trail mix, dried fruit, and granola bars to snack on during my breaks. I also adjusted my pack when I stopped, shortening the torso bit by bit to eventually achieve a proper fit.
The 3 hours it took me to reach the canoe portage at the halfway point were by far the easiest part of the trek, but less productive than I anticipated. I expected my time hiking would be full of deep thoughts about personal growth but instead found my head was quite vacant. I got lost in a bit of a trance, watching the ground to be mindful of my footing and looking up through the rain now and then to admire the view. The most common thought to consume me was word-smithing the Instagram caption I would post when I completed my hike, which frustrated me every time I became aware of it. I would quickly attempt to change my focus, reminding myself that I was not doing this for the ‘gram. In fact, I didn’t even take my camera out until I got to the end of the trail that day.
The rain stopped after the portage and I became eager to get to camp. I started counting down the hours and minutes, estimating how many kilometres I had to go. My hips and collarbones were bruising and my feet had matching blisters. I noticed myself tripping up more and I was in a constant longing to spot the campsite behind the next corner.
Finally, with the sun nearing the horizon (I assume at least, the clouds were hiding the sun all day) I reached the end of Nut Point Peninsula. I stopped for a quick picture before taking a survey of the area and finding a soft, sheltered spot to pitch my small tent. After removing any food or scented items from my pack I tossed it into the shelter and started preparing my dinner.
I had decided to make it easy on myself for meals, bringing a pre-packaged dehydrated supper and then oatmeal for breakfast. Pulling out my MSR stove to boil water, however, I quickly realized that I had forgot to pack a fuel canister. Thinking back to the list I had made of everything I would need I realized that I didn’t even have it written down next to stove and lighter. Quickly, feeling quite a bit like a failure, I thought through my options.
I could attempt to find dry wood and build a fire hot enough to boil 2 cups of water – no, that would take way too much energy and time with how wet everything was. I could add cold water to my meal and see what happens – nah, it would probably become a cold chunky/watery bag of mush that would be a struggle to eat. I could go to bed without dinner and re-assess my hunger level in the morning – yep, I was exhausted, bed it was.
I took a quick inventory of the food I had left – 3 granola bars, a couple pieces of dried mango with a handful of trail mix, and a rice crispy square and small tin of tuna I threw in last minute “just in case”. If I had one snack per hour I could make them last the 6-hour hike back to my car, I told myself. I packed up all of my food into a stuff sack, brushed my teeth, and found a decent branch to hang it all from.
I had never made a bear cache before but I figured I could make something work. I tied one end of my rope to the bag of smelly things and the other end to my full Nalgene. I tossed my water bottle up over the branch and it pulled the bag into the air as it landed. I then wrapped the string and water bottle around a big log a few times until it was secure. This surely wasn’t the most fail-proof way to store my food, as a bear could have easily broken that line, but in the end it kept me safe for the night.
I debated journaling for a bit before bed but was so drained from the hike that I only wanted to sleep. I was cold once I stopped moving so I layered up with two pairs of wool socks, leggings, track pants and rain pants, a wool shirt and synthetic bunnyhug, and a buff around my face with a toque on my head. All inside a -10 down mummy bag on a 4.5 R-value sleeping pad. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t cold as the temperature dropped to 5 degrees, but it also surprised me that I didn’t become too warm in all those layers.
In the morning, after a blissful 10-hour sleep, I packed up my tent and decided to try my hand at a fire. It didn’t rain overnight but the forest was still damp. I broke small branches covered in old man’s beard off the bottom of dead jack pines, hoping less rain made its way through the canopy above. I spent about 10 minutes fussing about but when even the driest moss covered twigs wouldn’t burn for more than a second or two I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I took a few pictures around camp before picking up my pack and hitting the trail again.
The hike to the portage felt like it was never going to end. I gave up on my attempts of revelation in solitude and started playing podcasts on my phone to distract me from the pain in my feet and back. My favourite was an episode of She Explores, where a guest spoke with her 93-year-old grandmother about her bike tour on Vancouver Island during the Second World War. She talked about how it didn’t matter that they hadn’t done any training and didn’t have the right gear; they wanted to go on a vacation so they tied suitcases to their single speed bikes and hopped on the ferry.
I met a retired couple from the Netherlands at the portage. They were touring Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and offered me a muffin when they heard about my food fiasco. They were just doing a day hike of half the trail and held a pace much quicker than mine. We chatted for a bit and though I left for town before them they passed me when I stopped to pee in the bush and got distracted by a wild blueberry patch.
As I inched closer to the trailhead, stopping often to rest or take pictures of curious looking mushrooms, my mind kept wandering back to the two young women cycling along The Island’s hills in the early 1940’s. They didn’t need anything special for their adventure; they just went. This is what I came out here to learn, I realized; sometimes I just need to go.
When I finally made it to my car 7½ hours after I left camp that morning I was sore and weak and just plain exhausted. But I was so proud of myself. Not only that I physically completed the hike, but that I actually started it in the first place.
That really is the hardest part. It’s so easy to plan trips with a partner or friend. I’m the queen of itineraries and meal prep and gear lists. But when it comes to doing things on my own, I’ve gotten too good at waiting. Too good at saying I’ll do it later when I have someone to enjoy it with. Too good at crawling into bed instead of going for that evening walk or paddle or bike ride. I had many reason’s to put off the hike I had just completed; the timing wasn’t great with work, the weather was crummy, my strength wasn’t where it should be, and most of all I didn’t have anyone to share the experience with. But instead of letting that stop me, I just went. Because while yes, adventures are wonderful things to share, they’re also far too good to pass up just because you’re alone.