Inspired by my adventurous roommate + best friend Andee, I set upon a solo excursion up north. Rewind to a couple of days before the escape: Andee and I are quietly kneeling on the ground in the middle of our broadcast class, huddling around a single computer as photos of Jay Cooke State Park flash on the screen. I ooh and ahh as she nods knowingly. "This is where I would send you," she says. "I'm going," I affirm.
Andee grins in glee, unbeknownst to the soft mist of fear settling upon me as I review what I had just sworn, my heartbeat steadily increasing. I have traveled alone before, sure, plenty of times. But never to the forest, the cold, desolate forest.
But hey, jokes on me though because the trip was a much needed gift for my small town soul.
My GPS says I've arrived at 6:24 pm, but it's dark outside and it feels like I'm the only human in existence. Focused, I drive gingerly as a black abyss continues to swallow me whole. A park ranger and I were in communication just an hour earlier. He gave me directions to the entrance, "make sure to turn left, not right," I recall him saying. I cling to those words now, repeating them over and over as I scan for a break in the road. At 6:27pm, I find it. To my left are "Road Closed" signs and on the right, asphalt leading into a thicket of trees. Obeying the rules, I turn right and drive. An eternity passes before I stop and turn back. Maybe when the ranger said to make sure to turn left, he meant make sure to ignore the huge flashing danger signs and turn left anyway.
It's 6:33pm and I've just about given up. Lost in thoughts of self-humiliation, a glimmer catches my eye and my foot slams (okay, slowly presses on) the brakes. There, through the line of trees, is a magnificent lamppost shining in all of its dim yellow glory. I've never loved a lamppost more in my life.
Okay, I got weak and opted for a cabin. But make no mistake, I was dangerously ready for a night in the wilderness--just me and a tent against the world!! But it was snowing and I wasn't prepared for a night in the wilderness with just me, a tent, and frostbite too.
The establishment was small, cozy and warm. Still freshly superstitious from my night on the road, I quickly unpacked while the Idle Empress record melodiously murmured in the background.
Later into the night, my stomach growled. Only slightly annoyed at my basic human needs, I slipped outside, uncovered a fire pit under a few layers of snow and made dinner, my senses highly aware of every slight change in the air as the winter chill bit at my cheeks and ice melted under my criss-crossed legs.
The Morning After
The campground was seemingly empty except for me and the single cabin next door. I never got to see the inhabitant's faces, but they were much quieter than little ol' me (I was thinking this as I slammed my car door shut for the twelfth time that morning) (twelve times because I had forgotten twelve things in my car necessary for a successful breakfast).
9:34am was food time and I gingerly sipped two hot cups of soup while charring hot dogs in case I got hungry later on (note: I got hungry). The trees looked a lot less daunting in the light, which eased any leftover tensions from the night before and allowed me to make animal friends. Two squirrels were particularly friendly as well as five black-capped chickadees that kept swirling about. It turned out to be a very Snow White-esque morning.
I packed up, bid a tender goodbye to the cabin and headed toward the trails to begin my trek.
- Quite a ways into my hike, I found a pair of mittens drooping from tree branches and was confused as to whether I should be taking a photo of the scene some would dub as "cute" or running for my sanity. I opted to hastily walk away while also attempting to consciously repress the plots of a dozen horror movies.
- I crossed a man in blue snowshoes who I cheerfully greeted. He reciprocated with a bleak hi and slight shaking of head, which I interpreted as why is this lady by herself in the middle of the forest with lipstick on to which I now reply with rolled eyes (at misogyny), a stuck out tongue and hey, the only chapstick I had on hand was tinted. Also, who said people can't hike with makeup on.
- There's something special about wintertime forests.
I journeyed along the Silver Creek Trail for three or four hours and while it was peaceful, I quickly found that my time outdoors was better spent near water, the natural element I identify with most. Thus once looped around, I plopped myself down on the slick black rocks for a pleasant ending to the day-- just me and the St. Louis River.
No revelations were made. The world didn't split into two, revealing to me its secrets and treasures. I understand this trip did not grant me an awakening, but it did further confirm what I already knew, but desperately needed reminding of: I am capable. I am a being of this earth fully capable of navigating and appreciating the world that surrounds me. The depths of my emotions are present and valid. Also, I'm b.a. af.