Last weekend I was able to carve out some much needed time to get away from life. I’d also been lucky enough to stumble upon a local woman named Jenny through an old episode of the Hike Like a Woman podcast who owns a business called Camprents. They rent fully stocked backpacking packs, complete with food and camping gear and ship it to you or your destination. I reached out to Jenny on Instagram, asking if she was still looking for beta testers like she mentioned in the podcast, and she graciously lent me one of the packs to try over the weekend.
Because it was sort of a last minute trip, I needed to stay close to home. Originally, I had planned to get dropped off to camp at Stanford House in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and hike back home to my apartment in Akron the following day, but due to the upcoming holiday, all the sites there were booked. A park ranger recommended I try a tree farm down the road that also offered primitive campsites, so I reached out to Heritage Farms, reserved a site, and began planning for my first solo trip.
A few days before my departure, we’d been having some thunderstorms, so I kept a close eye on the forecast, mainly so I could be prepared for the 14 mile hike back home the second day. Then, the day I met Jenny to get the pack, a heat advisory was issued for the weekend, with temperatures expected to be in the 90’s and a heat index over 100 degrees with the humidity. There wasn’t any rain predicted though, so I packed more water and researched which trail heads had drinking water available.
The day I left for my trip was scorching hot and I had decided I did not want to rely on a ride, so I made the decision to drive myself and, rather than hike home with a full pack in the heat, to hike early the next morning near the area I camped. I headed out in the early evening for my drive to the farm, where I parked and hiked in to my site with all my water and gear.
The site I had chosen sat up on a hill that overlooked the farm and was tucked in a corner near the woods. No one had reserved the other two sites near mine, so I got to be completely alone, which was exactly what I needed after and especially rough, emotionally draining week.
I set up camp and hiked into Peninsula to the Lock 29 trail head. I’d arrived around 6, so my time to hike that first day was shortened by needing to eat dinner and build my fire. I’ve hiked the towpath in this area quite a bit, so I just wandered down the trail enough to find a path just off to the side that led to a quiet little clearing near the bank of the river, where I paused for a minute to cool off, enjoy the beauty and relative silence and try and clear my head.
Earlier in the week my partner, whom I had just moved in with a little over a month ago after dating for nearly a year and a half, decided to break up with me for the second time in our relationship (the first being last fall, where we were apart for 2 1/2 months before deciding to give things another try). Although I had been anticipating it, because I was noticing a lot of familiar patterns, I was doing a much better this time being open about what I needed from our relationship and standing up for my own interests. The way it happened, however, was abrupt and caught me by surprise, and I found myself suddenly upended again, but this time without a place of my own to land or escape to.
I’d planned this trip before our breakup as an empowering first solo trip intended to help me feel like an outdoor bad ass and enjoy this great opportunity to try some new gear. It was just going to be a quick bit of “me time” before our 3 day backpacking trip to Mohican State Forest for her upcoming birthday, where we had camped the previous year. What it ended up being was a retreat, a time for me to remind myself of my own strengths and all the other things I love about life other than her that I could still love and enjoy without her as my partner. I also used the time to reflect on what I wanted for my life that was suddenly blown wide open to endless possibilities, the lessons I had learned from our time together and to find the strength I will need as I rebuild my life alone.
I sat by the river for as long as I could before heading back to camp, where I built my own fire, one of the proudest and most memorable moments from my trip, even if it was the simplest of things. Every other time I had been camping, it had been with someone else, and when I tried to start one or wanted to on my own, I always got edged out of the process as my partner came in and took over (and then usually got frustrated themselves when it took a long time or they were less than successful). For me, building and sustaining my own fire felt like a huge win and I was so excited that something so small could make me feel so much more confident.
As the fire crackled, I ate my dinner and wrote until it was too dark to see and my headlamp started to attract too many bugs to use. I wrote about the breakup and the excitement of doing my first trip all on my own, about having started that fire… and also how much I wanted to tell her all about it and share it with her and how sad I was that I couldn’t. When I had to stop writing, I was still sad, but my head felt clearer than it had in days. I turned off the headlamp, and watched the fireflies light up the hillside, flickering on and off in the distance.
As I watched the fireflies all around me, I was reminded that, just like their lights, this moment and all its pain would fade, and then another would come and drift away and another. I realized that life is nothing but a series of moments. I will really miss the moments that I had with her, but I also know we will eventually create new ones. They will be different, but they can still be good, and I’ll also get to make some memories on my own and with new friends. That night, I realized that I can make amazing moments all on my own.
As the next day dawned, I decided to write myself a new beginning and seek out more of these experiences that make me feel confident and empowered. I broke camp and headed down the road to one of my favorite trails in CVNP, Blue Hen Falls to Buttermilk Falls.
Blue Hen Falls is always busy and that day was no exception, despite being 86 degrees at 9:30 AM, so I paused there only briefly and continued down the trail towards Buttermilk Falls.
The path to those falls isn’t maintained. There are logs and a stream to cross multiple times, big hills with only tree roots as steps and parts of the trail that are steep and partial eroded. I’d been there before but I still lost the trail more than once, but still I found my way. When I did, not only was I rewarded by the incredible beauty of the area, but I got to enjoy it in solitude and silence, with only my thoughts and words that I wrote while there. The water cascading down over the shale washed my spirit clean, taking with it my fear of being unable to live my life without my partner. It reminded me that even though the terrain of my life and our relationship was changing, like the trail, I could still find my way to things I love that do endure, these trees and rocks and this water… all these natural places that have been here, in this place, for decades and will still be, before and after all the heartbreaks and victories of my life. I was reminded, in this place, that things can both change and stay the same and that, sometimes, if you can’t find your way or get lost or find yourself alone, it’s not a failure or final, but a chance to blaze your own trail and move in the direction that gives you strength and purpose and brings you joy.
Although I hope that someday she and I will be the type of friends that can still go camping and on adventures together, and the grief is by no means completely gone, I’m beginning my own adventure: this blog, moving again, beginning to save to build out a camper van that will one day become my own and allow me to see more of these beautiful natural places that both inspire and heal me, and to begin to share the power of writing and the outdoors to uplift and inspire with so many others.
Don’t put off taking a solo trip or think you don’t have what it takes to do things alone. You do, even if you can’t see it or are afraid. All you have to do is be still and listen to that little voice inside you that is still part of the wild.