The Trail Less Traveled

Taking the trail less traveled: how local trails go beyond the "classics". By @ginabegin
This post was written in partnership with REI.

I'm not really a hiker.

I don't hike for the love of burning quads, burning lungs, or a sweaty back hugged up against a day pack.

If anything, I'm a seer. Not in the prophetic sense; I'm talking about an addiction to visual stimulus. I get hung up on details in the most ridiculously minute way. If it were possible, I would inhale entire landscapes just so I could absorb everything they hold.

But, like most addictions, mine comes with a problem: I don't like seeing the same trail twice. And if it's a popular trail, one that’s been documented endlessly on Google’s image search, I don't want to be on it — at least not when it's in prime season.

But unlike most addictions, this one has a benefit.

Taking the trail less traveled: how local trails go beyond the "classics". By @ginabegin

Searching for new sights keeps my mind open. It helps me realize that adventure and scenic beauty aren’t designated to one kind of environment (e.g. the go-to mountains of Colorado) but are widespread, found in areas people might not readily consider:

Singletrack in northern Florida.

The historic mountain culture of the Appalachians.

The contrasting colors of land and sky in the prairies.

Backcountry skiing over the Atlantic ocean.

No, they aren’t “the classics.” But trails through these less-popular areas provide me a space to move through varied ecosystems, cultures and landscape. They offer connections between people and the subtleties — or grandeur — that make each region unique; that’s helped me see the appreciation people have for their corner of the continent.

Taking the trail less traveled: how local trails go beyond the "classics". By @ginabegin

But truly “seeing” a place is nothing without fuel from the other senses.

Have you, for example, ever noticed how the sun bakes the morning dew off Florida’s fallen pine needles, filling the air with a warm Christmas scent? And how, in the rainy season, clockwork thunderstorms empty over the southland’s hammocks, lingering in muddy patches where wild boars stomp their grounds?

Or have you heard the insects clap in flight as you disrupt their place on prairie tallgrass? Their sounds are amplified in the afternoon clouds, thundering across the sky line. After summer’s storms finish feeding the grasslands, autumn’s wind brush against the stalks, moving them in formation like golden waves.

Taking the trail less traveled: how local trails go beyond the "classics". By @ginabegin

And what about the Atlantic Maritimes, where the Appalachian Mountains submerge below icy waters, shoring a legacy of explorers who tread a land once considered wild? If you look in its quiet folds, in the regions surrounding the whitewashed fishing villages, you’ll find the mountains of the maritimes still hold a salty breath of mystery. Or top off the Appalachian Trail with its International section, and you’ll pass through the system’s most remote and rugged region — the Chic Chocs — showing that the Appalachians do hold a candle to the rugged peaks of the west.

Because of my unquenchable addiction, I’ve held open the doors of perception and allowed North America to show me what she holds, no judgements. And she’s shown me, as I’ve traversed her trails over many regions, that she’s exquisite.

Moving Back into My Car (Just for a Night)

There’s no reason I can’t sleep in my car like I used to.

Several times after my return from life on the road I felt homesick. Initially, I was staying on a friend’s couch in the middle of “Suburbia”, Salt Lake. It was odd to be stationed in one area, especially in an area away from wild things. But I was stoked on the novelty of having fridge access and a full shower.

But novelty wears off (that’s pretty much built into its definition). When it did, there were many times that I’d lie on that couch, wishing I were back in my car. It was my own space; I could write, work on photos, talk to my family, sleep, contemplate life, and no one would interrupt.

It took me a few nights of sending wishes into the dark ceiling overhead to realize that if I wanted to sleep in my car, why shouldn’t I? Was there some reason (beyond social mores) that being in suburbia should stop me? I'm an adult, dang it. I'll sleep wherever I want. 

I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed out the door.

Minus the neighbors’ porch lights, it was dark. I fumbled with my keys, hopping from one bare foot to the other to keep them from freezing on the concrete. I felt like some weirdo sneaking into a banged up car in the middle of a driveway. A weirdo with a puffy down sleeping bag.

But then I was in and I didn’t care anymore. I assumed the position I knew was most comfortable for sleeping in my Mazda, rolled down the windows an inch and fell asleep in the driveway.

It was the best night of sleep I’d had since moving to the city.

Fast forward to living in British Columbia. I’m not in a city; the town I live in only has 10,000 people and it’s surrounded by mountains, lakes, streams, waterfalls, and sweet smells. It rains often. The air is cool. Birds sing. I can open my windows and not worry about people taking advantage of my trust in humanity.

Every day in four walls here feels closer to being in nature than it ever did in Salt Lake City — even in that city’s mountains.

But dang it, I still feel trapped at times. There are lots of reasons why, but primarily it’s because I don’t feel safe outdoors in certain times of the year. It’s not the humans.

It's the grizzlies. 

I live in their country and I don’t know how to handle that. Growing up in Florida, we had alligators. But they were predictable — they lived in the water, and we humans figured out how to avoid them.

But grizzlies? I’ve never lived anywhere with grizzlies. Unlike gators, grizzles live on land, same as me. They walk on trails just like I do. And I’ve heard they’re feisty when protecting cubs or getting their fill for hibernating season.

This pretty much means they’re feisty as long as they aren’t sleeping.

I tried to shake my nervousness about going out there alone in their territory by telling myself things like: “They are more scared of you than you are of them.” But then I contemplate how little that would console me if I actually did end up being swiped by a bear’s paw. I mean, there were kids were pulled out of tents just miles from where I lived in Utah — and that was by black bears.

I’ve got those and grizzlies here.

Then there’s rain to contend with. It rains here, a lot. Strangely, seems like folks don’t enjoy camping or hiking or doing much of anything in the rain. I’m not of that mindset; I love the sound of rain hitting the walls of my tent, I like how it makes the air sweet when I’m falling asleep. I like that it keeps things cool so I don’t wake up in the morning feeling like I’m roasting because the sun is turning my tent into an oven.

But people won’t camp with me in the rain, and it rains here a lot, and in grizzly country, I won’t camp alone. (Kids being pulled from tents — remember?)

As a result of all these conditions, in nearly a year of living here I’ve slept outside a total of once.

I don’t feel awesome about this number. In fact, with some external prodding that included statements that made me defensive about my independence, I got pretty upset.

I looked at my car. It’s a new one I’m having to lease (that is its own story). It's not the comfy one I lived in. This new car has also become a caveat against me taking off at will to camp because the lease dictates how far I can drive. 

So, as I was saying, I looked at my car. And as I looked at it — after being challenged about my independence; after realizing I’d only slept outside one time in a year; after realizing that if I wanted to do anything, I’d have to do it alone; I grew indignant that this car. This one thing, whose sole purpose was to provide mobility, was playing into my feelings of being trapped.

Leases are dumb.

Defiantly, I went back inside, grabbed my sleeping bag from the closet, and headed for the door. It was getting dark. It was raining. I didn’t roll down the windows. But I didn’t sleep in my driveway.

I drove away.

I spent the night in a place where I would have rather slept in a tent. But people are scared of the rain and I am scared of grizzlies. So I did the best I could and slept in the new car. Once the rain let up, I rolled down the windows an inch and let the sweet, cool air rush in. Birds sang. And I wasn’t worried about anyone (or any bears).

I was in my own space. I read without being online, I wrote using only the research stored in my head. I listened. I saw the last light leave the mountain. I felt myself get hungry and not have a way to do anything about it since I didn’t have a fridge.

And I fell asleep. It was the best sleep I’ve had since moving to British Columbia. 

My Place Here

Finding your sense of place after moving can be a confusing process. How do you deal? By @ginabegin

I don't know this place.

Its hills, its further mountains, its farthest glaciers. I don't know them. I want to.

I'm in an in-between place, a place where I'm not sure if I'm a permanent part. I question if I mean anything to anyone here, or if I'm just a tiny fragment in passing, an unclear memory someone will recall a few years from now while they struggle with my name.

"You remember — that girl! She came from Utah, or Florida, or somewhere—"

It doesn't matter too much at times. I was alone before I came here. Then again, it matters because I want it to matter. I want to care about a place. I want to be tied to it, to see people on the street and hug them. I want to be connected to the land of a place. I want to understand it, to have a give and take relationship with it, to be challenged and comforted by it.

I want to go away but be ready at the end to return to a place.

But then moments of memory stab into perspective and I remember: I remember waking up to my breath frozen on the car windshield, stuffing my clothes in my warm sleeping bag, then trying to dress while still wrapped inside. I remember filling gallons of empty water containers, each simultaneously providing what I used to wash and to drink, and feeling the water run over my scalp and drip off the ends of my hair while I scrubbed it clean, trying to keep the drips from falling onto my toes. I remember flicking my headlamp on and reading, alone, in a black area of a black somewhere, hoping it was safe. And I remember sometimes turning on my computer to watch a downloaded show just so I could hear people's voices before falling asleep.

The wildness is gone; there are responsibilities now. During the wild time, I told myself I'd never live like this again — paying rent, paying bills, paying another for my life.

And now I do. There's comfort in it, and there's a painful longing in it, too. When I remember the wildness, I want to be back in my car and be free.

I stay in this place because there are reasons more important than running. Besides, I already did enough of that. I know what nearly three years of it was like: lonely.

But is that loneliness any different than being in a place I don't know and that doesn't know me? Is it a worse loneliness than being in a place with people who could forget my name as easily as an item added as an afterthought to a grocery list?

I don't know. I don't allow myself to think of it much. I'm trying to take hold of this place and understand it. I hope in the process to find my place — where I belong — and create memories that keep me grounded. I want to look back and remember the people of this place, the way they hugged, and how the land comforted me.

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