Don’t cry…don’t cry…don’t cry…
Last weekend, just before the New Year’s Eve celebrations commenced on Sunday, I packed the car and set out for a snowy drive North to experience “Winter Camping”. This camping trip had been weeks, if not months, in the making. Friday night, after the Christmas Chaos was far behind, backpacks were packed full of Merino Wool and down-filled everything, freeze dried food packages and multiple lighting sources. After also retrieving my snowshoes, micro-spikes and trail poles, safely stashing the stuffed backpacks in the car and putting the hiking boots by the front door, in an effort to make the Saturday morning departure as stress-free as possible. After all the planning, preparation and packing was complete, I sat on the couch to binge watch ‘Wentworth’ on Netflix and listened to the rain and wind beat on the windows. I anxiously looked at my weather app and instantly felt simultaneously excited and intimidated by the fact that there was a full-on winter storm in the area that I was travelling to the next morning. The weather meant more snow for the 4km snowshoe into camp, but it also meant more snow on the roads getting there and also colder temperatures.
My camping buddy had done this winter camping thing before. And mostly on solo outings. I have only been winter camping on one other occasion, in the snow and cold, by accident. I knew that it was camping, and it was in October and it was in the mountains, but it wasn’t supposed to be snowing and it was definitely not supposed to be minus anything. Well it was. And I was completely unprepared. That trip was also different in that there was access to firewood at the back country camping site. This meant that I did have the benefit of a raging inferno. That is until it was time to go to bed…in the tent…far far away from said inferno. Despite wearing everything I had brought with me, I was frozen and miserable. It was quite literally one of the worst experiences I can remember. Desperately wanting to avoid another situation like that, I made sure I was over prepared for the experience. And thankfully down filled clothing, sleeping bags and coats are not very heavy and squish down into tiny balls that fit quite nicely into a backpack.
It was an early start on Saturday morning, beating the sunrise and making my way North. The road trip typically takes around 2.5 to 3 hours, but knowing there was a winter storm and the roads were sketchy at best, I wanted to have enough time to get there safely, hike in the 4 km and set up camp, all before it started getting dark again. The trip was amazing! It was like a scene from your favorite winter or Christmas movie. Fresh powdered snow on the trail and on the trees, hiking beside three different frozen lakes and a vast valley of snow-capped trees surrounded by towering mountains, blue sky and bright sunshine. Everything was great, I even woke up in the middle of the night because I was too hot. Apparently 3 pairs of wool socks and down filled booties were unnecessary. The silence was deafening as we were the only ones for miles and miles. The stars and the moon lit up the night sky not dampened by the lights of a city. With the proper gear, clothing, tent and sleeping bags, I was amazed at how warm I was, despite the temperature being -15 degrees celsius and our combined exhalations not only forming condensation on the inside of the tent, but icicles!!
The next morning however, was a completely different story. After taking in the breathtaking scenery and the sun poking it’s way up over the mountains, the cold set in. I was feeling under the weather before leaving for the trip, but with the planning and preparation and excitement, I did not even consider the prospect of cancelling. Removing myself from my sleeping bags (yes there were two stuffed inside each other), leaving the protection of the tent and embarking on the “tear down” process was excruciating. My hiking boots were frozen cold. After a few moments, I could no longer feel my feet, at all. I also could not feel my fingers despite my layers. Every time I moved my hands, my fingers hurt. Real. Physical. Pain. I also started to feel sick and somewhat dizzy. I didn’t know if I wanted to throw up or pass out, but I knew neither was really an option. And I knew I still had an energetic 4 km snowshoe ahead of me to get myself out of the mountains and back to the car. I was gutted. I was miserable. And for a moment I felt pure despair.
I looked at my camping buddy who was diligently, and as quickly as possible, packing up the tent, and I knew that I needed to pull my shit together. There was no other way to get back to the nice warm car and warm, dry clothes contained within it than by the strength of my own legs and frozen, two feet. This was all on me. No one was coming to rescue me. Resilience. I needed to find some. Brave. I spoke of that all the time, now it was time to dig deep. I leaned into my despair. Into the pain and awfulness of that moment. I honoured how I was feeling. I allowed myself to be present and feel the desperation and agony, it was what I was feeling. In my despair, I worried about my now frozen feet and hands (they were frostbitten for sure and were mere minutes from amputation, I was positive). What felt like years later (definitely had frostbite now), we were finally packed up and ready to hike/snowshoe out and back to the car and mercifully, to a heater.
After about 45 minutes of hiking, the feeling was finally coming back to my hands and feet, bringing with it the sensation of hot pins and needles. The nausea and the feeling of blacking out had finally passed. And my runny nose was frozen and no longer running. I thought of how I had felt earlier, back in camp, and the weakness I had shown. It was not even the New Year and I was already failing on my being Present and Brave. But I wasn’t. I was being Present in my moment of despair. I was grounded in my despair and acutely aware of how I was feeling in the present moment. I was also Brave enough to acknowledge my desperation. And I was Brave enough to move past it and know that I had to find the strength, the resilience, to get myself back to safety and comfort.
Being Present and Brave doesn’t always mean being happy. It doesn’t mean smiling and pretending that it’s not shitty sometimes. To me it’s acknowledging the down times, embracing where I’m at in the moment, being brave enough to feel it and then finding the strength, the resilience and the bravery to pull my shit together and keep going.
Every day. Present. Brave. Kind.