Day 3: Sleepless nights and break ups

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

6 am at Soldier Lake

I slept a little bit last night. Not a lot, but more than the first night. After finishing my tea, I settled into my sleeping bag around 7:00 and laid awake until the sky turned black and the stars shone bright.  I finally dozed off at some point but tossed and turned through the night. Unlike my first night at Chicken Spring Lake there wasn’t a single scratch, scurry or footstep. The wilderness was quiet except for the sound of fresh mountain water traveling through the gorge, echoing against its walls as it cascaded over the rocky creek that feeds Soldier Lake. This somehow made me feel safe.

I was wide awake hours before sunrise watching the stars. I was lucky enough to witness a few meteors dart across the sky which always excites me like a little kid.  Independence Day is my favorite holiday and seeing shooting stars is like watching nature’s fireworks show.  I laid awake until the eastern sky ever so slowly began to transform from the black of night to dark blue. Is that sunrise? I’d turn over, cover my head, and peek out again a few minutes later. Yes, it’s lighterSunrise!  I was relieved that I could get up and make coffee soon. The nights can be long when you’re sprawled out on the hard cold ground. I was restless and ready to stop trying to sleep.

You think about a lot of things when you lay awake alone it the wilderness in the wee hours of morning.  And as I snuggled up all warm and cozy in my 24 degree down bag searching the sky for my own private fireworks show, I thought of Brad, the man I’d broken up with earlier in the year (a 5 month relationship- a record since my divorce!).  I thought about all the reasons we didn’t work out; all the things he is and isn’t and I wanted him to be. My gut swelled with contempt.  I don’t want to have this feeling out here – this is where I find peace and serenity, not contempt. It’s time too find a way to let this go.

near soldier lake
near soldier lake

My alone-ness enveloped me in the cold morning air as I reflected on the difficult work I’ve done over the last several years to get to a place where I’m ok with not being in a relationship – more than ok, really. I love my independence – a sharp contrast from the first few years after my divorce when I joined every dating site, and treated dating like an Olympic sport that I had to train for. My first year out of my marriage I must have gone on 30 first dates. I wasn’t very good at screening at first  and had a lot of very uncomfortable and awkward coffees.  (Oh, the stories I could tell… )

Brad and I had known each other for a couple years. We’d seen each other around but hadn’t really spent any time alone together. The month I decided to close my account and stop actively searching for the “One” he asked me out.  I explained that I wasn’t really interested in dating anyone and suggested we just be friends. But he was persistent and I finally agreed to go on a date with him a couple months later.

Brad is a nice guy and would have done anything for me.  But the outcome was the same as it always was: the relationships I attract seem to smother and mute me. They extinguish my fire and tame me. I knew I had to get out or risk losing myself again.  Sure, it was the right decision and I don’t regret it. But how many relationships will I have to walk away from?  Will I ever find someone who will inspire, energize and lift me up? The one who really gets me?

My friends say I  just haven’t found the “One” yet.   I believe it’s quite possible there just isn’t a “One” for me.  I’ve come to terms with that.  I’m even ok with it despite living in a world that tells me I’m supposed to get married, have kids, get the good job, buy the big house, get buried in debt, and live for that 2 week vacation.  Honestly, I’ve never subscribed to any of that -but I chased it anyway because I thought it’s what I was supposed to do.  The reality is when I got it, I felt emptier and less fulfilled than ever.

View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)
View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)

So then, why did I spend decades subscribing to the myth that I’m nobody unless I’m coupled?  I thought of many reasons (I won’t bore you with that much info) but frankly, one of the biggest is because I was born a woman. After all doesn’t society, media, and advertising tell us we should be obsessed with finding a man? Aren’t we groomed from birth to believe in Prince Charming and Fairy Tale weddings? They tell us if we wear the right clothes, the right shoes, the right makeup, if we’re ladylike, fun, easy going (not a “nag”), and flirty but not slutty we’ll land our Prince Charming!  I remember everyone telling me at 17 years old that I’d change my mind about not wanting to get married and have kids because, “All women want that. Just wait til your clock starts ticking.” Well come to find out, I have no clock and if I do, it certainly never ticked.

Once I came to terms with the fact that I don’t NEED a man my life, I realized I actually LIKE being alone. I love traveling alone, backpacking alone, going to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon alone. And while I also love the company of my friends who are fun and easy to be with – it’s not a requirement. It’s liberating to know that not having someone to do things with doesn’t hold me back.  How many people don’t live out their dreams and goals because they’re afraid to do it alone? Not me. Not anymore.

And yet…. as darkness turned to light this morning I had a stark realization: despite all those hours of therapy and all my talk of liberation, strength, and independence, the contempt I felt for Brad earlier had nothing to do with him.  Brad is perfectly fine just the way he is – he’s just not the right One for me. (There were a lot of reasons we didn’t work out, but when he confessed to me that REI “scared” him, I knew we had no future together – true story!) No, that feeling in my gut wasn’t contempt, it was about me still lamenting, why isn’t there a One for me? Why am I so different?  Tons of women would love to find a man like Brad. Why not me?  Sure, I may not need a man in my life, but it sure would be nice to someday find the One who really gets me.  How cool would it be to have someone to share this amazing adventure with?  I can’t even imagine… A sadness swept over me as I pondered why this has eluded me all my life and yet seems so easy for others.

Getting to a place in life where you realize you’re better off alone than spending it with the wrong people (who disrespect, drain, and deplete you without giving anything back) may be liberating, but it’s not always easy.

The sky was getting lighter and I was growing more restless laying there thinking about all this so I rolled over to check the time on my phone. 5 am! Yay, morning! I unzipped myself from my bag, did my stretches, put on my headlamp, and made coffee. It’s 6 now,  my oatmeal is soaking, and I’m getting ready to pack up to begin my hike to Rock Creek/Crabtree Meadow and the John Muir Trail!

I’m excited, it’s going to be a great day!

Read about my scariest day on the trail! 

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24 comments on “Day 3: Sleepless nights and break ups”

  1. Hi Carolyn! I just came across your blog because I’m reading a fiction book called The Middle of Somewhere and was trying to google places the character mentioned while hiking JMT. Now I feel like I’d rather read your blog since it’s a real life experience than my fiction book! You are an amazing story teller and an amazing woman!!!

  2. Planning the same route solo early August 2018. This blog really helps me feel better. I have done some PCT section hikes and the High Sierra Trail in the past two years. I laughed so many times reading parts of your blog that I can relate to. Everything from losing a piece of critical gear to chanting my own trail mantra and even a bear on trail encounter near Valhalla that made me feel so incredibly happy to be alive. Hiking is something special that I’m glad to have found, but backpacking long distances solo across sections of wilderness dozens of miles from any roads is nothing short of a spiritual awakening. I think it is just the perspective gained from really pushing your comfort zone that keeps me doing it mostly. Nothing is impossible. I thank you for such a detailed account to share with us.

  3. Thank you, Carolyn. I followed you from your rv adventures with Matilda….. But, this is truly a treasure. It explains so much about you and your character. And I am only three days in on the trail with you….. Can wait to go further on the JMT and to day 4 and beyond! Great Writing!

  4. Thank YOU for writing about an all too often dismissed subject in such a direct manner .. I have had occasion to backpack the Sierra Nevadas extensively solo over the years thus experienced similar thoughts often in reflection in beautiful surroundings such as are encountered at every turn of the trail unfolding before one ………again Thank You …..R

  5. The divorce thing has become boring. Hope this isnt a story about your personal life. Reveal what the trail has to offer, its healing powers, its rejunvenation and tidings. Hope you have read “journey on the crest”. The author talks about her relationship, but does not dwell on it. She focuses on the trail.

    1. I understand that some people want to read blogs that are full of logistics, facts, the day to day minutia of trail life and what a profoundly life changing experience it was. In fact, I know there are tons of blogs out there that focus on the mileage, the meals, the people on the trail, and the scenery. Sure, there’s going to be plenty of that in MY blog, but it’s not the focus. MY blog is about how I experienced the trail and what my personal journey was to get me there.

    2. If Carolyn’s personal thoughts and experiences on the trail were so unwanted I’m pretty sure “Wild” would not have been nominated for so many notable awards. Dude, you don’t have your finger on the pulse of women. Very insulting comment you left for her. Once again I applaud your courage Carolyn for putting yourself out there and being vulnerable.

  6. I’m really glad you shared this. I too am at a point where I need to let go of the whys and what ifs. I have proven I am perfectly capable of doing “alone”. But, perhaps it is time for me to learn to fully enjoy it and quit feeling frustrated and left out that I’m single while it seems everyone else is not. Although, I would love someone to share life with, it shouldn’t be a requirement for my happiness. Your trek is an inspiration to me. You are truly doing something I would hesitate doing alone, out of fear, not ability. I gotta work on that! Thanks for shining a light on that and sharing your thoughts and emotions. Can’t wait for your next post!

    1. This makes my day. I love hearing of others’ experiences about the things I write. Thank you very much for sharing this with me. I completely understand what you’re saying about the “what ifs” – that can be so hard for me to NOT dwell on sometimes. And it can be hard sometimes when everyone around me is in a relationship to not feel like there’s something wrong with me. But with the help of a great therapist I’ve been able to embrace my inner introvert and realize that I’m different – and that is perfectly OK. I hope you are able to realize that too. Not everyone fits into the cookie cutter life we’re spoon fed all our lives. Embrace your individuality and independence; it’s what makes you special! Thank you very much for reading and especially for leaving your thoughtful comment!

  7. Love your honesty…not only about the trail but about Brat too. After my divorce with my first husband I decided I have given to him, what I could never give to another man…Years later I met my now husband, he is a Vet from Viet Nam paraplegic and fell in love with him; but its another kind of love. Being his caregiver for over 30 years and have no regrets thank God. You will find the ONE…but meanwhile do what your heart tells you to do…

  8. Carolyn: I love reading blogs where the writer is not afraid to be honest and open about the thoughts that run through their heads while on a thru-hike. Anyone can write about their daily mileage, the scenery, and what they ate, but divulging your heart to strangers is another thing entirely! Thank you for sharing!

  9. I can totally relate to everything in here. The weirdness of post-divorce dating… the wondering if you really need a partner…. trying to balance alone-ness with companionship. Even though I’ve remarried, I still find myself asking some of these same questions.

    1. It was so nice to read your comment! I almost didn’t post this blog> i just wasn’t sure people would want to read about this. I loved reading your comment and knowing that I’m not the only one who feels these things – so thank you! I wish you the best and thank you for reading.

        1. The REI thing would be a deal breaker for me too! I had hoped to do JMT myself, alone, by now. Last summer I had a fluke accident, cut the back of my leg and the Achilles’ tendon. Not all the way back yet. The pressure I feel is that I’m 62, and I still want to do it. I’d given up until I started reading this. I’ve spent 25 years being a therapist and raising 3 children. Still hard to be alone sometimes. I think you are dead on that being alone is about being born female, and not giving yourself away. Thank you!

          1. Victoria. thank you for the kind words and sharing a bit of yourself with me. I’m sorry to hear you weren’t able to hike the JMT> I hope someday you will get to realized your dream!! <3

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