My breath caught in my throat as I was sent tumbling towards the ground. I quickly caught the fall, heartrate slowing as I surveyed the root and rock strewn path to Mt. Dickerman. Rapidly, adrenaline surged through my body a second time as I remembered that I was hiking solo, on a weekday and had not seen anyone for miles. No one to catch a fall, a twisted ankle or sprain. Simple root stumbles mean something very different for survival on a solo jaunt.
Later that afternoon, I emerged on the summit with expansive views in every direction. With no one else to congratulate and celebrate with, I let the small, quiet triumph swell within my chest. I made it here, of my own volition, putting one foot in front of the other, nothing but my own willpower to stop me from turning around. The struggle was mine alone to suffer, but the joy was mine as well, and sitting on the top of the peak on a Wednesday, I felt like one of the lucky ones.
When I was able to run (pre-shin splints), I almost always ran alone. It was time to clear my head, pay attention to the minutiae of my body. Hiking had always been separate from that. Even in a group, I often walk silently for many of the miles, simply running out of things to say. But there isn’t that second layer of thoughts that come from being truly alone. It wasn’t until this solo trip up Mt. Dickerman that I realized how much I miss the second layer. Hopefully, sometime soon I will be able to run again, but until then, solo trips up the trail will have to do.
Mt. Dickerman Trail
I arrived to the parking lot and laced up my boots slowly. I was excited to be hiking on a Wednesday, but the prospect of doing it alone caused a little hesitation. Still, I finished gearing up and walked to the trailhead.
Switchback followed switchback and I fell into a steady rhythm. The trail continued relentlessly uphill and I paused when breathing became difficult, only to plunge back in. Cutting through dense forest, large boulders occasionally breaking up the monotony, my brain finally had time to process the past month. I had been working on a boat in the San Juan Islands, getting plenty of time outdoors and in nature, but nothing compares to the meditative sense of simply placing one foot in front of the other for hours on end. My chore list for the next day was endless, but being here was the priority.
The dense forest began to open up, offering glimpses of the Mountain Loop peaks. Trees began to shrink and were replaced with blueberry bushes. Each berry was sweeter than the last and I had stained fingertips in no time. After pausing to gobble berries every 25 feet, I finally managed to reach the open meadows before the summit.
The meadows provided phenomenal views of the surrounding peaks, but I knew the summit awaited me, so I hurried along. Puffing my way up more switchbacks, I pulled every bit of motivation I knew and finally crested the ridge, reaching the summit.
“These blueberries are good, but the views from the summit aren’t too good today” I was warned as I passed a gentleman on the trail. While the final layer of peaks was obstructed by a smoky haze, the view was still pretty damn good.
I dropped my pack and grabbed my camera. With the summit to myself, I began to run from viewpoint to viewpoint, unable to believe the spectacle. Eventually I calmed enough to take some pictures and enjoy lunch. I was soon joined by another hiker and enjoyed the company of one other person in this lovely location.
After an hour of reveling at the top, I noticed the dark clouds that had been forming on the horizon begin to approach. I cleaned up my gear and began heading down the trail. I had to stop to enjoy the meadow one last time before entering what I knew would be a long, tedious trip down the endless switchbacks.
The miles melted away until I was once again in the dense woods. Eventually swearing that I would avoid all switchbacks in the future, I saw the parking lot and emerged, safe and sound at my car.