Passing to Darkness

May. 25, 2021
By Leilah Grace
The sun began its descent as I descended into the space between the hills. As dusk wove its way between the hardwoods, pines, and the spongy ground, I heard the river before I saw it. The transition from one state felt as if I had been granted passage to an enchanted wonderland, a place where the fairies would be flittering and pixie dust sparkling throughout the air. The rocks were suddenly gleaming and the moss a little brighter as it crept up the rocks and trees. With each step the trail transitioned from the hard packed dirt to a softer, spongier ground where my step was accepted, welcomed. Despite the magic of the forest and the bubbling river I found the first twinges of fear beginning to surface. Though I was confident in my solo hike, the prospect of a solo camp in this magical place was transitioning to the dark part of the fairy tale.
 
A sign on a tree indicated the camping and shelter area was not far, yet dusk was transitioning to darkness. As the light dimmed the fear attempted to grow, a simple fear of camping alone in the dark strange place that was home and not yet home. This journey was already different from my first solo backpacking overnight and I was much more afraid, the confidence and arrogance wiped away with the knowledge that I was states away, down the in glen between the mountains, a fairy tale state. The state crossing had become not only physical, but mental, the adventure trying to cross from light and fun to serious. It was serious, as the darkness grew I knew I would have to soon don my headlamp and hike in the darkness of the forest. While I knew that there were no witches or dragons among the trees, there were the seeds of fear germinating in my mind. No longer was I fully entranced in the fairyland, I walked with purpose and direction, intent on closing the distance to camping. While I knew that I was fully capable of camping alone the desire was not present, it was not a milestone I yet wanted to achieve.
 
Crossing the stream in the growing dusk I prayed to keep my feet dry and for the camping area to be occupied, for it was in that instant that I recognized that I may reach the camping area and still be alone. On my two previous trips I had always had company at night, and certainly car camping trips consisted of campgrounds full of other campers; here I was facing the moment that I could be sleeping fully and utterly alone in the wilderness. It was not a crushing thought or feeling, but an added weight to my already fully loaded pack. A sign for the shelter appeared ahead and I felt both relief and anxiety, until I clearly read the sign and tent areas were further down the trail. No noise or light emanated from the trailhead to the shelter so I walked onward, continuing my prayer, hoping that this enchanted land would grant me a wish of simple company. At the turn off for the tents I thought I heard a voice. I hiked faster, intent on learning my fate. Around the corner, past the bear box, then the privy, and up a small hill was a clearing with tent pads and picnic tables. To my delight and amazement one of the sites was occupied. A couple on a section hike and their giant dog were finishing setting up camp and about to begin cooking. I breathed a sigh of relief, sent prayers of gratitude and calmly went about making camp. As I drifted off to sleep in the warmth of my down bag alone in my tent I was comforted knowing I was not alone, the trail had provided.

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