27th May 2021
Solo Solace in the Budawangs
Emma Chadwick finds solace on a solo backpacking adventure in the Budawangs, NSW.
The last twelve months have felt tumultuous for so many. Tumultuous but also still. It has felt like we were standing as the world was moving around us. As the things we previously held within our control were slowly pulled away. And yet we stood. Standing in a moving stream until we felt steady enough to plant one foot in front of the other, trying to cross the river to get where we needed to go. It felt slow. There was a worry that the upstream current might just change. All those worries were amplified, because we were all going through it alone. Yet, our feet kept finding their footing under the water.
I don't want to speak too soon, but it finally feels like we are coming to the other side. We can dry off the toes, pull our shoes back on and keep on... keeping on. I guess we just need to work out whether the “keeping on” is taking us in the right direction. Sometimes, truing our compass, can take a little bit of exploring before we work out where we need to go. And other times, that path is all kinds of windy we didn’t expect.
I have gone on many solo adventures before, but nothing ever feels quite as empowering and wild as backpacking alone. There is something enlivening about being fully self-sufficient in your navigation, confident in your water source, clothes and shelter and positive that the shoes on your feet will carry your weary soles. For a long time, I have been cognisant of doing these things alone. More frequently, however, and more specifically, I have been reminded of doing these things alone, as a female. Often, it’s hard to interpret the sideways glance or the seemingly kind concern from a stranger asking: ‘Are you sure you are ok, are you lost?’.
I grew up experiencing the outdoors in a way where ‘lost’ was a relative term. Lost wasn’t when you stepped off the main trail. Lost wasn’t when you were bush bashing through head-height scrub. Lost was not when you were alone or outside of your comfort zone in the bush, but instead, outside of your skill level or level of preparedness. Lost can look quite different for those who have always been encouraged to explore. Contentment too looks very different when you have learnt to enjoy discomfort. When you realise discomfort is often where you learn the most about yourself. Learn the most about the direction you are going.
On this hike in the Budawangs, discomfort was found while scrambling over the boulders, with my knees scraped raw, my hair matted, my heavy pack in tight locations and the whipping winds slapping on the tent overnight. High exposure scrambles and high consequence. There is something about going back to this baseline of simplicity that seems to wake me up. It wakes me up to the things, which carried weight before. Weight that seems to diminish while standing on a cliff, watching the sunrise. It dwarfs all my previous concerns. It wakes me up to the people I really would like to be sitting next to - the things I really want to make time for. There is something about looking at that path ahead and wondering if that truly is the direction I want to go.
In the same way so many of us were forced to disconnect last year. It has also given us a chance to reconnect, reconnect in a more meaningful way. In a way where you are more aware of your time, aware of the things you need to be more grateful for and those that are given too much weight. Backpacking alone was that fresh new reminder for me as I was sitting on a cliff side thinking - “Damn this coffee is good, and how about that flipping view?”
Sometimes it takes this complete disconnection, time sitting with yourself to reconnect in a way that is more aligned, more content, and more confident in the steps ahead. If the last twelve months taught us anything it’s that being alone and experiencing loneliness are two distinctly different things. The former can be one of the most empowering discomforts to find solace in. Sometimes, that space is exactly what you need. Sometimes, the solace is the best place to find clarity, the exhale before taking that next step. It is knowing you are fully prepared and carrying everything you need.
*I have experience backpacking on my own and in groups for over 10 years and have felt so fortunate to have people closest to me take safety seriously. I carried an EPIRB on this hike in case of emergency, had many conversations and did research on different platforms to confirm water source, had both GPS mapping with additional batteries and carried a map and compass. This is an incredibly empowering thing to feel confident enough to backpack solo particularly on such an exposed hike, however, not to be taken lightly. It takes time to get there. Enjoy the process.
Written by Emma Chadwick
Instagram – @wandering__about
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