The term “maturity” is pretty odd when you think about it, especially in relation to modern, westernized, civilization. What is it to be a mature individual nowadays?
There is a societal pressure to achieve maturity. To be called immature is an insult. Myself and Spring felt this pressure in Ireland. We felt a pressure from our peers and elders to secure stable income, to be responsible in our choices and move towards the expected goal of getting a mortgage, maybe having a child and settling down.
When we left Ireland behind, and left everyone we knew behind, something changed. It was like that pressure valve to conform to our culture’s definition of maturity was released. A weight was lifted from our shoulders. We were no longer keeping up with anybody’s expectations.
When I was a child my mother would send us out of the house during the Summer months, to get out of her hair but also to give her time to clean up our mess. With those long days free to do what I wished I’d usually, along with some friends, try and find some woods or fields nearby to explore. I was always curious, like most Children I believe, of the places that Man hadn’t seen fit to manicure.
With age and the burden of responsibility I’d forgotten this curiosity, but now, In Canada, with no peers to speak of, I felt it rekindled. I don’t think people ever truly “grow up”. I don’t accept that we pass a rubicon where we have to lose touch with what motivated us as children. I feel we choose to suppress those “childish” inclinations for ones we have been told make more sense for adults.
Similar to my youth, in Canada now I’d see wild places and wonder what’s hidden behind those trees or where that river flows to or what I could look out on if I was standing on that shimmering white summit. I didn’t care if exploring those places would advance my career, or lead to financial stability, or allow me to keep up with the Jones’, I was driven by pure curiosity.
Shortly after our first few forays out on trails in 2010, mentioned in the first part of this series, we started looking at some trail maps for the vicinity around our home in Squamish, BC. At that time we didn’t have internet, we’d planned it that way so as to give ourselves a break from needing to be connected all the time. We’d use free wifi at the local Starbucks occasionally but in general we just went without and were better for it. To find places to explore we relied on trail maps.
We noticed a trail that started near to town that led to and past Starvation Lake, it then skirted a railway before ending on top of Highway 99 that runs north from Squamish. The name of the lake was interesting and at that time it was enough to grab our attention so we decided to check it out.
We headed out, late in the afternoon, under ominous clouds and within a few kilometers of driving encountered our first issue, driving on a heavily pot holed gravel road. In hindsight, had we known how many of these unpaved, forestry and mining roads we’d be driving on in Canada over the coming years we wouldn’t have chosen a second hand, low clearance Hyundai Accent as the first car we bought here (still going strong at the time of this post). But c’est la vie, we weaved along the road at 15km’s per hour, dodging pot holes, wondering if we shouldn’t just turn around and do something different with our time.
Eventually though, we made the trail head and parked our car. Unlike every other trail we’d been on up to this point, this one didn’t really have a parking area or trail head sign. While this might seem obvious to those who have grown up hiking trails, to myself, a city slicker used to having sidewalks and signs tell me where to go I found it odd that at the start of this trail it wasn’t more built up to highlight it. It would be another while yet before I’d learn to not only forgo signs and parking areas but trails entirely and navigate through the wild without the need of anyone being there before and showing me the way.
We headed out anyway, knowing we could always turn around if we lost the trail. 10 minutes in, the trail started to run alongside a river. As it had been raining fairly consistently over the previous few days it was swollen and the river was now flooding a section of the trail in front of us.
“What are we going to do?”
Spring said worriedly. I shook my head, I was lost for options. Spring said “Let’s turn around, this is dangerous, the trail is flooded, who knows what it is like further along”.
The worry was that if we left the trail we’d get lost. Looking back on it now it seems absurd. I remember the situation clearly and were I to encounter it now it would be a non-issue, we’d simply bush whack off trail above the flooded section for a bit until we could regain the route again. But back then it threatened to put an end to our day.
Leaving the trail meant entering the unknown, and the unknown is scary. In fact I think the unknown is the source of most of our fears as humans. I mean, think about it for a second, if you’re reading this and you don’t spend time exploring the wild, when was the last time you went somewhere that somebody hadn’t been to before? We are so used to using roads and sidewalks and following signs and our GPS’s nowadays. Even on the trails we are following a worn route that somebody has made for us. In normal existence we aren’t really ever faced with the unknown of going somewhere where there is no evidence that any other human has been there before.
After some deliberation I said I’d leave the trail and scout ahead. Spring said she’d stay behind to keep an eye on me. I remember tensions being high and we were both nervous. After another 10 minutes or so I found a way to regain the trail ahead that wasn’t flooded and called back for Spring to follow.
Once she joined up with me we continued onwards to Starvation Lake. The trail itself is quite straightforward. It is used by dirt bikers when the weather is good so it is pretty worn in. We made the lake a while later and it was less impressive than we had imagined so we continued on past it. Eventually we started rising up above the Cheakamus Canyon and followed above the Railway Tracks for a good while. The trail here was reinforced with chicken wire to stop it from disintegrating and falling down on the railway. In places it was rusting and worn and I remember this being another area that we stopped and discussed if we should continue on forward.
I guess there was a lot of hesitation as there was nobody with us to tell us if this trail was still ok to use. Everything was an unknown about this place, all we really knew was where the trail started and had a rough idea about where it ended.
We passed these degraded sections of the trail and a short while later hiked up and ended up on the side of Highway 99. It really is not a glamorous trail but back then it was the most stressful excursion we’d ever been on.
We quickly turned around at the highway and headed back the way we came. Spring was worried that we’d get caught out after dark as the hike had taken us longer than expected and we’d also started pretty late into the day to begin with. We had no headlamps with us, in fact we had very little of anything with us. Spring had brought a liter of water and snacks in a fanny pack for both of us but that was it. Looking back it was foolish to be so ill equipped, but then again, we were so green back then that even knowing what scenarios to prepare for was beyond us.
We trudged along the trail quickly. At the flooded section, we were slightly more confident this time, but it still took us a few minutes to get past it. Here is a video that Spring made of me trying to navigate around it. Looking at it now it is hilarious how long it takes me to figure it out.
We made our vehicle near dusk and headed home. It was hard to gauge back then but on that rather humdrum trail, from a dirt parking lot, passing a pretty ordinary lake, to the shoulder of a Highway we actually grew quite a bit in experience.
As one of our favorite naturalists once said:
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir