Finding Happy: On A Lonely Trail

Photo by Eric Cook on

I woke up early on Saturday morning and crawled out of bed. Now, I’m not a morning person, so there was a groan, a sigh, and I questioned my sanity. This is a day when sensible people sleep in and slowly start their weekend. Me? I was getting up with the sun and getting ready to go out into the chilly November air. It was madness, but I had made a plan, and I was determined to see it through.

Stubbornness is a virtue, right?

A long stretch of grey skies and rainy days was coming to an end. A temporary cease-fire with the winter sprites had been called. The sun has been set free and, no, its warmth won’t take the edge off, but at least it’s smiling down on us. How long will it last? Days would be lovely, but hours would be practically optimistic. 

If you live anywhere along the coastline of the Pacific Northwest, then you know what I’m talking about. Our weather is fickle. It will start out happy and cheerful in the morning. By noon, it’s grumpy, and it will throw a tantrum until it talks to the manager.

Oh, but when it’s in a good mood, it’s like a wonderland at our doorstep. That happy mood, no matter how long it lasts, makes this one of the most beautiful places in the world. Rugged shorelines that stretch on forever. Giant fir trees and cedars kiss the sky. Wildlife encounters that leave you breathless and in need of clean underwear.

The last time I found myself staring into the eyes of a bear, my heart and stomach switched places. I replayed every Bear Grylls episode I’d ever seen and desperately wished I’d paid attention. The bear, bless its furry posterior, thought I was a bore. It yawned, grunted, and kept on walking, which seems to be the norm. At least, that’s the word on the trails.

Then again, I’m not a wildlife expert, so don’t take my word for it. Explore with care and keep your distance.

Out here, we can explore all of these wonders whenever the urge strikes, and living here is an embarrassment of riches. Am I biased? Absolutely, but if you get a chance to visit Vancouver, Washington State, or Oregon? Do it! The natural beauty is breathtaking, and it’s almost too much to process.

Are my eyes deceiving me? Can one place really be so stunning? My mind cannot take it all in, but my heart is singing. These vistas verge on the mystical and otherworldly It has an energy that’s hopeful, inspiring, but it has an intimidating power.

It calls to you and challenges you to an epic adventure. Not in a sinister, come hither little one, kind of way. Though, this area does have some spine-tingling folklore if that’s your jam.

The land invites you to wander through its many curiosities, marvel at its beauty and its power. Discover the unknown. Get a little lost in the expansive rain forests. Turn off technology, leave your normal life behind, and slow down. Enjoy the moment. Take a deep breath, and feel the tension dissolve. How can I say no? How can I resist the lure?

I put on some warm clothes, laced up my hiking boots, and put my dog on his leash. Let’s do this! Is the sun still out? Yes, phew, better hurry.

Before I go on, if you’ve just stumbled onto my ramblings, there’s one thing you should know. I contracted COVID at the beginning of September and, while it was a mild case, I’ve been struggling to recover. My lungs, in particular, are having a hard time. I lose my breath quickly, feel lightheaded, and my legs go wobbly. I’ve been using an inhaler, it helps, but I haven’t been able to do a lot of physical activity.

Before I got sick, I’d hike almost every weekend for an hour or more. Now, my trips have been almost none existent. Up until this weekend, I’ve gone twice, and both hikes lasted thirty minutes. That’s when my lungs screamed at me to stop. It forces me to abandon the trail and make do with a quick outing.

There was no reason to think that this time would be much different. I picked a short, flat trail that would get me outside without a lot of strain. Which is all I want to do! I needed to get out and stand under the trees. I needed to hear the sound of the trees bending in the wind and feel the soft ground under my boots. I needed to get out of my tiny bubble and stretch my weary spirit.

Life has been overwhelming for too long. I can’t keep going on like this without some sort of reprieve. It was time to turn off and tune out the world before by battery lost all of its power. Rumour has it, the best way to avoid complete system failure is to invest in some self-care. Simple acts now can save me from paying a higher price later. 


Up until now, if you’ve read my previous posts, my experiment in optimism has been limited. Given our circumstances, Finding Happy has been confined to my home or my past. This is the first time I’ve actually been able to go and find my happiness in the outside world. Actively pursue it with a recklessness that’s atypical for me. I’m cautious, and I meticulously scour an idea, plan, or needed action for any dangers that lay in wait.

Walking into the forest alone after struggling to heal from a respiratory infection? That doesn’t sound like me at all, but that’s the point. The reason I’m conducting this experiment is to push myself beyond my norm. Challenge my level of comfort. Hopefully, find a moment of happiness that leads to a sustainable joy in the long run.

Still, this might not have been the best idea, and I called myself an idiot a few times. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I started off strong because I followed the shorter, flatter trail that would take me along a pleasant loop of marshlands and open fields. The ground was covered with fallen leaves. Above my head, drops of water were still falling after the rain. My dog ran through muddy puddles and thought about chasing a squirrel. Then he realized he couldn’t run up that tree, so he rolled around in horse manure.

A fork in the path brought me to a stop, and I looked at that map on a wooden post. If I went left, we’d circle back to the car park. If I went right, we’d come to a lookout in 1 kilometre (0.6 miles). 1 km? Sure, that’s tacked onto what I’ve already done, but it’s not that far away. It’s easy. I’ve done it before — before a viral infection you *expletive*— I can do this!

Ignoring that small voice in my head that gently tried to remind me of my current level of health, I turned right. Here’s something I didn’t take into account, and one of the reasons I repeatedly called myself an unkind name. A lookout point is usually placed on top of a steep incline, and that means hiking up a damn mountain.

My lungs burned, my heart did backflips, and my legs felt like melting jello. I questioned my sanity and survival. Should I turn back? How far have I come? How far do I have to go to get back to my car? What if something happens to me out here, all alone, in the woods? I pictured someone finding my lifeless body and my dog eating me to stay alive. You know, all the cute images you search for when you’re trying to find a moment of happiness after a stressful day. 

Are you wondering how I found my happy in this moment? Same.

I needed a lot of breaks to catch my breath, so I sat down on fallen logs on the side of the trail. Sitting there, questioning my judgement, I looked up at the trees and watched the drops of water fall from the branches. The sun peaked through the canopy. A woodpecker tapped a steady rhythm. Squirrels were making new homes for themselves and getting ready for the next storm. 

It was so incredibly peace which was a welcomed contrast to the previous week. Deep breath in, and take a few more steps.

I kept walking, and I came across signs of human habitation that had been abandoned long ago. It was run down, rotting, but it was giving back to nature what people had taken. It restored life and provided shelter. It served a purpose even though it looked like it didn’t have a lot to offer.

Go on, take another breath.

Every step I took, despite the grind, added to the chorus of life being lived in an environment that’s harsh and unforgiving. If that’s not a metaphor for my struggles and my life, then I don’t know what is. The fight is real, but in that effort, there is beauty, harmony, and grace. There’s hope, and another breath in.

That’s where I found a moment of happiness on that lonely trail. All week, I’ve been overwhelmed with feelings of purposelessness. I’ve wondered why I keep trying when it doesn’t seem to do any good. Shouldn’t I just give up? It would be easier.

On that trail, though, I had no choice. I had to keep going. Pushing myself to take another step and another breath. Despite my doubt, fear, and an overactive imagination, I kept going. One step after another, I followed the winding path, and I found my way out.

When I got back to my car, I was tired and muddy, but I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. I didn’t give up. Physically, I pushed myself to the point of breaking, but there I found the strength I need to keep going. When I thought I couldn’t do it, I did it anyway.

I drove home with a smile and a sigh of relief. It wasn’t, perhaps, the wisest choice, but it was a good reminder of something I’d let slide. We are living in a weird world, and it can be hard to keep going when everything seems against you. But when you push past the doubt, insecurities, and fear? You’ve won a battle a lot of people can’t imagine fighting.

In that accomplishment, we can all find a moment of happiness.


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