Molly Smithson

Rain or Shine, You've Gotta Hike.

Molly Smithson
Rain or Shine, You've Gotta Hike.

Risks and rewards have filled my second month in Portland. I've begun to learn the routes to my regular hangouts, I've made friends and started building a freelance base, which includes working with the amazing Alexis Moore Eytinge on her social media and my life, and Last Call Productions as a trivia host. 

But now that life is a little more settled and less exciting, I have more time to think. By think, I mean overthink, get anxious, lay awake at 3 a.m. considering mistakes I made in the past, at work, in relationships and with friendships.  

"The past has nothing to do with your life now, other than that you can learn from it," the rational side of my mind will whisper soothingly. "Breathe deeply. Lay on your back. Imagine the forest."

Anxiety is an angry swarm of bees that fills my head with the need to self-medicate with more weed or drinks, to cancel plans because I am so paralyzed by the thoughts of what could go wrong, to not tell anyone what I'm feeling because no one will understand. This week, I didn't just swat at the beehive with my usual coping mechanisms. Instead, I led my fears to the woods. I hiked it out. 

The rain set on Portland at the end of September, like the Pacific Northwest autumns I grew up with. I either enjoyed rain a lot more then, or my body has adjusted to the South's sun and humid heat. The basement where I sleep has a musty cold that chills me to my core. If I am to thrive in the constant overcast, I have to continue to push myself, even when the weather or my mood are dreary. 

So last Thursday, pent up with inside days, I escaped to the woods, even though the weather report said the steady drizzle we'd seen all morning would crescendo into showers.

I drove next to the Willamette in what was my nana's old Subaru. Tupac's Mama came on the radio. I thought of the young women I work with in Girls Inc. In fourth and fifth grade, some of the girls had shared that they're already facing harassment and other issues that women must bear. In the passenger seat next to me, I had my camera bag, packed with bear spray in a side pocket... Not for bears, but in case I faced the sort of attacks female hikers so often fear. It also wasn't lost on me that my worry about my safety while I went to hike came from a place of privilege. 

I arrived at Punchbowl Falls in Hood River expecting to see few other hikers, but there were couples coming off of the trail. Not once did I see another solo female hiker. 

Metlako Falls from afar.

Metlako Falls from afar.

As I began the slow ascent that led to Metlako Falls, then down into Punchbowl Falls, the trail narrowed. At some points, it was but a rocky outcropping, accompanied by a cable guide rail on the other side. 

The panic that had held me from anxiety was replaced with primal fear. I focused my sight on the ground and came up with a mantra. 

"Stay on steady ground," I repeated to myself with each step. It became fitting for my anxiety as well. I must take care of my health and rely on the support system around me to make it to a place where I feel secure and happy. 

A photo from the rocky edges of the Eagle Creek Trail

A photo from the rocky edges of the Eagle Creek Trail

With each cable-cut corner, I became more proud of my body and motivation. I brought myself to Oregon to be close to my support system. I am building a life, relationships and a career of creating things that make me feel steady and happy. 

Once I exited these treacherous stretches of trail, another mantra began playing in my head. 

"You cannot doing everything at once." 

This was a short hike that I had chosen over another, steeper one. I was proud of myself for moving my health forward in a responsible way, rather than pushing my body to the limits, just like I was proud of the slow pace I have been lucky to choose when reaching freelance clients, committing to volunteer activities and finding things that make me happy here. Before, I took on too much, but now, I realized that every step led me to the big dreams of being a writer, comedian and producer of excellent work. 

By the time I reached the lower Punchbowl Falls, my clothes were damp and I was ready to dry off in the warm car. But the fact that I had accomplished this risk safely, even in the face of my fears and doubts, kept me warm and happy for the entire hike back. 

The misty mouth of Lower Punchbowl Falls

The misty mouth of Lower Punchbowl Falls

As I reached the trailhead, the rain had cleared and mist rose from the forest. With it, that week's anxiety lifted. I was so proud, I snapped the very slimy selfie below.  

The misty forest afternoon. 

The misty forest afternoon. 

Messy hair and all. 

Messy hair and all.