By: Arlette “Apple Pie” Laan


We all love being on the trail, but we also know that being on the trail isn’t always easy. Life in the wilderness isn’t always a picture perfect adventure. In an effort to be transparent about the challenges that come with the beauty of hiking, I’d like to offer you my top five moments from when I completely lost it on the trail. I hope you’ll see yourself a little in some of these and feel empowered to share your trail challenges, too!

5.  Cohos Trail - July 9, 2018 

I may have had a tantrum going up Dixville Peak. Pack throw down and all. Trekking poles went flying. It may have been because first there was the steep climb out of Dixville Notch, then the ski trail up, then the mud bog from hell, and then another ridiculously steep climb up. And, I may have let out a banshee cry because of the bugs. All in all, a good day!

4.  Pacific Northwest Trail - July 18, 2007

I finally made it to a clearing, which seemed to have been used as a helipad, and was overwhelmed by the view. Beautiful! This would be my campsite for the night.

Little did I know, there was going to be a major thunderstorm. My poorly set up tent wasn't set up for this. It sagged and touched my sleeping bag, soaking it at the feet. I was scared the lightning would hit me and felt the ground tremble a few times. Hadn’t seen this coming at all. I so wished I had camped somewhere else. 

The storm went on for hours. Just as I thought it may have passed, another wave would hit. The lightning was so bright! I hid my head in my sleeping bag pretending it wasn’t there. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. 

I do remember nodding off for a while because I dreamed about a bear attacking my feet. It woke me up and I saw my tent heavy with water touching my feet. I got rid of the puddle, but the damage had been done.

3. Pacific Northwest Trail - August 18, 2012

There was a note on the map about the Swift Creek ford possibly having high water and indeed it did. It terrified me. I scouted out different spots, but they were all deeper and swifter than I would have liked. To calm my nerves, I told myself that if I went down, I wouldn’t die because there weren’t any giant boulders or cascades I could get caught up on. I threw some rocks to see how deep it was in an area that seemed a bit calmer. Yeah, too deep. So, I walked a bit farther and finally took the plunge. Heavily leaning on my trekking poles, I faced the current and walked sideways, telling myself out loud: "You can do this, you can do this, you can do this!” I was so freaking scared. When I made it across safely I was almost hyperventilating.

2. Te Araroa, Raetea Forest Track - May 1, 2015

I had a long day in dense bush on an overgrown trail with one hazy view. At times the trail was hard to follow and it goes over every little summit. Very tiring. I wasn’t liking it at all. Vines, fallen trees, logs on trail, spider webs in my face, getting cut up by grass, steep ups and downs, a lost cow. What a jungle, what a disaster. Never again! It felt like I was suffocating in the denseness of it all and I could only keep my nerves in check by reminding myself of the hiking times mentioned on the trail sign. It can’t take longer than that, I will make it out! I thought. When the trail finally spit me out on a forest road, I was shaking.

1. Hayduke Trail - April 5, 2017

It was frosty again this morning and my aqua socks were frozen. I thought about putting them in a plastic bag to keep them from freezing the night before, but realized I wouldn't want to put them on in the morning even if they were just wet. It took my feet hours to warm up last night. I did not want cold feet again in the morning. So, I came up with the idea of putting my regular socks in gallon sized Ziploc bags and my sandals on over that. It looked funny, but worked great. Just a little slippery. 

Bull Valley Gorge starts out pretty mellow and open, a bouldery wash with some pine trees. Very pretty. I read about this alternate in Wired's journal and it sounded fun. 

When the narrow section started I had already taken the Ziploc baggies off my feet because it was warming up nicely. I soon regretted this decision, as I had to wade through the narrows. It wasn't deep, but the water was icy cold. I had to keep stopping because my feet were getting numb. To make matters worse, there were some deeper sections up to my knees and there were some challenging scrambles. I bet when everything is nice and dry these scrambles would be fun, or when you're out for the day with a small pack and a friend. 

For me, however, they were quite challenging. Several times I would look at what I had to do and wonder how the hell I was going to pull it off. I would occasionally have a meltdown and crying fit, but then I would breathe, take my pack off, hoist it up to a rock or ledge, and hope I wouldn't drop it in the water on the other side. 

I had to use all my scrambling and some recently acquired canyoneering skills to make it through. Sure, I can wedge myself between a boulder and a wall and somehow move up. No problem! I must say that I surprised myself by some of the moves I was able to make. It was almost fun when I succeeded. 

At one point, however, I crawled up on a log and grabbed a rope that was attached to the wall. How awesome! A rope to hang onto! I was almost to the top of the log, using the rope to pull myself up, when the rope came loose, It was not attached where I thought it was. I lost my balance, fell off the log, and landed several feet below in the freezing water. Ouch! Thank goodness my backpack prevented my head from hitting the canyon wall. I came out of it with just a few bruises. Holy crap, that could have been bad!

I regrouped and just climbed up through the waterfall instead. I was soaked already anyway. For the exit climb out of the canyon, I finally got to use the rope I'd been carrying to haul up my pack. It’s another scramble and I didn’t want to risk another fall. When I made it to the surface, I was so relieved, but I also felt incredibly empowered. I just did that! But, let’s not do that again anytime soon.


Arlette “Apple Pie” Laan is a Gossamer Gear Brand Ambassador, long distance hiker, fiber artist, and trail guide. Learn more about her work on her website.
June 23, 2020 — Gossamer Gear