tl;dr – Occasionally stepping out of the comfort zone serves its purpose by aiding one to grow, even if it means some cases hiking 3-4 hours after dusk. See my relevant instagram post with pictures.
I usually plan ahead my hikes but the better I know the area the more I tend to deviate from it. This what seemed to happened a week ago. First of all I got of the bus somewhat before I originally intended, since – I figured – that way I could wander about off at one of my fondly remembered part of the Pilis mountains. I did that and just as well my usual routine – the outdoor cooking, coffee brewing. I also lingered at odd places testing my new binoculars, watching birds, hares and the like. The day went on faster than I would dreamed to expect, so after I while I was ascertain that I will spend more time outdoors after sunset than calculated. “No matter.” I said to myself as I was adamant not to quit.
Dusk and gradually darkness came. Hugged me tightly as a dear mother would her children on stormy nights. I found most surprising not the lack of light but the lack of sound. And boy it was absolute. When I halted for a sip of drink or so, the sound of life seemingly ceased to exist, there was nothing.
I was not afraid, that isn’t the right word, but then again something primal came around, a primitive instinctive alertness, perhaps from the dawn of men. I enjoyed it immensely, since it was something new, something unforgotten, not often experienced.
Though I did know that nothing hunts actively human in our woods (except maybe our fellow man) I did unsheathe my hatchet for some sense of security. As time crawled so did I, up the hills, down the valleys. The first noise other than my own steps was perhaps of a deer, I continued to hear it for a long time as the animal waded trough the thick undergrowth.
Later I also stopped as the wavering hooting of an owl shrilled across the night. It was not late, yet the night started to resume life. For the longest time I hiked without any incident, at some point I even switched off my trusty headlamp and went on by moonlight only.
Suddenly there was a faint noise, which grew into an excited clamor. For the life of me I could not determine what it was. It proved to be a large herd of wild boars, naturally digging for food on the trail I was supposed to advance. Perhaps wandering in pitch black finally got to me, fear crept into my heart. After about 10 minutes I regained control somewhat and remembered, noise is my friend. And so it was, I scared them off by knocking together my hatchet and a log. I was relieved and hurried off.
For the rest of my journey I met a fox or two, experienced the first snow of the season. Though exiting the woods I barely missed the bus (so I had to walk an additional 5-6 km along a main road), I was glad leaving behind the uninhabited and be part of civilization again.
The hike was altogether 38 km with 1224 m elevation gain. Still, my fatigue was rather of mental exertion than bodily. Did I regret not shorten it when I could? Not at all. It was a decisive experience after all.