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November 4, 2016

Birds flew unhindered through the air, bugs gradually made their way across the leaves, fish forced their way upstream against the current, and Francis Burke took step after step across the forest floor. Her mother’s old hiking boots, worn out though they were, carried her through the thicket. No human accompanied her, yet she was not alone; she always had the soft patting of Christopher’s big furry paws keeping her company. The big, dopey mutt was getting pretty old but that didn’t slow him down. Francis could see him bounding through the trees, popping up when a squirrel or any small rodent was in snapping range.
This was hardly Francis’s first time in the dense forests of Vermont, however it was different this time. She felt more connected. Francis had chosen to leave her phone behind, bringing only her small grey fitbit in the ways of technology. She knew that if she truly wanted to immerse herself in the stillness and what she liked to say, independence, of the forest, she should leave it behind, but she wasn’t afraid to admit that she was a little bit addicted to its constant updates on her heart rate and calories burned. She was trying to stop that though, and slowly wean herself off her dependence on technology. Of course, her family didn’t exactly agree. In fact, they were reason she was even out there alone in the woods.
Francis’s relationship with her family was far from simple. Raised by a single mother it was just her, her mom, Imogen, and her younger sister, Jane. They grew closer together as the years went on, all of them strengthening their already strong connections to nature through numerous family hikes and weekend canoe trips. However, a wedge began to grow between Francis and her family as Francis’s childhood years became her teenage years and her teenage years turned into her 20s.
The Burke’s were religious, and had been for as far back as one could go in their family history, but Francis found difficulty in accepting all of that. It didn’t help much when she got an abortion at age 18. She hoped to keep it a secret from her family, but when one of her friends accidentally let slip her visit to planned parenthood, the look on her mother’s face was devastating. Francis’s relationship with her mother was never the same after that. Francis’s resentment towards her for being so cold hearted and not accepting the fact that Francis had every right to do what she did, was evident in every family gathering since she had found out. Her mother’s disappointment in Francis’s turning away from the family’s strict religious beliefs was even less subtle. That’s why Francis was out there in the first place. She needed to be alone to reassure herself of the fact that she could be without loneliness setting in. She needed to know that she could be alone.
All of these thoughts were swirling around in her mind and she traipsed through the woods. It was a clear day out, but she could see storm clouds gathering in the distance. Christopher was right beside her now, having gotten tired of the endless chase for small prey that rarely resulted in any victories. She followed a well beaten down path, but one that was new to her, as she had never been in this part of the woods before. Her plan was to continue on for another five miles and then make camp at a spot, which she had heard from a friend was pretty nice, but the rumbling clouds in the distance were worrisome.
After hiking for what she estimated was about two more miles she felt the first raindrop, and it was clear that a massive downpour was about to begin. She didn’t mind hiking in the rain, actually she liked it quite a bit, but hiking in a thunderstorm was a different story. She continued on for about five more minutes until she found a spot suitable enough for her purposes. She had to clear away a few branches and smooth out an area to pitch her tent but other than that the small clearing was the perfect campsite. She pitched her tent first, knowing that she would probably have to duck under it any minute now. Luckily it was still only drizzling so she had time to light her camping stove and make dinner. After eating she felt far from tired, so she just hung out for a bit. She read her book, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and sipped a cup of tea from her little plastic mug before finally turning in.
She woke up in the middle of the night soaking wet. Stumbling out of her tent in the pouring rain, she could see that the tent was pretty much complety flooded. She had been careless, pitched it on a hill and completely forgot to put the put the rainfly on. Rain was pouring down, Christopher was barking incessantly, and Francis felt completely lost. With no idea what to do, she sat down on a nearby log and waited for the storm to be over, teardrops and rain water streaming down her face.  Eventually, after what seemed like centuries, the rain finally began to subside. Although she was completely exhausted, Francis began to pack up her completely drenched belongings, and try to pull herself together. Soaking wet and sleep deprived, she picked herself back up, and made her way towards the main road where she knew her ride would be waiting.
Along with her complete misery she felt anger. This was supposed to be her trip to clear her head, to prove to herself that she was a fighter and that she could make it on her own, even in the harshest of conditions. Squishing and squishing down the muddy path, she made it to the half mile mark. In around 10 min she would driving down the road drying her socks on the car’s heaters. But before she took another step she stopped for a second and sat down. Christopher plodded up beside her and made himself comfortable in the warm mud; it had not been a pleasant night for him either. As she sat there, Francis reflected on her somewhat disastrous solo camping trip. She thought about all the successful nights and all the peaks she had summited. Having calmed down a bit, she took a swig from her decade-old nalgene and walked down the path towards the road.

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