Since I began writing this blog — actually, since I started solo hiking and camping — I get the inevitable question:
I’ve talked a little on here about why I like to hike, and what I like about camping, but I haven’t yet addressed the big question. Why solo?
I’m not sure I have a final answer to this question, but here are some thoughts:
- I love the outdoors. I really love the outdoors. I didn’t always — I grew up in a family happier in a movie theater or reading books than even eating dinner out in the backyard. Over time, however, that changed, and there’s something about being outside that is invigorating — and not just outside, but out in nature. Maybe it’s the fresh air. Maybe it’s the feeling that you’re not contained in anything but the big blue sky above you. Maybe it’s some primal instinct to connect with the Earth. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that I get antsy and depressed and stressed when too much time goes by between jaunts out into nature. Being alone out there lets me “commune” at my own speed.
- I like to get away from the crowds. I’m a city girl. I’m a social person. I talk a lot. This means that I spend a lot of time talking with people in person, on the phone, over email, instant messenger, texting, etc. I spend a lot of time in the midst of crowds, on the street, on the subway, in stores — even in the park. Sometimes it’s just too much, and there are two choices: stay in my house, or get away from the city and into the woods. Both are viable options, but the second one is a lot more fun. Getting out into the woods alone is a time to breathe and recharge for the next whirlwind of social activity. Being alone on the trail ensures that I can avoid the constant need to socialize if I want.
- It gives me time to think. Being busy — in career and socially — means I spend a lot of time thinking. However, I spend a lot of time thinking about what has to be done and the most efficient way to do it rather than real reflection and introspection. Being alone out on the trail with the calming effect of nature and no demands on my time and attention gives me a chance to slow my brain down and actually think about important life things — without the temptations of the television, music, email, etc. to distract me.
- It gives me a sense of accomplishment, independence, and freedom. This is really the most incredible thing — if you’ve ever accomplished something you didn’t think you could do on your own, you’ll know the feeling. When it’s something traditionally viewed as a male activity, that feeling is even more intense. Suddenly, you’re one with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, rubbing elbows with Rosie the Riveter and sharing war stories with Amelia Earhart. Women are taught that from a young age that they need to be taken care of, and to realize that that’s not precisely true is a proud moment. I have that proud moment every time I successfully complete a solo hike or camping trip. Solo camping and hiking is on another level from just being master of your finances, knowing how to check the oil in your car, or successfully replastering that section of the bathroom wall where your towel rack fell out (ahem). Solo camping and hiking taps into a more primitive feeling of self-sufficiency, independence, and freedom.
You’ll notice that, on my list of reasons, is not that I can’t find people to go with me. This is sometimes true, and it’s what broke the seal on solo hiking for me in the first place: I was sick of waiting around for a time when my schedule meshed with someone else’s for a whole day and they wanted to spend it out in the woods. But that was then. Now, I solo hike and camp not because I can’t find a companion. Now, I go solo deliberately because I’ve found that it does something for my soul that no other activity does.
That photo at the top? It’s a quiet moment on a trail. There’s really nothing like it.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.