“I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. I experienced the exhilaration of the ups and the despairs of the lows and most of the feelings in between…I learned courage and I learned it myself” – Ann Stirk
For the past several years I have ventured off on my own, so much so that the #1 question I get seems to be packed into one word, but with an entire world of concern behind the eyes – “alone?”
Recently I have been feeling a bit of shame/guilt/embarrassment around my habit of solo adventure. This is mostly being manufactured intrinsically, but it is exaggerated by the amount of people who get stressed out when I tell them that yes, I did do it alone, or yes, I am not going with anybody. The fact that I am a young single female is just the cherry on top of the double scooped worry&judgement sundae. I am extremely independent, too much for my own liking sometimes, but nevertheless, I’ve always been this way. I grew up in a big family and with a lot of friends to play with, but when no one was around I never had any trouble keeping myself busy. My parents always said I was never bothered when I had to play by myself, I was perfectly content with it. I choose to accept my independence as a strength, and during the times of loneliness I reflect on all the things I’ve been able experience because I didn’t wait around for someone to join me. I create an adventure, pack up my bag, and go for it with my whole soul.
Another frequent question I get is if I am scared while hiking alone. My answer is usually yes. Nature is unpredictable, and that is what scares me most. But it’s that healthy fear that keeps my senses heightened and my experience enhanced. If I want to keep solo travel a part of my life, I have to recommit to my adventure mindset each time: I will be brave, I will be strong, I will adapt. Mindset, mindset, mindset.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that life is for sharing and that connection is why we’re here. But what I feel some people are missing is the connection with themselves. A lot of folks I know always have someone on their hip – they can’t even imagine going to lunch by themselves, let alone planning a big adventure where they are responsible for everything. They don’t know a world outside constant companionship and the thought of being alone with their thoughts scares the life out of them, so of course they don’t understand why I would want to hike alone. Just like I don’t understand why they would always want someone around. The curiosity goes both ways, and the only way to learn is to ask and to fully listen.
We live in a world of constant distraction via screens, noise, phone calls, people everywhere, billboards, emails, honking etc. that if you don’t create time for yourself, you’re never going to get it. Especially as a woman, we are hardwired to give and give and give, that I find it so incredibly important to make time for yourself with no distractions. I once heard someone say “you can measure the amount of emotional avoidance in a person with how many screens they have open in front of them.” Ever watch TV while scrolling Instagram on your phone? When that happens ask yourself, what am I avoiding right now? What emotion and thought and I suppressing? Put everything down and let it surface, and then let it out. The deeper we push these thoughts down and the longer we avoid them, the more powerful they become and BOOM, we erupt like a volcano (or get really, really sick). Get off your phone and spend some time with yourself, preferably while out for a walk, and begin that reconnection.
So, why do I hike alone?
Because of the freedom. Because of the self-improvement.
First off, I choose to hike alone most of the time, but not all the time. I fully enjoy hiking with a partner or group of people. Friends make the tough times (bad weather, injuries, boredom, wildlife scares) infinitely better, and the laughs abundant and loud. The conversations are insightful, and you always see the purest side of people while out on the trail. Our thoughts are in line with our pace, and our stress levels are down because of the effect of nature. There is nowhere to hide even if you wanted to, being on a trail leaves you no option but to be your truest self, and so it is an incredible place to really get to know somebody.
I choose to hike alone…
- because in the absence of human distraction I can be fully present with my surroundings and my thoughts. I get to listen to the birds, the rivers, the marmots, and my favorite, the interaction between my feet and the terrain. I miss a lot of the landscape when I hike with people (but also gain a lot in connection) that some hikes I’d much rather do alone because I don’t want one single spec of dirt to pass me by. It also gives me time to hash through some things, and when I’m done with that, I like to brainstorm ideas for projects.
- because I always get lost and become covered with stress when I’m in charge. As I opened a GPS one Christmas my dad couldn’t help himself “oh great jules, now you can find your way out of the house!” I get lost all the time. Whether I’ve been there before or not, my intuition is so consistently wrong that I have learned to go against it. It’s bad. So when people say “oh I don’t care I’m just following you!” I tense up. No, no no no no don’t do that! I don’t mind getting lost when it’s only me that I have to take care of – I take it as a challenge and bonus mileage and time outside, but I’m a rare, rare breed when it comes to line of thinking.
- because rarely is my trip well planned out, and it’s a get up and go kind of thing. My schedule is different everyday, and I usually don’t make plans until late the night prior or that morning. That leaves very little opportunity for anyone to join me, so I just hop in my car and head off to the trailhead. I am a very flexible and spontaneous person, so this leaves me adventuring alone most of the time, but also leaves a lot of room to meet really awesome people along the way (in which I fully look forward to and embrace.)
- because I’m selfish. Sometimes I want to run, or run/hike, or powerhike, or go really slow. Okay, I never want to go really slow, but my point is that until I take that first step on the trail, I’m not sure how I want to approach it. This is selfish in a way, because only by leaving that decision up to the last minute am I able to have the exact type of day on trail that I want. Me me me. I i i. I don’t take any time for granted, it’s so unbelievably precious to me, so if I have made the time to go for a hike, I want it to be in the style that I’m feelin’ that day. If there is anyone out there who feels the same about approaching a trail let me know, maybe we can be the perfect trail running/hiking buddies!
- because of the infinite freedom. because of the self-improvement. I should expand on my short answer, because it’s not really all that short. The freedom in solo travel is unreal. I highly encourage you to try it. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, at whatever speed you want. You can pee, eat, sleep, sing, yell – whenever you want. You are in control of everything as far as actually being in control of things goes. You get to fix all the problems. Do you know where some researchers say happiness stems from? In the process of solving a problem. It’s not in the problem, it’s not in the solution, it’s in the process. You get to meet your resourceful side, your creative side, your wacky side. It’s all there, waiting to be released. You are 100x stronger than you think, so when shit hits the fan (and it will, pretty regularly) you get to finally meet your core. You get to “see what your made of.” You get to discover yourself. In my opinion, solo adventure is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Approach with empathy, humility, sense of humour, and an open-mind, and you can solve most anything on your own. The end product is a huge high-five, double fist pump, and a grin from ear to ear. The highest sense of accomplishment comes from doing something you never, ever, thought you’d be able to do. Identify it, prepare for it, go for it.
What it comes down to for me is this: the better you know yourself, the better you are able to help others. I know myself well enough that when I’ve had a long stretch of social exhaustion, I know I need a solo hike to recenter. And on the other end, when I’ve had a long week inside my own head or at my computer, I call up some friends and hope to hit the trail with them to remember that no, I am not alone. Being aware of what you need is the key to great health and wellness. I am a Holistic Performance Nutrition Coach, so I need to be aware of who I am and what I can provide in order to give my absolute best to clients. After going for a hike alone I come back knowing a few more things about myself which translates into me being an all-around better person. Clients, family, friends, teammates, coworkers, strangers – everyone gets hit by the best version of myself. It’s not easy and it’s not always comfortable, but if you want to grow, you need to find residency in discomfort.
Growth. Knowledge. Connection. Curiosity. Freedom.
To be my best self.
That is why I hike alone.