This past December I embarked on a 9 day, 8 night solo road trip to the Colorado Plateau in Utah. If you’re curious why I did it, read here. I want to share my insights of trying a solo road trip for the first time, learning to take care of my needs and wants without anyone else’s influence, and embracing uncertainty.
You get to do what you want, when you want to do it, whenever you want to (within reason, of course). Don’t get me wrong, driving 11 hours straight alone can be hard at first, but after day 8 you get used to it. You start to act friendlier to the gas station clerk because at that moment, they’re the only person you get to interact with (she didn’t even judge me when I bought Hostess “donettes” and pork rinds!). And you get to listen to audiobooks! I listened to Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?” which made for many good chuckles while eating my junk food and taking in those breathtaking views.
Camping in the middle of nowhere for the first time alone is like trying a weird new food. For guys, camping alone is the coolest, manliest thing to do, and for many dudes that grew up in the U.S. (and Canada), it’s normal to camp completely alone where nobody else is. For women however, it’s a rarer thing to grow up that way or even adopt solo wilderness travel later in life (shoutout to Liz of Snowqueen and Scout!). And even though I’d say I’m a fairly seasoned backpacker, I had never camped “alone” alone until this trip. I truly thought this would be my WILD moment (although now that I think about it, Cheryl Strayed wasn’t a very good backpacker in the beginning either, but she was on to something).
Being that alone felt weird. It felt strange because I had never experienced the feeling of being that physically and mentally alone in my life, ever.
It’s like when I tried avocado (Midwesterners can relate). At first, I haaaaated avocado. I was like, “nope that stuff’s not for me, no thanks.” But after an entire winter of brown-bagged lunches that were the same every weekend on the ski slopes in 2010, I sucked it up and ate my half avocado every day. Partly because I was so broke I couldn’t afford to buy greasy ski slope food and partly because I was so damn hungry from being on the slope and I knew someone else would eat my calories if I didn’t claim them.
So this one night camping alone felt more like a “no thanks, not for me” moment and the next morning I packed up my tent in -5F coldness and found an established campsite with a legit fire pit and picnic table (and latrines!). But looking back, I want to give it another shot, like I did with avocado. During and after this road trip, I’ve spent a lot of time turning inward and learning to just “be” and enjoy the power of being alone and enjoying the Now.
[Definitely check out The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle if you get a chance. This book has certainly shifted the way I think and helps me reframe what the heck I’m doing on this planet as a living being.]
When you’re traveling alone, the agenda revolves around you!
It’s worth repeating because I still forget it sometimes, and I certainly forgot it a few times while on this road trip. YOU only have to worry about YOUR happiness on a solo trip. Once I got to that fancy new campsite with the legit fire pit and picnic table, I noticed there was a sign for a mountain lion in the area and thought, “no big deal”, I’m sure others will be on the trail (mind you, this is the dead of winter on a Wednesday). So of course I’m on the hike and see cat paw prints and at first I pay no real attention to them until I realize there’s no one else on this trail because the last shoe prints before mine turned around at the first sight of these paw prints.
I decided to keep going but after another half mile I saw paw prints that were fresh. Now you’re probably thinking, it’s no big deal. But really it is. Imagine your cute house cat stopping at nothing to attack that moth in your house. Now imagine that cat at 5 times the size…Terrifying if you’re the moth! So with my freakout mid-hike, I decided to turn around and walk briskly back to camp. I was completely alone at camp, not a single person was camped there and I thought sleeping in my car would be the safest option so I prepped the car for bedtime. It was 3:30pm, I had nothing to do. I sat in my car having an inner conflicted dialog
Me: “What the fuck am I doing?! This isn’t fun.”
Me: “Why am I on this road trip again?”
Me: “Because you wanted to be alone and be outside”
Me: “Well I’m not outside now, so what’s the point”
Me: “I could suck it up and be bored”
Me: “This is MY vacation dammit. I don’t have to be bored or scared if I don’t want to be”
Me: “Fuck it, I’m driving to Bryce Canyon right now and getting a hotel because I can and I want to”
I learned that I wasn’t willing to accept misery on my road trip, that this trip was to be my retreat, something to indulge in and forget about my daily life (and to eat a lot of Mountain House meals). I’d had enough misery back at home with my father’s unexpected passing and all the stress of being the next of kin like planning his funeral (though thankfully I had a lot of help). So when I had that defining moment sitting in my car hiding from that mountain lion, it really made me think how I wanted the rest of my experience to be. I changed the course of my meticulously planned trip of certainty and decided to go back and spend more time in the National Park I loved most, Zion.
I think there’s something to be said for being flexible in life and embracing the uncertainty, it presents you with opportunities you would have never dreamed or planned for yourself. And because of my changing my plans suddenly and curiously wandering into the Zion Adventure Company to learn what the fuss was about “The Narrows”, I happened to meet two women, Jackie and Jenna, who were also on a road trip and planning to hike The Narrows in the dead of winter. We got to chatting, and decided to do the hike together in 38F water with our fashionable dry suits.
I think there’s something to be said for being flexible in life and embracing the uncertainty, it presents you with opportunities you would have never dreamed or planned for yourself.
Doing something for the first time can be scary, but that’s what helps you grow. At first, being alone was scary. But I learned to treat myself with respect, love, and openness which really taught me a lot about my needs and wants without another’s influence. It also provided me some opportunities for memories that I’ll be able smile about for the rest of my life. There were definite moments where I second guessed myself, like when I embarked on an 8-mile round trip hike up to Observation Point in 6 inches of snow starting at noon. But once I saw that view among the absolute quietness looking down into the canyon, it just made the discomfort and fear melt away. Being the only person atop that mountain in that moment and to see that view was very special. I’ll never forget because I was brave to try something new, push through the unknown and be happy being alone.
Photos by Kristina Frost
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