I have a lesser need to “feel” like I “need” to hike solo today than yesterday because the depth of my experience as a solo traveler will be known only to me: it is difficult (at best) to convey the magic of my experience to somebody who wasn’t there, and that creates a relational black hole that I’ve found to be spiritually cumbersome as I get older.
I know this because I’ve found it easy to write about my solo trips, or share photos from them, but I’ve found it hard to convey the depth of that experience to others. Moreover, I’m always a little bit dismayed by their reaction (or lack of) to my sharing (“Oh, that sounded like a nice trip.”) My response: “Huh. I guess you had to be there.”
In recent years, I have discovered the “A-Ha!” realization that I can deepen my wilderness experiences by sharing them with my wife, my son, my son’s friends, my friends, Scouts – simply by inviting them along – and more important – that I’m enjoying those experiences more than the ones I gain when I go alone. With others, we can share the experience long after the trek is done. I know now that relationships deepen through meaningful experiences, and that my life is richer from hiking with others than from anything I’ve done to feed my own narcissistic desires to “Hike My Own Hike”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that writing, or photography, or campfire stories are not meaningful ways of conveying the mood of a trek, but c’mon. It’s just not the same as being there and sharing those experiences with someone else.
I don’t want to read about Colin Fletcher’s traverse of the Esplanade (even though he conveys his experience in a truly engaging manner) so much as hike it with a pal or two and see what it’s really like. I bet we’d not be saying, “Huh, I guess it was just like Fletcher said. Boo.”
The benefits of hiking solo have been articulated well in Philip Werner’s recent post about solo backpacking and I’m pretty convinced that Andrew Skurka’s romp around Alaska is going to change him forever and we’ll enjoy celebrating his journey with him in due time. However, especially as I get older, I find myself wanting to trek with others because the relationships that are cemented (especially during a Tough Walk) are worth a lot more to me than most of the benefits of independence that I enjoy by walking solo.
That doesn’t mean I still don’t like going solo – I do. But the focus has changed from going on a “trek for me without the baggage of others” (that sometimes self-serving philosophy of “Hike Your Own Hike”) to simply needing to quiet my soul a bit so I can think, and cleanse. I like that.
But the most memorable treks of my life, and far and away the most fun, have been those where I’ve been able to share the experience with others.
So the next time you plan a trek, consider sharing your ripstop room with a pal or two, and look forward to a lifetime of memories that will deepen your relationships. Wild Places offer wonderful opportunities to immerse your senses, but don’t fall into the trap where you think they exist only to serve yourself and your perceived needs for self-time, self-healing, self-awareness, self-esteem-building, or self-ishness. Relationships are more acutely developed and thus made richer in wilderness settings – and trekking with pals may be a lot cheaper than counseling and anti-depressants caused by pursuing a lifetime of loneliness in the mountains.