Going Solo Can Open Your Soul

Photograph by Emily Moeschler

So much of our lives is filled with stimulation and distraction. We rush from one thing to the next, be it work, errands, paying bills, taking care of kids, exercising or spending time with friends. How often do you actually put on the brakes and take time to reflect—on who you are you, what you want, and the meaning of your one precious life? Chances are, not often enough.

The good news is that there’s a cure for this affliction. And yup, you guessed it, it involves going outside. Outdoor adventures feed the soul like nothing else. Exposed to the elements and raw beauty of nature, you escape from everyday life. The only catch is, you can’t escape from yourself—particularly if you’re alone.

The other day, I sat down with my coworker Emily, who is a membership representative here at Outdoor Industry Association, to hear about her recent solo backpacking adventure. This wasn’t her first time alone in the backcountry. During a semester with NOLS, she went out on her first solo overnight. More recently, she did a five-day fasting vision quest that was an amazing spiritual journey.

Emily seeks time alone in the wilds to ground herself. So a couple of weeks ago, in need of a bit of reflection, she headed out for a transformative night.

She set out on Labor Day weekend from a trailhead in central Colorado. Ordinarily you’d expect to share the trail with many others. After all, Coloradans LOVE being outside, so it’s rare to have a mountain basin all to yourself. Emily was shocked that there was no one else around. Right off the bat, she felt very alone.

She hiked in for about three miles, then set up camp on a hillside overlooking the Gore Range. She was in awe of her surroundings and immersed herself in the deep connection that comes from being alone outdoors. She relished the solitude. It was just Emily, her two dogs, and the wind whistling through the trees.

As night fell, things changed. Emily started getting a little afraid. Her head switched, and all of a sudden, every noise, every tree branch breaking, even her dogs barking freaked her out. Emily was terrified. She described it as beyond common sense—her basic human instincts set in, and she was a slave to fearful thoughts. I’m sure we can all relate to this. Who hasn’t spent time alone in the dark, afraid of a boogieman, or a bear ripping through the side of the tent, or ghosts?

At 3:00 a.m., Emily awoke to a clear sky bathed in the light of a full moon. Suddenly she didn’t feel so alone. I’ve often found the moon can be a grounding force, helping you feel connected to the sky, the earth, and other people. After all, it exerts powerful pull on everything from tides to moods. For Emily, the moon freed her and helped her realize that the darkest parts of our minds are the scariest. Surrounded by everyday distractions, it’s easy to avoid these dark recesses. It’s only by cracking open your soul, confronting your fears, and making peace with your dark side that you will ever see the light.

So she faced her fear and realized that it was just in her head. Fear is a manifestation of your thoughts. You can either allow yourself to give into fearful thoughts, or you can redirect your attention to something more positive. As Emily says, you are the only barrier to all of your possibilities.

The beautiful thing is that a solo jaunt in the woods is a cure. It’s like hitting the reset button and reconnecting with the basics. It’s an opportunity to reassess how you can let your mind interfere with what you do, or you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Whoa. Wrap your head around that dichotomy.

Adventures outside can be exciting, exhilarating, scary and challenging. Often it takes mind over matter to power past your fears. You can talk about the peak you bagged, the rapids you ran, or the gnarly descent you nailed on your mountain bike. But you might just discover that the greatest adventure was the journey you took exploring the depths of your own mind.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich

 

Comments

  1. Colino
    Paris
    September 19, 2012, 8:36 am

    I love travelling alone. I think it’s the best way to discover a country. In France, there is a documentary broadcast by France 5 (public channel), where a woman go solo to discover food from other countries. A great tv program !!! ;-)
    http://www.tv-replay.fr/25-06-12/fourchette-et-sac-a-dos-france5-pluzz-7076741.html

  2. Chesley
    September 19, 2012, 9:41 am

    I myself took a solo adventure this summer after caring for an ill parent for 5 straight months. The day I felt comfortable leaving my parent in a safe and caring healthcare facility, I left for a 2 month long camping trip downt the US West Coast. The whole reason was to try to find my optimistic spirit once again. Through many miles of hiking and kayaking I got back to my core that makes me tick. Nothing soothes the soul better than being in the mountains and on the water. My solo adventure this summer was one of the best experiences of my life!!

  3. Lulu
    Texas
    September 24, 2012, 11:08 am

    I also love to travel alone, but my family and friends fear for my safety and constantly worry about me. I have found a mobile application called My911 to be very helpful when I venture out by myself. It gives me peace of mind will trekking through the woods, driving long scenic routes or biking through the mountains. Great way to give my family and friends, as well as myself a secure peace of mind while adventuring through the world.

  4. Leonardo
    Sweden
    September 26, 2012, 6:22 am

    I was in India alon for 4 moths and it was my best travel. i took alot of photos and filmed. I meet so mutch more people when i was alon the with other travelers and it was so mutch fun.

    http://mahz.se

  5. Sam Steele
    Anchorage, Alaska
    October 2, 2012, 2:05 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, hiking and sailing solo in Alaska has been an extremely restorative experience for me many times. The last sentence in the article reminds me of a quote which talks about how we journey here and there throughout life as we test ourselves, rediscover our past, seek our future or even just to relax but the longest journey is indeed the solo journey we take inside our minds.

  6. Ronnie
    October 15, 2012, 2:40 am

    I was in India alon for 4 moths and it was my best travel. i took alot of photos and filmed. I meet so mutch more people when i was alon the with other travelers and it was so mutch fun.

    http://mahz.se

  7. James Motor
    United Kingdom
    November 8, 2012, 7:27 am

    This is such an inspiring piece! For a long time, I have done everything in pairs but as my wife is a little reluctant to such outdoor adventures I think it is high time to muser up the courage to get out there, gather my camping equipment and see what adventures I can have!

    Thank you for inspiring me!

  8. egged fish
    China
    December 18, 2012, 3:54 am

    sometimes,maybe every half years,I will go out solo,if not,it seem I have lose my sour

  9. George Hannan
    Ireland
    March 21, 8:30 am

    I solo-hike quite a bit in Ireland and I think one vital aspect is being super-alert to minimising the risk of an accident. Tripping or slipping and falling would have the highest probability! So, I feel a ‘What are the chances of falling here, and how do I best mitigate that risk?’ mindset should go a long way to keeping us safe on our wonderful solo-hikes :-)