Anyone who has ever traveled alone in the wilderness will tell you that some of their best experiences happened while they were solo. You see things when you’re alone that almost never occur when you’re in a group. I know firsthand that going solo can feel terrifying. But when you find the courage to lean into your fear, you will be richly rewarded.
On Memorial Day weekend of 2010, I had my first mind-blowing solo wildlife experience. There she was, just 30 feet to my left. She was close enough that I could see that she was as nervous as I was. We stood there staring at each other for what felt like 20 minutes. Then as I attempted to slowly set down my coffee to take a photo, she sprinted off into the woods.
My husband and I had spent the previous five summer’s scouring the arrowhead region of Minnesota in search of the elusive moose. Then one morning as I sat sipping my coffee alone, along the shore of Lake Superior, a young cow moose sauntered by. It was completely unexpected and an experience I’ll never forget.
I’ve been traveling alone for nearly two decades. And for the past decade, I’ve been enjoying solo hikes and adventures in nature. More recently I found the courage to give solo camping a try. While I love spending time in nature with my spouse and close friends, the experience of going it alone is something special.I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.' — Sylvia Plath Click To Tweet
The first thing you’ll notice when you head into the wilderness solo is the abundance of wildlife. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty darn quiet when I’m alone. This silence allows you to get up close and personal with wildlife you’d probably never see in a group.
I’ve encountered otters, loons, and beavers while out kayaking. I’ve enjoyed morning yoga with eagles and fawns. I even happened upon the cutest little bear cubs while out on a solo hike in a local state park. The opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat is one of the best reasons to head into the woods alone.Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. – Edward Abbey Click To Tweet
The next thing you’ll learn is that you’re so much stronger than you ever imagined. I spent more than 100 nights sleeping in a tent the last two summers and most of those nights were solo. Along this journey, I had some really challenging days, like the day I had to break down camp in a thunderstorm. Then I got lost on the way to the next park. I had no cell service, no GPS, and the roads weren’t on the map.
I finally found my campsite just as the sun was setting and proceeded to back my new car into a tree. As if that wasn’t enough, I still had to carry all of my gear into a walk-in campsite and set up under the darkening sky. My tent looked like I pulled it out of a swamp. It was dripping wet and covered in pine needles and sand. I was tired, hungry, and wanted to cry. I contemplated packing it up, making the six-hour drive home, and calling it quits.
But I stuck with it and woke up the next morning to a new day, dry tent, and a fresh perspective. I was almost able to laugh at how many mishaps I dealt with the previous day. More importantly, from that day forward, I never doubted that I could find the strength I needed to approach future frustrations with strength and grace.I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. – Henry David Thoreau Click To Tweet
The final lesson you’ll learn when you head into the wilderness solo is that you’re freakin’ awesome!
Not that long ago, someone asked me, “You’ve been married for 15 years, right? Do you think you’re so close because of all the time you’ve spent apart?” I responded that “I don’t think being apart is as important as being alone.”
As a culture, we’re over-connected, overstimulated, and overstressed. When you’re in the woods, it’s almost impossible to maintain that same level of connection and stimulation. This will give you the opportunity to truly disconnect and get to know and love your awesome authentic self.
But be warned that it’s not always pretty. On night number 10 of my solo state park tour, I came face to face with limiting beliefs I didn’t know I had. It’s honestly something I’m still working on but I’ve come a long way since then. I can confidently say that I have a whole new level of love and respect for myself. I don’t think I’d be where I am today had I not ventured into the wild alone.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you’re sure to improve your life by heading into the woods solo. I know that it’s scary for some of you so give yourself permission to start small. Check out these resources to help you plan your adventure and get started on a budget. And don’t forget to embrace every moment of your unique and wonderful journey.
What have you learned while spending time in nature alone? Let me know in the comments or come say “hi” on Facebook.
This post originally appeared on The Wild Life Blog in summer 2018. It has been completely revamped to include more great resources to help you plan more meaningful wilderness adventures.