On My Own
I remembered this feeling. I’ve had it before. I was in Korea on a bright red bus. On the way to my friend’s apartment across town. I looked around, and out the window, neon lights whizzing by. The thought came to me that no one I had ever known in the world knew where I was at that precise moment. Not one person could pin point me on map as I cruised the rural back roads of Daegu in a bus jam packed with people who I couldn’t communicate with, I was surrounded, but I was alone.
The feeling strangely filled me up, made me a little giddy and excited, liberated. I turned on my music, smiled to myself and enjoyed the ride.
The Appalachian Trail has been a much more social experience than I had imagined. I do hike by myself and often for hours on end without seeing others but there is only one path and only two directions you can go. There are only so many water sources, towns and viable camp site options, you are not always alone for long. We are all going to the same place. I love getting to meet new and interesting people but after a 15 mile day in the heat I am not always the most friendly, small- talkiest version of myself. More like a sour patch kid focused zombie.
I realized that although I had come out here as a solo hiker, I had barely been on my own. I was lucky enough to meet great people who hiked the same pace and with the same philosophy as me right away. I have been on teams and in pairs for most of the trip so far.
I was starting to feel a little drained and a little out of touch with myself. My inner voice was being drowned out by the conversations happening around me. The logistical discussions where getting louder than my gut and I just felt like I couldn’t hear. Something was off.
I hung back an extra day just trusting that I would see my friends again, because I did want to, and that what I needed was some freedom and some space. Space to make my own plans, space to be spontaneous, space to explore my thoughts, space to be making all my own decisions.
When I am hiking with friends there is always a wondering, if they stopped for lunch, do they still feel good, want to keep going or wait here, are they far ahead, did they fill up here, are they waiting for me? It has been a switch I hadn’t quite been able to turn off.
Even out on the trail it is easy to get stuck in your comfort zone. It is so easy to fall into a group and go with the flow. To get comfortable, to get on board with group decisions. But we all know where the magic happens and our comfort zones are not it.
So in the name of comfort zone pushing, vulnerability practicing and self trusting, I went out on my own. For a five day stretch I was by myself. I left camp late and barely saw anyone throughout the days. I chose how far to go, when to stop. I sat on a bald an watched the sunset and a man ran out to give me an ice cream sandwich. I hiked late into the evening an showed up to camp in the dark. Unbothered, I set my tent up by headlamp and realized another barrier I had been living within the confines of (getting to camp in the daylight) was pretty unnecessary and self-imposed. I camped by myself for the first time, playing a podcast stringing open my tent and watching the sunrise from my pink sleeping bag while drinking a second cup of coffee in the morning. I slowed down and took deep breaths.
Throughout those five days I kept having magical moments, synchronicity. I got back in touch with my rhythm and intentions. I listened only my inner voice and eliminated outer noise drowning it out. And I needed it. I didn’t know I needed recharging until I was recharged, only then could I feel the difference.
It felt like I had hit refresh.
I had gotten off the trail due to severe winds ( I don’t always trust the rumors but people were saying up to 70 mph and I do believe that.), I had just happened to see a friend who had visitors on the trail, they had room in their car. He said it probably wasn’t safe to press on. Torn, I don’t always want to hit the easy button and leave the trail but safety always comes first, I accepted the offer and got in the car.
The next day I was feeling guilty and unsure of how I would get back to the trail-head where I had gotten off 15 miles south. I decided to just trust it to the trail and it would all work out. I headed to the highway with my pack and began walking. A few minutes of discomfort passed as semi trucks whizzed past me, as I stood fairly helplessly alone with my pack. But before too long, a woman around my age rocking AT earrings and sporting tail themed bumper stickers pulled over. She drove me to the trail head, gave me snacks and even slack packed me (took my big pack so I didn’t have to carry it) for the whole 15 miles.
I spent the entire day alone. Without my pack I was weightless. I walked through balds in the clouds, I had the Over-mountain shelter all to myself for lunch. I saw the eerie aftermath of the storm and felt a deafening calm in complete contrast to the wind gusts of the day before. Trees were strewn across the trail and notes left in the register from the previous day affirmed my decision to get off when I had.
As I crested Hump Mountain the clouds opened up and revealed the wide idyllic farmlands and rolling green hills. Just for long enough for me to take it in, a fleeting view before the clouds enveloped me again. I stood still. None of these tiny precious moments would have happened if I had stayed in a group. There was magic in that day and only because I was alone, vulnerable and challenged.
I continued to walk I had a thought, eating sour patch kids, listening to my favorite music, exploring a new state and landscape in a place I may never be again. I thought to myself ‘If I could flash into any moment in my life it would be this one.’
The weight of that idea froze me. Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that the most anyone can hope for?
I smiled to myself the same smile from Korea. The same sweet secret that no one in the world could point to where exactly I was standing at that time. Third Eye Blind’s Motorcycle Drive By came on my headphones. The song I listened to in tears the day before I left Austin, the song that kept me company throughout my first week in Korea, the song I danced to like a maniac when I finally saw them live.
In the middle of a field, alone inside a cloud somewhere in Tennessee I heard my favorite line:
And I, I’ve never been so alone, alone, alone, and I’ve, I’ve never been so alive.
And yeah, I think that is the most anyone can hope for.
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“Motorcycle Drive By” always does it for me too.
What a great story and beautiful photo of you! Wow… I like what you’re laying down 😉 keep on beautiful! I saw you’ve surpassed your goal! Holy smolies! Awesome!! Also, I would love to see your gear list of ever you upload that. Good to chat today! Thank you so much for writing about your adventure. Lots of peeps do cool things, but I really admire and appreciate your courage to promote your cause and write about your experiences. Hear, hear!
“Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that the most anyone can hope for?” Ah, yes.