People often ask me why I like hiking alone. By people, I of course am referring to the blisters on my feet. Nevertheless, the question is valid. Covid has taught many of us about separation anxiety. It has also explained why dogs are so excited when they can finally go outside after sitting in the house!
Many people rushed to the trails for exercise and to actually be able to spend time with people they know. While it is nice to hike with people, don’t be afraid to take those moments alone in the woods.
I live pretty close to downtown Denver. While I live alone I am always reminded how close people are. For instance, the upstairs neighbor seems to need to move furniture for about 12 hours a day. City living is exciting. It is noisy and crowded and I really do enjoy it. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the trail so much as it is the complete opposite.
Alone vs. Lonely
I am sure most of us have been alone at some point. Most people have probably even felt lonely from time to time. What I have found is those two things are not dependent on one another. A busy coffee shop could be the loneliest place on earth if you don’t have a Macbook and earbuds.
In the woods you could literally be the only person for 5 miles. So why not the loneliness? For me it is about the adventure. Monotony causes that lonely feeling. There is no monotony on a hike. Each step is different and I never really know what I will see next.
I also think that deep down people in a city want a certain level of loneliness. I can’t walk 10 feet down the street without Pandora in my ears. Ignoring all of the sounds and people and retreating to my own 90’s music video walking the street.
Outdoors I can walk 15 miles without checking my phone other than the map. I don’t need electronic stimulation because I am surrounded by the real thing. The bird chirps, the leaf rustles, the freaking squirrels.
Sidebar. Squirrels are the equivalent to those people on the corner trying to get you to sign up to their cause. They park themselves in positions in which they can’t be avoided and then squeal as long and as loud as they can until you finally move out of range and they get ready for the next victim.
Where was I. Ahh yes. The noises surround you as well as the visuals. One thing that I think makes a huge difference in the wild is that the lines aren’t straight. In the city we walk by buildings, corners, windows and doors. Every surface at the same time inviting and trying to keep you out. The lines are all straight. The only time you really notice is when something is broken and no longer looks normal. In the woods it is the opposite. Normal is the chaos of nature. Normal is also the calm beauty of nature. The only straight lines are typically the trail underfoot.
How is it that there seems to be so much more stimuli in nature than in the manufactured metal and crowds of the city?
One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from the 1995 film Sabrina. Harrison Ford, playing a super rich fella, is explaining to Julia Ormond that he wants pictures of every angle of a house she is helping him sell. Ormond simply responds, “More isn’t always better, sometimes it is just more.”
That is how I feel about the city. The city has more people, more cars, more shops. Traffic, sounds, lights. More. Crowds, restaurants, stadiums. More, more! Energy. That is what it’s really about. There is more of everything in a city and that brings more energy.
I wasn’t sure the energy of a city could be matched. One day I was sitting next to a stream close to an aspen grove. A light breeze blew and every leaf in the grove began to quake. The noise was much like the building of a cheer in a stadium during a home run.
A single leaf fell into the stream I was sitting next to. The leaf fell into what I thought was a calm moving stream until that singular leaf caught the current. It was like a speedboat floating away in a mix of calm and chaos.
At that moment I realized the difference between the energy of a city and the energy of a trail. The city needs to manufacture all the energy. If you don’t believe me, walk around at two in the morning on a Tuesday. Nature on the other hand takes the small breeze, the smallest bit of energy and turns it into a dancing symphony of leaves quaking on their limbs. A small leaf takes a journey from tree branch to possibly miles away where the stream may have released it from its slide. All because of one breath of wind.
More wasn’t better. The wind still blows in the city but it is seen as a nuisance. The wind on the trail can be the trigger that brings it all to life. It had the power to mesmerize me for that simple moment.
I didn’t need those people. The crowds were no factor in what I was seeing. The world was simple. With nobody in it but me in that moment.
Silence is Golden
People find joy in different things. I know people that can’t go an hour without talking to someone. On the contrary, I know people who would prefer to avoid everyone in existence if possible. I always thought that I was the former. Being a social person is somewhat natural to me. Now that I have spent time in the woods alone I have learned a lot about myself.
There is no better feeling than making it to the top of a hike and knowing that I accomplished it on my own. No more humbling feeling than standing next to a frozen lake at 12,000 feet and knowing that only a few people have seen what I have seen.
I don’t hike alone but I hike with myself. I push myself to get further than even I think I could get. My mind is both humbled and proud with each step that I take. That is why I am alone but never lonely.
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