At right around 9 am on Sunday, I bumped along a dirt road in middle-of-nowhere Idaho. Potato fields spread out all around me and blue skies promised a warm spring day.
Deep road ruts made me question my Subaru’s clearance and my driving prowess, especially because I was alone, and barely in cell reception. I shifted down to first gear, punched the gas pedal and powered through a mud puddle and up a hill, my tires clinging precariously to dirt not yet washed away.
I’m no newbie when it comes to adventuring solo as a female.
I’ve made my way through South and Central America by myself, making new friends as I went. More than one local asked me incredulously over and over again “sola?”
I drove 3,000 miles from Alaska to Wyoming, just me and my dog, in the middle of November. I’ll never forget the night I slept in my car on a random side road in the Yukon when temps dropped to 30 below.
And, like last Sunday, when I spent four hours on the South Fork Bench trail that parallels the Snake River, I’ve run countless trail miles alone.
Yes, I love the camaraderie of shared experiences in the mountains with others, and no, I’m not on a mission to cause my parents fitful sleep.
But I do believe that the experience of “being out there” alone is unique and worthwhile. Here’s why:
It empowers me to make decisions and trust my judgment. Knowing that I have only myself to lean on, I’m more intentional about everything I do, whether the way I place my foot on the trail or the gear I pack. I plan for contingencies and take what I need to spend the night, if it were to come to that – headlamp, lighter, space blanket, extra food, extra clothes, etc. Also, I usually take my cell phone and make sure that someone knows my itinerary.
I notice details and the landscape around me in a heightened way. Chris Jensen, who’s on the team here at Garage Grown Gear, just stopped into the office. Chris has been a fly fishing guide for decades and knows every intimate detail of the Snake River. We got to talking about certain bends and rock formations in the river, and I knew exactly what he was talking about, because of the way I took in what was around me on Sunday.
I open my heart to new people and new experiences. A handful of years back, when I was in Argentina by myself, I decided I wanted to climb a glaciated volcano named Lanin. So I got on a bus headed toward the region. On the bus I met a group of local climbers planning to summit the mountain. After a few hours of talking with them, they invited me to join their group. We had a great experience, the summit was breathtaking, and I continue to stay in touch with a few of them to this day. The chances of that happening would have been a lot less likely if I was traveling with someone else.
I won’t pretend going out alone is always the safest choice. I’ve definitely seen in a very personal way the dark side of it. There are certain activities, like packrafting, I simply do not feel comfortable attempting alone. And, no doubt, I’ve become more tempered in my solo endeavors now that I’m a mom.
But I also believe that spending time listening to our own breath and observing our own thoughts can renew and transform. Each of us has a different risk threshold and comfort level, and the beauty of it is that we each get to decide that for ourselves.
What are your thoughts on this? Please share with a (respectful) comment below.
After writing this article, I spent some time cruising around online to find out how others have weighed in on this conversation. Here are a few articles I recommend.
- Stop telling women not to go into the backcountry alone - Adventure Journal
- Hiking solo: my thoughts and tips - Happiest Outdoors
- 18 tips from female solo hikers - Backpacker
- The case for female solo hiking - Outdoor Women's Alliance
- Women who travel alone: a reading list - Longreads