Solo Adventures – An “Ode” to Independence

In a society obsessed with socializing, solo travel isn’t exactly encouraged. Moreover, traveling alone, especially as a woman, is often considered dangerous and downright crazy. Well, to that notion, I would like to respond with a quote from Jimi Hendrix:

You have to forget about what other people say; when you’re supposed to die; when you’re supposed to be lovin’. You have to forget about all these things. You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.

When I was offered an AmeriCorps VISTA position at Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation in the summer of 2016, I decided I would drive to Reno by myself. At the time, I lived back home in a little town in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. A mere three thousand miles to add to my ’04 Pontiac’s two-hundred thousand. It was to be the first time I ever truly journeyed alone.

My parents' house in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York.

In the weeks leading up to my solo road trip, I practiced adventuring alone. (Although, it wasn’t so much practice as it was an outlet for my building excitement.) I went for hikes, long bike rides, and even attended a concert on my own. I learned that going places alone is a lot simpler than going places with a group. When I wanted to move, I moved. When I wanted to go to the bathroom, I went. Heck, if I wanted to go home after hiking for five minutes, I did! I didn’t have to wait for anyone, find anyone, or coordinate with anyone. I was at peace no matter where I stood.

I felt prepared and excited once it was time to head out on my solo road trip. I managed to fit everything in my car that I needed to live in Reno for the year, plus what I needed to camp along the way. I also had an atlas and a smartphone for guidance, a cooler for food and water, and a journal, CD’s, and audiobooks for company. I camped in campgrounds some nights, and other nights I slept in the front seat of my car (a rather comfortable place to be when you’re in a random parking lot or it’s pouring rain). I traveled West on I-90 (the northern route) because I wanted to spend time in Olympic National Park, WA before heading to my AmeriCorps VISTA pre-service orientation in Portland, OR.

In the long silences of my trip, something interesting began to happen. More and more, I talked to myself. It started with the normal driving comments like, “Outta my way, Ontario!”, but after awhile, my self-talk turned into discussions about when to stop for gas and then evolved into full-fledged philosophical conversations about life – sprinkled with silliness and singing.

Basically, I was getting to know myself.

And, somewhat to my surprise, I liked what I found.

My first West Coast sunset! Embracing

selfies is part of the solo journey.

Along with my self-discoveries, I was also discovering our beautiful country: her mountains, her fields, and her waters. My favorite place I visited was Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park, Washington. The water was cold, calm, and aqua-blue. The “sand” was really millions of round stones, they rolled away beneath my feet as I reached the water’s edge. I swam out into the middle of the lake and floated there for awhile. I outstretched my arms and looked down at my swimming self and I remember thinking that it looked like I was floating in a sea of turquoise, and I was turquoise, too. The mountains seemed to emerge straight out of the water, the early-morning fog still lingering where water meets mountain, the sun trying its best to get the hot August day started. For a lake-starved Adirondacker who hadn’t showered in five days, this place was heaven.

The picture I took of Lake Crescent after my morning swim.

Solo Adventure #2 - The Pacific Coast Bike Trip

Among other gifts, my solo road trip gave me the confidence to plunge headfirst into a solo bicycle tour after my AmeriCorps term ended.

Getting dropped off in Sacramento at the start of my solo bicycle tour.

From Sacramento, I headed west to the Pacific coast and then north along Highway 1. I biked for six days and learned countless lessons in that short period of time. I was lucky to experience immeasurable kindness from people along the way, including being invited to share a campsite at Wright’s Beach with a family during Labor Day weekend. (Silly me for planning a bike/camp trip during a holiday weekend!) One of the benefits of traveling alone is that it’s easier to get “adopted” by other groups. A person by themselves is less threatening, less of a burden, and more in-need of kindness from strangers.

I took this picture at Wright’s Beach after being invited by an amazing family to share a campsite, food, and a cold gatorade (basically liquid gold to a bicycle tourist).

Side Note: Let it be known that there are such things as hiker/biker-only campsites at certain campgrounds and they are the coolest! The ones I found were only five dollars a night. The camp host asked me, "Just you? No dog or anything?"

"Just me and my bike!"

I kept a journal during both of my solo adventures. Journaling is great therapy and a wonderful resource when looking back on your journeys. I would like to share an entry from my bicycle tour that I believe encapsulates the trip well:

Notes about biking and life:

- Never underestimate the power of a good break.

- Glass is to tire as mountain is to brake pad.

- When pouring water into bottle, put bottle on ground first, then refill. On that note: panniers are definitely waterproof.

- With every uphill (usually) comes a downhill, a view, and some pride.

- Friends are the best.

- Arms hurt ??? Didn’t expect that.

- Switching gears is good for you.

- Water is awesome.

- Memorize where things are in panniers.

- Smiling feels incredible! Even if you look stupid! Smile harder!

- Talking to yourself is therapeutic.

- Positive thoughts are brain fuel.

- Going no-hands on a downhill can sometimes be more productive than pedaling – more energy, emotional and mental rejuvenation.

- Love your self and your self will love back.

The pros of solo adventures are many, but they’re not the whole story. Loneliness, homesickness, fear… these are very real hurdles that must be overcome when adventuring alone. Not to mention that solo travel, as with all travel, is potentially dangerous. With that being said, if you’ve been thinking about going on a solo adventure – big or small – I say DO IT! Be your crazy self! Just as long as you’re entering into a situation that you’re comfortable with and prepared for.

Although this is an “ode” to independence, I would like to end by saying that I’m looking forward to spending this Independence Day with friends and loved ones in Reno: a place that went from being unknown, to being my home.

“Growth means change and change involves risk,

stepping from the known to the unknown.” – George Shinn

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