This summer, back in England for a few months of respite, I bought my first one person tent. Exhilarated by the freedom of no fixed destination and no need for one, everything I needed on my back, I headed off into the Cumbrian fells. Solitude and Nature are the rarest things in my life in Athens, and the small window and opportunity to get some of both together drew me out.
In the fells I felt like a rare creature, and I notice other people’s curious looks. In 5 days I passed many people – a sunny bank holiday weekend, but only 3 other women walking alone, all out just for the day. Two of them stopped me to chat and were curious about my aloneness. One an older woman with her dog, the other on her own journey exploring aloneness – spending a year traveling the country in her camper van.
I know there are many women who travel on their own, yet almost all that I speak to say they couldn’t, they wouldn’t, they’re not brave enough, they’re too afraid.
It has been a journey for me. I used to not be brave enough. I used to be terrified. I still get nervous. Its a new thing for me – wild camping on my own. I started with youth hostels and mountain huts, and recently have taken it to the next level. Exhilarated by the sense of personal achievement in it. I actively wanted to face my fear.
The time I feel most vulnerable is at the end of the day – there’s still daylight and I’ve pitched my tent – I’m committed, no pretence that I’m just on my way somewhere else if someone were to walk by who I felt uncomfortable with. And then I wake up, in incredible silence, alone with the vastness and magic of the morning. All mine.
I see how easy it is for the fears to take hold. Who else is out there? When are they coming to get me? Yet each person I pass on the path, especially the more remote I get, I realise are out there because they love it too, and at the end of the day are focused on getting themselves home before dark. I found this realisation so helpful to see everyone with less suspicion and more acceptance. Although of course occasionally terrible things happen to people out in remote places.
This last trip I really journeyed with my aloneness. I hadn’t made a plan in advance, no one knew of the route I was taking. Mostly I didn’t either until I was on it. One day climbing a craggy fell, I took a wrong turn and ended up clambering up a gully full of scree, in very gusty wind, encumbered by the pack on my back. No one around, I felt really vulnerable and got quite scared. I kept going as up looked less scary than down until I lost my nerve and down looked less scary than up. Step by slow step backwards down the loose scree, holding on to what I could. Aware of how vulnerable I was in my aloneness, reminded of the infinite power of the mountains. And then the flip side of that – the incredible sense of freedom, aliveness, self reliance of it just being me and the mountains. Me and the Mountains.
5 days in solitude was an ongoing inquiry – staying as close to myself as I could, meditating, journaling, honouring my process, my grief, my independence.
As I headed off on a solo trip in the wilds of New Zealand a couple of years ago (staying in mountain huts), a dear friend sent me this article below. I come back to it periodically and find it so helpful to read.
“For women, solitude is dangerous: a lone woman is considered vulnerable to attacks, pitiful for her lack of male companionship, or threatening to another woman’s relationship. We see women in all kinds of states of loneliness–single, socially isolated, abandoned–but almost never in a state of deliberate, total aloneness.”