Yes, you’ll be lonely.

“Won’t you become lonely?” is usually one of the first few questions I get after someone learns of what I am about to do.

The answer is yes, I’ll probably reach a level of lonely where I’ll begin having conversations with myself, animals and inanimate objects. Humans are social animals, we for the most part deteriorate when deprived of human contact for prolonged periods of time.

“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” – Joss Whedon

When I’m asked if I’ll be lonely I’m not being asked will I, I’m being asked if I am afraid of it. In many ways I will be afraid. Every night when I crawl in my sleeping bag alone in the woods I’ll be afraid of that raccoon that rustled a branch (a small bear?), that deer in the bush (DEFINITELY A BEAR!), and that owl overhead (A FLYING BEAR?!?!). It’s pretty normal to be afraid of being alone in nature, it’s a healthy part of the experience and it is perhaps in the silent reflective loneliness that we paradoxically develop a greater understanding of the benefits of togetherness.

Mt. Shasta Basecamp

Mt. Shasta Basecamp

When you are alone and without distraction you become incredibly in-tune to your own thoughts and feelings. Have you ever turned down the volume on your TV only to have trouble hearing it but after a minute or two it is as if the sound was turned up? Your mind adjusted to the low volume, it tuned-in. This is what it feels like when I head out into the forest, my mind turns itself away from all the outside static and looks in. It becomes just me, and the trail.

Loneliness is one of the most feared feelings a person can have and it’s probably held you back more times than you realize. Think of all the times you wanted to do something but your friend couldn’t get time off work or someone didn’t have the money right then. Did you do it alone? Probably not. The experience you would have with friends would be different and sometimes it might be better but you get different types of satisfaction in doing things alone. One of which is the satisfactions of having done it alone. When I finish a difficult solo trip, I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to. I wish I could say that the feeling lasts forever, but it fades pretty quick.

After hiking 30+ miles odds are I’ll be more concerned with my feet than lack of companionship and in doing something like the pacific crest trail you are hardly alone if you don’t want to be. Honestly though, I’m looking forward to a bit of isolation… It’s one of the reasons I hike. Overcoming fears associated with being alone in the wilderness is something to look forward to because you can only truly grow through challenge.

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