Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Limits of Solitude

I experienced a first on my last backpacking trip in that it ended up not being a backpacking trip at all. It instead became a day hike with an absurdly excessive pack. I had planned to drive two hours for an easy hike in a pretty spot and stay for a brief solo overnighter. I packed all my gear, brought food that didn't need cooking, and headed to the mountain ridges just west of Chattanooga. Even after taking many photos and lingering, I finished my hike in about two hours and would have been setting up camp a couple of hours before sundown. At this point, I just lost my mojo. Despite the cool mountain air, a nice waterfall to wake up to within a five minute walk of camp, and having the woods all to myself, I just wasn't feeling it. The truth is, I didn't want the woods to myself. I felt restless and, honestly, a bit bored and lonely. I didn't even have a meal to cook, only baggies to unseal.  On this particular evening, I needed companionship, and, as much as I love her, my dog's limited vocabulary just wasn't up to the task. I decided to go ahead and hike a short route out and return to Nashville hoping for a brief hang with friends.

I did end up having a nice night catching up with a couple of friends in town. I felt a little strange and let down that I bailed on my trip, however, even though it was a quick, impromptu getaway. I have romanticized the healing power of submersing myself in nature so much that I simply assumed that power was limitless. I came to realize that although solitude in nature can be incredibly cathartic and produce genuine insight, it is also important to me to share these experiences, at least on occasion. No doubt, that is much of the impetus for this blog. Perhaps I can use this trip and the mild disappointment as motivation to meet other live, in-the-flesh, human beings who enjoy backpacking as much as I do.

 I'd like to work on some personal community-building, a skill I greatly admire in others but do not pursue enough in the "real world" myself. I have relied on the wisdom and sense of community found online for inspiration and sharing experiences, but this has not often translated to my real life, outside of the confines my two-dimensional computer screen. While solitude is incredibly important and necessary for my personal sense of growth, it has its limitations. Despite our romantic American notions of individualism and self-reliance, community is always what sustains the best in humans. Perhaps this trip was an indication I need a bit more of it.

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