Thoughts On Solitude

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By Outdoor Prolink Editorial Intern Sara Aranda. Sara likes to climb, trail run, travel and adventure. She comes from California but is making Boulder, Colorado her new home. Sara also works at Movement Climbing + Fitness in Boulder. Look for more blog posts and photos from Sara coming soon!

I’ve been reflecting recently on a trip that I took to Canyonlands National Park, on a rest day from climbing at Indian Creek. I decided to do a trail run, and I was completely alone jogging through a narrow canyon of half-frozen creeks and thin trees, sand and red/white stone, chutes and ladders. Animal tracks laced the trails, from bunnies to deer to coyote.

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I kept looking up at the walls and imagining myself as the first to travel through. If it weren’t for the map I had, I would have definitely gotten lost. The trails were hard to find at times and I had to bushwhack to get around a muddy creek. There was something that lingered in the back of my mind the entire day. I often hike alone, but never have I hiked alone in a place completely unknown to me. This was the desert, with walls and a palate that made everything look the same. The sand was tiring to run through and I kept lingering around thoughts of running into certain feline wildlife. My friend Remy almost clipped a mountain lion as it jumped across the road on his drive out of the Creek earlier in the week – what are the odds of that?

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There was a moment where I emerged from the canyon and was on top of one of the sandstone walls again, the sun riding low on the horizon. Snow-topped mountains could be seen in the East, a beautiful contrast to the red world I was currently in. I looked around and of course there was no one, nothing but trail markers that led you across bleak and undulating fields of sandstone. I suppose the cairns were human-like, and at least they reminded you that someone was once there.

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I remember realizing the degree to which I was alone in that place. I finally addressed a subtle fear that kept trying to pry its way to the surface. I had no reason to be afraid. I told friends back at camp where I was going, and I had plenty of water with me, and certainly access to water in the canyon. If I were to become stranded, I know enough to survive, at for least a short while. I had a headlamp and a jacket. Plus I wasn’t really that far from my car anyway. Maybe it was knowing that I was doing something the average person would find frightening, or absurd. My grandparents would be pulling their hair if they knew I was out there alone.

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My friend Dennis told me several accounts of him being stranded while hiking, without the comforts you’d normally have spending a night outside. Those experiences definitely topped the list of the most miserable nights of his life. Yet, I felt I was in no immediate danger, unless I somehow injured myself to a degree that completely disabled me. I think it was wise to allow that fear to linger – just a little, right?

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I always try to remind myself to understand my actions and their consequences. I went out there to get some cardio in and enjoy the new-found scenery. I’m obviously crazy enough to think that 14 miles is an easy afternoon. But yes, I was well aware that I’m no exception to being accident-prone. I guess I’d stress that everyone needs to be mindful when they go out into the wilderness, no matter their experience. Yet solitude has taught me many things, like how being alone doesn’t have to be scary or detrimental; that I am comfortable with who I am and my abilities; that my reflection during this time seems to only broaden myself and my senses; that solitude might be the only real way to fully comprehend what it is to be intimate with my wild surroundings. I find inspiration, and sometimes I even find answers to questions I didn’t know I had, as we all seem to find out. And more, I don’t have to feel sorry for having any specific thoughts or perceptions, nor do I have to worry about someone else’s well-being – and I think it’s healthy to experience this every so often. So what am I actually risking? Maybe losing myself, by way of some rabbit-hole mental game or by death itself, but when you exercise caution and know your abilities, those are risks worth taking.

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Go out alone and do it often enough to allow for the reevaluation of who you are and how you perform in the wild. I think you can really enjoy how small you are in the world. I let the wilderness humble me. So when my feet send echoes for miles down the canyon, and there is no one there to hear, not even the coyote or the mountain lion, just the trees and walls, repeating over and over the steps I took across their fallen stones, I can embrace how temporary I am. And instead of fear, I can let it become a sensation of freedom.

How do you embrace solitude? Tell us with the hashtag #dirtbagdreams!

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