‘Bist du allein?’ (Are you alone?)
The owner of the hut is looking over my shoulder as if he’s expecting another person to emerge from the mountains. I tell him that I am in fact alone, for today. I don’t know why I add those two words – for today – and I spend the rest of the climb wondering why I said that. Maybe I didn’t want the man to feel sorry for me, like some others who have asked me the same question over the past couple of weeks. Maybe I wasn’t looking for any unsolicited advice like so many have given me when they found out I was travelling and running in the mountains on my own. Or maybe it was a safety thing and I wanted the man to think that someone was waiting for me down in the valley.
I didn’t lie; I was alone for that day. But I was also alone the days before our encounter and I would be alone on the days that would follow. As I am writing this, I am on a solo trip to Tyrol in the Austrian Alps. I packed my tent, several pairs of running shoes, some other gear and a lot of food, and I just went for it. Since I’m staying at small campsites with some amenities, I’m not entirely cut off from the outside world: I can check the news (if I want to…), I can text or call friends and family and I can connect with other people in person.
Those other people often have a lot of questions though. Their perspectives vary, but their questions usually come down to this one word: why? Why would you drive that far on your own? Why would you sleep in a tent alone (as a woman, some will add)? Why would you run that far or climb that much? Why, why?
A couple of years ago, when I packed my car to drive to the Alps for the very first time, I was in a pretty bad place after some major life changes and I felt the need to constantly explain myself – like I needed to convince people that I do have friends, that there is nothing wrong with me, that I know what I’m doing. I felt like I needed to have a very strong ‘why’, some kind of philosophical answer that would convince even the harshest critic that it’s ok for a woman to travel and adventure alone.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that my answer to all those ‘why’ questions is really simple: because I like it and because I can. That answer should be enough – for myself, for the people close to me and for random strangers in the mountains.
Sharing experiences with others, on the trails as well as in life in general, is a beautiful thing. Spending time on your own can teach you a lot about yourself though. That’s why I think there is a time and a place for both. Because when nobody’s watching, you get to find out who you really are: what are you excited about, what is your pace, how far do you want to go (and how little do you care about how you smell at the end of a long day)?
I realise how lucky I am to be able to do this; to be healthy and to currently have a life that allows me to spend several weeks exploring the mountains, only worrying about the very basics. For people with more commitments, it may not be possible to just disappear for a couple of days or weeks. But even then, it is possible to treat yourself to your very own adventure every now and then. It doesn’t need to be that long or that far away, it doesn’t even need to involve mountains or running. That’s the beauty of it: it’s your adventure, so you get to make all the decisions.
Even if you only have a couple of hours to get away from it all, I would like to encourage you to just take a moment to think about what it is that you want to do. A lot of people, women in particular, spend a big part of their lives living up to other people’s expectations – or what they assume are other people’s expectations. But what would you do if nobody was watching? What would you do if you could choose your own adventure, your own path? Where would you go? Would you go big or small, long or short, fast or slow?
Here are some things I learned about solo travelling and adventuring over the past couple of years.
- You do you. If you spend your trip worrying about what other people might think about what you’re doing (or how it will look on Strava or Instagram afterwards), you are spoiling your own experience. This is the opportunity to 100% do you. Make the most of it!
- Challenge yourself … A true adventure means you do get a little uncomfortable at some point. That might mean driving some narrow mountain roads that you’d usually avoid (yep, that’s me), running a trail that you’ve never run before or trying to reach a peak that is a little outside your comfort zone. Go explore!
- … But know your limits.Sometimes there’s a fine line between challenging yourself and just being stupid. So if you know you’ll get a full-blown panic attack when you try to drive that narrow mountain road, pick a trailhead that is easier to reach. And if you know your mountain navigation isn’t up to scratch, stick to a well-marked trail and challenge yourself in some other way. The goal is to have fun and get home in one piece. (It’s always a good idea to share your plans with others/carry a GPS tracker. Read more about safety in the TS article about solo adventure precautions.)
- Expect the lows. When you are traveling with others, there is bound to be some friction or conflict along the way. It won’t be perfect all the time. The same goes for solo trips. One moment you can feel strong and independent, and the next you might start feeling lonely or doubting yourself. The thing to remember is that this is part of the adventure; it doesn’t mean you did something wrong or that you are not cut out for this. It simply means you’re human – just like arguments during a family vacation probably mean you’re a family of human beings. Like with any trip, know that there’ll be some lows and problem-solve accordingly, or just wait for it to pass. There’s no shame in calling a friend when you’re going through a rough patch.
- Be flexible. The best thing about adventuring is that things will go wrong. Or, let me rephrase that: the best thing about adventuring is that reality will surprise you. Even though you may be disappointed when your trail of choice is closed, when you’re all out of jelly beans or when the mosquitoes are feasting on you and you alone, that doesn’t have to mean your day is ruined. Your day will only be ruined if you let it. So come up with your own unique solutions and relish your moment of brilliance. You got this!
- Enjoy. Remember why you’re out there on your own. If your ‘why’ is somewhat similar to mine – because I like it and because I can – there’s only one thing left to do: enjoy!
By the way, the next time someone asked me if I was alone, I just said yes – and I smiled the biggest smile I could muster. Their response? ‘Cool, have fun.’