The Solo Year
Here I am, a year later, with dozens of subjects, ideas, and adventures I’ve jotted down over the year, but not one piece complete in 2018. And by complete, I mean that I didn’t sit down and curate a story on my laptop that I felt was “worthy” of sharing on some sort of social media platform. But I feel like for me, this past year wasn’t about that. This year was about me, and learning what it is to truly be single, solo, independent of anyone’s opinions, cultivating friendships that add value to each other’s lives, and learning about what I honestly need to be happy, healthy, and successful.
Four years ago I moved into an apartment and started living by myself for the first time in my entire life, sans a few months when I was 19 between moving out of my childhood home, just before my first relationship. This was huge, terrifying, exciting, confusing, and empowering. I thought in those first few years I’d learned everything about myself. I lived alone, but I was still dating and in some sort of consistent relationship. Many of my actions and decisions were still influenced by another person. Of course it was all voluntary, but there was so much compromise that, looking back, I know wasn’t healthy for me on many levels.
Christmas of 2017 I ended a 2.5 year relationship. I am lucky that we were mature enough to allow the friendship to remain, but see that we just weren’t the best match beyond adventures together. 2018 has been my first truly solo year as an adult. This year has been a year of growth beyond expectations, a year of unforgettable adventure, a year of friends, a year of health, and one of the most amazing years of my life.
I didn’t let rejection hinder me from my goals. I planned trips for me, not waiting for someone to be available or want to go with me. I said “Yes!” to friends’ invitations. I gained confidence in myself, my abilities, my decisions. I listened to myself, learned to trust, and learned to say no. I rediscovered my culinary passion and the joy of providing for yourself, and sharing with people who appreciate it. I stopped feeling guilty for lazy Saturdays when I could have been out “doing” something, but decided to stay home and read a great book instead.
It’s funny, that I’ve felt more alive, connected, and empowered this past year “alone”, than I ever have when I’ve been in a relationship with someone. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy previous relationships. I mean, you are “with” someone for a reason at first, right? But people change, people grow, people learn, and people move on. I wouldn’t change any of my past, because it’s brought me to where I am today. And yes, someday, I hope to meet that special someone, and both our hearts skip a beat when we see each other, and we get to enjoy a piece of our lives together.
Meantime, here’s a glimpse of some of the adventures, both solo and with friends, that I had the privilege to experience in 2018.
My first real adventure of the year was booked in the Methow Valley as a birthday retreat. I had planned this trip well before December 2017, finding a cute little Airbnb studio cottage right on the endless groomed trails near Mazama. Originally this was supposed to be a romantic getaway as well, but I think in my heart I knew I would be alone on this trip when I booked it. When I knew I was definitely going to be alone, I considered canceling. Eating the cost and just staying home. It’s a long drive. It’s winter. I was alone.
I went, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I enjoyed the quiet solitude in the little studio. I slept in, cooked myself breakfast, and went out to skate ski when I wanted to. I skied at my own pace. I stopped on the trail when I wanted, and just enjoyed the silence the snow covered forest gives us. I tried some difficult trails, knowing I had all the time I needed to navigate. I talked to strangers on the trail to learn where they were visiting from, and treated myself to a birthday dinner. When the weather turned and trail conditions were awful, I opted to stay in, enjoy the cabin, and not fight through slop just because I was “on a ski trip”. I was on my trip.
In April one of my friends had this great idea to hike in to Goldmyer Hot Springs and camp overnight so we could enjoy the hot springs even longer. April in the PNW is pretty much a gamble when it comes to weather, literally to the hour. The forecast was not promising the day before our trip. But we had reservations, and the four of us that went have good camping gear. So we went.
It was freezing. It rained. It snowed. My friend had a mouse chew a hole through her tent.
We soaked in a beautiful natural cave of hot spring goodness. We all piled into one tent as it poured down rain and played Trivia Pursuit while drinking wine and eating chocolate. I think we should do it again.
I finished my first 50k race in October 2017. I didn’t really train for it, but I was just curious if I could do it. Well, I did it, and it made me curious about more races. The Sun Mountain 50k in May is a lottery entry only, and is a very popular race for “beginners”. I entered and won the lottery (I only seem to win lotteries when it involves running over 30 miles) and then had a lot of mixed feelings about actually running the race. I didn’t train for it to the level I should have, I was struggling with some hip issues and foot pain. I considered not going.
I went. It hurt, and I wasn’t a fan of the final miles of the route. But I finished, and ate pizza and had beer and got to visit with other runners after the race. I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the finish. It was honestly very anti-climactic, as was my first race with no one there to congratulate me at the finish other than the volunteer telling me to keep running and cross the marker so my time would record. But it was a goal I’d set, a curiosity I’d quenched, and it’s something I’m proud of. It was for me, and me alone.
By July the North Cascades had melted enough to plan an overnight trip with a friend to adventure around the Mt. Baker area. If you haven’t been to the Chain Lakes Loop, I think it’s one of the best bang for your bucks with regards to views, runnable trails, and lots of options for distance or side trips. A longer trek was planned and completed along Welcome Pass to Excelsior Peak the following day, but honestly this shorter loop was more scenic with such a variety of terrain.
I also had my first true glissading experience. Note to self: don’t wear short running shorts if you’re going to glissade down snow. Do you call that snow rash? Ice burn? Regardless, it was totally worth it.
The High Divide Loop in Olympic National Park is one of my favorites. I first backpacked this loop in July 2015 before I started trail running any long distances. It’s only a 19 mile loop, with 4k of elevation gain. Back then I planned a two night backpacking trip to complete it, and ended up having to complete it in one night. Now it’s a day run for me. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this loop, and hope to be able to do it every year. This loop also just means a lot to me because of the memories I have from my first solo trip around it. This was my biggest solo adventure at the time, and to remember how I felt that first time, and how I felt this past summer on the same trails was something that stopped me in my tracks multiple times, having me ponder the past years’ accomplishments and goals I’ve achieved.
In 2015 a friend sent me a link to a video of the Bridger Ridge Run, which is a 20 mile point to point traverse along the Bridger Mountain Range near Bozeman, MT in August. At one point is was considered the most technical trail run in the States. It was immediately put on my bucket list to complete. Not the actual race, but just the traverse itself. A few years went by, and plans didn’t happen. This year, I decided to make it happen, regardless of not having anyone to go with. My first option was to enter the lottery for the race. I thought that would be a safe option and also would allow for an easy way to carpool to the trail head since it’s a point to point run. Well, this race is only 20 miles, as opposed to 31, so I didn’t win the lottery.
I decided I was still going, but would plan the traverse for the weekend after the race. I joined a local trail running Facebook group and started asking if anyone else was in the same boat as me, and would be interested in a carpool/shuttle/key swap… anything. After multiple asks and a few conversations went mute, one amazing woman saw my post and put me in contact with her long-term friend that was planning the run with some friends that same weekend. She even offered to talk on the phone to give me a reference, friended me on Facebook so I could see photos of him and his family and shared that she was planning to help support the run by bringing aid to one of the trail crossings. Trust me, people, there are some amazing humans in this world!
So, I started texting with this random guy that lives near Bozeman, and he said I was welcome to catch a ride with him and his buddy to the trailhead. Seemed legit. So there I was, a few weeks later, pulling up to some random home in Bozeman, shaking the hands of some men I’d never met, throwing my gear into a borrowed sprinter van, and starting what would prove to be the hardest adventure I’ve completed to date.
Two more of his friends came to join us at the campsite that night, and the next morning 4 men I had just met stood at the trail head with me for a group photo. The guys thought they’d finish in 6ish hours. I was aiming for 7-8 hours. That was the last time I saw two of them, and I didn’t see the other two until I finished, 10 hours later. Due to the fires that summer, the smoke was thick and hit my lungs like a brick. Most of the traverse is around an elevation of 8-9k. The trail was terrifying, with pieces of shale that, had I tripped and fell on them, may have gored me or taken off an arm (well, maybe not that bad, but it was still scary and different than anything I’d ever run on). There wasn’t a lot of running. But I finished, and didn’t even take the “opt out” path at mile 10 that one other in the group decided to take.
I was greeted at the end by high fives and hugs from two new friends and a container of watermelon that was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I was stressed the whole time that due to my slow pace, I was holding everyone up (I was originally supposed to be the shuttle back to where we started), but the guy that decided to call it early ended up driving around to get the van, and when he got back to pick up his friend at the end, they had literally only been waiting for me for 15 minutes.
Everything worked out. And as hard as it was, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The Bridgers was the first stop on a 9 day road trip I had planned. Next on my list was Grand Teton National Park. I have never planned a trip like this on my own, I’d never driven this far on my own, and I’d never traversed this many miles, back to back to back, on my own.
The Tetons stole my heart. I had two long runs planned, with a “rest day” between each one to explore other local sites. The weather had shifted, and there was smoke from fires in Idaho that blanketed the park when I arrived. I’ll admit I was frustrated and about to throw in the towel that first night. Then in the morning the weather changed again, this time for the better, and a breeze came in that cleared out the worst of the smoke.
The next four days I couldn’t stop smiling. My favorite was the 20 miles on the Paintbrush Divide Loop. This adventure literally took my breath away as I climbed to 10,400ft, the highest elevation I’ve ever been. As slow as I was, and as hard as it was, I felt strong. I ran when I could and hiked when I couldn’t. I met people from all over the world. I was so proud of myself to be here, now, and knew that if I had “waited” for someone to go with me, this may never have happened. Life is short and this world has so much to offer. Never wait!
Every hiker and runner in Washington has to experience the Enchantments. This traverse is now a destination for people around the world, and is so popular there is a strict, coveted lottery just to be able to camp in the core of this truly enchanting place. Due to the lottery, through-hikes are more and more popular. This is an 18 mile point to point traverse, much of which is technical terrain and/or only marked with cairns.
A friend and I were talking about Labor Day plans, and last minute decided to make a weekend trip, gamble on finding a place to car camp, and complete the traverse. As always, everything worked out perfectly, albeit it taking us a few hours longer to complete this adventure than we were expecting. My friend already wrote an awesome blog post about it, so please see her recap here.
In October my work sends everyone to a tropical location for an annual meeting. Sucks, right? Well, this year we were sent to Maui, and I decided to extend my “work trip” by taking a short vacation on Molokai, the little tiny island off the coast of Maui.
Molokai is not a tourist destination. There’s not much there, and it’s exactly what I wanted. I fell in love, and will be back again without doubt. This was the first time I’d taken a vacation that required air travel by myself, and wasn’t meeting anyone at the other end.
When I arrived on Molokai, I walked across a field to pick up my rental car (paid for via PayPal to a local) and drove a car that might have been older than me to a little condo I found on Airbnb. The next day I handed another local some cash for him to take me on his personal fishing boat to see the highest sea cliffs in the world. I went snorkeling for the second time ever, and saw my first sea turtles. Pretty sure I saw a shark, also, but the guy on the boat that took me out assured me I was fine…. I went to a macadamia nut farm and met the owner while cracking open fresh macadamia nuts.
I sat on the beach and watched the sun set every night. I was only on the island for three full days, so was limited with what I could do and see, but the culture there won my heart and I can’t wait to return. The island is so small, within those three days I was already bumping in to other visitors and locals and remembering people’s names. It’s a simple, magical place and I truly hope their mantra of “Don’t change Molokai, just visit.” stays true for centuries to come.
One of the most amazing part of this past “solo” year has been the friends I’ve made, and the adventures I’ve had with them. I’ve never had more than one or two true girlfriends in my life before this past year. And I’ve certainly never had more than one or two friends I would be willing to go take a weekend trip with.
I said yes to an invite for a girl’s weekend trip to Mt. Saint Helens, and went in on an Airbnb for, initially, four friends, including myself, to stay in and go explore for the weekend. And then there were eight of us going, and a handful more that had been invited but couldn’t come.
We cooked, laughed, drank, hiked, and ran. We ranged in ages, relationship status, dietary needs, backgrounds, and even athletic ability. We had so much fun and supported each other in every way. Even the Keto diet lover was excited to make vegan bacon! We have since decided to make this an annual tradition, but we may need a bigger cabin next time.
Summing up my “solo” year, I’ve never felt so connected and a part of a community. Over the holidays, I actually had to pick and chose what Friendsgiving and Holiday get-togethers I went to, and had to keep events on my calendar to keep track of when I was going where.
I also felt completely comfortable and happy when I had a day that had no plans, no friends, no social interaction. I’ve found that my solo time is just as important, if not more, than my time out and about in social settings.
Cheers to another year, solo or not, that I know will be an amazing adventure!