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The Advantage of Alone

Posted by davidrosslevy , 12 December 2016 · 485 views

hiking backpacking camping mountaineering climbing running trail running solo hiking
It's fun to hike with friends and share an adventure. Wilderness experiences can create life-long memories and strengthen bonds between us. 
 
There are many practical advantages to hiking with others: safety, navigation and logistics chief among them.
 
Backpackers can split items like tents, stoves and food, easing the load and creating more capacity for distance, duration and comfort. And an extra pair of eyes is always useful in the backcountry.
 
To be sure, the principles of efficiency and scale apply just as much on the trail as they do on a spreadsheet. 
 
But many of us choose to venture out alone, and perhaps insist upon it.
 
An aspect that interests me most when hiking or backpacking alone is the degree to which we become attuned to our immediate surroundings at the exclusion of everything else, and as a result learn more from each outing.
 
It would be admirable to achieve this heightened sense of presence and awareness organically, but I argue that, when out there alone, it's forced upon us.
 
And that's a very, very good thing.
 
When alone you must account for everything going on around you. Terrain matters. Landmarks matter. Ecological composition matters. Incoming weather matters. Signs of wildlife matter. Position of the sun matters.
 
Countless times I've set out while preoccupied by office work, thinking about how I'll respond to a situation or replaying events in my head. Invariably (and quickly) the challenge of my journey takes over all thoughts, and only what's around me at the very moment matters.
 
The obvious application of this mindset is to ensure we get to our destination safely and on time, but the byproduct is really where we gain.
 
Our head's on a swivel and all senses are firing; we can detect subtle sounds and movement;
landmarks are precisely noted; game trails can be distinguished; the location of water, berries and natural cover are easy to recall; types of trees, plants and rock are meticulously catalogued.
 
The mental map we create when alone is 3D and highly detailed. Our recall is excellent.
 
In hiking alone we absorb much more information from our environment - and in doing so have an opportunity to see more, learn more and experience more. 
 
-Dave

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