I’m currently sat in a little cafe in Exeter called Devon Coffee. It’s perfectly cosy and I’m enjoying getting work done on my laptop, ticking off the to-do list and making plans for future ventures, trips and writing work. Yet, at the same time, I keep glancing outside as the sun beams between the clouds and lights up the street. I keep thinking that just an hour away from this city I’ve chosen to spend the day in, I could be walking in the hills; exploring somewhere new and getting lost in nature. That is what I love and long to do, after all.
You see, the thing is, when I woke up this morning I just didn’t really want to go on a hike by myself. It’s a terrifying thing to admit, because I’m so used to hiking alone and I’ve done it many times before. But today… not today. I chose to sit alone in the warm, safety of a coffee shop rather than hike on the wild, rugged moors. I’m questioning my decision even now, as I’m writing this. But the truth is that today wasn’t a day for hiking alone. Sometimes it just isn’t. And this got me thinking about solo-hiking and what makes it sometimes so easy and appealing, and other times possibly the last thing you may want to do with your day.
When I moved to Manchester a year ago, the only person I knew there was my lovely sister. I didn’t know whether it was the right move for me, being a country girl at heart, but I took the leap and moved to a quiet, leafy corner of the city only a 15 minute drive from the M60 - an easy path to escape to the hills of the Peak District, Lake District and Northern Wales. During those first few months in Manchester, I’d head out into the Peak District once or twice a week; lacing up my hiking boots and loading a backpack, taking photos, writing thoughts and contemplating what the hell I was going to do with my life. Hiking alone became so natural to me that I didn’t even question it. Occasionally, people would ask to come along into the hills and I’d accept; often wishing during said hike that I could just be alone for a second to gather my thoughts and breathe the air with no other humans in sight. Perhaps it is a symbol of my state of mind at that time in my life - when I was a little lost and lonely, yet aloneness was something I craved. It was a chance to think and breathe and breathe again.
A year has now passed and I’m sat in a coffee shop in Exeter, and today I chose not to walk alone. Indeed, it’s a way I’ve been feeling more and more regularly lately. While a year ago, I would drive two hours to the Lake District to hike a mountain just for a day, lately I’ll avoid heading into the hills unless someone wants to come along with me. The aloneness I once craved is something I now fear, so I wanted to have a few moments of reflection on this…
Why I love hiking alone:
↟ Independence - learning and practising skills independently like map reading and route planning. Being able to go exactly where you want to go, and the satisfaction of knowing you've done it all yourself.
↟ Thinking time - one of my personal favourite things about hiking alone is the time that it allows me to think about things; to reflect on events that have happened in my life that I'm not happy about, to make plans in my personal and professional life, and to really understand myself more.
Why I love hiking with friends:
↟ Happiness - I do equate friendship to happiness. Often the days that I have spent with other people are the one's when I have laughed and smiled the most, meaning coming home at the end of the day and feeling content and fulfilled.
↟ Deep conversation - while I love having personal time to think when solo-hiking, nothing beats having a deep conversation on a hillside with a good friend.
Like everything in life, balance is important.There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be alone sometimes and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting it at other times. Our moods and states of being fluctuate, and emotions can change weekly, daily or even hourly. Human beings are social creatures; our brains are dialled to want to be with other people. Yet there’s something empowering about spending time in the outdoors by yourself. It requires a little bit of bravery and mental strength. It requires skills to ensure your own safety, to make decisions, and to know what to do in a bad or dangerous situation. It’s a way to learn about yourself without outside influence, and it’s also a chance to appreciate spending time with the people you love.
So while I’m finding my current apathy to hiking alone to be a terrible thing, instead I should take it as a sign that perhaps it means I am happy in my current social relationships. Perhaps my mental state is telling me to spend more time with people; to form new bonds and consolidate old ones. Then sometime soon, I know I’ll hike alone again and enjoy the quiet, independence of it, while at the same time appreciating the comfort and laughter of hiking with others.
In essence, as long as I'm outside, I'm happy - alone or not. The important thing is to listen to your mind and your body and perhaps sometimes take a step back from something that feels uncomfortable.
I'm going to write more about hiking and exploring alone. Tips on how you can do it, and my personal experiences of spending time in the outdoors by myself. Let me know in the comments if there's anything specific you want to know!