Feb 2 2015

Going Solo

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Last week marked a first for me: a solo hike through a desert wash miles away from, well, much of anything.

I parked my Jeep, Betty, and headed out. Click to enlarge.

I parked my Jeep, Betty, and headed out. Click to enlarge.

I have traveled this path numerous times, but always in the company of friends, the space filled with our laughter and chatter. This time was different. It was just me, an insignificant speck beneath canyon walls thrust toward a wakening sky.

This solo-ness was at once magical and slightly unnerving. Not because of the stillness and shadow, or the chill of morning. Or even the harrowing cry of a hawk. In fact, I savored that crisp morning air – the kind with a bite that when inhaled creates a kind of melding. Me and the outdoors unified, my breath an invisible string connected to emerging blue sky, scarred rock and slumber-weary birds.

Even the sinister shadow painting one side of the canyon in gray proved dauntless. It was just me and the beat of wings as a Cooper’s hawk rushed overhead and the sun crawled up the backside of the mountains. I have to admit: it was a bit of a rush.

The tinge of uneasiness occurred, however, when I approached the narrower portion of the canyon walls. At the same time, the dense underbrush closed in around me. (I mean, this is mountain lion country… and those bushes were dense and tall.)

The narrowing of the wash. Click to enlarge.

This desert scrub brush was at least eight feet tall and on all sides as I hiked a quarter-mile portion of the wash. Click to enlarge.

This is when my aloneness – and my imagination – started to run rampant. In my head: if there were something in those bushes, I wouldn’t know it. Would I have time to react? I touch my gun for reassurance then I look up and see an old mine shaft (the perfect hole for a lion?).

Then a noise. What was that? Me spinning around and yelling, “Hello.” Then the delightful and unexpected response: my voice echoing about the canyon walls and rushing right back to me. Finally, a smile on my face, a sense of calm as I reassure myself that this is a magical moment, not a fearful one … and then true enjoyment as the sun begins to fill the wash with its warmth and illumination. Funny how a little change in perspective — the sun, in this case — can alter our mindset and make us feel more secure (and how being with one other person can provide a sense of security in isolated terrain).

I continued along my two-mile hike, the only sounds my hiking stick digging into sand and my own breathing. As the sun finally crested the mountains, I was then greeted by the stair-step trill of the canyon wren, the scratchy birdsong of virdens and the hiss of cactus wrens. I snapped numerous photos (and recounted how much I miss my hiking partner, who moved away a few years ago). But without her departure, I realized, maybe I’d never have done this. And that would have been a shame.

This contrail was the only other sign of man during my hike. Click to enlarge.

I suspect other solo hikes may pale in comparison to this one, mostly because it was a first, complete with heightened senses and awe. In the future I’ll likely be more self-assured, maybe less aware, senses snuffed. For this ‘first,’ I will always be grateful.

For Writers, for Everyone: My hike was the perfect reminder of the power of ‘mind over matter,’ and the way we can talk ourselves into something (fear) or out of it. As writers, don’t we do the same thing? We let our anxiety – and sometimes fear – paralyze us. We worry about the future, what it may hold in such a complex publishing industry, instead of seeing, appreciating and accepting what’s right in front of us.

Would you consider a solo hike or some other activity that challenged your emotions? What positive things do you think might happen? To your writing? To your growth as a person? Have you ever been that alone in nature? How did it feel?


19 Responses to “Going Solo”

  • avatar Angela Says:

    Your story brings two hikes to my mind… the first, two years ago in a California desert with my hubs and two young sons. We’d heard about it from friends, looked it up on the internet and drove 15-20 miles to the trailhead in the middle of nowhere. Hiked for several hours. Got lost. Got nervous. Found our way back, relieved only to hear later from relatives that we were probably in a desert area known for drug deals gone bad. Gah!

    The second hike was “better”. The hubs and kids were gone for the weekend. I could have sat around reading a book or watching TV, enjoying my alone time. Instead, I leashed up the dog and went for a hike along the St. Croix River. Beautiful. (Got lost again but found again.) I recall feeling proud that I ventured out on my own, not hemmed in by a lack of company. Being willing to explore the world and take some risks makes for a bigger life, a richer life.

    And although I tend to get lost easily, I always find my way…

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Eep! Your story reminds me of the time hubby and I ended up on a backroad in southern Arizona, near the border, only to notice copious signs about the area being known for drug smuggling and human trafficking, etc. WE, at least, were in a vehicle.

    You SHOULD feel proud for having gone on that solo hike (especially since you got lost AND found your way back). Bravo! “…not hemmed in by a lack of company…” Well put! I agree – being willing to explore does lead to more richness. Even the fear does!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    You had me nervous! I’m glad you take a gun; do you get cell reception out there? I’m over here like, “Imagination schmimagination; what would you do if you really were attacked by a mountain lion?” That said, I totally get it. Being alone in nature is one of my absolute favorite things. Just stay safe out there and don’t get *too* relaxed.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Cell reception is spotty-to-nonexistent. Well, let’s hope I never find out what I’d do if attacked by a mountain lion (they want to get away from us worse than we do them, generally). And they’re so damn elusive, I’ll probably never even SEE one in the wild because I WANT to. But there are those odd situations — i.e. coming upon a mama with a cub, etc. So… let the imagination run WILD!

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  • avatar Cherry Harris Says:

    Melissa I feel ashamed to say on Sunday I went for a three mile walk, on my own, along a lane by the cottage I am renting at the mo in West Wales U.K . I was a little unnerved to be alone because on route there were only the odd cottage or farm . All I saw were chaffinches , sparrows and the odd goose …Not any lions . You are one brave lady . I shall be very brave the next time I venture down the lane on my own …I shall think of you alone in a Canyon with the threat of a Lion in your midst .
    Cherryx

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Well, I can see being spooked just as easily if you’re in unfamiliar territory (We all watch too many movies and read too many scary books, don’t we?).

    Funny that you call me brave (which I, indeed, am not). The majority of my friends who live in the area were of the “big deal” mindset when I told them and were rather unimpressed since they have been in those situations frequently. Ha ha. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose!

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa — I love your writing, it evoked goosebumps on my arms!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Then I have done my job, Laurie! Thanks for tweeting!

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  • avatar Kathy Becraft Says:

    What a fun blog. Melissa going solo and all that goes with that. It is so easy to imagine lions, tigers and bears as Dorothy from the wizard of oz ,did. You are brave and cautious, good for you for carrying your gun. Take care dear friend.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I miss you, hiking partner! We had some good times; during this hike, I chuckled out loud when I passed that area where you did a Humpty Dumpty down into the wash. “I’m ok! I’m ok!” you yelled. 😉

    I know we talked about this a lot when we hiked: if we could do a solo hike. Well, I guess I have my answer now! And I know fearless you could (and probably have up north)! Though I guess you have other scary creatures to deal with — bear, moose, elk???

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Oh, this is such a great post, Melissa. I truly felt your vulnerability and aloneness, and it brought back the feeling of solitary treks I’ve taken, whether through a foreign city where no one spoke my language so I was essentially cut off—isolated in a crowd—or those times I’ve ventured into the wilderness alone. When you mentioned the narrowing track and the bushes I was glad to hear you had brought a gun. That’s wise.
    As a writer it does feel as if I venture into a strange wilderness where anything can (and sometimes does) jump out at me when I’m alone and writing. Unfortunately we have no weapon for that! And maybe that’s okay. We learn nothing we encounter in our stories, or the struggle to find an audience for them will kill us. And I’m hoping feeling that fear, and facing it, like you did on your first solo hike, will make us stronger, and better able to handle whatever this crazy world of publishing has in store for us ahead.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh – I never even thought of that kind of isolation while surrounded by people. That might be even more unnerving in a different way, of course. Love your analogy of the ‘wilderness of writing.’ ALL of it makes us stronger and more equipped.

    Where do you hike? I’m game!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    P.S. I’d LOVE to go for a hike with you up here if you are ever up my way!

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  • avatar Christi Craig Says:

    Melissa,
    Great post. I have hiked alone a few times, and it never fails I start walking with trepidation at the first hint of rustling in the bushes. Usually, for me, it’s only a chipmunk.

    But what I love most about this post is this:
    We worry about the future…instead of seeing, appreciating and accepting what’s right in front of us.

    Perfect insight, and just what I needed today.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    As far as I’m concerned, any rustling is worth being cautious about! Sometime the smallest critters (at least in the desert) can be the most dangerous! It’s really about an awareness of surroundings, I guess.

    Glad the post gave you a boost today. Have a great weekend.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Oh my goodness- you had me nervous, too. You’re such a bold adventurer. Twice in my life I have been lost on a hike. Once alone and once with a friend. Both times were terrifying.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’m thinking of going out on another solo hike on Friday. Same spot (now that I know rattlesnakes are out — TOO EARLY — I need to stick to clear/open washes where I can see. Other trails with brush, I’ll need to buddy-up.

    Getting lost is NOT fun. Terrifying, I agree.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    What an adventure. Hiking or traveling alone can be wonderful for the soul. When you’re alone, I think you notice more and can be present and open to the experience more than when you’re with someone else.

    Your post reminded me of a time when I got lost in the Saguaro National Park. I was with a friend (thank goodness), but it was still rather scary. It was hot and we had no water. You’ve inspired me to think about writing a post about it.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Eesh, Jackie… I can think of nothing more terrifying – especially when you’re under blazing sun without water (one of the obvious perils in our neck of the woods. I had a close friend get lost in that same manner, and they really feared for their lives after not finding their way back for hours. Finally, they came upon a remote home and the woman gave them water and drove them home). I absolutely think you should write a post about this topic.

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