Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alone But Not Lonely

In the last month or so, as I've told people about my plans for traveling, the most common question (by far) that I've received is, "who are you going with?" And the answer -- no one -- seems to throw people off.

Lots of us aren't terribly comfortable being alone. I'm no different. I prefer to be around people. I can be shy at first, but when I am comfortable with someone, it can be very hard to shut me up. I like laughing and joking around and just interacting. I'd rather do (most of) my workouts with training buddies. When I was working, I always made an effort to get out of the office with friends to get lunch or coffee, instead of slaving alone in front of the computer all day. And then there's social media-- let's just say, I like it.

But at the same time, as I've grown, I've gotten much more comfortable flying solo. When I first moved to Chicago, I lived on my own for the first time, and while it took some time getting used to, I started to love the independence and being able to do my own thing. Now, even when in a relationship, I like having my own space. I don't mind dining alone (which is not to say I don't prefer company), and I will even occasionally go to a bar by myself. If I strike up a conversation with someone else...great! If not, no worries.

But traveling mostly solo for a year is a whole different animal. And there are times that I really, really worry that after a little time on the road, I'm going to quit feeling alone (not necessarily a bad thing) and start feeling lonely (one of the worst feelings). By my thinking, if anything's going to derail my trip, it's going to be loneliness.

But on that front, I just passed my first test. Over the past two days, I've driven 20 hours in 5 states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and finally, Colorado, where I'll be for the next couple weeks) Alone. Add to that 6 hours of riding in Madison, the majority of which was solo, and there's been a lot time for me to just be alone with my thoughts since Saturday. Who knew what could happen?

I've done long drives by myself before, and I know that if you're not in the right mental state at the get-go, they can be a little crazy making. I've had times when I started a trip a bit upset or worried about something in my life, and hours of driving later, I'd had plenty of time to obsess and get myself nice and worked up. Driving gives you no outs. When the loneliness hits, you can't just turn on the TV, or take a nap, or surf the net. There's music on the radio, but that only goes so far. It's just you, with your thoughts. And when those thoughts aren't good....it can be miserable.

But my 20 hours wasn't bad at all. I got bored, for sure. I did a little talking on the phone. I did a LOT of jamming along to the radio. I made a few stops. First, in Williamsburg, Iowa, where I stayed in a very quirky Best Western that was decorated as though it was actually the set of a Western movie....

And second, in Gothenburg, Nebraska, where I took an extra 20 minutes to drive into town and see a original post office from the Pony Express.

Whether it was worth the detour is a good question (the answer to which is 'no') but I'd never been to Nebraska before, and my rule is that I have to DO something in a state (other than just driving through) to check it off my list. This counts, and now I have no need to return to Nebraska, which has to be the most soul-crushingly boring state I've ever driven through.

This was Nebraska. It looked the same the WHOLE WAY

But most of all, I just drove. There were no deep thoughts, no major epiphanies. I didn't "find myself," but truth be told, I'm not really looking. I just observed, reacted, and moved forward until I was finally making my way up "the little dirt road on the left that has a little brown sign marking it" to Betsy and Jeff's house in Evergreen, CO, where I'll be staying for the next couple weeks.

This is the view from their front porch

The ease with which I got through this drive encourages me. I think I'm in a good mental state for this trip. Quite honestly, it's been a really long time since I felt this content in life. I'm not euphoric, I'm not even emotional, I'm just perfectly content. That bodes well for my travels. And frankly, it bodes well for my upcoming athletic endeavors.

So, for now, I'm not really afraid of the loneliness. I'll be perfectly fine. And in the short-term...there will be no opportunity for it. I met Betsy and Jeff's daughter, Clare, this morning. She's almost 2-and-a-half. As she was leaving this morning to go to daycare, she informed me (about 6 times) that as soon as she gets back, we are playing. This is not a debate. So now, I'm off to rest up for that.


  1. OMG, Nebraska. Seriously. I used to drive back and forth to college in Chicago so I've done that trip many times and you're right, Nebraska just goes on for-freaking-ever. Enjoy Colorado, that looks beautiful!

  2. I also totally relate to the Nebraska story! Once Brian and I got off the highway to go to Buffalo Bill's Ranch.' What they don't tell you until you get there is that it is his 'retirement ranch' where he lived when he was only really old and the buffalo there were the most sickly looking buffalo I had ever seen....seriously like skinny fuzzy cows. :-)