Apparently traveling solo is a natural thing to do after a major life change. One study determined that at least 43% of solo travelers are doing so because they are newly divorced or widowed. I get that. It allows for an opportunity to get to know yourself again. It gives you that much needed space and clarity. It changes your perspective and puts you into situations where no one else is responsible for the outcome other than yourself. You have many hours of time to process your thoughts. And I mean A LOT of hours. For myself, as a single mom of two young kids that is accustomed to being fully occupied through all waking hours of the day, who had never lived alone and was with the same person for 15 years…this was a big difference. A game changer.
My first road trip after the initial separation last year lasted ten days. My kids’ father took them on vacation and there was no way I was staying at home by myself waiting for them to come home, drowning myself in despair and loneliness, waiting for them to call and assuming the worst if they didn’t. I hopped in my car and drove through all the western states except Colorado and New Mexico, totaling somewhere around 3,500 miles and visiting 7 national parks. I had only a loose plan and either stayed at a few friends houses on the way or camped. I learned a lot more about myself in those ten days than I had in the ten years we were married. It was just the start of some major unraveling.
This year I was faced with the same scenario. The unfortunate opportunity to spend 10 days away from my kids and the timing of the trip was out of my control. This summer I was finishing my master’s degree and my thesis was due by the time my trip would end. I had wanted to finish before I left so that I could enjoy my time away, but it just didn’t happen that way. So, on the road I went, in search of late night coffee shop hours with decent Wi-Fi.
My destination this time was inspired by an invitation from a friend to attend the Telluride Mushroom Festival. It piqued my interest and it just so happened to fall on the same weekend the kids were going to be gone. I wasn’t quite sure if I was in the mood to be around a bunch of people but I headed in that general direction.
My first stop was in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was somewhat familiar territory since I grew up in Phoenix, just a few hours south. I arrived early in the afternoon, located a coffee shop and checked in with my courses, ready to get some work done. However, I felt the need to stretch my legs and get some fresh air after so many hours in the car. I found a nearby trail and was greeted nearly immediately by an array of mushrooms.
I took it as a sign that I needed to attend the mushroom festival.
The following day, I arrived in Colorado and as I drove through the mountains, I was in awe of the beauty that welcomed me. It felt strangely familiar, like I belonged there, like it was home. Driving along the winding roads, I kept seeing signs for National Forest access…. I couldn’t resist. I followed an unknown road for a while, just in utter disbelief of the stark contrast of what I was used to in Southern California. I found
so much that delighted me in every way. The forest floor was covered in dandelions with leaves that were bigger than I had ever seen in the wild at home. Medicinal herbs that I had only seen in books were around every corner. It was like sighting magical creatures in real life.
The time I spent in Colorado was a mixture of writing while on the road (I finished my thesis and final exams while traveling through Arizona), hiking daily, camping in the forest and wandering the town of Telluride searching for wi-fi.
A few take-aways from my trip:
- I became acutely aware of how technology and social media play significant roles in my life. It was great to be able to connect and share with so many people while I was traveling alone and to receive instant support and connection. It helped to ease the challenging times of solitude. I will be the first to admit that yes, it has become a big part of my life, healthy or not. But, that’s another post…
- The strange feeling of isolation and disconnect when I initially retreated at night into the forest with no signal on my phone. This is when you sit front and center with your thoughts. It was refreshing, but terrifying at the same time. Once you get past the separation anxiety, and that’s exactly what it is, you begin to reconnect… to nature. By morning when it was time to head into town to make some progress on writing my thesis, it was almost saddening and overwhelming to have to turn my phone back on. There needs to be more “off” times in daily life.
- It gets REALLY dark during the new moon in the forest. This is when your superhuman hearing powers kick in… then you undoubtedly believe that every little sound is probably a bear or a murderer.
- It’s tough to see something breathtaking, intriguing or amazing and not be able to turn to your side and say “Hey! Isn’t that awesome!?” But, on the flip-side, there’s no one to roll their eyes and ignore you either.
- Comfort zones and edges become very apparent. When we are at home, we are comfortable with a certain way of life, our routines and of course the luxuries of all our “stuff.” Each night I spent in a different place and didn’t have a plan on where the next night I would end up.
So there you have it. I’m looking forward to the next adventure because I won’t be bringing along my computer for schoolwork (I finished all my coursework while on the road! I’m done!!).
Some of the flowers and mushrooms that I encountered: