One of my greatest joys is doing a scary thing for the first time. Whether camping alone, riding a motor bike alone through Thailand, or hitchhiking by myself--I always feel a great reward when I have done it.
CAMPING OVERNIGHT ALONE
In March 2016, my boyfriend, René, and I decided to walk part of the Arizona Trail. The 800 mile trail begins at the border of Arizona/Mexico and finishes at the border of Arizona/Utah (of course it can also be walked the other direction.)
We hired someone through Craigslist to drive us to the remote Mexican border where the trail starts. We had previously stashed food and water along the way because there is nothing but desert for many days. This helped our load because we already had the tent, sleeping mats, food and water for the first part, clothes, stove, purifier, and sleeping bags for the cold March evenings.
Using an Arizona Trail website we identified where to expect water along the way based on recent sitings.
March can get extremely dry and hot in the desert in southern Arizona. The washes dry up. We went many, many miles without water and often it was completely dry in places that were supposed to have water. It is a delicate balance to decide how much water to carry knowing that it is such a scarce resource. But also realizing that water is heavy to transport.
At one point it seemed that the next water opportunity was not for another 25 miles. We were out of water and our food (which needed water to prepare). And it was hot.
After about 5 miles there was a small pool of water. Surrounded by cow dung! We gathered it, boiled it, drank it, and prepared our food. I have never been so happy to find water.
After about 5 days my boyfriend was injured. But I was not finished walking. For a couple days he met me at the end of the day and we camped together.
One of the scariest things I could have thought about was sleeping outside in a tent by myself overnight.
Each day I gathered more and more confidence until one day I announced that I would be camping alone for three days.
The first day hiking was physically difficult. Twenty miles straight up.
I had a compass and an altimeter plus a map of the trail. I was able to navigate perfectly.
That night as the sun was setting, I found a sweet spot to set up the tent in the desert. Just me, the insects, the coyotes, and the stars. I cooked myself dinner. And just enjoyed the sweet sounds and smells of the desert. It was magical. I was not scared at all. More in awe than anything else. In the morning I boiled water, made coffee, broke down my camp and hiked on.
The second day was a great challenge because I got lost. The signs kept taking me in circles. My compass and altimeter were not helping. I sat down on a rock, put my head down, and just let myself feel the area. I would have to go with my gut. I did and found my way out.
And that was how it went for the next three days. Ups and downs both on the trail as well as physically and mentally.
I made it. I did it. I slept outside by myself. And one of my greatest fears was conquered. Ironically, there was nothing scary about it while I did it.
Hitch hiking is one of my favorite pastimes. I have written about it before—the experiment of getting the ride, the gratitude of others, meeting interesting people. It is one thing to hitchhike with someone else but something entirely different about doing it by yourself.
The other day I decided to try it alone on the road from Porec to Vrsar in Croatia—a distance of only about 8 miles. I did not need to do this. There was a bus. But I wanted to give myself a challenge.
I wrote my boyfriend a note letting him know what I was doing—just in case something happened to me.
So I made a sign that said “Vrsar,” walked to the main road, help up my sign, and stuck out my thumb. And waited. And walked. And waited. After about 25 minutes a man pulled over. He was about 35 and drove a slightly beat up car. He was in working clothes. This was not the tourist German couple I dreamed of. But this is what I got. I opened the car door to the back seat and got in.
I was nervous. So was he. He lit a joint and started to smoke it. My mind started going. “He is going to bury me alive.” “He is going to cut me up into small pieces.” “He is going to drive me to a remote place and rape me.” But there was a much louder voice that said, “People are generally good. He is a nice guy doing a nice thing.”
About half way, he asked me if it would be okay if he asked me a question. My heart started to beat a little faster. I said it was okay. He wanted to know how I liked Croatia. Then he told me that he had a lot of extra nervous energy and that is why he smoked grass. He told me a lot about himself in that short ride. He loved forests and rivers and lakes. They calmed him down. He was from Bosnia. He said it was hard to be Bosnian in Croatian—so much racism. We connected in a short time in a sweet way.
It was such a sweet experience: a way to interact with someone I never could have and accept an act of kindness from a stranger.
There was nothing to be scared of—just a rewarding experience.
There are so many things that I just let the men in my life do because it seems easier. Like driving a motor bike. I just never learned how to drive one.
In Thailand it is much easier to go longer distances on a motorbike. But they are small and it is difficult to drive with your bags with two on one bike.
For this reason, in June 2017 I learned how to drive a motor bike in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
My boyfriend took me to an area with relatively little traffic. He showed me how to accelerate and how to stop. I tried. It was so, so hard. I was awful. I almost killed myself several times.
My boyfriend went to the coffee shop and I practiced. Riding back and forth over and over again. I kept telling myself “I hate this. I am never doing this again. This is just not for me.”
But then I got it in my head that I would need to not only learn but feel comfortable driving alone.
This was because I had determined to drive a motorbike out to a natural building project about 2 hours away by myself.
I was very nervous about navigating by myself and simply driving the bike. I said goodbye to my boyfriend and set out. But my GPS did not work. In the end, my boyfriend had to escort me to the farm. In a way it was a success because I managed to drive there. But not alone.
So when I returned to Thailand alone six months later, I rented a motor bike determined to ride the entire 600 mile Mae Hong Son loop north of Chiang Mai. I had upgraded my GPS and although it had been 6 months since I had ridden, I prepared myself and set off on the journey. It was incredibly beautiful with magical streams, temples, shrines, and rice fields dotting the landscape. I made it the entire way, alone. I did not see many people. And I definitely did not see any woman traveling alone.
It was extremely liberating and empowering. I love the feeling of being on the motorbike. And also the feeling of conquering a fear and again realizing that there was nothing to fear.