I never thought I'd spend the summer living out of my car by myself, let alone driving 11,000 kilometres around British Columbia and the Yukon.
But when the Covid-19 pandemic uprooted my life and forced me into a solo quarantine in my 300-square-foot apartment for two months, I needed an escape. So I turned my tiny yellow Suzuki Aerio into an adventure mobile and set off on a journey north to catch a glimpse of the Midnight Sun.
Last year, my hiking plans on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu were cancelled. I was going through yet another disappointing breakup and my industry was effectively put on hold, leaving me unemployed and feeling disheartened about my future. As a gregarious person who loves bringing people together for social events, the loneliness was crippling.
I thought to myself: “If the pandemic measures are going to force me to be alone, I will—but on my own terms!”
When local travel advisories lifted in my area, I loaded cooking and camping gear into the back of my small hatchback, strapped an inflatable paddleboard and a jerrycan with spare fuel to the top of my car and folded down the seats to create a sleeping area.
I was equipped with bear spray and an airhorn to scare away any aggressive wildlife, spare fuel in case I was too far from a gas station, 20 gallons of potable water, a first aid kit, tools to change a flat tire and a hefty supply of dried food.
My self-contained, micro-camper was ready.
As social creatures, many of us have struggled through feelings of disconnection, isolation and loneliness this past year. How could we not? From endless meetings and appointments, social events filling up the calendar, the email inbox constantly pinging and the endless stream from instant gratification platforms such as social media and dating apps, one starts to wonder if we want this level of connection, or if we are as connected simply to avoid the sensations of loneliness.
Alain de Botton speaks of this in “The High Price We Pay for Our Fear of Loneliness” in which he describes the fear of loneliness as “the single greatest contributors to human misery and the driver of some of our weightiest and most unfortunate decisions.” I wondered how much I had abandoned myself in the process of pleasing others.
As I drove up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway—a 875 kilometre stretch of remote highway in Northern BC— I spotted my first grizzly… from the car thankfully!
A thought flashed through my mind: “What if something happens to me while I’m hiking or camping? Who’s going to even know?”
I realized just how small I was compared to the vast land I was travelling through. The nearest town was hours away, there was no cell service and I had just gone an entire day without seeing another human being.
But as I pressed on with my adventure, my confidence grew—as did my skills.
Over the course of the next two months, I paddled in some of the most beautiful and pristine turquoise lakes I’ve ever seen, hiked through picturesque valleys and summited mountains. I cycled along historic trails in the Klondike area. I camped on beautiful public lands and saw a range of wildlife from bears to wood bison, bighorn sheep, eagles and even a rare wolf sighting.
But what made this journey special was the ability to reconnect to myself. The further I got from distraction, the closer I got to myself.
I sang loudly to music while driving to the next location. I picked up paper brochures along the way to learn about the history of each region. I listened to podcasts about all sorts of topics, and spent time reading and journaling to the light of the “setting sun” before bed. I treasured the small conversations I had with strangers I met along the way and cherished the stories they shared with me.
As I hiked more mountains, I could feel myself getting physically and mentally stronger.
I reflected on the highs of my life and thought about my childhood self. I thought about the people that mattered to me, and the ways in which I had been holding myself back by prioritizing other people’s goals. As the noise of the outside world quieted down, so too did the noise of my inner world.
Although the pandemic had caused me to be physically alone, it had been a long time since I had been mentally alone.
Without any of the distractions, I felt I was able to meet myself again. I took the opportunity to ask myself questions I had been unconsciously avoiding: What is the vision of my life? Am I doing things that are helping me get closer to that vision, or further away? What is holding me back? What am I really afraid of?
When I finally reached the Arctic Continental Divide and stared into the midnight sun, just like explorers from the past, I felt at peace.
The experience of wild camping alone had allowed me to “meet myself again,” and I felt empowered. It allowed me to let go of what I thought my life was going to be. I accepted my new circumstances and stopped trying to control the outcome. Surrounded by the healing presence of silence in the nature around me, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life and all those who are in it.
This year has really challenged us to go beyond what feels comfortable when it comes to being alone. Adventuring alone has led to so much more self-discovery and empowerment than I could have achieved with others.
Solo adventure does not need to be as extreme as mine was—it can be as simple as an afternoon road trip to a new destination, a hike by yourself with your phone off, a lunchtime picnic at a remote beach you’ve never been to before or an overnight sleep in your car. I challenge you, because as it turns out, you are a much better companion than you thought!
Disclaimer: All travel described was in accordance with local public health policies and travel guidelines. All travel was conducted in a self-sufficient manner, following leave no trace principles.