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Loneliness

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Loneliness

Postby BSquared » Mon Feb 16, 2015 8:48 pm

Not sure whether this is the correct place to post this, but it'll do. I'm looking for advice about the psychological side of hiking solo.

Last summer I did the first couple of days of a backpacking trip by myself, later meeting up with a companion, and I was surprised to discover that I was extremely lonely, perhaps even a bit depressed, during the time I was by myself. I had been rather looking forward to it, and I've done quite a bit of day-hiking and one three-day backpacking trip by myself, so it took me by unpleasant surprise. Now, I did suffer from altitude sickness and a couple of other maladies during the second day, but I had begun to feel unpleasantly lonely quite a bit before that. I think I'd like to do some more solo hiking in the Sierra, and I'd certainly like to be able to keep the option open in the future in case planned companions have to bow out for some reason, but now I'm daunted.

So, I have two questions: anyone else on this board had a similar experience? That is, eagerly anticipating a solo hike but finding that it wasn't what they expected? And most importantly, is there anything you recommend that can be done about it? I was chatting with a friend of mine here in Maryland yesterday, an ardent fly fisherman (and companion on the first week of my son's and my JMT through hike in 2004), and he had had a similar experience a few years ago going off to Montana by himself on a fishing trip. Perhaps it's more common that I realized.
Last edited by BSquared on Tue Feb 17, 2015 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 16, 2015 10:03 pm

Wish I could help you. I am a bit of a hermit so rarely get lonely (even when not seeing anyone for a week), but I do find that I can easily get going on a snowballing psychological fear fest. Or more accurately, anxiety fest. Emotions tend to get the best of you when there is nobody else to bounce stuff off. Lonely is not, for me, an emotion that I often get. But fear, anxiety, and yes depression when weather goes bad and I have to sit in a tent for days. Are you perhaps assuming that depression is always caused by loneliness? Sometimes it is just that a trip, that you planned so much, and had such high hopes for, put so much emotion into, simply turns out less than stellar. Big disappointments. The thing is, when you are with someone else, trip disappointment can sometimes be mitigated by the joy of good company. You may not get lonely on a solo trip that exceeds expectations, jump for joy kind of trip.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 16, 2015 10:16 pm

Oh, yes. The "solutions". One small thing that has helped me out, particularly on shoulder season backpacks when daylight is short and tent time is long is music. I bought an I-pod and put my favorite music on it (classical). I have actually listened to the entire Handel's Massiah during a storm. And I mean REALLY listen. Not just background music. I also tried some books on tape, but like the music better. The books on tape tend to distract me from the wilderness. I end up thinking too much about what is going to happen next in the book instead of enjoying the hike!

The other potential solution may be different (not necessarily "better") trip planning. Since I do not know how you plan trips, I cannot say anything particular.

And perhaps you just need to do more solo. Like practice makes perfect! Being alone, if you have not done a lot of it, takes some practice to get good at it.

Maybe you are just a very extroverted person who needs others around to get energized. If that is the case, perhaps solo just is not your cup of tea. I am the opposite. Although I like people and company, being with people, even good friends, sucks energy from me. I go solo to recharge.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Steve_C » Mon Feb 16, 2015 11:46 pm

Hmmm.... I've taken to hiking solo the last several big trips partly because it frees me to go wherever and whenever I like. I can understand your loneliness issues. It does get boring on down-times. Next time I think I'll pack along a lightweight book to read.

Also what helps is packing my Spot unit along -- it motivates me to think my family and a friend or two may be watching and getting a kick out of seeing what I am up to. Actually the Spot helps in other ways: If I do get hurt out there, they will know exactly where to find me.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Feb 17, 2015 7:50 am

On the other hand, there is nothing quite so lonely as going on a trip with people and having one of them take a major disliking to you, for some reason, and then be completely passive aggressive and not tell you what she doesn't like. And so you end up hiking on your own and wondering what the heck you did this for, when all you wanted was some company and that friend-of-a-friend seemed nice before you came....
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Re: Lonliness

Postby BSquared » Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:05 am

Helpful responses, all. Daisy, I was a bit surprised to see you reply, since from your TRs you obviously do mostly solo hiking, but I think your suggestion about other causes of depression probably gets at the heart of the problem. I know I was extremely anxious about the coming trip for several reasons—going to meet up with some people I hadn't seen in years and one whom I'd never met, all of whom I expected to be more fit and experienced than I; I'd heard that one of my companions had been injured just a day or two before and actually might not be able to make the trip; it had been nearly two years since I'd last done any serious multi-day hiking... The coup de grace was my final front-country camp, for the purposes of altitude acclimation, at Willow Campground near South Lake. In my TR I rated it a "6" out of ten, but psychologically it was close to zero. Not terribly clean, virtually deserted, no water (as I did mention), and while I was out day hiking somebody made off with the Inyo Forest map that I'd put on my picnic table to make it obvious that my site was occupied, just generally a bummer. The day hike itself was glorious, however, so I dunno.

I'd never thought of a SPOT as a way of feeling more connected to the "folks back home," but now that you mention it, it did feel that way the one time I was on a trip with a borrowed one (I actually did have one on this trip, but it belonged to one of the people I was to meet up with and so didn't have the same feeling of connection). And I've resisted bringing along music (it's the John Muir in me, who wants to hear those sermons in the stones and books in the brooks ;) ), but if I do another solo trip or segment I'll definitely consider it. Not while hiking, but in camp, yes. The entire "Messiah," eh? "He was despised, rejected, a man of sorrow..." well, maybe I'll skip that aria, heheh... Might take some effort to resist singing along with the choruses in my loud but uncultured baritone ;) I did have the Mozart Requiem on my iPhone (which was switched off and had no earbuds), and despite its name, it's actually a rather uplifting piece of music... maybe next time.

Anyway, thanks all!
Last edited by BSquared on Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Strider » Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:08 am

I experienced a severe bout of loneliness/anxiety as it was getting dark at Evolution Lake after a long hike. It may have something to do with blood sugar levels, or being charged up and not being able to do anything for three hours before you normally go to sleep. Music does help, also meditation.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Jimr » Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:48 am

Something else to consider. Your bout with altitude sickness may have begun before you noticed any physical signs. Adding a bit of extra psychological strain onto the other "bummers" may have been the one too many drops in the bucket. I guess you won't know unless it happens again.

I can't say I've ever had the loneliness you describe while solo, but I don't often go solo. I had some mild concerns about how I'd do solo a few years ago because I hadn't done it in years, but it turned out fine. A little firewater and a book occupied my down time. I did come out a day early, but that's not unusual for me. I often work an extra day into my plans.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby markskor » Tue Feb 17, 2015 10:22 am

Bill,
Something to consider is that perhaps, as loneliness seriously effects your backpacking enjoyment - if just not comfortable as a solo - then don't do it. You tried it...gave it a shot - kudos!
Solo hiking is not for everyone...why fight it? ](*,)
just my pragmatic 2¢
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Re: Lonliness

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 17, 2015 10:24 am

B2,

Consider taking up photography, drawing, or some other artistic hobby that will occupy your mind and
keep you thoughts focused. When your alone it becomes easy to allow you mind/thoughts wander
into places that may create anxiety, uneasiness or fear.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Lonliness

Postby Brien » Tue Feb 17, 2015 10:36 am

I've never done any solo backpacking trips for a couple of reasons, mainly safety and companionship. I like my private time just as much as the next person, but being out in the wilderness alone isn't one of those times. I enjoy being with others on the trails and sharing the experience with them.
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Re: Lonliness

Postby gary c. » Tue Feb 17, 2015 1:38 pm

As much as I've thought about solo hiking I haven't done any yet. The reason is that I've done other things solo and I just don't enjoy it as much as when I'm sharing the experience with others. I love to hunt and fish and I've done those things on my own but it's never the same alone. Some people love to be by them selves and their thoughts. It's easy for me to start feeling depressed or melancholy when I'm out like you describe. I've pretty much embraced Marks suggestion "Solo hiking is not for everyone...why fight it?".
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