We are becoming increasingly isolated, and I’m no exception. Just before I turned 25, my mother succumbed to cancer, and a year later—as I was mustering the courage to contact my estranged father—he passed away too. I have no siblings, and after I left the East Coast and moved to Wyoming, I rarely saw my extended family.
That’s not to say I was alone: I had plenty of friends, a caring significant other, and wonderful colleagues. I ran into acquaintances almost every time I went to the grocery store, and my work at the radio station had made me a minor celebrity in Wyoming. But making plans around other people’s packed schedules was often a challenge. And as friends got married and had children, the delightful one-on-one conversations I used to share with them—the kinds of conversations where you hash out life’s challenges together and go home feeling loved—became rare.
It seemed reasonable to assume that trekking alone for 500 miles, in areas with no cell phone reception and few other hikers, might leave me lonelier than ever.
But loneliness and being alone are two different things. During the five weeks I spent on the trail, I felt less lonely than I have in years.